Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Paul Campos

rss feed

Ideology and legitimation

[ 24 ] January 30, 2012 |

“Ideology” can mean a number of things. I’m using it here in the sense of the received consciousness of a particular social order, which legitimates that order and helps reproduce it. The lawyer and sociologist David Riesman aptly described how ideological modes of thought produce a kind of “sincere” mental state that allows someone to habitually believe his own propaganda. A dominant ideology generates a set of views that distort social reality in a particular way: in a way which advances the economic interests of the dominant group, without the members of the group becoming conscious of the fact that they believe what they believe because it is in their self-interest to believe it.

A simple example might be how the ideology of free enterprise capitalism in early 21st century America creates a sincere belief in the mind of a hedge fund manager that paying himself a salary of one billion dollars, which is then taxed at a lower rate than the salary of the average American full-time worker, is wealth maximizing for society as a whole, and therefore by definition a good thing. Read more…


Everybody’s in show biz

[ 10 ] January 27, 2012 |

Email from a reader (published with permission of the author):

This email will seem to you like the least surprising thing in the world, which makes it ever more tragic. Read more…

It figures a guy named Fielder would end up as somebody’s DH

[ 89 ] January 24, 2012 |


Per the Twitter, the Tigers have just signed Prince Fielder to a 9-year $214 million deal. Since Detroit already has a pretty good first baseman who is also signed to a long-term megadeal, this means there’s either a trade for Cabrera in the works or that Dave Dombrowski has read The Obesity Myth.

Breaking . . . supposedly Cabrera has agreed to move to DH. Can Fielder, you know, field? I’ve only seen him hit home runs.

Also, what about Victor Martinez? He has a torn ACL, and is supposed to be out for all of 2012, and isn’t expected to be able to catch again. He’s basically going to be a DH for the rest of his career.

Could Cabrera move back to third? He has soft hands and a decent arm but at this point his mobility is slightly better than a sleeper sofa’s. This must be what it’s like to root for the Yankees. In other words, fun!

A True Story

[ 4 ] January 22, 2012 |

I’ve been reading William Ian Miller’s latest book, Losing It, which is about getting old:

Occasionally I flatter myself that I am earning my keep, contributing more than I am consuming. And unlike those football players and boxers who do not know when to quit, professors, like me, cannot be cut. Tenure and age discrimination laws let us keep working, which somehow does not seem the right word. Besides, there are always a couple of lazy colleagues whose real contribution to the enterprise is to make less lazy ones feel like we deliver value for the price. Never mind that my keep would fund four entry-level scholars in history or anthropology who are now unemployed: I still have kids of my own to feed, though I might be feeding them with someone else’s. Self-deception and wishful thinking, looking on the bright side in a self-interested way, keep us conveniently color blind to our real value, seeing black when the ink is red. Or simply not caring if it is red, when we see it.

As Miller’s mordant take on his subject makes clear, the inevitable decline of our faculties forces all of us who will be both lucky and privileged enough to have a real choice in the matter to grapple with the problem of knowing, or not knowing, when to quit. Read more…


Is it Very Serious or is it satire?

[ 72 ] January 21, 2012 |


You make the call!

I want to be coldly analytical, not moralize, here. I want to tell you what Mr. Gingrich’s behavior could mean for the country, not for the future of his current marriage. So, here’s what one interested in making America stronger can reasonably conclude—psychologically—from Mr. Gingrich’s behavior during his three marriages:

1) Three women have met Mr. Gingrich and been so moved by his emotional energy and intellect that they decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with him.

2) Two of these women felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married.

3 ) One of them felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married for the second time, was not exactly her equal in the looks department and had a wife (Marianne) who wanted to make his life without her as painful as possible.

Conclusion: When three women want to sign on for life with a man who is now running for president, I worry more about whether we’ll be clamoring for a third Gingrich term, not whether we’ll want to let him go after one.

4) Two women—Mr. Gingrich’s first two wives—have sat down with him while he delivered to them incredibly painful truths: that he no longer loved them as he did before, that he had fallen in love with other women and that he needed to follow his heart, despite the great price he would pay financially and the risk he would be taking with his reputation.

Conclusion: I can only hope Mr. Gingrich will be as direct and unsparing with the Congress, the American people and our allies. If this nation must now move with conviction in the direction of its heart, Newt Gingrich is obviously no stranger to that journey.

Social knowledge and social change

[ 32 ] January 19, 2012 |

A.E.S., a veteran attorney, responded to a question I asked regarding what if any advice should be given to prospective or current law students who ask for it:

Prof. Campos, who are you or who am I to tell a law student or college grad what path to take? The data is out there. In today’s economy, law school is a terrible proposition unless you come from a wealthy background or attend a top 10 school with a scholarship.

When young people ask me whether or not to attend law school, I change the conversation. I could tell them don’t go, but they will resent me for crushing an illusory dream and still attend just to prove people like me wrong. Hubris will be their downfall.

