Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Poisonous Atmosphere Of Whole Foods

- You've repeated so many times that in our extreme form of capitalism in each transaction buyer and seller were enemies that I was going to ask you to stop, when this happened.
- What?
- This was in Whole Foods Market in Beverly Hills, now owned by Amazon, one of the largest companies in the world. In the last few months I've been noticing, almost every day, customers, often daily customers like myself, being accosted and accused of stealing and a receipt demanded of them to prove they weren't. Today I had a little talk with the store manager, 'Oscar', on the subject. I asked him first whether it was the store policy to accuse everyone of stealing who holding store products passed out of the store without going first to the cashier, based only on, not probability, but possibility they were stealing. They could have after shopping and paying gone back in the store to get a napkin, a plastic spoon, a teaspoon pack of soy sauce, or to look for a product it turned out the store didn't have. The manager answered:
- We're not accusing anyone. We're only asking for a receipt.
- But you must believe the customer was stealing if you asked for a receipt. After all you're not asking everyone to show a receipt. Don't you think it is wrong to be treating people as thieves who have been customers many hundreds of times?
- We're protecting our stock.
- Without any concern you are acting as enemies to the people who come not to make war on you but to shop? Are you admitting you are accusing regular shoppers?
- They steal too. You'd be surprised. Most people we ask to show receipts are understanding, they don't care like you.
- They're being polite. They're angry, disgusted. I'd guess you won't find in your store for months in the future, or maybe never.
- Why should anyone care about showing a receipt if they aren't stealing?
- Because now entering the store they know they are being watched, suspected of being thieves, by every store employee who it seems you have instructed to spy on the customers, even authorized without further instruction to themselves make the accusation.
- That's it?
- It's not enough? Ok then. This is from you, five years ago:
As you enter you see painted on the floor in giant letters "VALUES: No artificial flavors, additives, preservatives". But maybe your value is no artificial people? Sorry, you'll have to shop someplace else. Look to your left. Behind the counter is the surveillance staff, watching you enter. They watch you as a possible loss of income or a possible gain. They don't know which. They have to watch. You have your values, they have theirs. You value additive free food, they value humanity-free profit and loss. They're allowed. It's a free country. Or no, not so free. Not if you don't want to be hunted while you shop by the surveillance staff. And not if you don't want to be subject to the empty politeness of customer service staff. True, the ritual respect of How are you today, sir? makes for a more efficient shopping experience than being hunted by the surveillance staff. But there is, or was, another kind of experience than shopping? Was there? What was that?
Further Reading:
When We Love

Tuesday, June 18, 2019



- We've already made a couple attempts at this. I'd like to go back to it again.
- Back to what?
- The loss of the ability to sympathize. For years, with some sense of guilt that I must be exaggerating, I've been in the habit of calling Americans killers, and then yesterday I came across this statement from D. H. Lawrence: 'The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.' So it wasn't just me. Maybe I should feel better about myself, I thought, maybe I wasn't exaggerating.
- You don't mean all of us are actual killers, only that if put into a situation where killing can be done in role, as a soldier, policeman, or as a politician directing others to kill, little or nothing in American character restrains us from killing.
- That is one of the two conclusions we came to in our talks about failing to sympathize: people who act in role, we said, have no feeling for, no relation to people who have no role, who have been stripped of their roles.
- Stripped of their roles in preparation to killing them.
- Sometimes. The other conclusion we came to was that the human being is subject to an atrophy of good: like muscles lose strength when not exercised, so our moral capacity weakens with disuse. This is only a metaphor, of course, strength of muscles compared to strength of sympathy. So I wondered, can we do any better? Do you have any idea where we should start?
- Asking ourselves what is special about Americans.
- Our country is the first that was founded as capitalist, with religion excluded from playing a part in government.
- By 'capitalist' you mean laws making property, existing property relations, a sacrosanct first principle, as opposed to treating human life as of more importance than property. Go on.
- Americans were the first to give themselves a constitution they created themselves. They formed for themselves an island of democratic governance in the midst of killings, slavery, wars, in this respect comparable to ancient Athens. Agreed?
- Ok.
- And let's not fail to add: the open frontier.
- Cheap or free land.
- After the people who were there before were cleared away.
- After they were killed.
- American character, in sum, was formed by democracy within limits, easy land ownership allowing economic independence, and laws under which the principles of capitalism were unrestrained by religion.
- Religion was not absent, but relegated to private life.
- Yes. If we listen to our national poet, Walt Whitman, Americans are open, friendly, soulful, exactly the opposite in fact to what D. H. Lawrence wrote about us as being.
- Writing after the passage of a century.
- So what happened in that time?
- Capitalism intensified.
- How exactly?
- The open frontier closed, monopoly and large corporations arose, self-employment began to end, replaced by employment by hire, that is, slavery by the hour.
- Americans must now sell themselves, instead of the product they make.
- Yes. They are given a role, a specialized function; they become defined by their work, they themselves are sold to masters as things useful in their roles.
- In Dostoevsky's Crime And Punishment a young man, acting on social principles generating conclusions about who is worth being allowed to live and who not, can't avoid feeling increasing guilt for the killing he has done.
- His guilt arises from out of his private life, life outside of social role. But capitalism of the kind we now see all around us invades private life, demanding that every personal act and alliance be evaluated in terms of investment, profitability, risk, etc.
- The killer who killed with certainty while acting in role but couldn't avoid guilt arising from within private life, is replaced by the killer whose private life has been commodified, been put into the marketplace to be bought and sold, and therefore feels no guilt. We get the phenomenon of the Nazi emigre in South America known as a good family man, who when arrested reveals himself innocent of any remorse.
- You have to have a story, we said in our old discussions, if you are to remain capable of sympathy. Having a story involves something different than a series of roles taken on, trading one slave master for another; having a story is rather what happens when open to the world you make your choices based on your own experience. We sympathize, we said, when we see others in the midst of their own stories. We don't sympathize with people in better roles, that is, with more lenient slave masters, or in worse roles, with more violent slave masters.
- Instead we envy, we are terrified...
- Yes.
- But how did the however limited good aspects of American character atrophy? How did American character change to its opposite? How did the openness that can melt to the world turn to unsympathizing hardness?
- Look to the nation's historical uniqueness: to its giving itself over to capitalism by its own deliberate choice.
- The frontier closes, the continent is more or less settled, land taken, the self-employed become corporate hires and factory workers. Yet these conditions are hardly much different from what was happening in Europe. We haven't accounted for the unique, killer character of the American people.
- What is unique about us Americans is the way private life gave in so quickly and easily, the way we went from being open to the public, friendly, openhearted, curious about and welcoming to strangers, to being the very opposite, veritable killers.
- We were done in, made vulnerable by our openness?
- We were done in by our being self-founded as a capitalist state free of the restraint of religion: by seeing our destiny in doing to our private lives what our ancestors did in the beginnings of our country's history.
- Rape and pillage. With our private lives massacred we take on fully the character of killers.

