Monday, March 19, 2018

Abel Is More Able

Almost every time I start one of these stories I feel like saying to the reader, this is hard, I expect you to appreciate it!

The first person in history I know of who said this was Cain talking to God. God didn't appreciate Cain's efforts, which were agricultural, compared to those of his brother Abel, a shepherd to his flock. God says to a very upset Cain: do right, and you will get my attention. Don't do right, and you'll make a serious mistake and get yourself into trouble.

Cain and Abel is a very short story, like others in Genesis, and every word and incident counts. God sets rules, but the reward and punishment are our staying in the game or being thrown out. You can live happy in the Garden of Eden if you don't want to know the wrong things, eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge, but if you break the rules, you're out. Obey the rules, you have life: you can eat the fruit from the tree of life, that's not forbidden. Don't talk to me about rewards and punishments, God says, don't discuss it. There is only one bargain with me you can be sure of, and that is, expect something from me more than paradise, or losing that, the temporary paradise of my love, and you won't get it.

Cain is downcast. He doesn't understand. He expects God to respond to his efforts, and because he expects it God doesn't.

So Cain, son of fallible man and woman, makes the mistake. If following the rules doesn't work, why follow them? Why be his brother's keeper, if that is not his job? His job pays for itself with produce, whereas God doesn't pay. He sends a message to God: I'm on strike, I'll break your machine. Henceforth, I'll obey the rules that pay in this world, and in this world I am not a shepherd and not a shepherd to my brother. Who needs him?

God gets the message and responds perfectly, as of course God should. He takes away Cain's job, or rather makes sure it will not pay, and makes Cain a wanderer always distant from his presence. Cain complains that anyone can kill him now. And God again responds perfectly, making a rule of the kind Cain wanted: anyone who takes revenge on Cain will be avenged 7 times more.

Cain's punishment is to be kept alive with a rule made to order just for him, but to be permanently removed from what rule following was for, to return to God's love. Cain is punished with never being able to profit by rules.

This took a lot more words than Genesis used to say the same thing, but this is Christmas day and it seemed a good way to explain what I wanted for Christmas.


Caspar David Friedrich - Wanderer above the sea of fog.jpg

- What's on your mind?
- Producing and communicating. Buying and selling. Messages sent and received. I almost never look at social media, don't use the telephone. I use email: I've given some thought as to how. In conversation there is no interval between sending and receiving: as you speak you are heard. But send any kind of message there is a delay. Thinking alone, or making up a story, words are simultaneously heard by an ideal listener, and we come out from delay full circle: conversation, message, imagination. So much for delay in communication. What about delay with regard to production?
- You tell me.
- I was thinking of the waiting and the repetition of agriculture, compared to the wandering life. When I receive an email I treat it as conversation. I reply immediately, not stopping even to correct typographical errors. If I delay I start imagining how the few words I set down make me appear. In our times of everything bought and sold, production is unending and compulsive. Possible messages are sifted through as land is farmed. More land, more crops, more security. Delaying my answer to a message, I start to imagine how my words will be received. The longer I delay, the more alternatives I consider, each tied to my guess what image of myself these pictures in miniature will produce, and how much better some images are than others, which will be more effective in getting what I want from the communication.
- You're farming images of yourself.
- Yes. As products are sold by associating them with communications about the kind of life you'll have if you acquire them; communications are repetitively produced, farmed as products. My choice between images is a kind of consumption; finally I buy into one image and send it on. The same repetitive, acquisitive consideration is part of what holds people absorbed in social media; the same mix-up of producing, consuming, and communicating. This completely unlike the movements of a wanderer, appropriate to place, not repetitive, meeting with no delay.
- And your conclusions? Any message to the planet?
- Don't listen to advertisers' repeated associations of their products with appearances of secure lives, don't produce apparently secure images of yourself by admitting delay into your conversation.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Laugh & Do Nothing

Image result for wiki dollar


- When we have a discussion with someone of an opposing view and no progress is made, progress can be made in the study of human nature. I'm supposed to learn, assuming the problem is not in me, what is wrong with the other guy that gets in the way of understanding. That's how it is supposed to be.
- If you say so.
- I'm speaking hypothetically. What I find in practice is that if, for example, I talk with someone who thinks we're all selfish and what we say to each other is only a tool to getting what we selfishly want, even the most incisive arguments, presented with the most joyful satire, will accomplish nothing. Have you had the experience, even once, of talking to someone of opposing views and witnessing any understanding of what you say?
- No.
- Me either. The TV comedian Jon Stewart says satire makes an audience feel better, is cathartic, but changes nothing, has no political effect.* Noam Chomsky likewise has an audience in the millions. In response to questions about his politics, he will answer that an anarchist organization of society is desirable. He is careful though to say he doesn't considering himself an anarchist, but rather a 'fellow traveler', that is, not someone who aims at any practical realization of his ideas.
- You put Chomsky and Stewart and the selfish money-maker all in one class?
- Chomsky and Stewart undoubtedly are very smart guys. And selfishness being the highest ideal and the greatest good in life is laughably stupid. It excludes absolutely everything that makes life worth living. It excludes even the value of truth of its own statement, since it is composed for utility, not applicability to the world. But...
- But what?
- Stewart's satire, Chomsky's philosophy, attempt to clarify a world which, despite all the talk, they make no effort, have no plan, to change. How does such a world look to these critical speakers?
- I wouldn't want to speak for them.
- The cynical moneymakers will tell you that the truth of the world is everyone is selfish. They live lives of strict logic, doing anything required, without stop, to make money, but behind that strict logic is the "reality" of a whole world of selfishness, an unexamined, amorphous world.**
- And for Chomsky and Stewart the world they criticize and make fun of is equally formless? And that is why there is no change? I don't see it.
- Slavoj Zizek, another big talker with a large audience who changes nothing, likes making ridiculous comparisons. The augmented reality Pokomon, where a cartoon character is superimposed on the real world the game is played in, he associates with Hitler's "game" of exterminating the Jews. The incomprehensible quantum mechanical world he compares to video games which have only facades programmed in: god, he says, did the same with our world, never thinking we'd get beyond the facade of the atom.
- I don't think that is too funny.
- In both jokes an artificial world sits on top of an undescribed, perhaps meaningless lower world.
- And that is like how the player of the money making game sits on top of the world of the selfish.
- Yes.
- Assuming you're right, is there any way to get through to people who are telling logical stories against the background of meaninglessness?
- For that world to be meaningful to others wouldn't it have to be lived in by you?
- Everyone lives in the world.
- Does the money maker speak the truth, that is, is he living in the world, when he says that everyone is always selfish when that statement can not, if it is honestly spoken, that is, is selfish, be intended to establish a true relation to the world?
- So Chomsky and Zizek and the selfish money-maker alike all three establish no logical connection to the world that is subject to their critical attention.
- Yes.
- Let's pretend Chomsky starts talking about taking back the riches the extremely wealthy have acquired through crime and corruption of government officials. What, besides putting his life and career in danger, would he accomplish? Would he suddenly get through to people who before wouldn't listen?
- Maybe.
- Only maybe?
- Chomsky and Stewart and Zizek in his own clowning way do a good job setting up a reassuring logic against the threatening, seemingly unalterable confusion of the world. How is someone who has a different set of logic and confusion supposed to take them? Simply trade in their, for example, money-making/selfishness couple for Chomsky and Zizek's logical/meaningless world couples?
- And if Chomsky and Zizek take steps to do something?
- Then the amorphous world vanishes, replaced by a human being with human nature trying to do something reasonable.
- And that display of human nature will get through to the money-maker in his world of selfishness?
- It might.

