Impotence of Ideas

There is a famous saying: The pen is mightier than the sword. It is a self-serving adage, giving intellectuals greater importance than they really have.

Ideas do have some power, but these are ideas which are promulgated by tradition and propaganda. But even such ideas are no match for the private ideas of a dictator who has at his disposal a sword — money, weapons, police, and soldiers.

A current example of the impotence of ideas is the worldwide protests against the Iraq War on Feb 15, 2003. Here is an article about this:

Paul Blumenthal, “The Largest Protest Ever Was 15 Years Ago. The Iraq War Isn’t Over. What Happened? Can anti-war protesters claim any success?” Huffpost, March 17, 209

And here is a video about the Iraq war protests around the world, Feb 15, 2003:

How a student mob took over Evergreen State College in 2017

Bret Weinstein and his wife Heather Heyting after refusing to leave the campus on the controversial “Day of Absence,” resigned with a settlement with Evergreen State College in 2017. Here is a three-part documentary about the affair:

Part 1:Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying & the Evergreen Equity Council

Part 2: Teaching to Transgress

Part 3: The Hunted Individual

After watching the three videos about what happened at Evergreen State College in 2017, I have made the following judgment. Although the focus is on the dismissal of Heather Heyting and Bret Weinstein from the college, it is more like a study of how a mob is allowed to take control of a college.

What Bret Weinstein did at Evergreen by not participating on the “Day of Absence” was equivalent to striking a match in standing conditions which caused the match to burn.

What were these standing conditions? A college is a business enterprise (corporation). It has a board of trustees, a CEO, managers, and workers. And it has a clientele — the students. Everyone who works at the college is relying on their job for a livelihood (self-preservation).

The culmination of a student mob taking over was initiated by the new President, George Bridges, who was hired in 2015. He introduced a policy statement for the college to recognizing a phenomenon called “Racism,” and a school policy formulated by an Equity Council to fight against this Racism. Part of this policy required a contractual yearly written self-evaluation of racism by each white faculty member. There was also a policy of requiring some kind of “equity” justification for hiring new teachers. This policy was voted on openly by the faculty senate. And the majority — probably out of fear for losing their jobs — voted in favor.

As events progressed, it was evident that the white faculty had to submit to the wishes of student mobs. In fact the students were allowed by the President to take control of speech. The main one was a censorship (by booing, disruption, and silencing) as based on the assumption that to criticallly examine racism is Racism. Students were also allowed by the President to take physical control of buildings to the extant that faculty were in effect hostages.

Evergreen also had a tradition of a “The Day of Absence” on which black students and faculty were encouraged not to attend the college. In 2017, this holiday was switched to asking white teachers to absent themselves from the college. One white teacher, Bret Weinstein, refused, and held a class on this day.

A group of students — both students of color and white — confronted him outside his classroom and clamored for his dismissal. And as time progressed, it became something like a lynching mob. And the security personnel were ordered by the the President to stand down. In consequence Bret Weinstein had to go into hiding. And finally a settlement was reached with Bret Weinstein and his wife Heather Heying for their dismissal.

Comment: A school should be a place for the critical examination of everything, including the nature of what is called “racism.” And a critical discussion is not a free for all shouting. There must be some kind of procedural rules. In the case of Evergreen State College, the President made a fundamental mistake of taking an institutional stance against what he understood as “racism.” He further aggravated the situation by letting students control meetings, and not allowing security to intervene when necessary. This breakdown of institutional control has resulted in a drop of student enrollment and the failure of the college to currently find a successor President.

Practicing Safe Philosophy

In my last blog I wrote about political correctness. Here I want to reflect on the timidity of philosophers, and how they sacrifice their integrity for the sake of a job. Many years ago I wrote a piece which reflected my personal predicament of having accepted a teaching position at a women’s Catholic college. It is titled, Beware of the Handmaid Scorned, 1995. The predicament is that a fundamental problem of philosophy is whether there is a justification for any religious belief. And if one pursues this question too eagerly, one gets fired.

