Today is National Survivors of Suicide Day

[This is a reposting of “The Harrowing” from 2010, in honor of fellow survivors, and their silent struggles.]

That summer, both of my boys stayed with their mother in Chicago, but only Tristan was to return in the fall for school. There was some apprehension about how that would go: we had moved across school district lines, and though his petition to stay with his friends at the other high school had been approved the previous year, when he was a freshman, his second petition had been rejected. I don’t know if this was because of his grades, which were mediocre, or because of behavior issues that never got back to us, but in retrospect I can say that either way, it was his taste for marijuana that seemed to have been behind it. He was pretty upset about the prospect of losing his friends.

During the summer he had met a girl, not the first girl he had been sweet on, but the first he had gotten anywhere with. I later learned that they had had sex, and this had opened doors in him that would never close again. He had been reading Romeo and Juliet for school and had expressed the desire to learn more about Shakespeare.

When he came back, he seemed fine, but there was one moment when we were sitting in the dining room that he started to tear up, very quietly. Being separated from the girl was going to be hard on him. I thought back to similar events from my own adolescence, and while I was perfectly aware of how hard they had been, I had survived, and so would he.

A couple of weeks after his return, they had their first fight. He had told her a story designed to elicit her sympathy (I seem to recall it was about being mugged) which he had made up out of whole cloth. Eventually the deception weighed on him and he confessed, upon which she broke up with him. Though deception is a part of every child’s life as we all recall, it was different with him. He was typically quite dogged in sticking to his story, so the standard ritual of discovery, confrontation, contrition and reconciliation tended to not happen. I didn’t understand this at the time but later did: when you chronically lie to protect someone else you love and depend on (his mother), the incentives for honesty tip the other way. I think he had lived much of his life like a spy in enemy territory, or like a closeted gay man in the bad old days. All children lie; but Tristan was living a lie, and the explosion of his sudden desire to be loved for who he truly was, his sudden desire to be open for once with the one person he thought to receive redemptive love from, was probably a psychic earthquake I can’t fully imagine or understand.

For days he and the girl were on the phone incessantly. I tried to be reassuring, but I had nothing to offer except that it might work out, and that he would survive if it didn’t. Like some kind of galloping idiot, I cited the example of the long separation between me and my high school sweetheart, who I was later re-united with and married. “See, these things have a way of working out,” I said, about his mother, whom he knows I later divorced and, as I imagine it, probably drove to drink.

Toward the middle of one evening, I started to get a seriously weird vibe. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but my natural optimism seemed to suffer some sort of tremor. Something indefinable and spooky had entered the household and settled over it that evening, and I felt fear. Something was not right. I went to his room and knocked on the door, let myself in. He was, for the moment, not on the phone to her. He seemed utterly at peace.

“It’s OK, Dad. She took me back. We’re back together again.”

The spooky thing was still with me though. It was somehow all the inadequacies one feels as a parent, accumulated and present in that moment, this sense that I had done everything I was ever going to do and now it was up to him, and that I hadn’t done enough. I thought of how many times I had focused on his older brother at his expense. I thought of the absent-minded way I had spent my time with him during our visitation weekends, as if there would always be more time, as if just being there was enough. But in the past few years, I had done everything for him. Was it enough? Had I prepared him for the life that was now rapidly unfolding for him, a life I would have no power to control?

“Have I been a good enough Dad?”

A horrible, impossible question. An unfair question. And unnecessary: for it is never enough, nothing is ever enough, no one is good enough. This is just something we learn to accept, and when we see how they survive and cope and come into their own, we gather that it must’ve been enough.

“You’ve been the greatest Dad anyone could ask for.”

I am so grateful for the gift of those words. And I will never forgive myself for feeling relieved. The spookiness was gone. I told him goodnight and went back up stairs.

The next day, I got up with the dawn, as I usually do, and wasted time on the computer until it seemed like it was time to be really up and about. I posted something to Facebook. My wife woke up, and we made coffee, puttered around. Tristan was still asleep.

By nine in the morning we were ready to leave for the farmer’s market, but it was awfully late to let him sleep in (I figured he had gotten back on the phone with the girl and had talked half the night).

“Tristan, we’re going out now.” There was no reply. I spoke some more to the closed door, knocked a few times. From here, some things are now a bit blurry. I tried the door expecting it to open and to find him asleep. It wouldn’t budge. I don’t recall how many seconds elapsed. I remember her saying the word “nonresponsive.” I thought about heart attacks, medical things. Suddenly, I had this bodily sense that decisive action was necessary, right, saving. I threw my body against the door, got it open a crack, pushed myself through it. As long as I kept moving powerfully, decisively, everything would be OK. I knew without forming the words that I was about to save his life.

