Friday, April 30, 2010


"years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Roiphe on de Beauvoir

Just wanted to point out that Katie Roiphe has a piece in Slate on the new translation of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex.

As I have said many times, there is no single writer or intellectual who has had a greater or deeper impact on my philosophical and ethical development than de Beauvoir. She has had the kind of presence in my evolution as a person and as a moral animal that makes my understanding of her an inextricable part of my self. A lot of this is bound up in The Ethics of Ambiguity, the most fully realized work of French existentialism and one of the most humane and generous books ever written. The Second Sex, certainly, is in there as well. De Beauvoir is one of the few topics I am willing to write on the web about that I will claim any limited expertise on. Not coincidentally, she is one of the very few writers who I have experience translating personally, although the actual scope of that translation is very limited, and the translations themselves pretty shoddy and incomplete. Still, this is someone who I have devoted a not inconsiderable amount of time and mental energy to.

I've been critical of Roiphe in the past, and I'm sure I will be again-- sometimes about her thoughts on feminism, more often because of her dismissive views on writers and novels I admire-- but I thought this review was smart and timely. There are a few moments that I would dispute, partly because I think they shear The Second Sex from the larger context of de Beauvoir's work. Roiphe writes, "In part because of her singular temperament, and in part because of the new and widespread interest in Freud, her interest is in exploring and understanding and analyzing, rather than slapping a facile political interpretation on the heat and passion of real life." In part, yes, those things are certainly true, but I would say that a larger part is her general philosophical schema of human limitation in a morally ambiguous world.

More, I am worried by Roiphe's understanding of the degree to which de Beauvoir did or did not care about the opinions of others, which is an extremely complicated question considering her larger ethical project. Indeed, the relationship between the overlapping freedoms of individual actors is the compelling dilemma of existentialism, and one of the primary reasons for existential incompleteness. Anyway, de Beauvoir goes into these questions in some detail in her Ethics. I don't want to dismiss Roiphe's larger point, which is de Beauvoir's studied indifference to the question of what is politically appropriate, at least compared to the question of what is ethically necessary in the subjective narrative of one's own life.

There's a point I want to make about The Second Sex and The Ethics of Ambiguity (and, indeed, the larger context of de Beauvoir's work generally) that has to be made with great care. While Roiphe does yeoman's work in trying to spread appreciation for The Second Sex, I have complicated feelings towards the preeminence of that book in popular understandings of de Beauvoir. While I think its a profound and necessary work, I don't think it is the equal of Ethics. There's a question in that, I think, about the tendency to define women's philosophy and writing in relationship to feminism, and whether that can represent a confinement of women to the feminist mode.

Like I said, this is a conversation that has to happen with some care: I certainly wouldn't ever want to do anything like suggest that The Second Sex is "mere feminism," while Ethics is some sort of superior universal. The association with the non-feminist with some sort of Platonic universal or apolitical is of a piece with the larger, subtle rhetorical move, often made by people like Harold Bloom and other keepers of the sacred canon, whereby what is universal is male, straight, and white. "Why does Beloved get taught so often, if not for political correctness? Give our college freshman apolitical, universal fiction to read!" And you can bet that what is "apolitical" or "universal" is written by someone who looks a lot more like Tom Wolfe than like Toni Morrison. Feminism is not some politicized ghetto that is only of interest to women or the political left, nor is it an exercise in "identity politics" (a term that, despite my great efforts, I can never quite understand). Feminism is a facet of the entirety of human experience.

At the same time,  I do worry that there is a tendency to relegate women writers, and particularly women philosophers, to some cramped and reductive space called "Feminism." Search through many anthologies, of either literature or philosophy/criticism, and you will often find some sort of regimented (and thus segregated) division between non-feminist and feminist works. Feminism, in other words, becomes a chapter-- an important chapter to the anthologists and editors, I'm sure-- a discrete unit easily packaged and bundled separately from the rest of knowledge, echoing the movements that condemn women and women's interests into a narrow space defined by patriarchy.

Anyway, my point is merely that I think that it is strange that The Second Sex is the only work that many people know of de Beauvoir's at all, and I can't help but wonder if this isn't a product of a reductive view of feminism and women philosophers, one that confines each to the level of niche and segregated knowledge. I guess I want only to say again that this shows that in considering feminism, as in considering the entire project of human liberation, there are often situations where it is difficult to sort out what exactly is the fairest way to think. But then, I have been told recently that these situations are less complicated than I imagine them to be, and I do take that seriously.

PS Here's a screen grab I took of Slate's homepage with the link to Roiphe's article on the bottom right:

Yes, great job, Slate! Way to pair Roiphe's essay with an image of an attractive, seductive model who has nothing whatsoever to do with Simone de Beauvoir or Roiphe's piece. Bravo.

Sunday Poem

Jenny Kissed Me
by Leigh Hunt

Jenny kissed me when we met,
         Jumping from the chair she sat in.
Time, you thief! who love to get
          Sweets into your list, put that in.
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad;
          Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I'm growing old, but add-
                                      Jenny kissed me.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

just entertainment

This whole epistemic closure debate-- and I don't have to provide all the links, I think, as anyone interested is well aware of all of this-- the whole debate has grown pretty tiresome to me, and I imagine that I am not alone. Additionally, I am a total outsider to this debate. I am no kind of conservative. Though I am concerned with conservatism, as I am concerned with the direction of my country, I have very little right to take part in an inter-conservative argument.

However, I just want to respond to this post by Ross Douthat by echoing a point I made in the comments at the American Scene: first, how am I to know that Mark Levin's book is entertainment, if it isn't explicitly such? I have my doubts about whether Levin thinks Levin's book is entertainment. I understand that, to a degree, Douthat is arguing that Levin's attitude should be irrelevant to whether his book is taken seriously. But take my outsider's position for a second: as a leftist academic, if someone cited Levin's book, and I said, "Oh, that's only entertainment, it's not to be taken seriously"... wouldn't that be exactly the elitist, condescending attitude that creates such angina on the right? Wouldn't I be confirming the idea that people on the left are unfairly dismissive of conservative argument? One might say that it's only a sin to dismiss a book if it isn't worthy of dismissal, but come on-- in the actual political conversation we have, that sort of thing wouldn't go over no matter what conservative book I was talking about. And I'm not sure that's not the way it should be.

