Critical Marx

In the discussion on Ayn Rand’s works, the Lady Rowyn sagely suggests:

There are a lot of authors worth reading whether or not you agree with their conclusions. And whether or not people make fun of them.

Indeed. I’ve read much of Karl Marx, and am amazed that he has any followers at all.  Especially women, but really anyone who thinks the notions through.

Marx is worshiped today in academia; Rand is reasonable, which lets her out of that club.  I’ve got a college textbook next to me called The Critical Experience (edited by David L. Cowles), an analysis of techniques of literary criticism.  The great majority of them are Marxist, or spin-offs of Marxist techniques.  (Amusingly, Google Books helpfully suggests that a “related work” to this textbook is The Communist Manifesto.  No surprise.)

By one page into the Introduction, the textbook is complaining that literary criticism was dominated by “white, male, American, Protestant, upper-middle-class, and highly educated.”  They have been successful in reducing each one of these, I think, especially the highly educated part.

The writers of this college book are effusive in their praise of Karl Marx, granting only the possibility of Charles Darwin having greater influence upon “history and thought.” This was written (or at least published) in 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union:

Marx’s contributions to the political philosophy that bears his name are well known, but his writings have also influenced such diverse disciplines as history, economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, theology, and literary criticism. The proliferation of Marxist theorists in in dozens of academic fields has given rise to a number of diverse scholarly traditions…”

Feminist Theory, Reader Response Criticism, New Historicism, Cultural Materialism, Pluralism and others all are described as having Marxist roots, so that everything can be read in terms of the class struggle, substituting gender or whatever for the oppressed class.  (In Feminist criticism, we are cautioned to avoid “rigid phallogocentric” ideas, an odd sort of double meaning under the circumstances.)

But the glow when Marx is mentioned practically radiates from the page. They like him, they really like him.

I do not.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle


Denoting Bertrand Russell, “Red Emma” Goldman, Thomas Jefferson

(This wound up being something of a scattered ramble on different philosophers in history.) I mentioned recently Ayn Rand’s definition of selfishness, as “concerned with one’s own interests.”  It’s straightforward enough. In the ensuing discussion, I described this as less opaque than some of the definitions of Bertrand Russell.  (I had  miswritten his first name as “Bertram”; my apologies.)

I don’t have his works online (edit: found a collection), though some parts of this no doubt exist. Here’s a nice example, from his treatise on Denoting I read last year:

Thus `the father of Charles II was executed‘ becomes: `It is not always false of x that x begat Charles II and that x was executed and that “if y begat Charles II, y is identical with x” is always true of y‘.

This may seem a somewhat incredible interpretation; but I am not at present giving reasons, I am merely stating the theory.

Continue reading

These Things Think Upon

In the “Food for Thought” Sunday posts, by nomination of Citizen Tom, and snuck in barely on Sunday after a period of traveling:

Philippians 4 has an exhortation that is appropriate for Thanksgiving — and it is a reminder to be optimistic, and to manage your thoughts. In the Young’s Literal Translation:

8 As to the rest, brethren, as many things as are true, as many as [are] grave, as many as [are] righteous, as many as [are] pure, as many as [are] lovely, as many as [are] of good report, if any worthiness, and if any praise, these things think upon;

It is good advice, whether you are a believer or not. And it is exceedingly difficult in some respects.  Continue reading

A Spirit of Power, Love and a Sound Mind

I am traveling, but have a short note in the spirit of the Food for Thought series on Biblical verses.

In 2 Timothy 1, when Paul is encouraging young Timothy to get out and get busy, he includes this line:

for God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind

No matter what one believes as to origins, there is no doubt that this combination — a “spirit of power” combined with love and a sound mind — is a very potent combination. These are the attributes shown by America’s inspired founding fathers, and they have been shown in other groups from time to time throughout history, though not with perhaps so lasting or consequential a result.

But while it is rare for groups to employ this combination together for a joint purpose, we can each strive as individual to develop and maintain these qualities independently. We each face challenges, large and small — and that sense of the size of the challenge is very personal. What might appear small to an observer can be large enough to you when it is right in your way, and in your mind.

