Archive for Marx

Occupy Mathematics

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza, Revolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2011 by Rob Wallace

I gave the following talk at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City October 17 as part of a Festschrift for my father, and collaborator, Rodrick Wallace. A Festschrift is a symposium held–and a book published–in honor of a scholar, often on his or her 70th birthday. As opposed to a Gedenkschrft, held in memoriam (though there are some scholars who deserve the latter long before they’ve left for the great e-journal server in the sky).

I’ll start off with an old joke about Rod, in the de rigueur Boston accent. The joke runs like this: Equation 1. Equation 2. Equation 3. “We can see here an apartheid state entrains both oppressor and oppressed into a synergy of plagues.”

Equation 4. Equation 5. Equation 6. “It follows then that public health can be saved from a catastrophic vortex if and only if we smash the apartheid state.”

All kidding aside, we would make a mistake assuming Rod’s conclusions arise from his formalisms alone or—winky wink—vice versa. Instead, we should say they arise “and vice versa” and honestly so. Or better yet, inextricably so.

That’d be shocking if only because it would imply cultural and political precepts underlie mathematical mechanics. That the field’s formalisms are as much historical objects as many of the phenomena they address, as a number of commentators, including Wittgenstein and the ethnomathematicians, have ventured.

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The Expulsion

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2010 by Rob Wallace

In 1845 a diplomat delivered a letter from Friedrich Wilhelm to Louis Philippe of France protesting the insults leveled at the Prussian king by expatriates living in Paris. King Louis had the radicals’ newspaper closed down and the group, along with one Karl Marx, deported.

This was not the first time Marx’s pen had piqued a monarch. A protest from the Tsar of Russia had Marx previously expelled from Germany. And he would be banished twice more before landing in England for the rest of his life.

There is a tapestry of ironies in this. In pushing the man from country to country, Europe’s monarchs exposed Marx to a series of epistemological niches that informed his later works, including Capital: German philosophy, French political thought, British economic theory and, of course, Belgian beer and chocolate. Marx’s mash-up would eventually frame and inspire revolutions and rebellions around the world, several culminating with European authorities expelled in a hurry from newly liberated territories.

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Darwin’s Simulacrum

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , , on August 10, 2009 by Rob Wallace

I see dead people. And you can too. The museums are full of them, reanimated in a shamanistic glow funded by real estate developer Jack Rudin or Target or whichever oligarchical consortium rules your city state.

When we visit the clearing in the gentrified jungle we hope we might at least be blessed with a vision of an ancestral shade nominally more illuminating than what’s projected by the man behind the tree line.

Three years ago I attended the Charles Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In a country where 40% of the population polled think evolution patently false and another 20% are unsure, the show proved a triumph. Despite friends’ complaints about its length, the exhibit, expertly curated by Niles Eldredge of punctuated equilibrium fame, encapsulated Darwin, his ideas, and many of their immediate implications in an easily understandable way.

There I was–cynic turned fetishist–thrilled to see Darwin’s pistol and Bible from his circumnavigation aboard HMS Beagle. Although he spent considerable time ashore, there is great appeal in summoning a young Darwin, before his health broke, astride a deck hauling himself from one intellectual port to another, from amateur enthusiast to professional naturalist. He had much help, of course, but on an autodidact’s schedule, at one and the same time a relaxed and fevered pace. In an irony still relevant today, his successes would render him the last of the artisan naturalists.

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The Origin of Specious

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , on February 22, 2009 by Rob Wallace

marx-eng3In a quickie interview for Mount Holyoke’s house organ on the occasion of Charles Darwin’s two hundredth birthday and the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, biologist Stan Rachootin characterized the roots of the academic left’s hostility to Darwin this way,

Marx realized the close connection between Darwin’s thinking and capitalism. Therefore, Darwin had to be wrong. Engels, who was willing to read and use science, tried to argue that Darwin had a great deal of evidence beyond some ideas shared with Malthus and Adam Smith. But he could not budge his master.

Rachootin botches Marx’s reaction to Darwin. Badly.

Marx and Engels—the former in no way the latter’s “master,” an ad hominem attack on Rachootin’s part—reacted to the publication of the Origin of Species with something approaching glee. While contrary to an oft-repeated myth Marx never dedicated Capital to Darwin, he did write of his great appreciation of what he called Darwin’s “epoch-making work” and “the basis in natural history for our view.”

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