Pessimus Populus: The Worst People of 2007

Time to round up all the awful people of 2007. This list is in no way definitive, and it’s barely in hierarchal order, but I think it’s sound enough. Just like last year’s list (for the record, everyone on that list was also horrible in 2007), the miscreants represented are limited to Americans only–there are simply too many assholes out there to take on the whole world.

10. Michael Vick:

Organizing the killing of dogs for sport and entertainment–and to make money–makes you a complete asshole.


9. The multitude of vacuous, soulless, slutty “celebrities,” whose malfeasance and just plain general dumbness passes for “culture” these days:

We’re not going to name them, because we’re sick of them and so are you. Still, coverage of their worthless exploits continues to metastasize like cancer. Perhaps we should blame the American people? Nah…this blog is pro-America! Which brings us to an attack on–

8. The Democratic Party:

The Democratic Party has spent this entire decade as impotent mugwumps, a collection of scaredy-cat politicians who fell into every trap the well-organized Republicans set for them. Even with the Congressional and Senate majority, they still couldn’t manage to do anything to stop the steady growing institutionalizing of a stark divide between the haves and the have-nots.


7. The Republican Party and every fool who still supports them:

I’m still amazed to run into Bush supporters. I got over my liberal outrage a few years ago (it became unsustainable in the face of the sheer ludicrous evil perpetuated by the Neocons in the name of “security”), and my liquid rage has now gelled into detached cynicism. Still, when I encounter any “Republicans” who defend the Bush administration, I love to ask them why they support a monster who has so dramatically increased government spending, as well as the role of the federal government in the lives of Americans. The average Republican seems to respond only in hypothetical rhetorical questions–“You think Gore would’ve done a better job?” or worse, points out that Bush was the “moral” candidate (uh…Katrina?). Still, I get the sad feeling that these chumps were fooled by one of the most organized political efforts in American history to consolidate power and revoke civil liberties.

6. OJ Simpson:

Speaking of hypothetical rhetoric, before he was roughing up sports memorabilia dealers in Las Vegas, OJ Simpson was hard at work getting If I Did It: Confessions of the Murderer published. According to a Fox press release (there was going to be a tell-all interview aired; for once moral outrage trumped poor taste): “O.J. Simpson, in his own words, tells for the first time how he would have committed the murders if he were the one responsible for the crimes. In the two-part event, Simpson describes how he would have carried out the murders he has vehemently denied committing for over a decade.”

Wow. What a fucking asshole.


5. Alberto Gonzales:

Gonzales was either lying when he repeatedly said he didn’t or couldn’t recall any details about the 2006 firing of eight US attorneys for their political persuasions (um, they weren’t “loyal Bushies“), or he was just grossly incompetent in his position as US Attorney General. It took him months to resign, and even then, the Bush administration continued to support him.

4. Nancy Grace, Bill O’Reilly, and every other douchebag who perpetuates sensationalist, divisive nonsense under the guise of “journalism”:

This brand of yellow journalism has been around forever, but in recent years its proliferation has become unbearable. Even worse, it’s starting to infect mainstream journalism, which increasingly tells “stories,” instead of simply reporting the news. Plus, Nancy Grace is an awful bitch.

3. Dick Cheney:

Make no mistake, Dick Cheney’s evil hasn’t fallen off any–sure he came in at #2 last year, but, as I said at the beginning of this list, the rankings are somewhat arbitrary. I suppose he got a little bit of cred this year for not shooting any old men in the face (at least none that we know of). Evil and secretive, Cheney believes that Americans are idiots, sheep who need to be sheparded.

Check out clips from The Daily Show‘s series “You Don’t Know Dick.”

2. The perpetrator of the Virginia Tech Massacre, and every other asshole who feels like mass murder will make them famous and heal their sick spirit:

I won’t publish his name or even link to it, for that matter. These people want fame and recognition, a glory after death, to be remembered and recognized, and I don’t wish to be part of that. But still. This guy was clearly one of the worst–if not the worst–persons of 2007. These types of killings keep happening again and again, and I am in no way discounting or ignoring the other slayings this year–some as recent as last week–but this particular massacre is the worst school shooting in American history. I am still shocked that this tragedy never sparked a full-scale debate leading to gun control reform. Hell, gun control isn’t even a major issue in the 2008 presidential election.

Here are the names of the victims (for a detailed list, go here): Ryan Clark (22), Emily Hilscher (19), Liviu Librescu (76), Minal Panchal (26), G. V. Loganathan (53), Jarrett Lane (22), Brian Bluhm (25), Matthew Gwaltney (24), Jeremy Herbstritt (27), Partahi Lumbantoruan (34), Daniel O’Neil (22), Juan Ortiz (26), Julia Pryde (23), Waleed Shaalan (32), Christopher James Bishop (35), Lauren McCain (20), Michael Pohle Jr. (23), Maxine Turner (22), Nicole White (20), Jocelyne Couture-Nowak (49), Ross Alameddine (20), Austin Cloyd (18), Daniel Perez Cueva (21), Caitlin Hammaren (19), Rachael Hill (18), Matthew La Porte (20), Henry Lee (20), Erin Peterson (18), Mary Read (19), Reema Samaha (18), Leslie Sherman (20), Kevin Granata (45).