Our mustering of the spirit of power, love, and a sound mind is also a very personal thing. I do consciously strive in this direction, with imperfect success. But unless one decides that this is desirable, and conceivable, and worth the effort, no efforts will bring you toward this goal … or any other, for that matter except by inefficient chance.  Your life is worth more than that … as are the lives of loved ones in your care and protection.

Love, it seems to me, comes from a peace within yourself that allows you to reach out to hold another in an exalted sort of state. Perhaps it is not completely logical — but the lack of inner peace creates a roiled sort of love that can be harmful to all parties involved. And the lack of reaching out so that you can elevate and make someone your significant other whose well-being becomes your high priority goal … well, a self-centered love is often dismal, and sometimes pathetic.

A sound mind does not mean brilliance at math, or an excellent ability to spell, or a great memory for facts and figures. And people who exhibit these talents/skills (they’re a combination of both) don’t always have a sound thinking process.

The humblest person of modest IQ can still be of sound mind, if he or she approaches life with curiosity, holds opinions tentatively, and actively seeks to improve understanding so that the opinions can either change or be on firmer ground. Then, to actually use that information to live a better life … such a person is of the soundest sort of mind, and too often the “brilliant” are incapable of it.  One of Robert Heinlein’s characters, “Kettle Belly” Baldwin, despaired of man’s ability to think:

    “We defined thinking as integrating data and arriving at correct answers.  Look around you.  Most people do that stunt just well enough to get to the corner store and back without breaking a leg.

    If the average man thinks at all, he does silly things like generalizing from a single datum.  He uses one-valued logics.  If he is exceptionally bright, he uses two-valued, “either or” logic to arrive at his wrong answer.  If he is hungry, hurt, or personally interested in the answer, he can’t use any sort of logic and will discard an observed fact as blithely as he will stake his life on a piece of wishful thinking.  He uses the technical miracles created by superior men without wonder nor surprise, as a kitten accepts a bowl of milk.  Far from aspiring to higher reasoning, he is not even aware that higher reasoning exists.   He classes his own mental processes as being of the same sort as the genius of an Einstein.
    Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal.  For explanations of a universe that confuses him, he seizes onto numerology, astrology, hysterical religions, and other fancy ways to go crazy.  Having accepted such glorified nonsense, facts make no impression on him, even if at the cost of his own life.”

“Kettle Belly” Baldwin, in Robert A. Heinlein’s novel “Gulf”, from the book “Assignment in Eternity”.

These comments may be true, and Mankind in general guilty as charged – but it is the responsibility of each one of us to learn the skills and disciplines of thinking, to think more skillfully, and more of the time. And we can learn.

A notable omission in Baldwin’s rant is attitude: Thinking skills include the ability to control the attitude that you have in your mind, so that you find the world much less troubling. Stress is, after all,  not what happens to you but how you decide to react to it.  Too few of us even try to develop this skill.

A sound mind, in my sort of definition at least, leads naturally to a spirit of power — a sort of deep seated confidence and acceptance that then makes you more capable of love, and more capable at life.

May you find the pursuit worthwhile, and the goal achievable.  Best wishes to you all.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

That last quote from Matthew 12

In my musings Sunday, I left one connection out between the Bible’s Matthew 12 and presidential statements.

Matthew 12:29 “Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.”

Barack Obama, 2002 (attacking Martin Luther King Jr and other successful Republicans): “You know, the principle of empathy gives broader meaning, by the way, to Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but rich people are all for nonviolence. Why wouldn’t they be? They’ve got what they want. They want to make sure people don’t take their stuff. But the principle of empathy recognizes that there are more subtle forms of violence to which we are answerable. The spirit of empathy condemns not only the use of firehoses and attack dogs to keep people down but also accountants and tax loopholes to keep people down.”

In the last instance, “empathy” was the code word he was using at the time for forced redistribution of wealth. The technique he proposes to “bind the strong man” is to deprive him of “accountants and tax loopholes” — and “spoil his house” with higher tax rates and regulations.  The one problem with this is that the creation of wealth through inventiveness, perseverance and hard work does not “keep people down,” it provides their incomes and their motivations — and the “house” that he would spoil is the United States. It was risky for Obama to attack MLK, but I suspect that few in his audience (or even today) picked up on it.