Further Reading:
* See: Indifference, Indifference RevisitedThe Atrophy Of Good

Thursday, June 13, 2019

In The Mood For Philosophy

East India Trading Company | Villains Wiki | FANDOM ...

- From our last conversation* I take it you are not a fan of moods in philosophy.
- Moods are general feelings of life we can be certain are not applicable to life in general: moods change, succeed one another unaccountably. If philosophy is the study of life in general, moods are just about the last thing philosophy should be based on.
- What would be the last thing then?
- Power.
- Which is the most common kind of philosophy around!
- Which is enough to put you in a bad mood.
- Philosophy should instead be based on knowledge, knowledge of life in general.
- Yes. Knowledge is the antithesis of power. When you gain power someone else loses power. Power is always power over another. Knowledge given to another increases your ability to act in the world. Another person knowing more helps you to learn more.
- So moods have no place in philosophy?
- Moods reflect the seasonality of our lives, where our individual history and situation require of us to reflect, to rest, to love, to act.
- No philosophy based on moods. But we can have a philosophy of what moods are, we can even be in a mood to philosophize?
- Sure. I'll give you an example. For the second time this year, locking my bike near Jimmies Cafe at the University** and on my way up to the research library I was stopped by two policeman. Being stopped means temporary imprisonment, the disposition of my body and the words I am allowed to say completely under the control of the police: when and how much I can speak, where I am supposed to move to or whether I can move at all - in this case, I'm order to go to a low bench in the glass roofed interior courtyard of Bunch Hall, ominously deserted at this time of the morning. Since this is the second time this year I'm being accused of stealing my own bike by the university police, I'm in the mood to talk, and more importantly, I'm prepared to talk after regretting not saying more last time. Two policeman have become four as two more arrive. They look down upon me crouched on the low bench. I'm told:
- The reason we stopped you is that we've received a report about suspicious activity, possibly a bike theft. Do you have ID?
- I do. But I don't particularly care to show it to you. Do I have to?
- Yes. Why don't you want to if you have nothing to hide? Have you any arrest warrants outstanding?
- No. I don't want to give you what you want because I don't like what you are doing, spreading terror whereever you go, your uniforms broadcasting even from a distance your threat of deadly violence, a very real threat, with the police in this country shooting at least one completely unarmed person every day.
- We have several bicycle thefts every week on campus.
- Obviously then the dozens of university police armed with pistols, rifles, stun guns, gas sprays, and nightsticks that patrol the campus can't stop the drug addicts, alcoholics and schizophrenics sophisticates who sleep on the street from stealing bikes. Even if you could, it would not justify the terror you cause as you repeatedly detain, that is, temporarily imprison people who were trying to go about their ordinary lives. What's so suspicious about me, anyway?
- Nothing. We stopped three other people before we found you.
- So you've imprisoned and made four people fear immediate death from police violence, violence that literally occurs every day, for the reason that you're investigating a possible bike theft, investigating here my suspicious activity, suspicious activity that is the owner of a bike locking his bike at the bike rack.
- You know how this campus is.
- How is it?
- People here are paranoid about security.
- Paranoid meaning irrationally suspicious. The police then go about spreading their terror on the basis of reports that they themselves say are irrational, making themselves knowingly the instrument of mental defect. Even worse.
- Have you ever been in a situation where you get out of your car in your own neighborhood and are surrounded by four menacing armed men? I have.
- I have been in dangerous circumstances, if that is what you mean. But because there is violence occurring in some places doesn't give you the right to place the entire city in a state of war. There is no war going on, on this campus. Do you know the history of the police?
- Started in London by Robert Peel.
- And before that? The police were the private army of the East India company,*** an army for the first time not formed to fight another army but to fight against the people of a colonized state, an army formed to prevent insurrection. The useful functions of the police such as capturing criminals that before the police were handled by agents of the court are completely separate from this historical function of repression. Obviously what's going on here, the second time this year accusing me of, not stealing my own bike, of merely wanting, intending to steal my own bike, with the background of your complete failure to stop bike theft, is not a serious attempt to apprehend criminals.
I reach my hand to my jacket pocket to get my ID, and am immediately ordered, 'Don't move!' 'I'm getting out my ID,' I say, 'as you demanded. Do you want it or not?' While we've been talking more and more police officers are arriving, even a couple of female officers, so many crowded around me now I don't bother to count them. My identification information is radioed in, we wait. I sit, head bowed in thought; I hear the newest police arrivals informed of what's in progress: 'He is obstructing us every step of the way.' ID results come back negative, the police melt away into the background to everyday life they had previously been lurking within. One policeman is going my way. He asks me what I read in the library. 'Sometimes philosophy,' I answer. 'So you know everyone has their own perspective,' he says. 'There are many perspectives on the same world,' I reply, 'some better than others, more accurate than others.' We leave it at that.

Further Reading:
Violence Work: State Power and the Limits of Police
* Philosophy To A Mood Of Political Distress
** University Of California, Los Angeles
*** According to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz in her 2018 book 'Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment', American police forces have their origin in Indian fighting militias in existence 'since day one' of the colonies, 1607, and then repurposed as slave patrols, dating from around 1680.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Philosophy To A Mood Of Political Distress