1. George W. Bush:

I may now anticipate a response on the order of: “OK, Biblioklept–Bush is awful, but he didn’t murder 33 people in cold blood–what makes him #1 on your list?” Here’s the deal: although Bush hasn’t technically murdered anyone, his war has led to the deaths of thousands and thousands of people, and his radically conservative policies on everything from environmental protection to child health care will have long term detrimental effects on American society for decades to come. He claims that history will judge his presidency, and I believe him: Bush will go down in history as the worst president since Richard Nixon, and will no doubt be judged even more harshly.

Hard at work:

24 thoughts on “Pessimus Populus: The Worst People of 2007”

  1. I like your list, and wholeheartedly agree with the choices, but would add one more person. The asshole who murdered gifted artist, filmmaker, teacher, wife and mother (and friend of mine) Helen Hill for absolutely no reason. And those fuckers who adhere to the “no snitchin” policy that has kept this guy from being caught. And all the hip hop artists that helped make no snitchin a policy of the poor black community. Come on, people. New Orleans doesn’t need to be such a lawless mess as it is now.

    More about Helen at


  2. every person that owns a pitbull or any kind of dog that puts them in fights are fucking basterds u all deserve ti be put down if i ever met anyone that were making there dogs fight to make money i would kick the fuck out you all fucking sick basterds fuk u all min!!!!!!


  3. I spent a lot of time last night writing out a fairly detailed defense/explanation, but I kept butting my head against something much more basic than war strategy and funding, and I don’t think it’s something we’ll ever agree on.

    Bush’s decisions with respect to the war in Iraq make sense if you view the world from a perspective that assigns purpose, meaning, and order to it. If you don’t, and you don’t, his decisions cannot possibly be rendered intelligible. That’s what’s at the bottom of it, really.

    I believe in things like liberty and democracy, and I believe that capitalism and the free marketplace of ideas are worth dying for–more than that, they’re worth committing volunteers to die for, and Sun Tzu tells us this is a far harder choice to make. I believe, further, that good and evil exist in the world as absolutes, though it isn’t fashionable to say so. I believe that religion is more than ignorant superstition, even if most of the people who claim to follow a religion are ignorant and superstitious themselves. I believe that human beings are capable of greater instincts than self-preservation.

    I like Bush mostly because, with barbarians baying at the gates of individual freedom, he had the vision to commit his country to a bloody course of action that might save them, in the model of Lincoln and Churchill. I don’t agree with many of his policies, including the proliferation of spending over which he has presided and the way he advocates government interference in marriage. But where it matters most, he’s on the right side of history.

    I know that phrases like “barbarians baying at the gates of individual freedom” drive you crazy–in fact, that’s why I said it :) So let me prespond to your inevitable objection by saying that I stand by these characterizations. There is evil. There is good. No human student of history or human nature could reasonably disagree. You may point out that there are philosophical objections to this way of thinking, but I can only say again that these objections are the fruit of answers to poorly constructed questions.

    Some other points, in brief:

    1. It is absurd to imagine that Bush masterminded 9/11 to give himself a pretense for war. If that were the case it would have made a lot more sense to frame Iraq for the attacks in the first place; pinning the whole thing on an enemy who cannot be confronted or defeated directly would only be a way to guarantee your own eventual failure. Which is exactly why the attacks were carried out the way they were in the first place.

    2. It’s also absurd to suggest that Bush didn’t really believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. If that had been a deliberate lie from the beginning, Bush would surely have arranged to find fake WMD on his own–if he went to the trouble of faking everything else, why not go the last step and fake his own success? (For what it’s worth, I *still* believe these weapons existed. Yes, really.)

    3. Finally, it’s absurd to suggest that the war in Iraq is about oil. We could have gotten more oil more easily, and with greater political support, by attacking Chavez. He’s closer, he’s more directly menacing, he’s militarily weaker, he’s not in the same neighborhood as a bunch of rising nuclear powers, et cetera.

    4. People who worry about Bush trampling the constitution should learn their constitutional law by reading the damned constitution itself, and by digesting decisions and legal commentaries, not by listening to commentators who literally don’t know what a term of art is.

    So Bush isn’t perfect, by any means. There’s a lot wrong with him. But he made himself extremely unpopular to do something that he considers essential to the cause of freedom. That’s what he has in common with the great politicians of history, and that’s why I like him.

    I know you’re going to hate pretty much everything I just said. Well, bring it on :)


