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Tweetstorm on why I don't say "neoliberalism." Potentially way more interesting post on this subject if I bring in hairstyle (not a pejorative) and hallway-classroom and real life. Someday.

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Have this and at least another post to add to my previous discussion of "tribal." I'll reiterate right now that the term "tribal" when used for modern social identity is very wrong, and you shouldn't use it unless you're referring to actual tribes or clans.* But I do want to take better stock of the positive appeal of the term, why people reach for it and aren't readily coming up with alternatives.

 photo Gathering Of The Tribes.jpg

One quick answer is that, especially for those who apply it to themselves, "tribe" is a much warmer term than "class" is, is much warmer than any other available term except for "family," in fact is in use precisely because it suggests a family-like bond but can be used for groups larger than the family, can be used for strangers with whom one might nonetheless sense a strong attachment, a feeling of being potentially at home with them — but "tribe" also carries the potential of leaving you alone and apart and under threat when you're not with your tribe or family but are instead dumped into what feels like someone else's, or in a shack in that family's back yard, or you're born into the wrong one.

So "tribe" here feels more emotionally apt than the other available terms and doesn't have the negative connotations that adhere to words like "clan" or "caste" or "ethnic group" or "religion" or "nation."

Prior to reading my first post, Mark Sinker, who was busy celebrating his birthday instead, emailed me this comment based on the title and the first few sentences:

On Friday I was interviewing and filming my old friend Liz Naylor... She was describing how the rock press in the 70s — and the free press and the alt press and the zine press — were her substitute for going to university, basically. She came from a suffocatingly cloistered working-class home in Hyde, which is a small satellite town of Manchester (also world capital of serial killers: the Moors Murderers and Harold Shipman). She grew up in a house with no books; no access to "culture" in the sense of films or music or art or anything. School was no help: it just amplified the announcement that if any of this stuff exists — books or films or music or art — it is NOT FOR THE LIKE OF YOU, LIZ. In desperation, she set off for libraries, independent bookshops and record shops, Fall gigs etc. The rock press, she says, is "how I located my tribe" — meaning (at first bite) other feminist lesbians of mischievous punky bent, committed to a lifelong battle with self-destructive urges, and (at second) always somewhat in truculent contention with any group she appears to be declaring herself part of.

If she'd said "The rock press is how I located my class," it would immediately have necessitated a second level of explanation: because surely (or anyway at first listen) her "class" is what she was ESCAPING from.
My immediate response to Mark, unsurprisingly, was that her family is what Liz was escaping from as well, and also "This is how I located my tribe" is akin to "This is how I located my self" (via locating my true kin in opposition to my mere biological kin), this is where I live, this is true vibrancy. Whereas, "This is how I located my class," would've missed this resonance, that she'd found her home, her people, "class" being too obviously contingent, being somewhere she's stuck, maybe, or something she might leave or lose — contingent of course being EXACTLY WHERE SHE IS, imo. (Her "truculent opposition" might be precisely because she feels a familial bond, hence somewhat trapped again, but (also) might be because she's not in a class but in class systems, which give us the background feeling that we're behaving out of continual choice and that locations are precarious.) "Tribe" is false here, but it is in use precisely because it seems to explain the socioemotional pull of the group.

Fwiw, this is one way social mobility happens, through the leaving and finding of cultures.

One thing about actual tribes is that they're fundamentally not a choice. Maybe in some instances you could defect from one tribe to another, or one tribe could split off from another; but my assumption is that mostly you were either born into one or you married into it, with occasional people being kidnapped into it.
Liz made a heartfelt choice, almost a romantic one, like modern marriage — but in a sense by calling it a tribe she cast it as not a choice: perhaps the tribe she discovered would have been her one-and-only tribe even had she not discovered it. Without it, she'd have wandered in the wilderness. Those were her people, even if she hadn't found them. Of course, like modern romantic marriage, she could actually go through a break up, and likely will, likely did. But when she found it, it felt like forever.

Actually, in a clip that went up on Mark's Kickstarter site, what she says is, "there was just this real sense of survival, of needing to kind of go out in the world and find my tribe, find my people," which is a bit different from saying "how I located my tribe": the first makes it a search, puts the tribe in her future, with perhaps a sense of creativity, not just looking for her tribe but helping to bring one into existence. (This makes my riff above on the "one-and-only" even more questionable than it already was, since Liz may never have exactly found her "tribe." Mark says, "i'd have to check if elsewhere she says she found her tribe — i think she did mention it more than once." Also, "she's using the word slightly flippantly anyway (to mean, 'it's absurd to imagine such a thing could exist but what else do i call it?')."**

* * *

The next post will return to what got me going last time, the use of the term "tribal" by Krugman, Klein, DeLong et al. to identify problems, "tribe" not being altogether a pejorative, but "tribal" being used to connote an impediment, something that prevents people from seeing clearly and acting for the overall public or general benefit.***

But in the meantime I'm pasting in the rest of my email convo with my buddies Mark Sinker, Luc Sante, Don Allred, and John Wójtowicz:

Email, the Wild Frontier )

*Is "tribe" even the right word for tribes? That'll also be briefly taken up in a future post, the potential lumping together of disparate social forms and social groups in one category — not just "tribe," but "Latino" and so on. —"Cultural appropriation," though, isn't my beef with the word "tribal." The word's mainly being used as a metaphor, anyway; the problem is that it's the wrong metaphor. See the June "tribal" post for part one of my beef.

