March 10, 2003
The Absurdities of Cultural Relativism If That Means "No Useful Standards of Comparison" for Specific Purposes: For Instance, Which Cultures Encourage or Hinder Economic Development or Political Democracy, and Why?
We've talked a fair amount about cultural relativism in our commentaries, especially in its pc-versions that draw on various post-modernist epistemological theories, all claiming that there is no such thing as objective truths or even universal values that pertain to all of human-kind. It follows for cultural relativists --- meaning almost all the politically correct radical Academic Left these days, except when it comes to US democracy and capitalism, themselves somehow cleary and incontestably evil--- that nothing "truthful" or "objective" or "better here than there (or vice versa)" can exist meaningfully beyond the consensus of a particular group and hence its shared beliefs and values and normative standards about the world and the "correct" blueprints for living your life.
Well, some might refer to scientific professions; never mind, all reality is "socially constructed," it's said, with scientists of any sort no more in bracing contact with any reality than your average Jack of Jill. Some might refer to philosophers in the analytical school that covers all the English-speaking countries, Scandinavia, and more and more the European continent; others might refer to so-called Continental philosophy heavily influenced by Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and French post-modernists like Foucault and Derrida. And, lest we forget, such groups might mean the pc-radicals themselves, organized into feminist or ethnic or political movements or what have you. But note. Somehow, in mysterious ways never clarified, their politicized members forget that, if relativism is sound, they're not supposed to pass judgment on the culture of other groups. Somehow, the mystery deepening, ever darker, the radical avant-garde --- tenured, comfy professors for the most part (oh, those daredevil revolutionaries!) --- have convinced themselves that they have been able to transcend the limits of relativist thought, carving out for themselves a privileged position of wondrous insight and understand
Posted by Michael Gordon @ 2:25 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]
March 30, 2003
RICHARD RORTY: SOME ARTICLES ON THE MOST INFLUENTIAL PHILOSOPHER OF OUR TIME: And the Only Serious Thinker the New Academic PC-Left Has Produced
Those of you who have read the earlier articles published here on epistemological and cultural relativisms need no reminder of who Richard Rorty is, probably the most prominent and influential philosopher of the last two decades --- not that this necessarily means that everyone shares that opinion; far from it. See: Cultural Relativism
Also Rorty, Now an Enemy of the PC-Left
Keep in mind a couple of things as you look at the recommended articles that follow.
First, Rorty has explicitly, angrily, denounced his former radical-left allies, whom he dubs the Academic Left, "the School of Resentment": "tediously self-righteous," "semi-literate," and "politically useless," lacking even a sense of elementary decent patriotism. This appears in one of the numerous composite works in which various philosophers dissect and evaluate Rorty's epistemological theory: Rorty And His Critics
, ed. Robert Brandom (2000).
Second, as the last reference hints, Rorty is the only "post-modernist philosopher" that is taken seriously by the school of analytical philosophy, which flourishes world-wide, especially in the English-speaking countries and Scandinavia, but now increasingly on the Continent of Europe itself.
Posted by Michael Gordon @ 6:46 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]
April 2, 2003
US STRATEGY, MEDIA NONSENSE, FRENCH TV, GERMAN IDIOCY, POLITICALLY CORRECT PROFESSORS WHO SUPPORT SADDAM, EDWARD SAID FLIPPING OUT ONTO FUNNY-FARM TERRAINTHE BRILLIANT US STRATEGY AND MEDIA NONSENSE
So far, for all the sniping in the media about an ill-conceived Rumsfeld-dictated plan that has deprived, allegedly, US forces of enough heavy armor and soldiers on the ground, the strategy adopted by Rumsfeld, the Joint Chiefs, and General Franks --- based on a bolder, updated version of the revolution in warfare: rapid mobile forces, focused air power and smart weaponry, a matchless superiority in intelligence, reconnaissance, and communications, and centralized command over the entire battlefield of Iraq --- has proved to be remarkably successful in Iraq . . . maybe the most brilliant military strategy that the US has used since WWII; more, quite likely one of the most brilliant in all of history. A big claim? Maybe so; true nonetheless . . . up to now, and likely to be true throughout the campaign.
In particular, consider that: The start of the ground war on day one --- ahead of the predicted several days of shock-and-awe bombardment --- allowed American and British forces to push quickly into southern Iraq, then allow 3 US divisions, including the heavy mobilized 3rd infantry along with the lighter Marine 1st Expeditionary force, plus the 7th Cavalry backed by the Airborne 101st, to cover over 220 miles along three different prongs, situating them just outside the perimeter guarded by the Republican Guard divisions to the south of Baghdad
Posted by Michael Gordon @ 7:31 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]
August 8, 2003
IS ECONOMICS A SCIENCE? CAN IT BE?
Thanks to a hacker attack, the initial version of this article --- published May 10, 2003 --- is wandering restlessly amid the pitch dark of a distant and dismal CPU-Purgatory, no reprieve in sight, along with all the other articles that appeared between April 18th and July 1. Revised and updated, that article now makes a re-run appearance here. Of the 120 articles or so published since the buggy prof site went into operation in late January this year, it's probably the most challenging intellectually . . . though, let us hope, not beyond the ability of university students or graduates to follow and either agree or disagree with. Introductory Comments As a discipline with aspirations to to being a science --- or even claims that it already is --- economics encounters a horde of problems that play havoc with the claims and frustrate the aspirations. In the past. Right now. And very likely way into the future.