The Juice Media
* Emma Goldman reports hearing in the 1890s about free speech in England that if it had any effect it wouldn't be allowed. See: 'Living My Life'.
** See Hans Jonas, 'Philosophical Aspects of Darwinism': "The combination of necessity and contingency seems paradoxical. The first obvious aspect of the universe in the modern scientific scheme was indeed the strict rule of causal law, in the function and consequently also in the genesis of things, and this seems rather to exclude any kind of contingency from nature. It certainly does exclude contingency in the sense of accidents outside the law. In another sense, however, the modern causal scheme is the very principle of an overall contingency of existence as such, insofar as the necessity here operating is external for any given entity within its pluralistic setting and does not proceed as an autonomous law of becoming from its intrinsic nature. Nor does it proceed from a transcendent plan, in the comprehensive design of which the particular things and their destinies are integrated. Rather is the necessity that of the sum total itself in the interaction of its parts, each of which contributes its quantity and is itself determined by the distribution of quantities around it. Though everything in this interaction is governed by causal law, the resulting formations are metaphysically contingent: none fulfills a particular end of reality, there-being no intrinsic preference in reality for this rather than another outcome of the arithmetic of interrelated quantities. External necessity of the summative type is therefore the corollary to the most radical contingency of every particular existence. Some initial conditions being different, the solar system would not exist or would be otherwise than it is, and the completeness of nature as an equilibrium-system would be none the worse for it. 'Necessity plus contingency' can be most simply expressed here by saying that there is the complete concourse of causes but no reason for the system as it happens to exist."


- I saw you threw in a footnote to our talk.
- What about it?
- It suggests to me all kinds of ideas.
- Let's here them.
- All of them?
- I have time.
- First then: the criticism offered by Chomsky, Stewart, and Zizek which you claim fails to have any effect on the world because, ridiculous as it sounds, they describe a logical world that borders on a darkness. In the footnote you added to the written version of our talk, a text from Hans Jonas, science is said to be in a similar condition, troubled by a similar darkness: why nature has the laws it has and not others we don't know, nor whether it will continue to have the same laws, nor whether there is any purpose to its having laws at all. Science does not show us nature proceeding with an autonomous law of becoming from its intrinsic nature.
- And?
- Our sense of ourselves does include a belief we proceed from an autonomous law of becoming from our intrinsic nature. We have souls. We develop habits, have memories, desires, fantasies, dreams, make plans. Science can research the movements of one kind of thing in response to the movements of another kind of things. It doesn't have access to soul, to what proceeds as an autonomous law of becoming from its intrinsic nature, only individuals do. Now here is my second point: it seems to me neoliberalism attempts to put science back together with what it has no access to, the darkness of the soul, by including in political logic recognition of dark operations that cannot be touched.
- Soul ought to have its place in political arrangements despite its being opaque to science.
- Yes. The 19th century let in the darkness of the soul to an economics that said to governments: "Hands off our darkness! Our free market! Somehow, and only in this way, our economic logic of universal selfishness is going to, deep in the alchemy of the soul's darkness, be converted to universal benefit."
- But I ask you, how did we end up with creatures like Chomsky, Stewart, and Zizek modeling their personal lives on 19th century economic science and its darkness of the soul?
- They followed the path of least resistance. Study and humor are rewarded, dissenting action strongly punished.
- And their criticisms are completely ineffective because...?
- Because their lives instruct their audiences: "Do as I do, not as I say. I don't have to spell out to you the consequences if you take my words seriously."
- Spell them out for me.
- "Unwilling in the economic daylight of logical pursuit of desire to knife in the back the other economic murderers before they knife you? Then you'll have to be always responding to economic demands outside yourself, autonomous law of becoming from intrinsic nature made impossible, so creativity impossible. You'll be living your life in the darkness of the soul, and you're not going to like it. Your future will be poverty, isolation, and depression."
- In form of life and practice, Chomsky, Stewart, Zizek are neoliberals. What about in personal economics?
- Check out their bank accounts. And now my last idea, really the most amusing. Neoliberalism began with a "hands off our darkness"; our three critics, seeking their own neoliberal fortune, kept their hands off but couldn't keep their mouths shut. But no matter. Neoliberalism has adapted. Before what happened in the dark made sure everyone benefited from everyone's selfishness. Now what happens in the dark makes sure changing the daylight economic logic will only make everything worse: "There is no alternative."

Further Reading:
There Is An Alternative
Questioning Property
About Property

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Women's Moods

Venus symbol

- Have you heard about these new apps for phones that help women predict their moods? Their programmers have the idea that moods are a resource more available to women than men that ought to be taken advantage of.
- How taken advantage?
- One instance they give is that in some moods a woman may find it harder to be polite, consequently be more able to see the truth.
- Do they deny that other moods may make it harder to see the truth?
- No. But they don't rule out they may be of some other advantage. What do you think?
- Can I suggest an application of antiquated type, from those days when ideas were put to use directly to life without having to pass first through computers? It is not limited to women.
- Tell me.
- The 16th century French writer of essays, Michel de Montaigne, observed of himself that he had a poor memory. This had its advantages in writing, he explained, because he wasn't distracted by too much material to draw from, and his weakness in memory did not extend to friends: nothing in relation to friends was forgotten. I have the honor of being in this respect much the same: I can't even remember what I write. Having a memory like Montaigne's is fortunate, favoring as it does both creativity and friendship, but to go by my own experience far from perfect. The comfort and satisfactions of friendship rest on knowing our friends, but we know how limited our knowledge is of anyone, friends and self included. With our friends and ourselves our memories are too good to allow the creativity necessary to learn more.
- We are caught in a bind: we can't have friends unless we have good memory of our time with them, but we have difficulty keeping our friends, getting to know what we need to know to keep them, because memories restrain our experimental creativity. What's to be done?
- Moods - being anxious, depressed, suspicious, excited - all interfere with memory.
- They do.
- Possibly we can train them, or rather ourselves in the experiencing of them to use them as tools of observation, looking to see how our friends look different and asking if there is any truth in this new observation.
- Have you tried?
- A little.
- Any success?
- You know how many friends I have.
- I don't. How many?
- The quantity hovers between zero and one.
- Maybe it takes more practice. If I were to describe the memory type of Montaigne operating in you in its modern application it would be: forget everything except friends; forget friends too in moods; detach from moods in observation of consequences. And then keep friends! Doesn't it seem to you too much like the algorithms in the other kind of application?
- In its complexity. Otherwise it seems to ask not too little but too much of our humanity: our difficult moods, our deep feelings, and our creative thinking all brought into order.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Why We Can't Let You Go

Harvard shield wreath.svg

(Continued From The Situation In Catalonia)

- To return to Catalonia...
- Yes?
- Catalan politicians advocate independence, the national government jails them for sedition. Clearly they have broken the law, says the national government, Spain's constitution doesn't allow secession. Catalans argue the constitution is a contract requiring compliance by all parties, and has been broken by the actions taken by the national government. The national government says they say what is the law and not in relation to the constitution.
- They take an athoritarian position. The government has exclusive use of force, relinquished to them by citizens, leaving citizens powerless in relation to the state, in the relation of child to parents. Secession from a state is like a child's running away from home; of course it is forbidden.
- That assumes citizens chose freely to give up their power to the state: that the decision was not extorted from them under threat of violence; and assumes that the descendents of parents who agreed to give up freedom are not to be allowed to make their own decision about their freedom. Can you imagine a reason they should be bound by an hereditary choice?
- None, except the same argument that citizens are always better off giving up power to the state because without the state they will kill each other, so even if citizens were no better than children in relation to the state, there is nothing for them to decide. One decision is enough for eternity. Further: if only the state provides peace to people who, if they hadn't given up their power, would be killing each other, then relations between states, without a similar contract between them giving up the use of force, is war. To allow secession is to allow the creation of an enemy state, and that is not be tolerated.
- So behind the conservative 'respect for the law' there is an authoritarian contempt for the populace, and a readiness to use force to prevent the creation of a rival state.
- Add to that the not inconsiderable importance of economic loss attendant on the secession of a wealthy province.
- Conservatives all over the world are engaged in a battle over these ideas.
- I agree. But they don't respond to the observations we've made here. They don't argue the necessity for an authoritarian state that treats the populace like children. Instead, they argue the benefits of authoritarianism outweigh its costs.
- I'd like to hear those arguments.
- Then look to Harvard University; you'll always find good conservative rhetoric coming out of there. This year one of their professors of psychology* updated with a new book one he wrote six years ago claiming the world is getting less violent, more healthy, better educated, in general, happier.
- What about the 20th Century's hundred million dead in two world wars, the tens of millions who died in famines caused by Mao and Stalin or were outright murdered by them?
- Because there are more people living in democracies, and so far, democracies don't start wars with each other, however authoritarian, though they do, more than ever, start wars with and kill millions of people in non-democracies (Vietnam, Iraq, Afganistan, etc), and because there are so many more people, more than a billion living in a state of slavery to totalitarian China, who live without killing each other longer, the statistics show an improvement.
- So for this Harvard psychologist the authoritarian state is fine, so long as the state finds it to be to its own benefit that the slave citizen is kept healthy and alive.
- The second Harvard professor** is an anthropologist. He claims that the ancient Chinese saw the world, including our own uncontrolled desires, as chaotic, continually escaping attempts to organize it, and the purpose of ritual was to impose an habit of order-making on it. Therefore, he says, it is not correct to see this religion as static and unchanging; it is rather a continual act of creation.
- But unless the rituals themselves are individually chosen and changable, I don't see how how this understanding of Chinese religion shows it to be less static; the only difference is that it places responsibility for keeping the religion going on the individual.
- Yes. It's like the Spanish government saying to the Catalans: You're bad! Don't you know the ritual of our Spanish laws depends on all of us observing and reaffirming them? Don't you see now why we can't let you go? ***

