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George Lakoff and Me

17 Oct

In the current issue of The Nation, in an article called “What Liberals Don’t Understand About Freedom,” George Lakoff writes:

FDR, in giving his Four Freedoms speech of 1941, suggested that Democrats’ mission was to expand human freedom. Yet today Democrats have ceded the very concepts of freedom and liberty to Republicans. It’s time to take freedom back as the central Democratic issue.

For conservatives, individual responsibility is central: democracy provides the “liberty” to pursue your own interests, without any help from others (which would make you dependent and weak) and without any responsibility for others.

This is the exact opposite of the progressive view…democracy is about citizens caring about one another and working through their government to provide public resources that allow freedom for all.

The same is true of individual private life. Physical well-being is fundamental to a free life. If you do not have access to health care and you get cancer, you are likely to be trapped not only in debt peonage by the healthcare industry, but in physical anguish or death. So-called “women’s issues” are freedom issues, too—the freedom for individuals to be able to control their own bodies, and follow their doctors’ advice. Without safety regulations for our food and water supply we are not free. Without highways or air traffic controllers or an air force that trains most of our pilots, we would not be free to travel without fear for our safety.

The freedom to control one’s life and participate in our democracy is what unites progressives. Yet, very few progressives actually say this out loud. Progressives are bad at communicating the interdependence of issues and hence the links among forms of freedom.

In the April 6, 2011 issue of The Nation, in a piece called “Reclaiming the Politics of Freedom,” I wrote:

Conservative ideas have dominated American politics for thirty years. The centerpiece of that dominance is the notion that the market equals freedom and government is the threat to freedom.

If there is to be a true realignment—not just of parties but of principles, not just of policy preferences or cognitive frames but of deep beliefs and ideas—we must confront conservatism’s political philosophy. That philosophy reflects more than a bloodless economics or narrow self-interest; it draws from and drives forward a distinctly moral vision of freedom, with deep roots in American political thought.

The secret of conservatism’s success—as any reading of Reagan’s speeches and writings will attest—has been to locate this notion of freedom in the market. Conservative political economy envisions freedom as something more than a simple “don’t tread on me”; it celebrates the everyman entrepreneur, making his own destiny, imagining a world and then creating it.

We must confront this ideology head-on: not by temporizing about the riskiness or instability of the free market or by demonstrating that it (or its Republican stewards) cannot deliver growth but by mobilizing the most potent resource of the American vernacular against it. We must develop an argument that the market is a source of constraint and government an instrument of freedom. Without a strong government hand in the economy, men and women are at the mercy of their employer, who has the power to determine not only their wages, benefits and hours but also their lives and those of their families, on and off the job.

Armed with universal healthcare, unemployment benefits, public pensions and the like, I am less vulnerable to the coercions and castigations of an employer or partner. Not only do I have the option of leaving an oppressive situation; I can confront and change it—for and by myself, for and with others. I am emboldened not to avoid risks but to take risks: to talk back and walk out, to engage in what John Stuart Mill called, in one of his lovelier phrases, “experiments in living.”

George Lakoff writes New York Times best sellers, teaches at Berkeley, is a big-time political consultant who advises presidential campaigns, and judging by his speaker’s bureau page and press profile, gets gazillions of dollars just to talk to people. And to write stuff like this.

What am I doing wrong?

Princeton Hillel Ponders Barring Princeton Professor from Speaking at Event on His Own Campus

16 Oct

A PR flack for the Israeli government at Princeton’s Center for Jewish life is thinking of barring a Jewish professor of history at Princeton from speaking at Princeton’s Hillel. Because that professor has the wrong position on Israel.

Inside Higher Ed reports:

As one of the student organizers, Kyle Dhillon, the president of the Princeton Committee on Palestine, explained it, his group and two others – Tigers for Israel and J Street U Princeton – got together at the end of the summer to organize a panel on the Gaza conflict. They planned to invite Princeton professors – including Max Weiss, an associate professor of history and Near Eastern Studies – and they decided to seek co-sponsorship from the university’s Center for Jewish Life, an affiliate of Hillel International.

