Sunday, February 28, 2010

Precis: MLK Jr.'s "A Time to Break Silence"

In contrast with "Report from Iron Mountain," in which Lewin Leopold unsuccessfully employs the rhetorical device of satire to explore attitudes concerning the concept of peace /war and critique "superficial logic" of "think tanks," MLK Jr. takes a different avenue or rhetorical approach when discussing peace in "A Time to Break Silence." Unlike Leopold's piece, which NYTimes critic Robert Lekachman states is "conscientiously devoid of personal style or picturesque phrasing," MLK Jr.'s straightforward, powerful speech exudes MLK Jr.'s personal flavor and rhetorical genius. In an effort to better understand how MLK Jr.'s speech is functioning and why it is so compelling and enormously influential, I will take you through a navigation of "A Time to Break Silence." In tracing the trajectory of his argument, I will chart some of his central rhetorical moves, such as his thesis, intended audience, historical narratization, juxtaposition of figures, use of anaphora and pathos appeal, and "Othering." In rhetorically dissecting MLK Jr.'s speech and mapping out the salient contours of his argument, I will stitch together my idiosyncratic relation to the text. (Before I lead you through a navigation of the text, I am compelled to make a disclaimer: my precis only begins to scratch the surface of MLK Jr.'s speech, which is pregnant with rhetorical goodies-- so do read his speech if you have not already done so because it is absolutely brilliant)

At the beginning of his speech, MLK Jr. informs the audience of his location, as well as his purpose for speaking: he is at the meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City because he is in "deepest agreement with the aims of their work and organization concerning Vietnam." Though he does not explicitly state his thesis, he hints that his speech will serve as an expansion and extension of the committee's opening lines: "A time comes when silence is betrayal." His thesis concerns his aim to "make a passionate plea to'' his country to "move past indecision to action" and "find new ways to speak for peace and Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world." Though we might assume his thesis is limited to the discussion of Vietnam, it is not. Towards the end of his speech, we see that Martin Luther King Jr. makes an interesting move: his plea transcends the specific discussion of Vietnam, opening up to discuss a "genuine revolution of values" where "every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind.. an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men" While his argument starts out as a call for action in Vietnam, MLK opens up the discussion to call for a "revolution of values" and international "fellowship of brotherhood." Although MLK Jr. genuinely wants to persuade the US citizens to mobilize and stop the Vietnam war, he also uses the subject of Vietnam as a vehicle to express his vision of a moral universe that is centered around peace, justice, security, and equality. MLK Jr.'s speech is two-fold with respect to its content matter, as well its historical and temporal specificity.

After delineating this elastic thesis, MLK Jr. explicitly informs us of his intended audience in the seventh paragraph. When discussing his intended audience, MLK Jr. employs a tactic that he frequently uses (as seen in his definition of "love"): he negates several subjects as candidates of his intended audience before unveiling his positive description of his intended audience. In other words, he emphasizes that he was not at the meeting to speak to "Hanoi or the National Liberation.. nor to China or Russia..." After establishing who he is not addressing, he finally informs us that his target audience is his "fellow Americans." By using a negative form of argumentation, MLK Jr. builds up suspense, directly capturing the attention of American citizens. He heightens their complicity in the Vietnam war using this tactic, setting the stage to unravel the rest of his argument, which is a "call to action."

After "calling out" his "fellow Americans," MLK Jr. delineates a blueprint of the 7 major reasons to bring the Vietnam war to end based on his moral vision: "Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision." In making this statement at the beginning of the paragraph, MLK Jr. establishes a structure to his speech, providing guidance to his listeners and readers about the purpose and direction of his argument. This organization and guidance is especially important for MLK Jr.'s project. The success of his speech partly depends on this moment, when MLK Jr. is attempting to provide justification for his role in speaking out against Vietnam and establish credibility so that his audience will be receptive to his ideas. In an effort to effectively pre-empt and refute possible criticism, establish his credibility, and reassert his moral vision, MLK Jr. makes a self-conscious movement by plotting these reasons (which I have synthesized):

1)He believed that the Vietnam war undercuts his civil rights struggle, as the war took away vital resources from programs for the poor ("I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube").

2) He wanted to draw attention to and speak out against "the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools"

3) He believed that change in America would come through non-violenct action. For the sake of the "life and health of America," he thought it was his duty to speak out against the violence of the oppressed. ("Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war")

4) As a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, he believed it was his commission to work beyond national allegiances for the "brotherhood of man."

5) Because he had a commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ and because he shared with all men the calling to be a son of living God, he had this vocation of sonship and brotherhood that is "beyond the calling of race or nation or creed"

6) He speaks the voice for the voiceless of Vietnam, for the "people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now"

7) He speaks out because "he is deeply concerned about the American troops" ("Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor")

After mapping out his reasons for speaking that night, in which he explains that he has a vocation of "sonship and brotherhood that extends beyond national borders," MLK Jr. paints a historical narrative of the Vietnamese people, who he frames as "our brothers." In fleshing out a historical narrative of the Vietnamese people and their struggle for independence from oppressive forces, MLK Jr. reminds American citizens that it was the "intervention of deadly Western arrogance" that led to the current situation, as the US rejected the revolutionary government seeking self-determination in Vietnam and "supported French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam." In painting an overarching narrative, MLK Jr. positions the audience to understand the broad scope of the conflict and their complicity in the story. In addition to using the rhetorical tactic of framing and "narrativization," MLK Jr. emphasizes the US's, and by association the US citizens, responsibility in the war by employing the figure of the bomb. In my opinion, MLK Jr. creates a particularly powerful moment when he juxtaposes the image of the leaflet and bomb: "All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy." In juxtaposing these images-- one that represents our motivating ideals as liberators and the other that represents our destructive reality as aggressors--, MLK Jr. underscores the hypocritical status of the US. MLK Jr. successfully juxtaposes these images to convey a biting and poignant criticism.

In addition to employing the technique of "narrativization" and juxtaposition of figures, MLK Jr. also employs a pathos argument when fleshing out a portrait of the everyday lives of women, children, and aged who: "watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury... They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers." With this description, which spells out the horrors and suffering the Vietnamese children and women experience, MLK Jr. makes a pathos appeal-- or rather, an appeal to the audience's sympathies and imagination. In mobilizing a pathos appeal, MLK Jr. makes the lived situation of the Vietnamese children and women less abstract and more palpable. In this section, MLK Jr. makes his pathos appeal more forceful with his adept handing of the rhetorical figure "Anaphora," or the repitition of a phrase at the beginning of sentences. In employing the repitition of phrase "they see," MLK Jr. emphasizes that "they"-- the Vietnamese" see the pain and destruction, but "we," the US citizens, who are inflicting the harm, do not see. In emphasizing the fact that we Americans do not see, MLK Jr. enhances the guilt and sympathy that US citizens should feel. MLK Jr. mobilizes anaphora again when explaining how "we have": "destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of -- in the crushing of the nation's only noncommunist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men." In using repitition of sequences of "we have" after the "they see" sequences, MLK Jr. highlights our role in the destruction of Vietnamese lives. He uses the combination of the pathos appeal and anaphora to frame the situation and key players (Vietnamese="good guys" and US="bad guys") in an effort to awaken the US citizens' slumbering consciences and incite action to pull out of Vietnam.

