Tuesday, December 28, 2010


For some time now, I've been looking for a pangrammatical homologue for moral experience (for technical reasons, I do not say "the concept of morality"). Ethics is easy: epistemology (ethical/epistemic). But what is to morals as knowledge is to power, as epistemology is to ethics? Or another way of putting it: what is to epistemology as morality is to ethics? I've hit on causality as a possible answer.

The experience of causal order in our pursuit of knowledge is homologous to the experience of moral order in our pursuit of power. Causality is rooted in a kind of material custom, just as morality is rooted in social custom. Causality is the habit of the world. Morality is the habit of history.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Ridiculistest

I'm not sure it's even necessary to point out (certainly to the readers of this blog) that Anderson Cooper's recent Ridiculist segment on Julian Assange is completely unserious spin on a serious issue. To propose some sort of equivalence between leaking the diplomatic cables of the most powerful nation on earth and leaking the details of the allegations about the sexual conduct of the man who leaked those cables under the theme of "he can dish it out but..." is not simply ridiculous. It's outrageous.

Here's the thing not to lose sight of: Whatever Assange did with those women, there can be no question that the final judgment in that case depends less on what he did with them than what he has done, and will do if he isn't stopped, to the powers that be. Even those who want us to take the charges more seriously grant that elementary point. If he is guilty, he has done something that hundreds of thousands of men are as clearly guilty of, and stand as clearly accused of, and about which the very same police organizations (Swedish, British, international) do nothing. Are we really going to ridicule a man who objects to calibrating the police's interest in the sex life of an individual according to the individual's ability to expose the abuses of state power? Anderson Cooper seems to think so.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Does the state have a right to keep secrets? asks Frost. It has a "practical need" to do so, answers Assange. This is exactly right. The state does not have "rights" at all; keeping secrets is one of its practical problems. WikiLeaks exacerbates this problem, of course, but it is important to keep in mind that it is not advisable to satisfy all of a state's "needs". Especially if the state in question is already the most powerful state in the world.

Cenk Uygur did a serious interview with Assange on MSNBC too. (I really like both interviews. It's so rare to see issues actually illuminated in this form.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I think Naomi Wolf gets the issue exactly right in this discussion with Jaclyn Friedman. Reading the Guardian's report of the charges, it does not seem to me that what Assange is being accused of doing is rape, and I think Wolf is right to say that to treat Assange as an accused rapist on that basis is wrong. She is also right that he is being treated outrageously even if he were an accused rapist—where the outrage lies in the many accused rapists who are in no real danger of prosecution by the same legal systems that are so zealous here. But that seems to be something everyone agrees about.

There is an important point here that Friedman misses, but Wolf rightly emphasizes: the women themselves have not accused Assange of rape,* the Swedish authorities have. So it may be true, as Friedman says, that Assange is "guilty of what these women are alleging". But they are not accusing him of rape. The Swedish prosecutors have trumped their story up into this charge. Wolf is right that the way Assange is being treated fails to take rape seriously, but the conversation we have to have about this is obviously very difficult to have.

Wolf at one point talks about young women who have "felt raped" without saying anything to their sexual partners. She is right that to accuse that partner of rape goes against any reasonable standard of justice, not least, I would add, because of the impossibility of arguing the point on evidence. Likewise, Friedman's suggestion that I have raped the women who have consented "unenthusiastically" to having sex with me in the past is as silly (i.e., not taking it seriously) as the idea that I've been raped by women that I have had unenthusiastic sex with.

As Wolf emphasizes, this story can't be about rape and be serious. It is really just an attack on journalism, one that exploits ("pimps", as Wolf puts it) both feminists and rape victims. It perhaps also about sexcrime in the Orwellian sense; it is about the state deciding when you are having "goodsex". And the state, you can be sure, is not really interested in whether or not you or your partner are enjoying it. It is interested in control.

I would have a hard time living happily under Friedman's regime of "enthusiastic consent". Sex is necessarily ambiguous, sometimes boring. Sometimes done for one's pleasure, sometimes for the other's. Ideally, for both, of course. But get real.

