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Bloggingheads 12-17-2008 06:55 PM

Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 

bkjazfan 12-17-2008 08:55 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
Uhmm! About 3/4's of the way through I'm thinking that Glenn should have been a Ron Paul supporter. Then, he brings up Milton Friedman's name in a complimentary way. Now, I'm thinking is this the same guy who supported Hilary for pres? Yes, he is. That said I wish I had his intellectual firepower and could think outside the box as well as he does. An enlightening diavlog.

John

BornAgainDemocrat 12-17-2008 09:15 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
“Speaking truth to power” strikes me as too grandiose a self-description for any serious intellectual to adopt; it makes you look ridiculous or narcissistically self-absorbed Chomsky being a good example.

In any case I think that Glenn Loury is right on this one. He is no more “a black man” than is Barack Obama except in the most superficial sense. Once you start to get acquainted with either of them – or anybody – you see a unique human being. After that the only thing that counts -- the only thing you see unless you are blind-- is the quality of his or her intellect, moral sensibility, political judgment, etc. In other words, the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

Maybe I am wrong but because he is so uniquely talented I think Obama may be leading us, or at least a lot of white Americans, into a post-racial period, at least in our politics.

Whether it will last and for how long is another matter I suppose.

bkjazfan 12-17-2008 09:27 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
I grew up in a home where the subjects of race and religion was never brought up. Then, I went into the army which was highly integrated. From there it was to college where race was discussed ad nausem. Thankfully, I have been away from that environment for over 30 years and don't think about it much anymore.

John

T.G.G.P 12-17-2008 09:52 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
I discuss some of Loury's transition from "black conservative" to born-again to progressive here, in which I also needle him a bit, though affectionately as he's one of my favorite bloggingheads.

Ray 12-17-2008 10:06 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by bkjazfan (Post 99381)
I grew up in a home where the subjects of race and religion was never brought up. Then, I went into the army which was highly integrated. From there it was to college where race was discussed ad nausem. Thankfully, I have been away from that environment for over 30 years and don't think about it much anymore.

Wow!

Well; if you ever want to experience a place where race matters, you could visit the streets of any city in the United States--or any small town.

Oh, also, in Europe.

And Asia!

Russia.

Africa.

Australia.

Some other places, too.

bkjazfan 12-17-2008 10:26 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
Ray,

I live in South Los Angeles and don't know what you mean by "being in a place where race matters?" Yes, I am probably a simpleton but I think there is one race: the human one.

John

basman 12-17-2008 11:03 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
I thought this was a wonderful exchange and this place is becoming more and more my site of first choice, and, so, replacing others.

These issues are complicated, complex and nuanced, which the discussion reflects: the role of the intellectual, the relation between strategy and role and between strategy and truth telling, whether to power or to something or someone else, the nature of identity and its relation to social construction, the durability of social construction, the constraints of identity for the intellectual speaking truth to something or someone, Strauss and embedded strategy in intellectuals' speech and writing, Appiah and rooted cosmopolitanism as a mode of being in the world, and other subjects too. How broad ranging but incisive was the discussion on the part of both men.

As I watched and listened, one prevailing thought struck me: the difficulty of bracketing significantly our received notions of identity in relation to issues which implicate them. Once you get past the performance clowns Loury alludes to, how does, say, a Jew with roots in the Holocaust or a black American with roots in his or her own history think past his or her own formative experience to, in Loury's words, "get it right" as if that was some attainable metaphysical status? So one can speak easily enough of intellectuals, in a sense, "getting past themselves" to "get it right", but my experience tells me that where issues are not either or, not black or white, but, are, rather, difficult and gray and emotion laden and intractable and implicate the existential, people largely stand where they sit, as the saying goes.

Underscoring these, to me, perplexities, is the very social phenomenology of this exchange. I was never once unaware that a highly educated black man who I know to be from the South side of Chicago, was speaking with a highly educated white man, both social scientists, that they both have some Ivy League cachet, that they have been personally and intellectually close to the ideas of neo conservatism and Leo Strauss, and are now democratic/progressive. That is partly why I think Teles is correct in his paraphrase of Strauss's idea that strategy is an inescapable and integral aspect of intellectuals' communication, while yet I also think that to an extent Loury is correct that, still and all, intellectuals, all of us, can think our way to better answers and views even if at the cost of unloosing the very moorings of our identity. (I wonder what Loury would say about class based as opposed to race based affirmative action, surely an idea whose time has come?) These polarities exist in relation to each other; and intellectuals' task is to navigate their shoals as informed by their role as they see it, their objectives and ideals--none of which is easy and all of which, as Teles reminds us, imparts, necessarily, strategic imperatives which require thoughtful judgment, distinction drawing and calibration.

Fish's school prescription is no answer, because, as Teles rightly points out, there the fundamental distinction is between off and on campus, the latter prescribing a set of disinterested norms consistent with being a pedagogue.

To end this little note with a bromide: there are no clear answers; existence for anyone mindful is fraught with complexities and diversity; and one tries to do the best one can. Which bromide does not say very much, but perhaps--as a version of Keats's idea of negative capability-- in a modest way it captures some of the spirit of these gentlemen's highly nuanced, most thoughtful and most thought provoking remarks.