In secular colleges and universities, there are analogous perilous pursuits. Well, we know that in the United States there was a Red Scare, with two periods: the First Red Scare (1918-1920), followed by a Second Red Scare (1947-1957), also know as McCartyism. These Red Scares led to loss of jobs, imprisonment, and deportations.

In 1967, Noam Chomsky published an article, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,”, which is “to speak the truth and expose lies” of governments.

But for a political philosopher there is a more fundamental question: Is any form of a centralized government, i.e., a State, legitimate?

A political philosopher can evade this question by simply doing a sort of literary analysis of some historical political philosopher, and refrain from giving their own considered answer. As an example of this evasion, I came across a video by Tamar Gendler, Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science, and Chair of the Philosophy Department, Yale University, whose video exemplifies this safe academic approach. Her lecture is titled: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Politics.

Both Rawls and Nozick assume the kind of liberal democracy we have in the United States, and their disagreement is over policies of such a government. Rawls is for a welfare state. Nozick is against a welfare state. But the fundamental question which was raised by Rousseau as to the legitimacy of a State is side-stepped.

Instead of beginning with Rawls or Nozick, I think it is more appropriate (though not as safe) to begin with Robert Paul Wolff’s In Defense of Anarchism (1970),

Here is a 2008 audio interview with Wolff on anarchism: Doing without a ruler: in defense of anarchism

Political Correctness in Academia

Academics — just as policeman, soldiers, politicians — will do whatever it takes to keep their jobs. If they stray, they get fired or are denied tenure, as illustrated below.

I became aware of this censorship in academia by sheer accident in 1973. I was heading towards Key West in my VW camping bus, and on the way I stopped by the University of Florida where I came across a news item that a philosopher was in court fighting his firing. I had forgotten his name, but I do remember that he was a Marxist who spoke his mind in an unvarnished fashion. I stayed to listen to the testimony of the president and others. But I did not stay to find out the outcome of these hearings. But searching the internet, I have found out that the philosopher was Kenneth A. Megill, who appealed a denial of tenure by President Stephen C. O’Connell. I found the following court ruling: Dr. Kenneth A. MEGILL, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. BOARD OF REGENTS OF the STATE OF FLORIDA et al., Defendants-Appellees.

I remember other such cases. The one that sticks in my mind was the dismissal of Saul Kripke. At the time I heard of this, I was — let us say — bewildered: Saul Kripke??? Again, scouring the internet, I found this informative piece: Israel Shenker, “Rockefeller University Hit by Storm Over Tenure,” Sept. 26, 1976. Reading the piece, I discover that a whole group of other eminent philosophers had to find employment elsewhere.

Other cases of professors being fired — the euphemism is non-reappointment — or denied tenure which come to mind, are that of Howard Zinn who was dismissed from Spelman College in 1963 for supporting student protests as an act of insubordination.

The case of Norman Finkelstein was especially disconcerting to me, and I wrote a big analytical piece about it: Norman Finkelstein, DePaul, and U.S. Academia: Reductio Ad Absurdum of Centralized Universities, July 23, 2007.

There is a short clip of me here, identified as Philosophy Teacher, Wright College, Chicago, offering my two bits :

Professor Finkelstein’s DePaul Farwell, Sept. 5. 2007:

Below is a full-documentary about Norman Finkelstein:

American Radical: The trials of Norman Finkelstein [2009]

Ward Churchill, a tenured professor, was fired from the University of Colorado in 2007 on alleged plagiarism charges but really for claiming in an article and a book that the 9/11/2001 attack against the World Trade Center was — to use Chalmers Johnson’s CIA word — a “blowback” for the U.S. policies in the Middle East. Churchill took the wrongfull dismissal case to a court, and won; but was not reinstated. The controversial article was “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,”, Sept. 12, 2001, and the book was On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality, 2003.

Below is Megyn Kelly’s commentary and interview with Ward Churchill in 2014.

There is also the case of David Graeber whose contract was not renewed at Yale. Below is a link to an interview with Graeber about this affair.

