Saturday, November 11, 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".

Further Reading:
It's Not Real
The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?
** Chain of Title

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Social Drug

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- I know. I know. You told me not to talk to you about academics. You'll find this interesting.
- Go ahead.
- A research lab at UCLA, right here in our own backyard, has linked certain failures of social perception in schizophrenics to abnormal activity of their brains.
- Failure in social perception caused by abnormal brains, or vice versa?
- The professors assume without evidence the former, that abnormal brains cause deficient behavior. But that’s not what I want to tell you about. The lab just completed a study of those who answered an Los Angeles Craigslist ad for people who self-identified themselves as socially detached, defined by their not having a single confidante. Schizophrenics, while they have normal or superior ability to share the feelings of others, fail to reason correctly about others, they fail to identify the different situations and point of view of others. The small sample of self identified socially detached  had similar failures of social perceptions as schizophrenics, while otherwise not showing the schizophrenic pathology of hearing voices or imagining they live in a fantasy world, displaying scattered or overactive behavior,
- And the professors imagine treating this normal but detached group with drugs or electric shock so that they achieve normal ability to visualize the situation and perspectives of others.
- You weren't at this afternoon's lecture. How have you heard of this?
- From the lab's 2015 study* on deficient social perception of schizophrenics. This though is the first I've heard of the Craigslist study of social perception deficient “normals”.
- Ok. At the end of the lecture I did my own small sample study by approaching the speaker, Doctor of Neuroscience Professor Green, expecting him to detach himself from me, that is, to turn away and refuse to answer my question.
- What did you ask?
- Wasn’t it likely to be true that the normals he had sampled were detached from society not because their mental equipment failed them, but rather because society was bad, was immoral, because it was better for the mental health of the normal to be detached from society?
- What did he answer?
- That he had to go.
- Your point thus being made than a society of people like him who detach themselves from others like you might well be better detached from. Mildly amusing.
- Not to Dr. Green. His own fully functioning social perception skills perceive others like me as better to be detached from because of our inferior social perception skills.
- Dr. Green thinks you should be given drugs, when they are discovered, or electrics shocks to change your brain activation to normal.
- He does.
- So?
- Don’t you think it is probable that the self-identified detached people show less understanding of others' situation and perspective because they are not now, and perhaps for a lifetime haven’t been interested? That perhaps their social perception skills are normal, but have been lessened by disuse?
- That seems likely.
- Then you'll be interested to learn that Dr. Green and his lab has a government grant to study the social perceptual failures of veterans living on the street. It doesn’t occur to Dr. Green that not their brains, but economics, that property relations might have put the veterans in their position. A position of exclusion in which, like you say, they may not be particularly interested in perceiving the psychology of people who have excluded them.
- Too bad you didn't say that to him when you had the chance.
- But I did.
- What was his answer?
- He said the veterans had been given places to live while they were being studied. 
- Moron.
- Indeed. Dr. Green wants to drug the veterans or shock them into a condition people like him can accept without having to turn their backs on. That our government is funding research to find drugs to control not mere mental states but conformity to society, wants to develop a social drug, is not surprising. But what of the way that both the class of socially excluded and the class of socially excluding develop behavior that resembles that of the schizophrenic? That those who would voluntarily detach themselves, whether or not they are also being forcibly detached, do so because they perceive the others to be self-detached, detached from themselves?
- Detached from themselves how?
- People like the professor adapt to the situation of the moment: they do and say what's required to get from others what they want, what's required by professional or personal advancement. Going this way and that, turning away from this person and accepting that, depending on the demands of others, there is no consistency in their lives. They have no character.
- And the detachment of this moment’s self from last moment’s self is a kind of schizophrenia.
- Yes. What do you think? Such people show no interest in knowing who they are, perceiving their own situation and point of view. Their desires of the moment, filtered through the demands of others, are perceived as if voices out of nowhere. Likewise their passions appear to come, when they do come, out of nowhere. And their view of society, adapted to the demands of conformity to others, are self-created like a schizophrenic's fantasy. So, you see? The normal of our society, both those that exclude, and those that are excluded, reselmble schizophrenics.
- You were right. I like it.
* "Social cognition in schizophrenia", Green et al., Nature Reviews Neuroscience, September 2015: " is entirely possible that future pharmacological treatments or neural-stimulation approaches (such as transcranial direct current stimulation) could be used in a targeted manner to affect a particular social processing system. Ultimately, it is hoped that a better understanding of social cognition and the related neural mechanisms in schizophrenia will enable us to decrease social disability in this complex condition."

Monday, September 18, 2017

There Is No Alternative

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- Who was it that first said, 'There Is No Alternative To Capitalism?'
- Margaret Thatcher?
- Would you agree that behind this claim is a belief that we are never going to form a community that will do without enmity? A belief that there is a limit to our cooperation. Market exchange began in primitive communities exclusively between tribal enemies. Not matter our progress and technology we are never going to get past having enemies. The limited truce of the market we can, it seems, more or less successfully observe, at least in some times and some places.
- I think that is a fair conclusion.
- Now our market exchanges done between enemies are done always under regulation, the agreement of enemies to a truce and certain procedures of making trades. Do you agree?
- Yes.
- What is agreed to under the truce is how, and when, the trade is done. But not what is traded?
- Yes.
- But if it were the opposite? If the rules of the truce decided what is good to be traded, but left the how and when pretty much open to the enemies?
- How would that work?
- Imagine a multitude of companies competing with each other to make and sell products, but in every company the government has a controlling interest to make sure things are not produced that are the not the right kind of things.
- What are the right kind of things?
- Those that provide people with necessities like food and shelter and clean environment. Perhaps the government would by law provide these to all, and allow individuals, now no longer living in fear, to compete for the satisfactions of learning and pleasing others and of creativity itself. The more successful companies would give more creative opportunity to participants and that would be their reward for successful competition.
- Seems utopian to me. Will people accustomed to treating each other as enemies agree to what should be traded?
- Do they presently agree to the how and when?
- They don't. Who made the agreement that trade and thinking about trade should be constant, 24 hours a day?
- We're born into the agreement.
- We are. So here is the question: Is there then an obvious alternative? Can people arrange the exchange between truce management and the market? Can people decide to give into the control of the government the 'what' to produce, and leave to the market the 'how' and 'when'?
- I don't see why not. It's just one more trade.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Past The End Of History