Further Reading:
The Honor Of Thieves
Political & Personal
Real Democracy
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, & Progress, 2018, S. Pinker 
** The Haunted World of Humanity: Ritual Theory from Early China, 2010, M. Puett
*** See: Spanish Bishops Condemn Catalan Nationalism After Poll Violence, Kropotkin's Are We Good Enough? and Bakunin: "It is said that the harmony and universal solidarity of individuals with society can never be attained in practice because their interests, being antagonistic, can never be reconciled. To this objection I reply that if these interests have never as yet come to mutual accord, it was becausc the State has sacrificed the interests of the majority for the benefit of a privileged minority. That is why this famous incompatibility, this conflict of personal interests with those of society, is nothing but a fraud, a political lie, born of the theological lie which invented the doctrine of original sin in order to dishonor man and destroy his self-respect."

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Political & Personal

- Four times now in the past month I've read that our political problems will remain with us until people become more intellectual, less atomized, less party loyal. 
- And you don't think that's true.
- It occurs to me this claim is related to the way liberal politicians keep surprising me with their betrayals. Let me ask you a question. Say our political goal is independence, justice, to be left in peace by others. Why would anyone open himself up to a stranger for the purpose of getting to the goal of a politics which would control strangers to our benefit, allow us to stay closed to strangers? For that is what it means to be more social, more open, more smart about our relations to others, but only for the sake of a political goal, not the relations themselves.
- Putting personal relations in the service of politics, hypocrisy is built in. 
- I wonder. If you ask someone to engage in liberal politics with you so to be left alone, at any moment your political comrade may leave you alone too.
- And that is what you think liberal leaders always do?
- Yes. So I thought then we have start the other way around.
- Which is?
- Like in Plato's Republic, where politics are discussed, not for their own sake, but as a means to improve personal life and understanding. Our leaders betray us, and they always will, so long as they keep asking us to get together only to change our politics, to keep us better apart and safe from each other's crimes. 
- Can you give me an example of discussion of politics made to serve personal understanding?
- Easy, I already have: leaders betraying us after doing the opposite.

Further Reading:
Leaders Who Betray

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Real Democracy


- A new book purports to answer the question why the U.S. government hasn't prosecuted any bank executive for the crimes leading to the 2008 economic collapse. Have you seen it?
The Chicken-Shit Club.
- Yes. It's argument is that these financial crimes are hard to prove in court, and U.S. prosecutors are proud of their near 100% win record thanks to their never prosecuting cases with uncertain outcomes, to their choosing to settle out of court instead.
- And what do you think of that argument?
- It's essentially the same line taken by president at the time Obama who offered the excuse it wasn't clear that a crime has been committed, obviously untrue.
- Why?
- What could be a clearer case of fraud than Goldman-Sachs telling customers to buy what they themselves were at the same time ridding themselves of as quickly as possible? Or Wells Fargo opening without permission millions of fraudulent accounts in the names of their customers? A few years ago a federal court judge, writing in the New York Review of Books*, said there was no doubt that crimes had been committed, but prosecutors didn't prosecute corporate executives because they were not in the habit of prosecuting corporate executives: it just wasn't done.
- Prosecutors were afraid of losing if they prosecuted the corporations themselves, and they didn't want to prosecute corporate executives because that 'just wasn't something they do'.
- Yes. The same impunity of corporations and executives can be seen in the lack of prosecution of banks and their executives for creating millions of fraudulent deeds to property they now wanted to sell that they'd bought as a package without deeds, the actual practice that led up to the financial collapse of 2008. Banks to this very day** continue to produce fraudulent documents as they sell off their accumulated foreclosed properties from the collapse.
- A more convincing explanation is that many of the government prosecutors would within a few years be working at vastly greater salary for the executives and companies they made favorable out-of-court deals with.
- I agree. We're not seeing the result of inefficiency of professional practice but justice being bought out; outright corruption dressed up as business as usual.
- What did you want to ask me about?
- I had just gotten used to the idea we don't live in much of a democracy because virtually all elected officials had been bought out by corporate "donations". That wasn't so bad, because the government though a lot isn't everything. Everyday life goes on. But now we see the finance industry, the largest industry in the country, in addition to buying the government, under the protection of the government they've bought is waging direct war on the people of the country. Yet life goes on as if everyone is doing the job they claim they are doing, the government watching out for the people and finance helping them out with their money.
- Again, what did you want to ask me?
- Don't be impatient. I know corruption is nothing new. I wanted to ask you if this is new, the openness of the corruption, and the way life goes on as if nothing much is wrong.
- Would you say the feeling of unreality is related to the sense that we are supposed to be living in a democracy yet are not? That we were willing to accept that our vote didn't count if somehow something was left of democracy in the way people lived together? And that the corporations getting away with literally millions of crimes against their customers challenges the sense that everyday life can be going on as usual?
- Yes. Democracy isn't rule of the many, or rule of the poor; it's a deal made by the poor with the rich that the rich wouldn't rob too much and in exchange the poor wouldn't take away their property.
- And that deal has been broken, yet we still think we are living in a democracy. Thus our feeling of unreality at being confronted with the fact that the deal between rich and poor has unquestionably been broken.
- So what do you think?
- We see here in our times how democracy ends, but have you ever wondered how it began?
- Where the idea came from to get rid of the property qualification for citizenship?
- Yes.
- Ancient Athens.
- I mean how had the rich convinced themselves the poor wouldn't vote them out of their riches, and how had the poor convinced themselves the rich wouldn't rob them blind?
- What did the Athenians themselves say? What about Pericles' funeral oration from Thucydides?
Our love of what is beautiful does not lead to extravagance; our love of the things of the mind does not make us soft. We regard wealth as something to be properly used, rather than as something to boast about"..."Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well: even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics—this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.
- Would you agree then that democracy is a theory of political life that is being tested in its actual practice?
- What theory?
- Self control, and self-knowledge creates a human being that can reach productive agreement with other human beings irrespective of how much property they own. If you think about it, it's really a wild idea. What is it about this character of human being that allows this agreement?
- You tell me. The idea really does seem to come out of nowhere. There wasn't, was there, precedent in history before the Athenians came up with it?
- There was perhaps a different kind of precedent.
- What kind?
- The so-called Pre-Socratic philosophers, who made claims about nature that it was all variations in the shape or assemblage of water, or air, or a combination of elements. While we see change in nature, actually, they thought, something was staying the same. Water was always there, or air, or a combination of elements.
- I see. Democracy is a theory of political life that says that, produce a human character of the sort that knows itself and controls itself, and something human stays constant in political life, and that constant is what we mean by democracy, not good relation between classes or voting rights. Is that what you mean?
- Yes. We live in a country where many or even most have or would like to have democratic character, yet the actual government and economic life no longer are of the kind a people with democratic character should be able to make for themselves. Because we see nature on the same terms as we've been accustomed to see political life, the unchanging behind the changing, our political life which no longer has that form strikes us as "unreal".
The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?
** Chain of Title

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Philosophy & Science Of Betrayal