   Meet the brains behind the ‘Trump Baby’ balloon | The Seattle Times
A United States I now barely recognize — one that almost daily distresses me with its xenophobia, its saber-rattling, its theocratic leanings, its denial of facts and science, its tribalism, and its petty and boorish president. (From a column in the Washington Post)
- William James said that there is a mood for every philosophy. Is there a philosophy to this mood of political distress?
- One of James' successors in pragmatism, Richard Rorty claims you can find it in today's postmodernism. Rather than a pragmatic taking action to make a better world, philosophy has taken to discovering how organizations and ideologies intrude on all aspects of life, public and private, setting us the necessary task to bring them to light, freeing ourselves from what he doesn't hesitate to call sin. Two hundred and fifty years earlier, in the very Massachusetts where Rorty gave the lecture* outlining his ideas, another lecture was given:
Your Wickedness makes you as it were heavy as Lead, and to tend downwards with great Weight and Pressure towards Hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend &; plunge into the bottomless Gulf, and your healthy Constitution, and your own Care and Prudence, and best Contrivance, and all your Righteousness, would have no more Influence to uphold you and keep you out of Hell, than a Spider’s Web would have to stop a falling Rock.**  
Pragmatism instead, according to Rorty, is a philosophy of hope.
- And have you been converted to the philosophy of hope?
- No.
- Why not?
- Pragmatism can be considered the philosophy of capitalism: ideas have 'cash value', what works is true, what makes money is good. There is no limit to the work that can be done, money that can be made. Pragmatism is the philosophy of doing for the sake of doing, restless activity that results in the psycho-pathologies of vanity of power and compulsive repetition, a problem William James attempted to sidestep by recognizing that pragmatism must accept the alien possibility of rest in religious experience:
To take a trivial illustration: just as a man who in a company of gentlemen made no advances, asked a warrant for every concession, and believed no one's word without proof, would cut himself off by such churlishness from all the social rewards that a more trusting spirit would earn,--so here, one who should shut himself up in snarling logicality and try to make the gods extort his recognition willy-nilly, or not get it at all, might cut himself off forever from his only opportunity of making the gods' acquaintance. This feeling, forced on us we know not whence, that by obstinately believing that there are gods (although not to do so would be so easy both for our logic and our life) we are doing the universe the deepest service we can, seems part of the living essence of the religious hypothesis. If the hypothesis were true in all its parts, including this one, then pure intellectualism, with its veto on our making willing advances, would be an absurdity; and some participation of our sympathetic nature would be logically required. I, therefore, for one, cannot see my way to accepting the agnostic rules for truth-seeking, or wilfully agree to keep my willing nature out of the game. I cannot do so for this plain reason, that a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule. That for me is the long and short of the formal logic of the situation, no matter what the kinds of truth might materially be.***
But there's still a problem: feeling secure when identifying as a member of a group can produce something like a religious experience, provide rest and relief from the every man for himself at all times of capitalism, therefore shouldn't pragmatism recognize this mood too? Check out the YouTube videos claiming to have scientific proofs of racial inferiorities in studies showing statistical differences in inheritance of intelligence and community cooperation.
- Reliable studies?
- Irrelevant, since environmental effect is not considered, and it can be so large as to completely swamp any difference in inheritance: for example, since the division of Korea, a difference in average height of six inches has arisen between the genetically identical people in the North and South.**** The believers in genetic racial differences in inheritance believe what they believe because it fits in with the pragmatically allowable satisfaction in feeling to be a member of a group. Another philosophy of genetically based group cooperation was recently presented by Thomas Nagle, of "What Is It Like To Be A Bat" fame, who suggests that reason has been selected for by evolution, and consequently following the rules of a group - a form of reason - is genetically determined.
- Then we ought to act in accord with, not fight down as we educate children to do, what we were born to find satisfying, like we were born to find satisfaction in violence and anger? What mood is attached to that philosophy? The mood of German National Socialism?

Further Reading:
In The Mood For Philosophy
* Achieving Our Country, Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America, The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in American Studies 1997, Harvard University
** In the Hands of an Angry GOD. A sermon preached By Jonathan Edwards, A.M. Pastor of the Church of Christ in Northampton. at Enfield, Mass., July 8th 1741
*** The Will To Believe, An Address to the Philosophical Clubs of Yale and Brown Universities, 1896.
**** 'There are a number of points to consider when interpreting heritability: Heritability measures the proportion of variation in a trait that can be attributed to genes, and not the proportion of a trait caused by genes. Thus, if the environment relevant to a given trait changes in a way that affects all members of the population equally, the mean value of the trait will change without any change in its heritability (because the variation or differences among individuals in the population will stay the same). This has evidently happened for height: the heritability of stature is high, but average heights continue to increase. Thus, even in developed nations, a high heritability of a trait does not necessarily mean that average group differences are due to genes. Some have gone further, and used height as an example in order to argue that "even highly heritable traits can be strongly manipulated by the environment, so heritability has little if anything to do with controllability."' (From Heritability of IQ

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Passion & Reason

Denis Diderot
          Denis Diderot

- 'It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.'
- Karl Marx* being plain wrong.
- Perhaps both are true, consciousness determines social life, and social life determines consciousness.
- How?
- Aristotle, writing in the Ethics, takes the position that consciousness determines social existence: 'What the person of good character loves with right desire and thinks of as an end with right reason must first be perceived as beautiful.' Human beings are social animals. Social existence is formed by habits of desire corrected by reason guided by beauty. You're familiar with arguments against blaming the corporate executive for being concerned only about profit?
- Blaming the individual distracts attention from the institution. Whoever has the job must do the job. It's the institution that has to be changed. Same goes for the sadistic policeman. It's the job. Policing has from its inception been about making a show of violence to discourage rebellion.
- But not everyone becomes a corporate executive. Before this choice can be made wrong desire has been allowed to become habit by wrong reason.
- 'To be clever enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.'**
- Yes. If we don't want to become dull ourselves, our consciousness guided not by beauty but by social existence, we must allow ourselves a passionate response to the ugliness of individuals whose consciousness has been formed by institutions. I like Diderot on passion and reason:
People are for ever declaiming against the passions; they attribute to them all the pains that man endures, and forget that they are also the source of all his pleasures. It is an ingredient in man's constitution which cannot sufficiently be blessed and banned. It is considered as an affront to reason if one ventures to say a word in favor of its rivals; yet it is passions alone, and strong passions, that can elevate the soul to great things. Without them, there is no sublime, either in morality or in achievement; the fine arts return to puerility, and virtue becomes a pettifogging thing.***

Further Reading:
* A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Karl Marx 1859
** "Among the rich you will never find a really generous man even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be clever enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it." A Miscellany of Men, 
G. K. Chesterton 1912
*** D'Alembert's Dream, Denis Diderot 1769