Of course, you could say that how this affects how people on the left talk isn't really Ross Douthat's concern. I'm just not sure you can fix a movement's internal conversation by having separate rules for internal and external criticism. To be sure, there are conservative books that I do dismiss, but I have to dismiss them with recourse to argument. (Short version regarding that particular book: I've actually read Giovanni Gentile and Benito Mussolini, thanks.) Saying "that's entertainment" is an easy way for me to confirm all of the worst stereotypes of leftist argument.

All of this, by the way, the whole thing-- I think it is a part of a central dynamic of our political discussion: the existence of an unspoken but rigorously enforced two tiered system of political argument, a kind of political affirmative action that reduces the expectations on conservative argument, a soft bigotry of low expectations that creates the conditions where a Mark Levin is discussed with equal seriousness as a Jim Manzi, a situation that could not possibly be less conducive to intellectual and philosophical renewal....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

wunderkammer piece on advanced metrics in sports

If you're interested, please check out my piece in Wunderkammer magazine about the rise of sabremetrics in baseball, and how to think about such movements.

Update: After rereading my piece, I realized that it could seem like I am suggesting that sabremetrics only started after the rise and popularization of the Internet. I know that isn't the case, and about Bill James and Baseball Abstract. Was just poorly worded on my part. Not a big deal; just so you all know.

Monday, April 19, 2010

vlog on a cool presentation I saw this weekend

vlog on gesture theory from Freddie deBoer on Vimeo.

So as you can see, the preview image on this video is truly heinous, so it pains me to post it, but oh well.

abortion and circumcision

I have written at great length about circumcision in the past, so I don't want to go on too long here. I just want to make one point.

I have read, from other opponents of routine circumcision, analogies between the pro-choice position on abortion and the anti-routine circumcision stance. This is a natural enough connection for me, as I fall into both camps, but I am very leery of this kind of equivalency. Political situations are always individual and idiosyncratic, and so political discussions of various issues always have to unfold according to their own internal logic. Analogizing issues like circumcision and abortion too closely invites distortion of each, and people have (understandably) various sensitivities about political "turf." So I would caution anyone against making this kind of comparison too easily or in any kind of comprehensive way. However, there is one set of shared principles that I think are worth looking at in these issues, a facet of each discussion where the political and moral reasoning seem close to identical, to me.

You occasionally will hear from opponents of abortion who wonder what the big deal is about carrying a baby to term. They can't imagine why doing so is seen as such an imposition on the woman. (Lest I be accused of engaging a weak man, this is of course not the only or primary argument anti-abortion advocates use.) Now, to me, such reasoning is entirely unconvincing. I can imagine all kinds of ways that carrying a pregnancy to term is difficult for women, and have read many first-hand accounts from women on just how difficult pregnancy can be. Likewise, I can imagine many ways in which having a baby can be socially or economically crippling to a woman, even if she plans on giving the baby up for adoption.

But the truth is, it doesn't matter what is apparent to me, or convincing to me, or what I can read or understand or imagine. It doesn't matter. What matters is that I respect the right of women to make that choice for themselves and their bodies. I can't inhabit the life of another person, particularly someone of another sex, and so I can't meaningfully understand her choices. I don't have to, to support her right to choose. I only have to recognize that some of the most elementary human rights are the rights to be sovereign other ones own body. Me, personally, I'm compelled by arguments about how hard having a baby or supporting a baby can be. Doesn't matter whether I am or not.

This is where the one similarity to circumcision comes in, and it's important. Often times, in this debate, you encounter people who take it as self-evidently absurd (and, often, funny) that anyone could be emotionally invested in the presence or absence of foreskin. You get these dueling sets of evidence, about STDs and penile cancer, and about pleasure reduction, etc. To me, trying to convince people empirically that the foreskin is important is exactly the wrong way to go about having the argument. Because just as with a pregnant woman and her choice, it is absolutely immaterial that anyone else be able to understand why a man might feel one particular way about his foreskin. It really doesn't matter if anyone on the Internet can be convinced about his feelings. It only matters that we recognize that it is his body.

This is complicated, of course, by the fact that circumcision, unlike abortion, almost always happens to infants who are incapable of choosing or understanding the choice. (Which is interesting.) Unlike some who are opposed to routine circumcision, I can't go so far as to advocate taking the decision away from the parents; parents have to be responsible for the medical decisions of their children, and circumcision remains a medical procedure. But I do strongly urge parents to really think about it, and to give strong weight to the fact that the infant is a human being with a human being's ownership of his own body. Many people seem to circumcise their infant boys out of a vague sense that it's just what's done, not out of religious conviction or appeal to the (seemingly negligible) health benefits for those in the developed world. That seems to me to be a terrible imposition on the right of the child to control his own body, without much justification at all.

And, remember-- the procedure will always be available to him. If he gets to be an age where he notices and cares about the fact that he is uncircumcised, he can always have the procedure performed. If he does, it will be his choice.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Poem Series

Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note
by Amiri Baraka

Lately, I've become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus...

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night I tiptoed up
To my daughter's room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there...
Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Colbert on Wikileaks

Many of the right people, today, are patting Stephen Colbert on the back for his interview with the Wikileaks founder. He is being congratulated for his moral seriousness, for breaking character to attack someone who, apparently, has really crossed the line. As Andrew Sullivan puts it, "I've never seen Colbert so clearly become his own character on the question of impugning the honor of American soldiers." Indeed.

It's a funny world we live in. Colbert has an opinion on whether or not what is revealed in that video is murder. He's entitled to it. Strange to see him step out of character; this, I take it, was a bridge too far, a crime too great to ignore: calling soldiers who fired round after round onto people attempting to load the wounded into a van and get them medical attention "murderers," well, that's past irony and shtick. That requires open and unequivocal condemnation. It's funny-- I consulted older videos of Colbert, online. He has spoken to members of Congress who voted for the war in Iraq several times. He has interview many who were involved in the apparatus of enacting the Iraq war, or who lent their considerable influence to the war effort. He has interview, that is to say, the people who created the material conditions where the victims of this attack were placed in harms way, where the soldiers involved were placed in danger of losing both their lives and their moral integrity. That's war, I'm told; you shouldn't wage it without being willing to risk atrocity.