Now I agree that the last sentence of the first paragraph is an arguably reasonable interpretation of the data alluded to in the previous sentence. Whether, generally speaking, the category of people who “should” go to law school under current conditions ought to be broader or even narrower than this isn’t the question I want to engage here. (I’ve got my own thoughts on this). Rather, I’d like to focus on the idea that the information is already available for prospective law students who want to make a rational choice about whether to try to become attorneys (or to go to law school for some other reason, dubious as any other reason is almost certain to be). Read more…

Working for free and class privilege

[ 13 ] January 18, 2012 |

Three or four years ago, things were finally getting bad enough that even legal academics were starting to notice that a lot of our graduates seemed to be having trouble getting jobs. In fact the only real change in the situation was that a bunch of big firms laid off a lot of junior associates and deferred many of their new hires. At the vast majority of law schools such developments affected a very small portion of the graduating class (90% of law schools send less than a quarter of their grads into big firms, and 80% send less than ten per cent), but given the obsessively hierarchical nature of our business everyone suddenly became aware that there was “a problem.” Read more…

Moralizing illness and weight

[ 150 ] January 18, 2012 |



I have a piece in the Daily Beast on Paula Deen’s “confession” that she has Type 2 diabetes. The belief that one can significantly lessen the risk for developing diabetes by avoiding certain foods has no scientific basis, but since it fits in so well with our general tendency to moralize illness and our specific fear and loathing of both dietary and body fat, it’s extremely commonplace.

The gender dynamics inherent in Anthony Bourdain’s criticisms of Deen are particularly interesting. Bourdain’s books paint a picture of a man who eats exactly what he wants whenever he wants (and what he wants to eat is very often high-fat classic French cuisine), and who has never counted a calorie or “worked out” in his life. On top of that he cheerfully admits to chain smoking, and to much indulgence in his youth in extra-legal recreational pharmacology. But since he’s thin and a man he gets to lecture America about all our supposedly terrible eating habits. It’s amusing to imagine what the likely reaction would be if a fat or average weight or for that matter even thin woman with the same autobiography tried to pull this off.

Deen has diabetes for three reasons: her genes, her age, and her weight. The big myth that drives all the moralizing regarding the latter is that it is somehow significantly more malleable than the former two factors, when in fact it would be more accurate to say that it is a product of them.

What’s the matter with Romney?

[ 98 ] January 16, 2012 |

As he cruises toward the GOP nomination Mitt Romney can’t seem to stop saying things that, besides being intellectually dubious and morally offensive, are almost certainly going to be damaging to his presidential aspirations:

Romney has made the “class envy” trope central to his message. In his New Hampshire victory speech Romney whined that President Obama “divides us with the bitter politics of envy.”

Romney complained to on Wednesday’s Today show, “Everywhere [President Obama] goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.” In maximum Thurston Howell III mode, Romney allowed, “I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms.” But the president is talking about it in public!

How uncouth. Doesn’t Obama know that it’s always best to discuss the unwashed masses over martinis at the gentlemen’s club?

Although Romney doesn’t drink martinis, over the past year or so he’s made a number of remarks that make him sound like a caricature of a country club Republican. Given that Romney is clearly good at electoral politics — giving Ted Kennedy a scare in 1994, getting elected governor of Massachusetts a few years later, and winning the GOP presidential nomination this year isn’t a bad track record for someone who didn’t get involved in electoral politics until his mid-40s — these remarks seem quite mysterious. (When you make Newt Gingrich sound like the voice of reason on an issue you may just have moved a tad too far to the right).

In addition, one would think that Romney — a child of pretty much the most privileged background it’s possible to imagine — would be especially sensitive to charges that he doesn’t understand that financial success and failure in America are not doled out to individuals strictly on the basis of personal merit. Here, the contrast with George W. Bush is instructive: To all appearances Romney is both much smarter and much more intellectually curious than Bush the lesser, yet Dubya at least had enough common sense to burble some banalities about “compassionate conservatism” rather than, as Romney has, throwing an unintentional spotlight on his own spectacularly privileged biography.

Perhaps one clue to Romney’s remarkably tin ear when it comes to his unconditional support for the excesses of our plutocracy can be found in this claim, from the biographical section of his Wikipedia entry: “[Romney] attended Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, a private boys preparatory school of the classic mold where he was the lone Mormon and where many students came from even more privileged backgrounds.” On one level this quote, which has three supporting citations, is simply bizarre. While at Cranbrook, Romney was the son of an extremely wealthy man who was also a major media celebrity (among many other things George Romney was the subject of a Time magazine cover story), not to mention the governor of the state in which Mitt’s high school was located. There were twelve million high school students in America in the early 1960s, and it’s plausible that if one were ranking those students on the basis of their relative socio-economic status, Mitt Romney might have quite literally have finished first.

All this is very puzzling, given that Romney’s aggressive refusal to make any concession to the tropes of noblesse oblige sounds very much like the kind of attitude that many self-made man who grew up in socially marginal circumstances takes on after he’s made it big (Ironically, George Romney, who really was a self-made man from a genuinely marginal social background, had a solicitude for the less fortunate that by comparison to his son seems in retrospect almost communistic).

