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Monday, February 8, 2016


S. Wallerstein offers the following interesting comment on a story I told in my fifth lecture: 

"You spoke of a group of anthropologists who studied a bar scene in Chicago and you mentioned that when anthropology students who were familiar with the bar scene from their normal social life looked at the results they found them weird because of the difference between how the bar scene is described by anthropologists and how they lived it as normal bar customers. (Not your exact words, but something like that).   Isn't that to be expected with any rigorous description? If a group of doctors describe my physical condition, it will have nothing to do with how I live it and I probably will not understand the technical language. If a group of psychiatrists describe my personality and its disorders, I may be surprised by the terms that they use and I will probably have to resort to Wikipedia to understand them." 

The difference between the medical description and the ethnographic description is this [the psychiatric description poses an additional problem, to which I shall return]:  My physical constitution is [mostly] independent of my self-understanding or my conceptual and social processes.  But my being as a social person is historically and socially constructed in part through my self-understandings [and misunderstandings, of course].  This is what distinguishes a fourth century A. D. Roman from an eleventh century A. D. Mongol or a twentieth century A. D. New Yorker [like myself].  My self-descriptions are a part of who I am.  Hence, an ethnographer's attempt to capture the lineaments of my society and my social being must include those self-understandings in a way that is comprehensible to me, whereas the physician's description of my medical condition need not be comprehensible to me at all. 

There is actually more going on here than just this, but since I shall be talking about that something more in my next lecture, I do not want to show my hand here.  As a non-spoiler preview, it will have to do with the way the Zhu understand and deploy  their kinship relations, as contrasted with the way ethnographers conceptualize those same kinship relations.  If I may be deliberately provocative, we shall see that the Zhu act in very much the same fashion with regard to kinship as the characters in a Jane Austen novel.

To return briefly to the question of a psychiatric description:  the sort of therapy pioneered by Freud essentially requires [among other things] that the patient come to a better understanding of his or her neuroses [see my tutorial, "The Thought of Sigmund Freud"] as opposed to the therapeutic interventions of psychiatrists who see their patients' problems as caused by chemical imbalances, correctible with medications.  If they, rather than Freud, are correct, then the patient's self-understanding is, by and large, irrelevant. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016


I have now posted URLs to the first Ideological Critique five lectures at the top of this blog, just in case anyone is having trouble finding them.  Copy the URL and paste into your command line.  Hit "enter" and there you are.

Saturday, February 6, 2016


Lecture Five is now on YouTube.



Someone with the impenetrable webname plgold2792 makes the following request:  "would you mind pointing me in the direction of your other posts on why it makes an important difference to elect a Democrat rather than a Republican? I would welcome your analysis, considering that I myself am worried about this question: I like Jill Stein of the Green Party better than even Sanders, and am back and forth about how to proceed."  I cannot recall a post in which I argued this proposition, but I am happy to make some remarks about it here.  Since I cannot for the life of me tell whether plgold2792 is male or female [or even more than one person], I shall adopt the convention of assuming plgold2792 is female.  Nothing of significance turns on this assumption.
Why, she asks, does it make an important difference to elect a Democrat rather than a Republican?  In order to simplify and focus my remarks, I am going to assume that Clinton and Rubio are the nominees.  If Trump is the Republican nominee [which I still think is likely] the entire argument changes.  As far as foreign policy is concerned, there is nothing much to choose between the two.  Both will pursue a relatively hawkish version of the imperial project that has defined American foreign policy for the last sixty-five years.  Let me turn to domestic policy.  First of all, Clinton will appoint liberal Supreme Court justices and Circuit Courts of Appeal judges.  This will protect such rights to reproductive health as women now have, and may also reverse the efforts by the High Court to completely gut voting rights protections.  Rubio will appoint justices who continue the assault on union rights, on the plutocratization of American politics [if I may coin a phrase], and much else besides.  This, by itself, is enough to make the election of Clinton essential.
Clinton will not be able, with the House firmly in the control of the Republicans, to sponsor and sign any legislation, however timidly progressive, but she will be able to use the very considerable executive authority of the Presidency to make small but nevertheless significant advances in reasonably progressive policies [saving only the reining in of Wall Street, which she will pretend to do but will in fact not undertake at all.]  In particular, I would point out that Clinton would almost certainly continue Obama's efforts to advance the American and international response to global warming, a subject that I assume is important to plgold2792 inasmuch as she is drawn to the Green Party.
Rubio, on the other hand, would, if he won, probably hold control of the Senate as well, and then a flood of anti-environmental legislation would result, along with the revocation of Obama's executive actions.  The Congress would further restrict women's access to reproductive health, it would undo as much as it could of the Affordable Care Act, it would give massive tax breaks to the rich, and it would advance the agenda of multi-national capital at the expense of American workers.
All in all, this litany of horribles, in my opinion, justifies holding one's nose and voting for Clinton.