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Determined To Be Free

Image result for mind

- Put down that worthless novel and talk to me.
- What would you like to talk about?
- Reading books, but not that kind.
- What kind?
- Hermann Hesse's most famous novel Siddhartha, from 1922. I finished a slow, week long re-reading this morning. My first reading was about 45 years ago.
- And how did it strike you?
- I enjoyed it more, but like before I found frustrating, arbitrary, wasteful the necessity for the title character to go through a whole series of different roles before he reaches enlightenment.
- What else was he to do? Remember what he says to the Buddha:
But one thing this doctrine, so clear, so venerable, does not contain: it does not contain the secret of what the Sublime One himself experienced, he alone among the hundreds of thousands.
The secret being why those hundreds of thousands despite doing their best to follow the Buddha fail to obtain enlightenment.
- Yes. Hesse puts Siddhartha successively through the "no body" of living in the forest with the ascetics, then sends him to the Buddha, to the practice "no self", then sends him on to "all body" taking a courtesan as a lover and becoming a merchant, and then finally to the Ferryman and his "all self". Do you know what I find really strange here?
- What?
- Despite my original complaint of having to follow this apparently meaningless path, exhausting the limited set of possibilities of all or nothing of self or body, my own life has more or less done the same, up to and including living with a courtesan and becoming a merchant.
- And now you're happy.
- A little.
- Lucky you.
- Unlike Siddhartha, no role I took on was without some detachment: this wasn't really what I wanted.
- You wanted the Buddha's enlightenment.
- Yes. Siddhartha differed from the hundreds of thousands of failed students in his going off to learn for himself. But in a sense he lets the whole world be his teacher, forcing on him one role after another. And that's the problem if it is right that self responsibility is essential in getting where we want to go. Following the path of "no body", "no self", "all body", "all self", as if this was a demand of teaching, shouldn't work.
- What would work?
- I'll tell you where my own path took me this afternoon as I was mulling these things over. A notice was posted for a lunch lecture on the subject Creative Cognition: On the Edge of Chaos. This was for me since part of what I was considering was the problem in imagining how freedom can coexist with causality.
- You were thinking that the Buddha's rules were causal, but his state of enlightenment was free?
- That's right. I went, even though most likely it was going to be a comedy of freedom made to vanish into causality,* the professor giving the lecture being a big shot brain scientist. Happiness was to be found in creativity, he said, which was disciplined but imaginative following out a plan to obtain something valuable. Flexibility had to coexist with stability.
- Flexibility in imaginative planning, stability in disciplined following?
- Yes. Flexibility, but not so far that it leads to randomness, which he says leads to madness.
- His rule is not much different from Siddhartha's flexibly throwing himself wholeheartedly into one relation to the world after another.
- With the same problem: where does enlightenment come in, in this obedience to fate? Flexibility in change of role isn't freedom: the chaos of chaos theory the professor refers to in his title isn't randomness, isn't free, but only unpredictable.** He in fact identifies systems in the brain responsible for "flexible" management of other systems of the brain responsible for stability, the whole presumably causally determined. In the professor's brain science jargon: information input from the world is being processed optimally by Siddhartha, who is flexible and stable, having had balanced and exhaustive experience of self and world, and the output is happiness. But such rule following - lack of freedom in the exercise of freedom - should not work, did not work for the other seekers after enlightenment.
- So why do you think the same thing worked for you, worked in whatever degree you're willing to admit?
- Creative people, even the most stable and flexible, don't do any better at happiness than the hundreds of thousands of the Buddha's disciples. What I think can happen, keeping one's eyes open living in the world: I think that every name we give to a thing is an act of freedom, of stepping out of the developing a habit of perception in the world. Repeatedly taking on new roles, and looking down on that passivity from the detachment of the present perception of your immersion drums into your brain, as it were, something we know when we ask where space ends or time begins.
- Because we can always stand back from any of our thoughts, just like when we say space ends here, we know there is more space on the other side of that limit.
- Yes. All can be named and all can make us free.
- And enlightenment is there for you?
- A little.

Further Reading:
The Messiah
Life Is A Machine For Creating Freedom
* See: Creative cognition and systems biology on the edge of chaos, Robert M. Bilder and Kendra S. Knudsen, 2014: "The Edge of Chaos theory can be applied to cognitive processes and brain activation states important for creative cognition. Considering the diversity of possible cognitive states, we can differentiate the highly predictable and orderly from the unpredictable and chaotic. In more chaotic regimes, network states are more disconnected from those in the ordered regime. But “at the edge of chaos,” the states are maximally novel while still connected to states in the ordered regime, and thus are most likely to manifest the combination of novelty and utility that is the hallmark of creativity." ... "The theory of evolutionary cytoarchitectonic trends may provide an anatomic and neuropsychopharmacologic substrate for these cognitive dimensions, with complementary systems that increase the stability or flexibility of cognitive states via the archicortical and paleocortical trends, respectively. Local cortical networks employ the complementary actions of tonic and phasic dopamine signaling, which putatively mediate stability and flexibility, respectively; similarly, D1- and D2-like dopamine transmission may mediate persistence or updating within cell assemblies."
** A failure of knowledge, not lack of causality.

Sunday, April 7, 2019


The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.*

- I miss your stories, our chats. What's happening there? Where are you now?
- Starbucks on Santa Monica in Beverly Hills, as usual at this time of night. I can tell you, not a story, more like an argument. Sitting a few yards from me is that movie producer I told you about who'd actually produced a well known movie, who was spending some nights sitting outside the cafe, others flopping down at Chabad, the Jewish cult that runs the youth center down the street. He doesn't always get along with the rabbis because they extort from him the names and phone numbers of his former associates in the movie business they can call up and beg money from.
- That was months ago. Last year.
- Yes. He said he was waiting for money to be paid him. I guess he's still waiting.
- So what's the story with him now?
- The story's not about him, but another movie producer I met last night with nowhere to go.
- Was he a real producer too?
- Seems so. I was riding past on my bike, three in the morning, when I saw him standing waiting to cross the street the Century City Shopping Center, paper shopping bag at his feet. I stopped, asked him what he was doing on this corner at this time of night. He was not bothering anyone, he said, sleeping on the ground in the shopping center, when a guard and a L.A. policeman rudely woke him up and ordered him to get out. He was the producer of an Academy Award Winning movie, he said, and these guys waking him probably never finished high school.
- I told him I was on my way to the 24 hours open Macdonalds. If he wanted he could join me and we'd talk.
- Did he come?
- Yes. He convincingly described his involvement in two films. The first, the Academy Award winner, a big success. The other a big failure. He told me he'd been 3 months with no place to live. He was 78. He too was waiting for money to arrive. I asked him:

- Don't you have any friends?
- Not in L.A.
- Where then?
- Pennsylvania. My producing partner lives there.
- Can't you go to him? Don't you get along?
- I can. We get along great.
- Does he have room for you?
- Yes. He has a big house. His kids love me like an uncle.
- So why don't you go there?
- He's very liberal.
- His politics?
- Yes. He's like a hippy.
- What does that matter?
- His house is far from anything.
- What are you doing here that keeps you here?
- I want to produce another film.
- While sleeping on the street? How long do you think, at your age, your health can take it? I'd put your life expectancy at no more than a few months.
- Why? I feel alright.
- You'll have a heart attack. You'll develop circulatory problems, contract infections, suffer mood swings and general weakness from sleep deprivation. You'll suffer from strangers' fear and contempt. What keeps you in L.A.?
- I like L.A. I like the weather.
- You're willing to die on the street here for the weather? Isn't it hard wandering from place to place all night, killing time until morning?
- It's an adventure.
- Working out how to keep yourself alive. Is it an adventure worth dying for?
- You keep saying that. Are you afraid of dying? Can I buy you something to eat?
- No thanks. Do you want to know what I think?
- What?
- You're obviously not insane, not a schizophrenic, but maybe you are leading what philosophers call a schizophrenic life. I'll get a quote for you from the internet. Just a second. Here, this will do:
'The failure of the infant to accede fully into the realm of speech and language'. Schizophrenic experience is an experience of isolated, disconnected, discontinuous material signifiers which fail to link up into a coherent sequence. The schizophrenic thus does not know personal identity in our sense, since our feeling of identity depends on our sense of the persistence of the “I” and the “me” over time. According to Jameson, the schizophrenic lacks a personal identity, is unable to differentiate between self and world, and is incapable of experiencing continuity through time."**
- I know who I am.
- Do you? Thought and language are different from each other. Thought is an experience of isolated, disconnected, discontinuous material signifiers, which float in a sea of grammars - alternative senses to be made of them - that language fixes thought into as sentences are produced. The philosopher Jameson says schizophrenia is the culture of our capitalist times: we are pushed to take on one unstable image after another, each associated with consuming a product or service, each unstable because dependent upon outside suggestion. Other philosophers say that a protection from this assault on human nature can be had by deliberately taking on disposable images of our own making. Your hippy friend might recognize this idea as existentialist. A clinical schizophrenic lives on the level of language, producing language in response to his circumstances, without any rooting in his own thought. The thoughts expressed in his language seem to be in the control of what is outside himself, a terrifying prospect.
- I'm not a schizophrenic.
- And obviously you're not a capitalist consumer, seeing yourself in products you buy. But your adventure sounds like the other philosopher's schizophrenia cure, proposing your own image of yourself against those assigned to you by others.
- Then I'm healthy and not going to die.
- Well, no, you're aren't going to be let off so easily. It's a painful, terrifying experience to live on the level of language, disconnected entirely from, without ownership of the thought it's built out of. Remember what I said about language and thought? How thought, before settling down to speech bathes in a sea of alternative grammars? This is the source of both our sense of freedom, and of personal continuity: continuity in the constantly increasing memories of experience that compose our thought, freedom in the cloud of alternative grammars thought builds itself into language with. Deliberately taking on one image after another, if not actually insane, entirely un-rooted in personal thought, remains schizophrenic in being personally discontinuous, each new role composed out of a unique selection of experience, and unfree, in being required to fit in with the descriptions of themselves others make for themselves. In your adventure, are you not protecting yourself rather than expressing yourself, substituting a performance, an act, imitation, a role more to your liking than the one's demanded of you by your situation, with no continuity between roles? What do you think of what I'm saying? You're nodding off.

- He fell asleep while you were talking?
- Yes.
- Did he wake up? He didn't die there at Macdonalds?
- No, he didn't die.
- Maybe he'll go to his partner's house.
- And leave the great self image marketplace of L.A.?
* G. K. Chesterton
** Capitalism and Schizophrenia