Related image

- You said last time,* about the difference between philosophy and literature:
Stories model the truth, summarize in miniature how life goes. Philosophy talks about the fact that life itself is to our perception a kind of story, is filled with illusion, but some elements of which are not illusion. Our perception of the world is constructed, is a model that reflects some aspects of the world and not others. Our consciousness however seems to be, sometimes at least, at moments of love and beauty, not subject to the model making illusion of perception. Or so philosophy claims, giving itself the job to extend into the world of perception as far as possible that un-modeled, un-storied truth.
What about science? How is it different from the two?
- Like literature, its stories do not involve 'un-modeled, un-storied truth'.
- Its stories? Science is not about truth? Are you serious?
- Yes. Unlike philosophy, being without un-modeled, un-storied truth, science is further limited in being unlike literature in that its stories must be experienced, rather than the product of imagination.
- Anything else wrong with science?
- Yes, if you mean by wrong its limitations. Science tells stories and makes models of the relation of kinds of thing to kinds of thing, and confirms the stories and models by experiment. Both philosophy and literature tell stories of individual human beings experimenting with their relation to the world, looking for regularities in how doing certain kinds of things changes their relation to the world from better to worse or worse to better.
- Science experiments with kinds of things in the world, literature tells stories of experiments individuals perform on the world.
- Experiments individuals perform on their relation to the world.
- What you mean by relation to the world?
- In science the conditions of observation and instruments used are controlled, allowing anyone with the proper equipment to repeat the experiment on the same kinds of things. In our personal lives the instrument of observation is ourselves, or rather, our character, and it is modified by each of our actions and thoughts.
- We see different worlds depending on our experience and education.
- Yes. When you can name and describe the parts of a flower you see the flower differently from when you couldn't. When you are angry much of what you'd otherwise see and remember of the world is lost. In fact the first job philosophy puts its tools of analysis and synthesis to is the control of our instrument of observation, purifying it of disabling passions.
- And our instrument of observation is character.
- Since what we see of the world is the product of our past actions, what we actually see of the world is our relation to it in which there is something of the world and something our ourselves. We try, in the story of our lives, in that continuing experiment, to put ourselves in the best relation to the world.
- Best, meaning happiest?
- Yes. Notice that all three - philosophy, literature and science - involve experiments, but only science deals with the relation of classes of things to classes of things. In literature and philosophy the world unrelated to individual actions is not a concern.
- You are not saying there is no truth of the world, only that how we see the world varies with our character.
- Yes. But the truth of our character cannot be seen either except in relation to the world. The Canadian philosopher John Ralson Saul** argues that ideologies are utopias created by reason unbalanced by the other human capacities of memory, sympathy, creativity, imagination, and common sense. The problem with this is that relating classes of things - memory, sympathy, creativity, imagination, common sense - to each other is to make a science of human nature.
- And you think that is wrong. Why?
- Because it is not science but literature, bad literature: these classes of things have not been experimentally observed in relation to each other.
- Not science, and not philosophy either, because the model of human nature does not involve descriptions of being the best relation to the world, of being in sight of the real world recognition of which distinguishes philosophy from literature.
- Philosophy experiments with ideas, so let's subject the model to a thought experiment. In recent times leader after leader in the countries of South America betrayed their promises of social reform, with one notable exception: Hugo Chavez, who 'worked as an instructor in a military school, attempted a coup against a corrupt neoliberal regime, took personal and public responsibility for it and went to jail, came out and explicitly rejected the armed path to power, and helped lead a movement that has, by any definition, advanced the public good in Venezuela and in Latin America.'*** We can add to the list of betrayers the Greek Prime Minister Tsipras giving in to the European Union bankers, defying the will of the people expressed in a referendum, and our own Senator Bernie Sanders declining to challenge the proven corrupt Democratic primary or to continue his run for presidency as an independent. I don't think we can say of these betrayers, particularly not of Sanders or Tsipras, that they are unbalanced in their virtues of memory, reason, sympathy, creativity, common sense and imagination.
- So what does philosophic analysis tell us?
- That the virtues are inseparable. For John Ralston Saul capitalism is an example of a utopia of reason. But in fact capitalism is reasonable only in the use of experiment to achieve efficiency. Capitalism begins with the relation of employee to employer, which can only be established by forcibly keeping the employee from the property ownership that would give freedom to not sell himself into the part time slavery of employment, and capitalism ends with the seeking of profit for its own sake, a seeking which arises from the sense of power that is itself the product of regular class relations promising security. Capitalism is more about power than reason. In actuality, that is, in our own observed experience, when an individual experiments with his relation to the world he relies on all the virtues at once: memory of a better life lost, creativity in choice of what to try, imagination of the sympathy and love aimed to return to. Character is strengthened with every unsupportable relation to the world escaped. The betraying leaders in their world of politics perhaps displayed all the virtues, but their exercise was confined to the rule-defined management of people within institutions. They played safe, whereas Hugo Chavez placed himself in jeopardy, his relation to the world lived through and changed.
- He lived in the real world. The other politicians only played games.****

Further Reading:
There Is Nothing Either Good Or Bad But Thinking Makes It So
** The Unconscious Civilization
*** Ricochet Magazine
**** The actions they are afraid of taking they soon lose interest in taking: leaders lose sympathy for the led they have power over. See Killer Metaphysics. See also The Show

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Free Speech Against Free Speech