His body had been somehow rolled up against the door blocking it, so to get the door open I had had to force his body out of the way with the door. Once inside, I could see that he was on his stomach. Something about his legs looked strange, but I didn’t recognize it; I classified it quickly as more indications that something medical was happening. He would need CPR. I had no idea how to do this but I would try. Decisiveness. Action. Saving. There was no time to think that it would be OK; I would make it be OK.

I rolled him over and for the first time saw his face. The thing to understand here is that Tristan was an uncommonly beautiful child and after an awkward, in-between period, had become an uncommonly beautiful adolescent, so it was that face, the angelic face, that I saw. And then my eyes locked on it as if on a target, locked and fixed, and my whole visual field filled with that small, so small point which was the tip of his tongue between his lips.

It was blue.

The universe contracted toward that point. Silence. And for a split second, outrage, indignation. I whispered: not you. More seconds. And you find that your mind has shifted, inexplicably, from first person to second person, and the world has fallen away. Time has stopped. You don’t hear it at first, because it is so far away. It only comes to you gradually, the sound and for a moment you wonder at it, wonder where it is coming from, this awful awful howling noise that has gone from inaudible to far away to filling the world. And it takes a few moments to realize that this howling sound is you.

Later, there are police. They take over the room, the “crime scene”. There is this absurd desire to prove that you are fine, so you act fine. They tell you “he didn’t suffer” and you accept this, while immediately knowing that this is a lie and making a deal with yourself to never think about this again. A priest you know comes and you are grateful for this. You proceed to make a series of inconceivable phone calls which it falls on you to make, all of which begin with “I have some terrible news” most of the reactions to which are not what you expect. And then the police tell you that they are done and ready to take the body, and you ask for one last moment. You rub your palms on his chest as if applying Vic’s Vapo-rub to a sick child, and then stop. And then you are done.

This has happened before and this will happen again. And it happened here, September 13, two years ago, in the morning, as the sun shone through the forest trees outside his window.

Twenty-Five Random Things About Me

[recycled from the brief Facebook craze of 2009, discussed here]

1-25. I am willing to spend over an hour thinking of subtle ways of showing off how cool I am and then delete them in embarrassment.

And then another hour trying to do the thing with the right ethical attitude. Sigh.

1. In the Seventies I told a movie theater owner that someday people would pay money to own their own copies of movies and he thought that was ridiculous (I was pitching a business plan to him, a kind of “movie of the month club” based on Laserdiscs, which I thought would make me rich). I think this was because I had already seen 2001 more times than anyone I knew and thought it would be fine if I could watch it every day.

2. I like Siberian Huskies. I had one once but she ran away. When he was two years old I told my son a bedtime story I made up about how he and a Siberian Husky snuck on a rocketship they found in a park and went to the moon to have lunch with the King of the Moon People.

3. Ever since I read Dune as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by how religions begin, though I suspect there’s not a whole lot more to say than what Dune already says.

4. I’ve spent more time than I care to think about arguing with strangers on the Internet. I have lots of Internet-only friends, and some of those friendships have become realworld and changed my life.

5. When I was in college I sold blood plasma for cash and spent it on Sara Lee cakes and orange pop; it’s a miracle I’m still alive. This beat food service jobs, of which I’ve had far too many, and I hated every minute of each of them.

6. I have complicated and, I think, interesting, views about romantic love, and am puzzled by why neither philosophers nor psychologists seem to have much interest in figuring out how it works and what it means, and why those few who do misunderstand it, and themselves, so badly.

7. If I like something, I just try to experience it over and over again, and never tire of it. So I know a few things really well, but not nearly as many things as I wish I did.

8. The smell of eggs makes me gag, and when I look at breakfast menus, it makes me sad that I will never just enjoy a stereotypical breakfast.

9. I reason out loud or not at all. This poses certain practical difficulties, especially since I feel weird talking out loud alone. Most of my silent thinking is in pictures, and I strongly associate colors with emotions.

10. I like thinking about the etymology of words, and tend to notice this side of language when I shouldn’t. Mixed metaphors make me have conniptions, and I actually correct them in student writing. John Gardner said that how one uses language reveals character, and I try to correct that too, which makes reading my teacher comments really scary for some.