Joshua Frank, “David Graeber is Gone: Revisiting His Wrongful Termination from Yale,” Counterpunch, September 4, 2020.

The whole issue of censorship in America has recently been put on film: No Safe Spaces

Karl Popper on the Origin of the State

I have always been attracted to the writings of Karl Popper, and I keep returning to him. And I agree with him that long range historical prediction is impossible, and I agree with him that Plato’s program was a conservative one of preserving a totalitarian State, and I agree with him that Marx’s prophecy of how capitalism would develop was a failure.

I have also greatly admired his scholarship. As an example, I reproduce his findings on the origin of the State through conquest — a position with which I agree. However, a fundamental disagreement that I have with Popper is whether the State can be dispensed with. He thinks the State is indispensable and can be justified. I disagree on both counts. But I leave this issue for another occasion.


Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Chapter 4: footnote 43:

Plato’s remarkable theory that the state, i.e. centralized and organized political power, originates through a conquest (the subjugation of a sedentary agricultural population by nomads or hunters) was, as far as I know, first re-discovered (if we discount some remarks by Machiavelli) by Hume in his criticism of the historical version of the contract theory (cp. his Political Discourses, 1752, the chapter Of the Original Contract): — ‘Almost all the governments’, Hume writes, ‘which exist at present, or of which there remains any record in history, have been founded originally on usurpation or conquest, or both . . .’ The theory was next revived by Renan, in What is a Nation? (1882), and by Nietzsche in his Genealogy of Morals (1887); see the third German edition of 1894, p. 98. The latter writes of the origin of the ‘state’: ‘Some horde of blonde beasts, a conquering master race with a war-like organization . . lay their terrifying paws heavily upon a population which is perhaps immensely superior in — numbers. . . This is the way in which the “state” originates upon earth; I think that the sentimentality which lets it originate with a “contract”, is dead.’ This theory appeals to Nietzsche because he likes these blonde beasts. But it has been also more recently proffered by F. Oppenheimer (The State, transl. Gitterman, 1914, p. 68); by a Marxist, K. Kautsky (in his book on The Materialist Interpretation of History); and by W. G. Macleod (The Origin and History of Politics, 1931). I think it very likely that something of the kind described by Plato, Hume, and Nietzsche has happened in many, if not in all, cases. I am speaking only about ‘states’ in the sense of organized and even centralized political power.

I may mention that Toynbee has a very different theory. But before discussing it, I wish first to make it clear that from the anti-historicist point of view, the question is of no great importance. It is perhaps interesting in itself to consider how ‘states’ originated, but it has no bearing whatever upon the sociology of states, as I understand it, i.e. upon political technology (see chapters 3, 9, and 25).

Toynbee’s theory does not confine itself to ‘states’ in the sense of organized and centralized political power. He discusses, rather, the ‘origin of civilizations’. But here begins the difficulty ; for what he calls ‘civilizations’ are, in part, ‘states’ (as here described), in part societies like that of the Eskimos, which are not states; and if it is questionable whether ‘states’ originate according to one single scheme, then it must be even more doubtful when we consider a class of such diverse social phenomena as the early Egyptian and Mesopotamian states and their institutions and technique on the one side, and the Eskimo way of living on the other.

But we may concentrate on Toynbee’s description (A Study of History, vol. I, 305 ff.) of the origin of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian ‘civilizations’. His theory is that the challenge of a difficult jungle environment rouses a response from ingenious and enterprising leaders; they lead their followers into the valleys which they begin to cultivate, and found states. This (Hegelian and Bergsonian) theory of the creative genius as a cultural and political leader appears to me most romantic. If we take Egypt, then we must look, first of all, for the origin of the caste system. This, I believe, is most likely the result of conquests, just as in India where every new wave of conquerors imposed a new caste upon the old ones. But there are other arguments. Toynbee himself favours a theory which is probably correct, namely, that animal breeding and especially animal training is a later, a more advanced and a more difficult stage of development than mere agriculture, and that this advanced step is taken by the nomads of the steppe. But in Egypt we find both agriculture and animal breeding, and the same holds for most of the early ‘states’ (though not for all the American ones, I gather). This seems to be a sign that these states contain a nomadic element; and it seems only natural to venture the hypothesis that this element is due to nomad invaders imposing their rule, a caste rule, upon the original agricultural population. This theory disagrees with Toynbee’s contention (op. cit. III, 23 f.) that nomad-built states usually wither away very quickly. But the fact that many of the early caste states go in for the breeding of animals has to be explained somehow.