To further emphasize the US citizen's complicity in the destruction of Vietnamese lives, MLK Jr. assumes the enemies-- the "Others"--point of view. He makes a self conscious movement, stating that he will assume "their" perspective ' so that "we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition." He fleshes out the Hanoi's perspective to remind the US citizen of the complicated, complex situation of the war, where much of the culpability for the war resides not with the Hanoi, but western aggressors. MLK Jr. reminds US citizens that the situation in Vietnam can not be reduced to a simple scenario or simple characterizations. We can not succumb to the logical fallacy of giving the enemy a "blanket name:" "How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent communist, and yet insist on giving them the blanket name?" In fleshing out the nuances of the situation, in which MLK Jr. reminds Americans of their own responsibility in the war and warns them against falling into the trap of creating fallacious schemas, MLK Jr. tries to make clear the reasons why the Hanoi "do not leap to negotiate." He even employs the tactic of "rhetorical questions"-- asking a host of rhetorical questions such as "What must they think of the United States of America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem, which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the South?"--- to get us to "understand their feelings, even if we do not condone their actions; to see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence; to see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarfed their greatest acts." In assuming the voice of the "Other" to tease out the complexities of the conflict in Vietnam, MLK Jr. bulldozes the blanket image of the "enemy," showing Americans another reason why they should mobilize action to stop the war. His rhetorical tactic of reverse "Othering" serves to buttress his overall aim in the speech.

Finally, after delineating an arsenal of reasons why Vietnam is in his moral vision and mobilizing reasons why we should pull out, MLK Jr. cuts to the heart of his argument: the US needs to be stop being silent and start being "mature." The US needs to take responsibility for its mistake in entering the war and for its destruction of Vietnamese homes, culture, and lives. The US must pull out of the war. MLK Jr. explicitly enumerates a road map for how we can "atone for our sins," calling for five concrete things that the government "should do immediately to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict": 1) an end to all bombing in Vietnam 2) unilateral cease fire 3) prevention of battle grounds in Southeast Asia 4) recognition of National Liberation Front 5) a set date from removal of all foreign forces from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Convention. Before "stopping there," however, MLK Jr. proceeds to say something that is "even more disturbing."

At this point in the speech, we see an interesting thing happen-- this is where the second part of his thesis unfolds. MLK Jr. shifts from talking to Vietnam and elaborates on "the deeper malady within the American spirit," of which the war in Vietnam is a symptom. After explaining how the US's pattern of suppression in the international domain and the privileging of "things" over "people" leads to the dominance of the "giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism," MLK Jr. states that "we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values." For three paragraphs, MLK Jr. teases out how America can lead a "true revolution of values." He even states that "there is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war." Although it may seem subtle at first and susceptible to a quickly glossed over reading, MLK Jr. states that the US is headed for "spiritual" death if it fails to re-prioritize its values. As we learned in rhetoric 10, MLK Jr. at this point in the text employs the language of violence to promote non-violence. In addition to using the language of violence, MLK Jr. also aligns the positive revolution of values with the fight against Communism, stating that "we must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice." At this point in the text, MLK Jr. is making an interesting move, attempting to alter the "Cold War" mentality by illustrating that democracy-- and the fight against poverty, injustice, and insecurity-- is the best means in fighting against communism. Instead of remaining "complacent," MLK Jr. argues that the US should "recapture the revolutionary spirit" and make a commitment to "go into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty racism and militarism." In his effort to incite action, MLK Jr. mobilizes the language of revolution, tapping in to Americans' sentiment of their revolutionary origins. Instead of being anti-revolutionaries, he urges the US to lead the way and support the men who are revolting against the system of exploitation and oppression.

After urging the US to lead a revolution in values, MLK Jr. extends the discussion of "revolution of values" to address the world: "A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional...This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind." After explaining his vision of "worldwide fellowship," in which he redefines love as the "force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life," MLK Jr. reminds listeners of the urgency of the matter at hand. He cleverly weaves in the concept of time to rally momentum for action. After introducing the concept of time, MLK Jr. confronts listeners with a choice: "nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation." MLK Jr. plays on listener's mounting guilt, saying if we don't act or make the right choice, America will be dragged into "shameful corridors." After building up the weight and urgency of the decision at hand, MLK ends (and softens) his speech with a poem by James Russell Lowell, which addresses the issues of a once-in-a-lifetime decision, love not war, good not evil, light not darkness, and God's watchful eye over his people.

In stitching together my own preoccupations with MLK Jr.'s "A Time to Break Silence," I hope to have delineated the salient features of this text and elucidated some of MLK's brilliant rhetorical maneuvers. In tracing his rhetorical maneuvers, I am particularly impressed with the different folds of MLK Jr.'s argument. In other words, I am impressed with how he took a subject matter--the Vietnam War-- and opened it up as a space to discuss a host of issues, such as the fight for justice at home, the US's need for a "revolution of values," and an international "fellowship of brotherhood." It is MLK Jr.'s rhetorical prowess that has enabled this speech, which began as a call to action to stop war in Vietnam, to transcend its historical location and ossify as a monument to "world peace and justice."

For me--especially after reading Leonard Lewin's "Report from Cold Mountain" and Eisenhower's "Farewell Speech"-- this text was enormously enjoyable to read. Did you guys have the same experience? Also, were than any rhetorical operations in this piece that others found particularly interesting, brilliant, strange, etc?

--Tess Ranahan

Friday, February 26, 2010

Better Than Plato's

2nd Annual UC Berkeley Sociological Research Symposium from BUSA on Vimeo.

Hey wolfpack: If you've written an excellent sociological paper in rhetoric (that, say, deals with race, gender, class, sexuality, politics, social policy, "the market," etc.) please consider applying to present at the Symposium 2010 on Friday, April 23.

Or, if you'd just like to attend, simply fill out the easy, breezy attendee registration form.

Deadline: Monday, March 15. But apply ASAP to secure a spot.


Somebody left a laptop charger in class Thursday...

Hey everyone I found a laptop charger that was left in class on Thursday and I picked it up because I didn't want it to get stolen. If it's yours let me know and I'll get it to you asap! Thanks and have a great weekend.

Weird Coincidence

Just after our discussion today I discovered that someone from started following me on Twitter....rather bizarre coincidence, if you ask me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Precis, Eisenhower's Farewell Speech

Is terrorism the new communism? Hmm.

As the first president to make an official farewell speech, Eisenhower had a unique opportunity to speak and be heard by the American people. A two term elected president with the military stature he possessed, the guidance and concern he expressed on his way out held an important positive ethical force that was accepted by the majority of the American public, as we’ve seen in how influential this text was and is, even up to the present day. Quickly, I’ll point out that Eisenhower created the term “military industrial complex” in this very speech.
This is very much a speech about the United States and the dangers of a military industrial complex. In this speech, Eisenhower states, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” We must ask, why would he do such a thing? Was there something the American people could do to prevent such a problem? Were there alternatives that Eisenhower was suggesting here? Perhaps this was a political move that uncovered a complex machinery at work in the United States. When he speaks of “misplaced power” (while sitting in the oval office), we see the incredible force this warning has. We see that this isn’t a warning that Americans should take lightly. Additionally, given that a farewell address usually takes a commemorative tone (directing attention to past accomplishment and future promises), here, we can identify how large the stakes were to Eisenhower. But what were the stakes? Who was threatened? How so? And what affect, ultimately, did his words have on the military industrial complex itself, in addition to the minds of the American people?
Eisenhower was concerned about the structure of American society and wanted everyone else to see how large American armaments could be detrimental. Structuring an economy around war, he knew, would force, what he seemingly considered evil upon the social and political structures of a traditionally “peace searching” country, the U.S. And by evil I mean that non-traditional focus of military spending that definitely leads to wars.
Being a former 4 star general, he could see how the armament industry could become the strongest link in a prosperous American economy. And while prosperous is central to American ethos, the dangers would rip the fabric of American ideals to shreds. This speech is an obvious attempt, I think, of him warning us of how the dogs would behave upon his leaving the house of the presidency. Ripping the furniture apart, tearing the carpet up, and dining on anything that resembled military engagement was what he feared.
Basically, the U.S. government spent so much money on weapons and the militarization of a nation (during WWII), that, any reversal of this acquisition of economic prosperity would quickly turn our society into something no one wanted; a peace loving poor nation. Or at least this is what some saw as the only result of a disarmament. Through this speech we can see the presidents concern. He saw how conflict operated on the ground, in combat, and in the economy of the United States. He was genuinely repulsed.