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What a beautiful world this will be, what a glorious time to be free.*
- Yesterday I woke suddenly from dozing off at my computer. I was outside at Starbuck's and this woman was sitting on the bench near me swearing and screaming at me while pounding a steel pipe on the metal table. She'd been threatening my life while I slept. This woman was one of the after closing time regulars, had been coming for years. At first she'll talk to you calmly. Within a minute she's telling you about who's spying on her and she's going to sue, within another minute she's taken offense somehow at something you said or because you didn't say anything and off she goes into her swearing and screaming. She does this with everyone. She calls the police and shouts at them too. She admits to have gone so far as smashing up stranger's windshield when communications were shared between cars in stalled traffic. It's in the courts now.
- You're making this up.
- No, believe me. Have I ever mentioned to you the four fraternity boys? A couple months back they got out of car and launched a volley of raw eggs at my face. One commented: 'I bet you didn't expect that'. Then they calmly got back in their car and drove away. Around this same time of night, two weeks ago now, a tall black man in his 20's approached my table, bent his head down to within an inch of mine and gave me the message that the race war is starting and it was starting with me. I would be the first victim. I created some doubt in his mind that he'd stumbled upon the only non-racist in the neighborhood long enough to grab my computer and slip away. About a month before this appearance, I'm sitting back at the same table when a middle aged man, unusually well dressed for time and place rattles the locked Starbucks door then steps over to me and asks:
- What are you doing sitting out here late at night? You shouldn't be here. What happened to you?
- Just luck. Doesn't mean anything. What brings you here?
- Where am I?
- You're in West Hollywood. At the border of Beverly Hills. Those were Beverly Hills police you were taunting.
- F^%&#^*ing police. Why are they harassing you and me, a couple of white guys?
- Are they harassing me?
- They talk bad about you. I say you're a F^%&;#^*ing genius.
- I get that a lot.
- You look good.
- I do? I don't see how. Where are you from?
- Buffalo.
- What have you been doing tonight? Where are you going now?
- I'm going to kill someone.
- Who?
- You maybe.
- Why would you want to kill me? What do you do? What is your profession?
- I kill people.
- Why would you want to kill people?
- I eat them. I'll eat your face. What do you say to that?
- I don't think it is a good idea. I have things left to do in life.
- I love you. You know? You're in danger.
- I know.
- There's my guy. Take care of yourself.
- Really, you're making this up.
- Accurately recounted word for word. And then there's the self described addict who told me he probably would take my computer next time he saw me with my eyes closed.** He needed money to buy drugs.
- What were you reading when you fell asleep?
- A professor's paper sent my way by the algorithms at
- Was it so boring?
- Not at all. In fact, now that I think of it, I see something interesting. The paper was by a philosophy professor at the Central European University in Budapest. That's the university, in case you haven't heard, the neofascist government of Hungary recently passed a law authorizing them to shut down.
- You used to hang out there when you lived in Budapest.
- I did. Remember how when the Soviet Union collapsed an announcement, widely ridiculed, was made: History Is Over. Capitalism and democracy have triumphed. There is nowhere to go from here. Progress will bring nothing new in economic and political forms. Less than twenty years later we've started to hear almost the opposite: not history, but our history, the history of our politics and economics in the present form seems to be over. We have a fascist in the executive and the economy has developed into a machine used by the rich to rob everyone else.
- What was missed back on 1989?
- The paper I was reading was about the lectures the French philosopher Michel Foucault's gave on neoliberalism shortly before he died. This was the late 70's. His previous, extremely influential studies were about how power is exercised on people not directly by physical restraint or law, but by limiting how they thought of themselves and were thought of by experts: a kind of governance he called 'biopower'. By the 18th Century government was involving itself in all aspects of life: health, sexuality, sanity. However, it came to be believed  in the 19th century that a natural law governed the marketplace and that if the government intervened it could only harm productivity. Foucault saw this as a fortuitous space of freedom from government supervision. The lectures had many critics among his fellow radicals. They were surprised, felt betrayed by his seeming economic conservatism. He had forgotten about class relations, class war: doing without regulation in capitalism meant monopoly, bribery, collusion by the rich undermining the free market. He also was wrong about non-social intervention in personal economic life, as we know to our cost: we sell ourselves, invest in ourselves, identify ourselves in our possessions, work for the sake of success in work not for the beauty and happiness of life.
-  I seem to remember that around the time of these lectures Foucault had made the news with his close observation of the Iranian Revolution. As in neoliberalism's hands-off of economic life Foucault saw room for a personal spiritual revolution, he saw the same hidden in the shadows of a political revolution claiming to inaugurate a national spirituality.
- And that is an even stranger defection to conservatism because Muslim governments tightly regulate private life. 
- Perhaps he wasn't looking too far past the act of revolution itself. He had the same attitude to spiritual revolution as he had to sexual revolution.
- Which was?
- The only desirable outcome of revolution for him could be anarchy. He didn't believe in a fixed human nature.
- Somehow, though, individuals without fixed nature had a collectively produced nature in which all knowledge was taken into the service of power to be used against the powerless.
- That's right. What was there lurking deep down in the history of politics and economics that suddenly revealed itself, proving not history to be at an end but this particular history? Not Foucault's revolutionary spirituality.
- No. Hasn't made an appearance.
- And desires, shameful or otherwise? Not in the shadows. They have been and are familiar and fundamental to politics and economics. You agree?
- Yes.
- Then what? Do you know what I think?
- What?
- How could history be ready to end when there continue to be major, fundamental, unexamined problems?
- And they are?
- Property and ritual. Or only one problem - property - that shows itself differently in politics and economics.
- Go on.
- Democracies hold assemblies where citizens share power with each other to make laws. But if citizens delegate authority to representatives, the essential, initial conditions - assembling a crowd, and its perceived weakness - are set for ritual, as the electorate always is in a position of weakness in relation to the government. Ritual:
1. Starts in a condition of weakness
2. Sets in motion a group of people acting together passionately
3. Ends in a sense of strength
The 19th century brought neoliberalism and democracy's return to history. The 20th century brought fascism, which we can define as the deliberate application of ritual to democracy. A representative can take advantage of the opportunity offered to claim the nation is weak, government and society infiltrated by enemies, a good fight will drive them out and strength will return.
- And ritual, which for you is what the unconscious is for a psychologist - it explains everything - ritual is what was lurking in the darkness of the supposed end to history? That broke out and restarted it? That is timeless when an individual enacts the story of his own death and rebirth, but breaks out into history - warmaking, enslaving, establishing classes - when it forces another people into the role of those fighting against whom one is reborn?
- It's an idea, isn't it? Do you have a better one?
- Are you five years old?
- It fits the bill: a human capacity not to be found in the individual, only revealed by human beings acting in a group. And if democracy is liable to fascism, then isn't the free market economy liable also to be undermined by ritual?
- How?
- What happened with neoliberalism? Role play, spectacle, self branding, selling yourself: playing your role requires finding crowds to your show. Getting crowds into the theater audience requires selling. Selling is convincing people they lack something, that is, they are weak. The show you put on in role convinces the crowd that with taking up a role complementary to yours they will be strong. But you don't even have to take up a complementary role. You can buy a product with a crowd of people associated with it in word or image. Propaganda and advertising create the crowd needed for a role or a product's success. Like representative democracy has its fascism, free market economics has its spectacle, role play, consumerism.
- And the problem with property you said was behind both?
- Property as ritual, not in its function of making life better, is a thing or a self that has its meaning given to it in relation to the power of a crowd.
- And non-ritual property? If there is such a thing.
- After use requirements of food and shelter are satisfied, property as a gift can be an expression of individuality; the choice of who to give to can become a creative act.*** Foucault thought that the unregulated space of neoliberal market trading could be filled with spiritual revolution, sexual or religious. Instead history has showed this gap is filled in by crowds, by imagining their admiration of objects or roles played. All those ridiculous threats against my life I begin by telling you about: do you think what I do about them?
- What? That they arise out of the same darkness?
- Yes. Our senseless mass shootings at malls, schools, theaters that now are a regular fact of life: they are the acts of people desperate to remake themselves who believe themselves to be blocked from the ordinary ways of acquiring property in things or roles. They use the only tool they find at hand: violence. They've taken their cue from the wealthy: they use violence to create crowds of witnesses and gain control of their lives, like the rich use the violence (monopoly, bribery, collusion) of concentrated wealth to control markets.
- Ok then. History is not over, but it doesn't look good. What's to be done?
- If the problem is property we have to work to change our relation to property.
- Teach ourselves not to allow ourselves to become the property of our leaders and not become property of ourselves.
- Exactly. Our fascism is not like the fascism of the 20th century, arriving with all the force of government behind it. Our fascism is self-imposed. It grows out of the economic into the political rather than vice versa, the political imposing upon the economic, as in the old Soviet Union and Orwell's novel '1984' he based upon it.
- In other words it's not absolutely here yet; deadly serious in some forms, ridiculous in others.

