Thursday, December 05, 2019

Solution to First Cause of Noir: the Afghan Counterfactual with WaPo update

here are the key slides from Tuesday's lecture.  The question is whether our favorite thing, detection, can deal with forces that seem clearly outside the bounds of reason.  The process of observation-inference-(re)framing depends on a certain amount of (and faith in) rationality.  Torture, mass murder, and invasion are three things that seem to break those boundaries and render reason, analysis, and negotiation fairly useless.  International and domestic law have exemptions for self-defense: you can't bargain with someone who's shooting at you, etc.  But what about short, medium, and long-term, once the immediate threat is past?

The police have to treat even the most extreme atrocities as a matter of criminal procedure--once the immediate threat is past.  (In the recent London Bridge attack, the suspect was shot dead on the scene, on the theory that he posed an ongoing immediate lethal threat.  The victims were in the area attending a conference on educational programs in UK prisons called Learning Together.  But again, outside of immediate self-defense:
 There have been very serious problems with the 2002 Afghanistan invasion defined narrowly as a search for the authors of the 9/11 attacks.
 So, what about  . .
 Actually, after invading Afghanistan (we're still there), and invading Iraq (we're still there but the government is controlled by Iran), we did the criminal investigation thing and found the perpetrator--in a nice town Pakistan!   Criminal investigation worked!

 so we get to this:
The claim here is that after initial hostilities, war can be replaced with investigative procedure and criminal justice.  (Societies often have other reasons for preferring war, e.g. Causes 1-5 . . .)

Don't forget our other theme, brought to you by all our detectives plus economic analysis (overview by one of my colleagues is here): do your first choice field.

UPDATE: The Washington Post published the Afghanistan Papers on December 9th, called, as noiristas might predict, "At War with the Truth."  Original research and archival material. 

Monday, December 02, 2019

Sixth Cause of Noir: Gangster Democracy

One meaning of this term is literal: when gangsters take over governments.  Remember the elements we saw in the opening clip of The Glass Key
Madvig, the amiably sociopathic mob boss, plans on becoming governor as a "reformer."

Noir is connected to a broader, second meaning: elected politicians running things as they see fit, with little accountability and plenty of deception.  The philosopher of this mode of rule was Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), author of The Prince and Secretary of the Florentine republic. 
 Lest you think this classic doesn't apply to large democracies, remember that some of the most successful political consultants in modern history have read it religiously, particularly Lee Atwater, who worked for the Bush family, and who mentored Karl Rove, senior advisor to George W. Bush and mastermind of many national Republican electoral victories.

Here's the summary slide you would have seen last Tuesday if the Cave Fire hadn't canceled lecture.  Read it slowly!
Normally we think that in a democracy people go into politics not to enrich themselves or amass power, but to promote well-being, social justice, progress, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Well, at least some of us do.  Machiavelli thought that was sentimental nonsense--as do most of the rest of us. He narrowed the scope of the "prince" or ruler's activities from  pursuing self-interest (money, power, estates, etc) to pursuing the subjection of all others.  The prince's only job is to dominate, to have power superior to others, to compel obedience. All the other stuff, like building infrastructure or cutting income taxes, is an attempt to trick people into subjecting themselves.

Noir Cause 6 is the tendency of people in organizations, even when nominally democractic, to seek to subject others to their will--and to lie and deceive in order to do this. 

The literal realization of this is corrupt government.  As noir literature and film took off in the 1930s, many people were worried about mob control of government officials for the sake of getting contracts and other favors.  We talked about Chandler's cynicism about corruption in the police. Same for Mosley in a  different way.   Here's another slide about this.
 Do the munchkins rule? That is, small property owners, as Easy Rawlins wanted?  Gilens and Page conducted a big study that compared voter preferences to actual policies.  What they found is on the next slide.
The point is that the US isn't a democracy in the classical sense, in which the preferences of majorities of ordinary voters decide policy.  It also isn't run by gangsters, exactly.  Outcomes are most influenced by well-organized elites.  Democratic procedures don't yield democratic outcomes.