  4. Mike, as much as I enjoy argumentation, it would be pure faffle to engage most of your ludicrous positions here. The neocons, with Bush as their puppet, designed and executed this war to perpetuate the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned against; they used fear and the basest elements of human nature to do this (and you fall right into their language traps; who are these barbarians?) The Bush admin has trampled all over the Justice Dept. But I’m tempting myself to engage you here; rather, let me try to uproot the problematic foundation of all your (misguided) opinions about Bush. You write–
    “There is evil. There is good. No human student of history or human nature could reasonably disagree. You may point out that there are philosophical objections to this way of thinking, but I can only say again that these objections are the fruit of answers to poorly constructed questions.”
    I reasonably *and* irrationally disagree.
    Mike,you here casually attempt to reduce the philosophy of Nietzsche and like-minded thinkers (Blake, Derrida, Foucault etc.) to a series of “poorly constructed questions.” Your thinking here is what Derrida terms “logocentric”–you clearly believe a transcendental signified (God perhaps, but in your comment, the concept of absolute morality) anchors and arbitrates all other meaning. I highly recommend reading Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Falsity in the Extra-moral Sense” —
    (if that link doesn’t work just google it)
    –Nietzsche argues successfully against your own (delusional) premise here, pointing out that language gains meaning through a “hardening” of metaphors; that all meaning is metaphorical (and perspectival); that social forces (herd mentality) work to drain these metaphors of their “sensuous force” such that they are received as true and lie, good and evil. Thus, hegemony is enforced through a language that perpetuates a series of absolute ideals going back to Plato; this language is codified both in religion and in academia (“rational logic”), and people get to say: “This is True, this is Right, this is Good,” without actually examining why the *metaphor* that they are following/prescribing as true/right/good is actually good. They mistake their limited first-person perspective as having a God’s eye privilege, that they know an objective truth, that they master fully a reality somehow available to them through the language of rationality (Bush, the Decider, does this and sends other people’s kids to die). Nietzsche proposes a “joyous science” to combat received, proscriptive, hegemonic concepts of morality (the first step, indeed, would be to recognize that “conception” as thought is itself a metaphor that belies the logocentricism of thought as self-begetting, eternal, transcendental)…N’s solution is to return to the artistic, irrational, ungraspability of metaphor, to the liquid metaphor, to the metaphor as metaphor as not tautology; N asks you to cry, to laugh…
    I imagine that, if you bother to read N’s essay, you will fight him the whole way, resist him. But, to return to your ridiculous generalization (quoted above), just where do pure good and evil evince in history? I think it’s funny that you compare Bush to Lincoln. The moral absolutes embedded and predicative to your argument were used against abolitionists; they were used against extending civil liberties to women, etc. People rested on their “natural” beliefs of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong to justify a system of ethics and morality that enslaved people, that hurt people, that disenfranchised people, etc. So, I accuse logocentric belief systems as being terrible for people. The questions asked by those who recognize that good and evil are simply perspectival positions can help people to live better, in a very *real,* concrete sense of the (metaphorical, relational, perspectival) word.
    To return to Bush, and the type of thinking that produces/allows/permits a Bush–your thinking, to be frank–this type of thinking believes in and perpetuates the worst kind of illusions in the name of a childish ego-defense. You might as well believe in Santa Claus, really. This type of thinking says: “I know beyond a doubt that I am right, so much so that I am willing to ensure that many people will die for a *greater* (absolute) good.” This is the thinking of the suicide bomber (the baying barbarian (poor soul who doesn’t know language, doesn’t know our metaphors, cannot speak!))– The suicide bomber says: “I know, beyond a doubt that I am right, so much so that I am willing to ensure that many people will die for a *greater* (absolute) good.” Just like Bush. At the moment this person (who is limited to a first-person experience of the world) *most* believes–beyond a doubt–that they are wholly right–they are most susceptible to being completely wrong, mistaken, misguided. And their absolute, transcendental anchor protects them from any notion of being mistaken.
    I’ve written more than I intended to. I do hope you will take the time to read the Nietzsche, but I understand that you are busy. Your resolution that I will not change my mind in any case is more indicative of your own logocentrism.
    If I sound angry or cruel in my response it is because I see your thought process as having an unethical disregard for your fellow man, a disregard that masquerades as a will to protect your fellow man. I hope that you can be disillusioned.


  5. I like it. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting as a response to my previous statements, but that was very good.

    If Derrida et al can reduce Plato to irrelevance, I reserve the right to reduce Derrida (and Plato, too, for that matter, and anyone who comes before or after me) to irrelevance if he is irrelevant. There are no sacred cows, and cows are infinitely more useful than philosophers.

    This is the head-butting I was describing earlier. I’m not under the illusion that my desire is to protect my fellow man; I actually do want to protect my fellow man (and woman too, for that matter). You’ll have to take my word for it since you can’t read my mind. Your refusal (or inability, or . . . whatever it is, I can’t read your mind either) to acknowledge a way to know something that exists outside of philosophical argumentation is just as stubborn as my insistence that philosophy should actually lead a person somewhere rather than show him how places, leading, and he himself don’t actually exist. This is a first-order dispute. It can’t be resolved.

    Further, I feel the need to clarify that I’m not excited about death, and I’m certainly not excited about the deaths of others. But war is an inevitable part of history, and when war is on the horizon it does nobody any good to put it off. I don’t like talking about this so I’m gonna stop now.

    You mention that Bush is certain he’s right, and is abominable for this reason. But surely you’re equally certain he’s wrong. If he can’t be sure he’s right, why can you be sure you’re right that he’s wrong?

    I’ll read the N tonight (or at least start it–I have no idea how long it is). I would ask you to read the following, from Lin Yu Tang’s *The Importance of Living*:

    “. . . As a result of this dehumanized logic we have dehumanized truth. We have today a philosophy that has become stranger to life itself, that has almost half disclaimed any intention to teach us the meaning of life and the wisdom of living. . . . We have to get back to a way of thinking which is more impatient to be in touch with reality, with life, and above all with human nature, than to be merely correct, logical, and consistent. . . . Life or existence does not have to go down on its knees and beg logic to prove that it exists or that it is there. . . .”