We see the reverberations of this speech in today’s world. Look at the “global war on terror”. Do you see that coming to an end anytime soon? Of course, we can’t foresee how the military will behave, but we can be sure that their actions are driven by the compass Eisenhower has given us, and warned against. Is terrorism the new communism?

Comments of King or Eisenhower?

Or, dare I hope, precises?

PS: I'm feeling better today, and looking forward to resuming our discussion tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Teabaggers: A Modern Day Echo of Hayek

I know this is from September, but I have been meaning to post this since the third week, when we read Hayek (however, with all the news about President Obama's new health care reform plan and days before his "summit" meeting with the Republicans, it nonetheless might still be relevant). When reading Hayek-- who conflates fascism, socialism, Nazism, and communism in his "Road to Serfdom"--I was reminded of this video, in which many of the teabaggers also conflate socialism, communism, and fascism.... If you don't feel like watching the entire video, then at least skip to 6 minutes because that's where the conflation occurs (in effect causing me much consternation). If the consequence of what these teabaggers think was not so deadly (literally-- 45,000 people die every year because they lack health insurance,, then I would think it was ridiculously hilarious. But alas!

and sorry if this is sensational, i just had to post it...

Class Today

Unseemly secretions and immobilizing symptoms are still the order of the day. So, we're canceled.

The timing's terrible, since it looks like there is real momentum here on the blog. I'll try to generate some surrogate discussion in comments once my head clears a bit. Some great posts here. I'll try to condense two charcoal briquettes' worth of lecture into a shiny condensed diamond to keep us on track on the syllabus Thusday. Be sure to acquaint yourselves with the King and Eisenhower material in addition to the Report -- either supplement provides a good occasion for a precis should they strike anybody's fancy (as they should).

Precis on Report From Iron Mountain

Christina Richards
SID: 18533506
Precis on Report from Iron Mountain

The general argument in the Report from Iron Mountain is two fold- first that war is the “basis of organization on which all modern societies are constructed” (p. 93), and second that society will not be able to achieve world peace unless legitimate substitutions for the functions of war are put into effect. This argument in and of itself is not exceedingly polemical; in fact it is quite basic. War affects more parts of society than we realize, so we need to have replacement institutions to replicate the effects of war in order to truly eliminate the social need for it. How then does such a seemingly reasonable starting point develop into such a terrifying end result and what is Lewin’s purpose in emotionally arousing the audience?

Before I address these questions, I would first like to elaborate on the main techniques Lewin uses to develop his argument. Lewin uses three main rhetorical strategies throughout “the report” that result in the horrifying examples causing this dramatic emotional reaction to the text. The rhetorical strategies he uses throughout the report include- initially building the credibility of the producers of the report through demonstrating their unfailing objectivity, then invalidating the existing theories of peacemaking by proving them to be incomplete, and finally using a strict logical deductive pattern to coerce the audience to be compelled by the radical propositions on how to create world peace.

The combination of these three techniques operates on the audience by deeply convincing them that the only alternatives to war may be even more immoral than war itself. This causes the audience to become emotionally distraught and horrified. These techniques initially function so effectively together because the readers initially buy his hoax. These techniques operate even more effectively together, however, because by being so emotionally aroused, the reader is motivated to analyze the polemical arguments presented and truly interact with the issues. Lewin uses polemics to light a fire in American hearts to get people talking. In order to develop this function of the text and explain further my belief that Lewin is attempting to simply ignite debate on these issues, I will first examine the progression of the argument that slavery is a valid institution to bring back in order to replace the sociological effects of war, and then unravel the multitude of assumptions in the argument that leave room for debate.

In order to begin this analysis, I will first discuss “John Doe’s” description of the type of objectivity the group employed in their discussions. Doe stated, “there is such a thing as objectivity, and I think our group had it…I don’t say no one had any emotional reaction to what we were doing…As a matter of fact, two members had heart attacks after we were finished, and I’ll be the first to admit it probably wasn’t a coincidence” (p.16-17). Then, in an effort to discount other studies credibility and effectively enhance his own solutions, Doe claims that previous studies operated under simply an “intention to avoid preconceived value judgments” and that intention is “if anything even more productive of self-delusion” (p. 32-33). This delusion caused previous studies to “have taken desirability of peace, the importance of human life” as “axiomatic values” (p. 33) for their study causing them to fail to truly be objective. This failure effectively led to their failure to develop a complete solution to creating world peace.

With this pervasive discrediting of previous attempts at world peace, the report proceeds to its deductive logic strategy. The deductive logic that leads to the presentation of a reintroduction of slavery proceeds as follows: war/military serves the function of providing a social control for social protest against official policy, without war we need an institution that would control elements of society that are destructive to policy, a substitute institution to control this destruction would be the development of modern slavery. This synopsis is obviously a condensed version of the deductive argument developed in the report, however, it does outline the progression of thought that led to the viscerally negative reaction of the audience. Is slavery really the only solution to the sociological implications of world peace?

Although after a first read, the above argument is violently polemical and difficult to stomach, with a closer look, it is clear that Lewin aggravates the audience intentionally to get them to take a second look at what they are reading. If you analyze his argument, there are many assumptions the report operates on that are not addressed. For example, why is the reports version of objectivism correct? Does objectivity mutually exclude morality? How did they really accomplish objectivity if they had emotional reactions? Why would an artificial and dangerous level of objectivity create optimal circumstances to generate solutions to the war problem- an issue very tied to emotion? Why is slavery the only solution to social control? What is “modern slavery”? Is social control an issue only controlled by military forces?

These questions are just some of many that arise when deeply studying the reports logic. Questions targeting the major assumptions this argument depends on rocks the foundation of the claims in the report. Therefore, by closely examining the reports seemingly logical progressions and unraveling them for their insufficient explanations, Lewin is not actually trying to make an argument to the solutions to world peace, but instead is trying to simply get the reader thinking about the issues at hand. The Report from Iron Mountain is intended to emotionally incite discussion in order to involve Americans in political discussion. The content of Lewin’s hoax is not the important part, in fact I wonder if Lewin himself believes in any of his deductions or even sees them as logically sound. Any rhetorician can poke holes in his claims; therefore, his main incentive is to create discussion on a mass scale among American citizens.

Another Modest Proposal

Precis on Report from Iron Mountain
Aaron Benavidez, 13875347

The more appropriately named Hoax Not From Iron Mountain is a rocky and slippery text with two argumentative faces. The first face—the internal argument of Sections 2-8—forwards the following claim: War operates not as an auxiliary phenomenon to a political-economic core, but fundamentally constitutes the productive substance of society: “War itself is the basic social system, within which other secondary modes of social organization conflict and conspire” (Lewin 48). The second face—about which Navasky’s “Introduction,” Lewin’s “Afterword,” and the Appendixes 1-7 struggle to force into a space of justification—advances the claim that Report From Iron Mountain as a satirical production generated its aim "to provoke debate ... in varying degrees” (119). To be sure, then, provocation as a precursor to the otherwise more muscular end of calling assumptions into question or changing convictions undergirds the text’s stakes more generally.