Yet despite the fact that Colbert has had ample opportunity to react to the people who are directly responsible for such devastation, he has never been so animated when confronting them. He's never broken character to attack those who threw this country and its soldiers headlong into war while enduring none of war's horrors. He's never gotten so visibly offended. He's never taken such an obvious stand, hiding instead behind irony, comedy, and a character. Those, apparently, are his priorities; a man who reveals footage of the terrible consequences of war (no matter how it is edited and editorialized) deserves, apparently, far greater condemnation than the people who are actually responsible for those consequences. In this, I believe, Colbert is perfectly of a piece with the rest of his country, a people who have long since decided to say that they oppose the war in opinion polls but who take that opposition no farther.

The moral culpability of soldiers in war is extremely complicated, and I pretend to no certain or simple understanding of those issues. When Sullivan says "the question of impugning the honor of American soldiers," though-- what a falling off, I think. Is it really the case that we can make no considerations of the behavior of our soldiers at all, without being accused of "impugning the honor of American soldiers"? Has it come to that, finally? Have we lost all right even to make judgments? Have we so abdicated our own responsibilities, as the members of a democracy, that we now will countenance no questioning of the ethics of military action whatsoever, so long as those ethics are couched in the language of supporting the troops? Colbert asserts, in the video, that only those who have served in the military have any right to judge whether such an incident amounts to murder. I cannot even begin to enumerate the vast moral and democratic consequences of this thinking. I am sure, though, that it is pleasing to Colbert, and anyone else who wants to stand outside of the shroud of responsibility, for foreign policy, that covers anyone who is part of a democracy.

Do I support the troops? It depends. I support most of the troops, because I support troops who conduct themselves appropriately, who do everything they can to minimize risk to civilians, who go out of their way to get medical attention for civilian casualties. who follow all of the rules of engagement and of war, who act ethically in a time of war. I firmly believe that this encompasses a large majority of our soldiers, and for that, I am deeply grateful. There are many who would and will tell me that this distinction is illusory, and that I am engaging in sophistry; they might be right. But from within my perspective, I have to have criteria for giving any person or group of people my blessing, and those are my criteria.

The soldiers in this video? No. No, I don't support them. No. I do not support them. Their conduct has revealed themselves, to me, to be unworthy of my support. That's just me, and the question of those soldiers and their conduct is far beyond me.

It has always seemed to me that for my support to mean anything at all, it must come with conditions. What can it possibly mean to say that I support the troops if I support them unconditionally and without discrimination? What possible value could such a thing have? I tell you, it seems clear to me that for many Americans, there is no possible behavior that could cause them to condemn individual troops. Stephen Colbert, it seems, has standards of what constitutes condonable behavior by soldiers that is so low, I can't imagine any actual incident earning his condemnation. So what does his support mean? What laurel is it? What philosophical value does it have? I will say again what I have said for a long time: the more that supporting the troops becomes some sort of American duty, the more that it is enforced, everywhere, by our culture, the less it means. Supporting the troops means actually considering them and their behavior. "Support the Troops" is a bumper sticker.

I have read, recently, some who make the essential point, that "soldier" is a term that covers a vast number of people, and that like all large groups of people, "soldier" contains the bad as well as the good, rapists as well as heroes, people who will commit atrocities as well as those who will do everything to prevent them. It is my understanding that the latter in each instance greatly outnumber the former, and thank the all for that. But every war in the history of mankind has had atrocity, rape, murder, and from all sides. Don't kid yourself that where a soldier was born or the uniform he wears makes it impossible that he will participate in such.

John Cook wrote, about this video,
It's horrible to watch, and the pilots' disdain for the lives they were destroying is awful. But we can't see how it constitutes murder. It's what happens when you send a bunch of young angry men with billions of dollars worth of lethal toys into a civilian city and tell them to kill the bad guys. It should certainly be watched, and we're glad Wikileaks is publishing it. But it speaks more to the inherent dangers of initiating wars, and covering them, than of the specific behavior of U.S. personnel on that particular day.
 This sounds good to me. I can't follow Cook, and others, to the point of saying that this couldn't be murder. What possible standing can we have to call anything a war crime then? I don't know. I do know that, as Cook says, the central, most real, most constructive form of supporting the troops is to keep them out of harms way-- harm to their physical lives, and harm to their moral legitimacy. That is the only way I can see to save them, civilians, and our country's moral legitimacy, to get out of the business of projecting our military power around the globe.

The truth is that I don't know quite what to think about all of this. I don't know how to thread the needle of recognizing the terrible position soldiers are put in everyday, while refusing to give up any judgment of them at all. I don't know how to recognize their courage and sacrifice while condemning them when they do wrong, how to support the average soldier who is doing his or her very best without lapsing into the empty, enforced platitudes of supporting the troops and putting a ribbon magnet on a car. It seems like Stephen Colbert does know. He seems quite sure about who is and isn't subject to special scrutiny and criticism. He seems to know exactly who is and isn't empowered to criticize the American military. Maybe he does. Good for him, if so.

Personally, I think this country has fallen too far in love with its ability to compartmentalize war, far too confident in its dividing opposition to the war with support for the troops, far too certain that there is an easy or obvious stance towards the moral legitimacy of this war, all wars, these soldiers, all soldiers. Sometimes people say that what must happen is that Americans must wake up to the inevitable atrocity and devastation of war before we commit to a war effort. And I wonder-- does this country have that in it? Do we have that, in ourselves?

Update: Please see commenter -p for a very different perspective on Colbert's reaction.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

what if....

... a kindly old stranger in the woods hadn't given Link a sword?

Sunday Poem and Links

The Turtle
by William Carlos Williams

Not because of his eyes,
the eyes of a bird,
but because he is beaked,

birdlike, to do an injury,
has the turtle attracted you.
He is your only pet.

When we are together
you talk of nothing else
ascribing all sorts
of murderous motives
to his least action.
You ask me
to write a poem,
should I have a poem to write,
about a turtle.

The turtle lives in the mud
but is not mud-like,
you can tell it by his eyes
which are clear.
When he shall escape
his present confinement
he will stride about the world
destroying all
with his sharp beak.
Whatever opposes him
in the streets of the city
shall go down.

Cars will be overturned.
And upon his back
shall ride,
to his conquests,
my Lord,

You shall be master!
In the beginning
there was a great tortoise
who supported the world.
Upon him
All ultimately
Without him
nothing will stand.
He is all wise
and can outrun the hare.
In the night
his eyes carry him
to unknown places.
He is your friend.

Tough week! Enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

the Wayside School books

I adore these books.