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Technology Of Magic

Image result for alchemy

There is yet another way of regarding this strange history of the Renaissance Hermetic tradition in its relation to science. We may ask whether the seventeenth century discarded notions from the earlier tradition which may have been actually nearer to the views of the universe unfolded by the science of today than the movement which superseded it. Was the magically animated universe of Bruno, so close to the magnetic universe of Gilbert, a better guess about the nature of reality than those seemingly so much more rational universes of the mechanistic philosophers? It may be illuminating to view the scientific revolution as in two phases, the first phase consisting of an animistic universe operated by magic, the second phase of a mathematical universe operated by mechanics. An inquiry into both phases and their interactions, may be a more fruitful line of approach to the problems raised by the science of to-day than the line which concentrates solely on the seventeenth-century triumph.*
- How are we to take this? An animated universe may be a better fit these days of subatomic particles than a mathematical universe, but does anyone really believe magic actually works in the world like we know mechanism does?
- Mechanism to the Magi was itself a kind of magic. Putting one thing in contact with another thing produces, when done right, the "magic" result a mechanism is intended to produce: telling time, or the life-like movements of the automaton beetle Bruno famously made. Mechanism is of the lower world. In the middle, astrological world of the planets and stars and the upper or god's world of the empyrean our human movements can be put in relation that would likewise produce a desired result.
- Getting order in our lives or ourselves in right with god. But in the upper worlds, putting ourselves in relation meant performing a ritual, saying a spell. How can speaking worlds actually change the world so as to affect our fortune or relation to god?
- In the way religion does in general, by modelling our relations to the world, helping us keep in mind the varying results of better and worse practises.
- But that is not magic.
- It is a tool used for the magic of getting out of this world and into the world of god.
- Magic protects against human life being seen in mechanistic terms. Ok. But if as you say, this is only model making, where does magic come in?
- In what the model making teaches the Renaissance Magus to do.
- Do in reality, not ritual?
- Yes.
- And what is that?
- Bruno justified his heliocentric view by arguing that all the planets including the Earth must move because only things that move remain uncorrupted. In its continuous response to the world a material thing retains its shape. A living thing, keeping its shape, also moves bodily from place to place, and some living things in addition move in thought. That is, a living thing has something in it that directs it on top of that which simply maintains shape.
- Or in our social existence, we are motivated by something in addition to playing our role in relation to others playing theirs. Our behavior is self-motivated, in addition to its regular responses that keep it what it is.
- Yes. What we have to look for the Magus doing is determining what in his actual life is dragging him down to mere maintaining behavior of a material object, and what in his life partakes of the self-directed behavior of a god.
- How?
- By doing experimentally the opposite of what today's social media companies do to their users unconscious of what is happening to them.**
- And that is?
- Recommendations and filters herd them into tribes, primitive behavior based on fear of other tribes is promoted. Users are made into interchangeable parts of a mechanism for producing profits from selling advertisers predictions of their behavior optimized by uniformity. A Renaissance Magus, like a social media company, works to operate on social relations, but in the opposite direction: exiting from all relations that are mechanical rather than self-originated.
- But how?
- By experiments, turning on and off behavior and seeing what happens.*** We observe a mechanism: when the sun rises, birds sing. But there is a difference here between the two elements placed in mechanical relation. Being a bird involves the response 'sing at sunrise'. If no sunrise, no singing. The movement of the sun however is not in response to the bird's singing and will continue even if the bird does not sing.
- The sun is acting at a higher level.
- Yes. We can say the sun caused the bird to sing, but the bird's singing was only correlate with the sun's rise, not a cause of it rising. Maybe you ask yourself, was your relation to your lover really a love, or only playing a part? If your loved's behavior is blocked, or yours, are either of you like the bird who won't sing if the sun doesn't rise? Is your relation merely correlate, only a response, not arising from motive deep within?
- But the Renaissance Magi played with models, you said, they did not do what you are talking about, how could they?
- At least one renaissance Magus did do this and offered his lessons how to do it to the world.
- Who?
- The Magus William Shakespeare.**** If Facebook et al. pruned social relations into correlation, how do you prod them out into that of self-moved gods? Shakespeare...
- He wasn't a magician.
- His plays show characters ejected from ordinary life into an altered world of magic, a world in which they and others were not themselves, or were taken for or pretended to be others than themselves.
- And they could see whether this turning off revealed a causal relation to another or merely correlate? Whether your lover caused your love, whether the two of you were together as part of an intimate whole, or you played your role and she hers, more of less independently, whether you belonged together as a matter of statistics, of your type and her type meshing more or less frictionlessly?
- Or in mundane terms: Is the relation of the corporate executive to stockholders in which he undertakes to do business and they to demand the maximum profit, no matter the cost to the environment, merely correlate, role to role? Would a direct appeal by the executive to stockholders succeed, asking them whether they'd be willing to accept less profit, thus revealing the unacted upon possibility of a causal relation? Is the corporate executive's behavior locked in the correlates of institutions, or is he merely immoral, a lesser sort of man, role playing, neglecting the causality of better, self-directed human relations?
- Shakespeare's characters act on what they learn experimenting with counterfactuals to try to return to the familiar world they'd found themselves ejected from. The actual magical elements in the plays, magic performed by or on characters, or magical characters, are there as hints or cues to attend to the lesson in magic he was giving.
- That's the argument. As fixed-role, technological social relations in ancient states existed centuries before mechanical technology developed, so in Shakespeare the technology of magic in social relations arose centuries before its extension to mechanical use in the Internet.

Further Reading:
Cannibals & Capitalists
It Just Happens
* The Hermetic Tradition in Renaissance Science, Frances Yates, 1968
** See: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff, 2019
*** See: The Book of Why, Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie, 2018: "The Ladder of Causation, with representative organisms at each level: Most animals, as well as present-day learning machines, are on the first rung, learning from association. Tool users, such as early humans, are on the second rung if they act by planning and not merely by imitation. We can also use experiments to learn the effects of interventions, and presumably this is how babies acquire much of their causal knowledge. Counterfactual learners, on the top rung, can imagine worlds that do not exist and infer reasons for observed phenomena."..."You cannot claim that Eve caused you to eat from the tree unless you can imagine a world in which, counter to facts, she did not hand you the apple."  
**** My Wife Who Throws Me Out

First Quarto title page of The Taming of the Shrew, image available through Creative Commons


- I wasn't sure what you meant by magic, whether it was really magic.
- And you'd like me to tell you?
- No, don't. I took you at your word and went to Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew.
- And did Petruchio do his magic taming of Katherina to your satisfaction?
- It's a wonder satisfaction is possible in a world of so much ugliness and brutality.
- 'Seeing too much sadness hath congeal'd your blood, and melancholy is the nurse of frenzy.'
- From the play. Yes, I have a tendency when hearing how love gives meaning to life otherwise meaningless to protest that it's all a trick, a bad deal to have to suffer so much for love that doesn't last, love that may even be riddled with meaninglessness. But love alone isn't what gives meaning to life. At least that isn't how I've lived my life.
- How have you lived?
- Satisfied despite myself with the practice of a skill, what you're giving the name magic to, something active, taking or attempting to take control when in the midst of illusion, that aims at a return to love and re-connection with the world, but more than mere means, mere technology, participates in advance in what it aims at achieving, don't ask me how: stepping out of and standing above the cycle of love and loss while in its midst confident it can be managed? In the first scene proper of The Taming of the Shrew is a speech proposing that even the most abstract studies be brought into life, where 'no profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en',* and the play ends not with love as you'd expect but past love in more magic, with Katherina's astonishing out of character paean to wifely submission to husband, that is, with her simulating being the opposite of what she was, with her taking up the magic that had been used on her. The absence of closing frame of the drunken, identity deceived tinker Sly watching the play the audience watches with him puts the audience in his position, and suggests that it is being trained or practiced upon like Katherina is too and to take control as she has. The last line of the play is (to Petruchio, about Katherina): "'Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tamed so." In the earlier Quarto text the frame is in fact closed with Sly going home to his wife and comically failing in his attempt to tame her.
* "Mi perdonato, gentle master mine / I am in all affected as yourself; / Glad that you thus continue your resolve / To suck the sweets of sweet philosophy. / Only, good master, while we do admire / This virtue and this moral discipline, / Let's be no stoics nor no stocks, I pray; / Or so devote to Aristotle's cheques / As Ovid be an outcast quite abjured: / Balk logic with acquaintance that you have / And practise rhetoric in your common talk; / Music and poesy use to quicken you; / The mathematics and the metaphysics, / Fall to them as you find your stomach serves you; / No profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en: / In brief, sir, study what you most affect." 