These two argumentative faces are not without dynamism. The second face’s preoccupation with the question of whether the book aggravated a dispassionate public finds its source within the necessary parameters of the first face that argues: War “is itself the principal basis of organization on which all modern societies are constructed” (Lewin 93). This relationship between the text’s two foundational arguments remains, however, an unsettled terrain. Let’s open our “report” to Navasky’s “Introduction” where he almost concludes our prologue in Iron Mountain:

“The Report was a success in that it achieved its mission which in this case was to provoke thinking about the unthinkable—the conversion to a peacetime economy and the absurdity of the arms race. But it was a failure, given that even with the end of the cold war we still have a cold war economy …” (xv-xvi).

My reading of Iron Mountain agrees with Navasky’s latter point, but I would like to trouble the former. Is it an unproblematized fact that an elaborate parody that involved the clear corroboration of a leading world economist “provoked thinking about the unthinkable”? Or is it more the case that Iron Mountain unleashed a chin-high, obsessive deluge regarding two apparently vital questions: who done it and is it really real?

To begin to answer this question about provocation in the direction of "thinking about the unthinkable," consider the following rough statistics. Iron Mountain consists of some 152 pages. The Navasky’s “Introduction,” Lewin’s “Afterword,” and Appendixes 1-7—which do the work of coming out of the authorial intention closet to set the historical record “straight”—collectively frame approximately 29% of the text. These pages attempt to legitimize the provocation claim (Navasky and Lewin) and to provide evidence for that claim (the Appendixes 1-7).

However, the project of legitimacy—a central tension that overshadows the entire text and the text as a living text producing meaning in the world beyond its birth—also directs the aspirations of other sections. Let’s recall, after all, that the “Foreword,” “Background Information,” and “Statement by ‘John Doe’” originally hustled to make genuine a fictitious document in the first place. These pages account for some 14% of Iron Mountain.

This means that about 43% of Iron Mountain is devoted to who done it and is it really real? And one might find it particularly interesting that the mobilization of authenticity in the aftermath of the publication directly responds to the uncertainty set up by the first aim at legitimizing a bogus text. Here, too, lies a particular internal-external dynamism.

Given the signification tied to authenticity, no wonder that the reviews of 1967 almost exclusively focus on the text as a “roaring scandal” or “guessing game” that may or may not be “a big spoof,” “a grim joke,” a “hoax—but what a hoax!” (Lewin 125, 140, 139, 147, and 134). With the exception of the Robert Lekachman review that begins with a remarkably thoughtful discussion on language and then tries to engage the core arguments of Sections 2-8, the authenticity anxiety overwhelming determines the focus of provocation. The reviews—the material that might provide a discourse analysis for a viable methodology to substantiate an audience-response claim—testifies not so much to an audience that feels “emotionally distraught and horrified” by Iron Mountain. Rather, the reviews reveal the way that anonymity, authorial counterfeit, and situational satire undermine an original intention to “extend the scope of public discussion” (150). All we can think about are dead Irish babies.

In short, to use Lewin to explain Lewin: “It is ironic how often this practice backfires” (7). While compelling for its conspiratorial aura, the second face disconnected from the discussion intended by the first face is the effacement of the Iron Mountain in its aftermath.

Works Cited
Lewin, Leonard C. Report from Iron Mountain. New York: The Free Press, 1996.

A Summerian Satire

DATE: December 12, 1991

TO: Distribution

FR: Lawrence H. Summers

Subject: GEP

'Dirty' Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:

1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I've always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate[sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate[sic] cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.

The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.

This is Earl Turner Speaking...

From the posting "The Green Movement and the Lies People Believe" on the website "American Militia Project" (the ones who will experience vicarious pleasure when God "cuts'em (us) down.")
...I have said for years that the Gaia cult is really following the communist Marxist agenda of command and control. They are dressing it up real pretty under the lies of saving the planet....

This was all planned out to brainwash you back in the 60s, you can read about it in, The Report From Iron Mountain. The environmental movements, were just one objectives they took out of the Iron Mountain Commission, 1963, Section 7 set the stage for control of people during peace time...
These are probably the same people who think Steven Colbert is actually a conservative pundit.

There is even a "Christian Intelligence Alert Video" on YouTube entitled Iron Mountain - Blue Print For Tyranny. (It has 14 parts and is pretty boring: at least Zeitgeist: The Movie is enjoyable when you watch it while stoned)

I find all this stuff very funny, but its horrifying when you consider that there is a fine line between the wackos and the establishment conservatives. Neo-cons almost never disavow their crazies, but use them to perpetuate misinformation, paranoia, fear, and hate all the while renouncing their responsibility for the violent effects of their discourse.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Precis- The 'Horror' of Satire

I don’t really know anything about any of these works, so I’ve gotten in the habit of looking at the summary on the back cover to get a sense of the general theme of the argument, the partisanship of the author/reader base, and it’s impact. There was no summary, but one of the quotes on the back from Elliot Fremont-Smith struck me: “It is, of course, a hoax – but what a hoax! – a parody so elaborate and ingenious and, in fact, so substantively original, acute, interesting and horrifying, that it will receive serious attention regardless of its origin.” Report From Iron Mountain is obviously different from anything we’ve read so far in this class because it’s meant to be a satire. But why can a satire, something that’s supposed to produce a commentary by making a mockery through imitation, be so horrifying? What is it about the imitation that seems to get our guts wrenching in a way that the original it imitates doesn’t do on its own? And what is happening to warp what’s actually going on? These were some themes I wanted to explore with this précis.

One of the main ways this particular satire operates is through a sort of modified “straw man” approach. Rather than emphasizing the knocking down of this straw man though, the goal seems to be to dress it up in the most grotesque way possible in order to produce a visceral reaction from the audience (sorry if there’s a technical term for this that I’m missing). And since this was designed to pass as a hoax, it reads like an unsmiling replica of how an economic think-tank report would read, which adds an element of confusion for those who don’t get the joke right away. Even with some of the book’s more absurd claims and assumptions (like the necessity of poverty and war as a “janitor” of unwanted social behaviors), the effect here is less about producing laughter and more about shocking and unsettling. The fact that no one was willing to call it a hoax for weeks is a testament to the power and effectiveness of this move. It was so similar to a scenario that would actually be discussed by economists that Victor Navasky even makes the comment, “For all the LBJ whitehouse knew, the JFK White House had comissioned such a study.”

Another one of the scariest things about RFIM is that you can’t argue with the report on it’s own terms. People can object to the soullessness of the argument and its refusal to incorporate the emotionally sensitive issues of war, but the report’s introduction already warns you that this was the point of the study. From here, the claims and observations, though sickening at times, follow a tight logical progression. On top of that, the report uses what it anticipates its audience would normally bemoan or object to as examples to support its claims. So when it talks about the need for the creation of an enemy in order to hold the fabric of society together and says, “We will not speculate on the specific forms this kind of program might take, except to note that there is again ample precedent, in the treatment meted out to disfavored, allegedly menacing, ethnic groups in certain societies during certain historical periods,” the reader’s options are to catch on to the tongue-in-cheek reference of the period’s actual happenings or to sit dumbfounded.

But perhaps the scariest thing about this hoax was that it passed as a plausible study held by the people in charge. I don’t think this was meant to satirize any particular political or economic ideology, but instead the method and mindset behind economic theorizing and the rationalization of certain political and economic decisions. I think very few people, if any, would want to accept the conclusion that peace is unfavorable for our economy and must therefore be avoided, but its findings can’t be argued unless the precondition of avoiding any “emotional” reasons in the discussion is eliminated. The point of this piece therefore is to remind people that the HUMAN element of war should never be eliminated from the conversation. Ultimately it seeks to reevaluate how we discuss and make decisions regarding politics and economics, and to remind people that the statistics thrown around by economists are human beings before they are numbers. What’s interesting is that economists have been using this objectified, emotionless tone to construct theories without objection for hundreds of years, and it took a satire to effectively expose some of the inherent flaws of this approach.

