Feminism, Mental Representation, and Churros

by Daniel A. Kaufman

A disturbing glimpse into the way contemporary gender identity politics is compromising science and medicine.

https://quillette.com/2018/10/18/trans-activists-campaign-against-terfs-has-become-an-attack-on-science/

How progressive politics have ruined comedy.

https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/social-justice-warriors-arent-funny/

A detailed history of the original feminists, which their contemporary progeny should read carefully.

https://www.city-journal.org/metoo-movement

[The late] Jerry Fodor’s brilliant and hilarious survey of theories of mental representation. (I just finished teaching it in my Phil Psych class.)

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4c0f/122ee01003354b168cddde35f7d5ebe14f2f.pdf

One of the best sketches from the Eddie Murphy era of Saturday Night Live.

A remarkable documentary on New York Hardcore (and a fascinating Korean offshoot).

You must make these Churros.  Trust me.

https://munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/bm3gg4/spanish-style-churros

10 Comments »

  1. Just watched an episode of the old Flip Wilson Show (early ’70s). What’s interesting about Wilson’s performance as Geraldine is that convinces us, not that Geraldine is a real woman, but that Flip Wilson is a great drag queen. (That’s actually more difficult than it sounds – Milton Berle’s drag performance is amusing partly partly because it’s unbelievable – ‘who is this idiot guiy in a dress anyway?’ I’m reminded here of Benny’s performance in Charlie’s Aunt, where he lapses into his male persona – still in drag – loping around, smoking a cigar.)

    There’s a moment in Wilson’s performance introducing Ray Charles, in Geraldine guise, which is almost unsettling. Incredibly, Wilson/Geraldine has feminine flirtation singles absolutely down pat. Sitting close to Charles, and moving almost imperceptibly nearer to him, an kiss seems inevitable – and Wilson/Geraldine does finally kiss Charles on the cheek (as delivery of the first Ray Charles Music Award from Geraldine’s single-member Ray Charles Fan Club) – but the body language suggested so much more. The tension of this brief bit is seriously increased, of course, by our knowledge that Charles is blind; while he can’t respond to Geraldine’s flirtation, neither can he defend himself against Geraldine’s advances. The tension is alleviated by the viewer’s knowledge that Charles knows that he’s on Flip Wilson’s show, and who Geraldine really is, leading to the relief of Charles remarking that “I sure hope someone else wins that award next year.”

    Comedy ought to be unsettling. It should bring forward, for comedic review and comment, our darker desires, our implicit biases. The distance between good comedy and good satire is very thin – even slapstick effectively comments sharply on our clumsiness and on our easily transgressed sense of decorum the superficiality of certain presumed ‘dignities.’

    But to do this well, as a form of entertainment, it must of course also make us laugh.

    What happens when comedy is taken seriously? When clowns are expected to provide moral direction rather than a good belly laugh?

    Ideally, they become performance artists, as Lenny Bruce did at his best.

    But this is not an ideal world; and Bruce’s performance art remains poorly understood.

    So instead you get the crafty clown appealing to the lowest common denominator – satire reduced to vicious heuristic. And then the clown gets elected President of the United States.

    The SJWs share considerable social vision with the supporters of Donald Trump. They hearken to a future morally purified; Trump supporters hearken to a past they believe was morally pure.

    Both are sadly mistaken. But the point is that the ideological structures of the one group dovetails neatly with the ideological structures of the other. The real difference between the Far Left and the Far Right is merely a matter of which authoritarian utopia to choose.

    To both, I repeat what a fine point once proclaimed, “I raise my middle finger in salute.”

    But then, as Groucho Marx remarked, turning down an offered membership in an exclusive social cub, “I’d never join a club that would have me as a member.”

    Rigid social categories are just boxes with which we imprison individuals. Reality cannot be contained in any box. Social structures are there for our use, not us for their use. Comedy is just a way of saying:
    “Just look at this box -”
    “I don’t want small pox!”
    “Well, we’ll get you a nice big box -”
    “Does it come with free cable?”