**Longer quote:

I had this sense somehow that there was this, loads of information out there, there was loads of interesting things in the world, and, you know, I kind of didn't know how to get to it. I think I sort of knew my own world was, felt a bit impoverished... I think there was just this real sense of survival, of needing to kind of go out in the world and find my tribe, find my people. That's easier said than done in Hyde, because it really was, there was one shop that stocked music press.
Later in the clip:

"I knew my tribe was something to do with music."

***I am hoping this post will inform that one, the sense that "familial" or "tribal" bonds feel harder to break than do "class" ones, that families and tribes claim more allegiance — even though these aren't actual familial or tribal bonds, we're not as attached or forced into them, and they're continually broken, though without this breakage necessarily helping us to move onward from the world they give us: the social systems tend to hold us even though the group identifications don't.

****E.g. Bob Dylan "She knows there's no success like failure, and failure's no success at all."

*****She mentions "grammar school," which in England is a type of secondary school, whereas in American usage the term refers to elementary school (roughly ages 6 through 11), the term now fading out.
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So many days, so few posts.

Look, I'm really a comment-thread guy more than a blog guy, but making supposedly correct triage decisions not to engage in various Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, etc. convos has left me w/out much public presence, while creating a lot of "notes" for posts here I should "write."

Not in the order they will, could, might, or won't appear:

--Grand opening for the hallway-classroom link and tag. I created them several months ago but have so far never properly introduced or promoted them. Perhaps there will be a banner and balloons.

--Tribal 2, the strong reasons people probably have for using the term "tribal" in a positive sense, like, regarding themselves even (which still doesn't mean you should use the word if you intend to engage in actual for real smart thinking, esp. pertaining to current political and social grouping(s)).

--Tribal 3, the strong reasons people like Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, Ezra Klein, and a vast ever-multiplying et al. including probably you use the term "tribal" as a pejorative to denote one of the many things that fuck up and make stupid the current political etc. discourse (which still doesn't mean you or Krugman, DeLong, Klein, et al. should use the word if you intend to engage in actual for real smart thinking regarding current political and social grouping(s)). Paraphrases Upton Sinclair.

--Dead Lester 3. Yes, everyone is clamoring for this. </sarcasm>

--Dead Lester 4. One of the Dead Lester posts will be about why I think Paul Nelson never adequately responded to Irwin Silber. This post will be better received than the other one.

--Replication, in regard to understanding the utterances etc. of human beings other than oneself and perhaps other than yourself, too. This will be fun, I hope. It may refer back to the Mark Sinker adjunct thread that for a couple of years now I've been promising to add more to. The post may or may not refer to The Crisis Of Replication in the so-called social sciences, though that part of the post may be less fun.


--Oh My Girl wtf. ("Windy Day.")

--Cahiers du Cinema, Manny Farber. This post will not be as interesting as you were anticipating.

--Who is our most distant animal relative? This post will not answer the posed question, instead will be a meta meditation on taking sides, developing a rooting interest, etc., in which I will try to endeavor not to take sides or root for anything, except maybe will root for rooting and for taking sides, despite my failure to take sides, or root, in the post, unless I do take sides.

--That political discourse appears to batter through, demolish, and utterly flatten the wall between hallway and classroom while being the stupidest, most screwed-up, and destructive discourse in the world would seem to create a challenge to my assertion that (e.g.) rockcrits are being audacious and intellectually strong in not honoring the boundary between hallway and classroom. (The previous sentence leans heavily on the phrases "appears to" and "would seem to.")

--Is there a way for mathematics to finally click for me so that I might someday actually get it and enjoy it? (See the middle of Dave's post, here.)

--Yardbirds raveups.

--Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm." (Inspired by Edd Hurt's excellent comments on the "Antirockism Is Rockism" thread.)

--Interesting that Mark says "even the Ramones" (all bands being coalitions) given that the Ramones may be the epitome of a Bowie-Roxy-like "Oh oh oh, look look look, see the disparate elements we are combining," e.g., "See us do power chords with Ronettes melodies" and "Watch us do Dylan existential angst as if it's standard teen heartbreak" or "Watch us do Stones confronting-the-inner-fascist as dumb three-chord la-la-la" etc. etc. (This is a passage from a 4,000-word, rambling, very poorly integrated email I wrote and never sent because I hadn't finished it or remotely come close to figuring out what I was saying; perhaps a readable 1,500 words can be extracted from this. Potentially featuring Earth, Wind & Fire and the Pointer Sisters, who actually appear on a Kantner-Slick song.)

--Is "Only The Good Bits" as bad as "Too Many Bad Bits"? (Perhaps in regard to Paul Morley, and perhaps a continuation of PBS Revisited.)

--Why do we remember the past but not the future?

--Truffaut and Kogan (more of PBS Revisited).

--Wittgenstein doesn't buy into the dichotomy between particulars and universals. (This probably can be applied to the replication thing, now that I think about it.)


--I'm a comment-thread guy. I practically invented the comment thread. So why are even the good comment threads so killingly mediocre? Why is the Internet such a disappointment?
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Stop using the word "tribal" for modern political and social groupings.

1. The groupings in question actually act much more like classes than like tribes. (Yes, I'm putting the matter crudely and confusedly.)

