josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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9 Aug '20 05:32:39 AM

'The fact that we are now in an ironic phase of literature largely accounts for the popularity of the detective story, the formula of how a man-hunter locates a pharmakos and gets rid of him.'

4 Aug '20 05:46:01 AM

'J'envoie quelqu'un faire des courses. Je lui donne une feuille de papier où se trouvent inscrit les signes « cinq pommes rouges ». Il porte cette feuille au marchand.…'

31 Jul '20 11:33:46 PM

'… we enter into the social world of study, which is one in which you start to lose track of your debts and begin to see that the whole point is to lose track of them…'

29 Jul '20 04:27:34 AM


24 Jul '20 06:38:32 PM

'Are we Aristotle's enemies?'

19 Jul '20 06:24:13 AM

'There is, then, a philosophy of "life" in Spinoza; it consists precisely in denouncing all that separates us from life, all these transcendent values that are turned against life, these values that are tied to the conditions and illusions of consciousness. Life is poisoned by the categories of Good and Evil, of blame and merit, of sin and redemption. What poisons life is hatred, including the hatred that is turned back against oneself in the form of guilt. Spinoza traces, step by step, the dreadful concatenation of sad passions; first, sadness itself, then hatred, aversion, mockery, fear, despair, morsus conscientiae, pity, indignation, envy, humility, repentance, self-abasement, shame, regret, anger, vengeance, cruelty…. His analysis goes so far that even in hatred and security he is able to find that grain of sadness that suffices to make these the feelings of slaves. The true city offers citizens the love of freedom instead of the hope of rewards or even the security of possessions; for "it is slaves, not free men, who are given rewards for virtue." Spinoza is not among those who think that a sad passion has something good about it. Before Nietzsche, he denounces all the falsifications of life, all the values in the name of which we disparage life. We do not live, we only lead a semblance of life; we can only think of how to keep from dying, and our whole life is a death worship.'

15 Jul '20 12:46:37 AM

'… tout roman policier est bâti sur deux meurtres dont le premier, commis par l’assassin, n’est que l’occasion du second dans lequel il est la victime du meurtrier pur et impunissable, du détective qui le met à mort, non par un de ces moyens vils que lui-même était réduit à employer, le poison, le poignard, l’arme à feu silencieuse, ou le bas de soie qui étrangle, mais par l’explosion de la vérité.'

7 Jul '20 09:10:38 PM

'Workers' rejection of wage labor drew from notions of freedom, independence, and citizenship, which they applied to the interconnecting areas of politics, society, economics, and the family. In the political arena, workers thought that equality was possible only if each member of the polity was economically independent. In the guise of the voluntary contract they perceived a compulsion that they believed made it impossible to exercise citizenship. Those who received wages could not possibly participate in civic life as the equals of their employers. Thus, the wage system would promote the formation of an aristocracy. In the late 1870s, for example, the labor editor J. P. McDonnell was discouraged to report: "After a century of political independence, we find that our social system is not better than that of Europe and that labor in this Republic, as in the European monarchies, is the slave of capitalism, instead of being the master of its own products." In economic terms, they believed that wages inevitably granted employees only a partial payment for their labor, leaving a portion of their work uncompensated. "In what does slavery consist?" asked the Mechanic's Free Press in 1830. "In being compelled to work for others so that they may reap the advantage." Finally, within the patriarchal family structure endorsed by male workers, masculine and feminine roles were sharply differentiated; the men were charged with breadwinning and the women with household responsibilities. If freedom was possibly only when workers owned their labor, neither men nor women could be free. On all these fronts, wage labor was a form of slavery and the growing army of wage laborers failed to qualify as free.

Most Americans believed independence to be possible only in a society of small producers. Many wondered, as Melvyn Dubofsky has asked, "how could a republican democracy built on the participation of economically independent freeholders and artisans endure in a society composed in the main of dependent wage earners?" Liberty and independence required that each worker receive the "fruits of his labor," that, as Abraham Lincoln declared, workers garner "the whole produce to themselves" and ask "no favors of capital on the one hand, nor of hirelings or slaves on the other." "God intended," said a union broadside of the 1850s, that every man should be "truly independent of his fellow and above the position of mere 'wage slaves.'"

