A Neurotic in an Exotic Land; The Adventures of Professor Lucas

Here you will find some related writings (generally not as funny as the book) and a little info about the author, as well as an excerpt from the book.
The photo above should have been the book's cover!--and it
should be turned around!

All rights reserved.

Although some of the items I've now posted differ in their mood and style from the book itself, I am posting them here anyway because they date from roughly the time period in which the book was written--and, I believe they share a certain ambience with it. (note added 14 March 2010)

Monday, August 30, 2010

the Moloch of the market and publishing

On self-publishing my novel:

Recently I found myself adding a comment at “On Fiction” about some unpleasant experiences I had while trying to find a publisher for ‘A Neurotic in an Exotic Land.”

I was very disappointed when Keith Oatley seemed to write it all off as a case of forgivable human frailties. I have the greatest respect for Oatley and especially his book “Best Laid Plans”, but in this case I was very disappointed.

It is true that I was unable to supply the full details of my experience, but I couldn’t help but wishing I could employ the Slovak verb “bagatelizovat meaning to trivialize.

I think of this now because I recently came across a piece of writing by the Sociologist Loïc Wacquant which exactly made the point I should have liked to make at “On Fiction'

I quote from an interview with Wacquant titled “Critical Thought as Solvent of Doxa


(itself worth reading)

Context: Waquant is describing how critical thought must oppose

…the crushing of everything by the Moloch of the market, starting with the crushing of thought and all forms of cultural expression now threatened with violent death by the profit imperative and the unbridled pursuit of marketing success: consider that Mrs. Hillary Clinton received a seven-million dollar advance and the CEO of General Electric Jack Welsh got nine million for two execrable books that will be written by ghost writers in which the one will recount her life as First Lady and the other his experiences as a high-flying corporate tycoon, and that Amazon.com will sell barges of them before they are even printed, while talented writers, poets, and young researchers are unable to find houses willing to publish them for the sole reason that all editors must now raise their annual profit rates in line with those of the television and movie industries within which they have been integrated by the large cultural conglomerates.”

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Small Correction: Part One of Two

This note has little to do with the novel, but I want to make this point public somewhere.
If you just want to see an excerpt from the book, please keep looking elsewhere at this site.

When I was living in Slovakia I published an article ("American Optimism Meets Slavic Fatalism") in the "Journal of Mundane Behavior" (Volume 2, No.3, October 2001). That used to be a free on-line journal. It seems to have gone off line.
A while back, I discovered that I had been mis-cited--both my name and my citizenship had been changed, and (more disturbing) the content of what I had written was trivialized.

Here (in green) is a quotation from an article which appeared in the "International Business and Economics Research Journal" in February 2008 (link below):

Mark Locus, an Eastern European, writes in 2001 to warn against viewing Slavic people, “according to stereotype – as fatalists.” Locus defines fatalism as the view that a choice can not affect an outcome. He distinguishes those choices an eastern European might make that do change outcomes from those that cannot change outcomes. We would observe that since the end of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europeans increasingly find their choices do affect outcomes and that Slavic fatalism has faded, evolving to a growing optimism.

Mark "Locus"! Who is Mark Locus? I am not Mark "Locus" but Mark Lovas. So, why do I say they are referring to an article I wrote? If you check their bibliography, you will find no one in the bibliography named "Locus", but my name appears, and they cite my article in JMB.

In addition to getting my name wrong, they jumped to the conclusion that I am "Eastern European". But, I am neither European nor Eastern European. I am American--a citizen of the United States. At the time I wrote the article, I was employed by an American university located in Bratislava, but I am American not Eastern European, and several Americans were working there at the time. You do not have to be an Eastern European to be employed by an Eastern European university.

Here is a link to the article: http://www.cluteinstitute-onlinejournals.com/PDFs/672.pdf

The article had three authors, none of whom apparently could be bothered to pay attention to insignificant details like the name of an author they were citing, but who were able to imagine that said author was "an Eastern European"--yes, that's right an Eastern European born in Rahway, New Jersey, USA... (Frankly "Locus" is just plain Latin, and "Lovas" is plainly not--it is Hungarian or Slovak in origin; but perhaps the authors didn't know that; so the mistake might indicate a broader lack of knowledge.) Even more seriously, they did not do a good job of summarizing what I had said.

They not only attributed to me a totally trivial view--the sort of triviality one would hardly think requires a scholarly reference: the wholly anodyne remark that one shouldn't stereotype people because they are "Slavic"! (That's the sort of generality one expects to hear from a nursery school teacher, not from someone engaged into a serious cultural inquiry) -- they also managed to distort and mangle what I did say. I distinguished three sorts of fatalism: fatalism simpliciter, and (borrowing a distinction from Dan Dennett) two variants--global and local fatalism. (I did not put it exactly that way in the article, but it is clear to anyone who reads the article that this is what I was doing.)

You can be fatalistic about some things and not others. I suggested that Slovaks might be fatalistic about politics--and rightly so--while not being fatalistic about taking care of their gardens. The "definition" (sic) which the authors attribute to me threatens to make fatalism always and everywhere bad, to be avoided--precisely opposite to the point I was making.

Here is the explanation of "fatalism" which I gave in the article:

Anyway, what exactly is Fatalism?....Among professional philosophers fatalism is a position that (for the most part—I mention an exception below) nobody seriously defends or advocates. For most philosophers since Aristotle, it has been a sort of limiting position in discussions of free will and human agency: if you get to that conclusion, you’ve made a mistake and need to start over again. In brief, it is the view that human choices, decisions, deliberation, have no point—they don’t affect the outcome one way or another.