I remember watching the DVD extras to Wet Hot American Summer (which is great) and in an interview, David Hyde Pierce was talking about how people assume that absurdism is easy to do, when really it's very hard to do. I think that's quite right. Just because absurdist fictions proceed in such an unpredictable and strange way doesn't mean that just anything works. To be funny, there usually has to be some kind of internal logic, or anti-logic, that underlies the seemingly unconnected events that unfold. Absurdism requires a constancy of unpredictability, so the unpredictability can't become predictable; you've got to be surprised, but you've got to be surprised in a way that defies the expectations created by what comes before.

Louis Sachar deserves the credit that he gets. He's best known for Holes, which is indeed a great young adult book. (I've never really forgiven the movie for the casting of Shia Labeouf. Stanley Yelnats is a fat kid. That's an essential element of his character. Shia Labeouf is not fat. It's inexcusable.) Holes performs what I think is the central task of young adult fiction of its kind, which is being lighthearted while maintaining a fundamental romantic seriousness. Early adolescence is a time when you are constantly confronted by a divide between the seriousness and power of your own emotions and a world that insists on telling you that nothing is that big a deal. I think the best in YA fiction reflects those feelings. Anyway, a lot of his lesser known work is great as well, such as books like Someday, Angeline, which is beautiful, or Dogs Don't Tell Jokes, which is great. My first and primary love among his work is the Wayside School books, though.

The Wayside books-- Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Wayside School is Falling Down, and Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger-- are about a school that was supposed to be built 30 classes long, only one story high, but was accidentally built one class long, 30 stories high. This central weirdness trickles into the teachers, the students, and the overall environment of the school. Strange things happen-- evil, spell casting teachers; Miss Zarves, the illusory teacher in charge of students who don't exist in a classroom on an imaginary floor; potato tattoos; a boy named Nancy; dead rats; and Myron, who knew he had to give up being safe to choose to be free.

One of the things about being a kid who's unhappy in school is that it's not the big things that really bug you, but instead all of the little petty indignities that pile up. In his little about the author section, Sachar talks about how when he was a kid in school, all of the adults used to mispronounce his name; and isn't that exactly the sort of thing that gets you down? It's that way in Wayside school, too; it's just that the little things involve the overwhelming desire to pull someone's pigtails, never being able to get down from the 30th floor to the playground in time to get one of the good balls, or people admiring your non-existent front teeth. That's the real beauty of the book, the way it demonstrates that there are fundamental elements of being a kid, and no matter how extraordinary the circumstances are, they assert themselves.

Anyway, these books are sharp and riotously funny, even for an adult, and I recommend them to just about anybody.

my wiener has never been a more popular topic of conversation

The Internet is a weird place.

Now, to recap-- and I don't think that this is at all a controversial version of events, but let me know if you disagree:

-I wrote a post about some issues with feminist blogs regarding feminist men
-I wrote a pretty mean comment on a very mean post at Tiger Beatdown, including a link to the above
-Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown wrote this post, which entails
  • Telling me to just shut up
  • Telling me to shut the fuck up
  • Telling everyone about how impressed with herself she is. Now you might take that as interpretation, but that's text, not subtext; that whole "I'm Sady Fucking Doyle" bit, that's all explicit.
  • She talks a lot about my junk
  • She talks a lot about how I am not worthy of sleeping with, and how I must not get much sex, and how I am interested in boners
-I posted some comments. Some were defensive, some were constructive, the last few were asking for the opportunity to fix things and better understand her position. All of them got edited by the people at the blog. Most of them were edited simply to read "Boners," but some had words taken out, words put in, and words moved around.
-Apparently Megan Carpentier emailed Sady to give her the "true story" on me, which seems mostly to involve my full name and email address. This is odd, as my full name and email address are no secret. She only need to click my commenter handle. (There's even a little picture of me!)
-I emailed over there to ask if she wants to talk a couple times. No response.
-I wrote a post explaining some of my feelings.

OK, so if any of that is untrue, let me know, and we'll discuss.

I have gotten a lot of emails, and a lot of comments. Many are what you might call critical, but don't even begin to meet the standards of actual criticism; it's literally "little peepee" or "just shut up." I mean no joke, that's the emails, just like the comments on that blog. Some of the emails are more constructive. Many have been completely supportive and telling me how much better I look in all of this.

I have to say this, to the commenters and emailers who are bothering to make an argument and are quite critical: I cannot take your arguments very seriously when you don't put them at all in a context with the post that Sady wrote about me. It is very, very difficult to care about complaints that I was mean-spirited when those complaints don't have any awareness at all about a several-hundred word screed about me, my sexual desirability, and the fact that I should just shut up. You want to tell me that I've been unfair, okay. But, I'm sorry, for me to take you seriously, I do need a little bit of consistency. That is, it's true, a precondition for having a conversation with me.

Many seem to be saying, quite explicitly, that I am wrong to expect consistency at all. Many have argued that Sady's angry, cruel joking is a different way of expression, and that my acting like it is less legitimate is sexist. Yet there is no extension of an equal right to be emotional myself. I have apologized, and am here apologizing again, for being mean in the original comment. But then that comment was in response to a flagrantly mean post. It was a mistake. I don't understand, though, why Sady is entitled to act that way but I am not. Or take my initial reactions to the post that is all about me. Yes, they were a bit intemperate. Is that really not understandable? And am I really not permitted to be emotional in the same way that people are insisting Sady is entitled to be, when I had just read hundreds of words about how lame and undesirable I am? Some commenters seem genuinely to be saying that there are literally no standards of consistent argument that a feminist women has to be held to, that Sady can argue in any way whatsoever, but I am required to argue according to the standards of reasonable argument.

It's very frustrating, meanwhile, to see so many commenters insisting that I am saying things when I explicitly and loudly denied those things. "You're saying that you have equal understanding, as a man, of what it means to be a woman!" No! Actually, I explicitly said that wasn't the case. "You're saying you want to dictate to women what feminism is!" No! I was asking about the complicated issue of the insight of men in feminist discourse. I am interested because it is such a vexing question. Or so I thought; I now have an inbox and commbox full of people saying that, in fact, men have absolutely no right to participate in feminist discourse at all. Well, thanks for educating me.

Prior to this whole imbroglio, I would have considered it offensive even to be asked if feminists were capable of rational discourse. Yet here I am told, by people insisting that they and only they are empowered to say who is or isn't a feminist, that feminist women are in fact inherently emotional, and shouldn't be held to the standards of rationality. Prior to all this, I would have considered it offensive even to be asked whether feminist women should be held to the same standards of intellectual discourse as others. But now I have been told that, on the contrary, it is sexist to suppose that feminist women should be held to similar intellectual standards at all. I am told that I must operate under entirely different argumentative standards from feminist women. This utter denial of the basic principles of intellectual equality is then called feminism.

