The morality of polarization

So Donald Trump bragged about being able to grab a woman “by the pussy”[1] (he dismisses this as “locker room talk”[2]), almost certainly had an affair with an adult film star,[3] and went on to nominate a judge for the Supreme Court who now stands credibly accused of attempted rape at a drunken party in his teen-aged years.[4] Continue reading “The morality of polarization”

  1. [1]Jeff Stein, “Here’s what happens if Trump drops out,” Vox, October 8, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/10/8/13211050/what-happens-trump-dropout
  2. [2]British Broadcasting Corporation, “US election: Trump says obscene remarks were ‘locker room talk,’” October 10, 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-us-2016-37604151
  3. [3]Anderson Cooper, “Stormy Daniels describes her alleged affair with Donald Trump,” CBS News, March 26, 2018, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/stormy-daniels-describes-her-alleged-affair-with-donald-trump-60-minutes-interview/
  4. [4]Emma Brown, “California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault,” Washington Post, September 16, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/california-professor-writer-of-confidential-brett-kavanaugh-letter-speaks-out-about-her-allegation-of-sexual-assault/2018/09/16/46982194-b846-11e8-94eb-3bd52dfe917b_story.html; Deanna Paul, “A former sex-crimes prosecutor analyzed Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh. Here’s her take,” Washington Post, September 18, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/09/18/former-sex-crimes-prosecutor-analyzed-fords-allegations-against-kavanaugh-heres-her-take/

Epistemology as inquiry

One of the things we need to remember about philosophy—this was in the introductory class I had at American River College back in the late 1970s— is that philosophy does not answer questions but rather poses and explores them.

This is a crucial point: When you have decided you know the answer, you cease to question it. And then it ceases to be a topic of inquiry or even a philosophical topic. Continue reading “Epistemology as inquiry”

A quick discourse historical analysis: “They say 1 in 3 won’t retire. They haven’t met you.”

I was driving on an elevated portion of the freeway through Oakland when I saw a billboard from Prudential—I don’t know what unit in what I assume to be a complicated corporate structure—that said, “They say 1 in 3 won’t retire. They haven’t met you.”

Now, I’m not a fan of advertising, let alone billboards, anyway. But an advertisement like this is clearly not targeted at me. I have nothing for a financial planner to work with; I very definitely am one of those one in three. Continue reading “A quick discourse historical analysis: “They say 1 in 3 won’t retire. They haven’t met you.””

On the quest for an objective news source

I’ve commented a few times now that no matter who wins an election in the U.S., the losing side feels oppressed. We distrust each other’s information, calling it “fake news.” We distrust each other’s motivations, calling them hate. In effect, we deny each other’s legitimacy.

So a question has come up a couple times now: Where should we go for objective news? Continue reading “On the quest for an objective news source”

Donald Trump and the elite quest for freedom

The tweet is unclear at best, worthy of question, certainly not of conclusion, but Aaron Blake thinks that Donald Trump might—only might—have been admitting to an attempt to fire Jeff Sessions and Robert Mueller. Blake does conclude that “[a]ll of this undoubtedly leaves a perception that Trump wants people to have — that Trump can and might fire both men — to send a message to Mueller and Sessions. Trump has made clear he views this as his presidential prerogative.”[1]
Continue reading “Donald Trump and the elite quest for freedom”

  1. [1]Aaron Blake, “Did Trump just admit that he tried to fire Mueller and Sessions?” Washington Post, August 30, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/08/30/did-trump-just-admit-that-he-tried-fire-mueller-sessions/

All so a few can be bored with those spectacular spaces that remain

The other day, I went into my local credit union to make a deposit. My teller on this occasion was a young lady who would be attractive anyway but who has obviously invested extra effort in her appearance with rings and make-up. Her eyelashes are a tad, but only a tad, overdone.

In the past, it has seemed both like she was bored and like she was attempting to avoid my male gaze even before I could gaze. This prompted me to make an extra effort not to gaze. Remember, this is a teller in a credit union. So it was awkward as she went through the motions of doing what I needed done and I was trying to look almost anywhere else. Continue reading “All so a few can be bored with those spectacular spaces that remain”

Ethos and appropriation: On the use of certain words and phrases

Update, August 17, 2018: Discussion of this post occurred in two threads on Google+, here and here. One point arose when Robert Hansen pushed back on my exclusion of the wealthy as a group who can be “dogwhistled.” He cited the Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia in doing so.

My inclination is to reject such a broadening of this term’s meaning. Such a broadening robs the term of its force. The rich and powerful have nothing to fear from “dogwhistling.” Subaltern groups most certainly do. This term is not (yet) authoritatively defined.[1]


Update, August 22, 2018: I have been contemplating further the use of the term “dogwhistling” as some (see above) would apply it as a defense against however mildly obscured attacks on the rich and powerful. And I am remembering that slaveholders would set hounds after fugitive slaves. Let that sink in for a moment. Hounds. To use an accusation of “dogwhistling” to defend against such attacks is a gross perversion of that term. Sorry, this cannot wash and I emphatically reject this usage.


