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Archive for June 2008

Thoughts on Instant Runoff Voting

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Ever since discovering Instant Runoff Voting, I have been amazed how our electoral process can so structure our view of politics, and how little it seems to be treated by political economists. Here is an element of the political process that is thoroughly material, and gives a definite structure to our perception of political choice and the possibilities of political action, but relatively little activism for reforming it (at least in the United States). I am only beginning to seriously survey the literature on this and other electoral forms, but I already see striking differences, in terms of property, between the standard American plurality vote (first-past-the-post, where it’s one vote to one candidate) and Instant Runoff Voting or otherwise Condorcet methods.

In the plurality vote, the votes belong to the candidates. This is why “candidate C” can “steal votes from candidate B.” There is also a bit of bottom-line Capitalist logic to how a winner is determined: not by a popular majority, but by getting more votes than any other candidate, which can easily happen with less than a popular majority when more than two candidates are running. Usually overlooked, too, is how pluralist elections depend upon a forced choice between one of two candidates. It is easy to point out the disconnect between the unspoken rule of pluralist elections and the overt rule of getting to vote for whomever you want, but they are nonetheless connected by the electoral process itself.

Two-Party politics is common fodder among critics of American politics, but Two-Party politics doesn’t represent an ideological limit, but a material limit to political choice in a pluralist elections. Psychoanalytically speaking, Two-Party politics is a symptom of an electoral system with material contradictions (The People cast their vote, but as belonging to the candidates/party). The problem for American politics isn’t so much that Two-Party politics gets us no where, but that as a symptom it has or is beginning to fail to make bearable our electoral system’s failure to enact The Will of The People. This is most apparent in the merging of the Democratic and Republican parties into Left and Right wings of corporate interests, that continue to erode the American economy, infrastructure, and capacity to take care of its own.

Instant Runoff Voting implies a very different relationship between the elected and the electorate, one that I think begins to return political determination to the electorate. Since votes in IRV do not belong to a single-candidate, each ballot effectively belonging to as many candidates for whom the voter wishes to express preference, votes are more easily (though not necessarily) determined by the voters themselves. One way IRV gives more determination to the electorate is by eliminating spoilers and making multiple-party politics an actual and not just a formal possibility.

This is a pretty interesting video on Instant Runoff Voting, the most popular one on IRV on You Tube, but they would have done better to explain how it gets rid of the spoiler-category and not just its effect on an otherwise two-candidate election. In the context of the video, IRV not only helps out “candidate B,” but “candidate C” too. In the initial example B loses to A because of C’s spoiler effect. In the IRV example, the authors assume that the same amount of people would give their first preference to candidate C. In the real-world of pluralist elections, if C is appealing enough to steal some of B’s votes when those voters “know C can’t win” because of the way pluralist elections work, it’s likely that there are more possible voters for C than this video suggests.

IRV makes it harder to argue against a candidate for reasons of “electability,” which makes it easier to for their platforms to be heard. It also makes it easier to raise legitimate criticisms against otherwise front-running candidates, who are often defended as “our only choice” (a fair argument to make, too, in a pluralist system!) by those otherwise willing to hear such criticisms. These are, of course, changes that are maximized by reforms in campaign finance and either the decline of television debates as a proving ground for candidates or the introduction of public national television channels for campaign information.

Written by Joe

June 26, 2008 at 8:32 am

Nietzsche and Buddhism: An Annotated Bibliography (forthcoming)

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One of my last courses as an undergraduate was a survey-course on Nietzsche. For one of the core assignments, I ended up writing up a quick-and-dirty sort of bibliography on and a summary of his use of Buddhism. For this I found the most incredible text, Nietzsche-Wörterbuch or “Nietzsche Dictionary.” It’s published by de Gruyter, publishers of Freny Mistry’s original “Nietzsche and Buddhism: Prolegmenon to a Comparative Study.” The Nietzsche Dictionary is actually a work-in-progress, which de Gruyter explains so I don’t have to.

The Nietzsche Dictionary elucidates in detail some 300 terms from Nietzsche’s vocabulary. The first volume presents 67 of them. The account of each term includes the number of occurrences, main uses, synonyms, the various meanings, components of meanings and semantically relevant contexts (with examples), and the historical linguistic and philosophical localisation of Nietzsche’s use of the word, as well as a discussion of Nietzsche research and the reception of Nietzsche.

The complete dictionary will comprise 4 volumes. The project will be completed by 2010. An electronic version is planned upon completion of the printed edition.

Lucky for me, Buddhismus is early enough in the alphabet to be included in the first volume. Unlucky for me, the text is in German. It’s not so bad though, having taken a couple years of German. I can read through the citations (I count 66), and translate with little trouble the cited words.

What I have already done is format the 14-page section into a nifty reference to all the places Nietzsche uses the words that invoke the Buddha, Buddhists, Buddhism and/or Buddhistic (culture). I also made a small list of what Robert Morrison describes in his Nietzsche and Buddhism: A Study in Nihilism and Ironic Affinities as the only texts Nietzsche owned or probably read on Buddhism. Graham Parkes points out in a critical review of Morrison’s book that he over looked work done by Johann Figl into Nietzsche’s earliest encounters with Buddhism and Asian thought in general, which suggests Nietzsche encountered Buddhism even earlier than Morrison describes, in his days at the University of Bonn (just slightly earlier than his discovery of Schopenhauer). To be fair to Morrison, that is about the only substantial point Parkes makes. I encourage people to read Morrison’s response to Parkes, in which he addresses not just Parkes but the problems with Mistry’s book that he sought to remedy in his book while making his own original arguments. Lastly I am collecting a list of secondary sources on Nietzsche and Buddhism.