    (That’s borderline epigrammatic. Such is my argumentative magnanimity :) )


  6. 1. Derrida in no way ever refers to Plato as irrelevant. Derrida is incredibly respectful of Plato, and a rereading of Plato informs many of Derrida’s major works (including Of Grammatology). Derrida insists instead that Plato’s assumptions about truth deconstruct themselves when closely scrutinized. By all means, skewer Derrida. I have no sacred cows.
    2. What does this sentence mean–
    “Your refusal (or inability, or . . . whatever it is, I can’t read your mind either) to acknowledge a way to know something that exists outside of philosophical argumentation is just as stubborn as my insistence that philosophy should actually lead a person somewhere rather than show him how places, leading, and he himself don’t actually exist.”–
    I don’t get it Mike? Huh? What are you saying here? Have you not been reading anything I’ve been saying? Where have I argued that there’s not a way to know “something that exists” outside of philosophy? You have decided that my type of thinking is nihilistic, it seems; because I refuse to believe in the illusion of transcendental, eternal, absolute properties, this does not mean that my philosophy is in any way nihilistic. Quite the opposite, it’s life affirming (as opposed to the Platonic Christian ideological tradition that denies life at all turns as corrupt and imperfect, a shadow world waiting for the apocalyptic revelation of the transcendental eternal). My philosophy is not stubborn. It is liquid. You think it is stubborn because you are in love with telos. Your vision of a telos gives you a guidepost, a lighthouse, you believes it illuminates your path (I say it obscures and marginalizes in darkness an infinite multiplicity of possible paths).
    3. Two of your terms relating to war– “inevitable” and “on the horizon” — Why? Why “inevitable”? Why “on the horizon”? Again, your teleological assumptions, based on tautological reasoning, come into play here. And, from a common sense perspective, I’m sure a lot of people would’ve been content to put off this “inevitable” war until well after they were dead. I suspect you “don’t like talking about this” because you probably realize that this war is not as noble and just as you like it to be, and that your (and Bush’s) defense of the war relies on a future perspective that does not/cannot yet exist.
    5. “You mention that Bush is certain he’s right, and is abominable for this reason. But surely you’re equally certain he’s wrong. If he can’t be sure he’s right, why can you be sure you’re right that he’s wrong?”
    Again, you show an unwillingness to let go of your presumptions; again you believe that you understand my position wholly and do not read carefully what I have written.
    5a: Nowhere do I say Bush is “abominable”: rather, I illustrate that his mode of thinking compares to a suicide bombers. You use the word abominable; perhaps you are right.
    5b: I am not judging Bush as “wrong” here; I’m simply pointing out that his type of thinking produces effects the same way a suicide bomber’s thinking produces effects (the same way a parent says “Because I said so” to tautologically justify their actions). Neither do I close completely the idea that Bush’s actions might have eventual positive results. They may; I don’t know. I am not afforded the perspective of a future vision (Bush claims to be afforded this vision, I would like to point out…so confident of himself, he proclaims that history will judge his actions and regard him as a hero). Perhaps, because you are a teleological thinker, I should’ve articulated my answer toward a more specific end: Bush, in his monolithic, monologic, Christian-apocalyptic interpretation of the world led this country into a war against…? I’m not sure. I don’t even really know who the US is fighting. But we did this alone (please do not argue that there was a coalition involved. There wasn’t. This can be easily demonstrated in very real, practical terms). The US, acting unilaterally in Iraq, has alienated itself from the rest of the world; additionally, we’ve lost sight of an original mission that the majority of the country–and the rest of the world–*did* support: the war in Afghanistan.
    So, to return to the initial point of 4b, of course I am open to the idea that I can be wrong about this (why even discourse on the subject if not?) I try to be open at all times to doubt, difference, interference, mistranslation, etc. That’s the whole point of thinkers like Derrida, Nietzsche, Blake, the Tel Quel school, etc.–philosophers you profoundly misunderstand.
    4. The Nietzsche is about 8 printed pages. I think it’s a wonderful piece of writing; it rhetorically ironizes its subject, and thus also works as a kind of satire on language and meaning and how language means.
    5. I like the quote; it is somewhat Nietzschean/Derridean in its rejection of rational logic. But it also stinks of Platonism, the idea that there is an essential, core, universal “human nature” that is transcendent, free of context, center anchor of an otherwise displaced system.


  7. In no particular order:

    You didn’t use the word “abominable,” but you said he was the worst person of 2007, worse than a killer at Va Tech who was at least abominable, and you referred to his policies as “sheer ludicrous evil” while railing against “the republican party and every fool who still supports them.” I didn’t think “abominable” was out of place. If I’ve somehow mischaracterized your position on Bush and you think there’s something in him that might not be evil, I apologize.

    If Derrida concludes that Plato’s statements are self-defeating, it’s hard for me to see how D can then conclude that P is anything but irrelevant, unless self-defeating statements can somehow be relevant. I’m of the opinion that they can’t, except as object-lessons in themselves, and that’s why I consider Derrida to be irrelevant: The man used signs to assert that signs lack inherent meaning; if this is so then the arguments he constructed with them (or any arguments so constructed) are inherently meaningless and cannot possibly be used to assert anything. In other words, turn Derrida’s major conclusions on themselves and the whole thing falls apart.

