Sunday, 28 April 2013

Is Liah Greenfeld the stupidest Sociologist in the Universe?

No. That's why, like Avis, she tries harder. She has just published a book which suggests that increasing levels of Mental Illness are associated with the Economically successful, Secular and Egalitarian Nationalisms of the sort  she thinks characterizes the free Societies of the West.
Her thesis, though not logically deducible from any possible combination of premises, is nevertheless associated in her writing with the following two assertions-
1)  Greenfeld's theory of Nationalism as defining the modern culture which shapes how we think. According to her, the Nation was invented by the English in the Sixteenth Century because the Tudors employed Commoners in high positions. Nationalism means all members of the Nation are equal and so, since they can't compete with each other for thymotic status,  they collectively engage in competition with other Nations in those fields where they have an absolute advantage.
Let us pause for a moment to consider whether there is any truth in what Prof. Greenfeld says.
Is there any type of Society which is not competitive? Did Athens not compete with Corinth and Sparta at the Olympic games? Of course not. Athens wasn't a Nation, it was a Polis- a City State. Thus, it couldn't possibly compete against some other City State. Pausanias tells us that City States didn't always play fair to score over their rivals '"Sotades at the ninety-ninth Festival was victorious in the long race and proclaimed a Cretan, as in fact he was. But at the next Festival he made himself an Ephesian, being bribed to do so by the Ephesian people. For this act he was banished by the Cretans."[4]
 However, Greenfeld might say City States, unlike Nations aren't INHERENTLY competitive because...urm...well they just aren't okay? Similarly, Empires aren't inherently competitive, Princedoms aren't inherently competitive- only Nations are because...urm... well, they just are, okay? Remember the U.S.S.R? It wasn't a Nation, it was a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which is why it wasn't at all inherently competitive with the U.S.A- which actually is a Nation. Obviously, once the USSR was dissolved and Russia under Yeltsin became a Nation, it just got terribly inherently competitive with the U.S.A as I'm sure you'll remember. Unfortunately, Yeltsin concentrated on being a bigger drunken buffoon than Bush or Clinton, which didn't do the Russians any good, but Greenfeld, who was born in Vladivostok, can explain why-

True, Kruschev, who was Ukrainian, did say he was going to compete with the U.S.A in the field of Consumer products but since he wasn't the head of the Ukrainian Nation or any other Nation, but the head of something that wasn't a Nation, it follows that though outwardly competitive, inherently, no such competition obtained.

Similarly, the fact that Communist States showed far higher social mobility, at least before Brezhnev style 'stabilization of the cadres' created a hereditary nomenklatura, shows that ...urm... well, it shows something or other. Actually, come to think of it Afghanistan had more 'Civil Society' than British India coz. Faiz's dad was just a barefoot shepherd but rose to a high position by ability alone...but, hang on, that sort of thing happened a lot in Islamic States, including purely theocratic ones which, by definition, weren't 'wataniya'- i.e. Nationalist....Oh dear. This is strange. The notion of what we call meritocracy turns out to have existed in Qin China, pre-Mauryan India, come to think of it David, in the Bible, was a barefoot shepherd...well, clearly, though many polities have operated just like Greenfeld 'nations', still 'the form of consciousness prevailing in them did not allow for the existence of such political phenomena- though the noumenon corresponding to it did obtain- what actually happened was that when the Qin accepted the Mohtist argument for careers open to talent though people spoke and wrote as though they understood the concept, they didn't really, they were actually thinking about dragons or chop suey or other Oriental stuff of that sort.
Similarly, when the English- even though they invented the concept of a secular and egalitarian Nation- continued to talk and write and make laws which implied that Women weren't equal to men, Peers of the Realm remained entitled to a trial by members of their own chamber, Non Conformists and Catholics and so on suffered all sorts of Civil disabilities, workhouse kids were sent up chimneys or down coal mines- when all that was happening it was purely coincidental. You see, the English were preparing an after dinner skit all through the seventeenth and eighteenth and a long way into the Nineteenth century and so they habitually spoke or wrote or did things in a manner which gave color to the notion that they weren't a secular and egalitarian people at all. Thus, when a Seventeenth Century English Queen turned a nice little profit selling English girls into slavery in America that wasn't an example of  Slave trade. What Slave trade? We don't got no steenkin Slave Trade here!

What about Greenfeld's notion that Economies with sustained growth- countries which have transformed themselves in my life time like Singapore, Qatar, Kuwait, Mauritius - can't exist without Nationalism?