The idea that nomads or even hunters constituted the original upper class is corroborated by the age-old and still surviving upper-class traditions according to which war, hunting, and horses, are the symbols of the leisured classes; a tradition which formed the basis of Aristotle’s ethics and politics, and is still alive, as Veblen (The Theory of the Leisure Class) and Toynbee himself have shown; and to these traditions we can perhaps add the animal breeder’s belief in racialism, and especially in the racial superiority of the upper class. The latter belief which is so pronounced in caste states and in Plato and in Aristotle is held by Toynbee to be ‘one of the . . sins of our . . modern age’ and ‘something alien from the Hellenic genius’ (op. cit., III, 93). But although many Greeks may have developed beyond racialism, it seems likely that Plato’s and Aristotle’s theories are based on old traditions; especially in view of the fact that racial ideas played such a role in Sparta.

Controversial subjects should be learned through dialogues and debates

Reflecting on my own learning experience, I do not remember learning much of anything (with exceptions) about controversial matters such as politics, religion, or ethics from listening to lectures. But I have learned more from participating in and listening to dialogues and debates.

Listening to a lecture — given either to a small audience such as in a typical classroom, or to a large audience such as in a public lecture — at best, one learns the opinions of the lecturer; but one does not learn the merits of such opinions unless they are subject to criticism by a person of at least equal competence. I, therefore, recommend that all controversial matters taught in schools be conducted by two competent persons with incompatible positions.

Historically, such an approach was dramatically illustrated by Plato’s dialogues, as well as by Aristotle in some of his writings, and more so by Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae. But these are imaginary or opinionated dialogues. What is needed is to witness real disputes.

As illustrations, let me offer the following debates available on the internet as examples.

The first one is a BBC radio debate between Bertrand Russell and Frederick Copleston in 1948:

Here is a transcript of the debate: A Debate on the Argument from Contingency

The second debate is between Norman Finkelstein and Alan Dershowitz at Democracy Now in 2003 on the Palestine-Israel conflict:

Here is my take on this debate and its aftermath: Andrew Chrucky, Norman Finkelstein, DePaul, and U.S. Academia: Reductio Ad Absurdum of Centralized Universities, 2007.

The third debate is between Richard Wolff and Gene Epstein on Socialism vs Capitalism in 2019.

Here is my partial commentary: Richard Wolff’s failed definition of capitalism

The fourth debate is between Tucker Carlson and Cenk Uygur on immigration in 2018.

Here are my Comments on the Cenk Uygur and Tucker Carlson “debate”

The fifth: Sir Roger Penrose and William Lane Craig: How to combine the physical realm, the mental realm, and the abstract realm?

My last illustration is the debate between Stefan Molyneux and Peter Joseph on the merits of capitalism: Andrew Chrucky’s annotated commentary on the debate between Stefan Molyneux and Peter Joseph of the Zeitgeist Movement about the free market system, which took place on September 23, 2013.

Philosophy as philosophizing

Recently I was introduced by Jacob Feldman to a video and a corresponding article by Eric Dietrich who poses the question: “Is there progress in philosophy?” And his answer is that there is not.

He does not tell us what philosophy is, though he selects some allegedly philosophical problems and some metaphilosophical positions as examples of unresolvable philosophical disputes.

I want you to listen to him and read his article. Afterwards I will give you my commentary.

Erich Dietrich, “There Is No Progress in Philosophy, Essays in Philosophy, 12:329-344 (2011).