Further Reading:
There Is No Conspiracy Because There Are No People
Eve In The Garden Of Eden
The Technology Of Good
* Donald Fagen
** The computer was in fact taken the day after this story was posted.
*** See William Godwin, An Inquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1793

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Up In The Air

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- Sometimes our conversations soar, other times they stay down to earth.
- And which do you prefer?
- Today I'd like to soar. And since last time I took took the lead it's your turn.
- Not above in the air, but below in the sea, lives the octopus. Each of its 8 arms has an independent nervous system and can respond to the world around it without control from the brain. But the brain can take complete control and make the arms its instrument. Sometimes, when I sit in the botanical garden, in the late afternoon, I watch the hummingbirds feeding on the nectar in the flowers. On more than one occasion I've seen the usually solitary hummingbird dancing in a shaft of light with a butterfly almost its own size.
-Not chasing? Dancing?
-Not chasing: a constant distance is kept between the two. The acrobatics go on for up to half a minute. And do you know what do you make of this?
- Tell me.
- That I live in a world of people who are proud and playful with their independence. I take this as misdirection, octopus like sucking in my loyalty to our society valuing work and not much more. The people act like the sucker covered arms of the octopus which can act independent of the brain, having an independent nervous system, but only when the octopus brain allows, then it's all over for arm independence. Just like our people when the forces of the economy and received opinion take away  deciding all questions of significance for them;
- Such as?
-Why they should believe work is more important than friendship, love or beauty. Why they have to sell themselves by the hour, why property is distributed unfairly, why they are told all truth is relative. Few are even aware they've been tricked by the false independence. I don't think doing things, creatively, in absolute freedom, is worth anything on its own. I'd rather have necessary physical responses to the world be taken out of my hands, be managed by other necessary physical responses, so they alone manage the job and leave me free.
- How?
- I don't think I've ever asked: do you ride a bike?
- As a kid. I know you ride your bike everywhere.
- Have you wondered how a bike keeps its balance?
- It has to do with the gyroscopic stabilizing effect of the turning wheels.
- That's part of it, together with having the turning wheel in front, slightly behind where the front fork of the frame would touch the ground if its line didn't end at the wheel axis but was extended; both factors are inessential.
- What is then?
- Weight distribution, in relation to the wheel that turns to steer. Up for the technical details?
- If you know them.
- Balance on a bike is a two step process. When the upright frame is jarred by the road or a rider's sudden movement the bike leans. When that happens, the wheel turns in the direction of the lean.
- Why?
- Imagine the axis of the wheel is the pivot point of a balance scale with two trays. A bike is designed such that when it moves, the force of weight favors the front: when the bike leans, it pushes down on the front of the leaning wheel, turning it in the direction of the lean. Can you picture this?
- Yes.
- That's the first step. The second is the same weight favoring the front of the bike now turns the wheel in the direction opposite to the lean.
- Why?
- Because though the jar causes the bike to lean and the wheel to turn, the turned wheel of the bike moving forward throws the bike into a lean in the opposition direction.
- The bike moving forward and jarred, leans and causes the pivoting wheel to turn, but the turned wheel, in the continuing forward motion, and I take it the ceasing of the jar, corrects the lean and re-balances the bike.
- Yes. It's an automatic process that requires nothing of the rider, who glides down the road with mind free. It's a sort of horizontal hovering, if you think about the hummingbird's vertical hovering, which is achieved by a similar two step correcting process, or homeostasis. Its wings, beating at a rate between 50 and 200 times a second, move in a figure-eight pattern, with the first downward movement creating positive lift, and as the wing flips over to beat down with its other side, a negative lift. The two beats together effect a constant adjustment of vertical position. Do you see where I'm going with this?
- Not yet.
- One day, not long ago, I was riding fast on my bike by Holmby park. A hummingbird veered ahead of me and into my path, and keeping a distance in front about 20 feet tracked me the entire length of the park. It flew with me like I'd seen it do with butterflies. I wondered if the hummingbird recognized in the movement of my bike a similarity to its own. Beautiful, right?
- Beautiful.
- That's the soaring part of the story. We descend now back down below the sea to the octopus. I'm sure you feel the same way I do. We want to escape mere response to the world. We want to dance in the sunlit air with butterflies, not hide in the dark of the sea. We're pushed to be proud of being able to do our work freely, manipulating the things of the world, but all important choices and experiences in life are left...
- Up in the air.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Heaven On Many Sides