It is perfectly okay to wake up aroused in the middle of the night and start coming on to the person who has chosen to share a bed with you. Even if they are asleep. It is not okay to keep at it if they tell you clearly to stop. But it is okay to keep going even if they seem a bit bored with it, would rather go back to sleep, or would have preferred that you used a condom, etc., but are clearly allowing it to continue to please you. These women may not, finally, have liked Assange's lovemaking (or judgment). Indeed, one describes it as "the worst screw ever". But, even when followed by a word like "violent", this doesn't seem like a way you would describe your own rape. Neither of the women (as I understand it) said even that she felt raped, let alone that she believed Assange had raped her (Friedman's repeated formula "he raped her in her sleep" is patently unjustifiable.) And I think Wolf's reading of the report is right on the question of whether there was explicit consent.

These women appear precisely to have called "the dating police" on Assange. They did not report a rape.* They sought only some leverage on a man they thought was being a jerk to them and was behaving irresponsibly in regard to pregnancy and STDs. After that, the authorities ran with it. And there is no real mystery about why that is.

"Keep Assange in prison without bail until he is questioned, by all means, if we are suddenly in a real feminist worldwide epiphany about the seriousness of the issue of sex crime: but Interpol, Britain and Sweden must, if they are not to be guilty of hateful manipulation of a serious women's issue for cynical political purposes, imprison as well -- at once -- the hundreds of thousands of men in Britain, Sweden and around the world world who are accused in far less ambiguous terms of far graver forms of assault." (Noami Wolf)

*Update: I'm no longer sure about his. Here's a Guardian piece that talks about "two women in Sweden, who accuse him of sexual misconduct and rape". But it remains unclear whether this is the women's lawyer's and the prosecutor's word ("rape") or the women themselves who are using it. Bjorn Hurtig, the Swedish defense lawyer says: "Both complainants say they did not report him to the police for prosecution but only to require him to have an STD test." My view is obviously that if a woman says she's been raped, the police ought to take it seriously. I'm still not sure that that is what the women claim, however.

Another update: Cathy Young has a pretty sober reflection on what is going on here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ideological Translation

Here's an attempt to transpose the first paragraph of this interesting piece in FP on Kim Jong Un into something that might (or perhaps should) have been written about the current US President in, say, 2004. It doesn't take too much doing.

Ever since Barack Obama was introduced to the public in March, when he won the nominaion to run for the Senate and then became a rising star of the Democratic Party, we have been waiting to get the first insights into how he will be fitted into the ideological system of the United States of America (USA). To most Americans, he emerged almost out of nowhere; hence the US media now needs to present a convincing story to solidify his legitimacy as the next president. Much more than a purely academic question for Washington pundits or another expression of a bizarre Reaganite cult of personality, this is one of the key issues that will determine political faith in Obama. More importantly, it will be a major factor determining the future of America, which is of course of great concern to its neighbors, China, and the international community. Accordingly, even the slightest development regarding the role of Obama has to be taken very seriously. However, due care must be taken also that we do not only see what we want to see.

There's no political message here. I'm just trying to point out how our language deals with our brothers' motes.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Lieberman non supra grammaticos

The stupidity continues. Joe Lieberman accuses Assange of definitely committing a crime, but the NY Times only of "bad citizenship" and possibly criminal responsibility. He then repeats the idea that Assange is obviously guilty of treason, forgetting precisely the issue of citizenship. Seriously, let's begin with the indictments. If the Department of Justice has not yet found a crime to charge the man with, leave it alone. This all just so much verbage, "so close to garbage, so far from language".

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


You know you're in trouble when the enfant terrible is the only adult in the room.