Precis: Why does Cheryl die?

While I agree that Atlas Shrugged does operate on a mythical level (in reference to Jon’s post), I also cannot refrain from seeing that there is a bit of truth found within the characters in regards to “reality”. Rands is very clear as to the purposefulness of the characters she creates, “I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don't exist. That this book has been written -- and published -- is my proof that they do” (incredible she would say this). We can agree or disagree to Rand’s claim, but opinion set aside, according to Rand, men like James Taggart and Francisco d’ Aconia do exist. While this “magical” world creates a bizarrely “stable” (I use this term loosely because I’m not quite sure if I believe it yet) foundation in which myths can be mobilized, I believe there is in fact reality deeply rooted within each of these characters. For example, through Rand’s use of hyperbole a current-day theme such as “power” can be called to attention in an easily recognizable manner, therefore reaching a wide range of readers. However, while the exaggeration only further amplifies the sense of a magical world, the action (to be powerful or exhibit authority over another) is prevalent in everyday life. I use power as a transition to my next point: Dale asked in last lecture “why is it so important that Eddie and Cheryl die?” Perhaps it is to keep the hierarchy of power intact.

While we discussed the significance of Eddie’s death in class, we did not talk about Cheryl. I see Cheryl Taggart as an individual who is in the ultimate position of inferiority. James cheats on her with Lillian Rearden, the unsupportive wife to Hank Rearden who seeks to destroy his career. There is one particular scene that helps us to understand the importance of her death; it is when Cheryl catches Jim cheating on her with Mrs. Hank Rearden. Cheryl walks into an empty room of her house, she sees two glasses and a purse resting on the armchair; from the bedroom she hears James with a woman. She quietly waits in another room until he escorts Lillian Rearden out the front door. When James sees that Cheryl is home, he abruptly asks, “When did you come back?” and Cheryl states that she knows he has been with another woman. We should expect Jim to feel embarrassed or ashamed for cheating on his wife, but instead he harshly responds with a, “So what?” At this point it is clear that James is in a higher position of power than Cheryl. Mrs. Taggart then assumes that James would want a divorce, but he only further demonstrates his superiority by laughing and calling her a fool. He then becomes righteous and boasts: “I’ll lay anybody I please”.

Within a relationship two individuals should retain the right to decide what they desire from the other. However, with Jim this is clearly not the case. There are two aspects of power that a woman possesses within a martial relationship that Taggart discourages here. First, he states that Cheryl is deranged to think that he wants to divorce her, and will not allow her to divorce him, leading to a complete disregard of Cheryl’s wants/desires and a lack of respect for her as a human. As soon as Cheryl does not have a choice she no longer acts as the typical protocol of “A is A” (where “A” is a respected human being) but rather becomes an object, a tool that Jim can use as he pleases. He even tells Cheryl that his reason for marrying her was because she was “cheap and helpless” and she would never have a chance with anyone else equal to him (whatever that means). His marriage vows acted to maintain his superiority over his wife, suppressing her and calling her worthless only further empowered him. He knew she would never rise above to the elite, she would stay the status quo; he would always be able to exhibit his dominion over her. James Taggart wanted Cheryl to know that every step she took, she owed it all to him.

Second, Jim abuses the physical aspect of their relationship; he breaks the “sexual contract” (for lack of a better word) that two individuals make with one another when they decide to get married. That contract holds sexual relations to remain between the two that are wed and no one else. By breaking their vows, Jim robs Cheryl of the sensual power a woman has over a man within a martial relationship. The degradation of Cheryl is a perfect example of the “elite” suppressing the mediocre, and her death only further etches that hierarchy into stone. Jim is a greedy, egotistical individual who is more concerned with his own image than with the happiness of his wife. Cheryl is the inferior, the submissive, and therefore cannot win, cannot get ahead, and cannot exhibit any sort of power over Jim. Her death shows us that within this world those who focus only on themselves might in fact be the ones who make it to the top of the food chain. This does have some underlying reality to it. The foundation of capitalism is rooted in competition. Competition promotes individuality, breaking away from the status quo and being the exceptional. More money means more land, more land means more companies, more companies mean more investment, more investment means more capital, more capital means more power—and they cycle repeats itself over and over again. One’s identity is determined by how much superiority you exhibit over another, mediocrity just doesn’t cut it.

Paulina Inzerillo



Howdy, wolfpack, Dale here. I've been battling this flu bug all weekend and find it worse rather than better today, so, keep your eyes on this blog tomorrow. I'm not canceling yet, since I may feel better after all tomorrow and I don't like to get behind on the syllabus, but if I'm not feeling better I probably will cancel, and I'll notify everybody on the blog. Do please go ahead and post precises and comments as you already committed to do, and I'd strongly encourage another three-four step up for Thursday, come what may time's a-wastin, I'll be checking online regularly even if I'm snorfling theraflu in my jammies. Hope all are well, sorry about this, d

Saturday, February 20, 2010


You may have noted that the syllabus for next week's course again supplements our main reading, Report from Iron Mountain, with speeches by Eisenhower and MLK.
These are President Eisenhower's Farewell Address and Martin Luther King's A Time to Break Silence. We will be discussing these on Thursday, not Tuesday, so you should focus your energies on the book this weekend. But I do want to encourage you to listen to these speeches while reading them. The links will take you to recordings beneath which are transcripts you can follow. Eisenhower's famous "military-industrial complex" speech is about fifteen minutes long, but King's speech, also sometimes known by the alternate and better title "A Revolution in Values" (I happen to think it his most powerful speech) is about fifty minutes long and you should make the time to give it your full attention. Its last twenty minutes are especially important. Again, we will discuss these speeches Thursday as we also finish up our discussion of the Report. Precises on any of these works are enormously welcome. Precises tackling sections or issues in the Rand, Polanyi, Keynes are also possibly welcome. E-mail me if you have an idea for such a Precis and I'll let you know what I think of it. Hope your weekend is going well. Let's see some life on the blog howzabout?

Iron Mountain

Initial thoughts?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Implausible Characters, Vacuous Foundations

Eddie has testified to the desire that discussion of Rand continue and go deeper, and in that spirit I might offer a few additional points of departure folks might want to take up.

One thing that perplexes me about the novel that we touched on and Eddie also brings up again is the radical implausibility of the characters. I focused in class on the implausibility of the protagonists -- pointing out that one can have a romantically heroic protagonist without actually going so far as to make characters literally impossibly brilliant, as Francisco d'Anconia is made to me, literally the instant and effortless winner at everything he tries without fail, re-inventing calculus as a child, being handsome and athletic, and so on and on, or Hank Rearden being not only an incomparable entrepreneur, but also a master prospector for a whole diversity of resources, and also a master metallurgist, and also just happening to be a paradigm-shattering engineer/architect, and so on.

But it also seems to me that the bad guys in the novel are also quite flabbergastingly implausible, apt to declarations of the most absurd things imaginable, twisting at their villain mustaches and propounding Dr. Eeeevil conspiracies about their hostility to anything that might be construed as an accomplishment or about their unslakable lust to obliterate anything that might be construed as beautiful and so on.

Rand takes real pains to insist on the actual factual reality of her heroes:
"About the Author: 'My personal life' says Ayn Rand, 'is a postscript to my novels; it consists of the sentence 'And I mean it. I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books and it has worked for me, as it has worked for my characters... I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don't exist. That this book has been written -- and published -- is my proof that they do."

Needless to say, writing Atlas Shrugged no more proves Ayn Rand the equal of John Galt than the publication of Harry Potter novels (works of fiction in every way -- including philosophically -- better and preferable to Rand's hackneyed hyperbolic bodice-rippers in my humble opinion) makes J.K. Rowling the equal of Albus Dumbledore.