    I don’t want to talk about the necessity of war because I don’t–how’s that for tautological? I can’t prove that war is inevitable except inductively, by pointing out that history is littered with wars and reminding you what happened to the pacifist Moriori inter alia. There’s no other way to describe it, except to use the words of Solomon: “As the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them.” Even when a war is necessary, war is never noble, and I find I can’t discuss this fact without being shrill. Look, I’m already doing it now, even while I try to explain why I don’t want to.

    If I’ve misread your philosophers, which is entirely possible, I’d like to point out that you’ve misread christianity if you think of christ, or any other true sprititual figure, as “den[ying] life at all turns as corrupt and imperfect, a shadow world waiting for the apocalyptic revelation of the transcendental eternal.” I grant you that most of the fools in this world who proclaim their Christianity (or their Jewishness, or their . . . Buddhism? But you never see Buddhists making a big deal out of it . . . well, you know what I mean: insert laundry list of religious practices here) take this view. But you rightly warned me not to judge Derrida harshly on the basis of the way others might represent him–don’t you owe the same respect to other philosophers?

    The Yu Tang quote I provided (if that is, indeed, Lin Yu Tang’s surname–I admit that I never get these things right) can’t possibly be called Derridian. Derrida and his ilk are exactly what Yutang was warning against: an emphasis on the discussion of philosophy rather than on the living of philosophy. Derrida may have acknowledged that philosophy was inherently arbitrary (that is, he recognized it as inherently logocentric and said that logocentrism consisted of arbitrary distinctions), but that didn’t keep him from philosophizing the hell out of anything that moved. Yutang is much more in line with the Wittgenstein quote I supplied in that other thread. W (the philosopher, not the president) at least had the conviction to renounce philosophy for a long time after deciding it was powerless to describe the important things in life.


  8. In a particular (paragraph by paragraph) order:
    1. You’re right: I’d stepped outside of the original post (the Pessimus Populus thing). And yes, I would characterize Bush as evil, in as much as the practices that a person commits can have long reaching detrimental consequences to the lives of (millions) of others.
    2. Again, your teleological bias is showing: Derrida repeatedly emphasizes the merit of Plato’s philosophical technique; indeed, he repeatedly employs it. Also, I think you misread Derrida: you read him in the idiom of nostalgia, of lack, of absence of meaning; Derrida’s idea of differance is not about a lack of meaning, but rather the ever-present open-ness of meaning, the (infinite) multiplicity of meaning, the constant differential/deferring play of meaning: the lack of one transcendental, absolute, perfect meaning (if you read the Nietzsche essay, think of the “one” leaf he discusses…). Plato, in contrast, imagined perfect, ideal forms, transcendent forms from which a whole system of language/rhetoric/philosophy delineated/controlled. Again, I think you profoundly misunderstand Derrida: you mistake him for a nihilist.
    3. Wars happen because enough people hold to the idea that they can be necessary. Also, people are animals.
    4. I don’t think that I misunderstand Christ; I actually read him, particularly in Mark and John, as a radically deconstructive figure. Of course, he was appropriated by a patriarchal organization that reinterpreted him through Plato, and the rest is some of the worst history we can point to. Christ’s example instantiates the non-transcendental limits of the human body: his gift is a gift of death, a gift of the self that undoes the self, eliminates the first person perspective that “others” others. The primary misunderstanding of Christ’s example, in my opinion, is the church’s attempt to convert his sacrifice into a transcendent move: Christ gives his life as an example (“follow my example,” not, “follow me”–Christ asks that his move, not his ego be repeated) of how to relate to one’s fellows: If Christ gives his life as a gift but knows at the moment of the giving that he is assured a second infinite life, then it is not a real gift; there is no risk. The church (some/most in the church?) misinterprets Christ’s resurrection as a “concrete” event as opposed to a psychological resurrection as part of an undue fear of death (learning not from Christ’s example; this, I believe is a direct echo of the misreading of the akedah, the story of Abraham and Isaac. This story is too often read as a story about faith–but how can Abraham have faith in YHWH if he knows from the outset that YHWH will not *really* require he sacrifice his son? Abraham is put in an impossible ethical dilemma, one that requires he murder his son, which, for all intents and purposes he does–at least psychologically. The story is far from a simple “test of faith”–it represents the absolute transient fragility of life, the structural deathliness of life. See: D’s The Gift of Death (D reading Kierkegaard reading Genesis)). Christ’s example–a beautiful, revolutionary example–is meant to be followed at every moment as a relation to one’s fellow that removes othering perspectives and reorders the Darwinian economy of existence. Christ’s move is to “bring” Heaven to earth, to reverse the concept of a shaming original sin. Buddha makes the same move, I believe. But, I admit, most of my understanding of Buddhism originates from Herman Hesse and Joseph Campbell.
    5. How is the “living of philosophy” separable from the “discussion of philosophy”? They may be different, but I don’t think they can be separate. I think, that to practice philosophy is to enter into a dialog with the world (this was Plato’s major contribution, I think). Derrida, incidentally, lived his philosophy. He applied his thoughts and efforts to numerous fields. In particular, he worked–in a very practical way–to show how logocentrism contributes to atrocities like genocide and war, the plight of displaced people, child labor, “human trafficking” (slavery). The attacks on Derrida–and others of his “ilk” (what a pejorative word that is!)–of inutility, navel-gazing, and nihilism–are the result of people not bothering to fully explore what those philosophers have done outside of a few key ideas. Of course no one has time to read every philosopher and live a “normal” life, and it would be silly to fault someone for not having read every philosopher. But to conclude that the “important things in life” cannot effectively be described by philosophy is simply a realization–a realization that refuses to admit it is a realization–of the limits of language to mean, of the impotence of intention. D’s project–and we’re getting hung up on him, but there are plenty of others in a similar “camp”–Cixous, Judith Butler, Kristeva, Foucault, etc.–allows for a joyous revitalization of language, for meaningful discourse freed from illusion. You mistrust them, it seems, specifically because they *don’t* wave their hands and say “Hey, here you are, we have the truth right here. Now go and live your life accordingly.”