- I'd like to take the lead in this discussion too.
- Fine with me.
- You are fond of saying you're just a talker, not an expert in anything. So I've gone to a couple of experts.
- Experts on what?
- Did you know the comedian Steven Colbert studied philosophy before he went into show business?
- I didn't. Did he go into philosophy because it was funny, or did he leave philosophy because it wasn't funny enough?
- I don't know. Maybe he was attracted to it because it was funny, but left it behind because it was not funny in its consequences. Perhaps that is your view too?
- It's been funny enough for me, despite most being boring, or near unreadable, or flat-out wrong. What's your funny subject?
- Religion and our president.
- Oh. That funny story. And Colbert, in your expert-advised view, might not fail to see the humor there if he bothered to return to philosophy and look.
- If he didn't, a good guess would be it was because he, a practicing Catholic, didn't get the Jewish connection. In polytheism - religions telling stories of many gods - rituals allow participants to act out the passage from weakness to strength of a varying set of human attributes, to think, to love, to use tools, to fight, each represented by a separate god. In monotheism, instead of many different rituals there is only one, a single enactment in history moving from weakness to strength, from wrong to right. We tell ourselves the story of how we have embarked on the journey of single ritual. Three positions are staked out. They are: 1. We have the rules of what we should do, but were not there yet. 2. We are just about to be there, a savior will arrive to announce our arrival, our task is to see this world of strength and beauty and love, what we do to get there is of no importance. 3. We can imagine ourselves already there, that it has all been written already, so we must submit to the script; both the rules how we are to act, and thoughts of the world we are to arrive at are set already.
- First Judaism's rules of action, prohibition against images and determining how the world looks when the time for action is over. Then Christianity reverses this valuing, attention is turned towards the heaven of love we will be taken to by the messiah. And Islam, the Jewish and Christian together: you have no choice but submit to the rules and think as others do. The story of the ritual of history is already written right up to paradise at the end. What is supposed to be so funny about this story?
- Ritual, single history or otherwise, makes use of forgetting our personal weakness, letting the sense of power acting in concert with a group replace it with a feeling of rebirth. The single ritual of monotheism, however, makes rebirth, recovery of power, for the Jews something absolutely not the be relied upon, for the Christians dependent on the grace of being able to leave the world of bodily things behind and enter the world of pure thought, and for Muslims demanding absolute submission to rules and authority. The single ritual is undermined by not being acted out in the real world, by jumping directly to the conclusion, or by being seen as finished before offering even get a chance to start.
- Then what was the advantage if any of monotheism?
- As if you didn't know. I got this all from you. The Jews, prohibited from expecting or picturing particular results of their action, could modify how they interpreted the world so as to learn from experience in following the rules in different ways. Monotheism, with the Jews, allows the forgetting of ritual to be transformed into something completely different, the gathering of knowledge.
- And that is funny?
- No, not yet. The punch line comes with the next step, when thinking of the heavenly world of love and beauty that we are destined to, that we know we were made to arrive at, results in a terrible new forgetting.
- Forgetting what?
- The body. With Christianity the body became the enemy, its alien demands interfering with thoughts of love and beauty of the heaven to be brought by the messiah. The actions that lead to heaven are not the subject of knowledge, as with the Jews. Knowledge for the Christians is only about heaven itself, attained by grace, not knowledge of the world. This leaves the Christian vulnerable to ignorance of what makes for good and bad action, and inexperienced in control of bad action. Self observation and self control are not valued. The same is even more true in Islam where the rules are unalterable and actions determined in advance.
- The monotheistic ritual can only be the carrier of learning at the first step with the Jews. How is that funny?
- The subsequent monotheisms,  confused and weakened by their own inexplicable violence arising out of the thought to be separate world of the body, recover their confidence by return to the original, episodic ritual. In repeatedly attacking the practitioners of the first monotheism, the Jews, seen as an enemy within. they feel themselves to be getting back on course.
- And this is funny? Ritual that had miraculously been transformed into a tool of learning devolved back to a primitive instrument of power?
- Wait, the story doesn't stop there. I'll bring in now the authorities. As I said, the problem with having for your goal contemplation of a perfected world is that the body becomes separate from thought, seemingly inessential or even the enemy to thought. That according to Spinoza.
- Jewish Spinoza. 17th Century Dutch philosopher.
- Yes. According to Spinoza the separation of world and thought is completely wrong. Mind and body are two ways of looking at the same thing. Affected each in our own individual circumstances, our body among the things of the world, we respond, either actively or passively. Actively, when we act from knowledge of what we've done in the past and its consequences; passively, when we act from fear and anger. Our body and where it is placed is what allows us to learn. There can be no mind, in an active sense, in the sense that involves knowledge, separate from body. Nothing happens in heaven. Fear and anger, arising from loss of security, are habitual, bodily responses, unconsciously chosen flight or attack. This bodily passive activity, unrelated to knowledge, intrudes on the heavenly serenity of the Christian mind.
- And the security whose loss the isolated Christian mind suffers from and responds to could be that produced by primitive, polytheistic ritual. Ritual not of knowledge, but passionate acts of forgetting, violent attacks on the enemy within, ending in a feeling of recovered power.
- You refer to the rituals of anti-Semitism continuous in Christianity. And how is that funny?
- It's not. Of course it's not, but we're getting there. Around the time the Jews were first interpreting their laws, learning about themselves and the world, their ideas never separate from the world, the citizens of ancient Athens were practicing democracy, making democracy possible, qualifying themselves to share power with each other by continually observing themselves and controlling themselves. A couple thousand years later democracy begins to make a return in a big way in Europe with the arrival of the nation state. But since Europe was Christian, this created instability. Were faithful citizens to care about their actions or only thoughts? Europe muddles on. And then what happens?
- The funny part?
- Yes. Philosophers start paying attention to the problem. 19th Century German philosopher Nietzsche came up with the solution. Get rid of Christianity! Christianity was a Jewish plot to devitalize their enslavers, and it worked. And once we free ourselves from the Jewish plot, we can do, what?
- Learn about life through self knowledge and self discipline?
- Hardly. We former Christians can now individually construct our own rituals, celebrating our power and will. To institute ritual is a creative act that can be learned and perfected.
- So in rituals based on fear and anger learning is brought back in. That an irony, but is it funny?
- The funny part is how all these ideas go to explaining the behavior of one of the lowest, crudest men who ever lived, our new president.
- I'm beginning to smile.
- I can see. Let go at this step by step. In his campaign, our soon to be elected president assigns his enemies to the land of the Jews: they have too many rules, they have this abysmal rule obsessed political correctness, they don't care about our country, they don't want to make it great! The original monotheism ritual of rules to action giving way to monotheism of thought, in this case, Our Great Country. The Christian monotheism wages primitive ritual battle against the Jewish politically correct and their rules. Rules don't matter, the force of our united spirit will prevail, and Heavens! Our beautiful country will be ours again. Pure fascism: Identification of enemy within; violence that is pure, uncorrupted by rule-burdened civilization, and return of lost power. Before our new president became a politician and a fascist, he was a big practitioner of Nietzschian rituals of will. These he calls battles between winners and losers, and in his thoughts is always a winner, using astonishing quantities of lies, deceptions, betrayals in his personal and business lives. Now look at how our president spoke about the violence and murder committed by marching neo-Nazis at Charlottesville last week. He observed: 'There was violence on many sides, on many sides', the phrase 'on many sides' repeated with a kind of sermonizing sigh. Our president was, I think, saying to us, ha ha, you've got your politically correct, each group with its own rituals, repeated ways of doing things that makes participants feel secure, each isolated by their habits to be protected by other politically correct ritualists. So ha ha, you see what I have lowered myself to do to you? My guys the neo-Nazis are a protected group too, no? Yes. 'You know it too,' our President told the assembled press, feeling sure he'd caught them in a logical trap.
- And the funny part?
- That among the Neo-Nazis demonstrating were a couple of college students who quickly were identified by the classmates from news video and were receiving death threats. They complained to reporters that they were protecting their traditions, and they could not be placed in any category such as white supremacist.
- What they did at the demonstration was an act of will, its purpose to reestablish power among people like themselves exercising will; they were unwilling that what they were doing, what their passive, passion intoxicated bodies were doing, be made a matter of defined social roles. The heaven they seek was not to be created out of something so meaningless, so uninspiring as a category of people defined not by beliefs but by their action, not even the inspiring categories of White Supremacist or neo-Nazi.
- That's funny. A little.
- Culture as a function of will, thought uprooted from the actions taken by individual bodies, carries no knowledge of good and bad and so inevitably falls into the bad of primitive ritual, of violence to establish or reestablish order.
- Ok. I get it. It's not just rhetoric: political correctness is no stranger to fascism. Fascism easily claims from political correctness its own protected status as one aggrieved traditional group among equals. Whether 'just obeying orders', or 'just giving orders', they are engaged in the protected traditional behavior of political correctness, no matter that the world of rules whose protection they demand is the Jewish world of rules they at other times charge with being their fundamental enemy.  They are above the petty concerns of consistency or rationality. Funny. Ha ha.
- A modern scholar of Judaism I consulted, Dobbs-Weinstein,* explains that separation of religion from the state has been since the time of humanism seen as a necessary protection against battles between religions becoming political battles. However, the religious battle has come in through the back door with the politically correct relativist's individualist will to power in his own voluntarily instituted or participated in group. Each group demands protection from the others, while offering no cooperation. Indeed, groups have no means to cooperate without practice observing themselves and controlling themselves, the qualities held in common democracies demand. Dobbs- Weinstein traces as you have the Jewish focus on action rather than thought through Aristotle in ancient Greece to Averroes in the Muslim world of the late Middle Ages, philosophers commonly misunderstood in their Christianized interpretations.
- Not to mention their ancestor, the deChristianized Plato, and his ancestor, the deChristianized Parmenides.
- Well, yes. Anyway. Freud and Marxist in our modern world recover more directly the emphasis on action, and so doing uncover the relation between good and bad action absent in the focus on heavens.
- The funny part about that is that by their using language of the world of heaven, the materialist language of science, of a separate, self contained world of things, they undermine the project of recovery of ethics. Freud had parts of self in a materialist dynamic of forces, Marx had his economic material of surplus value of things shifted about by the power of labor.
- They self-Christianized. What should they have done?
- Simply ask of themselves, Were they doing justice to themselves and others? instead of looking for a heaven of things in which that justice would be expressed outside individual bodily lives of action.
- Another modern expert I consulted, the Spinozan and historian of the enlightenment Jonathan Israel, argues that as long as thought was separated from the body there was an implication that since god made the world so it had to be good. When Spinoza returned thought to the body, identifying one with the other, god could be thought as being in the world (there was no where else for him to be), and since he was, an attractive force or encouragement towards perfection, there was no reason thought could not improve the relation of body in the world, that is, historical progress appears more possible. In fact, Israel claims that the French revolution was only possible because of the widespread reading and influence of Spinoza.
- If that is right, then political progress has involved a religious-political regression from polytheism, to monotheism, to Christianity and Islam then back to the beginnings of monotheism, then back to the absolute beginning in polytheism of the individual ethics-free willful ritualist losers and winners. It took a while for us to get here, and I'm with you, I see humor here, a little bit. The story of the Jews goes a little further, with the founding of the state of Israel. Jews are accused of considering the founding of the Jewish state, an immense technological and social achievement, a use of rules of action in the world to obtainknowledge of the world if there ever was one, to be intended as a heaven, though that would be a Christian heaven; they are accused of making for themselves a military state, though that would be an Islamic sort of closed totalitarianism; they are accused of applying fascist, that is, anti-Semitic means to protect against outsiders a society of amoral individualists. The Jews are accused of recapitulating the entire history of latter day monotheistic and finally polytheistic corruption of the Jewish focus on rules experimentally applied to action.
- Needless to say, all wildly disputable.
- But a little funny?