The center could provide funds and space, Dhillon said, and also lend the event greater legitimacy. “It wouldn’t be a student-only event; it would also have some university weight behind it.”

But Weiss’s inclusion as a potential speaker proved a problem. In a Sept. 8 email to the student organizers, a redacted version of which was provided to Inside Higher Ed, Slav Leibin, a Jewish Agency Israel Fellow to Hillel, wrote, “I would like to bring to your attention that Max Weiss has recently signed a public statement supporting boycott of Israel. This issue complicates the program for us, as it is Highly sensitive for a CJL [group] to sponsor a program with a speaker who made a statement like this, which is one of the red lines in our Israel policy.”

“Let’s deliberate about this issue in more depth before sending an official invitation,” Leibin’s email continued.

Hillel International’s guidelines for campus-based Israel activities prohibit the organization from partnering with or hosting individuals or groups that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, that deny “the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders” and that otherwise “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel.” Weiss is among the signatories of an August letter from Middle East studies scholars calling for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

“When I got word of this about a month later on Oct. 7, I was saddened and concerned to learn that campus life and the exercise of free speech here on campus at Princeton were in fact being policed, monitored and determined in the final analysis by non-academic members of the Princeton community, indeed someone who is here at Princeton with a specifically political and to a lesser extent cultural mandate,” said Weiss, who penned an op-ed titled “Is the Center for Jewish Life stifling free speech on campus?” that was just published in The Daily Princetonian.

Weiss noted in the op-ed that Leibin is on Princeton’s campus through a partnership between Hillel and the Jewish Agency for Israel, a nonprofit organization: “Although technically autonomous, the JA effectively operates as an advocate for the government of Israel,” Weiss wrote. “For someone representing the JA to bar a member of the Princeton faculty from sharing his or her expertise and perspectives is no more acceptable than it would be for an envoy of the Chinese, Canadian or any other government to do the same.”

According to Hillel’s website, the Jewish Agency Israel Fellows “are charismatic young professionals who have served in the Israel Defense Forces. In their roles on campus, they share personal experiences of modern Israel through the lens of its socially progressive values and its accomplishments in technology, life sciences, and the arts.”

Waiting for all those historians and scholars who were so exercised by the ASA boycott, which would have barred not a single historian from Israel from speaking on an American campus, to raise a fuss about this.

David Greenglass, 1922-2014

14 Oct

David Greenglass has died. Actually, he died over the summer. He was 92.

In the Book of Daniel, there’s an Aramaic phrase for an informer: Akhal Kurtza. Its literal translation is “to eat the flesh of someone else.”

By his own admission, David Greenglass made up testimony that sent his sister, Ethel Rosenberg, to the electric chair. David Greenglass was worse than an informer.

Update (9:30 pm)

In 2001, Greenglass was interviewed by Bob Simon for 60 Minutes. Here’s a brief account of part of that interview.

Why did think Julius and Ethel maintain their silence to the end? Greenglass has an answer: “One word: stupidity. My sister was not very smart about what she did. She should’ve confessed.”

But many saw the Rosenbergs as martyrs. There was great sympathy for Michael and Robert, their two young sons, orphaned by their own uncle.

Greenglass hasn’t seen the Rosenberg children since the trial. What would he say to them today? “I would say I’m sorry that your parents are dead. You’re basically the real victims of those, of the attitude of the people the time of their deaths.”

He would not apologize for his role. “I can’t say that,” he says. “That’s not true. I had no idea they’re gonna give them the death sentence.”

Greenglass says he had affection for his sister, and still does. “I do. I’m sorry, very sorry, that she made such a very bad decision,” he says, laughing. “She should have said “I did’t, I wasn’t a spy, but I, I heard my husband say it.’ That would have been fine.” He holds Ethel responsible for her own death.

At the trial, the Rosenbergs’ lawyer said in his closing remarks, “You may remember this: ‘Any man who will testify against his own flesh and blood, his own sister, is repulsive, revolting.'”

