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

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- 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

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- 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.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Has Anybody Seen My Love?

- Those Starbucks you go to in Beverly Hills, I think they belong on the list of the craziest places on Earth. What about the guy who has no place to live who comes in early in the morning pulling a trolley holding that day's change of clothes, from hat to shoes a different out every day from different high fashion designers. In Starbucks bathroom he washes and perfumes himself and does what's needful to maintain his smooth bald head and then spends the day prancing around the cafe making small talk with the real wealthy of Beverly Hills, his poverty masquerading as wealth appreciated as picturesque eccentricity.
- The clothes are donations to the church he gets first crack at by volunteering there. He had on a new all white outfit this morning. The hotel maids were as usual at the long table, screaming gossip to each other I guess wanting to enjoy Beverly Hills while they can before the new president deports them. There were, yes, a couple of conversations yesterday we might find some interest in.
- I'm listening.
- They were with cafe customers who take to the table with them bags holding all their worldly goods. The first, a talk in passing as I left the cafe, with middle-aged man sitting outside. He wore a cap with the name of a retired US Navy ship embroidered in front. The second, with the young woman who another time told me she worked for the police and had knowledge of my stolen bike.**

The first conversation:
- I read this description of our new president: He is
reckless, unstable, ignorant, inane, infinitely vulgar, climate-change-denying white-nationalist misogynist with authoritarian ambitions and kleptocratic plans.
He is
patriarchy unbuttoned, paunchy, in a baggy suit, with his hair oozing and his lips flapping and his face squinching into clownish expressions of mockery and rage and self-congratulation.*
- I don't see the point in name calling.
- You know, I've been wanting to talk with someone like you for a long time. I overhear talk from those camped out on the street when I'm on my bike late at night waiting at a corner for a light to change. You like our new president, though he would call you the losers of all losers.
- That's your opinion.
- You think he likes people like you, who have nothing but what they carry on their backs, sleep on the street, are hunted by the police?- He's on the side of my people.
- Who are your people?
- White people. He's going to do something about immigration, jobs.
- You expect one day to go back to some sort of more normal life?
- I do.
- Why do you think the new president will do anything he says, or that he cares about you, when in the past he's made it clear that he doesn't?
- That's your opinion, what you read in the liberal press.
- Do you think court documents are faked that report the new president paying settlements for numerous cases in which he was accused of fraud?
- I haven't seen any documents. You say they exist. I don't have to believe you.
- Have you looked?
- Looked where?
- The liberal press, or the internet. Courts have their own websites. Do you think they are faked too?
- I don't know of such things. I'm not from crazy California, I'm from one of the "fly over" states in the middle of the country. We there see the world more simple.
- "We need a guy who talks tough who doesn't care what anyone thinks. Who is not afraid of violence to stop other people from taking away our country." Evidently you're not aware beliefs like that authorize a would-be dictator to remove all legal protections? That you'll lose your country because of your fear of losing it?
- That's your California paranoia.
- It's not California but the rest of the country lives in fear. New lives are tried out here and that looks crazy because most of them are idiotic.
- So then you admit it.
The second conversation:
- What are you listening to?
- Bob Dylan.
- He won the Nobel prize.
- I heard.
- I'm nominated for two Nobel prizes.
- At Starbucks past midnight you meet very influential people.
- You're influential too.
- It would be nice if that were true. What are you nominated for?
- The peace prize. And literature.
- I see you writing here some nights. What do you write?
- An unauthorized biography is coming out in the spring about me.
- What's your name?
- You'll know the book when you see it.
- Will your picture be on the cover?
- Probably. Don't you want to be published too? I can help. Many famous people are my patrons, even movie stars. Casey Affleck wanted me to go to the Golden Globe Awards with him.
- Did you go?
- No. You see me here, they're going on tonight. I told him wait and I'd go with him to the Academy Awards. I can ask the Afflecks to help you too.
- Why not?
- What's the connection between conversations?
- Two extreme cases of our human ability to imagine different lives for ourselves. Put virtual reality goggles on rats, and do you know what happens?
- Has somebody done that?
- Yes, a UCLA Professor of Neuro-Physics. He developed needles ten times thinner than a human hair to record the firing of individual neurons.
- And?
- With the VR goggles on, the rat brains' visual centers showed totally anomalous results: forty percent of measured neurons stopped firing completely, the rest of the neurons measured went haywire, as he put it.
- Why?
- These are new results, the neuro-physicist says he isn't ready to offer any explanation.
- But you're ready.