Further Reading:
How To Read Plato's 'Republic'
Homework For Serial Killers
Hungry Dog & The 17 Year Man
Bringing Back Stray Sheep
A Machine For Making People Unhappy
* 'Spinoza’s Critique of Religion and Its Heirs: Marx, Benjamin, Adorno', Idit Dobbs-Weinstein
, 2015

Monday, August 21, 2017

Believe It Or Not

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- Listen, I've been trying to work something out. Tell me what you think.
- About?
- Politics. Political belief. I think it is not really belief. That it is not like what we mean when we say we believe the sun will come up tomorrow in the east.
- Not a prediction.
- Prediction, but of a kind that involves elements of passivity and superstition. I'll explain. People believe passively when they have been told 'this is how it is', and rewarded for agreeing and punished for disagreeing.
- Their belief is emotional, the product of indoctrination.
- Yes. When belief is active, it is either understanding or superstition. Understanding, 'standing under', is when we come to a conclusion based on past experience.
- The past 'stands under', is the support of how we see the present.
- Yes.
- And superstition?
- When how we see the world is not based on experience but is an imagined future 'standing over' our present, an expectation of the future that we in our present give ourselves.
- 'Reduce taxes for the rich and we will all gain'. A statement of the future we believe because we've been told, not because we or anyone else has ever had any experience, evidence of its truth.
- Yes. But there is also an active version of superstition in which people actively choose to hold superstitions because of political benefit from doing so.
- They're rich so their taxes are reduced.
- Exactly.
- Now this is what I want your opinion on: is it possible active superstition is more than political expediency of selling the idea to others?
- Do I think our politicians really believe?
- Yes.
- You're asking about our politicians being superstitious in a society generally considered scientific, based on understanding. They seem to be deliberately turning their backs on evidence that would produce understanding. And if aware they are deliberately turning their backs on the job of gathering evidence, they can't be said to be interested in discovering the truth of what they believe.
- Yes.
- But in terms of real experience, they have understanding that holding their beliefs is factually good for them. A political understanding accompanies the superstitious belief.
- Yes.
- So that is what, and how they believe: they understand it is good for them to tell others and themselves that reducing taxes for the rich is good for everyone, but the idea itself to them is a superstition, held because it is useful. In time, however, in company with their fellow politicians believing and understanding the same thing, passive belief arises based on social reward and punishment.
- And then they have both passive belief and true understanding. They believe what their group believes and understand it is good for them to do so. They forget their superstitious belief once was active.
- Yes.
- And this belief of yours: is it superstition or understanding?
- A little of both. A superstition, when we've decided on testing it, is what we call an hypothesis.
- The hypothesis is: Despite being educated in a technological and scientific society, politicians deliberately maintain a superstitious relation to the world, turning their backs on experience, doing this with an understanding that among the group of their fellow politicians it is good for them to do so. In time their active decision to hold superstitious beliefs is replaced by the passive rewards of going along with the group of other politicians.

Further Reading:
Business Is Business

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Business Is Business

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- The end justifies the means argument can be answered in a number of ways: we don't know that the desired end will come after we've used our destructive means, we don't know that it will in fact be good, or how long it will stay good, we don't know if our use of the destructive means may make us incapable of grasping or holding to the desired end if it should come within our reach after applying the destructive means.
- Then what do we do?
- Simply do what here and now makes for greater kindness.
- Huxley's argument. Love. Truth. Beauty. That's not our world.
- What is our world?
- We have a president who was elected by people who apply the means to the end argument: they are willing to make money at any cost. They think he will help them to make more money. They know he is a liar, cheat, bully, a brute, and they don't care. Billionaire CEOs have joined advisory councils set up by the president. Business is business. All that matters is profit.
- Yet most of them have quit in the last few days.
- Because the president has expressed his brutality so openly that it is likely to hurt their businesses, disturb their employees and customers.
- And what did you want to tell me?
- About the book I'm reading, the Russian writer Victor Serge's Memoirs Of A Revolutionary. He stayed in the government of the Soviet Union during the times of revolutionary terror, explaining himself thus: it would have been better to have democracy, free markets, decentralized government. But history says revolutions require violence. And history has put on offer, to committed revolutionaries like himself, only one party capable of achieving revolution, that party which murders by the millions, terrorizes, and controls all power.
- How does he think he knows this?
- He says that Russians are psychological victims of autocracy. When they get a chance for power they can't help themselves from becoming autocratic, dictatorial, cruel in their turn. So history has stuck them with this kind of mass murdering, terrorizing revolution, take it or leave it. He took it. As we Americans are willing, in order to make money, to impoverish the majority, risk nuclear war and environmental catastrophe.
- But how does he know this? That the revolution is good, or will remain good, or the people remain good enough to benefit from it? Does he say?
- Indirectly. He speaks about a Russian love of sacrifice of self for the good of the revolution.
- In ritual, sacrifice is rewarded by feeling part of a group. It is not a prediction about history, not: 'If I suffer now, later I'll be rewarded.'  Rather, it is: 'Give myself to the revolution now and immediately I'll feel strong as a member of a group of people sacrificing themselves. Whether or not the revolution is an historic good, it is good here and now for me and others who've thrown themselves into it.'
- He doesn't write anything like that, but yes, I think that is correct. He doesn't try to answer the arguments against using bad means to the good end because he must have revolution by any means.
- Because it is, as a product of ritual sacrifice, a good in itself.
- Yes. What then about our American money making by any means: isn't there a similar ritual sacrifice behind it, making it a good in itself to be had by any means? Sacrificing nature with pollution, risking the sacrifice of civilization in nuclear war, sacrificing our own natural human wish to cooperate with each other in an every man for himself pursuit of money? Aren't the billionaire CEOs associating themselves with our brute of a president doing what Victor Serge did, getting around the failure of the means to the end argument in the same way: as revolution is revolution, business is business?