2. Setting aside its potential racism towards Native Americans — "clan" or "family" would be just as wrong conceptually — the term mislabels a part as a whole. That is, a tribe is a society with an internal social structure, whereas groups like "lower-middle-class whites" and "college-educated blacks" and "Republicans" and "Democrats" and so on are subgroups within a society, subgroups that relate to one another to form social structures.

Not that tribes themselves never had relations with one another. (I can't say I know much about it, either the structure of, say, the different Native (North) American tribes and Amazonian tribes, etc., or the structure of the interplay between tribes.) "Inside" and "outside" are never absolute social distinctions. But caveats such as this one shouldn't be used to obscure the basic mistake built into the metaphor "tribal."

3. The deep basic mistake that concerns me most is the idea that we have social class, here, as one kind of social relation, but that then there's this other stuff, "culture," there, that works differently from class. In fact, instead, class and culture are so deeply intertwined that "intertwined" itself is much too weak a word.

Obviously, all my points here are what on Wikipedia they call "stubs." This one has the most stubble of all. To say briefly what needs several hundred thousand words: what we tend to call "economic class" must have a cultural component or else class mobility both up and down would be too easy and desirable. Embedded in this idea is that e.g. those "in" the "lower" classes get positive status, and meaning, and love and excitement and a feeling of at least being somewhat "at home," right where they are, even though where and who "they are" is actually always necessarily slippery and at risk and even though they don't necessarily conceive where "they are" as belonging to or inside a class. ("In" got scare quotes above for being a problematic word.) The classes nonetheless make up the landscape in which people find (or look for) themselves. So a class isn't altogether unlike an ethnic group. But it is fundamentally different nonetheless in that to be in (or near) a class is to be part of a social structure that relates you to those who are in or near other classes.

That is, people don't fit snugly within a class. That's not how modern class works. They live instead within class systems, social structures, some of which are fairly ad hoc. But it's within these systems that they work out who they are, their creativity and their loves as well as conflicts and oppression and resentments. And they don't find movement all that easy, or inviting.

(To add another circular or elliptical twist or tangle to all this, as the world gets ever more cosmopolitan, ethnic groups themselves are more and more acting like classes (even more than they always did), so are in relation to other groups as part of a structure, rather than as separate structures in themselves, but paradoxically appear more and more as a choice, with at least some leeway, much greater than in the past, as to whether or how much one deploys one's ethnic identity (of course depending on circumstances).)

4. But most crucially and controversially I'll say that, while upper-middle-working class or some near variant on that is probably "right," i.e., is the basic structure of modern "advanced" societies, such classes often aren't the classes of our most immediate experience, and often aren't the classes that are in most immediate effect. So e.g. being a "freak" or a "feminist" or a "progressive" or a "leftist" or "indie" or "intellectual" may not just feel more crucial and more like an identity than being precariously "middle class" does, it puts you in everyday relation to other social groupings. For example, back in my high school, freaks were in relation to normies, to liberals, and to greasers so were part of a social structure that included these other groups. (And yes, I'm claiming such groupings really do structure a good deal of social life, as do the everyday adult groupings that are much vaguer and more ad hoc than the ones in high school.) Again, it's not that you feel at home in your particular class or group — most students felt estranged and many were unaffiliated — it's that such groupings constitute the social landscape and affect and direct your social choices. (If you're an "outsider" you're nonetheless in this social structure, which tells you you're outside the available groups, but nearer to some than to others, and influenced by all.) My basic point here is that to understand such groups, e.g. "freaks," you have to think of them as CLASSES not TRIBES.

Items 5 through 14: the sideways middle class, and bad explanations )

Ezra Klein’s "How politics makes us stupid" )
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In an egregious breach of self-discipline, I posted on an Ann Powers facebook thread* whose subject was "rockism." Given that the thread was mainly stupidity and floundering, and it didn't jostle anything loose in my own thinking, I fear that there was little useful I achieved. My justification, if there is one, is that the stupidity I refer to is relative, and I genuinely believe that if someone somewhere takes in and masters my ideas regarding the "authenticity" thing it would save her several years of wheel-spinning.

Antirockists have never had the slightest actual interest in the people they call "rockists" or in the phenomena they call "rockism." So the conversation has been about defeating phantom enemies rather than about understanding the world.** This makes antirockists frustrating but it doesn't always make them boring, since their beating up on "rockism" is an attempt to use a crowbar or pole vault to get out from under something — even if they won't figure out what it is in themselves and their world they're trying to surmount.

This is what I wrote. I do urge you to click the two Rules Of The Game columns I link down at the bottom of my third comment. Might help your wheelbarrow gain traction.

Antirockism is just rockism with a few of the words changed )
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Missed most of February (and most of everything else). Ash-B is the great discovery here, a strong and throaty rapper like Choi Sam but with a tone that's more supple and subtle. Will say more when I post my 2014 albums list. "The Song Of Love" is a low-rent slow dance from Core Contents Media (yeah, it's not Core Contents Media anymore, but in my dark heart it always will be). "Yumeno Ukiyoni Saitemina" scrunches together two acts I never really got and it's catchy. Azin's the sort of respectable-type well-controlled quality singer I always intend to be indifferent towards except every year there's another one who gets to me. I can't tell if Rihanna's goofing. I'd have called it "Bitch Betta Have My Ice Cream." Red Velvet take the cake. Christine and the Queens sing "Christine." ZZBEst kinda go soul horny in the early evening. Lizzy trots. GFriend are trying to sound like early SNSD and kinda do. They don't dance remotely as well, unfortunately. Jason Aldean does rote party roteness with good guitars. J'sais pas, I dunno.