Itzik Basman

Namazu 12-17-2008 11:17 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
Great conversation, and timely. Intellectuals and independent thinking are more vital than ever in an era when journalists fancy themselves commentators, the finance-o-tainment industry mostly serves to inflate the croupier's cut, think tank policy pieces are thinly-disguised job applications, political careers are springboards to careers in lobbying or investment banking, Sunday AM guests carry water for as many interests as a NASCAR driver has sponsors [Why not wear stickers?], and everyone (I mean everyone), is dreaming of a book and movie deal. Tribal identity is a profoundly stupid reason to pull your punches: we all come from Africa anyway. Cherish your independence, professors! Not having to whore oneself is a rare and precious thing these days.

Flaw 12-17-2008 11:21 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
Nice post.

Unit 12-18-2008 12:44 AM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
Loury at his best!

Suppose that you did have an identity and some allegiances, shouldn't you care even more that your side gets it right? A little long-run prospective will convince you that it is indeed strategic to "get it right", not just because of your own glory, but because of the credibility of your side of the argument down the stretch. So the people an intellectual should be speaking to is primarily the people on his/her side, not to cheer-lead, but to point out the pitfalls in the argument the his/her side is making.

banco 12-18-2008 04:50 AM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
I liked Steve's argument for why conservative intellectuals should behave like hacks.

opensociety 12-18-2008 06:59 AM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
This supposed dilemma between intellectual honesty and strategic calculus on behalf of some group evaporates quite easily with a dose of humility. Just how many votes does one expect one's speech act to change? It would be hubris to guess at the unintended consequences of one's act, or of anyone else's. A recognition of this is hinted at in the reference to Frum's dilemma. It may be unpleasant for intellectuals to doubt their individual importance, or to acknowledge an inability to guess at it, but it leaves one free to be a thinking individual. And anyway, doesn't one 'join' a political group because one enjoys the company of like-minded individuals? How can loyalty beyond a similarity of ideas be implied here? If one finds one's opinions diverging from those of the group, it should be a moment for self-congratulation for having thought for one's self. Loyalty to a group, despite one's intellectual pride, is absurd.

Ray 12-18-2008 08:16 AM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by bkjazfan (Post 99384)
Yes, I am probably a simpleton but I think there is one race: the human one.

You think so???

Huh! I guess that's a wrap on the ol' race issue!

What else do you think?!?

nikkibong 12-18-2008 10:00 AM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
from nikkibong, dingalinker extraordinaire:

http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/165...0:12&out=00:22

Uhurusasa 12-18-2008 01:08 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
if there is nothing so uncommon as common-sense, then,what must be common is uncommon-sense! who is the intellectual in this scheme of things? in the land of the blind, the one-eyed people are having fun!? do intellectuals and/or the academy have some monopoly on common-sense?

i think reasoning more likely leads to rationale, than to TRUTH!! powerful reasoning may at-least minimize errors in thought! the road to hell is not paved with good results!

how often do intellectuals agree? do they systematically analyze the problems of life, and then follow through with clear and effective solutions? or, are intellectuals the masters of some kind of collective confusion?

the intellectual has the greater power of knowing as opposed to the non-intellectual who is limited to the power of feeling? we humans are inferring creatures, and those who seem to do it better than others are our intellectual elite!

will the elite, and should the elite act any differently in the age of obama? i doubt it, in both cases!

why should intellectuals, of all stripes, do any more than they have always done because of the age of obama? all of our experiences seems to lead us to such different conclusions. what truth to what power?? the war of ideas is just a continuing power struggle!

euphemism, public servant; servants serve their masters. how intelligent, articulate, and clean does anybody need to be, to figure out who is serving whom. oh, but that would take common-sense!

the state is packed,full of intellectuals(i guess lawyers count)! look at the great shape the country(and the world for that matter) is in! Rothbard, Keynes, and Friedman are names tossed about as hubs of intellectual thought, and the wheels keep spinning!

the professional intellectuals generally have the unique position of talking, writing, and teaching without having any policy decisions blow-up in their faces. going from theory to practice is where we keep winding up in a ditch!

is there some pattern of trade-offs that keeps taking place in politics that somebody doesn't wants the public to know, and what has intellectualism and the age of obama got to do with it?? who is analyzing world problems with enough clarity to almost precipitate solutions! most people seem to be "shaking that water". i repeat, over and over again, "every age is a dark age", full of intellectuals worshiping the light of their small candles outside at noon on an clear day,oblivious to the light of the sun!!! the human-condition is often obscured by glitter and technology!

change indicates a from-to relationship. going from bad to worse is change. i do hope things change for the better!! bring on the effective intellectuals, that i agree with! but the one constant seems to be change,and my treasure may be your trash,so where do we start sorting out the multiple goals and interest of mass society?

stay tuned,for my three-phase plan, for "A Less Imperfect Union".

Francoamerican 12-18-2008 01:47 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
Interesting dialogue. Now that I know Glenn Loury has a Straussian ancestry, I can understand "where he comes from" (stupid expression, but c'est le cas de le dire). Fortunately, "once a Straussian, always a Straussian," is as far from the truth as the thought of Leo Strauss.