Liberty was defined as complete ownership of one's own labor and, by extension, oneself. The notion of self-ownership was central to antebellum labor rhetoric and important well into the twentieth century. The "identification of the self and property," according to the literary critic Walter Benn Michaels, is "bourgeois." But valorization of self-ownership was not limited to America's middle class: workers too rested their economic understanding on this premise. Ira Steward, a machinist and labor leader from Boston, declared that under a regime of permanent wage labor, "there can be no freedom or self-ownership." Without these "natural and inalienable rights," he believed, the "self is destroyed."

The widespread popularity of the wage slavery metaphor in antebellum America linked disparate groups who shared little common ground other than an antipathy toward the wage system, including both southern defenders of chattel slavery and northern labor radicals. Free laborites and abolitionists considered wage labor acceptable only as a pit stop on the road to independent entrepreneurship and not as a permanent condition. Few antebellum Americans defended permanent wage labor; most agreed that it resembled slavery.'

18 Jun '20 07:43:07 PM

'In France the political considerations of le grand siècle were hardly favorable to a systematic consideration of private or group interests in their relation to the public interest. Nevertheless, the career of the term intérêt resembled that of its English cousin. The idea of interest as it had been developed by the political literature since Machiavelli—the idea, that is, of a disciplined understanding of what it takes to advance one's power, influence, and wealth—came into common use early in the seventeenth century and was soon utilized by the great moralists and other writers of the period in their meticulous dissection of individual human nature. As the scene these writers were dealing with was typically the court of Louis XIV, the actors were "interested" in much the same categories as the sovereign himself: not only in wealth, but also and perhaps principally in power and influence. Hence interest was often used with a very inclusive meaning. Yet even then—and this is the point of convergence between the English and French histories—that meaning was being narrowed, by some process, to the pursuit of material, economic advantage. This can be inferred from the "Advice to the Reader" by which La Rochefoucauld prefaced the second edition (1666) of his Maximes:

By the word interest I understand not always an interest concerned with wealth (un intérêt de bien), but most frequently one that is concerned with honor or glory.

This warning against misunderstanding was the only point of real substance in a very short preface; clearly, for the average reader of the Maximes, the term "interest" had started to take on the more restricted sense of economic advantage.

Around the same time Jean de Silhon, Richelieu's secretary and apologist, also noted and deplored this evolution of meaning in a treatise in which he underlines the positive role played by interest in maintaining life and society. He lists a variety of interests—"Interest of conscience, Interest of honor, Interest of health, Interest of wealth, and several other Interests"—and then attributes the unfavorable connotation attaching to such expressions as un homme intéressé to the fact that "the name of Interest has remained attached exclusively, I do not know how (je ne sais comment), to the Interest of wealth (Intérêt du bien ou des richesses)."

How, in fact, can this drift be explained? Perhaps it was due to the old association of interest and moneylending; this meaning of interest antedates the one that is discussed here by several centuries. Possibly, too, the special affinity of rational calculation implicit in the concept of interest with the nature of economic activities accounts for these activities eventually monopolizing the contents of the concept. Returning to seventeenth-century France, one may also conjecture that, with power so concentrated and seemingly so stable at the time, economic interests constituted the only portion of an ordinary person's total aspirations in which important ups and downs could be visualized.

Actually Adam Smith stated the last point as a general proposition when discussing what he considered the overriding motive of man, namely, the "desire of bettering our condition":

An augmentation of fortune is the means by which the greater part of men propose and wish to better their condition. It is the means the most vulgar and the most obvious.…

Perhaps no other explanation is needed for the narrowing of the meaning of the term "interests" once the beginnings of economic growth made the "augmentation of fortune" a real possibility for an increasing number of people.

So much is clear now: when the interests of men came to be contrasted with their passions, this opposition could have quite different meanings depending on whether interests were understood in the wider or in the narrower sense. A maxim such as "Interest Will Not Lie" was originally an exhortation to pursue all of one's aspirations in an orderly and reasonable manner; it advocated the injection of an element of calculating efficiency, as well as of prudence, into human behavior whatever might be the passion by which it is basically motivated. But because of the just noted semantic drift of the term "interests," the opposition between interests and passions could also mean or convey a different thought, much more startling in view of traditional values: namely, that one set of passions, hitherto known variously as greed, avarice, or love of lucre, could be usefully employed to oppose and bridle such other passions as ambition, lust for power, or sexual lust.'