Looking forward to Crayon Pop, Miss A, Blady, Exo. What'd I miss?

1. Ash-B "매일"
2. The Seeya "The Song Of Love"
3. Momoiro Clover Z vs KISS "Yumeno Ukiyoni Saitemina"
4. Azin "Delete"
5. Rihanna "Bitch Better Have My Money"
6. Red Velvet "Ice Cream Cake"
7. Christine and the Queens "Christine"
8. ZZBEst "랄랄라"
9. Lizzy "Not An Easy Girl"
10. GFriend "Glass Bead"
11. Jason Aldean "Just Gettin' Started"
12. Brigitte "J'sais pas"

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I've been wanting to comment on an ever-increasing number of Mark Sinker posts, especially this on Freaky Trigger where he continues a convo (prior installment here) that, among other things, draws on my hallway-classroom metaphor. Here's a preliminary map (or something) of how I might start responding, when I get the chance.*

1. I'll start with the question, "What would Mark say that he's saying here?" although, in order for this to be an exercise in understanding rather than typing, I'll try wherever possible to avoid using the words he uses.

Or you should try, if you want to anticipate me in taking a shot at it. Also, "saying" is a generic here that includes "doing."

2. You can walk and chew gum at the same time.

In other words, if I say or do A, that doesn't necessarily mean I'm not also saying or doing B, C, D, E, and F, including some K's and L's and M's I'm unaware of.

3. A special instance of the principle "You can walk and chew gum at the same time" is my attack on the hallway-classroom split.

The split goes, in the hallway you talk to and about each other; in the classroom you talk about some third thing: the subject matter. My claim is that good rock critics don't buy into this divide, so they refuse to honor the boundary between hallway and classroom.

4. I'm an alienation addict.

Notes )

*Posting here on my lj since I don't know if Freaky Trigger has fixed its spam filter problems, which had been delaying the posting of comments on old threads.
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Take a very simple Wittgensteinian language-game, e.g., a bricklayer says "BRICK" and the bricklayer's assistant brings her the brick.* All of this is part of the language-game: not just the utterance "BRICK," but also the assistant bringing the brick — so the actions as well as the sound. You don't have one part being language and another part not. It's all language, and if you leave out the actions it's not complete.**

Of course, at times the assistant could understand that he's to bring a brick, yet he chooses not to, in defiance or as a joke; or he may be prevented from doing so, say by an injury; and that doesn't mean the language-game is incomplete in these instances. As long as the practice is there, the established practice of "BRICK" and an assistant bringing the brick, the language-game is in effect. And defiance and humor are expressible in this language, too, even though the language only contains one word, the command "BRICK." (Suppose, somehow, there's miscommunication in the game. Or some misunderstanding, the assistant incorrectly thinking that it's only when the bricklayer has her arm raised as she's uttering "BRICK" that he's to bring the brick. Or maybe sometimes the bricklayer doesn't mean it, and the assistant has to figure out when. A game doesn't have to be conducted with absolutely certainty to be a game; a language doesn't have to have absolute certainty and consistency to be a language.)

We can define "language-games" as being, more or less, "human social practices." The terms "language-game" and "social practice" are near synonyms, language being so ubiquitous. But let's see what happens if we go further. Let's get rid of "more or less." Let's say that all human social practices are language-games, whether or not any word is actually spoken in the practice, and whether or not all the parties even know a language. Yes, at least one of them — the parent of a baby, for instance — will have to know a language; but the other(s) won't have to. So parental action and baby wails and goos and parental response are all in the category "language-game." A baby being initiated into parent-child social behavior is a baby being initiated into language.***

By this definition, all musical events, including the "nonverbal," are nonetheless in some language-game or other. This doesn't mean "can be made part of a language-game by translating musical sounds into words or by describing the music in words." It means that the language-game includes musical sounds as they are, and we can take the sounds and see their role in particular games — particular social practices — just as we can take the utterances and actions in the "BRICK" language and see their roles in that particular practice. In any event, we refuse to give the social practices we call "music" the special status of being "nonverbal." They aren't.

Motive here is to tease out what might be usable in Mark's glimmer of an idea )

Footnotes (as opposed to musical notes?) )
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Emailed this to Dave and Mark the day after the election:

As for yesterday's election, it went even worse than I'd feared (though so far it looks as if the Dems held onto the governor's office in Colorado, though just barely). My only thought, which is not necessarily correct as far as winning elections goes, but:

Of the commercials I saw (mainly while trying to watch YouTube; watching, say, Spanish-language TV could've been a different story), the commercials for Mark Udall, the Democrat, and loser, in the Colorado senate race, mainly attacked his opponent on social issues (Gardner's long opposition to abortion, his confusion around birth control, etc.), while the Republican commercials, for Cory Gardner, consistently attacked Udall on his economic policy. Of course what the Repub ads said was wrong, but that's not my point. We Democrats need to be running against the Repubs on economic issues. But — this is my opinion and my wish, and I'm sure that lots of people would consider it unrealistic — this means that at some point the Dems
have to decide that a significant portion of the electorate isn't too busy or stupid to understand some basic, comprehensible, but counterintuitive principles of macroeconomics, if we're willing to take minutes at a time to teach them. Otherwise, the Dems have no good response when the Repubs simulate being responsible and thoughtful by attacking us for running up debt and deficit and accuse us of burdening the future with our current profligacy etc. etc. Of course, most Dems don't know macro either (and I hardly do, but I've got some sense from Krugman of the basic principles), and whom I mean by "Dems" and “Democrats" and "we" and "us" in this paragraph isn't altogether consistent...
This means that a significant number of Democratic leaders themselves need to understand a few core macroeconomic principles and be willing to communicate them to voters, and a significant number of us rank-and-file Democrats need to understand those principles and communicate them to other Democrats and to the independents and Republicans who are willing to listen.

