July 21, 2011

Selling Out

It is painful to realize that one has crossed the invisible threshold beyond which "selling out" is something that politicians do, rather than bands that one liked before they were, you know, mainstream.

Flippanter in the Unfogged comments section.

March 13, 2011


From Yeats' Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry.

The bodies of saints are fastidious things. At a place called Four-mile-Water, in Wexford, there is an old graveyard full of saints. Once it was on the other side of the river, but they buried a rogue there, and the whole graveyard moved across in the night, leaving the rogue-corpse in solitude. It would have been easier to move merely the rogue-corpse, but they were saints, and had to do things in style.

February 09, 2011

"A Grim Cavorting Whirl"

From Francis Spufford's Red Plenty.

But Marx had drawn a nightmare picture of what happened to human life under capitalism, when everything was produced only in order to be exchanged; when true qualities and uses dropped away, and the human power of making and doing itself became only an object to be traded. Then the makers and the things made turned alike into commodities, and the motion of society turned into a kind of zombie dance, a grim cavorting whirl in which objects and people blurred together till the objects were half alive and the people were half dead. Stock-market prices acted back upon the world as if they were independent powers, requiring factories to be opened or closed, real human beings to work or rest, hurry or dawdle; and they, having given the transfusion that made the stock prices come alive, felt their flesh go cold and impersonal on them, mere mechanisms for chunking out the man-hours. Living money and dying humans, metal as tender as skin and skin as hard as metal, taking hands, and dancing round, and round, and round, with no way ever of stopping; the quickened and the deadened, whirling on. That was Marx's description, anyway. And what would be the alternative? The consciously arranged alternative? A dance of another nature, Emil presumed. A dance to the music of use, where every step fulfilled some real need, did some tangible good, and no matter how fast the dancers spun, they moved easily, because they moved to a human measure, intelligible to all, chosen by all.

February 08, 2011

"Common Sense in Paradox's Clothing"

Albert Hirschman, "How the Keynesian Revoution was Exported from the United States, and Other Comments," in Peter Hall (ed.) The Political Power of Economic Ideas.

But while rehabilitating common sense, Keynes hardly presented his own theory in commonsensical terms. Rather, his message was delivered in a book whose text was uncommonly difficult. Moreover, he frequently presented his propositions as counterintuitive rather than as confirming common sense: for example, instead of telling his readers that converging individual decisions to cut consumption can set off an economic decline (common sense), he dwelt on the equivalent but counterintuitive proposition that a spurt of individual decisions to save more will fail to increase aggregate savings. In this manner, he managed to present common sense in paradox's clothing and in fact made his theory doubly attractive: it satisfied at the same time the intellectuals' craving for populism and their taste for difficulty and paradox.

January 14, 2011


Paul Krugman

the lavishness of a conference and its intellectual quality are almost perfectly negatively correlated.

December 09, 2010

G.E.M. De St. Croixe on pride in workmanship

It would be absurd to suggest that the lower classes as a whole dutifully accepted the social snobbery and contempt for the 'banausic' that prevailed among the well-to-do. Many Greeks (and western Romans) who might be called 'mere artisans' by superior people even today were evidently very proud of their skills and felt that they acquired dignity by the exercise of them: they referred to them with pride in their dedications and their epitaphs, and they often chose to be pictured on their tombstones in the practice of their craft or trade, humble as it might be in the eyes of their 'betters.' To say that 'the ancient Greeks' despised craftsmen is one of those deeply misleading statements which show blindness to the existence of all but the propertied Few. It might have shocked even the humble Smikythe, who, in an inscription of four words accompanying an early-fifth-century dedication at Athens, took care to record her occupation: she was a plyntria, a washerwoman. It would certainly have shocked the families of Mannes the Phrygian, who was made to boast on his tombstone in late-fifth-century Attica, 'By Zeus, I never saw a better woodcutter than myself,' and of Atotas the Paphlagonian, whose fine Attic monument of the second half of the fourth century, describing him as 'Atotas, miner' (metalleus) bears two elegant couplets advertising the Selbstbewusstein of the proud technician, with not only a convential claim to distinguished heroic ancestry but also the boast that no-one could compete with him in techne.

G.E.M. De St. Croixe, The Class Struggle in the Ancient World.

November 17, 2010

J.S. Mill on the heuristic benefits of trade

From Principals of Political Economy.

But the economical advantages of commerce are surpassed in importance by those of its effects which are intellectual and moral. It is hardly possible to overrate the value, in the present low state of human improvement, of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar. Commerce is now what war once was, the principal source of this contact. Commercial adventurers from more advanced countries have generally been the first civilizers of barbarians. And commerce is the purpose of the far greater part of the communication which takes place between civilized nations. Such communication has always been, and is peculiarly in the present age, one of the primary sources of progress. To human beings, who, as hitherto educated, can scarcely cultivate even a good quality without running it into a fault, it is indispensable to be perpetually comparing their own notions and customs with the experience and example of persons in different circumstances from themselves: and there is no nation which does not need to borrow from others, not merely particular arts or practices, but essential points of character in which its own type is inferior. Finally, commerce first taught nations to see with good will the wealth and prosperity of one another. Before, the patriot, unless sufficiently advanced in culture to feel the world his country, wished all countries weak, poor, and ill-governed, but his own: he now sees in their wealth and progress a direct source of wealth and progress to his own country. It is commerce which is rapidly rendering war obsolete, by strengthening and multiplying the personal interests which are in natural opposition to it. And it may be said without exaggeration that the great extent and rapid increase of international trade, in being the principal guarantee of the peace of the world, is the great permanent security for the uninterrupted progress of the ideas, the institutions, and the character of the human race.

When I have seen this quoted, the noxious bit about 'civilizers of barbarians' has usually been suppressed by ellipses. Even so, this passage at least provides the beginnings of a theory of the pacific side-effects of trade.

October 27, 2010


Andrew Gelman - "if you have to describe someone as "famous," he's not."

October 11, 2010

The Line of Prophets

The doctrine that the line of Prophets is closed firmly circumscribes the Sacred and thus saves it from devaluation. Plato himself was not sufficiently aware of the Quantity Theory of Ideas. The proscription of innovation protects a scriptural faith from inflation.

Ernest Gellner, Muslim Society, p.24.

August 05, 2010


Ernest Gellner (again):

[B]eliefs must be difficult to be satisfying. Thus it is a travesty to say that martyrs die for Truth. Real truths seldom require such dramatic testimony, nor is one either asked or tempted to give it. Martyrs have in general defended in the face of death beliefs which they would have found somewhat harder to defend in the face of logic.

July 25, 2010


"True wisdom leaks from the joins between disciplines," Ian MacDonald, The Dervish House (p.113)


"A well-delivered moral lesson is a discussion of philosophy, not brainwashing," Farah Mendlesohn - The Intergalactic Playground