The term that the political scientist Jeffrey Winters uses for this is "civil oligarchy." He describes the U.S. this way. It's a system of laws, but the laws systematically favor elites over ordinary people.  Another term that is sometimes used is "post-democracy"--a political system that is democratic in form but elitist in outcome.

Machiavelli would have predicted this.  It's a norm in noir culture-- in the US, and elsewhere.

Here's our full list of Noir Philosophers, in chronological order:

Example of Anti-Noir: Accepting Negative Feelings (vs. Cause 2)

In this post I'm going to connect Philip Marlowe to Mr. Rogers.  Bear with me.

It's that time of the course when we look for antidotes.  There's Noir Cause 2, "unprocessed romantic loss." What does that mean? The example I gave was the passage in The Long Goodbye where Marlowe thinks Eileen Wade is coming on to him, gets interested, changes his mind, flips out, runs away, and then drinks until he passes out.  It's one of those anomalies that needs explaining. A slide from October 15th:
My claim was that if Marlowe doesn't see himself as the dominant figure in the situation--the head guy in charge-- he flips instantly to feeling humiliation. That's what he'll feel if he loses control, or isn't the person in control.   He then experiences himself as the inferior person in the very unequal structure typical of being "in love."  He is terrified of the possibility of being rejected.

Of course this is a common condition: we're all susceptible to having our feelings massively hurt when somewhere we're attracted to isn't attracted to us.  It's not so bad, however, if we have attachments to other people to whom we don't feel inferior and who won't humiliate us.  In lecture, I argued that Marlowe doesn't have these attachments, and he tends to sabotage all prospects of them (with Terry Lennox or Linda Loring).

I inferred from his behavior that Marlowe is attached to some lost person.  In this sense, he is a classic melancholic, enduring that condition in which the lost object is brought into the self and preserved there. It becomes confused with the self, and it's hard for someone like Marlowe to find his identity as separate from that lost object and not missing it. (This struggle happens to many of us when we pine for someone for months or years, long after we are supposed to have "moved on with our lives"--moved on to an attachment to someone else.)

The key outcome is weakness of self-identity, or a sense of inferiority.  This increases the tendency to latch on to (apparently superior) people, in this case the "unclassifiable" blonde. This doesn't strengthen the self, but keeps it in the same state of dependency, inferiority, and resentment.  This in turn can lead to behaviors like Marlowe lunging at Eileen Wade and then running away.

It's possible to overcome this condition--it happens all the time. But it requires facing negative feelings, particularly the sense of inferiority.  This sense surfaces in that passage in The Long Goodbye. This won't change for Marlowe as long has he doesn't face his negative feelings (like fear of humiliation) but keeps them repressed.  Facing them would involve identifying the lost object(s) whose permanent, unacknowledged loss produces his sense of sadness or weakness, and gradually letting go of it (them). Instead, what Marlowe does is find temporary substitutes, and acts out being in charge and dominant.  This masks inferiority, temporarily.  Then the whole thing happens again.