I'm not claiming to understand macroeconomics enough to truly evaluate the core principles, but I think I know a few of them:

(1) If, in order to save money and pay down debt, everyone is cutting back expenditures at once, none of them will succeed in cutting their own debt. This is because your spending is my income and my spending is your income; so when a lot of people are cutting back, your and my and everyone's respective incomes will fall as far or farther than our cutbacks, we'll turn out to be worse off, and the economy will go into a depression.

(2) In these conditions, cutting taxes on private industry and the very rich will have little or no stimulating effect. This is because private industry and the rich are not going to invest in factories, goods, and services when demand is falling. Instead, they'll sock their savings away.

(3) But a government can counteract the debt spiral and the savings glut by stepping up and spending money. This will get the economy back on its feet.

(4) In the conditions I described in 1 and 2 (so, in these conditions, not in all conditions), this extra government spending isn't going to cause interest rates to rise or cause excess inflation. Now, not having studied macro, I don't claim to understand all the reasons here. But, for example (I'm quoting Paul Krugman), since the private sector has excess savings that can't be invested, government borrowing "gives some of these excess savings a place to go — and in the process expands overall demand, and hence GDP. It does NOT crowd out private spending, at least not until the excess supply of savings has been sopped up." (See here and here.)

(5) Overall (so, now not just talking about current conditions), if the economy is growing faster than interest on government debt, we're not burdening future generations by government borrowing or by deficits. (Which doesn't mean we should always run deficits. But that's a different matter.) I'm sure I'm being too simplistic in the way I've written this point. But I hope it gives a gist and that it's correct.

As I've said, I'm not claiming the expertise to evaluate the ideas I've written here (which are basically my attempts to copy what I've read). But the thing is, it isn't that Republicans and pseudo-responsible centrists have counter-arguments to these points. They don't know that the points exist.* Neither do most lawmakers, and neither does most of the populace. And neither do most of the people likely to read my livejournal, I'm guessing. (Not that many people read my livejournal.)

Anyway, while we may have the constitutional right to be ignorant, it's time we weren't. And billions of people will suffer and millions will die if we don't decide to learn something, and communicate what we know.

*There are exceptions, of course. Ben Bernanke is a Republican, for instance.
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Okay, "consensus" isn't and shouldn't be an exact synonym for "unanimity," but the way I use it and dictionaries define it is far closer to "unanimity" than to "some people sometimes have similar opinions on something with some overlap as to who has similar opinions and some overlap as to what the opinions are." The latter seems to be how Robert Christgau and Glenn McDonald and Jack Thompson and probably a myriad others are using it in response to this year's Pazz & Jop poll.

I'm raising this issue not because I think we should always stick with the meanings that were in effect back when there were hula hoops but rather because the word "consensus" in its hula-hoop days (and potentially still) does something good that the new, added usage could well obliterate, which is to describe the process or behavior of an entire group, as a group.

That in the previous Pazz & Jop both Christgau and I and a handful of others put Neil Young's Americana in our respective top tens doesn't mean he and I and they have some sort of consensus on the album. We're not acting as a group and our coming together in this way doesn't meaningfully constitute a group (though maybe the ten of us could get together once a year for a party or something).

I use "consensus" in two basic ways:

(1) Regarding how a group makes a decision, to decide by "consensus" means that everyone or near everyone in the room signs off on the decision. Not everyone necessarily will be 100 percent happy with all aspects of the decision: it might be arrived at through discussion, argument, negotiation, and compromise. But everyone is on board with it. If someone disagrees strongly with a position or course of action, that person in effect has a veto. The word "consensus" here specifically and precisely distinguishes this mode of decision-making from other forms of decision-making, such as a vote in which the majority or plurality of voters carry the day; or a decision by a manager, or owner. In a consensus decision, the process by which the decision is reached may include straw polls, but a minority or faction can't be overridden in the way that it can be in a decision by majority or plurality vote or in a command decision.

Decisions by juries are often by consensus. Decisions by legislatures rarely are.

P&J isn't an election or a decision (though it has the feel of an odd combination of election and opinion poll), but you can see how talking about consensus or lack of consensus among the voters does violence to this meaning of "consensus."

(2) Regarding people's opinions or attributes, a consensus would mean something like "the general opinion of a community or group." So if 97% of climate scientists think global warming is real and man-made, then there's consensus. 80% wouldn't be enough to claim consensus (IMO), even if those 80% are right and the other 20% have no good reason to disagree.