11. I get migraines.

12. I am, like most of my countrymen, obsessed with the American Civil War, but for utterly weird reasons that relate to Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gore Vidal and Ken Burns. OK, the Ken Burns part isn’t so weird, but the others are.

13. I am really really lazy.

14. I tend to think that everyone is pretty much the same, not just in moral status, but in detail, and that it is prudent to imply that you, of course, are the exception. For example, I find the Godfather films deeply meaningful personally… just like everyone. Thus I find talk about human rights halfway plausible but talk about diversity hilarious. What diversity?

15. I am a political junkie, but only about the national stuff. My family was active in local and regional politics. When intellectuals talk about “the system” I stare at them in blank amazement at the psychotic things they say, but they think I’m naive.

16. I like peaches. A lot. Usually in my kitchen cabinets there are a couple dozen cans of the stuff.

17. I used to draw, think I should again, and probably won’t.

18. I envy scientists and have fantasies about fixing certain defects in my education in that regard, and know I never will. By contrast I tend to think most doctors are… well, overrated. In almost every conceivable respect.

19. I actually liked law school. I think judges are more rational than philosophers. Sometimes I look at philosophers and am just agog at how weird their thought processes are.

20. I like taking long romantic walks on the beach. Alone. Mountains are cool too. I think the world approximates perfection to the extent that it is not only devoid of human life, but all life. I’d move to Mars if I could.

21. My mom can talk her way into anything; my dad can talk all day if you let him. I fall utterly silent until I think I have a captive audience, but once I do, oh boy.

22. I once ran for student government as a kid. When it looked like I was going to lose my party’s nomination, I changed parties, which says a lot about my attitude toward commitment I suppose. When I gave my first political speech, I droned on and on, saying the first thing that came into my mind until they dragged me off the stage. I still blush when I think of it.

23. Temporality troubles me. I’m not sure time is running in the right direction. I feel nostalgic for old sci-fi fantasies about what the future would be like now that I know it isn’t like that (this is the future, what you see around you. Isn’t it?). I would like to believe the past is still happening, just like in time travel stories, even if we can’t go there. You might think this is about death, but actually it isn’t.

24. In middle school we played football. When the guy opposite started trying to charge me I just stepped out of the way and let him go wherever he wanted to. This still seems pretty reasonable to me.

25. My most frequently used word is “weird.”

The Professor Doth Protest Too Much

“Finally, one may wonder about the class and gender dimensions of Nietzsche’s conception [of excellence]. Though the ancient and medieval martial figures are all to some extent associated with ‘noble birth’ (though in Napoleon, this seems to not matter much, given the low tier of nobility Napoleon’s family occupied, and the likely social disadvantages of being a Corsican in France) all of the modern non-martial figures are middle class. To be sure, Nietzsche does not simply identify attitudes with class origins, allowing that sublimated attitudes can become disengaged from their sociological matrix. But his emphasis, in the Genealogy of Morals, on the importance of the experiences of social superiority and inferiority in shaping fundamental attitudes, makes the pervasiveness of bourgeois origins in his most praiseworthy people curious. Indeed, it is far from clear to me that ambition of the consuming sort Nietzsche finds praiseworthy is not more a trait of the precarious middle classes than it is of those confident in their inherited advantages (and the considerable social constraints and required conformity that typically attend them). And while self-conscious condescension does not seem to characterize the people Nietzsche celebrates, it seems a trait one more readily associates with a bourgeoisie that has ‘arrived’ than with a stably dominate social group. When we turn to Nietzsche’s account of the ‘ignoble’ one wonders whether condescension is not just the flip side of ressentiment, a trait more likely found among the ‘not yet arrived’ bourgeoisie whose expectations have outstripped society’s ability to deliver than among a stable ‘peasantry.’” — Nietzsche: A Guide For The Perplexed

My Big Fat Greek Decade Redux

Why Greek? I dunno, something to do with epic, tragedy, comedy and philosophy.

Was it a good decade? It all depends on how you look at it. The Supreme Court explored its newly minted constitutional authority to pick a president, foreign policy started to resemble a bad Bond film, Russia slid into fascism and America flirted with it, international free trade started to unravel, the budget surplus was squandered, the economy collapsed, and the cunning of history reminded us that it really has it in for Poland. On the plus side, we brought back some of the coolest photos and data from Mars hitherto, Bond films started to resemble good Bourne films, Apple continued to innovate, the Coen Bros. continued to turn out masterpiece after masterpiece, Tolkien hit the big screen finally, we elected the first African-American president, the euro launched successfully, the people of Iran yearned and struggled for freedom, and health care got reformed. On the personal front I: lost a career, saved a career, got a JD, published two books, got a divorce, lost my kids, got married, got my kids back, bought my first house, lost one kid to drugs and another to suicide, saw the surviving kid climb back up to clean and sober and getting his GED, found God, lost God, got wisdom, figured out what my philosophy is finally, and realized that I am surrounded by the best friends a man can have. I wouldn’t call it a wash, but it wasn’t dull.