Just a little detail I find amusing in Cable Gate. Hillary Clinton has called Julian Assange "irresponsible". But we now hear the Department of State "coming to the defence" of the Secretary of State. That's in itself absurd. She runs the department; she can speak in her own defence or in its defense, but it cannot speak in her defence. An elementary point. That the secretary and her department don't understand it can be seen in what the spokesman said in an attempt to defend her. Her name is on all communications (underscoring my previous point: her name is also in principle on her spokesman's defence of her person). He goes on to say that she is "responsible" for the cable in question but did not "author" it. But what kind of naïve concept of "authorship" are we working with here? Surely nobody expected her to have typed it. Nor even formulated it. All she was supposed to do was take, precisely, "responsibility" for it. It was written and sent on her authority. And she calls Assange "irresponsible"!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

State Terror

"The scientists are in terror," wrote Ezra Pound, "and the European mind stops." If science is the methodical pursuit of knowledge, let us say that politics is the mendacious pursuit of power. When the politicians are in terror, then, the American body stirs. Lashes out.

It is unseemly. I just read a denunciation in a major Danish newspaper of Julian Assange as a traitor. It is a nonsensical claim—Assange is an Australian who has committed a crime, if he has, against America—in this case made by a Danish journalist who doesn't even know how to spell his name.

It is said that Assange should be hunted down like a terrorist, tried and even executed. Who is so afraid of Julian Assange? The state. Treason is a crime against the state. But the pundits forget that it cannot be committed by your foreign enemies (or even your allies abroad), who are free to oppose your policies as they choose. This has always been the crucial ambiguity of terror: are terrorists “criminals” or “enemies”? They are enemies that we want to treat as criminals so that we can feign outrage over their actions. What we forget is that their actions are desperate. A responsible state is careful about the enemies it makes, precisely because a sufficiently desperate enemy cannot be trusted to "behave". Assange, let us say, is being accused of misbehaving.

And, once again, Ron Paul brings us clarity, speaking from D.C. “In a society where truth becomes treason, then we're in big trouble. And now, people who are revealing the truth are getting into trouble for it.” U.S. foreign policy (“spreading democracy and freedom”) is a lie. The truth is much more complicated and we are now in a position to engage with that truth in its complexities, in its details. This makes things difficult for the state. It's not that I don't understand Hillary Clinton's irritation and frustration. I just can't respect her outrage over it. She seeks exactly the same kind of information about her adversaries. The difference is that she would keep that information to herself and use it to her advantage. WikiLeaks immediately redistributes that advantage to everyone.

It is true that diplomacy demands secrecy about exactly the cables that have been leaked. But what commits us to any country's diplomacy? And a country other than our own, to boot? If they want these things kept secret, they should keep them secret. They have failed. Assange, in a fundamental way, seems to be against diplomacy. So you have to keep this sort of stuff away from from him. Don't be outraged about what he does with it when he gets ahold of it. Don't tell him he's making diplomacy "impossible". He knows.

Let’s keep in mind that a so-called “enemy of the state” is always really only the enemy of a state. In this case, the secretary of the relevant state has slid unremarkably from talk about how WikiLeaks threatens U.S. security and prosperity to how it threatens security and prosperity as such. As a top Bush aide once famously said, “We’re an empire now.” And Assange has been quite clear about his loyalties (or lack thereof). To be outraged at his methods is a desperate act. Patriotism is no longer the last refuge of the scoundrel, it seems; even after patriotism becomes irrelevant, the scoundrel can accuse foreign nationals of treason! It would be funny, if it was not so sad, that the person who is directly responsible for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy denounces the “irresponsibility” of someone who has exactly no responsibility for that conduct.

Hillary Clinton, your outrage bores me. You have made an enemy of Julian Assange. Accept it. Your government made an enemy of him long ago, not by its words by but its deeds. But this enemy of yours has proposed only to expose your lies, to tell the truth about your policies. You are making an ass of yourself by suggesting his behaviour is at issue. He does not have to explain himself because he has no power. You have power; you must explain your actions. To say that he is disloyal is such nonsense! He never offered you his loyalty. You failed (your country failed) to win his loyalty long ago. Take it like a statesman, Hillary. The truth was leaked and your mind stopped so abruptly that your face has cracked. You must step down now because your diplomacy, your mendacious pursuit of global power, is impossible. The truth is out. Your successors will have their work cut out for them in their own mendacious pursuits. The state is in terror.