Mitt Romney’s politically inopportune embrace of the idea that the only reason America isn’t quite yet a perfect meritocracy is because of government interference with the miracle of the free enterprise system requires, I think, some sort of at least partially psychological explanation, which will be rooted, as such explanations are, in his personal biography. And I suspect — I am putting this forward in the most tentative way — that such an investigation might end up focusing on the role that Mormonism and his apparently genuine embrace of his Mormon identity have played in Romney’s life. Instead of playing the role of the generous quasi-aristocrat, which even a egotistical blockhead like Dubya was able to more or less pull off, there is an air of the perpetually bitter outsider about Mitt Romney — of the parvenu who is at some level not quite certain that his exalted status will ever be fully acknowledged by those whose approval he most craves.

Or who knows, maybe he’s just another endlessly entitled rich guy. But it’s a question that will be worth exploring for at least the next ten months.

Lie to me

[ 57 ] January 13, 2012 |


I got an email from a prospective law student who is applying for admission to various schools this fall. He’d gotten this solicitation from Drexel’s law school to participate in an online chat with current Drexel students: Read more…

Blessed are the hedge fund managers

[ 82 ] January 12, 2012 |

I’m pretty sure that’s somewhere in the Bible. Possibly toward the back.

QUESTIONER: When you said that we already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy, I’m curious about the word envy. Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious? Is it about jealousy, or fairness?

ROMNEY: You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. The American people, I believe in the final analysis, will reject it.

QUESTIONER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?

ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.

Asking any questions about the distribution of wealth in America today undermines the notion of one nation under God? As Greg Sargent notes the NBC interviewer gave him not one but two chances to back off a position that would have made J.P. Morgan blush, and instead Romney just cranked it to 11. If his campaign people can’t brainwash him into displaying a bit more of the common touch than Louis XIV he’s going to get steamrollered in November.

The function of a gadfly

[ 367 ] January 11, 2012 |

Glenn Greenwald wrote a post this morning which was in part about the failure of the progressive blogosphere to condemn the ongoing murder of Iranian scientists, given the very strong possibility that these murders are being carried out by Israel, and the less strong but still significant odds that the U.S. has some involvement in these killings, ranging anywhere from direct participation to tacit approval.

Now on one level this criticism can easily be seen as unfair. As Greenwald himself has noted, not every progressive blogger is obligated to comment on whatever issue any particular progressive blogger considers the most important issue of the moment. Furthermore, Greenwald can be read to be implying that certain prominent bloggers, such as Scott, are failing to comment on this particular story because they’re running interference for the Obama administration, which would no doubt prefer as little attention as possible be given this story, at least on the left side of the political spectrum.

That of course is an unpleasant implication, and I know I would be quite irritated if it were directed at me, especially to the extent I believed the implication was false. (Scott responded promptly and straightforwardly to that potential implication). Still, what Greenwald is doing in cases such as this one seems to be valuable, despite the potential or real unfairness generated by his rhetorical style. Here’s why: Until I read Greenwald’s post this morning, I had been paying almost no attention to the ongoing killing of Iranian scientists. Now I certainly hadn’t avoided writing about the story consciously: I simply hadn’t paid attention to it.

This, when I reflect on it, was a real mistake on my part. After all, five years ago I was involved in a very public and nasty exchange with Glenn Reynolds, when he merely advocated doing something which, for the last couple of years, has actually been happening. In other words, this is a story I should have followed closely, and commented on, given the (justified) outrage I expressed five years earlier. Why didn’t I?

The answer is uncomfortable. I didn’t follow this story because, at bottom, this story puts “my team” in a bad light. Now again, this wasn’t a conscious decision. I’ve leveled plenty of criticisms at the Obama administration, on all sorts of issues. But I have no doubt whatsoever that, if the serial murder of Iranian scientists had been happening in the course of the McCain administration, I would have been all over this story, in part because, given the sources of opinion I read regularly, I would have been much more aware of that story, which, for the same reasons I haven’t been paying attention to it, hasn’t been prominently featured by those sources.

In its most extreme form, this kind of selective bias is manifested by a willingness to openly praise acts that are substantially identical to acts one condemned in the strongest terms when they were carried out by one’s political opponents:

All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side. The Liberal News Chronicle published, as an example of shocking barbarity, photographs of Russians hanged by the Germans, and then a year or two later published with warm approval almost exactly similar photographs of Germans hanged by the Russians.

These sorts of extreme examples of intellectual inconsistency are of course especially common in war time (which is no doubt why the celebrants of perpetual war are most prone to engage in them). On a less extreme level, everyone is at the very least prone to pay considerably less attention to shabby or shameful or even seriously criminal behavior when it is perpetrated by one’s friends and allies rather than one’s enemies and opponents. Glenn Greenwald’s hectoring of liberal bloggers to maintain intellectual and moral consistency without regard to who’s political fortunes are being advanced or harmed is valuable precisely because all of us are inclined not to do so.

Page 59 of 104« First...102030...5758596061...708090...Last »