- Hey Rex. Where are you coming from? Are there any events today?
- Could be. I was at the sculpture garden, and do you know what happened?
- What?
- I was sitting, writing, computer on my lap, when I felt something on my arm: a sparrow had landed on me!
- What did you do?
- I flinched, and the sparrow flew away.
- Why did you do that?
- I'm not accustomed to birds being summoned by my words. I'm not Saint Francis. And then, do you know what?
- What?
- The sparrow flew back.
- To your arm?
- Yes.
- Did you shake it off?
- No. It stood still for a few moments, then flew away. You know, I'm going to put you in what I'm writing. I'll bring in the bird somehow.
- Are you using my name?
- Sure.
- You have to change it.
- I'll change it from 'Dolly' to 'Molly'.
- That's too close.
- No matter. Upon reconsideration I don't think I will be making a change. As a committed supporter of our new president you're not deserving of my charity.
- What are you writing about?
- Thought experiments. How about I do one on you? See that old man over there?
- Yes. You know him?
- No. Imagine him coming over here and saying to you, Will you be my friend?
- No, I won't. Why should I?
- Wait, we haven't finished setting up the experiment. This old man goes on to describe himself to you, and not to make a mystery of this, everything he is going to say about himself is true of our new president who you are so attached to. Not true because someone somewhere says it is, but because court documents and videos of him admitting the truth himself prove their truth. So this is what he says:
Please, little old lady who's lived on the street for the past seventeen years, sleeping on church porches and going to lectures at the university for the free food and drink, pretending to be interested: dear little old lady, will you be my friend? May I tell you about myself? I love to brag about how I molest women and get away with it. I cheat people, both rich and poor, in the many contracts I make. I refused to pay immigrant workers from Poland I hired to build my buildings. I refused to pay caterers for my many parties. Courts ordered me to pay these people, and then since I had to I did. I loved defrauding poor people desperately trying to better themselves by buying from me a high priced education, I loved cheating them by claiming I was personally involved when I wasn't, lying that I was offering accredited university education when I was only offering trade school. I love to incite crowds to beat up people who disagree with me, offering to pay their legal expenses if they're arrested for the crimes I ask them to commit. I love to lie, to lie, to lie and lie and lie again, to lie all the time. I lied yesterday when I got the head of the FBI fired who kept investigating me for my illegal business arrangements with Russia, I lied when I told people I got him fired because he had illegally exposed my greatest adversary, though I've been recorded many times praising the man for making that very exposure. I lie careless of consequences or obviousness. I'll say it's sunny when it's raining. Look at me. I twist my face into repulsive grimaces, the hair on my head seems to belong to another species, and both my face and hair have an unnatural orange color. My use of language, vocabulary and grammar, is worse than an average three or four year old child's. In fact what I'm telling you now is far beyond my language abilities, I must be inspired by god. So, Dolly, will you be my friend? I molest, cheat, lie, incite people to violence, can barely speak and am physically repulsive. Will you be my friend, Dolly?
- Don't call me 'Dolly' when you write.
You will be my very good friend, Molly-Dolly? You know, my very good friend, though I molest, cheat, beat up others, I'd never do that to you. You know that could never happen, my dear Dolly.
- Write 'Molly'!
- Can this man be your friend, Dolly-Molly?
- You're just resentful because you're not rich like he is.
- So your answer is, Yes? You do take him for your well-chosen friend?
- Yes. He's unconventional, like me
- You don't care about the sexual assaults and cheating the poor, his incitement to violence and non-stop lies?
- That's just what you say.
- For the thought experiment I ask you to assume that it is all true, as in fact it is. Making that assumption, he'd still be your chosen friend, right? It wouldn't make any difference.
- No, it wouldn't! No one's perfect. All politicians lie.
- They do. But in the same quantity? Are they corrupt to the same extent? Haven't the efforts of other politicians to keep the appearance of good behavior restrained them from the worst possible excesses while in office? Whereas we see in our new president's behavior that absolutely nothing restrains him from the most outrageous, openly dishonest behavior.
- That's your opinion, I have mine.
- For our thought experiment then your answer is, Yes, my dear, I accept your friendship.
- You've told me about Dolly before. I like her. You make fun of her, but I think by some miracle she is enjoying herself in her difficult circumstances. I like your sparrow too. Do you assign it any meaning? A symbol portending your future?
- No.
- Is that because, as you said about narcissists, they make the world their instrument,* you'd be using the incident as tool of interpretation?
- Can't I simply say it was beautiful? 
- I won't stop you. Speaking of thought experiments: Do you know 'The Trolley'? A trolley car is out of control, rushing towards five people tied to the tracks. You have in your hand a lever to shift the trolley to another track where only one person is tied. What would you do?
- What would you do?
- Last night I saw an Australian / Indonesian movie** built around the experiment. A teacher asks his students to select those few they'd take with them into a bomb shelter before a nuclear attack and those they'd leave behind there was no room for. In the course of the movie they make the selection several times, and we watch dramatizations of how the chosen make out in the bomb shelter.
- And how do they make out?
- The first groups, selected to have the most useful skills, not well: they all die. In the last selection the choice is made to include, not the most useful, but the best, the most sympathetic. Even if they have, with little practical skills, little chance of surviving, their time will be spent trying to live the best lives human beings can. Is that what you mean by non-instrumental?
- It is. The Trolley experiment leads participants into accepting the 'bad means to good end' argument: accepting use of present bad means for the sake of an expected future good. It's a variety of the 'the lesser evil'*** argument.
- Choosing a bad means to a good end is less evil that doing nothing and getting the worse end?
- Yes. The argument has big problems: we can't accurately account for consequences; we can't know if choosing the lesser evil will become a habit of bad action, a corrupting model followed by others and oneself; even if good results are foreseen, we don't know if bad results will not soon follow; we don't know how far ahead we have to look, which factors are most important to be taken account of.
- But the simplified situation of the experiment evades those challenges. We know nothing of the past or future of the world of trolley cars, nothing of your character as decision maker or of the character of the six people in the experiment.
- It does. But don't you see?
- The lack of characterization forces upon the participant instrumental thinking, thinking that doesn't respect individuality.
- Yes. I for one do all I can to avoid making a world for myself like that of the trolley experiment. I keep a distance from people I don't care about, who don't know me and I don't know, no matter how useful they might be. I choose to live with those I do know and care about, no matter how great the danger they might represent.
- Even if the people you know and care about are making you their instrument?
- Sometimes even then.
- But what about the Trolley experiment: what would you do?
- What you said was done at the end of the movie. You tell yourself the world you live in is filled with known and unknown, liked and disliked. You make decisions to make your world more known and more likable, make yourself more known and likable, which is another way of saying you aim with your decisions to make yourself and others happy. You never will be in a situation where you know and like nothing about yourself and others. Finding yourself in such a world is proof you have given up on ethical life, you have made your choices on the basis of quantitative predictions of what will make you more wealthy, secure, more powerful.
- When the world you have to decide in is the world of the trolley experiment, you have already left the world of morality, consequently the experiment, not allowing a moral choice, has no relevance to moral decision making?
- Yes. Last night, maybe while you were watching your Australian movie, I watched a video of 'The Battle For Berkeley'.**** Have you heard about it?
- The riots when Trump supporters came to U.C. Berkeley and tried to speak?
- Yes. In the tradition of Neo-Nazies marching in a Jewish neighborhood of New York, conservative speakers scheduled lectures in this place of student protest. Massive resistance from students and others forced cancellation. The conservatives complained, Didn't they too have a right to free speech? No they didn't, not there, answers Sunsara Taylor, veteran of the civil rights movement, co-founder of the "Refuse Fascism"***** organization. Can you guess her argument?
- As the trolley experiment fails to have moral application because it blanks out all individual characteristics of the people involved, so does an absolute application of any rule or law. Laws are only approximations. Unforeseen circumstances arise. More than one law or rule may apply in the same situation, leading to different resolutions. For example, the law does not allow us for the fun of it to cry 'fire!' in a crowded theater, with people trampled to death in the resulting panic. How'd I do?
- You're right on track. She says the right to free speech has never been absolute. She very properly observes that there is also a common law right of self-defense involved. What the conservatives propose, the substance of their speech, is a real danger to the people. Should you let someone come close to you who is already shouting far and wide you have no right to exist? Should you let him try to convince your neighbors or even your family to kill you? The rule of free speech, when free speech has already been widely exercised elsewhere, has no force when weighed against the imperative need for self defense. The application of common law right to self-defense may create a disruption of ordinary rules, demonstrations may disrupt free flow of traffic in a city center, but that too must be accepted by the same argument that in any particular situation different rules carry different weights.
- But how can we be sure we are not manipulating the argument for self-defense, claiming views are dangerous when they are not? Can't the conservatives claim liberal views are a danger to the their people? In fact aren't they now doing exactly this when they and our new president call the press the enemy of the people?
- We rely on our ability to define clearly what is dangerous.
- How? Not every situation is as obvious as shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater.
- In the case of the conservatives trying to speak in Berkeley we rely on our ability to define and identify fascism. Fascism, a ritual movement of a crowd, openly exhibits its ritual origins: it is both violent and convention bound. It is violent in its formation of the crowd identity, attacking outsiders who endanger the people, secretly infiltrating within; and rule bound and conventional, demanding mindless observance of the laws and mores that keep the crowd thus formed together. The same president who with fierce vulgarity incites his crowd to violence, calling on all to smash protesters in the face, this president says in justification, suddenly shy and afraid of open words, that the protesters 'made this gesture, you know, this rude thing, with a finger...' This same president who for fifty years has been breaking laws, promises, contracts, who's been continually cheating, assaulting, defrauding, wants to strictly enforce on others existing and new laws.
- Instead of defining Fascism as a form of government, or a psychology, you say it has a distinctive signature in its relation to violence: in the same person, at different times, violence together with strict obedience to rules.
- Yes. It is violence that creates and defines the crowd, conformity that unifies it. 
- Maybe we could say that the trolley experiment forces the decision maker into participation in a crowd: the five to be saved are the un-individualized participants in a ritual of exclusion, the one to be sacrificed is the strange and unknown foreigner.

Further Reading:
Bird Song & Machine Talk
A Study Of The Influence Of Custom On The Moral Judgement
The Narcissist
** After The Dark / The Philosophers, 2013
*** Lesser Evil Voting
**** The Battle For Berkeley
***** Refuse Fascism