- We've talked about *** how we humans are able to identify with actors in a theater performance, while we sit passively in the audience, how we are similarly able to pacify our own desires, while we submit to those in others who we must serve in our specialized roles in society, as we learn how to give them what we want rather than do what we ourselves want. We have been entering virtual realities for as long as we have been civilized, whether in a drawing or a movie or three dimensional VR. We somehow deal with the disconnection between our own lack of sense of physical motion, and what we witness in made worlds. We can even imagine ourselves in altered worlds, while we feel ourselves remaining inactive in our own. Rats can't do this.
- So in the confusion between what they see and what they fail to feel in their body, their brains shut down or go crazy.
- Here are the lyrics to the Bob Dylan song Things Have Changed I was listening to when my friend, who saw herself his potential successor in the prize, sat down with me:
A worried man with a worried mind
No one in front of me and nothing behind
There's a woman on my lap and she's drinking champagne
Got white skin, got assassin's eyes
I'm looking up into the sapphire tinted skies
I'm well dressed, waiting on the last train
Standing on the gallows with my head in a noose
Any minute now I'm expecting all hell to break loose
People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
This place ain't doing me any good
I'm in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood
Just for a second there I thought I saw something move
Gonna take dancing lessons do the jitterbug rag
Ain't no shortcuts, gonna dress in drag
Only a fool in here would think he's got anything to prove
Lotta water under the bridge, lotta other stuff too
Don't get up gentlemen, I'm only passing through
People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
I've been walking forty miles of bad road
If the bible is right, the world will explode
I've been trying to get as far away from myself as I can
Some things are too hot to touch
The human mind can only stand so much
You can't win with a losing hand
Feel like falling in love with the first woman I meet
Putting her in a wheel barrow and wheeling her down the street
People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
I hurt easy, I just don't show it
You can hurt someone and not even know it
The next sixty seconds could be like an eternity
Gonna get lowdown, gonna fly high
All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie
I'm love with a woman who don't even appeal to me
Mr. Jinx and Miss Lucy, they jumped in the lake
I'm not that eager to make a mistake
People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed.
And here are the lyrics to the Dylan song I was listening to before, Tight Connection to My Heart:
Well, I had to move fast
And I couldn't with you around my neck.
I said I'd send for you and I did
What did you expect?
My hands are sweating
And we haven't even started yet.
I'll go along with the charade
Until I can think my way out.
I know it was all a big joke
Whatever it was about.
Someday maybe
I'll remember to forget.
I'm gonna get my coat,
I feel the breath of a storm.
There's something I've got to do tonight,
You go inside and stay warm.
Has anybody seen my love,
Has anybody seen my love,
Has anybody seen my love.
I don't know,
Has anybody seen my love?
You want to talk to me,
Go ahead and talk.
Whatever you got to say to me
Won't come as any shock.
I must be guilty of something,
You just whisper it into my ear.
Madame Butterfly
She lulled me to sleep,
In a town without pity
Where the water runs deep.
She said, "Be easy, baby,
There ain't nothin' worth stealin' in here."
You're the one I've been looking for,
You're the one that's got the key.
But I can't figure out whether I'm too good for you
Or you're too good for me.
Has anybody seen my love,
Has anybody seen my love,
Has anybody seen my love.
I don't know,
Has anybody seen my love?
Well, they're not showing any lights tonight
And there's no moon.
There's just a hot-blooded singer
Singing "Memphis in June, "
While they're beatin' the devil out of a guy
Who's wearing a powder-blue wig.
Later he'll be shot
For resisting arrest,
I can still hear his voice crying
In the wilderness.
What looks large from a distance,
Close up ain't never that big.
Never could learn to drink that blood
And call it wine,
Never could learn to hold you, love,
And call you mine.
Dylan sings in the first song of feelings like we might imagine the virtual reality rat as having: things have changed, the world is strange and there's nothing he can do. He's found himself in a world, he sings in Dark Eyes, he can't accept:
Oh, the gentlemen are talking and the midnight moon is on the riverside
They're drinking up and walking and it is time for me to slide
I live in another world where life and death are memorized
Where the earth is strung with lover's pearls and all I see are dark eyes.
A cock is crowing far away and another soldier's deep in prayer
Some mother's child has gone astray, she can't find him anywhere
But I hear another drum beating for the dead that rise
Whom nature's beast fear as they come and all I see are dark eyes.
They tell me to be discreet for all intended purposes
They tell me revenge is sweet, I'm sure it is
But I feel nothing for their game, where beauty goes unrecognized
All I feel is heat and flame, and all I see are dark eyes.
Oh, the French girl, she's in paradise and a drunken man is at the wheel
Hunger pays a heavy prize to the falling god of speed and steel
Oh, time is short and the days are sweet and passion rules the arrow that flies
A million faces at my feet but all I see are dark eyes.
- But in Tight Connection To My Heart our laureate is willing to take on the strange world of the other songs, the imagined world become real and a trap, he stops being passive to "their game where beauty goes unrecognized", and goes out and sees what he can do. He asks, Has anybody seen my love? knowing he still has a tight connection to her heart: he can leave her behind in the audience tied to her by his love, and move with the actors on the stage, but do this in his real life creating real worlds as he goes.
* Rebecca Solnit, The London Review Of Books
** More Adventures In Trumpland
*** The Show