That 65% of P&J voters didn't put Yeezus in their top ten (and presumably it wasn't number one for most who did, so let's say that somewhere between 80% and 95% of voters didn't make it their number one (I don't want to spend the time getting an exact number)), shows how ridiculous it is to say that the strong showing of Yeezus is a sign of some sort of consensus. (And it'd just be babble to turn this around and say that there's a consensus that e.g. most albums outside the top ten aren't the album of the year.)

I think the reason that "consensus" has wandered to include a new meaning — vaguely, to note that there are some criss-crossing similarities among some individuals, some things in common — is that there isn't some other shorthand that's available to wave at such similarities. So the word "consensus" gets to be the shorthand, even if this new meaning takes out the far more useful old meanings. But a shorthand is no good if there isn't real, actual consensus as to what the shorthand is short for. If there isn't general understanding, you shouldn't use the shorthand, unless there's at least some common sense of how to take the disagreements further. (E.g., there's certainly no general agreement as to whether Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are real hip-hop, but people know that there's no general agreement here, and using the word "hip-hop" doesn't paper over such disagreements.) In any event — this is a somewhat different complaint — "consensus" is becoming a buzzword, people waving at ideas they've not actually worked out, trying to quickly communicate thoughts they don't yet have.
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Posted this comment over at rockcritics.com:

Xgau likes to imply ideas rather than spell them out, which I find frustrating. When he says "the atomization of taste known as the long tail may have a cutoff" I think he means a cutoff in time (it's the atomization not the tail that's being cut off), and what he means by cutting off the atomization is that the trend towards more things in the tail and fewer things in the nontail will slacken and eventually reverse. What it is that's being atomized isn't as clear: year-end lists? poll results? critical taste? consumer taste? And — though he doesn't state this at all — I'm pretty sure that one of the things on his mind is that there needs to be enough concentrated critical support for talented but commercially borderline artists so that at least some of these artists will earn a living and a few will get significant attention. Something like that. And this means that the critical "consensus"* has to include support for artists who aren't getting enough consumer support. And also on his mind might be that consumer support for musical artists can't be totally atomized or no one would earn a living at music.

But I don't see where he's really laying out the issues, at least not the way I would, which is:

(1) Of all the people with musical talent and potential musical talent, almost all the money and attention go to a very tiny tiny tiny few. I don't have a number, but I doubt that 1% or even .01% expresses how tiny it is. Most everyone else is subsistence or earning a living through something else. And therefore lots of people don't even get to develop their talent.

(2) This isn't going to change hugely (here's my piece on cumulative advantage), but I'd think the task is to get more people out of the "tail"** and into subsistence and more people out of subsistence into the middle. And the way to do this isn't by getting critics to get less diverse in their musical interests but by getting the country in general to start diminishing economic inequality rather than what the country is doing now, which is to increase it. With more disposable income in the lower reaches, this gives the commercially marginal a chance to get middling and a chance for some of the noncommercial musicians and would-be musicians to become at least marginal.

Taste not atomizing, Robert Christgau & Frank Kogan unite in vagueness, 'consensus' means what? )


Dec. 8th, 2013 03:31 pm
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This is an edited-down excerpt from a reply I made to Dave on the Elephant Call thread. In my edits I've taken out some of my sharp opinions because they aren't relevant to the point of this post, but by all means click the link, for the sharpness. And I'm going to sneak the actual point of this post down in the comments, so look there as well:

Suppose Sam says to Chris, "Let's get together for lunch. Are you free Thursday?" Chris replies, "I'm pretty much swamped for the next couple of weeks. How about after that?" Sam says, "Actually, as I think about it, I'm swamped too and Thursday was overoptimistic. Let's say around the end of the month." Chris: "That sounds good."

Now, I would say that they're each implying that they'd like to see the other, though they're also implying that they have more immediate (though not necessarily more important) priorities. Neither of these implications may be true, but each is definitely implied. Even if Sam and Chris are lying — perhaps they're secret embezzlers who plan to see each other the next afternoon to plan their latest chicanery, and the whole conversation is a charade to mislead potential undercover agents — they've nonetheless implied that though they want to see each other they have more immediate priorities.

I'd also say that this interchange reveals a hunk about Sam and Chris and their world. It may not reveal what they really want or need, but it tells me what they want to convey and the social forms they use to convey it. Of course, I myself know something about their world (we'll say it's contemporary America, and Sam and Chris are socially more or less like me). E.g., "lunch" isn't the same commitment as "dinner," the latter implying (again, not necessarily correctly) a stronger friendship.

Okay, we can ask questions of this interchange. For instance, "What sort of friendship will Sam and Chis end up having?" "What sort of friendship would Sam and Chris like to have?" "What sort of friendship should Sam and Chis have?" Is this the sort of thing you have in mind when you [i.e. Dave] use the phrase "implicitly posed question"? If so, "implicitly" is the wrong word, since neither Sam nor Chris implied the question. In some ways, their current and subsequent behavior may "answer" such questions, but that doesn't mean that Sam and Chris are either asking them or implying them. I'm the one who's asking them. I'd say the questions are there to be asked, simply because the world has a future and we can try to predict it, and, barring a sudden calamity or unexpected events, Sam and Chris are likely to at least have the opportunity to interact in said future. (I take it that neither is expected to be sentenced to prison in the next day or so.)