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Narcissist

    Related image

- Our new president is derided as 'Narcissist In Chief'. He's a joke.
- How would you define narcissism?
- Being in love with an image of oneself.
- Not in love with oneself, but with an image of oneself? A deliberately looked for or even constructed image of ourselves?
- Yes. It's bizarre. A strange combination of passion and artifice. A passion for artifice.
- Then it would be correct to say you are curious about narcissism?
- Yes.
- And to be curious is to feel pleasure in not knowing?
- I never thought of it like that, but why not?
- Do you imagine a narcissist ever being curious?
- No. They pretend they know everything all the time. They never willingly admit they are wrong.
- Would you agree then that a narcissist is someone who is afraid of not knowing, so always tells himself and the world that he does know?
- Again, why not? But in focusing on knowledge aren't we straying from what people usually mean by narcissist: someone who is in love with himself?
- To be curious about what you don't know, would you say it is necessary to have some confidence you eventually will understand?
- Yes.
- And to have that confidence, you must have in the past, after being confused, reached understanding, made discoveries?
- Yes.
- But to study, discover, understand requires some stability of circumstances. Remove the stability, wouldn't what before was pleasurable confusion now be a threatening unknown?
- The narcissist is someone who, previously secure in having learned how to learn, finding mystery a pleasure, now in a state of instability can't learn, so fears not knowing?
- Yes. Both curiosity, and its failure in narcissism, are relations to knowledge.
- How do we get from fear of not knowing to love of an image of oneself?
- By knowing something about yourself that tells you you have no reason to fear.
- How is that knowledge love?
- It isn't. It's relief, looking at yourself from a position outside yourself.
- How can we do that?
- Divide ourselves in two?
- Yes.
- Through the experience of seeing ourselves in another person's eyes. The narcissist tries to give himself an appearance that, in his imagination of someone looking on, would represent maximum security from fear. The narcissist learns how to make that appearance to which he is, through the intermediary of others, the real audience. The picture of self has to be continually remade as the world changes. Lacking real knowledge of the world, as opposed to knowledge of that part of the world that reflects an image of themselves, narcissists need over and over go back to work remaking a secure image.*
- You mean narcissists seek power?
- Yes. We don't usually call them insane unless they are very wrong about others' perception of the themselves and the extent of their power.
- I'm beginning to recognize our President. He doesn't seem to want to do anything with the new powers he's acquired except admire himself for having them and for his having had the skill to acquire them. Come to think of it, can't we say a narcissist like him does have curiosity about himself, I mean about what new grandiosity of image he legitimately does have some knowledge how to produce?
- But is this the same kind of curiosity?
- Why wouldn't it be?
- When we are curious about the world we move from a position of security to, if we come to know the world, increased sense of security from having new knowledge of the world. The curiosity of the narcissist arises out of fear of losing power, from a constant need of reassurance.
- So it isn't really curiosity.
- No. We use other words.
- Obsession. Fixation.
- Correct. Still there is a relation to knowledge, a need for knowledge, but from a perceived position of weakness rather than strength.  A narcissist has this relation of fixation or obsession to all three basic tasks of knowledge a human being faces: the need to master the tools for living in the world, to learn how to acquire food and shelter and safety; the need to learn how to get along with other people; the need to master our own passions so we can get along with people and have the peace of mind needed to learn enough about the world to feel curious about learning more. We must be safe first if we are going to be curious, to enjoy learning to perform these three tasks. The narcissist, living in insecurity, instead will seek to establish a sense of power in one or all three tasks.
- How does our new president do this, if he does?
- He most definitely does.
- All three?
- Certainly, all three ways an individual establishes a relation to himself instead of to the world: being in love with his reasoning; being in love with his ability to manipulate other people; being in love with his ability to satisfy all his desires without fear of consequences. Our President likes to talk about how he is very smart, he has the best words; how he's very rich and powerful and can make deals no one else can; how he can grab pussies and get away with it.
- But if you are right about this being what narcissism is, isn't the whole of our society more or less narcissistic? Everyone trying to impress themselves and all who look on with the extent of their satisfied passions, their achieved ambition, their worldly cleverness?
- People live insecure lives,** have to sell themselves into the part-time slavery of employment. When you can't make your own decisions how to live you can't enjoy learning to control yourself, understand others, or know the world. The only relief you know is in exercising your powers to satisfy your passions, manipulate the people around you, and make the world your instrument.

Further Reading:
Political Correctness
The Show
* Having no sense of self that is not a show made to the public, narcissists have no sense of privacy, they have nothing which must be held in reserve from what is shown the public.
** 'A life in which we’re all alone, alone facing the necessity for each one to make a living, house oneself, feed oneself, realize one’s potential, and attend to one’s health, by oneself. Disgust with the miserable form of life of the metropolitan individual—scrupulous distrust / refined, smart skepticism / shallow, ephemeral loves / resulting extreme sexualization of every encounter / then the periodic return to a comfortable and desperate separation / constant distraction, hence ignorance of oneself, hence fear of oneself, hence fear of the other.' ('To Our Friends', The Invisible Committee)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Conservatives & Totalitarians

1. The United States & Totalitarianism

- A totalitarian nation controls all of individual life in the name of perfecting social arrangements.
- Doesn't sound much like the United States.
- Another way to define totalitarianism is by the practice of continuous, unending ritual*. We are threatened by the communists, the Jews, the capitalists, we must be vigilant in eradicating these threats. We see ourselves as weak, we perform a ritual according to the known procedures, and come out feeling stronger.
- What are the known procedures?
- Depends on the country. War making, conceived as response to threat to security. Or exchange of goods and services between parties defined as adversaries in an economic transaction. Ritual in its basic form is an occasional means of recovery. Practiced too often, like a drug too often had recourse to, ritual becomes addictive**, for the same reason: our ability to lead ordinary lives is lessoned when not practiced, and with less ability the world become more inhospitable, making the security delivered by ritual more attractive.
- So countries limitlessly make wars, expand the realm of trade.
- Yes. Doing for the sake of doing***. The state institutions, originally the servant of individuals, become an end in themselves, administrators of the settled, unvarying practice of continuous ritual.
- Money making, war making.
- When this continuous ritual is turned away from foreign practice and turned inward to the state itself we have totalitarianism. The elements within us opposing the trade of goods and services, or opposing the ideal society of sharing we are in the way of perfecting, have to be eradicated.
- The actual achievement of the society of sharing, communism, or the actual achievement of free markets, capitalism, isn't important then, only the application of ritual to assigned obstacles?
- The United States is no more a country of free trade**** than the Soviet Union was a country of sharing.
- Still private life is very free in the United States. It is nothing like totalitarian countries in that respect. But maybe you'll say we're on the way there, with increasing inequality of wealth, monopoly ownership of means of communication and natural resources.
- Monopoly serves expansion by controlling markets. The danger is that the monopolists, with political power bought with their economic power, will not be satisfied only with economic ritual turned within, satisfied with the power to force everyone, like it or not, into transactions with them; that labeling holdouts threats to the nation, as truly they are obstacles to continuous practice of economic ritual, they begin to perform continuous rituals of war against them, step up practice within the country of what they have long been practicing outside. That economic and war expansion share the same form of continuous ritual encourages the transition from one to another, and this is true of all relations internal and external, economic and war making: between external war, internal terror, economic empire and internal monopoly.

