Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wall Street Journal comments on the Slimes.

The NYT that is.

This one will leave a mark as well. Some key bits:

The New York Times has seized on a madman's act of wanton violence as an excuse to instigate a witch hunt against those it regards as its domestic foes. "Instigate" is not too strong a word here: As we noted yesterday, one of the first to point an accusatory finger at the Tea Party movement and Sarah Palin was the Times's star columnist, Paul Krugman. Less than two hours after the news of the shooting broke, he opined on the Times website: "We don't have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was."

This was speculative fantasy, irresponsible but perhaps forgivable had Krugman walked it back when the facts proved contrary to his prejudices. He did not. His Monday column evinced the same damn-the-facts attitude as the editorial did.

In the column, Krugman blames the massacre on "eliminationist rhetoric," which he defines as "suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary." He rightly asserts that "there isn't any place" for such rhetoric. But he falsely asserts that it is "coming, overwhelmingly, from the right."

Krugman's assertion that such rhetoric comes "overwhelmingly from the right" is at best wilfully ignorant. National Review's Jay Nordlinger runs down some examples on the left:

Even before [George W.] Bush was elected president, the kill-Bush talk and imagery started. When Governor Bush was delivering his 2000 convention speech, Craig Kilborn, a CBS talk-show host, showed him on the screen with the words "SNIPERS WANTED." Six years later, Bill Maher, the comedian-pundit, was having a conversation with John Kerry. He asked the senator what he had gotten his wife for her birthday. Kerry answered that he had taken her to Vermont. Maher said, "You could have went to New Hampshire and killed two birds with one stone." (New Hampshire is an early primary state, of course.) Kerry said, "Or I could have gone to 1600 Pennsylvania and killed the real bird with one stone." (This is the same Kerry who joked in 1988, "Somebody told me the other day that the Secret Service has orders that if George Bush is shot, they're to shoot Quayle.") Also in 2006, the New York comptroller, Alan Hevesi, spoke to graduating students at Queens College. He said that his fellow Democrat, Sen. Charles Schumer, would "put a bullet between the president's eyes if he could get away with it."

One example Nordlinger misses: Just this past October, then-Rep. Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania told the Times-Tribune of Scranton: "That [Rick] Scott down there that's running for governor of Florida. Instead of running for governor of Florida, they ought to have him and shoot him. Put him against the wall and shoot him." Kanjorski was defeated for re-election the following month, but he turns up today on the op-ed page of--oh, yes--the New York Times:

The House speaker, John Boehner, spoke for everyone who has been in Congress when he said that an attack against one of us is an attack against all who serve. It is also an attack against all Americans.

Does that include Gov. Rick Scott, Mr. Kanjorski?

Left-wing eliminationist rhetoric has occasionally made its way into the very pages of the Times. Here are the jaunty opening paragraphs of a news story dated Dec. 26, 1995:

As the Rev. Al Sharpton strode through Harlem toward Sylvia's restaurant and a meeting with the boxing promoter Don King last week, the greetings of passers-by followed him down Lenox Avenue.

"Hey, Reverend Al, you going to kill Giuliani?" one man shouted, in a joking reference to the latest confrontation between Mr. Sharpton and the Mayor. Mr. Sharpton waved silently and walked on.

"Giuliani," he said, "is the best press agent I ever had."

The next paragraph puts this eliminationist rhetoric into context:

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and others have accused Mr. Sharpton of using racially charged language that contributed to the emotional pitch of a dispute between a Jewish clothing store owner and the black owner of a record shop. They have suggested he had a responsibility to defuse the tensions that rose until a gunman set Freddy's clothing store afire Dec. 8, killing himself and seven others.
(As an aside, it is no credit to our colleagues at Fox News Channel that Sharpton is a frequent guest on their programs.)

Another bit of eliminationist rhetoric appeared as the lead sentence of an article on the Times op-ed page in December 2009: "A message to progressives: By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy." The author: Paul Krugman.

A March 2010 profile of Krugman in The New Yorker featured this related detail:

Once Obama won the primary, Krugman supported him. Obviously, any Democrat was better than John McCain.