Friday, February 22, 2019

The People & The Gods

Great Seal of the United States (obverse).svg
     (Not a government publication)

- I don't know about you, but I have a problem understanding who are these people doing all the evil in our country: the one's deporting refugees, fighting wars under false pretenses, taking bribes. I'm reluctant to accept the explanation from Plato and say they have no consistency, are hypocrites, actors on the stage, changing roles one after another, acting in different scripts. Say it really is so. Is it also true of our leaders' racism that it is similarly put on and taken off more or less at will, really only an excuse for subordination of employees or servants? Or is racism something deeper?
- Something deeper.*
- But then, how do superficial people have depths?
- When we say we have sympathy for another's suffering we are not remembering when we ourselves suffered, and then, seeing someone in the similar circumstances, putting ourselves in their place, suffering with them.
- So what are we doing?
- Something like we do when we give a name to a chair having developed a habit of perception after repeated perceptions of its different parts.
- When we see someone suffering we are as it were collecting together the difference sights, naming the whole of what we see, saying to ourselves, 'Suffering!'
- Yes. We don't need to do the remembering of our own like experience and then project ourselves into another's circumstances. 
- So a racist, who feels antipathy rather than sympathy, isn't remembering numerous encounters with the hated race, only saying to himself: Again it's one of them!
- Yes. 
- Like a method actor, a superficial politician, when he finds it to his advantage to be racist, plays this role having as it were already put in rehearsal time, the product of which is the racist attitude, though without implying it will continue longer than any other behavior the politician puts on and takes off at will.
- Yes.
- Then next tell me how, as when a kid I learned what my mother meant when saying the word chair and tapping on one with her fingers, our president, for example, learned how to be a raciest in this, call it "portable" fashion. Can you do that?
- We're in luck here. We can have the benefit of seeing the same behavior writ large, seeing what goes on individually and in private, put clearly on show among the many in public.
- Like seeking what justice is for the individual by looking for justice in the state: referring here of course to Socrates in The Republic
- We can see the genesis of racism in public in our time's populist movements. Populists tell a story, the standard story of ritual: the audience collectively follows the story's events. An old weak god engages in battle with an enemy (invading from outside or secretly working within our country), dying in the fight and then reborn a new powerful god. Let me emphasize here that in the building of the background to racism, we are dealing with something altogether different from building the background to really seeing an object or a sympathizing with a real person's suffering. We're not developing knowledge, more like anti-knowledge, the production of forgetting. 
- Go on.
- Two characteristics allow the ritual participant to exit the ritual with a sense of new strength: forgetting of old self as represented by going through death and rebirth, and the collective reenacting of the story. Weakness is left behind at the death of the old god, and strength, a feeling of security is felt in passing through a familiar sequence of actions in the company of people like ourselves doing the same, replacing the forgotten feeling of weakness the ritual was entered into with. Clear?
- Yes.
- Ritual works. That it does is a fact of social human nature. 
- Forgetting an old weak self fits right in with the gaps in consistency constant in politician behavior.  
- Yes, Now, unlike learning to name something real or sympathizing with the pain of an actual other person, the suggestion of "what ought to be done with these people" is enough to perform the ritual. Neither any experience with these people nor the populist rally are necessary. Our times have seen anti-Semitism growing in places where there are almost no Jews. A racist need experience not even one case of actual fear and threat from an unfamiliar sort of person, to take the suggestion, and immediately construct in imagination others like himself (our president's favorite phrase, "many people say") feeling the same as himself, carrying this through in repeated interior story telling, imagining the enemy vanquished, one's self reborn in the process, strength renewed. With work only of the imagination, without any prior threatening experience of people different in appearance or behavior, slaves can be bought, indigenous people uprooted, blacks killed by police, subordination of many sorts created and maintained.
- I think many people - as our president would say - would object to your idea that ritual is this destructive thing that creates racism and is behind populism. What about a ritual of coffee drinking? Where's the harm in that?
- Nowhere. To the coffee drinker, the disturbing experience, the enemy within, is his tiredness, which is overcome by the imagined and repeated ritual drinking experience. The stimulant in the coffee, or without that, simply the awareness of taking up arms against tiredness, does the job of suggesting that a ritual sequence has been initiated, thus bringing about security of doing the same thing as is always done at the same time of day. Stories of the immortal gods of polytheism are different: they express not our physical, but spiritual rebirth. The many gods allow the telling of many different stories, adapted to the different situations of life and seasons of the world. Polytheistic ritual is occasional, a tool used when feeling weak, otherwise not. Not so monotheism, which arrives to turn upside down the way ritual works. All of life is now considered to be a single ritual, one that is no longer a story of battle between gods - there is only one - but ritual itself is broken up into separate parts. Enactment of a drama of death and rebirth becomes impossible. To get strong now you make a life - real life - in accord with a set of rules for right action.
- The first monotheists being the Jews, with their ten commandments and numerous other rules.
- Yes. And in this single ritual only the rules of action are specified: the correction of behavior is mandated but is not taken further: no end to a ritual story is allowed, this expressed by the prohibition against worshiping idols or images.
- If we are Jews, we don't learn the names of our vanquished (if only in imagination) races. 
- Correct. The openness allows the Jews freedom of interpreting their rules. They judge themselves on whether they've followed the rules, not relying on outside judgment of any defined group or individuals, not granting any reality to the named world, the foreseen conclusions of the ritual. And what comes next in this story of monotheism?
- The Christians, obviously.
- Obviously. They reverse what part of ritual remains continuously in operation, what part left open. Leaving open to forgiveness the Jews' better or worse obedience to rules, they focus instead on the end of the ritual, on being in a state of strength and goodness, on having the right thought, the right relation to the world.
- And Islam?
- Both rules and relation to the world defined at the same time. 
- No openness.
- None. You have to obey the rules, and in any case, it's all been written by god in advance.
- I take it you don't admire this kind of single ritual life.
- I don't. 
- But both Judaism and Christianity have some openness to recommend them.
- Yes.
- So which do you prefer? I ask, knowing your Jewish background.
- Both stories have their advantages and disadvantages. 
- The first monotheism emphasizes goodness, the second love. 
- Yes. Both are powerful models of human life. It seems to me we're better off with doing what we're doing here, trying to understand the world without a drama of weakness and strength looming in the background and without recourse to the symbolism of gods.