It is very important to me, and always has been, that I be subject to social correction. Here, I am telling you, I literally don't know how to begin to learn whatever lessons I am meant to learn because I can't even divine the elementary rules of the conversation. In the comments, Evan Harper reacts to some arguments from people which seem to be arguments of the standard, rational kind. He asks some pretty elementary questions. In response, he and I are told that asking for a rational exchange of ideas is some sort of hoary old sexist trick. Says Anonymous,
Evan, you can miss me with your tailor-made-for-the-Internet "Can't you just be rational!" line of argument. The sense of intellectual superiority is dauntingly arrogant. Assuming you are the lone arbiter and judge on "rationality" is ridiculous, especially when it comes to social issues, which rarely follow some nonsensical philosophical conception of rationality.
This is not an argument. Where is the response to Evan's point? Where is the response to the fact that I am asking not to be strawmanned or to have my views misrepresented? How can I begin to be corrected or educated if I can't participate in any way other than being yelled at?

Like I said, people seem to be insisting on Sady's right to engage in the way she has while demanding that I don't follow suit. Suppose I take it, though, that the right way is for me to react with similar, emotional means. If I agree that this is just another kind of discourse and that it is no worse than what I refer to as rational discussion-- what then? Should I follow suit and reply to her in exactly the way I have been talked to? Suppose I told Sady to shut the fuck up; suppose I told her she was a nobody; suppose I told her that her blog sucked and she should delete it; suppose I attacked her, again and again, on the level of sexual desire. Would the people who are here attacking me for pursuing "some nonsensical philosophical conception of rationality" suddenly applaud me for that?

No. No, and well they shouldn't, because you shouldn't treat people that way. Not women, not men, not feminist or otherwise. I am responsible for my conduct and I won't be goaded into acting in a way that diminishes me. This attitude has gotten me called pretentious and self-righteous, but I will take that. If those are the wages of refusing to attack someone in that way, I'll take it.

My questions persist. I think most feminist women do believe that men have a responsibility to be feminists. I know I think principled people should be feminists because of the elementary principles of equality, social justice, and democracy. I also continue to think that a male feminism that matters is one that actually takes a stand on things, that has some stake in the issues and that is willing to do the messy work of deciding how to advance the feminist cause. Some people doubled down on the "you just claim to be a feminist to get girls" shtick. That seems to me to be the opposite of the case. Right? The easy thing for me to do would be to have never asked these questions at all. The easy thing for me to do would be to be yet another member of the Amen-ing chorus that most of these blogs seems to have, the endless array of people lining up to say nothing more challenging and nothing more useful than "right on." Well, I don't think that's very useful for anyone. That doesn't seem to me to be the way forward for a valuable feminist ally.

The fact remains: feminism needs allies. It is an unfriendly Internet out there, if you care to look. I think of my being called "public asshole number one" for feminism by a particularly creative emailer, and what it makes me think of is Roissy's blog. You could poke around there, for awhile, and perhaps be disabused of the notion that I am somehow a particularly big problem for feminism. Or go to your average sports blog and check the comments if there is a picture of a woman who isn't considered conventionally attractive. There is a lot of work still to be done, and episodes like this will not make it easier.

PS When someone is making a joke about your genitals in the same sentence that they are referring to you as a troll, it's kind of a sublime moment.

Update: I have been informed, via email, that people defending me have also had their comments edited on Tiger Beatdown. This apparently is more than just changing comments to epithets but actually changes their content for the purpose of argument. I don't have any way to know if that's true, it's just what I'm being told; but then, perhaps that's why you shouldn't edit people's comments.

Update II:  Sady replies, in the comments:

Blogger Sady said...
@Freddie: "-I posted some comments. Some were defensive, some were constructive, the last few were asking for the opportunity to fix things and better understand her position. All of them got edited by the people at the blog. Most of them were edited simply to read "Boners," but some had words taken out, words put in, and words moved around." Yup, Freddie. That one's a fucking lie. I added one paragraph to your first comment. The next, I had deleted and added "boners" or, in one case, another joke, always in brackets and all-caps to clearly denote that I had done it. Because, Freddie -- BECAUSE -- you insulted me on my space and then acted as if you were entitled to keep contributing to that space and to have your voice heard. You weren't. You're still not. You never will be. You don't walk into someone's living room, tell them their couch is ugly and piss on their rug, and then just plop yourself down on that very couch and expect to be treated like a guest. You insulted me. Therefore you were explicitly unwelcome -- and I said as much, in the post! -- to continue speaking to me. You continued speaking to me. I made it clear that your voice would be, and will forever be, shut out of my blog. To be honest, Freddie, the very fact that you continued speaking after I told you to stop demonstrates your entitlement, privilege, and, yes, sexism. You think we have to make a space for you in the discussion if the discussion starts with you insulting us, and you don't listen to women when they draw clear verbal boundaries. And then you got MORE invasive, by sending me an e-mail, as if we were buddies and you thought I would ever want to talk to you. When I made it very clear I did not want to hear from you. So, for the record: A woman says "no," and "stop," and you keep going, and you escalate the behavior she's asking you to stop. "Feminist." Right. That's DEFINITELY how I would describe you. But now you're talking ABOUT me. And lying. So I thought I'd clear that one up.

Friday, April 9, 2010


I'm not a big fan of those T-shirts that tell you, "listen to band X." I always feel like, don't tell me what band to listen to, T-shirt!

But Boris is really really good, so I'm posting a song.

they don't call it the beatdown for nothing

I do have to hand it to her.

She is reacting to this, which she doesn't link to. Ordinarily, people are shy about letting their animal insecurity out, on the Internet. I mean, this post from her-- it is literally saying, "I am good, and people like me, and I am smart and funny." We all have that need. I do, you do, we all do. We all want to be known that way. Sometimes, we have to express it by equally expressing that someone else is bad, or below us. I try to avoid it, but who am I to stand on pretense? If it empowers Sady to question my sexual prowess, then perhaps it's better that she say so. It leaves me little poorer. And if her commenters really get their kicks by saying I should rot in hell, then, you know, progress!