Greenglass is unfazed by this quote. He says he has a clean conscience: “I sleep very well.” He has never visited his sister’s grave, but admits that he has been haunted by his experience 50 years ago. “To some degree, yeah. But every time I’m haunted by it, or say something, my wife says ‘Look, we’re still alive. We have our kids. Everything’s OK.'”

There’s got to be a better way to prep for class

13 Oct

There’s got to be a better way to prep for class. First I read the assigned text, taking notes while I’m reading either in the back of the book or, when space runs out, in a little pocket notebook that I carry. Then I read through those notes, highlighting specific passages or commentary that might be potentially relevant for lecture and discussion. Then I re-type some (hopefully more coherent) version of those highlighted notes in a Word file, organizing them in some kind of thematic fashion or outline. (Sometimes, I divide that step up into two steps: first, I retype all the highlighted notes in a Word file; then I organize those notes into outline form in a new Word file.) Once I have some basic sense of the themes I’ll be talking about and the passages I want to focus on, I prepare my lecture (whether it’s a grad seminar or undergrad class, I do a combination of lecture and discussion). All the while I’m doing some secondary reading to help me figure out what is going on in or around the text. There’s got to be a better way to prep for class.

Von Mises to Milton Friedman: You’re all a bunch of socialists

12 Oct

In 1947, Milton Friedman and George Stigler traveled together to Europe for the inaugural meeting of the Mont Pèlerin Society. In 1992, Friedman reminisced about that trip in a memorial to Stigler, who had died the previous year. Here’s the conclusion:

One incident above all impressed George and me. In the course of a spirited discussion of policies about the distribution of income among a group that included Hayek, Machlup, Knight, Robbins, and Jewkes among others, Ludwig von Mises suddenly rose to his feet, remarked, “You’re all a bunch of socialists,” and stomped out of the room.
H/t Suresh Naidu

Cynthia Ozick and the Palestinians

6 Oct

I’ve talked on this blog many a time of my love of Cynthia Ozick‘s writing.

On Twitter tonight, a bunch of us are talking about her again, particularly her confrontation with Norman Mailer at Town Hall in 1971.

But Cynthia Ozick has also said some terrible things about the Palestinians. Like this from the Wall Street Journal in 2003:

By replacing history with fantasy, the Palestinians have invented a society unlike any other, where hatred trumps bread. They have reared children unlike any other children, removed from ordinary norms and behaviors. And they have been assisted in these deviations by Arab rulers who for half a century have purposefully and pitilessly caged and stigmatized them as refugees, down to the fourth generation. Refugeeism, abetted also by the United Nations, has itself been joined to the Palestinian cult of anti-history….

…Out of Israel came monotheism, out of Greece philosophy, out of Arab civilization science and poetry, out of England the Magna Carta, out of France the Enlightenment. What has been the genius of Palestinian originality, what has been the contribution of the evolving culture of Palestinian sectarianism? On the international scene: airplane hijackings and the murder of American diplomats in the 1970s, Olympic slaughterings and shipboard murders in the 1980s….

But the most ingeniously barbarous Palestinian societal invention, surpassing any other in imaginative novelty, is the recruiting of children to blow themselves up with the aim of destroying as many Jews as possible in the most crowded sites accessible….

From anyone, this would be ugly stuff.

But from the author of these words

Four hundred years of bondage in Egypt, rendered as metaphoric memory, can be spoken in a moment; in a single sentence. What this sentence is, we know; we have built every idea of moral civilization on it. It is a sentence that conceivably sums up at the start every revelation that came afterward….”The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

—it’s almost unbearable.

What Is Wrong With Zionism

27 Sep

I could convert to Christianity, declare myself no longer a Jew, start and sell a line of artisanal bacon, raise my daughter to be a Wiccan, and many Jews I know would be totally cool with that. But oppose the State of Israel—a state, let us recall, a state—and suddenly I’ve crossed a line. I’m no longer a Jew in good standing, I’ve betrayed some basic trust, I’ve become a problem. This is what Zionism has done to Judaism. This, among other things, is what is wrong with Zionism.

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