Surely that must be true?
Take the 2 Koreas. North Korea was more advanced Economically that is why it chose to compete by turning into an Economic powerhouse producing the best big screen T.Vs and mobile phones in the world. South Korea, being mainly agricultural, concentrated on folk dancing. This is why North Korea is a far more secular and egalitarian Society than South Korea- which is doomed to backwardness. The same thing happened with East and West Germany- the latter concentrated on building cathedrals and staging passion plays while the secular and egalitarian East concentrated on heavy industry.
What's that you say? There was a woman called Irma Adelman and she advised the South Koreans on how to industrialize and lift themselves out of poverty? Adelman you say her name was..Yes, no doubt about it. Typical Korean name. Clearly an out and out Korean Nationalist. She fucking Tae Kwan Do'd the Military Junta till they implemented her plans.
But what if some other country- like India- had invited over this Adelman chick and followed her advise instead of listening to shitheads like Kaldor and Joan Robinson? The fact is, Economists know absolute advantage means shit. Comparative advantage is what determines what you concentrate on. But you need smart people to spot where comparative advantage, acquired or otherwise, arises. Suppose smart and greedy people get their hands on Govt. policy. What is to stop them doing the economically smart thing even absent any sense of nationalism or entity which could be classed as a Nation? Can oligarchies never gain control of a Polity? If so, might Nationalism not be fabricated later on to get the masses to fight to protect the oligarchs' gains?
Greenfeld thinks not.
This is very interesting. It turns out that once a guy has made enough money he quits Business and does something else UNLESS Nationalism stops him by 'ennobling' his pursuit of yet further wealth. This proves that America isn't a nation. Lots of rich dudes- Herbert Hoover, Ross Perot, Bloomberg, Nelson Rockefeller, Bill Gates etc- quit business after they've made their pile and go in for something else. True a lot of other rich dudes don't quit but keep at it coz they like what they do or coz it's the only way they know to occupy their time meaningfully- but that happens in traditional societies too. Wealthy businessmen stick to business because it's all they know how to do. A Caste society, like India, can turn into an oligarchy if the merchant caste can hire better soldiers and that oligarchy can disguise itself as a Nation entrenching Caste privileges behind a camouflage of  Property and/or Credentialist Rights. Indeed, for Anglophone countries, the suspicion has always been that this is the true explanation of how things worked out and this have driven political struggle and ideological debate in a manner that, occasionally, has actually improved Social Equity.
How is this fact compatible with Greenfeld's thesis? I suspect she has a novel answer. People living in English speaking nations are all totally mad. That's why they think she is talking shite. If they weren't mad, they'd see she was totally in the right- being a Nation means you get advanced economic growth which drives you mad so you don't get how clever this girl from Vladivostok really is.

2) Greenfeld's theory of the Human Mind

Animals are born knowing their place in the world and their place in the pecking order. That is why two animals of the same species never fight to establish which is dominant. David Attenborough faked all his Nature Documentaries. Why? He's English- thus totally mad. Incidentally, God is an Englishman. Why? because he invented Evolution and Evolution is totally unnecessary coz animals automatically know their place in the social order and so don't have to go in for sexual competition through things like dominance or mating displays which only exist coz like animals are not just Cartesian meat-machines simply but also windowless monads going through the motions of a pre-established harmony choreographed by a lunatic God with a Michael Caine type accent.

Greenfeld's idiocy is in assuming that stuff about Identity is incompossibly cloud sourced and 'crowd forced'- in the sense that it is both downloaded from some cloudy 'Culture' detached from the agents you interact with and also that the crowd you actually interact with can force a synchronization upon you such that you become what they say you are leaving you no buffer. If this were true, Identity faces a Race Hazard and becomes glitchey in a noisy environment -i.e. the computational burden of maintaining identity would require a huge amount of logic redundancy. As a matter of fact, this is a possible way of thinking about schizophrenia- occupational therapy can be a bit like building Karnaugh maps, or finding an alternative neurological locus to do the sort of stuff, which kind of builds up a general purpose module that restores noetic function to a widening sphere of life supporting operations.
However, Greenfeld isn't interested in helping Schizophrenics have a better life. She believes there is something called 'the Symbolic Imagination' which is uniquely human and if you don't have it you're fucked. Why? Well, it turns out, instead of pattern recognition, Karnaugh map type solutions to Race Hazard, Greenfeld wants substantive logic redundancy on the basis of the Symbolic Imagination- i.e. you've got to imagine all possible worlds and build a huge number of logic gates all over the place and once you're done, turns out you're not done at all coz in addition to this uniquely human 'Symbolic Imagination' there's also a uniquely human 'Will' which has to go sit at each of those fucking logic gates and arbitrage everything while constantly worrying whether it's a 'strong' enough Will to do its job coz it turns out, Greenfeld tells us, them logic gates are context dependent and keeps changing as the System changes- so basically the Will is fucked. Sisyphus had it easy. Hand me the fucking Vodka, lady from Vladivostok- Russian Roulette is the only sane game in town.

The question I asked at the beginning of this post was whether Greenfeld is the stupidest Sociologist in the Universe. Did someone take her by the tail and twirl her around in the air? Something went wrong, that is clear. Overwork? But what work has this woman ever accomplished which wasn't vanity? She speaks of insanity, not to ameliorate the condition of those who suffer it, but to castigate, under the pretense of praising, those democratic nations which have provided her both education and advancement at the price, certainly, of a crushing sense of anomie inflicted by her own dismay at the Western Academy's abject failure to spot her worthlessness.
I'm not making this up. That's what the woman actually said at a Public lecture at the LSE.

1 comment:

  1. Krishan Kumar exposed this lady's pretensions in his book on the making of English identity.