Now, on the subject of traffic, and such-- I am glad for Sady. I am glad that she is successful. As she implies, at this, I am not successful. Not in the traffic sense. Not in the attention sense. Certainly not in the monetary sense, but then, I am not a professional blogger, pundit, commentator, or journalist. It's just me. I'm glad that she gives praise to the men she admires. I don't know, exactly, what that has to do against my post. Really, I think she is doing exactly what I suggested she not do. I think she is reading my post in short-hand, as many do, and I don't think it says nearly anything that she is arguing against. That's just my take, but then, I am arguing, and her post and comments insists that she does not want to be held to the standards of argument.

Here is this reality: the world is not friendly to women, and it is not friendly to feminism, and so the fight is difficult. Now, if that post of Sady's were to find attention outside of the little world it occupies-- 100,000 hits a day, now, don't get me wrong! Sady is a big fucking deal, as she will tell you-- if it went out into the Out There, I think she would find it uncomfortable. Because many would not be kind. Why? Because Out There, they believe that ideas must be defended with rigor, that there is, actually, something like a rational argument, and that advancing your cause is dependent on that argument. And some of the people who would read her post are most assuredly and most explicitly not feminists. Sady insists that I am no feminist, because she says so, and she has the power to dole that appellation out to whomever she chooses. Fair enough. But surely even if my feminism is illegitimate or fake,  that's superior to the reactionary anti-feminism that is all around her. Posts like the one she wrote contribute to many, many noxious stereotypes about feminists, and I wish she would have waited, a bit, and thought it through just a bit more.

The sad truth is that inertia alone is enough to leave the world in the condition that Sady doesn't want it to be, and for this reason she will have to work harder and better, and from my limited, low-traffic, (apparently) not getting laid perspective, a post like the one she has posted can't help her. But then, I would say that, wouldn't I? I am the one being put on blast, after all.

Look, this is the thing: here I am. Here I am. That is my whole point to the enterprise. You want to chat? Here I am. I don't have an institutional affiliation to protect me; I don't have a lot of traffic to protect me, I don't have anonymity to protect me, I don't have the benefit of putting on the mantle of some great movement against oppression to protect me. I am willing to talk, and willing to listen. So: what do you want to talk about?

Update: Per the update on that post-- it's true that I did used to occasionally email Megan Carpentier about Jezebel posts back when she wrote for them. The point wasn't to tell her she was mean, although I'm sure I often did do that. The point was that I thought from her writing that she was smart and funny and for that reason I felt I should email her to let her know when I thought Jezebel was being unfair. And, you know, it's true-- I did and do often think that Jezebel is being unfair.

Maybe that's wrong of me. I don't know. And it could easily be the case that my emails to Megan, like my comment to Sady, weren't sufficiently constructive. But whatever is true, it was true that I was emailing her because I cared about what she thought. And it is true that I engaged with Tiger Beatdown because I value it. I am committed to the proposition that I am wrong about all of this. I am trying. I am trying hard. But it is difficult to read that I should be derided for opinions that I don't hold, that I should be attacked for what I don't think. And, of course, on a human level, it's tough to be made fun of.

Monday, April 5, 2010

They tell me, Freddie, you must support the troops.

feminist men and feminist blogs

This dialogue from Tiger Beatdown says a lot of things about the edifice of Internet feminism and some of its complicated, occasionally self-defeating attitudes towards men. To dive right in, I'd like to highlight this passage:
Amanda: Kind of like That Guy who shows up at a pro-choice rally in a “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt in an attempt to get some ass.
SADY: Oh, dude. If they figured it out, it would be OVER. It would be like the weird guy who walked up to you after Women’s Studies classes to say you’d Opened His Eyes, creepily, times a thousand.
I don't want to be too unfair with this; I know that they are having a bit of fun with this conversation. But, really, this attitude drives me insane.  A good friend of mine has been intimately involved with the anti-sexual violence organization Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault. I know that a good deal of the genesis of his interest in the organization stems from a frankly horrific situation, which I won't elaborate on. He has said that one of the consistently aggravating and dispiriting aspects of his involvement has been the tendency of people, sans evidence, to say, "you're only in that group because you think it will get you laid!" These people, apparently, possess the same talent for mind reading that Amanda and  Sady have. To any man who has taken it as his moral responsibility to oppose sexual violence through whatever limited means of discourse and education we have available, this lurking questioning of our "real motives" is discouraging and undermining. I can't show you my motives; when someone imputes selfish or negative motives on you, there is no recourse to evidence to prove them wrong. That these snipes take a man's dedication to the eradication of rape and other sexual violence and renders it just another tactic of sexual conquest twists the knife.

I suppose that's a small point in their larger conversation, but I think it is of a piece with a larger thread in what they are talking about, one that runs through much of Internet feminism, a confusion and disquiet toward male feminists and their projects.

I don't have a "This Is What a Feminist Looks Like" T-shirt, but if I owned one, I would wear it. Because that guy you see in the picture there to the right (that handsome fellow) is indeed what a feminist looks like, a particular feminist, this feminist. And this feminist is not looking for validation, confirmation or blessing from any particular female feminists. Feminism is not lady business; it is the business of all people who pursue equity and liberation, and who take the elimination of entrenched power imbalances as their ethical duty.

To be clear, and to be sure, the relationship between the sex and gender of feminists and their roles as feminists is a deeply complicated one. I cannot tell you what it is to be a woman, and there are consequences that stem from that fact. But the fact of that complication should not be taken as an excuse for female feminists, whether cisgendered or transgendered, to be empowered to have a constantly shifting definition of how male feminists are allowed to operate within feminist discourse. Far too often, the expectation that male feminists should be equally devoted to advancing the feminist cause is carried by female feminists who will turn around, when an argument arises about what best represents and advances feminism, and assert their privilege over feminist discourse based on the fact that they are female. I cannot tell you how many times I have been involved in spirited discussions about feminist issues, only to have a female feminist I am disagreeing with say, in one way or another, "what would you know about it, MAN?"

I am open to the possibility that what I am asking for is a reinstitution of male privilege within the framework of feminism. If so, I'm very sorry. But I don't think it is unreasonable for me to expect that I be allowed a voice in the debate that is not subject to being excluded because of my sex or my gender. There are many out there who are far better educated and better articulated feminists than I am, but make no mistake: I am a dedicated and well-read feminist. When I argue, I come correct, and I expect those arguing against me to as well. It is aggravating for me when I feel that the legitimacy of my position is denied even when the person I am arguing against couldn't tell Julia Kristeva from Phylis Schlafly. I'm not endorsing a vision of feminism or argumentation that is a naked appeal to expertise; I can be better read than someone and still flat wrong in my disagreement with him or her, and I don't mean to suggest that who has superior knowledge is a simple question. But I think it is fair and practical to place some value in feminist education when undertaking inter-feminist argument.