"I was nervous until they finally called it on Election Night," Krugman says. "We had an Election Night party at our house, thirty or forty people."

"The econ department, the finance department, the Woodrow Wilson school," [Robin] Wells [Krugman's wife] says. "They were all very nervous, so they were grateful we were having the party, because they didn't want to be alone. We had two or three TVs set up and we had a little portable outside fire pit and we let people throw in an effigy or whatever they wanted to get rid of for the past eight years."

"One of our Italian colleagues threw in an effigy of Berlusconi."

Burning an effigy, like burning an American flag, is constitutionally protected symbolic speech. It is also about as eliminationist as speech can get, short of a true threat or incitement. To Krugman, it is a fun party activity. It is shockingly hypocritical for such a man to deliver a pious lecture about the dangers of eliminationist rhetoric.


Krauthammer on Krugman's latest descent into evidence-free partisan libel

This'll leave a mark. Key bit:

Finally, the charge that the metaphors used by Palin and others were inciting violence is ridiculous. Everyone uses warlike metaphors in describing politics. When Barack Obama said at a 2008 fundraiser in Philadelphia, "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun," he was hardly inciting violence.

Why? Because fighting and warfare are the most routine of political metaphors. And for obvious reasons. Historically speaking, all democratic politics is a sublimation of the ancient route to power - military conquest. That's why the language persists. That's why we say without any self-consciousness such things as "battleground states" or "targeting" opponents. Indeed, the very word for an electoral contest - "campaign" - is an appropriation from warfare.

When profiles of Obama's first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, noted that he once sent a dead fish to a pollster who displeased him, a characteristically subtle statement carrying more than a whiff of malice and murder, it was considered a charming example of excessive - and creative - political enthusiasm. When Senate candidate Joe Manchin dispensed with metaphor and simply fired a bullet through the cap-and-trade bill - while intoning, "I'll take dead aim at [it]" - he was hardly assailed with complaints about violations of civil discourse or invitations to murder.

Did Manchin push Loughner over the top? Did Emanuel's little Mafia imitation create a climate for political violence? The very questions are absurd - unless you're the New York Times and you substitute the name Sarah Palin.

The origins of Loughner's delusions are clear: mental illness. What are the origins of Krugman's?

Kant on natural purposes part the VIIIth

In this post, we continue with section 73, the first part, which concerns itself with the first “idealist”, (or “apparent only” or “it ain’t really out there”) pair of theses concerning the apparent purposiveness of organisms. He has just argued that ancient atomism, when paired with the notion of an infinity of time and/or space within which random combinations occur, can indeed explain or tell a consistent story according to which apparent purposiveness in natural objects can appear without said story having to invoke a designing mind. However, he has also made the Popperian point that the explanation is capable of explaining absolutely anything we observe, and is therefore useless, in effect, the atheistic Lazy man’s way out of explaining the origins of organisms. In the next few paragraphs of 73 we will see Kant dealing with the second “idealist” thesis, one we have called the “lifeless God postulation”, and the “fatalistic” thesis. Once again, as he did with atomism, in section 73 he expands upon arguments he sketched in 72. On to you ParaKant:

Spinoza, on the other hand, wishes to make the case that his position in fact dispenses with the need to make inquiries into the ground of the possibility of NOOPs, and argues that his position ultimately shows that the apparent purposiveness is just that, apparent, and not real.

He does, however allow as a valid general truth about nature that NOOPs are real. But, he accords them a different status than do any of the other theses we are discussing. He conceptualizes them, and indeed all other things that exist as being “accidents” or “modes” inhering in an original being. This thing plays the role of a substrate. It’s explanatory role vis these things is not like the explanatory role we saw in the first of our pair of idealist theses, nor is it like the two “realist” theses. All three of these postulate some sort of causality with regard to that relationship. The thing or things, whatever they are, that explain NOOPs bring them about via some sort of causation, be it mechanical (unguided) or designed arrangement of parts.