Review Roundup

Peter Kalkavage. The Logic of Desire. A helpful, accessible commentary on the Phenomenology of Spirit.

Ludwig Wittgenstein. Philosophical Remarks. First, philosophy of mathematics takes up a very large chunk of this MS, the first large, self-contained, continuous piece of work Wittgenstein produced after the Tractatus. In light of the fact that Russell’s and Frege’s logic was crafted primarily to further a logicist philosophy of mathematics, one wonders if previous scholars have underestimated the significance of Wittgenstein’s possible reflection on the logicist project as a unitary motivation for his early doctrines. For example, the saying/showing distinction might have been crafted with an eye toward the avoidance of paradox. Second, it is somewhat surprising that there is a discussion of the nature of temporality here. This could be attributable to the overall “Kantian” flavor of the proceedings, but I couldn’t help but notice that the nature of the subjective experience of time was a topic in the air, most notably in Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927). One senses that we still don’t quite “get” Wittgenstein’s historical context, because we read him more as influence than influenced, and as the lone intellectual hero.

Gary Gutting. Pragmatic Liberalism and the Critique of Modernity. Gutting begins with a view of epistemology, ethics and politics adapted from Rorty and proceeds to improve it by critical reflections on him, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Charles Taylor. Though I found myself in broad sympathy with Gutting’s views and aims, this book probably wouldn’t be terribly useful to someone who wasn’t at least acquainted with Rorty first. Two objections occur to me, more about completeness than about flaws: first, though Gutting discusses the role of those not privately committed to pragmatic liberalism (e.g., the religious conservative), the fact that Gutting himself expresses support for the public furnishing of certain economic goods blurs the distinction between pragmatic liberalism as a framework within which discussion between various types of “liberals” occurs (F. A. Hayek is a type of liberal in this sense), and “liberalism” as a particular position within that framework (roughly, Democratic Party politics in the U.S.). In the former sense, and setting aside the true religious conservative as Gutting describes him, we are all liberals now. In the latter sense, we aren’t and need not be. The second issue I had with the book was that, while Gutting criticizes Rorty’s tendency to conceive of private life in a pragmatic liberal society in a certain way, Gutting still seems to inherit Rorty’s sense that there will be a significant split between public and private. But if pragmatism means that the institutions of a liberal society will be the product of a contingent cultural history, and will be sustained by certain cultural norms, how can these norms not penetrate into the private identities of the public participants? I think we need something more Hegelian here: a conception of a public sphere that provides community, but community organized around the norms that valorize individual freedom. To vary the old saying, we not only need people who can amicably disagree with what the other says, but people who are willing to defend to the death their right to say it. It’s unclear how that is possible if commitment to the neutral framework of a liberal society isn’t a deep, identity-constituting one.

Robin Waterfield. Why Socrates Died. This is the only book I’ve read on the historical Socrates question, so I can’t evaluate it professionally, but it was plausible and convincing. Since part of the task of the book is to set up Socrates’ context, the book proves to be an excellent synopsis of the Peloponnesian War. Waterfield’s conclusions are similar to I. F. Stone’s: Socrates is far closer to Plato than the conventional wisdom suggests, and the motivation for prosecuting him is his association with, and advocacy of, oligarchic politics. I am now far more hesitant to embrace the “early-middle-late” model of Plato, along with the notion that distinctive views of the middle Plato are more Plato than Socrates. Socrates as martyr to liberal inquiry and Plato as forerunner of fascism won’t wash–they are too close, too similar, on Waterfield’s view. That seems right to me. Highly recommended.