Setting aside the curious evangelical sales pitch slash motivational speaker flim-flam artistry of Rand's punchy little bit of self-promotion there (change your life! -- it worked for me, it'll work for you! -- just mail in the handy card included in the novel to contact the Ayn Rand Institute and we'll turn your life around!), it seems to me that Rand is insisting on the literal reality of her superlative characters in a way that makes it difficult to treat them merely as "artistic" or "stylistic" conjurations of every person's capacity for greatness or independence or what have you. I mention this in answer to a few complaints about my emphasis on Rand's endless implausibilities by some who wanted to rationalize their own identification with the castle she has built in the air here.

I also think it is not accidental that conventional Movement Conservative discourse -- arising out of the ferment of works by Mises, Hayek, Hazlett, Rand, Friedman, Heinlein, and others -- many of whom we are reading in this class -- very typically declares humanities departments in universities to be cesspools of relativism, typically dismisses modern art as infantilism, typically declares any concern for the exploited or the vulnerable as expressions of envy, and so on. All of these facile mischaracterizations directly echo the villainous portrayals in Rand's potboilers, treated as literally truthful quite as much as she demands we take her heroes as accurate portrayals of human possibilties (and I might add that there is a cottage industry of lionizing corporate CEO biography/memoir literature that seems to want to declare that the titans of Atlas Shrugged roam the world among us even now -- even if they might strike the everyday on=bserver as rather more flabby sordidly unimaginative crudely opportunistic jackholes than Rand's heady prose would lead one to expect).

I want to be clear that in saying this I actually do not mean to deny that there are exceptionally brilliant and creative people in the world -- among them some I happen to reverence myself, as it happens -- nor that there are fairly appallingly idiotic dangerously deceptive people in the world -- among them some I happen abhor for their crimes and their their schemes and their lies (nobody who reads my blog, for example, would doubt that for long). However, I really think both the heroes and the villains in the novel are caricatural in ways that say something important about the way the novel is functioning and what its project amounts to.

I think this reliance on radical hyperbole and caricature treated insistently as literal truth surely connects to the radical underdetermination of actually rationally warranted beliefs by the recognition of the vacuity "existence existence" or "A is A" and also the correlated radical underdetermination of actually efficacious moral/ethical norms by the recognition that "[i]t is only the concept of 'life' that makes the concept of 'value' possible."

On my page 1018 Rand has Galt declare: "My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists -- and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these."

Needless to say, I think that nothing much proceeds from these vacuities at all, that they are at best foundations in quicksand.

Certainly "existence exists" is a near-vacuity incapable of grounding the host of highly idiosyncratic Randian factual beliefs -- most of which do not square with actual experience of the world, experience of the way technoscience actually functions, industrial and commercial concerns actually function, the way artists and art promotion actually plays out in the world, and so on.

Nor does "the single choice: to live" provide anything like a groundwork for her highly idiosyncratic conception of "flourishing" -- which, again, does not square in the least with actual human concerns, histories, or hopes as far as I can tell, our awareness, for example, of our reliance on the common heritage of accomplishments and knowledges, our awareness of our interdependence on our peers for our survival and flourishing, our awareness of the ineradicable diversity of stakes, ends, capacities, situations, perspectives that suffuse the plurality of peers with whom we share, contest, and collaborate in the world, our awareness of our precariousness on earth, or vulnerability to humiliation, misunderstanding, our openness to being changed in ways we cannot imagine by the vicissitudes of history, love, conflict, differing perspectives, and so on.

Rand thought of herself as a "philosopher novelist" and of Atlas Shrugged as a philosophical novel. And I think that the false substantiation of Rand's highly idiosyncratic views both of what is and what ought to be through her endlessly reiterated recourse to the nearly vacuous assertions that "existence exists" or "A is A" on the one hand and that we must "choose life" or else "deal in death" on the other hand is a rhetorical gesture of Rand the (abysmally terrible) philosopher that is directly correlated to the rhetorical gesture of Rand the (abysmally terrible) novelist in soliciting our identification and dis-identification with her flabbergastingly ridiculously hyperbolized heroes and villains.


Let's Discuss Atlas Shrugged

I’m not sure on the policy of writing a précis on a piece after a Thursday meeting, but Atlas Shrugged is a text I really wanted to write about, pending completion of reading the book (I failed). Regardless, I offer up these thoughts so that hopefully we can generate our first real, compelling, discussion on a text online, especially one of such extraordinary influence, so that it receives the attention it deserves, not on its merit as a work (I say this to appease the Rand-haters), but for our purposes of studying rhetoric and the power of words.
The argument, which a brief glance at Wikipedia has shown me to be known as “objectivism”, is a philosophy embedded in Rand’s novel (and fantasy land). We discussed this in class so I hope I don’t need to give too much of a “gist” of her argument, but essentially the themes in the book can be found in the “This is John Galt Speaking” speech. Rand presents her argument as saying that not only would we be wrong to disagree with her, our fundamental way of thinking, our entire view of reality would be proven flawed. As Francisco loves to say, “There cannot exist contradictions. If something does not make sense, check your premises” (I am entirely paraphrasing here). This is reflected in Rand’s step-by-step philosophy, starting with “existence exists”. Men are alive. Their consciousness is a reflection of the fact that there are objects in the world to be conscious of. Life implies certain virtues. Man is the sole animal with the choice to live and how to live. Every choice deviating from a rational course of action is to be living in a “state of walking death”, as a brutal, savage, ghost, spider, neither man nor animal (to paraphrase Dale).
We scoff at her in class. Dale asks, “isn’t this passage hyperbole?” We respond, “isn’t the whole book hyperbole?” Laughter ensues. Yet I am left after class with no clear answer, nor a compelling attempt at one, to Dale’s very important, perhaps most important, overarching question, “what is compelling about the text—how does this thing operate?”
We can hack at Rand’s arguments. Sure it is ridiculous to assume the entire fate of the working world rests on the shoulders of a select class of super-intelligent meta-humans. It is impossible to think that the fairy tale coincidences Dale mentioned (learning of the train accident from the phantom radio at the exact perfect moment) truly happen in a real, “objectivist”, Rand-ian world. How can we have an objectivist “A=A” when we can dip a burning hand and a freezing hand into a lukewarm bucket of water and feel two different things (hot water=cold water?). This is like dismissing Hayek for using a slippery slope argument. It works. Very well.
What do I feel is the magical appeal of Rand’s shoddily written, philosophically flawed, immensely bandwagon-ly loved novel? I can’t begin to offer the answer. Yet the answer may lie in the question (ha! I can write like Ayn Rand!). The feeling I had during the discussion was that perhaps we were addressing the text with a system that did not apply. This text is radically different from everything we have read so far, in the same way that Polanyi was different from Hazlitt and Hayek, in the same way that they were different from the Fireside Chat. We can bash her clumsy, unoriginal literary moves, pick apart her philosophy and contradictions, and do it all in the same way that we happily tore apart “Economics in One Lesson” together, as a wolf pack. The thing is that “Atlas Shrugged” is first, a novel, and second, a polemical, philosophical text. We have mentioned several times so far the importance of considering the audience—this audience is the same that would only read the Reader’s Digest version of “The Road to Serfdom” (and more likely, the comic). The weaknesses we saw in the text were likely it’s strengths.
The book is a fairy tale, with unambiguously evil villains, and superheroes with superpowers, who are super powered enough to overcome the villains, but not have an easy time doing it. When I talk to English majors (I am one as well) about the novel, general comments I get were, “I wish I could be Dagny Taggart and not worry about stupid things, and love my job” in the same way that you might hear, “I wish I were Harry Potter and live in Hogwarts”. Dale was not lying when he said people, if not assigned explicitly, would skim over the John Galt speech (if a statistical sampling of two readers is enough to make an inference). I found myself loving the book initially, loving the surreal feeling of the dystopia, rallying behind the ineffable Francisco D’anconia and Hank Rearden as they overcame the “fools” with mad problem-solving skills. The “who is John Galt” lends itself to creating a mystery—clearly not meant to be subtle or clever, but obvious enough to let us feel that we know what’s up, and to feel clever ourselves as well as wait in anticipation. Dale mentioned the glaring obviousness of the “your days are numbered” subtext of the giant calendar, but come on, how many of us realized this instantly, or even until we read the sentence in “The Aristocracy of Pull” that read, “Your days are numbered, it had seemed to say”. Was it that insultingly obvious, or a result of a speedy second-reading that jumbled the first and second reading experiences (not to doubt your cleverness Dale)? Ayn Rand is giving us the subtext, quite un-subtly I admit to everyone, but nevertheless she is giving us the undercurrent of “heaviness” twinging at the fringes of our consciousnesses that gives the story a dimension of “woah that’s deep” with a little “something compelling is happening between the lines!” Why else do we think it’s so cool or envious that Dagny and Rearden/Francisco can communicate with no words, just by the “sudden tightening of his jaw skin” like the best friend/lover you were told to dream of and always wished you had?
In the same way that we are a class full of rhetoricians that would gleefully rip apart rhetorically manipulative texts (hey! I spot reductio ad absurdum here! No! It’s Godwin’s Law!), clamoring under the eye of our benevolent and powerful instructor (Hail Dale!), Ayn Rand gives the opportunity for any old schmo to be the light of rationality by recognizing the stupidity of Pritchett, of Ferris, of Mouch, of Bertrand, of Balph, etc. We are a wolf pack taking the higher moral, intellectual, philosophical task of reducing every argument and author we read into, “ha I see what you’re doing there. You’re just the sum of the same old tricks—gotcha!” The power in Rand’s novel is exactly the same in the novel that Ferris panders to the masses (“the man who doesn’t see that, deserves to believe all my statements”). We are sucked in through classic literary moves, by fantasy, by sexual desires (Dagny/Hank’s only weakness? Another question to ask), by villains, and by utopia. The philosophy starts as a novel but trickles through the lines, where fans and know-it-alls can take up the mantle of objectivism and the, as Dale put it, “castle in the sky” that it creates (I agree with Dale on this).
Am I taking the low-brow approach to this answer? Is my English major background prevailing over an analysis of rhetoric? But if rhetoric is the “how we communicate” and English is the “what we communicate”, then isn’t the approach to “Atlas Shrugged” as a best-seller-intended novel rather than intellectual, philosophical manual closer to the “how we communicate” way? I’m not sure if I’ve answered any questions, but this is just what I’ve been thinking and figured it would take too long to say if I just raised my hand and gave a Francisco-at-a-cocktail-party-style rant in class. I’m still curious about the questions I mentioned in a comment previously. I’d love to see a discussion on this even while we “move on” because I like this book (the whole thing, not just the philosophy). There, I said it.
-Eddie Lee