Commentary:

The first thing that I would like to say is that his view of philosophy is too narrow or myopic. The broader view is that philosophy is really “philosophizing.” It is an activity whose goal is to resolve disputes and hopefully to come to agreements. This activity is called by Mortimer J. Adler “dialectic.” See his book: Dialectic (1927). A related approach can be called “critical philosophy,” as presented by C.D. Broad in “Critical and Speculative Philosophy,” Contemporary British Philosophy (1924): 77-100.

See also my: The Aim of Liberal Education (2003)

As with any activity, a critical discussion can be done with various degrees of proficiency. In this sense, there can be progress in the acquisition of such a proficiency.

As to solving problems, I will mention some which have been solved.

The first is the clarification that existence is not a predicate. This solution has been attributed to Kant, but there are better modern expositions. And since this matter is relevant to an argument for God’s existence, see: C. D. Broad, “The Validity of Belief in a Personal God,” Hibbert Journal 24 (1925): 32-48.

The second concerns the credibility of miracles. See: C. D. Broad, “Hume’s theory of the credibility of miracles,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 17 (1916-1917), pp. 77-94.

The third concerns the problem of a free will and determinism. The solution consists of reframing the problem as contrasting doing something freely with being coerced to do something. This solution is referred as “compatibilism.”

In short, there has been progress in philosophy in discarding superstitions and the cobwebs of language.

Further Commentary:

1. He takes Aristotle as a “paradigm?” philosopher. But is Aristotle a philosopher because he has scientific speculations? Aristotle, qua scientist was wrong about many things. And, Aristotle qua philosopher has also been criticised by other philosophers, and if these other philosophers are correct, then philosophical speculation has indeed advanced.

2. As an example of philosophy not having resolved any philosophical problems, he assumes that as to the question whether there is a God or not, there is no solution. Here he is wrong. The fact that there are people who disagree, what does that show? Can their reasoning be evaluated? Yes, relative to some agreed to standards, such as non-contradiction and compatibility with the findings of science. I pose to you the problem of finding fault with the reasoning of C. D. Broad, “The Validity of Belief in a Personal God,” Hibbert Journal 24 (1925): 32-48.

3. On the assumption that philosophy does not progress, he cites three philosophers who try to answer why this is so: Colin McGinn, Thomas Nagel, and James Sterba. By my lights, the assumption is wrong. But it does not exclude the intractability of some sorts of questions.

The Bullshit of Intellectuals

Thomas Sowell has written a book, Intellectuals and Society (2009), which, in essence, repeats the thesis of Jose Ortega y Gasset, in his book Revolt of the Masses (1930), namely, that men of science who are experts in field X, espouse claims in field Y (in which presumably they are not experts).

As an example, this is exactly the charge which Sowell makes against Bertrand Russell and Noam Chomsky. He admits that they are experts in mathematical logic and linguistics, respectively, but denies that they are experts in social, economic, and political matters.

There are three possible errors in this claim. The first is that Sowell may be wrong by denying to them an expertise outside their core expertise. The second is that people may appeal to the conclusions of experts outside their own area of expertise, as do Russell and Chomsky. And, thirdly, experts disagree; so there is a need to adjudicate.

The conclusion from this reasoning should be that an intellectual should have, as C.D. Broad put it, a synoptic approach, taking into account everything relevant to what he is talking about. So, what Sowell should be saying, or is saying, is something like the following: “Most, or many, intellectuals do not have a synoptic approach — including Russell and Chomsky; but I, Sowell, do.”

Contrary to what Sowell claims, both Russell and Chomsky have a better synoptic view than does Sowell. Why? Simply because Sowell scope of interest is in the actual state of affairs under liberal democracy and capitalism rather than in any radical alternative. Specifically, both Russell and Chomsky espouse a form of liberal socialism, about which Sowell has nothing to say. And I, for example, cite Switzerland as having a better form of democracy than that in the United States. Again, something about which Sowell has nothing to say.

But the point Sowell may be making is that there is too much bullshit coming out of the mouths of so-called intellectuals. And so, what is the remedy? Write a book such as Sowell’s exposing the bullshit. But really? Who will read his book?

The Influence of Science and Intellectuals?