  9. this has been a lively and entertaining debate, please keep it up! fwiw, i’ve found ed’s arguement far more convincing, though that may be due to my preconceived ideas on these issues falling almost entirely in his court. i also recognize that neither debator is likely trying to win anyone over to his side, so that is irrelevant. still i can’t help but think that those who think in terms of absolutes must ignore far too many factors in order to perceive those absolutes as based in logic. in my own admittedly hokey philosophy: the only absolute is there are no absolutes.


  10. Sorry this has taken me so long, as I put off reading and writing anything more in this discussion because I hate the way I feel after arguing with a friend. But hey, I’m back now.

    2 (with a nod to 1): I have not read nearly as much Derrida as you obviously have, and I never intend to, but I dare to say that in my estimation you may be misreading him. I assume here that Derrida’s writing is consistent; in other words, I’m assuming that the parts of Derrida I haven’t read don’t violently disagree with the few parts I have read, and with the public appearance I have seen. If Derrida believes in an infinite multiplicity of meanings, as you say, then I accuse him of believing, ultimately, in the absence of meaning.

    Telos exists. Without telos there is no meaning, because meaning by definition is the relationship that obtains between telos and logos. And I think you know that telos exists, too: If it’s wrong for Bush to cause people to die (admitting arguendo that he is), this can only be because his action violates some sort of tenet or belief you have that exists outside of Bush’s actions; that is, the allegedly arbitrary distinction between acceptable and unacceptable behavior that you’re positing must truly exist. If it does, Derrida is wrong. If it doesn’t, Bush can’t be evil. In fact, nothing can.

    3: People are animals. I couldn’t agree more.

    (But if this is so, again, I have to ask–aren’t wars inevitable?)

    4: Of course I can’t tell you if your reading of Christ is correct–I have no idea. It sounds like a perfectly cogent reading to me, though it’s very different from my own reading. But I don’t see how the conclusions you just reached about Christ (“revers[ing] the concept of a shaming original sin”) can support your earlier allegation that Christ denies life at all turns as corrupt and imperfect. Perhaps you were saying that Christinatiy has perverted the example of the original Christ (after all, Mark and John et al are not Christ)? Or have I misunderstood you?

    5. I don’t know much of Derrida’s life, but my very quick google-based research on same suggests that the way he lived his philosophy is not the kind of thing I was talking about. I should have been clearer. Derrida’s arguments are constructed from signs even as he tries to argue that signs can mean anything at all because meaning is arbitrarily imposed. If you truly believe that meaning is arbitrary, pantomime strikes me as a more suitable vehicle for self-expression than the writing of lengthy philosophical tracts.

    You’re right: I do mistrust your philosophers, because I prefer my philosophy in pithier flavors. My philosophers exploit symbolism to conceal their meanings and, in so doing, multiply those meanings in a meaningful way (that is, in such a way that the multiple meanings all point directly at telos). For example, one of my favorites from the *Hagakure*:

    “There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. By doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to all things.”

    On the surface, this text advises us simply not to run in the rain. But the understanding also applies to the manner in which we face death, which was of primary importance to the samurai who wrote it: The reader is advised not to avoid death, which comes to everyone no matter what steps we take to avoid it, but to step up and meet death as easily as we would walk outside into the rain. That one is pretty easy, but the exercise of observing the lesson and looking for ways to apply it is still valuable. Eventually we can progress into more and more obscure texts. Another one of my favorites:

    “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
    but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. . . . And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.”

    In that text God tells mankind not to do something because that thing will cause his death; later, the same God refers to an “us” and then specifically forbids man from living forever. It took me years to work out even a passable explanation for this, but, man, was it ever worth it.

    And then there are even more cryptic passages:

    “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.”

    How will it be that meek men inherit anything? Why would inheriting the Earth, which is supposed to be sinful, be a blessing? Et cetera.

    I could go on, but you get the point. These philosophical writings (and they are, to be sure, *philosophical*: truly occupied with the love of knowledge, and every bit as disciplined as the most baroque meditation on the letter a) don’t say “here’s the truth.” Instead they posit truths that are overlooked by most, hidden in symbolism that admits of no immediate answers, because one lesson of such texts is that the search for meaning is meaning in itself.

    (and to micbk): I used to believe that absolutes couldn’t exist. But everything on earth is exactly and absolutely itself. I live absolutely in Florida. This blog is absolutely located at And so on. Indeed, our daily lives betray the existence of an infinite number of absolute facts, and no functioning adult lives a single day without relying on them.