What I want to do is not only translate the Nietzsche Dictionary selection into English, but perhaps expand upon it with the secondary literature. Here is what I have so far.


The Birth of Tragedy: Buddhism (7); Buddhistic negation of the will (7); Buddhistic culture (18); Indian Buddhism (21).

Dawn: Buddha (96); Buddhist (469)

The Gay Science: Buddha (108, 147, 353); Buddhism (99, 347); buddhistisches (99);

Beyond Good and Evil: Buddha (56); Buddhism (61, 202)

Genealogy of Morals (Essays/Section): Buddhist/ism (1/6), (2/21), (3/17); Buddha (3/7, 27); European Buddhism (Preface 5).

The Case of Wagner: “Buddhistic” in letter to Peter Gast included in Kaufmann’s 1967 translation.

The Anti-Christ: Buddha (20); Buddhism (20,21,22,23,42); Buddhists (22)

Ecce Homo (Essays 1,2,3&4): Buddha (1-6); Buddhists (Zarathustra Section1).

Nachlass (Notebook/Section): Buddha (1/5), (5/71), (7/111), (14/91, 162), (24/1), (25/16); Buddhist (1/5), (10/157, 190), (11/244), (14/107, 162), (19/148); Buddhism (2/4, 127, 131), (4/15), (10/157), (11/240), (14/91, 195), (24/1), (25/97); Buddhistic (11/4); Buddhist Pessimism (2/186); European Buddhism (2/144), (4/2), (5/71), (35/9); Buddhist negation of reality (9/62); “buddhaische Traumphilosophie” (23/4, 12); Buddhism as Passive Nihilism (9/35); Buddhist-Christian belief (25/222).

Buddhist Scholarship That Nietzsche Read – from Morrison’s Nietzsche and Buddhism.

(1) Hermann Oldenberg’s (1882) Buddha 

(2) Max Müller’s (1881) Selected Essays On Language, Mythology and Religion (vol.ii) 

(3) Carl Köppen’s (1857) Die Religion des Buddha 

(4) Muthu’s Coomaraswamy’s (1874) Dialogues and Discourses of Gotama Buddha

Nietzsche-Buddhist Scholarship You Should Read

Mistry, Freny. Nietzsche and Buddhism: Prolegomenon to a Future Study. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1981.

Morrison, Robert G. Nietzsche and Buddhism: A Study in Nihilism and Ironic Affinities. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Parkes, Graham ed. Nietzsche and Asian Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Stambaugh, Joan. The Other Nietzsche. Albany: SUNY Press, 1994.

Van Tangeren et. al. “Buddhismus.” Nietzsche-Wörterbuch. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2004. 419-433.

Written by Joe

June 21, 2008 at 8:49 am

Posted in Buddhism, Nietzsche

Fish on The Academic and The Political

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I wonder what difference there is between Fish’s judgement about private/public commitments in his article on “Liberalism and Secularism” and those he’s making in these last three articles (First, Second, Most Recent). In that article from late last year, Fish attacks the public-private distinction, while recently he’s happy to enforce it, though the terms are a bit more obscure. A professor as a professional pedagogue conducts their teaching in an effectively public realm by Fish’s view, but does Fish’s relegating their political commitments to the private sphere not constitute just another, if unspoken political commitment?

Fish is not about to say that of their political commitments professors should say “I have none,” because it’s ludicrous. At the same time, he doesn’t advocate that professors say their political commitments structure every last bit of their classes and how they’re taught. His middle-position, which puts political commitments off to one side and professional-academic commitments to another, is strikingly similar to the same kind of middle position he lambasts here:

“A candidate cannot say, ‘I don’t have any [religious faith],’ and a candidate cannot say, ‘My faith dictates every decision I make and every action I take.’ Rather, a candidate must say something like, ‘My faith generally informs my moral values, but my judgments and actions as president will follow from the constitutional obligations of the office, not from my religion.’ In other words, I too believe in the public-private distinction and I will uphold it. I won’t insist that you adopt my values and I will respect yours” (“Liberalism and Secularism,” Sept. 7, 2007)

What it sounds like Fish advocates is an approach to teaching that is like a liberal-secular approach to government. Academic and political commitments in this and the last two articles are analogous to the secular and sacred commitments he juggles in that article from last year. In the end, Fish suggests with Mark Lilla that “We need to recognize that coping is the order of the day, not defending high principles.” In the context of the academic and the political though, Fish doesn’t suggest coping, but rather candidly reverts to high, if academic, principles. His distinction on an academic level pre-supposes what is properly academic and properly political, but it is a matter of politics that this distinction is enforced, which he doesn’t escape. The problem this leaves is the same one Fish finds with liberal-secular neutrality: he does not expect academics to be apolitical so much as of a kind politics that respects the academic as distinct from the political.

Written by Joe

June 18, 2008 at 7:02 pm