You probably know that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is in theatrical release, with Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers.  My favorite commentary so far is, It's a Terrible Day in the Neighborhood, and that's OK.  It's worth reading in full. Here's a good moment:
Despite his sweet pastor’s demeanor, Rogers was tuned into our souls’ darkest feelings. He had an uncommon appreciation for anger, fear, stress, sadness, disappointment and loneliness. He respected the range of emotions and encouraged children to accept all their feelings as natural. . . . Rogers believed that variations of the “sticks-and-stones” adages intended to get kids to “shake it off” are stifling; they abandon children to their pain instead of teaching them how to process it. In contrast, Rogers encouraged children to face their dark feelings.
After a couple of paragraphs on Aristotle (also interesting), the author, Mariana Alessandri, continues:
Aristotle would discourage us from shaming ourselves over feeling sad when we “should” feel happy. He rejected “shoulds” altogether when it came to feelings, since he believed them to be natural and, without accompanying wrong action, harmless. All feelings, for Aristotle, are potentially useful in that they provide an opportunity to practice behaving well. Feelings alone can’t jeopardize virtue, he believed, but actions can and often do. Mister Rogers agreed: “Everyone has lots of ways of feeling. And all of those feelings are fine. It’s what we do with our feelings that matter in this life.”
Rogers believed that all children (and adults) get sad, mad, lonely, anxious and frustrated — and he used television to model what to do with these difficult and often strong emotions. He wanted to counter the harmful message kids typically receive, some version of the ever-unhelpful you shouldn’t feel that way.
Mr. Rogers is talking about "processing" emotions, or what Freudians call "working through."  We don't have easy, direct access to these feelings or their causes--hence the value of other people, particularly professional therapists, who help.   But it's a start on what we're looking for-- a reversal of Noir Cause 2.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Small and Monopoly Property

We saw Easy Rawlins get screwed out of locally-owned Freedom Plaza in Black Betty. We saw in Chinatown a syndicate of wealthy private interests buy farmlands that they could make a fortune turning into suburbs because of publicly-funded water projects (the bond issue).   Marx is one of our Noir Philosophers for saying why this concentrated power is a problem--for workers and for society.  Below I've posted the 5-point slide plus a second slide.  Below the slides, I've pasted in a story about a Manhattan hardware store that is closing.

In lecture, I suggested a solution that the course materials offer is small property plus democratic control over key aspects of the economy.  This latter issue is very much at issue in the 2020 election.  The "noir" take is that it's completely unrealistic--the strong always rule the weak, who conform to them.  So the critique of monopoly capitalism would need also to deal with those social and psychological issues.

And Happy Thanksgiving!

"The Life and Death of the Local Hardware Store"

Note that the author, a professor at Columbia Law School who writes about tech and internet law, is frustrated with the psychology of people who would rather shop on Amazon than in a hardware store even though Amazon means they often buy the wrong stuff.  Have we learned things in this course that might help explain this mystery?

Sunday, November 17, 2019

You Must Read / Watch the Assigned Material BEFORE I Lecture on it, NOT AFTER!!

Here's why.  Once upon a time, there was a long period after World War II when the U.S. economy needed armies of employees to do routine white-collar jobs.  These were mostly "middle-skill" jobs.  They paid mid-level salaries that paid for for middle class lives.

Public universities expanded quickly to crank out large numbers of white-collar workers.  UCSB went from being a teacher's college to a research university in about 10 years.  Enrollments multipled by 5.  Passive learning was fine for most of the situations these graduates would face in their office jobs: take in information, process it accurately, reproduce it correctly.  The job would often be following instructions that other people write for you, like your bosses.  To simplify, higher-skill people would write the scripts for the mid-skill jobs.  High-skill people decided things, and mid-skill employees operationalized them.  Large lectures were pretty good formats for people learning to follow semi-complicated instruction sets in those large middle levels of big companies.   Other things being equal (they weren't but bear with me), learning to do this meant a decent salary, a pension, health benefits, two cars in the garage, a chicken in every pot, etc.

That world is gone.  Parts of it should and could come back--I don't at all condone precarious working conditions and uncertain job pathways. Nor do I think precarity helps make people smarter, more creative, and more competitive. (We're talking about the background economic issues in Chinatown.)   But whatever I think, it's my job to help prepare you for what comes after college.  The main thing I need to do is help you all be high cognitive skill people who have a chance to avoid the shrinking pool of (often boring) routine jobs and get into high-skill jobs that are more interesting and challenging.

Passive learning won't help you with this.  Active learning will.  (It's a necessary but not a sufficient condition for acquiring high-level cognitive skills.) 