  11. Addendum to the foregoing:

    It’s been bothering me that I didn’t do anything to address what you were saying about nihilism directly. I mean, I mentioned it in passing, but I didn’t directly say, “Here’s my response to your allegation that I’m misreading Derrida as a nihilist.”

    Derrida may proclaim that he’s not a nihilist, or that his philosophy is life-affirming. But the logical conclusions of his arguments belie that assertion. If an infinite number of equally valid meanings can be constructed and deconstructed ad hoc by anyone, we have arrived at a universe in which nothing has any inherent meaning. Derrida can deny the nihilist conclusions of his assertions all he wants, but one plus one equals two (actually, to Derrida it doesn’t; to Derrida, it could equal hippopotamus).

    Derrida’s own political actions (and any political assertions made by deconstructionists) belie the supposed meaninglessness that deconstructionism necessarily implies, which is what I was trying to say when I said that he doesn’t live his philosophy. It’s absurd to agitate on behalf of the rights of the downtrodden unless you’re also willing to admit the downtreading others is capital-w Wrong–not just wrong to you or the people in your philosophy department, but absolutely Wrong. If it’s not Wrong, then all you’re doing is agitating over a matter of opinion, over something that’s no better and no worse than anything else, over the parsley on a dinner plate.

    In thinking about all these things I read a lot of commentaries on Derrida and nihilism. Most were pro-Derrida, like this one:

    But then I found this:

    It quotes rather heavily from *The Economist’s* obituary for Derrida, which manages to say everything about Derrida I’ve been trying to say but failing. It’s not often that I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with something someone else has written, but this is one of those times.


  12. Too much to respond to Mike, knowing that you have no intention of reading Derrida, or Nietzsche, or Kristeva, or Cixous, or Butler, or Foucault, or any of the other writers you can so easily thus dismiss. You privilege a spiteful nihilist blogger (who uses blogspot, no less!) who cites The Fucking Economist’s spiteful obit (what’s next? Will you counter my arguments with something from The Objectivist website? The Wall Street Journal?) over Borghino’s far more cogent summary; and yet this is all a substitution for reading something that you don’t want to read to prove to me that reading this something is not worth reading. I don’t mean to be dismissive, but I’m just too busy to keep this up; I’m unpersuaded by any of your arguments, which repeatedly rest on a number of assumptions that you are unwilling to recognize that you do not recognize (primarily, the textual nature of the world; you prefer, it seems, a metaphysical anchor to stabilize your system). But, in the hopes of not being misunderstood, I’ll bite on two last points:
    1. The Christianity Thing: Here is my original quote (in a Derridaean reading, there is no original quote, only a citation, an iteration, different, deferred, and recontextualized–but for your sake, let’s just say that this is my original quote (even though it is not and cannot be)): [Deconstruction is] “life affirming (as opposed to the Platonic Christian ideological tradition that denies life at all turns as corrupt and imperfect, a shadow world waiting for the apocalyptic revelation of the transcendental eternal).”
    Clearly, I was referring to a type of Christianity that has taken root that resists the notion of a Darwinian world, a Christianity that pines for an “out,” a transcendence to the thermodynamic limits of this world. I like the Jesus Christ. He’s my favorite philospher. ;)
    2. Your own readings of the Bible, and the other text you cite, reveal that you *do* understand that texts hold the ability to deconstruct themselves.
    3. Derrida’s philosophy did not have to connect to his actions explicitly; however, I believe they did.
    Derrida’s major contribution is in pointing out that there is No Natural Authority. You don’t believe this, so feel free to stop reading now, of course, but I’ll finish up. Derrida’s philosophy allows us to question anyone who says they have a “natural” right, a foundational right, a metaphysical right to X, it upsets the foundational hierarchies from which some people claim to have a right to power over other people. If “cat” is “cat” because it is not “bat,” “dat,” “fat,” “car” etc. — if differance can be demonstrated — then there is no privileged, anchoring, transcendental sign from which the rest of the system must be controlled.
    Finally, you keep wanting to think that Derrida somehow didn’t realize that he *was* living in a *concrete* world; Derrida didn’t think that because differance inhered in language that meant that language–or math, or computer language, or architecture, or art, etc–was useless. Rather, he wanted to point out how easily destabilized the hierarchies of philosophy, culture, religion and politics were–all it takes is a little pushing. Most philosophers push, Derrida pushed farther.


  13. I agree, and this is the head-butting I was describing earlier.

    For what it’s worth, I also agree emphatically that authority doesn’t exist except where it is effectvely created by those who claim it, and that human hierarchies fall apart under scrutiny. For that matter, I don’t think you’d find any moden commentator who disagrees with that assertion. (In fact, I’d argue that leaders like Roosevelt and Churchill, who knowingly sacrificed men in their thousands, are the more heroic precisely because they realized the fragility of the liberal governments they were preserving.) I disagree that this is what Derrida was all about, or that it was a particularly new idea. In fact, it’s the theme of Ecclesiastes, one of my favorite texts ever (and decidedly anti-Christian).

    I *am* extremely sorry not to have read more of D, and I’m sorry not to have read the N you linked. I will read it as soon as I finish submitting this comment, because I respect your opinions and it was wrong of me not to do it earlier. It was an oversight, not a deliberate omission on my part.