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Bike In Trumpland

Image result for beverly hills peninsula

- How's Beverly Hills?
- For me, or for the majority?
- For the majority. Then we'll get to you.
- Beverly Hills is an enclave in the middle of Los Angeles where live and work thousands of people who voted for Trump thinking he'll help them make more money, who at the same time won't admit to voting for him because he's not politically correct and political correctness is good for business.
- And Beverly Hills for you?
- I told you about my bike?
- It was stolen. That was in Beverly Hills?
- Yes. Late last night I went to Police Headquarters. It's hidden at the end of a maze of walkways within the fake Byzantine addition to the Civic Center.  The interior layout is a combination office building and bank, with lobbies, passages and stairs up to a room divided by a wall of windows over a counter. After a minute a policeman comes from the other side to the wall: they'd had to buzz me in from the main entrance downstairs so I was expected. I repeat what I said at the door: I am there about my stolen bike. The police officer says he will send someone out to talk with me. I sit down with a book. A couple minutes later two officers, a man and women, come out of a door off the lobby and approach me. I say hello, put down my book and stand. Neither man nor woman officer offers a return greeting. The policeman asks:
- Where was your bike stolen from?
- Starbucks, Wilshire and Santa Monica.
- When was it stolen?
- Five, Six days ago.
- Why didn't you come then?
- I didn't see anything you could do.
- Why are you here now then?
- The man who probably stole my bike was wearing a fez, a hat you don't seen worn around here. I was at Starbucks this morning when a man came in wearing a fez. The uniform he was wearing bore a badge of the Peninsula Hotel* just across the street.
- Tell us what happened. What time? Where were you?
- Eleven thirty to twelve at night, sitting outside. The bike was a few yards away, leaning against railing of the terrace where I sat at a table with my computer. There was only one other person on the terrace. A couple times he turned around completely to look at me then immediately looked away. When I got up to go I found my bike was gone and the man with the fez gone.
- Did you see him take your bike?
- No. My attention was on the video I was watching.
- If you didn't see, you don't have the basis to make an accusation.
- I'm not making an accusation. I want you to investigate at the hotel, talk to the employees, see if the bike is there at wherever the employees are allowed to keep bikes. The hotel insists it is your responsibility and won't cooperate with me.
- Suppose we find the bike at the hotel. How do we know it is yours? Do you have a serial number?
- No. I bought the bike second hand. It is seventeen years old. I have the name, phone number and email of the student who sold me the bike.
- Does he have the serial number?
- I doubt it. But I know every scratch on the bike.
- Maybe you saw the bike earlier and saw the scratch.
- Hundreds of people in Beverly Hills have seen me with the bike. The people at Starbucks for example.
- But if we take a report from you, you realize that this is a serious accusation you are making in a criminal matter?
- Yes. That is why I went to the hotel first and asked them to help.
- You went to the hotel. That was not necessary. What exactly do you want us to do if you don't want to file a complaint?
- Since you don't want to do anything I guess tomorrow when I'm at Starbucks when the police come in for their coffee as they do every day I'll ask them to go across the street with me to the hotel.
- You can call our non-emergency number and have officers meet you there.
- I'll do that.
- Where do you live? What is your exact address?
- Why do you ask?
- We're helping you so you should help us.
- But you're not helping me.
- Ok.
The conversation ends there. Man and woman police officers go out through the side door in the lobby. The next morning I return to the Peninsula Hotel.
- I was here yesterday.
- You were plainly told that this was a police matter. You came here, talked to us. There is no reason for you to come again here.
- If you want this to go away you're going to have to be more polite.
- I'm Chief of Service in Charge of Room Management.
- I have no idea what that means.
- I'm basically the manager of the hotel.
- And?
- I'm telling you what is hotel policy.
- What is the hotel's policy?
- We don't support accusations against our employees.
- I'm not accusing. I'm investigating. Yesterday you told me to get the police to investigate. I went to the police and they told me to come here and call them to meet me and they would with your cooperation look for the bike wherever employees usually put their bikes.
- Let me call our security director.... Hello, can you come here? Now. You, or send someone. Right now.
The house detective arrives.
- What is this about?
- I'm looking into the theft of my bike from across the street. The only person around at that time was wearing a fez, as many of your employees do. He disappeared at the same time as the bike.
- And what do you want from us? You should go to the police and make a report.
- I went to the police. They didn't want to take a report, suggested I go back, call their non-emergency number for officers to come, and they could go with you to look for the bike here in the hotel. I don't think this is necessary. You could look for the bike yourself.
- That is acceptable to you?
- Yes.
- You'll trust I'll look?
- Why would the hotel want to keep a stolen bike on its property?
- Is this your coffee? Take it. Wait outside. I'm going with another of our managers. He's going to look with me and be a witness. We'll be back in a minute.
- Did they find your bike?
- No bikes were there. The detective promised to keep a look-out for my bike. I told him there was a chance he might see it because the night after the bike was stolen I was back at Starbucks at the same time, I hear a load ticking, and look up to see across the street a bike approaching, the rider wearing a fez, who seeing me immediately makes a sharp turn down the side street.
- What was the ticking?
- The sound of the gears disengaging when you're moving and stop peddling. It is unusually loud on my bike. The detective suggested I return to Starbucks same time every night to look for rider and bike again. I said I might.
- To summarize: for others life in Beverly Hills is about waiting for the profits to roll in, for you it's about waiting for the return of a thief on your stolen bike.
- That's about it.

Further Reading:
Dozing Off
* Rooms from $575 /night.