We can ask similar questions about people in anime/VG fandom and people in rockwrite )
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A call to [livejournal.com profile] skyecaptain, [livejournal.com profile] freakytigger, [livejournal.com profile] petronia, and anyone else who inhabits the worlds where Rockwrite and anime-and-videogame and Fanfic worlds overlap. I claimed, while conversing with [livejournal.com profile] arbitrary_greay on the wallpaper-music-as-the-elephant-in-the-center-of-the-living-room thread, that:

Geekdom and video games and anime have enough cachet that the music that attaches to them is not going to end up in the category "We So Don't Pay Attention To This Stuff That We're Actually Hearing Quite A Lot Of That We Don't Even Notice That We Don't Write About It" in the way that AC does, but rather'll get written about by critics more and more as time goes on.
I can't say I'm the one to make the argument, though, so I hope you all might care to comment, on this or on what AG says.

And I'm linking Bob Dylan — not as an example of BGM but 'cause I assume "Ballad Of A Thin Man" is what first shot the words "freak" and "geek" into the culture as positives. 1965:

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People often leave information out of their writing that I think a reader would want or need to know (we're assuming here a reader who's somewhat interesting and at least potentially interested in what one has to say). I'm a person and I do this too, so I made a checklist for myself. It would be burdensome to always feel the requirement to put everything in, would make writing a chore. But I'm certain that when I leave things out I'm not always doing so by choice. So the goal here is to make sure that my decision to leave things out is somewhat conscious.

1 though 9 )
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Proposal for a social psychology experiment:

We'll use four separate, sizable groups of people, say 75 people in each group. (Not that I know if that amount is any good or not, or if we want our overall pool to be similar socioeconomically. I'm not a statistician.)

Ask each member of Group One:

What arguments would you use to try and persuade an atheist to consider that there might be a God after all?
[It's likely that at least a few people in each group will be atheists, but that's no reason they shouldn't try to answer the question.]

Ask each member of Group Two:

Cheryl tells you she is an atheist. What arguments would you use to try and persuade her there might be a God after all?
We're trying to see if by giving our atheist a name, so a potential personal, individual history, we elicit responses here and there that are different in type from what we generally got in Group One.

Ask two questions of each member of Group Three:

Group Three Question 1: Cheryl says she is an atheist. What arguments would you use to try and persuade her there might be a God after all?
It's important that the subjects complete the first question before seeing the second.

The crucial question is under the cut )

How to have fun in groups )

Four hypotheses )

Fishing expedition )
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Another one! Nate Silver cites Kuhn in a footnote, Silver probably** being unaware that his own passage (Nate Silver, The Signal And The Noise, p. 260) not only runs opposite to a couple of Kuhn's major ideas, and not only isn't in the same ballpark as Kuhn, it's barely in the same sport. Again, I'm not giving you the answer, this being a quiz:

The notion of scientific consensus is tricky, but the idea is that the opinion of the scientific community converges toward the truth as ideas are debated and new evidence is uncovered. Just as in the stock market, the steps are not always forward or smooth. The scientific community is often too conservative about adapting its paradigms to new evidence,64 although there have certainly also been times when it was too quick to jump on the bandwagon. Still, provided that everyone is on the Bayesian train,* even incorrect beliefs and quite wrong priors are revised toward the truth in the end.

*And that they don't hold priors that they believe to be exactly 100 percent true or exactly 0 percent true; these will not and cannot change under Bayes's theorem.

64. Thomas S. Kuhn,
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Kindle edition).
A couple of hints:

(1) Incommensurability
(2) Darwin

But this passage is a botch in whole hunks of other ways as well, e.g., the word "the" in the phrase "the scientific community."

Look, I've read enough philosophy to know that Kuhn is not hard, though he vagues out too much and he leaves some difficult problems in his wake. That near everybody gets him wrong isn't due to a fundamental ideological barrier or to any drastic unfamiliarity/novelty in his concepts. More griping )

**"Probably," since I don't know how much of Structure he read, and I myself had only read about half my nephew's copy of the Silver book, skipping around, before it was time to fly back to Denver.
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Here are the worst five sentences from what's otherwise a pretty good book. The sentences are in no way essential to the book, and didn't need to be there. So I'm just giving you the sentences without the book title. My point in printing them is that most everybody gets Kuhn wrong. There's a mass mental block.

Historians of science have often noted that at any given time scholars in a particular field tend to share basic assumptions about their subject. Social scientists are no exception; they rely on a view of human nature that provides the background of most discussions of specific behaviors but is rarely questioned. Social scientists in the 1970s broadly accepted two ideas about human nature. First, people are generally rational, and their thinking is normally sound. Second, emotions such as fear, affection, and hatred explain most of the occasions on which people depart from rationality.
That passage doesn't mention Kuhn or Feyerabend as his "historians of science," but if the author wasn't thinking of either of those two — but he likely was! — he was thinking of someone else who was thinking of them. In any event, if you think you know something about Kuhn, and that passage doesn't strike you as way wrong, you gotta go back and read Kuhn again (or at least click the Thomas Kuhn tag and read our discussion).

I will say a little about the two "broadly accepted" ideas, since they're not particularly relevant to my Kuhn quiz: there were still Marxists and Freudians* running about in the 1970s, and whatever they did or didn't believe regarding the soundness of human thinking, they most definitely would not have considered the phrase "emotions such as fear, affection, and hatred" to be at all adequate to what's going on in ideology and oedipal dramas. (But that's a side issue.)