Sowell exaggerates the influence of science and that of intellectuals, including his own influence. For example, Sowell has nothing to say about superstitions and religion. But, in the period of the 17th and 18th centuries, many intellectuals dismissed superstitions and religions as unworthy of belief — as incompatible with science. And recently, four intellectuals have written anti-theistic books. What impact has the Enlightenment or these authors made on the publics belief in superstition and religion?

Since Sowell constantly urges us to consult the empirical and statistical data, here are the statistics about religion: A WIN/Gallup International poll in 2015 found that 63% of the globe identified as religious, 22% as not religious, and 11% as convinced atheists. So much for the influence of science and intellectuals on popular beliefs!

Here is an interview with Thomas Sowell. Judge for yourself.

Bull Sessions on the Internet

Let’s start with a definition of a “bull session.” As I browsed the internet for a definition, the following one seemed good enough:

An informal discussion. A bull session was originally a late-night college men’s dormitory conversation with a wide range of topics — politics, sex, sports, sex, religion, sex . . . The word “bull,” which meant something boastful or outlandish, came from — no surprise here — “bullshit.”

Why do I focus on the phenomenon of a bull session?

Because as I browse the internet to garner information, analyses, anticipations, and recommendations, I come across digital books, audio books, articles, and other visual and auditory media. I am also very attracted to lectures, speeches and interviews with prominent individuals. And since my interest is primarily political, I have come to appreciate the wisdom of such people as Chomsky, Hedges, Pilger, Kinzer, Sale, and others.

However, I am also curious to hear how a younger generation approaches political issues. And I have noticed that there are all these characters wearing headsets talking to other characters also wearing headsets. I think they are called political “podcasters,” as contrasted with the talk shows on television. And there are too many of them to even enumerate.

Since I consider myself in the anarcho-socialist spectrum, I tend to listen to would-be supporters and detractors within this spectrum.

A few years ago, I came across a young man, Cameron Watt, who made a number of videos about anarchism which were clearly and systematically presented at Libertarian Communist Platform. Here is one of his videos:

A Case for Revolution (2018)

By contrast to these clear and systematic expositions of libertarian socialism (aka anarchism), I came across a podcaster, Michael (Krechmer) Malice, who also calls himself an anarchist.

I tried very hard to understand the nature of his “anarchism” through the various podcasts which he does with others. But my endeavor to understand where he stands has so far been a failure.

So far, this is what I have learned. He is against a centralized State; and he is, as I am, for the right of secession. But when I try to find out a bit more by listening to his appearances on various podcasts, these podcasts turned into bull sessions. For example, in several podcasts when he was asked to characterize anarchism, he repeated that it is a matter of relating. He uses the phrase “you do not speak for me.” If paraphrased, it means that he requires getting an agreement from him on all matters.

On the Joe Rogan show, he proposed to substitute private security services for the police. But instead of pursuing the nature of anarchism further, the exchange with Joe Rogan turned into a gossip-like bull session.

On the Dave Rubin Report, he mentioned that he was a leftist against the State, and then the conversation turned to other things — more bull session.

In his podcast with Chris Williamson, confronted with the question: What Is The Hardest Question For Anarchism To Answer?, his answer was that he had no idea how to deal with parents who mistreat their children.

Also asked if there is anywhere an anarchistic territory, he answered that it is not a place but a relationship — i.e., of mutual agreement. But other then mentioning ancient Ireland, he could not mention any experiments with anarchism.

This makes me think that he is an anarcho-capitalist, because such a thing never existed, and, in my opinion, is an incoherent idea.

And, if he were an anarcho-socialist or an anarcho-communist, as Cameron Watt is, then he would have mentioned communism in primitive tribes, and anarchist communities which have escaped the State. And he could have mentioned the various communistic societies in the United States in the 19th century, he could also have mentioned Nestor Makhno and Makhnovchina in Ukraine (1918-1921), he could have mentioned the Spanish anarchism (1936-39), and today, the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico; Rojava in Syria, and the town of Cheran in Mexico.

But whatever his position is, it is smothered by the bull sessions of the podcasters.