Randall Collins. The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. OK, so I didn’t read the whole thing. I read most of the history of western philosophy (skipping medieval and recent French) but not the Asian material and skimmed lightly the sociological chapters. This is an odd book, and I find it hard to imagine an audience for it. It is purportedly a sociological explanation for the history of philosophy. Though there are a few bells and whistles, the crux of it is that people who make noise for a living seek attention, attention is scarce, some people are better than others at eliciting it, certain kinds of discussions are more likely to attract attention than others, etc. Though I imagine most philosophers would be really offended by all this, I wasn’t, because it says nothing about the value of the content of philosophy, and it is in some sense obviously true as far as it goes. The problem is that most of the sociological claims seem rather trite, and none of them forced surprising reinterpretations of the philosophical material itself. The most interesting claim was the link alleged between the rise and fall of Idealism and the movement of modern philosophy into the academy, though the causal mechanism itself was somewhat elusive (and these were among the portions that I read most thoroughly). If my amateur understanding of sociology is right, then this will not seem particularly illuminating to sociologists (unless triteness commands great interest among them, which is possible, I suppose–it is sometimes astonishing what social and behavioral scientists will regard as unobvious). But the lack of revision in our understanding of the history of philosophy, and the appropriate non-engagement with the philosophical content itself, means that there’s not much here to interest philosophers. The book, however, has great utility, but for something it is clearly not intended to do: it is a wonderful introductory text sketching the history of philosophy, similar in many respects to Russell’s. I have already urged a student to read the chapter on the emergence of analytic philosophy and phenomenology because it is so short, comprehensive and accurate. But I think I was expecting something along the lines of “everything you think you know about philosophy is wrong.” Instead I got “it’s not what you know but who you know,” and I think I already knew that.

Michel Foucault. Lectures at the College de France, 1977-78: Security, Teritory, Population. The rise of the state. That’s a bad thing.

Michel Foucault. Lectures at the College de France, 1978-79: The Birth of Biopolitics. The state as we now have it, alas.

Ray Monk. Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. For non-philosophers, this is probably the book to read if you are curious about who that Wittgenstein fellow was. For philosophers, I noted three things. First, I did not experience any professional winces (an example of a professional wince–once, when I was taking a literature class in graduate school, the professor commented in lecture that the most important philosophical event of the 20th century was Wittgenstein’s suicide, to which I replied patiently that perhaps it would be, except that Wittgenstein died of prostate cancer). That’s good. Second, the cultural agenda of his thought is far clearer when he is encountered biographically–his affinities with Heidegger jumped out at me, and never would have done so if I had I not read this. I was unaware of his reading of Spengler for example. Third, without especially trying to, the “Wittgenstein was a saint” is deftly punctured by the endless supply of anecdotes illustrating his social insufferability. It looks more like Keynes, Moore, Russell et. al. were the saints… for putting up with him!

David Sheff. Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction. Been there, done that, bought the wall to bash my head against.

Don Herzog. Happy Slaves: A Critique of Consent Theory. The Herzog Effect is to take some category central to the social sciences and then transform it into a romp through British history, in order to show the genealogy of the category and, as with all genealogical investigations, how thoroughly we now misunderstand ourselves. Here the target is contractarianism. Yet Herzog does not want to distance himself from the better sorts of societies we now live in that are associated with this notion, nor even to utterly discredit the idea that we do enjoy, in some partial and incomplete way, some say over the political circumstances we live under. A must read for political philosophy people, the whole book is wonderful, but the chapter on Hobbes stands out as exceptional. Only slightly marred by allusions to the time of composition (this is strange–the publication date is 1989, and yet I felt the ghostly presence of President Ford lurking within–perhaps the book was long gestating?), the book would be a classic with light revisions; as it is, it is a near classic from one of the best political thinkers of his/our generation.

Xenophon. Conversations of Socrates. Unutterably dull, unless of course this is the Real Socrates, in which case it is fascinating.

Christopher Priest. The Separation. Priest’s books are marketed as science fiction (in this case there is an alternate history component, which is also for some reason considered a sci-fi bailiwick) but are better thought of as akin to literary magical realism. As in many of his novels (e.g., The Prestige) the theme of personal identity and doubling plays a central role (the two protagonists are identical twins). The doubling allows Priest to play games with narrative structure that keep your attention and keep you puzzling to figure out what exactly is going on. But the principal doubling is of the world itself into two histories. Since this is another in the “what if World War Two had gone differently” subgenre, it is important to know that this is not Fatherland or The Man in the High Castle. Priest does not use the what-if to reaffirm the conventional wisdom about the Good War; he is a pacifist brave enough to tackle the toughest case imaginable and stand his ground. This is the moral vision of Human Smoke in fictional form, in a hauntingly sensitive and delicate prose, committed to the task of showing the utter futility of all violence.

Richard Mason. Before Logic. Amplifies a small still voice in every philosopher’s head that says that assumptions are assumptions even if you succeed in not examining them.

