Mars and Venus in the Courtroom

Chris Young is right: John Gray will rue the day he decided to fuck with Gavin Sheridan.

Let’s hope so, anyway.

(For more on this fun story, see the report of the original lawyer’s letter, commentary from Kevin Drum and from Kieran Healy, more from Gavin here (scroll down for additional links), and some remarks from Backword Dave.)

UPDATE [1.4.2004]: Backword Dave usefully supplies more links on this story than any reasonable person could read.

Obsolete Technology

While doing research for the Normblog Bob Dylan Song Poll (if you haven’t sent your entry in already read here) I remembered that I have copies of two Dylan albums which I don’t really need anymore, since I have CD copies of the same. So the first Oxford-area VS-reader to stake their claim to LPs of Bringing It All Back Home and Blonde on Blonde can have them. Just get in touch.

In the end I went for (no particular order) “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”, “Like A Rolling Stone”, “It Ain’t Me, Babe” and “The Times They Are A-Changin'”. I left the fifth permitted spot intentionally blank, as it would be a crime to pick five without having something from John Wesley Harding (= best Dylan album ever), but after playing the record three times I just couldn’t decide which song I liked most.

Dead Socialist Watch, #82

Eleanor Marx, born 16 January 1855, died 31 March 1898.

(Which reminds me that while I own a fine hardback set of Yvonne Kapp’s life of Eleanor Marx, which people tell me is magnificently good, I haven’t read it yet. I’ll take it off the shelf now and turn my attention to it when I’ve finished working through Stephen J. Stein’s [so far] excellent book about The Shaker Experience in America.)

Back from Boston (in the Springtime)

As you’ll have noticed, a few days’ stoppage in the flow of bloggerage has just come to an end: I was off in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Society of Eighteenth Century Studies, where Chris Bertram of Crooked Timber fame had laboured to put together one of the Rousseau panels, and was nice enough to ask me to join it. I’m not sure the ASECS is really my scene (though I’m not sure the APSA is really my scene, either, but I’ve been there three times now, and will probably trek to Chicago this year), but the whole thing was a very good excuse on which to hang a visit to Boston, which is still one of my favourite American cities, and to see a surprising number of old friends.

(Similarly, if I go to the ASECS next year, it’ll be a good excuse for a weekend in Las Vegas, which I’ve still never visited.)

(Foolishly, however, all three of my visits to Boston since I stopped living there have been Red Sox-free: the last two have been during Spring Training, and they were on a road trip when I was in town in 2002. I’ll have to be more careful next time.)


VS-2d-favourite Melanie Phillips turns her attention to the history of modern political thought:

While non-Christian nations can indeed subscribe to human rights — and it is to be hoped that they do — fundamental human rights (as opposed to the politically correct doctrines being laid down by European institutions) are emphatically not secular. They are based on the precepts originally laid down by Judaism and embellished and developed by Protestantism — that individual behaviour must be constrained by moral laws, and that all human beings are equal in the image of God. Take this Judeo-Christian God away, and equality disappears too.The secular ‘human rights’ promulgated by eponymous lawyers and government ministers are actually nothing of the kind. They are instead an attempt to destroy this liberal and democratic heritage and replace it by a secular inquisition that takes self-governnment away from peoples and deprives them of the expression of their individual culture. It is deeply, profoundly, terrifyingly anti-democratic…

Next up (we can only hope), Melanie on Kant’s transcendental deduction of the categories…(Actually, that’s slightly unfair, but only slightly. There’s an interesting discussion to have about the relationship between Locke’s natural rights theory and theism, on which Jeremy Waldron’s God, Locke and Equality is quite superb. But this isn’t it, and most of the rest of what she’s written above is nonsense.)

Public Service Announcement

My friend and colleague Mike Smithson has recently launched his new Political Betting site, which I dare say will be of interest to some of the regular readers of the Virtual Stoa, with lots of discussion of opinion polls and that kind of thing. It’ll probably be quite good, and it looks sufficiently bloglike that I’ll stick it on the blogroll.

I don’t make bets on politics terribly often myself, though I won �40 once upon a time in a College sweepstake by picking the right number of Tory MEPs to survive the disaster (for them, not for me) of the 1994 Euro-elections. (My win in the end came thanks to the intervention of Richard Huggett and his “Literal Democrats” down in Cornwall or wherever.) More recently, I lost a bottle of wine to Mike after wrongly predicting the outcome of the Brent East by-election, ho hum, so no more bets for a bit.

Wilde Serial, #13

Earlier bits: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII.