Further Reading:
Lesser Evil Voting
The President's People
Believe It Or Not
The Technology Of Good
Mass Murder, Anyone?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Bye Bye Love

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Piaget, the Swiss psychologist, found in studying how children learn about the world - as opposed to learn about imitations of the world people make - that the structure, the permanence of their knowledge was not to be found in their minds, neither buried in their unconscious or conscious, but in the history of their acquiring bodily habits of perception, moving their eyes across the world and body through the world. Their knowledge of the world exists in their individual experience, which is the story of acquiring new habits of perception. It is not a picture of the world. As knowledge of the world exists only in habits of the body, that leaves the mind free to play, try out new possibilities; the habits of the body are the foundation, not limitation or enclosing frame, to future perception and knowledge. Learning that if I can see you, you can see me, does not enclose future action like rules given by a model, but enlarges possibility: you can do more with a person whose world you can imagine than one whose world is invisible to you.
- That's from another conversation.* Do you remember?
- Yes. Why do you bring it up?
- Have you heard of philosophers doing philosophic therapy or counselling?
- Wouldn't you say all philosophy is healing?
- I would, except perhaps not this philosophic therapy.
- Why not?
- Because the philosopher charges money for his time.
- If you love your work you can see the payment as a separate, practical necessity, isolated from the actual performance.
- Do you think that is possible?
- If you love your work.
- Then you'd ask the philosopher-therapist if he loves his work?
- I'd ask him if he loves or even likes his patients.
- The philosopher for hire may say so, but the only ones doing the job I know of have for clients almost exclusively business executives.
- Who tend to be selfish and aggressive, not the most attractive people in the world.
- So the philosopher doesn't really like his patients. Not liking them, following upon the ideas I quoted, would you agree that not liking means the philosopher's relation to his patient is not physical, not a matter of desire which is absent, but rather of placing his patient in a category of deficiency to which a certain category of remedy should be applied?
- Yes.
- Do you think that helps the patient? Most of the patients complain of working too much and of not knowing any more why they are working. The philosophers tell them to remember to have fun, open themselves to the ecstatic in life, to beauty.
- The philosopher too, not liking his patients, seeing them for the money, is vulnerable to developing the same problem as his patients: his work is not satisfying in itself. He can advise his patients to curtail the unsatisfying work of application of rules. Let's say the philosopher in the rest of his life acts in accord with his desire, wants to know those around him and the ways of the world. In private life his rest from action follows directly from the action. But is that what in the conversation with his patient he is showing the patient?
- No, how could that be? If he knows the patient it is by rules, not investigation motivated by desire.
- The patient pays, goes on with his life with more of acting out of desire and less of acting in accord with rules. He develops habits of both kinds of living. Perhaps he has a lover who, being human, is not perfect. At difficult times he asks himself about his lover, perhaps he should find a better lover? What is the rule? Doesn't he owe himself the best in life? And then what happens with love?
- Bye bye love.

On The Shortness Of Life - Seneca (audiobook)
Prostitution & Torture
* Justice & Terror

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


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- After our talks do you know what I do?
- Regret you wasted your time.
- Never. I try out the ideas on other people.
- How does that go?
- Sometimes better than others.  Last time, not so good. I was asked a question I couldn't answer. The subject of conversation was our favorite these days, our new president and how we ended up with him. I talked about his character or lack of and the character of the people who voted for him or their lack of character, about how people with weak character are more susceptible to being led into ritual behavior, about the particular ritual behind fascism: a group of people are told they are weak, that the cause of their weakness was outsiders who have come within them and are undermining their strength, and how the people can regain their strength by violently attacking their enemies anywhere and everywhere.
- Were you understood?
- More or less. And I was understood when I went on to talk about our president's narcissism and how his lies are not taken as true statements about the world but as statements his supporters like to imagine themselves participating in making.
- And was that understood?
- Again yes, more or less. But I was asked then what should have been to me an obvious question: how does someone like the president who contradicts himself in every speech he makes, actually in nearly every sentence he speaks, manage to lead masses of people in ritual?
- How does he do it?
- I didn't and don't have an answer so I'm asking you: how does he do it?
- When you hear the word 'ritual' you think first of some small isolated community living in a remote jungle, right?
- Right.
- Some stay home and take care of children, some go out and hunt or gather fruits and vegetables. Now these roles - hunting, gathering, caring for children - they are assigned by tradition and are not much the subject of thought. What about our roles, is the same true?
- No. We take on our roles deliberately and we think about them a lot.
- When a natural disaster strikes the primitive community it is not difficult for members to imagine themselves in a ritual that enacts a battle between gods in which an old weak god dies and is reborn a new strong god. Identification with the god is easy: in their thoughtlessness about the role they play in life they are no less a mysterious entity to themselves than is a god.
- And we narcissists* are in love with thinking about ourselves and our roles.
- "We" meaning everyone but you and me.
- Of course. So how does it work? The president can't get out two words without the second contradicting the first, and his supporters, far from being jungle dwellers ready and willing to lose themselves in their group, pride themselves on their individuality.
- Our question is how it happens that the same fascist that loses himself in real or imagined group violence consciously conceives of himself as an individual with his own self-chosen role in life?
- Yes. How have we ended up with a country of conservative fascists, individualists who love to throw themselves into group violence. Your answer?
- What do the president's supporters say when confronted with their leader's vulgarity, brutality, dishonesty, incoherence...
- ...With his every possible failure of human character. They say he is not a standard evasive politician like the others. He's himself.
- He has a role then, that of individual, an individual under attack by establishment politicians. Do you see how this works out?
- Not yet.
- Ritual requires losing one's self awareness in group violence. The president seems to be in all directions at once, but is consistent in this presentation of himself as an individual under attack. Cannot he be leading his supporters in a ritual of identification with him and his struggle?
- His supporters are conservative believers that government is a danger to their individuality, yet they go to the president's fascist style rallies to join in a crowd united by fear and hatred of outsiders. Identifying with their leader they retain their sense of being individuals even in the crowd.