    Finally: Of course texts can be deconstructed, and of course reasonable people may differ as to how texts are best interpreted. But the fact that *some* interpretations are equally valid is not the same thing as saying that *no* perspectives should ever be marginalized: *Hamlet* teaches us nothing about the Ideal Gas Law. The judicious exercise of discrimination is a mark of intellectual maturity. I don’t say this is a cutting remark against you; you clearly exercise judicious discrimination whenever you grade papers or perform countless other tasks. I say it to point out that some views are closer to a “center,” and some views aren’t even fit to be marginalia, even if I wish this weren’t the case.

    (This is my last comment on this thread–please feel free to respond if you see fit. I’m not trying to have the last word, but I wanted to explain that I don’t think being open to the notion of critical analysis obligates a person to accept Derrida in full.)


  14. I read the Nietzsche. The Derrida link was broken, but I googled and found this, which I read:

    I like N’s writing. And, while I disagree with his conclusions, I have no problem with his reasoning; N’s problem, in my view, is with the premises from which he begins. In that regard reading the N was kind of like looking at myself several years ago, because the ideas he put forth would have resonated very nicely with the things I believed at the time. Not that I’m relegating N’s work to a position in my ontogeny, but I think that if N had had the benefit of Einsteinian relativity, which shows conclusively that we didn’t actually invent time, but that time and distance *do* exist objectively and measurably outside of human metaphor, he would never have written this:

    “But everything marvelous about the laws of nature, everything that quite astonishes us therein and seems to demand explanation, everything that might lead us to distrust idealism: all this is completely and solely contained within the mathematical strictness and inviolability of our representations of time and space. But we produce these representations in and from ourselves with the same necessity with which the spider spins. If we are forced to comprehend all things only under these forms, then it ceases to be amazing that in all things we actually comprehend nothing but these forms. For they must all bear within themselves the laws of number, and it is precisely number which is most astonishing in things. All that conformity to law, which impresses us so much in the movement of the stars and in chemical processes, coincides at bottom with those properties which we bring to things. Thus it is we who impress ourselves in this way.”

    You will respond, probably, that science is always a metaphor created by human beings as a way to understand the world, even if our current way of understanding it is to say that it’s beyond our understanding. If this is your response, then I have to ask: Can you conceive of a set of experiments and results that might establish for you that time and space actually do exist in real and concrete terms? If you can, I think you’ll find that such experiments have been done and such results obtained.

    The Derrida, on the other hand, still makes me want to punch a hole in my own head out of frustration. Look at this:

    “But, it will be said, it also marks and retains his having-been present in a past now, which will remain a future now, and therefore in a now in general, in the transcendental form of nowness (maintenance).”

    I’m beginning to wonder if D’s aversion to the notion of meaning might be related in any way to his apparent inability to write a sentence that has any :)

    Let me ask you a question — what do you think of Sokal?


  15. Backwards:
    1. On Sokal: these are from last year, and I haven’t bothered to re-read them.

    2. If anyone else is reading, the referent of the “it” in Derrida’s sentence that Mike quotes is a “written signature”; the “his” refers to a hypothetical signer (Derrida ends this “speech” with a signature, btw). I think that the sentence is cogent, coherent and meaningful: D is saying, I believe that the act of ascribing a signature is an attempt to affix intentionality and “pure,” essential authority to a text. The “transcendental form of nowness” he alludes to is the ideal of a pure, unalterable, intention. Following: “The condition of possibility for these effects [of the signature] is simultaneously once again, the condition of their impossibility, of the impossibility of their rigorous purity. In order to function, that is, in order to be legible, a signature must have a repeatable, iterable, imitable form; it must be able to detach itself from the present and singular intention of its production.” Is that illogical or incoherent? It’s certainly a complex idea, but I don’t think it’s that difficult to understand.
    3. You ask: “Can you conceive of a set of experiments and results that might establish for you that time and space actually do exist in real and concrete terms?”
    And then you take the liberty of answering: “If you can, I think you’ll find that such experiments have been done and such results obtained.” Are you really interested in my answer then?
    You predict my answer of course. To quote William Blake (from Proverbs of Hell): “Where man is not, nature is barren.” Einstein’s work, at least in my understanding, allows further justification–if you need it–for a Nietzschean, or perspectival approach to philosophy. But, Einstein cannot surpass his metaphors, to use a line from Frederic Jameson, no one can escape the “prison houses of language.” So, no, even if time and space did exist–which, of course, we perceive that they do, we can measure that they do, etc.–it would not be possible to *say* that they did with truth and validity using means outside of a metaphorical system. This is not an anthropocentric view (I hope that you do not read the N as such–people occasionally mistake it for this).
    4. Are you the real Richie Rich? Admit it. You’re Richie Rich, aren’t you?


  16. To be honest, I found this list of worst people of 2007 by accident and almost hesitated on clicking to read it when I read that it was posted by something called “biblioklept”. While I do not agree with everything you have written, I am glad I gave this site a shot.

    You have presented your thoughts, opinions, and your arguments in a well organized manner. It is clear that there is deep thought behind what you have written, and while what you have to say may not change my mind on what I believe, it has given me something to wrap my mind around.


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