Do you see a connection?

Hello everyone,

I was thinking about the last sentence in Middlemarch here;

for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."

and this sentence in Atlas Shrugged: "I swear by my life and my love it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

these sentences capture the essence of the two themes we see in our class, in my opinion?

Do you agree?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Just A Reminder --

Be prepared to discuss the Atlantis/Utopia of Greed chapters and the chapter This Is John Galt Speaking today -- of course, anything goes, as far as our discussion is concerned, draw from anything that seems to you especially striking anywhere in the text, but those three chapters seem to me to demand special attention.

Oh, and since I'm issuing reminders, do recall, once again, that everybody is required to produce a couple -- that means two -- precises at some point by the end of term. The fact of the matter is that we are well below the number of on-blog precises one would need to have seen by now to feel reassured that the group was on track to satisfying this requirement. Each precis is 15% of your grade and the guide to producing one is located on the sidebar right next to the syllabus. Unless you all take this up on your own terms and by your own initiative I'll have to start arbitrarily assigning precises and also establish an upper bound on the number of precises that can be published in the last few weeks, effectively ensuring that those who don't post early pay for their pointless procrastination with the lower final grade that comes from failing to meet basic requirements. This is a fairly simple requirement and there is wide latitude as to the form it must take. We should be seeing two or three precises before every single class meeting from here on. Make it happen, people. Reading Rand has made me implacable and cruel -- beware!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Burning Questions

Are there really gaunt golden-haired cruel-mouthed bipedal humanoids with sooper-brains walking the earth among us? Did they discover fire, the wheel, writing, gunpowder, penicillin, and computers without any help from us, and are we killing the geese that lay the golden eggs when we try to make them pay taxes? Do we know anything at all about capitalism or is it an altogether unknown ideal? Is there any difference between a pirate and a police officer? Is A really A? Who is John Galt? Does Frodo live? Is Darth Vader really Luke's father? Is Dumbledore really gay?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

For Emma

A critique of Polanyi from the Mises folks.

How's It Striking You?

One Hundred Pages In... Two Hundred Pages In... Three Hundred Pages In...

What are you noticing? What is surprising you? What is happening that is so compelling for so many?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

John Galt and Paul Ryan: Separated At Birth?

via TPM (follow the link for the full text):
Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) determination to privatize Social Security and dismantle Medicare -- what he calls a "collectivist system" -- comes, at least in part, from his longstanding devotion to the works of Ayn Rand… Ryan, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, reportedly requires staffers and interns to read her opus, Atlas Shrugged, and gives out copies as gifts…

Fearing political suicide, Republican leaders have tried to distance themselves from Ryan's "roadmap" budget proposal, which calls for privatizing Social Security. But Ryan is upfront about it….

"If we actually accomplish this goal of personalizing Social Security, think of what we will accomplish. Every worker, every laborer in America will not only be a laborer but a capitalist. They will be an owner of society…"

In interviews, he has said Republicans should frame the choice between "collectivism" and capitalism as a moral choice. "We have an opportunity to make a choice clearly once and for all in the next two elections, and we owe it to the American people to give them a clear choice: Do you want a collectivist welfare state or do you want to get back to being a free market? We need to make a moral, not just practical or statistical, case…"

In last year's CPAC address, he claimed the White House had blamed the free market for the financial crisis, then used the crisis as an "excuse to impose a more intrusive state."

Obviously a lead in to next week's slog through libertopia, but not exactly irrelevant to Polanyi either as it happens.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

precis? not precisely...

I don’t know enough about economics to understand what the fuck is going on. Ever. This applies not only to the arguments in the texts that we have been reading and discussing in class, but also, apparently, to my own wallet. That last point aside, this means that I struggle, desperately, to maintain even the most threadbare scraps of an opinion concerning the claims that Polanyi makes in The Great Transformation, (or truthfully, most of the claims of the other texts that we have taken up so far in class), that is, I struggle to say anything about these texts other than that I have no way of knowing whether or not I am being jerked around by the arguments they make.

I read a line like “Eventually, the spread of deflation will reach the exporting firms and thus achieve the export surplus which represents ‘real’ transfer. But the harm and damage caused to the community at large will be much greater than that which was strictly necessary to achieve such an export surplus.” (p. 202) and I feel compelled to ask “Is that so?” Even if I had a firm understanding of the terms of the economic art in which these sentences are presented (which I don’t really) it would take much more time than I have to be able to integrate such an understanding into the argumentative structure of the work as a whole.

The Great Transformation as I (mis)understand it, is counting on my inability to process the micro-claims that constitute its narrative. Yet is this not precisely the kind of work that Polanyi’s readers need to do in order to find his argument compelling (or not)? Long form arguments, like this one, always ought to produce a great deal of skepticism in their audience; whether the author supports her thesis by a series of logical entailments or with an interpretation of a story, the long form argument leads its audience in a stepwise fashion towards conclusions that audience members may or may not find persuasive in a more simplified form.