Maybe this is the way things should be; I'm receptive to the possibility that the righteous way forward is for men to have an equal responsibility towards feminist ideals but a lesser right to engage in feminist debates. That doesn't seem quite right to me, but who knows. But forget about what is right for a second, and think about what is for the practical good of feminism: do you suppose that there are a great many potential male feminists who are willing to give their support and voice to our cause while simultaneously being told that they have unequal right to argue? I doubt it. For all of the regular assertions of the power of feminism (usually in the form of complaints about political correctness), feminism remains a discourse that is embattled, reviled by a great many and constantly in need of defense. Women today continue to operate under the burden of massive entrenched disadvantage. If we are to address this imbalance, it is worth asking if a deeper integration of men into the feminist movement is the way forward, and simultaneously whether the tendency of female feminists on the Internet to undercut the male feminist position isn't an obstacle to that integration.

This is of a piece with a dynamic that is present in a lot of intellectual movements, the tendency to regard criticism of various arguments or positions within those movements as criticisms of the movement as a whole. Often times, arguments about what is feminist, or in the best interests of feminism, results in one arguer or the other putting on the Mantle of Feminism and declaring that a person critiquing certain positions she or he holds means that person is anti-feminist. This is to ignore the fact that any affinity group-- feminists, conservatives, Democrats, environmentalists, utilitarians-- is going to contain a great deal of internal controversy about what that group is, what its tenets are, and what is in its best interest.

I  guess what I'm saying is that I am thinking about that date that Amanda and Sady are talking about. If I went on that date, with either or them, they would indeed find themselves on a date with a feminist. But as I am a feminist whose feminism is not a product of feeling obliged to any particular women or to some vague category called "women," but rather to the principles of equality and human liberation which inform and support feminism, they are unlikely to find me the kind of feminist whose feminism is guaranteed or even likely to please or flatter them. What I wonder is, what if their questions reveal a man who is a feminist that has ideas about feminism that differs from theirs? And what if that feminist man isn't inclined to back down from his position in an attempt to please them? To me, that is the male feminism that matters, one that is willing to be controversial, that stakes real claims, that stands up for itself, that is involved in the actual work of the feminist enterprise, one that doesn't merely take the name feminist and then stands flapping in the wind, blowing whichever way seems least controversial. I do wonder, given those conditions, what that date might be like, what kind of feminism Sady and Amanda are willing to coexist with.

Harris expands his thoughts

I am trying hard to let questions of epistemology rest for the time being in this space. However, responsibility demands that I link to Sam Harris's expanded thoughts on the subject of his TED talk.

I find his essay, while significantly more useful than his TED talk, to be something of a mess-- really unfold the logic of his supposed untangling of the problem of knowing a psychopath is wrong, even for a few minutes-- but again, I'm trying to let things rest. I'll just bring up one point: here, as in the TED talk, Harris insists on talking about moral questions of the highest possible emotional baggage. He also talks almost exclusively about issues which, whatever the larger epistemological questions, in the pragmatic context of our own lives, very few of us see as morally challenging. For someone so insistent on transcendent logic, I am deeply confused as to why he would make so many arguments that amount to a naked appeal to emotion. Harris is logician enough to know that saying "look into the eyes of a girl blinded by acid" is not logically compelling, and that harping again and again on emotionally charged issues is not the way to dispassionately pursue truth. (Capital T or otherwise.)

Probity and practicality would both suggest, it seems to me, that Harris concern himself with issues of actual moral controversy, ones that we have a great deal of trouble untangling-- abortion, euthanasia, torture in wartime, etc. The fact that he doesn't is troubling.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

McNabb's Out

It appears Donovan McNabb is headed out of Philadelphia.

Eagle fans have been baffling me on this issue for a long, long time. For over a decade, McNabb has played near, at or above an All-Star level at the quarterback position. The Eagles are perennial contenders for their division and in the playoffs. Yet it's hard to imagine anyone bitching more about their QB than Eagles fans. I can only imagine that this stems from a lack of perspective; it's easy to lose sight of what it's like to have a bad QB when you haven't had one for a long time. Look, I'm a Bears fan. I would be ecstatic to have just gotten 11 seasons of McNabb. You want to enjoy the Rick Mirer era? You want to know what it's like when Jim Miller or Erik Kramer represents the pinnacle of quarterbacking for your favorite team since you were 5 years old? You want to have to pin all your hopes on Jay Cutler? Bears fans pine for the days of Jim McMahon. Jim McMahon. He of the 78.2 career quarterback rating. Bears fans talk about Jim McMahon like he's Joe Montana, but I'm sorry, he just wasn't that good.

I know McNabb isn't Peyton Manning. I know he has been aggravating, even maddening at times. I know it's frustrating to knock on the door so many times and not win it all. But knocking on the door is a lot better than being stuck at the curb. I will take Donovan McNabb over that alternative every time.

Enjoy the Kevin Kolb era, guys.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

ladies and gentlemen

There was a time, not very long, when I had left college and I was doing nothing but sitting in my apartment all day, practicing guitar while I watched television. At the time I was very interested in playing scales and developing lead guitar technique, and playing fast, learning the modes and such.... I have limited natural talent for guitar, but at the time, since I was practicing obsessively, I couldn't help but pick up a few skills. What I liked, though, what I wanted, was to play just at the outside edge of my ability, to play just a little bit faster than I had a right to, to be forever on the bleeding edge of what I could do, to feel like the guitar was something so slightly out of my control, to get to the note, but to just barely, just barely get there.

Anyone who knows will tell you that's the worst way to practice guitar, but it didn't matter much to me. I played for no purpose. What I want is to be able to live that way, for the whole of my life to just exceed my grasp, to feel like the instruments of my existence are barely beyond my ability to operate them. I don't, of course. (No, I am not taking up skydiving.)

What strikes and frightens you is when you realize that you have been considered. The trouble is that I always think as though there will be a time in the near future when I am not dead but in which I will no longer exist, and that unreality of that keeps insisting itself on me. In the meantime I must learn to share this space with myself, to occupy the crimped narrative of my own life, to flourish in whatever small way is possible, to heave against my narrow means with all strength, and to submit myself to the superior wisdom of you.