2. Conservatives & Totalitarians

- We said that we don't see any reason to think there is a direction to history*, of one form of government inevitably following another; that trying to institute any form of government as an end leads to treating individual lives as means to that end, leads to the idea of efficiency of means to the end and so leads to individuals being sacrificed to the idea of efficiency.
- I remember.
- If we concentrate our efforts on building the state, we end up crushing the individual. What if we start from the individual? Can we build up to an idea of the state that won't be destructive of individuality?
- We tried something like that already when we argued that rather than describing the mental world in the terminology of the physical we should do it the other way around, describe the physical world in terms of the mental.**
- A government is a thing like a body is a thing, a thing that moves, whose moves are repetitive, repetition that maintains, in response to a changing world, the thing in the same shape. A government is a sort of artificial body.
- Yes. So let's see how far we can take this, starting from the state and working back to the individual. We see an approach of totalitarianism in our country with its new president. Russia and East European countries are already half way there. We know that totalitarianism is maintained by isolating individuals from each other. Isolated individuals can't easily organize a resistance. But we don't see how totalitarianism actually produces that isolation. We can follow how shared support of totalitarianism produces a crowd through shared passions, but how the non-adherents end up isolated from each other, end up a set of isolated individuals, we have no explanation for. Whereas we can see how changes in the status of individual conduct can produce totalitarianism.
- We can? I know your definition of totalitarianism: acting out on the national stage a ritual of collective rebirth. Our country is weak where it once was strong. There is an enemy within, allied with external enemies. With violence we will drive them out and bring on a national revival of our greatness. Where does individuality, the mental explaining the physical, come in?
- One of the myths about capitalism is that it is about work; hard, selfless work. It absolutely is not. Or not for the capitalists. Selfish work is for the employees, who literally lose sense of themselves as they slave for the sake of their employers. Who, far from having a will to selfless work in what they do, begin with a sense that they institute, they force their choice upon the world how to invest their money for the sake of making profit. They feel a need to continually set out on a risk-taking activity, to set out from a state of wealth and security to a state of insecurity, relying on a mysterious process called the free market economy not directly in their control. They know some rules which in the past have worked to achieve profit. Some of these rules are ways of working, techniques of production for example. But it can be the case, as it is in our times, that the rules for market behavior can direct lying and cheating aimed at achieving the same goal, profit. The capitalist has no preference how the dangerous ocean of the economy is navigated across; the period of risk passes in a sort of gambler's trance, and what occurs, whether careful management or fraud, monopoly, collusion with and bribery of the government, or simply lucky choices, is left behind and forgotten as a renewed state of security is achieved.
- OK, we have talked about this too. The capitalist approaches his money making as self-instituted ritual. The more he practices his ritual of rebirth in renewed profit, the more quickly insecurity returns: this comes of living in a controlled, artificial world, knowing only how to make money and knowing nothing about how to live in the world outside that ritual activity; only in the renewed practice of money making does the capitalist feel he has a grip on life. The economy is a mystery having the power to constantly generate profit for anyone willing the play the role of capitalist and submit himself to it.
- In the case of the United States the individual changes himself deliberately through ritual in three ways: politically, in threats or actual violence against internal enemies and external allies; economically, in the capitalist's submitting himself to the mystery of the free market; and to this list we add spiritually: we have sinned but we can be reborn passing through a trance state of religious ecstasy where god's work is being done on us, reborn into strength leaving our old weak selves behind.
- So then we're saying now that the capitalist and the born-again religious are attracted to the totalitarian form of government as politics, public life sharing a form with what they are doing in their private lives?
- Exactly. It calls upon a fundamental behavior already being successfully practiced. So does conservative politics, the government interfering with the individual as little as possible for the sake of allowing room for individual responsibility in the inception of ritual, taking the business risk or baptismal plunge.
- Which explains the otherwise strange alliance of conservatives, who demand least possible government interference in private life with totalitarians, who submit to total government interference in private life.
- Now all these formally identical ritual behaviors isolate each individual from all other individuals who do not take part in their particular rituals. A stranger at a cafe does not have the script to your personal spiritual revival and will definitely not be happy being the victim of your lying and cheating economic rebirth in profit taking.
- Before totalitarian politics locks individuals away from each other individuals already already are leaving each other alone.
- Yes. I think if we want to see totalitarianism coming we should look for rapid increase in the isolation of individuals. I see it already in Los Angeles. Waiting in line at the market the cashiers tell me not to talk to the other customers as it slows down the line. At Starbucks, for a change getting into a heated discussion - well, actually, one customer is trying to stop another from talking to me! - the manager steps in with, 'break it up or you all have to leave.' You know, I help kids from a couple of families with their reading and writing English. One of them is a little boy. Here's how our last conversation ended:

- Rex?
- Yes.
- You're ugly.
- Not too much.
- You have grey hair.
- What's wrong with that?
- You're old.
- What's wrong with that?
- You're going to die.
- And you being 9 years old think death is for other people. What else?
- You have fur on your hands.
- Monstrous. What else?
- You have a big nose.
- True. What else?
- You have pointy teeth.
- Like a vampire. So. You've been studying me. Any other discoveries?
- You are a bad influence.
- Who told you that? 
- No one.
- Someone. It's not a word you use.
- What happened to your wife? Why don't you get back together?
- I don't know where she is.
- Why don't you look for her?
- She doesn't want me to.
- Why not?
- She moved on.

- What's with the boy?
- He already speaks two other languages with his parents. English practice seems unnecessary to him. I was hired to help him with his reading: he would guess the words from the general shape of the letters rather than sound them out completely. For him that was all the attention reading deserved. He confided in me that our twice a week one hour sessions were the worst part of his life.
- He was trying to get you to quit.
- Or trying to take revenge. He saw my failure in ritual performance: I don't take the initiative with my appearance or my marriage. I got old and am going to die without getting anywhere. But despite these failures, he finds that he himself fails to pin me down. I pay a great deal of questioning attention to his attack of words, but let pass over my head his attempt to construct his own little totalitarian state with me, he taking the role of the employer with initiative, I forced into the role of the irritant outsider, an employee forced into the role of worker without initiative. My flourishing in the forgotten regions of ritual transition where operate the spiritual, economic, national mechanisms of rebirth fascinates him. Before he knows it he has completed his days reading aloud.
Do you enjoy teaching under those circumstances? If I taught I wouldn't let my students disrespect me.
- And if you enjoyed it?
- The disrespect?
- The teaching despite disrespect. The pleasure derived from rituals of rebirth is what Plato called pleasure in the relief of pain. Only the pleasure of knowledge doesn't require prior pain. Ritual requires forgetting, acquisition of knowledge requires remembering, collecting together all that has been experienced seen differently now something is known of it. Individuals isolated from each other in their self instituting political, economic, and spiritual rituals become, as we said, the more ritual is practiced, the more removed from the world outside of ritual. They can make other people the objects of their rituals, they can take pleasure in subjecting other people to their violence, but can never get to know them, never have a story to tell about what happens when lives come in contact with each other.

Further Reading:
Compassion & The Story
Lesser Evil Voting
** See: Noam Chomsky & Mental Things

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Immediate Fix

- Feeling depressed I thought it might help to go through our last conversation.* This professor, not a Buddhist himself, confesses himself convinced by the evidence that Buddhism makes people happy. He makes the argument that there are other kinds of happiness to be found than Buddhist selflessness, which in any case is limited in how far you can take it eliminating selfishness. You objected that the other kinds of happiness he mentions, art and politics, can't deliver happiness, because they are restless, tied to perpetual activity, and true happiness is found in rest. 
- How are you now?
- Better. Thanks for asking. When did you get so polite?
- How did you get better? 
- So that is what you want to know. I'll get to that. Feeling depressed, as I said, under the influence of your putting professors under the microscope, having as it were philosophical professors on the brain, I watched a course online in Behavioral Biology. And do you know what was the first thing I realized?
- What? 
- That here was another professor who was theorizing under the assumption that happiness is rooted in unending activity. According to the professor, Stanford's Robert Sapolsky. in depression we can't stop thinking in a way that produces pain. Because of our society, our place in it, with our own varying individual abilities we are born with, we are not able to keep the workings of various parts of the brain in harmony. Compulsive behavior that when practiced by an individual in isolation is considered insane, when embodied in religious ritual is totally alright. Aggression when confined to a game is more than alright, it is enjoyable, and has a limited place in social life in warmaking and certain acts of self defense. And in religion we can hear warning voices coming out of nowhere but like compulsion, when we hear them in absence of social involvement we are considered insane.
- The compulsive, the schizophrenic, the violent in some social situations are considered abnormal, and suffer, but in different social conditions would not suffer. Their suffering is caused by a mismatch, self and society? The conditions are not inherently painful?
- I think it's ridiculous too.
- And depression?
- A personally variable inability, in the social and individual circumstances, to recover from a genuinely frightening situation. Letting ourselves get too afraid, or afraid at the wrong times and wrong places. Like hearing voices, being violent or compulsive, given the right social setting are normal, depression, as a response to a truly frightful world, is normal. The problem is not depression itself, but not recovering from it and suffering from the brain chemistry produced when continuing long term in such a stressful relation to the world.
- The depressed person is normal like the compulsive, the aggressive, the hallucinating, as long as those conditions are not continuous and can be confined by society and situation in it to certain limiting conditions, but not otherwise.
- Yes.
- But, again, they are not inherently painful.
- No. Now, according to the professor, that I was depressed wasn't my fault, was not something I could be blamed for, because it was the result of a behavior biologically determined by genetics and environment. Genetics and environment were both out of my control. There was no room for me to choose not to be depressed.  
- Yet you somehow are no longer depressed.
- I'm not. Towards the end of the lecture series the professor recounts how he could only publish results of a long term research project in a magazine where old scientists 'no longer generating data' are relegated to the useless (because generating no data) activity of philosophizing. Data led to theories, theories to more production of data. Like the professor studying Buddhism, this professor didn't value rest. It's probably not even possible for someone otherwise inclined to get a job at a University these days of money making for the sake of money making. For a biology professor to earn his pay he must assimilate behavior to bodily activity. As it would be unnatural to block a bodily organ from doing its specific activity,,when one part of the brain too much colors thought with painful emotion we can only moderate it as best we can. We can't rid ourselves of an activity, and shouldn't. But is this right? Do we have to live with compulsive tics, unaccountable voices, the blindness of violence, or depressions of continuous fear? After our last conversation I couldn't help noticing that this world of unending activity was exactly the world of illusion Buddhists taught themselves to distance themselves from.
- You say you couldn't help realizing this. But do ideas cure depression?
- No, of course not. What happened with me was more like disgust, that is, an emotional reaction, not to a world to be afraid of, but from the sight of myself in flight from the world. 
- Which distancing from fear is precisely Buddhism. 
- Yes. Aggression, violence, illusion are all ways of fleeing from the world. It is possible to stop, to rest, and find the world, seen in that resting relation, beautiful. The professor was making bad relation to the world continuous and normal: violence, compulsive tics, voices, encompassing fear, all bad experiences. If he was wrong and they were not normal, I was blamable continuing with them when I didn't have to. Similarly with painful situation: couldn't I make it different? I didn't believe our brains and societies determine us to be compulsive, hallucinating, aggressive and aggrieved. The only reason such a stupid thing could be proposed is that we live in a stupid society of money making for the sake of money making. For the Buddhist, compulsion is not really compulsion, hearing voices is not hearing voices, aggression is not really aggression. The Buddhist stands back from himself, doesn't deny the habits, the aggression, the illusion, but takes responsibility for choosing which habits to choose when, which worlds to imagine, which to aggressively dismiss. Repetition can be distraction from reality, or a reminder. Voices can trap within an illusory world, or be a narrator a writer hears dictating a beautiful story. Being pained by this world can be a motive to get to a better world, and aggression our defense against what would restrain us from changing our situation. The choice is not with a view to balancing ineradicable activities to each other as they are expressed in society, but to get back into good relation to the world, see and rest in the world's beauty. The professor tells a story that couldn't be a better illustration of how being wrong in precisely these matters of repetition, violence, and illusion makes you blind. For decades he's studied a single tribe of Bonobo monkeys in Kenya. When he went back recently he found that the entire dominant level of hierarchy had been poisoned. All those aggressive enough to sneak into a camp of humans died after eating from a contaminated garbage dump. The remaining Bonobos, instead of reconstituting a ruling class, established themselves without hierarchy. Look how powerful an effect environment has on biology, the professor observes. He doesn't observe that the entire biology of violence, illusion, compulsion, of illusory rank, repetitious rituals of submission, and violence, supposedly normal, in a matter of days can entirely disappear, so seems not to be fundamental physical, biological necessity at all.