I too find all the talk about "identity"--racial, ethnic, religious, cultural, sexual etc.--tedious beyond words. And intellectuals, as both speakers seem to agree, could spend their time more profitably talking about the truth--as they see it from the standpoint of their various disciplines. In any case, people are generally more interesting, or duller, or more disturbing, or more whatever than their so-called identities. As Pascal said somewhere: the more intellect (esprit) one has, the more individuals one perceives. Or something like that.

Markos 12-18-2008 03:18 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
Once the McCain-Palin train left the station it became of urgent importance that it not reach its intended destination.

grits-n-gravy 12-19-2008 08:50 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
One more thing Milton Friedman was right about is the need to get rid of the Federal Reserve System. I wish Glenn would direct his intellectual firepower in a full-frontal critique of that tyrannical institution.

a Duoist 12-19-2008 11:56 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
An American academic economist who knows his Strauss and his Friedman? Very impressive, no less so than his obvious concern and sensibility for the honest inquiring role of a public intellectual in American letters.

Best diavlog ever. Congratulations.

ledocs 12-21-2008 09:47 AM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
This discussion was about interesting things, but I'm not sure that it was itself very interesting. No example was sought of an intellectual speaking out against the ostensible interest of his political party and having a demonstrably deleterious effect, whether on the immediate interests of his party or on events on the broader canvas.

On the Stanley Fish thing, suppose an intellectual believes that it is impossible to separate politics from the life of the mind? So then in his teaching he juxtaposes this point of view, the one he holds, with the idea that there is such a thing as apolitical objective inquiry? Presumably, that's OK with Fish. But now suppose that the same person presents both points of view but then makes it clear where he comes down and why? It seems to me that to condemn this kind of behavior, which, after all, must be fairly common in the academy, would be a terrible violation of academic freedom. I haven't read the Fish book, but I read his columns in the NYT, and he often seems somewhat muddle-headed to me.

gto47 12-21-2008 04:42 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
Glenn is such a down to earth guy. Never gets offended or angry. There are some very hard questions here. Nobody would hold flip flopping against Glenn except for partisan extremists who wouldn't listen in the first place because he makes too much sense.

grits-n-gravy 12-21-2008 07:15 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
Steve posed some very good questions to Glenn Loury in the last segment that, unfortunately, weren't answered cogently, at least to my satisfaction. One was how to frame the problem of racial disparities in the criminnal justice system in nonracial ways; another was where and/or to whom do black intellectuals make the argument for the end of race. All-n-all, my feeling is that Glenn overstates the problem of group pressure within the so-called black community. He failed to demonstrate how group loyalty - to the degree it exist - is a problem of such importance that an economist should be so preocuppied with it.

Dee Sharp 12-22-2008 04:11 AM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
So Steven is amused by conservative attempts to keep their team together, given that his team agrees on all substantive issues. Has he been paying any attention to politics? Most of the shifts in Obama's positions after the primaries reflect the differences within the party. In particular, a substantial majority of Democrats disagree with the party leadership on immigration issues, which might explain why his statements on the issue to Hispanic audiences were quite different from those to Black audiences.

sharkdog 12-22-2008 06:11 AM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by BornAgainDemocrat (Post 99380)
“Speaking truth to power” strikes me as too grandiose a self-description for any serious intellectual to adopt; it makes you look ridiculous or narcissistically self-absorbed Chomsky being a good example.

In any case I think that Glenn Loury is right on this one. He is no more “a black man” than is Barack Obama except in the most superficial sense. Once you start to get acquainted with either of them – or anybody – you see a unique human being. After that the only thing that counts -- the only thing you see unless you are blind-- is the quality of his or her intellect, moral sensibility, political judgment, etc. In other words, the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

Maybe I am wrong but because he is so uniquely talented I think Obama may be leading us, or at least a lot of white Americans, into a post-racial period, at least in our politics.

Whether it will last and for how long is another matter I suppose.

The real sign that our politics is in a post-racial period would be when a black person runs for ofiice and no black person votes for him because he is black, and no non-black person votes for the other guy because they are not Black. With 94% of the black population going with their guy, it is beyond reasonable dispute that identity politics is still alive and well. Idenity politics is insanely stupid.

grits-n-gravy 12-22-2008 03:10 PM

Re: Intellectuals in the Age of Obama
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by sharkdog (Post 99613)
The real sign that our politics is in a post-racial period would be when a black person runs for ofiice and no black person votes for him because he is black, and no non-black person votes for the other guy because they are not Black. With 94% of the black population going with their guy, it is beyond reasonable dispute that identity politics is still alive and well. Idenity politics is insanely stupid.

Cute statement, but an entirely inaccurate inference. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and a panoply of other black candidates for President over the years have not received 90+ % of the black vote. Whites who think blacks are voting for other blacks simply out of racial loyalty is a sign that we are still mired in racial politics. We will truly be in post-racial period, politically speaking, when this stereotype no longer prevails AND a black man (not a black superman) with two black parents can be elected without having to run away from his blackness! That will be the REAL sign.


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