(added emphasis)

And here is their summary of what I was saying: (Again I assume by "Locus" they actually mean "Lovas"--i.e. the author of these words because there is no "Locus" in their bibliography.)

"Locus defines fatalism as the view that a choice can not affect an outcome. [added emphasis]"

They do an excellent job of defining "fatalism" in an ambiguous way--thus destroying the distinction I was after. Notice the ambiguity: A choice cannot affect an outcome. VERSUS No choice can affect an outcome. "A choice cannot affect an outcome" invites the question: WHICH CHOICE?

Fatalism, a view not very popular with philosophers, is the view that all choices are inefficacious.

If I bend over backwards to be charitable, I could interpret what they have written as follows: when they said "a choice" they meant "any choice." After all, there are sentences in English where "a+noun" involves the universal quantifier: "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle". (So, here "a" means "any" or "all".) Nonetheless, in expressing a view or position, it is part of the real work involved to choose words that escape ambiguity insofar as that is possible--and this is precisely what our trio have not done. It appears they are trying to pack the distinction I drew into the definition, and they they try to correct the ambiguity with their next line, which states a truism: some choices by Eastern Europeans are efficacious, some not. (Did they need me to tell them that?)

They write in a vague way that blurs over the very distinction I was making-- and that is reminiscent of the sort of error one might find in an undergraduate philosophy paper. The idea that a specific choice cannot affect an out come--"a choice"--is LOCAL fatalism. It is exactly NOT what I defined fatalism as. (Look above.) So, it would appear that what they've tried to do is to blur the distinction I was drawing. But, since I thought the distinction was worth drawing in the first place, I can hardly appreciate their attempt to undo the work I had done.

Does this matter? Why does it matter? SEE PART TWO

A Small Correction: Part Two

Why, you may well ask, does the distinction even matter?

My original point was that when Americans label Slavic people as "fatalists" they (the Americans) were confused. They were failing to distinguish local and global fatalism.

Maybe global fatalism is unreasonable; but local fatalisms are part of the essence of rationality.

Dennett's example to illustrate the distinction involved someone who slipped on the ice and was about to fall--for that brief period before s/he hit the ground, no choice could change their downward path.

And, let's be clear about a further issue. The three authors rather blandly assume that with the coming of capitalism to "Eastern" Europe, people have more efficacious choices.

On my analysis, people in Eastern Europe were always rational agents who knew where to spend their energies. The confused ones were the visiting Americans who regarded them as fatalists (fatalists simpliciter); and I even suggested that optimistic Americans might suffer from their own sort of cultural blindness when it came to evaluating their own culture....

To summarize the errors:

1. My name was either misspelled or changed--depending on your interpretation.

2. A hypothetical (but erroneous) ethnic identity was attributed to me.

3. What I said was mis-represented in two ways: a. A distinction I drew was blurred.,

b. My actual view was dumbed down in a way that trivializes it.

Of course there is a difference (objectively speaking) between choices that make a difference and those that don't make a difference. (That hardly needs a scholarly citation.) The more interesting point which I made was that Slovaks and Czechs know the difference. (And even that isn't terribly interesting when I make it out of context.--But it is quite different than what the authors attribute to me.)


Arsen M. Djatej, Robert H. S. Sarikas, David L. Senteney, "An Investigation of the Comparative Accuracy and Bias of Equity Securities Analysts East and West European Firms Earnings Forecasts", International Business and Economics Research Journal, February 2008, Volume 7, Number 2, accessed 8 August 2010. www.cluteinstitute-onlinejournals.com/PDFs/672.pdf

Daniel C. Dennett, Elbow Room; The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting, MIT 1984

Mark Lovas, "American Optimism Meets Slavic Fatalism", The Journal of Mundane Behavior, Volume 2, Issue 3, (2001), pp. 355-377.


Now that capitalism is in global crisis, all of us who don't belong to the capitalist class seem to have fewer and fewer choices.


Oh yes, the above-mentioned authors might like to know that the word "Eastern" has a negative connotation for some audiences. And, as the Czechs like to say, to travel from Prague to Vienna, you have to go east....

And Another Thing...

About their actual article: It is amazing (to say the least) that they follow the practice (which they describe as standard practice) of referring to "Eastern Europeans" as "Russians"!!

It is as if the Berlin Wall never fell, and culturally the Czech, Slovaks, and Hungarians (among others) continued to be in the sphere of Russia.

But the real topic of their essay is risk and over-confidence (which they describe as "optimism"). The Eastern Europeans who interest them--equity security firm analysts--make overly optimistic predictions--overly optimistic as compared to their colleagues in the west of Europe.

There is something laughable about this--the authors' confidence that the former members of the Warsaw Pact will now have truly efficacious decision-making powers-- presumably because capitalism has come to their lands--as if workplace democracy were not essentially antagonistic to capitalism and essential to true freedom, and as if choosing from fifteen different shampoos were the height of human freedom!

Yet,the whole business is ludicrous in light of the current economic depression, and the fact a group of economists in the UK recently wrote a letter to the Queen of England where they blamed the whole thing on a failure to accurately assess risk!!! I.e., a failure on the part of Westerners....Who is over-confident now?


The capitalist emperor really has no clothes...