Here's the slide I showed in lecture on November 7th.
Active learning requires bringing pre-existing knowledge to bear on the material being presented in lecture (or while you are reading or watching something) .  Active learning means making connections between things you already know (and are re-learning by recalling them) and things you are seeing for the first time.

In the case of a novel or film for this course, you can bring things you've learned in other courses (attachment theory from a psych course for example) to bear on what's happening in lecture.   Most importantly, you need to bring what you personally know about the work I'm discussing into contact with what you are hearing me saying.  If you're not making connections, you're not learning. You're just transcribing stuff on the theory that you'll learn it later by remembering it when you actually do watch the film or read the book.  Here's the problem: This destroys active learning in lecture.  It lowers your learning overall (you will learn less later on your own).  It reduces what you get out of the class, including ideas that you can use in other courses and later in life.

So that is why Requirement 1 for this course is "Read Texts On Time." Now more than ever.  

Thursday, November 07, 2019

The Course's Claims in the Wider World

Detective Fiction has used an observation-inference process to make some claims.  The operating assumption of the course is that people's shouldn't trim their claims to fit their (incomplete or sloppy or limited or lazy or doctrinaire) evidence, but make strong, interesting claims and then search for the evidence to back them up.  (And if they can't find the evidence, then they are supposed to fix, drop, or replace the claim.)

For example, here's a slide prompted by the November 2018 elections, one year ago.
Note that we often have to fuss around to get the most accurate wording.  "Fuss around" means that recursive process of making an observation, describing it, and then checking to see if your description fits the observation, trying again, drawing an inference, checking it, etc.   We do this a lot, often in the space of 60 seconds without noticing it.

We also have to pick one issue rather than taking about a lot of things at once.  I pick B.

Then, we can find two kinds of evidence.  There are exit poll data.
And there's the classic finding of passages that your judgement (within a given frame) tells you are relevant and revealing of an important feature.

Then, a conclusion (II) derived from a claim from the course (I)

My summary statement is then that our third cause of noir culture is still operating in U.S. national life, with 2018 election patterns as one symptom.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Some Slides about the Walter Mosley Novel Last Week

Black Betty is helping us analyze noir culture's third source, "legacies of slavery."  Here's some material from lecture.  Mosley details element of a noir society.   A segregationist police force, the LAPD, is fairly straightforward.
Mosley also focuses on the active agency of folks within the Black community.  There's Easy Rawlins's old friend Mouse, the enforcer / destroyer who is also occasionally a savoir in moments of danger.

And there's the real estate dream of Black-owned retail for the Black community, doubled-crossed.
Mosley grew up in central LA and was there before, during, and after the Watts "riots" / rebellion in 1965.  Black Betty appeared in 1994, and he was either writing it or its immediate predecessor during the Rodney King uprising in 1992.  He is well-aware of the history of police-community relations, and as far as I can tell, in agreement with the argument of the next slides, taken from Mike Davis's City of Quartz (1991), that the 1990s escalation of gang violence resulted in part from law enforcement's suppression of gangs that were political.

Another context for Mosley is Blaxsploitation film, whose golden age was 1970-75.  Most of the films featured whites preying on a Black community that was weakened by traitors within--sometimes Black politicians spouting Black nationalist rhetoric.   A hero or heroine comes forward to confront the predators and drive them back, at least temporarily.  Here are two.

We'll see next time, when we watch the end of Coffy, that it these films generally assume force can only be beaten with force.  Easy Rawlins doesn't agree.  Force from below almost always loses to force from above.  It is weaker and badly funded.  Hence Easy's stress on alliances and of course detection-- along with his floundering community development scheme.
 On Thursday we ended with a discussion of Betty Eady.  I argued that she's a complex, multisided character who is both beaten down and free--and free, mostly threateningly, through her sexuality.  Here are the passages:
We'll look at chapter 33 carefully.  I'll go on to argue that Black Betty offers a strong ending if not a happy ending, and in strength there's hope.