Friday, February 5, 2016


Good grief, Charlie Brown!  I just discovered, thanks to Tom's comment, that Bernie Sanders was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago during the years I taught there!  I taught at U of C from 1961-1963 and Bernie graduated in 1964, which means that he was a Junior and a Senior during my brief stay.  I checked my class records, and I am afraid he was not in any of my courses.  Wouldn't that have been a hoot!


Well, I just had a scare.  When I tried to upload Lecture Five this morning, after more than an hour of uploading YouTube told me the video had been rejected.  I tried again.  Another hour.  No luck. Then I recreated the video from the Windows MovieMaker files on my laptop and tried a third time.  Still no luck, but this time I was told the video had been rejected because it was too long.  I was prompted to request  a telephone confirmation that I was not Julien Assange [or something], went through the process, and it worked!

Only one trouble.  When I recreated the video, I failed to snip off the bit at the beginning where I am hitching up my pants and tightening my belt.  Oh well, no one ever said I was a fashion plate.

Anyway, Lecture Five is now available, and I am hard at work on Lecture Six.  


p.s.  I have a surprise at the beginning of Lecture Six.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Let me begin by asserting two propositions that are, in my judgment, incontrovertible.

1.  If Clinton is elected president, under the best of circumstances the Democrats will take back control of the Senate but still fall far short of regaining the House.  Therefore, Clinton will be utterly unable to shepherd incrementally progressive legislation to enactment.

2.  If Sanders is elected president, under the best of circumstances the Democrats will take back control of the Senate  but still fall far short of regaining the House.  Therefore, Sanders will be utterly unable to shepherd radically progressive legislation to enactment.

What then would be the differences between a Clinton and a Sanders presidency?  I suggest there would be two major differences, and possibly a third more important still.

A.  Clinton would use the considerable executive authority of the presidency to deal lightly and favorably with Wall Street, in a manner that they would find comfortable.  Sanders would use the considerable executive authority of the presidency to deal harshly with Wall Street, in a manner that would seriously interfere with their ability to milk the economy while risking another meltdown.

B.  Clinton would embrace the Imperial project that has defined American foreign policy under all presidents since Truman.  Sanders would adopt as non-imperialist a foreign policy as he could get away with without being impeached.

C.  Clinton would do absolutely nothing to stimulate, encourage, or lead a movement designed to make radical changes in the orientation and distribution of power in the American political system.  Sanders might undertake, as president, to lead such a movement.

These three differences lead me to conclude that Sanders would be a significantly better president than Clinton.

Now let me offer an opinion about which, I am well aware, there is considerable disagreement on the far left, where I hang my hat.

It matters greatly whether the Democrats or Republicans win the election for president.  I do not want to argue for that opinion here.  I have defended it elsewhere on this blog.

Thus, I [but perhaps not you] must ask:  Which candidate, Clinton or Sanders, has the better chance to win?  This strikes me as a much harder question to answer than the generality  of political commentators suppose.  In my judgment, Clinton would do better than Sanders against Rubio, and both of them would be able to defeat Cruz.  But I also think Sanders would do better against Trump than Clinton.  What leads me to these conclusions?

Against Rubio:  Rubio would run a smooth, conventional center-right campaign, trimming back to the middle on immigration and expressing hawkish sentiments acceptable to the electorate.  Clinton would run a center-left campaign, emphasizing experience and making as much as possible of the fact that she is a woman.  Rubio would not do well with Hispanic-Americans, who are well aware of the unique and not much beloved position of Cuban-Americans in that community.   Sanders and Warren would campaign vigorously for Clinton, and she would very probably win a strong but not overwhelming victory.  Sanders, on the other hand, would be tarred and feathered as a commie [the hammer and sickle are already on exhibit], and would not have the unquestioning loyalty of the African-American voters.

Against Cruz:  Cruz would run a hard-right campaign, and as Americans got to know him, they would come to loathe him as much as his Senate colleagues do.  He would lose badly.

Against Trump [who still is, in my judgment, the probably nominee]:  Clinton, I fear, would do badly against Trump.  She is an awkward campaigner who does not inspire affection, and she would be vulnerable to Trump's non-stop outrageous personal attacks.  I think he might destroy her.  Sander s would be completely invulnerable to Trump's style of attack.  Aside from his age, there is really nothing personal about him that could be a target for Trump.  Sanders would leach away some of the working-class White support that has buoyed the Republicans for decades now, potentially winning a big victory.

What to do?  Wait and see who gets the nomination, I guess.