There is another subtlety here — Obama’s assumption that reducing the amount of money going toward big government coffers is something that will “keep people down” — and that this is the intentional goal of successful people.

The contrast is interesting. MLK spoke eloquently of non-violence, and sought a day in which race would no longer be a factor. Obama speaks (then and now) of violence, revenge, and tapping into the anger of black people.  Interestingly, Obama does not fight to benefit this constituency, other than to do (and heavily promote) those things that seem to pander to them without actually solving problems. For example, he recently levied (by executive order, of course, since such legislation would never pass) an order essentially exempting black students from discipline. I’ll write more about this later, but it does no favors to a student population to give them essentially free rein to misbehave.

Obama specifically left violence on the table as one of the two possibilities, stating that non-violence only made sense under certain circumstances.

Obama’s and King’s approaches are remarkably different in many respects, and Obama’s resentment of Martin Luther King Junior  spills into the speech above to an extent, grouping him with “rich people” who advise “non-violence” because “they’ve got what they want.”

One problem he had with MLK was that King wanted race issues to be resolved, so that character rather than skin color was the important issue. To Obama, racial tensions were necessary: They were the fuel and pathways for Obama’s ambitions, as he explains in his autobiographies.

When King spoke, it was clear that he sought peace … that the goals of racial equality were achievable, desirable, and beneficial to all. Regarding violence, he said in 1963:

In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.

There were similarities, of course, between Obama and MLK, particularly as the latter came more and more under the influence of his Communist advisors. Both speak about redistribution, though Obama uses “redistribution of wealth” whereas King spoke of “redistribution of economic power” (here, for example).  The differences are subtle.

In Obama’s speeches, he makes clear that the goal is class war and revolution and revenge against “enemies” — and he appoints people who are fiercely racist and members of racist organizations (MEChA, La Raza) to his advisory positions.

I think that this president would do well to well to study more deeply the religion he adopted (not black liberation theology, but the Christianity it was mutated from), rather than just using it for political convenience as he describes in The Audacity of Hope.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

Sunday Verse 4: Presidential Musings

This is the fourth in a series of Sunday posts related to the Food for Thought award from Citizen Tom:

The Food for Thought posts


Matthew 12 is telling part of the story of Jesus, and two aspects of this chapter struck me.  First, it has been the source of a number of statements that are commonly associated with US presidents, and second that it also contains a reference applicable to our current one. Continue reading

Expecting Different Results

Barack Obama claims that he was prevented from solving the economic crisis be the fact that he was opposed in Congress.

Congress was, of course, run by Democrats in the Senate, and Democrats in the House, for Obama’s first two years.  And yes, they did not vote to pass a budget — at one point, Obama’s offered budget proposal got exactly zero votes from Democrats. Continue reading


Sandy was Not a Major Hurricane

One commenter asked about “major hurricanes” and why Sandy isn’t one.  The term “major hurricane” is used by many to indicate those of Category 3 and up. It is used by the U.S. National Hurricane Center, which classifies hurricanes of Category 3 and above as major hurricanes, and is generally used everywhere from the weather agencies to Wikipedia.

Here’s the Saffir-Simpson scale, which includes a nice animation illustrating the typical effects of the different wind speeds. Note the use of “major” for Cat 3 and above.

For a Category 1 hurricane, which Sandy was (off-and-on) until about the time of landfall when it began to dissipate again, the scale notes that “Very dangerous winds will produce some damage.” Electric power is sensitive: “Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.”

Indeed. The power lines and poles are above ground in the US for the most part, and the humorous and inciteful[1] Mark Steyn makes a number of brilliant observations about this.  He’s just published another piece, noting that the 2009 report (in PDF) on New York’s vulnerabilities show that Sandy was not a “freakish” “monster” “Frankenstorm” but simply an anticipated storm that did the damage they knew it would, if steps weren’t taken.  In fact, the storm surge of Sandy was expected to be dwarfed by even a Category 2 hurricane (16 feet) and a Category 4 was expected to deliver a surge to New York City of more than 30 feet (about 10 meters), or more than twice what Sandy produced.

Storm size due to BS Continue reading