Two such problems stand out, one theoretical, the other practical:  The limited ability of economists to cumulate reliable knowledge of economic behavior, with good predictive power: whether of business firms, or nation-wide economies, or the impact for good or bad of public policies, or the global economy --- including how they interact in increasingly complex ways. All this, moreover, in the face of relentless technological changes, some of a radically restructuring nature that drastically change the way we live, work, and fight wars; or of marked shifts in market dynamism from one country or region to another; or of extra-economic events ("exogenous variables" outside formal models, but influencing the interaction of economic variables) like wars, economic sanctions, and disruptions of critical supplies like oil.  The discipline's limited ability, which follows directly from the first problem, to offer reliable guidelines to pol
Posted by Michael Gordon @ 8:41 PM CST [continue]
December 31, 2003
Final Version. Follow-Up on Cultural Relativism and Social ConstructionismThose of you who have read the previous article on cultural relativism --- what it is, what culture itself means, what's sound in it and what's not --- might have noticed that we referred frequently to social constructivism as a post-modernist theoretical approach that has two branches: 1) a way to study social life, almost always with an intent to push for major changes, and 2) a theory of epistemology that denies there are objective facts about the world above and beyond our own changing concepts and theories for classifying the world's objects and making sense of them.
1) Identity Politics. The first branch is an ideology, little else. Emphasizing the overwhelmingly decisive impact of ideas and linguistic influences in shaping our societies and political and economic worlds, social constructivism in this sense tries to explain everything about them --- especially everything any group of advocates dislikes about the status quo and wants to change --- and to rally and prod the activists and others into energetic social and political action. Call it what it usually is: identity politics: activist groups often exaggerating existing discrimination --- exploiting the highly desired gains in civil rights over the last two generations --- in order to push for more social acceptance for their specific causes. For a good up-dated take on this by two civil rights leaders, critical of this exploitation and deliberate confusion, see L.A. Times.
A query prompts itself here. Has any good come out of these pedant-manufactured works, swarms of cultural studies on gender, race, and class, each and every one, it seems, full of a bold unmasking of this or that bourgeois hypocrisy or crime by academics living high on the hog themselves? All of them fu
Posted by Michael Gordon @ 4:56 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]
December 30, 2003
The Absurdities of Cultural Relativism: Another Buggy Take The following commentary was not what the buggy prof started out to talk about today, not by a long chalk. His intent was to resume the long, far-ranging series on American exceptionalism --- specifically, to set out some statistical stuff that showed how low American public spending turns out to be compared to other democracies. The exceptions here, which we'll amply document, are expenditures on education and defense; both absolutely and as a percentage of GDP, the US actually outspends all others. In turn, those statistical comparisons were going to be bolstered by some survey data that shows why, for good or bad, Americans are generally happy with the relatively low levels of such expenditure. That satisfaction, as you'll eventually see, reflects the ingrained suspicion of big concentrated government --- a sentiment, politically charged, that distinguishes the US as we've seen in earlier articles in this series from even the other English-speaking countries . . . themselves lacking the powerful statist traditions that flourish everywhere among the EU Continental countries and in Japan.
The sentiment reflects something else too: a more general satisfaction with the workings of free markets, even when they are subject to a variety of regulations. No escape from those regulations. They humanize contemporary capitalism and make it work better for the general good, even in their watered-down American mode --- not that all the regulations are perfect or don't entail some trade-offs. Japan and the EU Continental countries stand at the other end of the spectrum here. Historically, from both the left and right, capitalism and free markets were ideologically contested there and usually violently; whatever else can be said about it, the giant welfare state now in place has helped make capitalism acceptable to most Europeans and Japanese and underpins their social peace. Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand turn out to be in between. And Canad
Posted by Michael Gordon @ 3:18 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]
August 30, 2004
The Buggy Prof Back SoonQuite a few people have sent emails inquiring about the buggy site's inaction the last three weeks. My thanks to all of them, except for one poison-pen type who hoped that I had come down with some terminal brain disease and was in a comatose position in a site funded by Hospice. Well, no such luck. Nothing anyway as serious as terminal damage in the upstairs department, at any rate none that the buggy prof can detect (despite what his wife claims to notice daily) --- only a little time off for some reading and lazing around Santa Barbara, with the site primed for more bugged out incandescent stuff to start anew next week, probably with a report on some of the books (mainly novels and historical works, plus some terrific fact-based investigative journalism.)
One of the latter is James McManus's Positively Fifth Street, the most absorbing book I've read in a year or two, and of any sort: fiction or non-fiction.
A novelist, McManus --- who also writes sports journalism on the side --- went to Las Vegas early in this decade to report on two related events, a murder trial and the World Series of Poker. Written with hilarious vigor and in a flashy style that works to a tee, McManus --- a totally amateur player --- uses some money to enter satellite competition, finds himself pitted against snake-eyed pros, and manages to win enough satellites to get into the finals with the real pros, the world's best. The book is also autobiographical in parts, revealing enough of McManus's own hyped-up persona --- Good Jim and Bad Jim, the former a solid husband and father, the latter given to a rakish life --- that makes him every bit as interesting as the grafters, casino owners, hookers, drugged-out poker pros, washed-out gangsters, and sad-sack milli
Posted by gordongordomr @ 5:15 PM CST [continue] [ Comments? ]