Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Open Society and Its Enemies - Karl Popper

Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies is a two volumes 700 pages oeuvre aimed at attacking the telelogical historicism Plato, Hegel, and Marx, but also by Aristotle.

The critiques to each of these philosophers followed diverging paths after the publication of The Open Society. As a result of his opinion about Plato, Popper was unable to get a teaching position at the University of Chicago. In fact, Popper was one of the few philosophers in the last 25 centuries that has dared to say that Plato was a racist and totalitarian:
"Plato's idealist historicism ultimately rests not upon a spiritual, but upon a biological basis; it rests upon a kind of metabiology of the race of men. Plato was not only a naturalist who proffered a biological theory of the state, he was also the first to proffer a biological and racial theory of social dynamics, of political history (p. 78)."
As of today, Plato is still widely admired and few people ignore (delibaretly or inadvertently) the dark side of his political theory.

Popper's critique to Aristotle has been mostly forgotten, partly because Aristotle has become irrelevant today. About his thoughts, Popper wrote the following:
"(...) with Aristotle, Platonic philosophy gives up her great aspirations, her claims to power. From this moment, it could continue only as a teaching profession. And since hardly anybody but a feudal lord had the money and the leisure for studying philosophy, all that philosophy could aspire to was to become an annex to the traditional education of a gentelman (p.222)."
Popper loathed Hegel. According to Popper, Hegel was unoriginal, and his style was terrible, and I agree with him on this last point. According to Popper, philosophy lost all usefulness for society after Hegel, and I tend to concur with him on that. In Popper's own words.
"There is nothing in Hegel's writing that has not been said better before him. There is nothing in his apologetic method that is not borrowed from his apologetic forerunners. But he devoted these borrowed thoughts and methods with singleness of purpose, though without a trace of brilliancy, to one aim: to fight against the open society, and thus to serve his employer, Frederick William of Prussia (p. 246)."
Popper's critique of Hegel had a very sad fate: it was perverted. In his controversial book The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama basically recycles Hegel (or rather, the interpretation a guy named Kojève makes of Hegel) as a democrat. In most circles, that's the view that prevails of Hegel today. Most circles take Hegel's disastrous prose as a proof of erudition.

Of the four authors analyzed in the book, Marx is the one Popper respects the most. Popper opens his analysis about Marx by saying that "a return to pre-Marxian social science is inconceivable (p. 294)."  However, and in line with the overarching theme of the book, he dismisses Marx's prophetic analysis:
"Marx was, I believe, a false prophet. He was a prophet of the course of history, and his prophecies did not come true; but this is not my main accusation. It is much more important that he misled scores of intelligent people into believing that historical prophecy is the scientific way of approaching social problems (p. 294)."
It must be mentioned that Popper criticized Marx's historicist approach to social sciences while praising his views on 19th century unfettered capitalism. Today, the nuances regarding Marxism are completely lost: in line with other developments of today's society, where space for nuances are almost non-existent, Marx is seen in black or white. Sadly, even people who studied with Popper directly overlooked the positive aspects of Marxism. This is mostly the case of George Soros' Open Society Foundation, which is, according to his founder, based on Popper's thoughts and ideas (it's not, or at least not to the extent Soros claims it is).

Bottom line is that Popper's only approximation to political science (he was a science philosopher and returned to that discipline after the release of The Open Society) has been neglected, forgotten, perverted, or misunderstood....

In any event, I suppose we can't blame Popper for lack of trying...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunset Boulevard - Billy Wilder

Sunset Boulevard is a fantastic movie. As usual, Roger Ebert wrote a fantastic piece reveiwing it. So, instead of writing about this movie, I will write about why this movie still attracts modern audiences and let the reader to check out Ebert's text.

Sunset Boulevard didn't win the Oscar to Best Movie for three reasons. First, it was competing against All about Eve, one of the best movies ever. Second, it was a critique of Hollywood, and Hollywood doesn't like being criticized. Finally, it was too flamboyant for its age. This last point is why Sunset Boulevard keeps fascinating audiences until today. For one thing, our World is more flamboyant and extravagant than 50 it was years ago; today, audiences are not surprised by an old woman paying for the company of a boy toy: in fact, there are a couple of reality shows about that. The fear of being old and forgotten, the main story of Sunset Boulevard, is not exclusive of actors and artists anymore, and has permeated across all social layers, and Facebook is a testimony of that.

Media today love to forget artists just to remember them 30 years later when they are old, poor, and creepy; just think about Macualay Culkin, whose raise and fall is very similar to Norma Desmond's. The explosion of botox and aesthetic plastic surgery are just the modern version of the tortures Norma Desmond went through when she tried to come back. Last, Sunset Boulevard is a movie about thieves, people without sense of honor. That bodes really well with current tastes.

Sunset Boulevard is a must-see movie, probably more today than it was in the 1950's. Audiences would benefit greatly from understanding this line of dialogue: "there's nothing tragic with being 50, unless you preted to be 25".

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Grace - Jeff Buckley

On August 1994, Jeff Buckley issued Grace, the only album he would be able to complete before his death in 1997. His cover of Bob Dylan's "Hallelujah" is probably the best interpretation of this song, and definitely the best song of the album.

We don't talk a lot about Buckley these days, but at one point he was considered one of the best musicians of history. It's anybody's guess if he would have reinvented himself or he would have become one more singer had he lived longer.

Historic memory tends to be unfair with artists: writers who are very successful during their lifetimes are forgotten on day one after their death and viceversa. And that's what happened to Buckley: a lot of musicians sounded like him in the 1990's and his premature death prevented music fans from that time from giving him a second chance. In fairness, he became famous shortly after his death, and then he fell back into the common stock of singers of the 1990's.

Today, Buckley is one more reference of the music that was done in the 1990s. The BBC uses his song "Grace" to teach people about rock music, and a NPR intern finds him generic, as I think most music listeners of his generation would do.

I still recommend Grace as the testimony of an era, the 1990's. Also, music and art in general tend to be cyclical: I'm pretty sure a couple of years from today someone will look at Buckley and will think he's great. Then, this blog will become cool and I will have thousands of visits. Looking forward to it...