This Spinozistic thesis differs from the other three in precisely this regard. The “grounding” or “explanatory” relationship it postulates between its ‘base’ (the being that is made use of to explain the existence of NOOPs) and the NOOPs themselves is one of mere subsistence. NOOPs are supported by it and explained by it, by virtue of their being in a relationship of subsistence, that is; being supported by the original being, nothing more, and nothing less.

Now, once again, I’ve taken many liberties with the original which is deeply obscure, to say the least. It might help to briefly sketch Spinoza’s metaphysics to get clear about this. A very rough and ready sketch: Spinoza runs with (and by this I mean carefully teases out what he considers to be logical consequences of) the notion of God, the originary being, being a necessarily existing being. This notion is an inheritance from the hoary tradition of philosophy. If God is perfect, then he cannot even partake in a whiff of non-existence. Why?

Being something that could have potentially not existed, is, so the argument goes, not as perfect a mode of being as is being something that could not have possibly failed to exist. This latter thing is more perfect than the first, and indeed we cannot conceive of an entity more perfect than that, with regard to the property of existence. So, God is just this sort of being, something that could not possibly have failed to exist. Well anything the existence of which must be explained by reference to the necessary being, must itself also be incapable of having a whiff of non-existence about it. And everything that exists must have its existence explained by reference to the perfect being, for if something does not, than it is something that could exist outside of the powers of that being. This would essentially be a limitation of that being's powers. But that is directly counter to its nature as the perfect being. Therefore there can be no thing of the above 'independent' type. So all things find their origins in the perfect, necessary being.

So, (being brief as I said) the world is also necessary, and is indeed a mere mode of existence of the one being. In fact, mind and matter are mere modes of being of the necessarily existing originary being, and their properties came about (indeed that phrase smacks too much of causality) inevitably, as a sort of logical consequence or implication of that being's existence.

Crappy analogy time: There are relations of logical implication, consequence, or 'inevitability' any time you consider a geometric object. Say, you are considering a triangle. Logically, it is a consequence of the existence of a triangle, that there be an object that is a closed figure. It’s not that the triangle “caused” there to be a closed figure. Nope. The latter is just a logical consequence of the former being the case. Similarly, it is just a logical consequence of there being a necessary being that the world exists as it does. In fact, it is inevitable that it exist, just as it does. True, we may not see how it all 'follows' from the fact that the necessary being exists, but that is of no er..consequence. Cats cannot see logical connections in geometry. "That don't mean them logical connections ain't out there Clyde!" (So sayeth Phil Harris, making liberal use of the double negative.)

In a nutshell, that’s Spinoza’s model of the world. (I take full responsibility for any embarrassing inaccuracies in the sketch.) So, now we are better situated to see what Kant says in this passage about dear old Baruch's views. OK, now back to ParaKant:

Precisely because of the unconditional necessity of the originary being, and the unconditioned necessity of all those natural things that are “accidents” or “modes” inhering in that thing, Spinoza does manage to secure one feature we usually take to be satisfactory as an explanation of an object with purpose; that is, a unity of its ‘ground’, a unifying factor in terms of which its existence is explained.

Helpful hint here: Consider the watch. There is a unity of ground, a unifying factor in the explanation of the existence of a watch in that conceptualizing it as being designed for the purpose of chronology, we can then ‘tell the tale’ as to how it was constructed with that end in mind, either by one person, or several. Kant is saying here that there is a sort of unity of the ground, a sort of unifying factor that is introduced by Spinoza’s explanation of the individual objects in the world, in that they all find their source in the one necessary being that underlies them, and allows them to subsist.

Crappy analogy II: A sea urchin underlies and allows it’s spines to exist. In a similar, but non-causal fashion, God underlies and allows natural objects to exist. God can’t fail to exist. They can’t fail to exist, because they are modes of God.

At the same time as Spinoza provides a ground for explanation of NOOPs he tears away a crucial feature they appear to have; contingency of their constitution with regard to apparent purposes. Without this central notion of contingency, one cannot even think of a unity of purpose, therefore one cannot even think of them as designed, because Spinoza's conception takes away the possibility of conceiving of these things as even apparently having come about via the operations of an intelligence, that is, an intelligence that serves as the ground of natural things.

