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August 4, 2019

This is from a letter Sigmund Freud wrote to his pastor friend Oskar Pfister:

I do not break my head very much about good and evil, but I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all. That is something that you cannot say aloud,...

July 11, 2019

Here's a blog post for you masochists who are interested in the debates that go on among Marxist intellectuals over questions around revolution, strategies to get from capitalism to socialism, Leninism and its relevance or lack thereof to the present, etc.

It's kind of remarkable, actually, how much collective time is devoted to these abstract questions, how many thousands o...

May 6, 2018

Marxism is right, and postmodernism is stupid. That's the thrust of a paper I've uploaded on academia.edu, which actually consists of excerpts from my dissertation on the unemployed in Chicago during the Great Depression. Check out that 'paper' if you want to see why it's absolutely necessary for the sake of understanding and explanation to ground scholarship in the methods of hi...

March 23, 2018

Just a quick note: I recently posted a long summary of and commentary on Georg Lukacs' masterpiece The Destruction of Reason, which has been absurdly--though not surprisingly, given the quality of the West's intellectual culture--neglected and virtually forgotten by everyone except Lukacs scholars. It describes the path to Hitler in the realm of culture, particularly philosophy,...

October 22, 2017

[Excerpts from this book.]

Collectivism comes in both noble and evil forms. In the former, the principle of the individual is paramount; in the latter, the principle of the mass. The one means the rule of mutual self-actualization, self-respect, sympathy for others, democracy, human diversity—“an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free devel...

February 23, 2017

I'm copying here a "statement of teaching philosophy" I wrote recently for job applications, in case it has any general ideas that others might find interesting or useful.

In the age of Donald Trump, knowledge of history is more important than ever. Such knowledge has always been empowering, for several reasons: it gives one a foundation for more effective and informed civic and p...

December 24, 2016

[Notes from 2008.] Reading Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation, and Other Essays. It’s wonderful to think that the publication (in 1966) of a book full of critical essays like this could have been seen as an important cultural event. What a different time that was from the present! Norman Mailer said that the Sixties were the only time he had ever felt like a human being.

The ti...

December 21, 2016

[The following is a vignette I wrote years ago when studying for my Master's in philosophy. I was taking a class in contemporary metaphysics, and was struck that the insularity and intellectual onanism of academia can, at times, be suffocating.]

Imprisoned in an ivory tower

            He came back to himself and realized that for at least a minute he hadn’t heard a word that had b...

December 15, 2016

Richard Lewontin’s article “The Evolution of Cognition: Questions We Will Never Answer” is excellent. It counsels skepticism about humans’ ability to understand themselves and nature, in this case because of a lack of sufficient data (rather than a lack of cognitive capacity, as Chomsky and Colin McGinn argue—rightly, and obviously). All I can say is: are there actually people ou...

July 9, 2016

The following is the beginning of an essay I wanted to write years ago on the concept of pretentiousness, a phenomenon the ubiquity of which stunned me. And it seemed to me that looking at the world through that lens could be pretty interesting, if the essay were done well. I quickly gave it up, though, in part because I knew no publisher would want anything to do with something...

June 21, 2016

[Old notes.] Reading Adorno: A Guide for the Perplexed, by Alex Thomson. I’m not very impressed with Adorno. Continental thinkers literally thought it a virtue for their work to be obscurantist and imprecise: it meant they were mirroring the “dialectical” nature of reality. That word “dialectic” has in the last hundred years been used to justify the most egregious philosophical s...

June 11, 2016

In a sense, writing history is an intrinsically moral activity -- although different kinds of history embody different degrees of morality. Writing a ‘sympathetic’ history of oppressed and forgotten people is the most moral; writing such a history of states and power-structures is the least. But in both cases you’re asserting human dignity in the face of the absurd, the absurd an...

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