Further Reading:
Trump's Lies
Mass Murder, Anyone?
Philosophy & Science Of Betrayal
* See: The Narcissist 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Philosophy And 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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

There Is Nothing Either Good Or Bad But Thinking Makes It So

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- Our president can get away with anything, it's almost mystical. As he told a rally during the election he could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose voters.
- It's no mystery. His supporters don't believe in human character. They believe his lies that he is on their side or he will make them richer. And the Republicans in control of congress, as long as he plays along with them, block political consequence.
- Americans think they have nothing to fear from bad character. They believe, as famously put by Hamlet, 'there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.' I've wondered at that line for a long time. Did Shakespeare mean it as a bit of philosophy or as the characterization of a mad man?
- On Youtube there's a wonderful television interview* with the philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch. The interviewer asks her the difference between philosophy and literature. Both, she answers, are in search for the truth, but philosophy is about clearing away illusion, literature is about the deliberate construction of illusion.
- And what do you think?
- Both philosophy and literature are stories.
- Then how are they different?
- Stories model the truth, summarize in miniature how life is. 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. There's a philosopher by the name of Hoffman** who argues the contrary, that all we know of the world is models, and since they are fictions constructed by our minds it is futile to use those models to explain our minds, but the reverse should be possible, using consciousness to explain the sort of models of the world we make. To do this he comes up with a mathematical model of consciousness, a function of mind that goes from world to experience to act to changed world to experience, which he then works up into the basic mathematical equations of natural science.
- And leaves out the un-modeled beauty and love included in your conception of philosophy?
- Yes.
- Then it's only a kind of fiction explaining a kind of fiction.
- In Iris Murdoch's first novel Under The Net the protagonist enrolls himself in a medical study testing a medicine. By chance today I went to the University Hospital to do the same, signed myself up for a test of migraine medicine. I am among those who have one fairly rare form of migraine in which 'object blindness' occurs in the first stages: you can see shapes, but not identify objects. Model making of perception is disabled. What's seen is what the retina works up without benefit of memory of past experience and future expectations of good: object blindness generates a sight that feels insignificant and inapplicable. Memory of similar sights seen in the past and the good the objects can be used to bring us to is required for meaning to arise.
- And what you've just done is an example of philosophy: a model of experience that includes elements that aren't modeled: the good aimed at. Hoffman's mathematics of consciousness leaves out the good aimed at, which is, as it were, hovering above on another level, which other level mathematic's own Godel's theorem is supposed to have proved cannot be brought into any mathematical formula.
- And in any case his model is a description of what goes on with any living thing of any degree of consciousness.
- And so what do you say is consciousness?
- Precisely this looking down from one level on another.
- Looking down on the modeled world of perception from a place where the un-modelable experience of beauty or love resides.
- Yes.
- And the story you are telling now about it is a model of experience, the special kind of literature or story telling we call philosophy that includes elements of the story that are on another level which are not modeled and cannot be.


- As to Hamlet, here's the passage in which the line occurs:
HAMLET: Denmark's a prison.
ROSENCRANTZ: Then is the world one.
HAMLET: A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.
ROSENCRANTZ: We think not so, my lord.
HAMLET: Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.
ROSENCRANTZ: Why then, your ambition makes it one; 'tis too narrow for your mind.
HAMLET: O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
GUILDENSTERN: Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.
HAMLET: A dream itself is but a shadow.
ROSENCRANTZ: Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow's shadow.
HAMLET: Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretched heroes the beggars' shadows. Shall we to the court? for, by my fay, I cannot reason.
And what do you say to it?
- Hamlet is awake to the illusion of experience, he is living in the migraine state of object blindness. He knows there is something to be done, but suffers from detachment.
- He has forgotten love in his wounded pride and defied ambition. It's like he's the philosopher Hoffman: beginning from a loveless consciousness and building a world upon it nothing seems worth doing.

Further Reading:
Philosophy Of Betrayal
The Show
* Philosophy And Literature
** The Interface Theory Of Consciousness

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mass Murder, Anyone?

Related image


- First, I want to read you something about our new president by Timothy Snyder, historian of central Europe and the Holocaust:
What is patriotism? Let us begin with what patriotism is not. It is not patriotic to dodge the draft and to mock war heroes and their families. It is not patriotic to discriminate against active-duty members of the armed forces in one’s companies, or to campaign to keep disabled veterans away from one’s property. It is not patriotic to compare one’s search for sexual partners in New York with the military service in Vietnam that one has dodged. It is not patriotic to avoid paying taxes, especially when American working families do pay. It is not patriotic to ask those working, taxpaying American families to finance one’s own presidential campaign, and then to spend their contributions in one’s own companies. It is not patriotic to admire foreign dictators. It is not patriotic to cultivate a relationship with Muammar Gaddafi; or to say that Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin are superior leaders. It is not patriotic to call upon Russia to intervene in an American presidential election. It is not patriotic to cite Russian propaganda at rallies. It is not patriotic to share an adviser with Russian oligarchs. It is not patriotic to solicit foreign policy advice from someone who owns shares in a Russian energy company. It is not patriotic to read a foreign policy speech written by someone on the payroll of a Russian energy company. It is not patriotic to appoint a national security adviser who has taken money from a Russian propaganda organ. It is not patriotic to appoint as secretary of state an oilman with Russian financial interests who is the director of a Russian-American energy company and has received the “Order of Friendship” from Putin. The point is not that Russia and America must be enemies. The point is that patriotism involves serving your own country.  (From: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, 2016)
- Our president is a bad guy and likely a traitor. What else is new?
- He might try a fascist take-over. He spouts the fascist program: the people are weakened, they suffer the incursions of a evil enemy, but he, not afraid to use violence, is the one the lead the the nation back to greatness. Hitler promised a government that would improve the material lives of his people, but his real goal was to embark on a race war in which Germans could purify themselves of the corruptions of ideas of sympathy, kindness, and cooperation the Jews had contaminated the whole world with. Our new president also claims to be interested in the well-being of his people, but he may have intentions similar to Hitler's of taking control of the entire government and ending the rule of law; and then, on the occasion of a terror attack, real or fake, embark on a program of conquest.
- And you worry Americans might become mass murderers like the Germans?
- I do! What's to stop Americans from becoming agents of terror to each other inside the country and mass murderers outside? Snyder has collected evidence that most of the Jews killed in the Holocaust were killed in the countries east of Germany invaded first by the Soviet Union then by Germany. Natives of the invaded countries were employed as killers, first in the name of protecting communism from its enemies and then in the name of protecting the Nazis from their communist enemies, the Jews. Mass killing doesn't seem to require belief, only requires willingness to use violence, identification with one's role in one's group, and characterization of the enemy as dangerously alien.
- The killers didn't have to be anti-Semitic?
- Not at all. Some were, but belief was not required. Any story could be told. What cannot be done without, is essential, is loyalty to one's place in the group, indulgence in violence, and discovery of enemy infiltration. The social psychologist James Waller argues* that situations satisfying those conditions can produce a mass murderer out of anyone, though some individuals are able to hold out longer than others.
- Then he excuses everyone.
- He says he doesn't excuse, that he is only speaking of probabilities. He explains the conditions under which mass murder can be expected, but individuals are still responsible. It's like he's looking out a window at people pass by: when this man is seen, this woman usually is too. He doesn't know the relation between, the reason for, the two observations being associated, which is perhaps that the man and woman are married. All that he has to suggest is that if we are authentic and responsible we might be able to better resist the demands of the group. But does this get us anywhere? Are we saying anything more than someone who can resist a group's demand that he mass murder is someone who resists demands of a group? We need to know how this linkage between character and deed comes about, the cause, not just the probability. We need to know what allows some but not others to resist the demands of the group. Do you have any idea?
- I have what it pleases you to make to fun of calling it my system or computer: types of behavior identified as either ethical or vain, based on Yes or No answers to whether there is awareness of self and world in action and rest.