“The Soul of Man Under Socialism” by Oscar Wilde, Part Thirteen

But in the case of Shakespeare it is quite obvious that the public really see neither the beauties nor the defects of his plays. If they saw the beauties, they would not object to the development of the drama; and if they saw the defects, they would not object to the development of the drama either. The fact is, the public make use of the classics of a country as a means of checking the progress of Art. They degrade the classics into authorities. They use them as bludgeons for preventing the free expression of Beauty in new forms. They are always asking a writer why he does not write like somebody else, or a painter why he does not paint like somebody else, quite oblivious of the fact that if either of them did anything of the kind he would cease to be an artist. A fresh mode of Beauty is absolutely distasteful to them, and whenever it appears they get so angry and bewildered that they always use two stupid expressions — one is that the work of art is grossly unintelligible; the other, that the work of art is grossly immoral. What they mean by these words seems to me to be this. When they say a work is grossly unintelligible, they mean that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is new; when they describe a work as grossly immoral, they mean that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is true. The former expression has reference to style; the latter to subject-matter. But they probably use the words very vaguely, as an ordinary mob will use ready-made paving-stones. There is not a single real poet or prose writer of this century, for instance, on whom the British public have not solemnly conferred diplomas of immorality, and these diplomas practically take the place, with us, of what in France is the formal recognition of an Academy of Letters, and fortunately make the establishment of such an institution quite unnecessary in England. Of course, the public are very reckless in their use of the word. That they should have called Wordsworth an immoral poet, was only to be expected. Wordsworth was a poet. But that they should have called Charles Kingsley an immoral novelist is extraordinary. Kingsley’s prose was not of a very fine quality. Still, there is the word, and they use it as best they can. An artist is, of course, not disturbed by it. The true artist is a man who believes absolutely in himself, because he is absolutely himself. But I can fancy that if an artist produced a work of art in England that immediately on its appearance was recognized by the public, through their medium, which is the public Press, as a work that was quite intelligible and highly moral, he would begin seriously to question whether in its creation he had really been himself at all, and consequently whether the work was not quite unworthy of him, and either of a thoroughly second-rate order, or of no artistic value what so ever.

Perhaps, however, I have wronged the public in limiting them to such words as “immoral”, “unintelligible”, “exotic”, and “unhealthy”. There is one other word that they use. That word is “morbid”. They do not use it often. The meaning of the word is so simple that they are afraid of using it. Still, they use it sometimes, and, now and then, one comes across it in popular newspapers. It is, of course, a ridiculous word to apply to a work of art. For what is morbidity but a mood of emotion or a mode of thought that one cannot express? The public are all morbid, because the public can never find expression for anything. The artist is never morbid. He expresses everything. He stands outside his subject, and through its medium produces incomparable and artistic effects. To call an artist morbid because he deals with morbidity as his subject-matter is as silly as if one called Shakespeare mad because he wrote King Lear.

[More, soon.]

Eagleton Weighs In

In today’s Guardian:

Matt Cavanagh, the Blunkett aide who was revealed at the weekend as having written a book suggesting that employers might acceptably discriminate against black job applicants, seems to be a man who once had a philosophy but has now unaccountably mislaid it. Cavanagh appears to be arguing that since he consigned this proposal to paper, it is academic – meaning, perhaps, that in the real world it is not a good thing at all. For one who was possibly trained in logic, this is a serious sort of defence. There are indeed books in which you are allowed to float bizarre and offensive proposals confident in the knowledge that nobody will think you mean them seriously. But these are known as novels, not works of political theory.The modern age began in earnest when ideas ceased to matter…

I haven’t seen Matt Cavanagh himself mount this defence; rather, it’s what the people at the Home Office have been saying about him.For an alternative, less temperate response, try here.

I’m going back and forth on what I think about this case. I still think the broadsheet news reporting has been pretty crappy. Journalists keep writing about Cavanagh’s suggestion that unfair discrimination might in certain circumstances be “rational”, without pointing out that the word “rational” as it is habitually used in economics and, often enough, in philosophy can just refer to whatever it is that appears to me the best thing to do in order to realise whatever goals I might happen to have.

But enough people have emailed me to point out that Cavanagh’s views — both philosophically and politically — really are pretty right-wing, which raises the question of why, given that Mr. Blunkett clearly likes to be surrounded by free-thinking young men, he chooses particularly right-wing free-thinking young men by whom to be surrounded… I mean, if you want political theorists, this is a pretty left-leaning crowd.

(It reminds me of the Labour Party’s Commission on Social Justice ten years ago, whose first pamphlet, The Justice Gap, reflected on recent academic work on the idea of social justice and offered criticism of John Rawls and praise for Robert Nozick…)