I find Polanyi’s method of tracing problematic phenomenon (the ideology of free markets, in this case) back through the historical circumstances from which it arose to be particularly questionable (not illegitimate, just questionable.) It is not only the staggering immensity and ultimate irretrievability of historical knowledge that piques my skepticism (I hope to have more to say about this later). Instead, I am suspicious of the theatrics involved in rehearsing the historical conditions of… anything, actually. It is as if the a author is saying “You may think that things are necessarily the way they are, but let me show you the luridly unlikely story of how they came to be this way. At the end of my story, I will pull back the curtain revealing the meaning of freedom in a complex society. Fly little away you crazy little doves!”

When other authors do this however, I rarely find myself complaining. It doesn’t really matter for instance, whether Nietzsche’s “History of an Error” is historically accurate – the point of his argument lies elsewhere. Except that in the study of economics, historical accuracy means everything. In other words, although a writer like Nietzsche’s rehearsal of history can be understood as a rhetorical exercise divorced from its factual basis (that is, he can manipulate history in the service of an observation about the present), an economist does not have this luxury for the reason that economics seeks to describe things not only as they are but also as they will be. I want to say, theses on metaphysics are of a fundamentally different order than theses on economics – economics wants to be real. This difference is both the reason that I want to take the claim’s that compose Polanyi’s argument seriously and individually, and the reason that Polanyi had to present his argument as a long form historical account. I take this book to be a sincere effort to employ the history of economic thought to account for the present political and cultural situation. It is central to Polanyi’s thesis that economic thought had historically neglected the actual complexity of things and the systems by which they are traded by viewing them only through the distorting and simplifying lens of market-based ideology, and that what is called for is a broader understanding of the way in which systems develop. In this respect, the form of Polanyi’s argument attests to the sincerity with which he put it forth, and I think we have to at least respect him for that.

As I write this, I recognize its problems, as I’m sure Polanyi would as well. A claim that economics is more concerned with the way things are is a thinly veiled claim that things are a certain way, a way that is discoverable and communicable. But Polanyi himself seems to make the point that the way in which we understand ourselves – in our dignity, society, and freedom – has been radically altered by the intrusion of markets into our collective culture. Just as we discussed Polanyi’s conjuring of the ghost of the market in the same move that he disavows it as a ghost, we can also see the way in which his need to produce an argument from history undermines itself in its very historicity

So Many Precises To Post...

So. Little. Time.

Just a Link

Thought this article might interest some people:

How Polanyi's work has effected some policies at home.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Monday, February 1, 2010

Precis: Economics in One Lesson

(This precis is an attempt to refine my first impressions about the book. I still stand by what I wrote in my previous post)

The main argument of Economics in One Lesson is simple (Indeed, one might say it is "elementary"). Hazlitt argues economic orthodoxy is ridden by two major fallacies. The first fallacy is to only see the short-term effects of economic policies and to disregard long-term effects. The second fallacy is to only consider the economic consequences for a select group of people instead of considering the consequences for society as a whole. Because of these two fallacies, economic orthodoxy suffers from a kind of irrational myopia and therefore fails to actually practice economics--an objective science based on rationality and logic.

Hazlitt's arguments are quite seductive because they appeal to the reader's own sense of intelligence and capacity for rational thought. The rhetorical question that undergirds the entire book seems to be: how can you be so stupid and believe economic orthodoxy? In the chapter on tariffs for instance, Hazlitt asserts that "only minds corrupted by generations of misleading propaganda can regard [my] conclusion as paradoxical." Apparently, if you disagree with Hazlitt and fail to follow through with his "logical" conclusions, then you must be a brainwashed sheep of the establishment.

Hazlitt's overbearing use of logical appeals yields the rhetorical force of his argument. By restricting the economic debate to logos, opponents to his view have very little room to maneuver. After all, if Hazlitt's conclusions are logically valid, then your disagreement is the negation of truth (this is assuming his arguments are also logically sound, which in my opinion is questionable). As a result, counter-arguments rooted in the principles such as justice and fairness are dismissed as "emotional" and therefore irrational. Hazlitt argues that "justice" and "fairness" are "nebulous conceptions" and the byproducts of "medieval" thought. In other words, since they cannot be rigorously defined then they are subjective and emotional as opposed to objective and logical.

Thus, Hazlitt contrasts his "calm," calculating practice of economics with an "emotional economics." Following the tradition of liberalism, Hazlitt claims the authority of rational thought and uses it to dispel tradition and orthodoxy, which are not rooted in rationality but instead in ignorance and habit. In this way, economics is treated as an objective "science" much like "mathematics." The practice of economics is simply deduction: to note the "premises," and to follow their "logical" implications based on fixed economic laws. To be a good economist means to be disinterested and able deduce formally valid conclusions. An "emotional economics" on the other hand is short-sighted, self-interested, and irrational. It does not see things whole, but only sees things in the short-term or from the perspective of a special economic interest.

In addition to logical appeals, Hazlitt's argument also draws its rhetorical force from employing the common caricatures of government, bureaucracy, politicians, and politics. These easily identifiable stereotypes are iterated again and again in each chapter. Although Hazlitt uses different examples in each chapter, the story and its characters remain the same. Through simplifying narratives, Hazlitt gives readers a schema from which to make sense of the politics in their everyday lives. Taxes become "theft"; liberals become authoritarian "Statists"; good intentions become naivete and idealism; government becomes an institution filled with bungling bureaucrats and "parasites." The effect is to delimit the audience's understanding of the world, confining it to a particular libertarian world-view.

After reading Hazlitt's book, I can definitely see why many of my libertarian friends say it was their "gateway drug" into libertarianism. Indeed, many of the points Hazlitt makes are reiterated almost every time I engage with them. Many of Hazlitt's figures ("inflation is the opium of the masses" comes to mind) and caricatures also have a powerful resonance with my libertarian friends.

One particular trait I noticed about my libertarian friends was their disdain--fear even--of a democratic politics (as they understood it). Democracy, they say, is simple: 51 votes you win, 49 votes you lose. What is good about that? It simply means that the majority (the idiotic rabble) get to impose their tyranny on everybody else. Hazlitt too echoes this view when he equates "political power" as a "votes," or any government intervention into the economic sphere as the result of "political manipulation."

It is no surprise then that Hazlitt and many other libertarians (at least in my experience) dismiss politics in general. We see this dismissal of politics when Hazlitt derides "justice" as a "nebulous conception." By claiming the authority of rationality and logic, Hazlitt seeks to stabilize the shifting world of appearances in an objective framework. In the end, he only sanitizes the world and glosses over the fact that, in politics, there exists a diversity of perspectives and opinions. Some questions simply can't be settled through objective or rational deduction.

Underlying the libertarian's dismissal of politics, I think, is a fear of pluralism. This fear is rooted in the belief that the political process, which is often thought to be controlled by demagogues and their irrational and hyper-emotional followers, threatens their sovereignty as autonomous individuals. On this tragic view of politics, rhetoric is dismissed as either pandering or lying, and as a result, politics is to be avoided and viewed as self-interested and irrational.

But, if I explain this to my libertarian friends, then I've fallen into Hazlitt's rhetorical trap: in the eyes of my friends I become the caricature of the naive and idealistic liberal who does not argue logically but emotionally. Or worse: the caricature of the pseudo-intellectual who argues with smart-sounding words like "intersubjective" and "plurality" in order to mask his emotional arguments with a semblance of rationality.

What do you think? Do others who are libertarians or who have had dialogue with them agree with these observations?