Do you know what the word "jubilee" originally meant, what the celebration was about? I think about that all the time, I can't believe it isn't in the Constitution, there's nothing I hunger for more-- jubilee, jubilee, jubilee.

Friday, April 2, 2010

contemporary art self-linkage

An argument I had in real life inspired me to write about contemporary art, but after chewing on it for a bit I've decided that I already have written about as well on the subject as I can here and here, and I've listed some of my own tastes in painting here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

epistemology capstone

Just a few quick things to sum a few things up from the epistemology discussion we had recently--

Despite a bit of my email that has been a bit gloating (in the sense that they think I am cowed), I'm happy, ultimately, with how the discussion turned out. It was certainly generative. Some commenters were a little, ah, uncharitable, but that's the exchange of ideas. I appreciate the interest. (I have to say, if you find yourself, for example, going into my wish list to try to find something to make fun of, please go get laid.) One of the things that I think is important to think about is that a use vision of human knowledge, as I prefer, doesn't have to be true to be useful, but a truth vision of knowledge usually has to be true to be satisfactory to those who favor such a vision. I could be all wet, about all of this, but I think that there is still value in questioning some of the assumptions behind more totalizing epistemologies. If nothing else, most people are amenable to the idea that, whatever the possibilities of human cognition, any individual at any time has limited access to truth. Yet I find, with myself and with others, that this is hard to remember within the flow of life, and perhaps my questions can help inspire me and others to do so.

Questions persist, for me. I have always found and continue to find inductive or consequentialist justifications for objectivist truth frameworks kind of intuitively odd. Will Wilson's response has met with praise, and justly so. I do want to say something, though, regarding the intellectual prowess of giraffes. Will says,

the humble Giraffe is well adapted to its environment, but will never come to understand particle physics or the workings of its own neurophysiology. How are we to know that we are not like Giraffes, only with considerably wider possible-knowledge horizons? A simple response is that we haven’t failed yet. The theories we build in order to explain the universe around us are remarkably, even distressingly successful.... Let us return to the giraffes! There is no evolutionary pressure to having minds that can figure out U(1) x SU(2) x SU(3) symmetry, or why it is that the spin of an electron has to be what it is (also due to symmetry constraints).

There's something we need to add here, though: not only does the giraffe not know how to understand electron spin; it does not know that there is such a thing as not knowing how to understand electron spin. It's not just that the giraffe can't answer the question, but that its limited consciousness is incapable of realizing that such a question might be posed. What might be the case, but we can't know, is that there are problems that we are similarly unaware of. If you'll forgive me for invoking Donald Rumsfeld, there are known unknowns-- the reconciliation of relativistic gravity with quantum mechanics; the Riemann hypothesis-- but there might also be unknown unknowns, things that we don't know we don't know. If this were true, it would undercut what Will is saying; it shouldn't surprise us that with time we solve the problems we apprehend, but it also shouldn't surprise us if there are questions we aren't even aware are questions. (You can add a "yet" to the end of that, if you're inclined.)

Is this deductively compelling? Of course not. I don't expect to convince anyone of anything with such a thought experiment, particularly people of a more harder nosed disposition. Such questions would have to exist to be a compelling argument against Will's inductive attitude towards human knowledge, and of course, we won't know them until we know them, and then we might start solving them. I'm not asking anyone to take them on faith and decide anything. I just think the question is interesting. You'd be surprised, I think, of the amount of rigor you can maintain even after you have let go of the idea that you have to prove everything to a particular level of deductive satisfaction, on the level of intellectual play.

Now, you could accuse me here of having the kind of theology-echoing considerations that I was criticizing before-- for where could these questions lie if not in the human mind? (When I echoed Sartre in saying that, if everyone believed in fascism, fascism would be the truth of man, a commenter took me to mean that I thought morality was a matter of majority rule. I meant it in a more simple way than that: when people say that there would still be an anti-fascist morality that exists independent of the fact that everyone in the world supported fascism, I am wondering literally where that morality could be said to reside.) What I would say (and, trust me, this is all conjectural) is that the questions that we don't know we aren't asking wouldn't exist until we discover them, but that the possibility that they could be discovered would be enough to trouble Will's point. If this is confusing to you, you're not alone, and I'd love to hear ideas in the comments.

Finally, the one email that bothered me was one that insisted that what I was saying was resistant or disrespectful to science. I've heard that before, but I have always felt the opposite way. To me, a use vision of truth is more respectful to science, because science is fantastically useful. Judge them by their works. I find questions about whether something represents a scientific problem or not kind of besides the point; does the scientific method provide useful solutions to the practical problems? If so, then we can call it a scientific problem. (An obsession with taxonomy is an example of a place where, I think, traditional epistemology could use some constructivist insights.) Questions that we consider unscientific, like moral questions, remain unscientific because to date science has demonstrated little ability to provide practical solutions to those questions. Should that change, so shall our categorization of the questions.

This is also a useful way to think about questions such as the persistent (and often quite heated) controversy about string theory, which is not only about whether string theory represents an accurate vision of the physical universe but whether string theory is scientific at all. Again: what is string theory's use? If string theory proves useful for human flourishing, it will endure. If it doesn't, it will fall away. Whether or not working with string theory represents a good utilization of the time and resources of cosmology is a question that I suspect can only be answered in retrospect. Even if string theory is eventually discarded, though, that isn't to say that exploring it would have been proven to have been a mistake; we don't talk about luminiferous aether anymore, but we have great reason to be glad we once did.

If string theory can neither be made to conform with standard Popperian definitions of what constitutes scientific discourse, but is likewise not discarded by physics-- if string theory never meets the empirical and falsifiable satisfaction of standard philosophy of science, but no more useful, superior theory is forthcoming-- then I imagine that our current definitions of science, or philosophy of science, will evolve, as most things do. They will evolve in such a case because it would be in our best interest for them to evolve. And that would be a very exciting moment, to me, and worth daydreaming about.

Update: Commenter Led, from the Postmodern Conservative blog, writes in to say that my response echoes some of the things he was saying in his comment on that piece. While I wasn't consciously repeating anything he said in that comment, it's certainly close enough to where it's worth giving him credit for the genesis of some ideas here. I certainly had to have been influenced by reading his comment before I posted this.