(I imagine that someone reading this might say to herself, "Frank falls into the category 'somebody'; so if everybody misunderstands Kuhn, Frank too must misunderstand Kuhn." Well, I think there's a way that I veered wrong in the past. But I think I've now substantially got the guy right. May be a subject for a future post, what I got wrong.)

*Yeah, I know the passage uses the word "most," and Marxists and Freudians were never the majority of social scientists. But the word "most" is one of the very features that cause the passage to careen off into wrongness.

(Also don't know if Feyerabend is considered a philosopher or a historian, but he definitely knew plenty about the history of science, whatever field he was officially in.)
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In a New York Times Op-Ed ("Compassion Made Easy"), social psychologist David DeSteno describes experiments designed to test whether "empathy with the suffering of others is... a special virtue that has the power to change the world." The results are interesting, but I have one little pissy point to make.

The relevant definition of "empathy" (definition 2) in my American Heritage Dictionary says, "Understanding so intimate that the feelings, thoughts, and motives of one are readily comprehended by another." Now, that's a pretty high bar for empathy. The social psych experiments were designed to explore the impact not of such wholesale, overall empathy but rather of people's localized empathetic understanding of another person in a particular predicament. That's fine with me, and worth exploring, and I can be on board with that. But nonetheless, even with this reduced standard for empathy, there's still the one eeny teeny tiny pissy little quibble I have with the piece, which is that the experimental subjects show absolutely no understanding whatsoever of the people towards whom they feel compassion or "empathy" or "commonality." None. Whatsoever. The people they are feeling compassion towards are acting, faking, lying; are confederates, stooges; and the experimental subjects don't know this.

You could say that the experiments actually explore the effects of compassion, whether the compassion is warranted or not, and of feelings of commonality, whether warranted or not. But not of actual empathy. "Empathy" that is not actual understanding of someone else (not just a feeling of understanding, based on what you think someone else is also feeling, but rather understanding what someone else actually is feeling, and thinking, and attempting) is not empathy. Empathy requires knowledge.

What the Dickens? )
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Embedding this just because I think it's brilliantly great, and to see if it gets a rise out of [livejournal.com profile] arbitrary_greay. Also, the Dead Lester thread is getting close to where LiveJournal does that horrible thing of collapsing subthreads on us, so if you have any more responses to what's on that thread, I suggest you do so on this one.

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On one level I suppose all of this is very funny, but if you look past the surface violence and simple abusiveness to the person at the center it's not funny at all. The reason it's not is the aforementioned ambivalence. Jungle war with bike gangs is one thing, but it gets a little more complicated when those of us who love being around that war (at least vicariously) have to stop to consider why and what we're loving. Because one of the things we're loving is self-hate, and another may well be a human being committing suicide. Here's a quote from a review of Iggy's new live show in the British rock weekly Sounds: "Iggy's a dancer and more, a hyper-active packet of muscle and sinew straight out of Michelangelo's wet dreams... who leaps and claws at air, audience and mike stand in an unsurpassable display that spells one thing—MEAT." Ignoring the florid prose, I'd like to ask the guy who wrote that how he would like to be thought of as a piece of meat, how he thinks the meat feels. Or if he thinks it feels at all. Yeah, Iggy's got a fantastic body; it's so fantastic he's crying in every nerve to explode out of it into some unimaginable freedom. It's as if someone writhing in torment has made that writing into a kind of poetry, and we watch in awe of such beautiful writhing, so impressed that we perhaps forget what inspired it in the first place.
--Lester Bangs, "Iggy Pop: Blowtorch In Bondage," Village Voice, 28 March 1977

I remember, not well, someone having written, probably in the early '70s, maybe a letter to the editor, maybe it was to Creem, and someone wrote maybe a brief reply to the letter, maybe unsigned, maybe it was Lester who wrote the reply. The writer was lamenting the absence of Buddy Holly. If Buddy had lived, he'd be doing great things, said the letter, said the writer. And the reply was No! If Buddy had lived he'd being playing Vegas just like any other oldie living off his past, his work no longer mattering except as a walking corpse of a reminder that it once had mattered.

So Lester. He never totally got his shit together, not just chemically but intellectually. But he didn't give up. If he asked a question, the question didn't disappear, didn't get a glib answer from him and then evaporate or hang around like a vague fart, a mist of buzzwords answered by another mist of buzzwords. The questions gnawed at him, repeated, didn't leave him alone.

If he'd lived, I think it would have made a difference. I don't know what his follow-through would have been — he could get lost in an enthusiasm of words and anguish — but I know there would have been one. Maybe it'd just end up as Lester's filibuster. But the questions would ride him, would at least fight to stay addressed. And this is where Lester is different from all my colleagues. I complain from time to time that rock critics, music critics, people in my rockwrite/musicwrite/wrong world, don't know how to sustain an intellectual conversation. My complaints don't help anybody, since whatever the message is in my own writing, the idea that there's a joy in discovery, in unearthing the unknown, that you interact with what's in front of you, with the everyday, and see a new world each time you look, each time you act, but only by thinking, testing, challenging, re-wording and re-phrasing — this message doesn't get across, doesn't get felt, I guess. There's a basic unshakable dysfunction and incompetence in my world, which amounts to dishonesty, a pretense of thought without actual thinking.

Don't know that Lester really knew how either, but given that the conversation, the questions, wouldn't leave him, I imagine he'd have given it a shot.


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