Nino Ricci. Testament: A Novel. Suppose that Dominic Crossan wrote a novel…

Alastair Reynolds. Revelation Space. Like a cross between Dashiell Hammett, H. P. Lovecraft and Arthur C. Clarke. At one time, all I read was science fiction, and at some point I lost interest. Alastair Reynolds and Kim Stanley Robinson brought me back. Though I’ve read a few others of Reynolds’, the first, Revelation Space, still seems the best. Terms like “gothic” and “noirish” come up when people try to describe his approach to space opera, but I find myself thinking instead of the great Arthur C. Clarke, both for the careful fidelity to scientific plausibility (no zipping around the cosmos–it’s too damn big, and the light speed limit is adhered to scrupulously), and a penchant for sublime, quasi-religious themes. Though the characters don’t always seem real (perhaps they are bit too noirish?) the unfolding backstory, like space itself, eventually inspires a kind of cold, still awe.

Iain Pears. An Instance of the Fingerpost. Rashomon in Restoration England; stunning ending.

Review of Don Herzog’s Cunning (from May 26, 2006)

On the surface, this book seems to be in the genre of cultural history, the history of an idea (Machiavellian maneuvering). But wait a minute! Isn’t Machiavellian maneuvering a timeless fact of life for us humans? Isn’t the idea of a history of cunning as odd as the idea of a history of sexuality? There’s the rub. It turns out that how we think about cheats and scoundrels has a history, and one can’t quite view it in the same way again once this comes to light. More: not only do our assumptions about scoundrelhood reflect a history, but they don’t stand up to critical scrutiny (the author’s beautiful final story of the gulled murderer at the end illustrates this, but I don’t want to spoil it for you by explaining it here). More: dubious assumptions about scoundrelhood are lurking in the deep background of how slews of people today think about rational choice, philosophy of social science, and the nature of morality, and though the author does not lean heavily on this point, if the reader is aware of what, say, economists think rational self-interest is, the implications of the critical history of scoundrelhood for all kinds of projects is quietly devastating. This agenda, if it is his agenda, sneaks up on you in the course of what you might think is just a really fun sequence of anecdota, revealing him as a stealth philosopher. The stealth philosopher seems also revealed in the very quiet undercurrent of insistence that we rethink our assumptions about morality, selfishness and deceit, and acknowledge them, and human life more generally, as the cussedly complex, theory-defying things that they are. Yet this touches the reader on a more intimate level–are you sure you are a good person? How do we draw the boundaries between dupe and knave? Can we? The author provides no answers, only lots of really uncomfortable questions. Last but not least, all of this is presented in one of the most delightfully wicked, jazzy, clever, fun prose styles I have ever encountered. There is a kind of brilliantly improvisational quality to the book which makes it a joy to read. The better to sneak up on you with its deeper concerns, sowing seeds of doubt that we know what rationality and irrationality, honesty and deceit, good and evil, really are. How very cunning.

Posner’s A Failure of Capitalism (from June 7, 2009)

There is a puzzling mismatch between the content and the purpose of this book. Posner insists that it is the market, not the government, that is essentially to blame. He then goes out of his way to show that low interest rates (set by the Fed, a part of the government) induced rational actors in the market to create the bubble. Though he mentions a variety of other factors, this seem to be the principal factor. So this is a very helpful book if you actually read it, because he seems to have analyzed the situation correctly. But this makes it all the more perplexing that he calls this a failure of capitalism. The only explanations for this oddity that I can think of is that he thinks of the Fed as a market participant, which of course it is in a sense, or that he calls “capitalism” the total system which includes all the markets and their participants and the government structures that sustain and regulate them. The problem with the former is obvious, since the Fed is more appropriately thought of as a market structurer, not as a participant; the problem with the latter is that the polemical tone of the title and matching passages within makes no sense if he means “what caused the system to collapse was… the system, collapsing.” If one can read past this pervasive oddity (explained, ultimately, I think, by Posner’s hostility to the current Republican Party and an unwillingness to be perceived as giving in at all to a demonizing the government line that might associate him with them) it is a useful book for non-specialists, simply because the party lines we are getting from both parties are so wide of the mark (the Democrats’ time honored target is “greed” [Wall Street] and the Republicans’ time honored target is “compassion” [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac]). Until people begin to grasp that the great inflation fighter Alan Greenspan panicked in the face of the dot.com bust and decided to stimulate the economy with low interest rates, thus making mortgage borrowing overly attractive and creating the bubble, we will not begin to grasp what the Austrians have understood for decades: the unmanageability of fiat money.