Further Reading:
Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, Doing For The Sake Of Doing
* Talk & Talk

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Talk & Talk

      Related image


- Isn't Beverly Hills great? Walking here the man working at the newsstand turned a friendly face to me so I stopped to say hello. He asked me a lot of questions about myself, evaded answering my questions about him. He did tell me he came here from Sweden many decades ago. I asked him why he came.
- I like the way of life.
- Which is?
- No, no, I don't do that.
- Do what?
- Talk. Talk, and talk.
- Really? I love to talk. I'm interested in talking to you about why you and me here now can't have a conversation.
- What are we doing then?
- Why we can't have a philosophic conversation.
- What is that?
- A conversation about what you and me and all human being have in common. Human nature. I'm reading a book now about what there is in common human nature that makes people happy, and whether or not Buddhism makes people happy.
- Stop! Stop!
The newsstand man threw himself down to his knees on the sidewalk and bent forward repeatedly to kiss the ground.
- What are you doing?
- Thanking god for you being so enlightened and sharing your enlightenment with me.
- You don't think people should talk as I do?
- You're babbling. People should think for themselves and not impose their ideas on others.


Here's a page from the book I was reading, Owen Flanagan's Bodhisattva's Brain:
"A philosophical psychology is to scientific psychology as theoretical physics is to experimental physics. Its job is to keep the eye on the whole, on how all the experimental data fit together into a comprehensive view of what a person, a human person, is, and what a mind is and does. A philosophical psychology ought to answer questions such as these: 
What, if anything, are humans like deep down inside beneath the clothes of culture? 
What, if any, features of mind-world interaction, and thus of the human predicament, are universal? 
Is there any end state or goal(s) that all humans seek because they are wired to seek it (or them), or what is different, ought to seek because it is—or, they are—worthy? 
If there is a common natural orientation toward some end state(s), for example, pleasure, friendship, community, truth, beauty, goodness, intellectual contemplation, are these ends mutually consistent? If not, must one choose a single dominant end? Does our nature not only provide the end(s), but also a way of ordering and prioritizing them, as well as a preferred ratio among them that produces some sort of equilibrium? 
How conducive is following our nature to actually producing what we naturally seek, or what is different, sensibly ought to seek? Could it be that not everything we seek—not even pleasant experiences or truth—is good for us? 
What is the relation between our first nature, our given human nature, and our second nature, our cultured nature? 
Does first nature continue in contemporary worlds, in new ecologies, to achieve its original ends? If so, is first nature also well suited to achieving new, culturally discovered, or what is different, created ends? 
Is second nature constructed precisely for the achievement of variable, culturally discovered or created ends that first nature is ill-equipped to achieve? 
Do different societies construct/develop second nature in order to enhance first nature and/or to moderate and modify, possibly to eliminate, certain seeds in our first nature that can work against that very (first) nature and/or against our second nature and our cultured ends, which our second nature is intended to help us achieve?"
- Excellent.
- It is, isn't it? A professor of philosophy attempting to answer the question, If morality is a skill to make our lives happier, innate or developed or both, does it develop in response to environment, develop in the sense of granting new capacities of making us happier?
- And what is his answer to that question?
- Not so excellent. Generosity and selfishness make their appearance in societies all over the world. Studies of infants and children show we are born with both selfish and generous tendencies. Encouraging the generous, he argues, makes us individually happier and our societies better. Buddhism is one such system of encouragement. By teaching us to see that things are illusions, it leads us out of our selfishness. The professor observes that the 'no things' view is in line with the most up-to-date 'process' philosophy, but, he confesses, he does not understand why the 'no things' belief should lead anyone towards generosity rather than selfishness. Buddhists seem, in his view, to be lacking in a sense of political justice, and also lacking in the art of making individual lives which we selfish Americans have, in his view, rather more of. This leads him to what has been called moral cosmopolitanism, where alternate moral choices are available to be combined together and are chosen in response to different social circumstances.
- So we teach each other to be more generous because that makes us happier, but we maintain our allegiance to our societies, Buddhist or American, as each supports lives of roughly equal happiness made up of different combinations of selfishness and compassion. But am I crazy, or is that a really bad argument? If we change our habits, why not change our societies to make them more compassionate?
- Because there are costs. Political and social change that doesn't come easy may not anyway make us very much more compassionate: the professor says he doesn't really believe in the human possibility of total compassion and elimination of selfishness. That's one reason. Another is he doesn't distinguish between action and thought, the key to understanding how Buddhism's 'no things' philosophy leads to compassionate action.
- I don't understand either. How does it?
- The professor thinks the 'no things' of Buddhism is incompatible with the god-thing world soul and god-thing self soul in Hinduism, in contrast to which it is his claim the 'no things' of Buddhism developed. I believe he is wrong. The 'no things' understanding leads us into experiencing world and self together. The professor sees happiness in action, in having the best character for action. For him, compassion is a way of acting that grants happiness, but individualism, another way of acting, has its joys too. Compassion however is not something we do. It is something we are, a self that is the world and a world that is the self. It is an end, a return, a goal. It is what we practice our arts, hone our character for the sake of getting to. How we live with others gets its beauty, is happiness, because it is our connection to, our way back to "soul". Meditation can take us there, but so can creativity in the choices and practice living our personal and social lives. A society can make generous, beautiful behavior difficult, but difficulty has always been present in our first and second nature battles of selfish and generous impulse. The lack can be remedied. The private and social lives failure of Buddhism is a failure of art, a contingent, not a necessary failure, a failure second nature can take care of. But no addition of compassionate acts, no cosmopolitan combining, can save American individualistic public and private competitiveness from being what it fundamentally is, bad art, an obstacle to not a provider of happiness.
- To sum this up: compassionate is best. But the professor doubts the possibility of going very far with it. In any case, he argues, it seems to come with deficiency in personal and social arts, justice seeking and individual life-making. You argue that is wrong. The progress in favoring our better nature can continue into re-making society. Buddhism's moral claim is not fantasy, you for one can explain the connection between 'no things' and compassion. For the progressive increase in societies of compassion nothing more is required but further education of the kind the professor himself is doing: gathering information from around the world about moral conduct and happiness, and reasoning about it of the sort we're doing here. Right?
- Right.