When speech communication scholars speak of persuasion, they often refer to three words: logos, pathos, and ethos. Two of these are pretty straightforward: Logos is about whether your argument, given reasonable assumptions that often aren’t all stated, makes sense inductively or deductively. Pathos is about the emotional appeal. “Dogwhistling” relies on a certain sometimes latent animus toward subaltern groups, for example.

Ethos is harder. It has no precise English translation that I’m aware of. It is about who the speaker is to the audience. It is about the way they have about them. It’s about a myriad of things that a specialist in nonverbal communication might be able to help quantify. Continue reading “Ethos and appropriation: On the use of certain words and phrases”

  1. [1]Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd ed.

Quick! Dial 911! ‘Irrelevant’ poetry is at risk!

Oh dear.

I guess I should begin by explaining that I am not a poet and that, for the very most part, poetry does not speak to me—sorry, it just doesn’t and never has. So here I am wading in to what shouldn’t even be a controversy about poetry.

A bit of background might help. A few years ago, after I had completed the preliminary work for my dissertation, I was beginning the search for articles that I would subject to discourse historical analysis for the dissertation itself. As a part of this search I subscribed to a number of conservative email newsletters, including Prufrock.

Prufrock wasn’t actually useful in my dissertation work. Micah Mattix rarely, if ever, takes on the topic of unauthorized migration. But he is an example of a traditionalist conservative (which makes it a bit surprising that the neoconservative Weekly Standard publishes his newsletter, but neoconservatives seem to hold nowhere near the animus toward traditionalist conservatives that the latter hold toward the former).

Mattix, rather, focuses on western culture with a strong literary bent. His newsletter is tolerable and occasionally worth at least reading the first few lines of, so I have remained subscribed.

Today (August 13, 2018), quoting at length, he writes:

I’m not going to link to an essay in The Atlantic on why poetry matters because, well, it’s not really about poetry. (Fine. Here it is.) It’s about identity and how poets are exploring it “in new ways” (whatever that means) and how technology is helping them “engage” their yuge audience. Anyway, the entire piece is a mess, but I will say this: If people are reading a poem primarily because of its politics, how does that make poetry matter? It matters because it is the vehicle for something else? I suppose that may be “mattering,” but only in a very narrow sense—like a helmet matters because it protects my head. You know why poetry should matter? Because poets are writing good poems. Why should people read poetry? Because they like it. Should poetry change people? Maybe, though it often doesn’t. It should, however, remind people that not everything in life is about power and fame. And it should occasionally show people that thinking about seemingly unimportant things for no reason is part of what makes us human.[1]

The Atlantic article is mostly about how poets who are not white, binary gender-conforming, cis, and heterosexual (yeah, a lot of this is somehow about sex) are beginning to gain prominence,[2] which you and I might agree is a laudable thing. Since the Left has largely stopped talking about class—this article is no exception—and decided that class is instead the complaint of white males pining after lost privilege, I found myself skimming through most of it to find any reference to what Mattix is complaining about.

But there it is, some poetry that references white massacres of American Indians. And discussion of poetry about “apartheid, colonialism, a fascination with the bodies of saints, bodies in extremis.” And more.[3]

You see the problem here: Mattix wants poetry to “remind people that not everything in life is about power and fame. And it should occasionally show people that thinking about seemingly unimportant things for no reason is part of what makes us human.”[4] As if the introduction of diverse voices covering topics of injustice somehow deprives him of such poetry, consigns it to “irrelevance,” or its labeling as “irrelevant” somehow poses a threat to its existence when such work, appearing across a multitude of forms, has been preserved in libraries, museums, concert halls, and theaters for centuries and seems likely to remain so.

Suffice it to say, Mattix’s argument does not impress. What’s going on here is that Mattix does not want to be reminded that not everything is wonderful with the status quo. If Mattix is in any way concerned with social injustice, he offers no evidence of it here. He’s just tired of hearing about it.

Much like the Left with class.

  1. [1]Micah Mattix to Prufrock mailing list, August 13, 2018, https://mailchi.mp/prufrocknews/prufrock-april-25-758149
  2. [2]Jesse Lichtenstein, “How Poetry Came to Matter Again,” Atlantic, September, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/09/chen-chen-aziza-barnes-layli-long-soldier/565781/
  3. [3]Jesse Lichtenstein, “How Poetry Came to Matter Again,” Atlantic, September, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/09/chen-chen-aziza-barnes-layli-long-soldier/565781/
  4. [4]Micah Mattix to Prufrock mailing list, August 13, 2018, https://mailchi.mp/prufrocknews/prufrock-april-25-758149

Homelessness and the value of a life

I should begin by emphasizing the possibility that I completely misinterpreted what I saw. I was driving by, at night, with headlights that are good for the road but cast light in a way that is not so good for understanding what I’m seeing off the road. I was looking very quickly because I was also having to steer through a curve. Continue reading “Homelessness and the value of a life”

Our last chance

Whether or not Hillary Clinton would have been as bad a president as Donald Trump is the topic of a counterfactual, a line of reasoning so invalid I regard it as fallacious.

Counterfactuals are fun to think about. What would have happened had John F. Kennedy not been shot? Or Richard M. Nixon not forced to resign? Or, going back further, Abraham Lincoln had permitted the South to secede? Continue reading “Our last chance”