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  2. “A fine point said” – no, actually a fine poet: Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

    (My memory for names is getting awful – had to look this up.) I actually met Ferlinghetti once. Still a teen-ager. I was so gushy, he just wanted to be done with me. I received better notice from Michael McClure and Anne Waldman, who both thought I looked a lot like experimental film-maker Stan Brakhage. By the time I met Ed Sanders, The Beats no longer impressed me. But my friend Don. who was ten years older than me, was still gushy.)

    I actually found myself in front of William Burroughs’ house in Lawrence Kansas once, just incidentally. The curtains were black, and the windows unopened. And knowing his predilection for guns, I decided not to knock on his door. Now I look back and wonder if any of his cut-ups are even readable. Kerouac’s novels are readable, but one now wonders, ‘why bother?’

    I attended Ginsberg’s readings three times, one in NYC (entertaining), once in Rochester (not so entertaining, fake Tibetan chants as background music), once at the Naropa Institute in Colorado, where I simply fell asleep.

    Gary Snyder was the only Beat that continued to interest me after the Beat fascination wore off; but that’s because he wa the only one among them who seriously committed to Buddhism, rather than the Pop-Buddhism that the other Beats espoused.

    I’m sorry for rambling on this way. I think it has to do with the aging process. It has little to do with the post on hand. Yet, perhaps it can be be informative. The Beats inspired a certain Cultural Far left politics in the ’60s. But many fail to realize that cultural innovations provide no license for political extremism.

    Cultural innovations offer a certain kind of social hope; comedy necessarily insists on the deflation of hope. Poetry raises our expectations for the future; comedy mocks all expectations. That’s as it should be. The one moves us, the other makes us laugh. The two balance out. Eventually poetry finds itself dated, an historical artifact, unless it touches our deepest sentiments, our deepest hopes. Good comedy lasts much longer, because it assaults our very perception of ourselves as humans capable of articulating maneuverability in the world. In less elevated language: the clown who cannot hammer a nail without striking his/her own thumb, is ourselves.

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  3. Dan-K,
    it may be that the development of such a theory would provide a way out of the current mess. At best, however, it’ s a long way off. I mention it only to encourage such of the passengers as may be feeling queasy.

    This is great stuff. It was written a long time ago, 1985, I believe.

    In your opinion, have we made progress in the intervening 33 years? Is “a way out of the current mess” in sight or even been found?

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      • That’s depressing. In the mean time neuroscience bangs the neuroimaging drum. It is a seductively simple idea with lots of tangible outputs so it grabs the public imagination(and not a few academics). It is about as useful as scanning the motherboard of my computer to understand the programs I write. That is zero percent useful.

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  4. Dan,
    Fodor is certainly one of the wittier writers in philosophy. Bur his long commitment to Cognitive Science, and his efforts to systematize Functionalism leave me cold. (But of course Functionalism doesn’t hold up if it lacks systematization.)

    I note that he really lost me in his analysis of Sherlock Holmes’ reasoning in The Speckled Band. Anyone who has read Peirce carefully knows that Fodor’s reading couldn’t be more off. The jarring moment: Holmes’ story does not, as Fodor claims, “assemble premises for a plausible inference to the conclusion,” it assembles interpretants (or concepts) of various signifiers (or signs) to develop a reasonable hypothesis, which must then be tested. This failure to grasp the real structure and experiment-generative nature of abduction strikes me as one of the great problems with the post-Positivist Analytic tradition. Since abduction is a reasoning process that can be reconstructed in logical form, as Peirce himself did, it is not clear at all, to me, why it has been largely set aside or misconstrued outside of some probability theories and modal logics. And of course, semiotics.

    Just to be clear: Abduction is not “inference to the best explanation.” It is inference to the most reasonable hypothesis. If we remember that Peirce’s main interest was not establishing truth-value standards for linguistic analysis, but rather the very structures of scientific methods, we should recognize that this difference really makes a difference.

    On a perhaps related issue, Dan: I recently listened to two lectures and an interview by Putnam (one of the founders of Functionalism, although he later abandoned it), and just read his Many Faces of Realism. I first knew of him 26 year5s ago as a friend and correspondent with Eco, but have only recently gave him attention. (I did finally read the paper you linked to a while ago; but it does seem an early essay, and holds certain positions he doesn’t later claim).

    So, my point is, I would be very interested in your thoughts on Putnam, either here or in an essay later on.

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