                                     action                       rest

self aware?                     Yes                           No
aware of world?              No                            Yes



                                    action                       rest

self aware?                    No                           Yes
aware of world?             Yes                           No

Ethical action aims towards ethical rest. Vain action aims towards vain rest. In moving from ethical action to ethical rest, we are aware of our self in movement. We can tell that story. In moving from vain action to vain rest, we are not aware of ourselves in movement, consequently we cannot tell a story. We forget the passage, and this forgetting is what allows for the claim to be reborn in ritual. The "combinations" of ethical action leading to vain rest, and vain action leading to ethical rest, are excluded, as the first allows only awareness of self and none of world, the other only awareness of world and none of self.**
- Your behavior computer computes them to be insane: we need some knowledge of both self and world to assemble a relation of self to world. Without a consistent relation of self to world we go crazy.
- Yes. Risk of insanity provides a natural barrier to changing from ethical to vain.
- And vain to ethical.
- Yes. If you can stand something so simple applied to something so complicated, I'll go on.
- Go on.
- The mass murderer's behavior fits perfectly into the categories vain action and vain rest. Vain action is intoxicated, a self-unaware rush to change the world back to a form in which we felt more powerful: self unaware, aware of the world acted upon. The vain rest of the mass murderer is spent thinking of himself having recovered security through seeing himself in his power to murder others: self aware, world (outside of others murdered) unaware. Turn this upside down, and we get ethical action and ethical rest. Action: awareness of self in role, but a role played without fixed relation to the world, which is left unaware while it undergoes change caused by our role play. Rest: unaware of ourselves in awareness of being at home and secure in the beauty of the world. The mass murderer loses himself in a world that is defined as the object of his violence. Secure relation in one's role to the role of others in the group is what is important, not at all the world or any truth about it. Meaning is found in achieving that security, not in the truth of a story of one group's danger to another. You see the connection with the way our new president constantly lies and contradicts himself?
- He says what he thinks will give him power in the situation he finds himself in. Truth about the world is no consideration at all.
- Yes.
- Our resistance to becoming mass murderers is not a matter of probability, depending on the temptation of the situation and a vaguely defined authenticity and responsibility, but a question of whether we can maintain a clearly defined ethical character, a question of practice, of how we are in the habit of living. Resistance is not a question of society, of whether there is a rule of law. Mass murder arises in countries that have become stateless, and in one-party states in which the rule of law is absent, such as the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia. But strict obedience to law, if it is done unthinkingly, fits the description of unethical action. It is used in training soldiers to kill. In a state where rule of law reigns, the strictly obedient, when tempted by the fascist program, easily succumb, don't resist while rule of law is dismantled. Far from being a protection against mass murder, rule of law can be a preparation for it. Snyder tells the story of policemen who one day were directing traffic in Munich three days later were in Eastern Europe marching Jews into the forest hundreds at a time and shooting them.
- Avoiding becoming mass murderers is not a question of what kind of society we have, how far away from lawlessness it is. Rule of law while it lasts gets in the way of mass murder, but it need not last. Avoiding mass murder depends on how individuals are in the habit of living, ethically or not. The question for us then is, How are we Americans living? Ethically?

Further Reading:
Beverly Hills Jews
The President's People
United States & Totalitarianism
The Golden Rule & The Deviant Path
The Mathematics Of Consciousness


- Rule of law is unable to stop people from becoming mass murderers because it assigns them a role, the role of "forced to obey", and obviously submission is a relation of weakness. Add a culture of violence to this sense of being weakened, and add an enemy identified as responsible for your state of weakness, and you have met the requirements for a society falling into mass murder. Alright?
- Yes.
- Free Market economics also is no protection, for the same reason: it institutionalizes violence in every transaction. Sellers wish to give the least for the highest price and buyers get the most for the lowest price, establishing a relation of enmity that does violence against the natural impulse we human beings have to cooperate and sympathize  -  I assume you really believe in these other, ethical characteristics of the human species. You do?
- Yes.
- Society as a protection against mass murder isn't doing too well. We've got a launching pad to vanity in the rule of law which is set over us to control our desires. We've got a launching pad to vanity in our free market economics, the rules of which control our relation to property, our sense of home and our spirited nature that shows itself when home is threatened, and that is constantly for us. What's left?
- The reasonable, if you're following Plato's three part human nature: desiring, spirited, reasoning.
- I am.
- And how well will democracy, the form of government our reasoning has chosen, guide us away from mass murder?
- Not well. Our democracy is built on the assumption there is no agreement on what is human nature, therefore the state should express only that idea, that of no shared human nature.
- And that expression is in the insistence we be tolerant.
- Yes. Denied in our public life the opportunity to seek what is right in communication with our fellow citizens, we feel ourselves wounded and under continuous attack.
- Our laws, our free markets, and our democracy, all three, with the sense they produce of our being under constant attack, lead us into vanity and Yes, mass murder when the additional requirements of cruelty condoned and enemy identified are met.
- And the solution?
- Isn't it obvious?
- Ethical rules, ethical economics, ethical politics. How are we going to work that out in practice?
- Voluntary association,** property traded on a basis that respects a natural human concern for other human beings, and an open and continuous search for truth. On this last:
(Transcript)  "My name is Noam Chomsky, I'm a retired professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I've been for 65 years. I think I can do no better about answering the question of what it means to be truly educated than to go back to some of the classic views on the subject. For example the views expressed by the founder of the modern higher education system, Wilhelm von Humboldt, leading humanist, a figure of the enlightenment who wrote extensively on education and human development and argued, I think, kind of very plausibly, that the core principle and requirement of a fulfilled human being is the ability to inquire and create constructively independently without external controls. To move to a modern counterpart, a leading physicist who talked right here [at MIT], used to tell his classes it's not important what we cover in the class, it's important what you discover. To be truly educated from this point of view means to be in a position to inquire and to create on the basis of the resources available to you which you've come to appreciate and comprehend. To know where to look, to know how to formulate serious questions, to question a standard doctrine if that's appropriate, to find your own way, to shape the questions that are worth pursuing, and to develop the path to pursue them. That means knowing, understanding many things but also, much more important than what you have stored in your mind, to know where to look, how to look, how to question, how to challenge, how to proceed independently, to deal with the challenges that the world presents to you and that you develop in the course of your self education and inquiry and investigations, in cooperation and solidarity with others. That's what an educational system should cultivate from kindergarten to graduate school, and in the best cases sometimes does, and that leads to people who are, at least by my standards, well educated." (Video: On Being Truly Educated)
- And what are the chances we learn to educate each other before we murder each other to extinction?
- I couldn't say.

Further Reading:
Icarus, Or The Future Of Science, Bertrand Russell
James Waller, 'Becoming Evil, How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing', Oxford University Press, 2002
** See: Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
*** Laws ruling by external threat is not the only possibility open to democracy. In Aeschylus' Orestes Trilogy the Goddess Athena ends a cycle of revenge by instituting trial by law, deciding a tie with her vote and inviting the Furies to take up residence. Decision by law is thus made both incalculable and enforced by a threat of violence that is internal to the community; law is the divine product of the divine power of vengeance deferred by each citizen. See: Killer Metaphysics and Prostitution, Employment, Slavery.