One wants to say here: Yes. So what Kant? That is precisely what Spinoza is claiming. This is not a shortcoming of his view, but an area of disagreement between him and others. He does not set out to explain the apparent purposiveness of NOOPs in these latter terms because he thinks the appearance is fundamentally in error. So, of course he is not going to see this as a shortcoming. Kant does have a reply to this:

But, Spinozism, if it purports to explain the apparent purposive connections of parts in NOOPs (something that it does not deny by the way, so cannot dismiss so simply as the above suggests) by reference to the mere connectedness of all these things in the substance within which they all inhere, has in fact failed in explaining the appearances altogether.

Even if we concede the basic metaphysical picture Spinoza endorses, and concede that the things of the world exist in this way, such an ontological unity is not the unity of a purpose, and, more to the point, does nothing toward making it comprehensible why it is we are beset by the ‘illusion’ if you will, of there being unity of purpose in some objects we find in nature.

For, this latter sort of unity is quite particular and peculiar in that it does not ‘follow’ from the mere connectedness of things as inhering in a subject or underlying substance (the original being in this case), but necessarily implies in its existence or perception, reference to a bona-fide CAUSE which has understanding.

Even if we unify all the things of nature in a simple subject, this never exhibits such a purposive reference. For, in that simpler conception, we do not conceive of them as being EFFECTS of that substance, the substance being a causal agent operating according to, or by means of understanding.

Without these two necessary conditions (causation and operation through intellect), the nearest approach we can make, on Spinozistic grounds to explaining unity, is unity by natural necessity. And if such natural necessity is ascribed, not only internally, to individual objects, but to the world of objects, it is, on Spinoza's view, a blind necessity that brings that unity about, an unguided blind necessity.

Now, in a bit of an aside Kant considers another possible way to explain the apparent purposiveness of NOOPs. Perhaps someone would bring it up in response to his criticism of Spinoza? Hard to tell. Anyway, here's the little bit o' digression:

It won’t do any good to say that the purposiveness in nature is nothing other than whatever it is that each thing has that is sufficient to ensure that that thing is in fact itself and not some other thing. For, if we say that that thing, that 'whatever it is' (called by the Schoolmen “the transcendental perfection of things”) is sufficient to explain purposiveness, then everything under the sun and beyond is a purpose. To be a thing is tantamount to being a purpose, and there is at bottom nothing at all that specially deserves to be represented as a purpose. We are just like children playing with words instead of concepts if we take this route.

OK, thanks loads for that digression. Extremely helpful. Now, mercifully, Kant gets back to Spinoza to wrap things up:

Spinoza by reducing our concept of the purposiveness of nature to consciousness of our subsistence in an all-embracing (though ultimately simple) being, and seeking that purposive form merely in the unity of that being, must have intended to include his view in the Idealist camp, not the Realist camp.

But, he wasn’t even capable of establishing idealism, because the mere representation of unity of a substrate, which is all his position really amounts to, cannot make it clear to us how such a circumstance could bring about even the idea or illusion of a purposiveness (even if only apparent or undersigned). (Epic fail Baruch old boy. As Willy James might say; your “lifeless God” option isn’t a living option.)

All right, Kant wrote nothing like that last anachronistic sentence. So sue me. I’ve had enough for today.

Next post, we will find ourselves still firmly lodged in section 73. That post begins the second half of that goal Kant has in mind for 73; expansion of arguments sketched in 72, explaining why the Idealistic and Realistic systems ultimately fail in explaining what they set out to explain.

In the case of the idealist theses Kant believes he has established that neither is satisfactory in the limited goal it has of explaining how it is we come to have these notions of naturally occurring objects with purpose, in a world where there is no real purposive explanation of the origins of NOOPs.

Now, or rather, next time, he moves on to the Realist theses. These will attempt to explain how it is indeed possible for the notion of NOOPs to be basically true, they will attempt to explain how it is that purposiveness in nature is really out there. Kant will explain how they ultimately fail.