Further Reading:
Beverly Hills Jews
Killer Metaphysics
How Do You Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
The Dalai Lama And Jean-Luc Godard

Nazi Rally In New York
* See: Merleau Ponty, 'The Phenomenology Of Perception' and Fyodor Dostoevsky, 'The Brothers Karamazov': “The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Showing Who's Boss

Internet chat (extract):

- Hello.
- Where are you?
- Starbucks, in Beverly Hills, Olympic and Doheny Blvds., watching YouTube, reading an essay about the police.*
- Anything exciting happening late night?
- Well, it's not raining, though I was caught in sudden storm again last night.
- Any crazy stories?
- Getting better from a fairly bad cold.
- You have to stay dry.
- I'm not doing too well at that. Crazy stories? I've seen some of the same unusual people, they haven't changed. The man who told me friends call him 'Hungry Dog', the Turkish security guard, recent immigrant who when not working fills his belly and bag with the free food at university events - he made an appearance today as I was warming up in the sun at the sculpture garden at UCLA. My strategy to ignore him and walk away has proven ineffective, his self conceit is invulnerable to these measures. Only getting a good lead on him and turning tight corners works. He tapped me on the shoulder to try to get my attention, then launched into a monologue of his day: how he had a system for raking in the free food at the Luskin conference center/hotel at UCLA: entering at a side door, taking side elevator to third floor where he stashes his bag, then canvassing the different rooms for food and drink.

- Sounds like he's got it planned out well. 
- His new claim was he'd saved fifty thousand dollars by living in a dormitory room with seven others and never otherwise spending a dime. Being flush with money he was in need of my investment advice. He likes to affirm I'm his only friend, the only person he respects, a brother, a father. He flatters me outrageously: I'm a true philosopher, the only one in the world, a real anti-capitalist like him, a true radical.
- A real character.
- 'B
y the way,' he says to me, 'that's a nice jacket, how much do you want for it?' He tells me to go the Law School where trays of food had be left out in the courtyard: salad, beans, fruit. He finally takes himself off, getting the message I wasn't even going to open my eyes (they've been continuously shut since his arrival) to acknowledge his presence. Twenty minutes, and he is back with a paper plate of beans and salad and fruit, for me! He got it just for me! Now's the time for this philosopher to open his eyes to Hungry Dog's corporeal form, put on his not for sale jacket, and go. Hungry Dog trails behind, I pick up the pace and lose him around the corner.
- Do you see Hungry Dog everyday?
- Oh no, hadn't seen him for a couple of months. He only comes around UCLA when one of his temporary guard jobs ends its term or he's been fired. Mostly he hangs out at USC where he says the takings are better.
- Wow. I knew one day you'd find followers.
- He's just putting on an act, honing his techniques of flattery, like he does searching for free food.
- Too funny. Do you have a cell phone? You get the weather on them.
- Yes, now I do. My one student insisted I get one. I told her she'd be the only one who'd ever call me, she insisted, I relented, last week complied with her demand. Since then no one but her has called. The essay I was reading had been brought to my attention at a conference this weekend on police public interaction. Hungry Dog would approve of the food kept coming throughout the day.
 I expressed my view there, to a young woman sitting not far away, that the police exist to express violence, scaring the people they claim to protect into running for cover in their choice of part-time slaveries, selling their freedom by the hour in what is called employment. She referred me to a professor named Micol Seigel who'd written a book about 'violence work'. That is the professor's term for what the police actually was formed to do. Police have always been both civilian and military, public and private, local and national/international. One side of each of those pairs represents a loss of power for the individual. The police making claims to be violent only by necessity while serving the public in local communities have, from their beginnings in colonial forces tasked with keeping down subject peoples, been doing the opposite: serving with deliberate, unlimited violence private, non-local interests. 
- The private, non-local interests the violent colonial police served were the Capitalists, a perfect early example being the East India Company, insuring them a supply of compliant labor?
- Yes. In the 18th century American South colonial militias patrolled the slave populations. In the 19th century local American police were recruited to fight in the country's wars; in the late 20th century they were sent to Vietnam to develop with the South Vietnamese counterinsurgency techniques, which when the police returned to their localities they used to manage protesters against the war and civil rights activists.
- Those were the professor's ideas. Did the young woman like what you had to say? 
- She clearly was frightened, repulsed by me, offended by my intrusion as were almost all the other attendants at the conference, old and young. Academics are bureaucrats: office holders, they're are a kind of race, or class. They have been, like all those hiding within social roles, deformed by violence, by the police or economic violence that led them to the unnatural behavior of pursuing only career advantage.
- Everyone there rejected you at first sight? You're not exaggerating?
- There was one exception, a conference attendee accompanying another who was not frightened, repulsed or offended by my presence, a red poodle puppy who liked me very much. So, back to the subject: the way the police work is they threaten violence with every encounter, 'detaining' the member of the public, insisting on their governmental right to take absolute control of your body's position and movements. One move not explicitly given permission for can lead to you being shot and killed, with no consequences to the police officer, trained to think you deserved death for not giving due respect to the law expressed in his person. This outbreak of barbarity in what appears to be civilization shocks people into doing what the academics have done, make a fixed place for themselves in society, where, true, they will be slaves to those above them in the hierarchy, but with the consolation they can be masters to others placed under their power. 
- Violence shocks us into accepting subordination, our status as part-time slaves, employees free only to choose our master-employers. The police are present to crush our reluctance to continue participating in a slave hierarchy, our natural urge towards rebellion, especially when young.
- Yes. Police officers may think they are doing a public good, and in some ways they might be doing that as well, but that is not their essential function, and as the professor says the good they do could be done much better, done without the threat of violence, by social workers, emergency medical technicians, teachers, neighbors, and neighborhood associations.
- The police are just as you say. Violence and threat, before they do anything else.
- On the UCLA campus and in Westwood Village you see how security forces take control of whole blocks of streets and courtyards for holding corporate meetings, or a wedding party of the super rich, in each case forming cordons around the appropriated formerly public territory, always with a police presence (abetted with sometimes literally hundreds of private security officers) making obvious at these times that the police are not local, don't serve the public, but the class of capitalist owners (slave managers). The public is not more leniently treated than are prisoners of war. In Thucydides a distinction is drawn between a civil war and war with another state: you fight among yourselves with knowledge you are going to settle your dispute and go back to living together; there are therefore some forms of violence you will to not use because they will not be easily forgotten when peace comes. The police act as if we are not in community with them. The answer to the question why violent threat is introduced immediately when the police approach you is that that is the truth of your relation to the state, that you are not even in the status of civil war with the community the state represents, but rather there is no such community within the state, the state is the master, you the slave, and any use of force is acceptable. That's pretty much the argument. Or let me add, if you're wondering why the state doesn't let well enough alone, seeing as we're all already pretty much accepting of our status as employee-slaves: the monopolizing organizations, hierarchies of master-slave relations, are profoundly hampered in their ability to compete with small cooperative new companies who are not hardened and deluded into belief in their infallibility by decades of exercising dictatorial authority over others. 
The proof of this is in the current average life span of an S&P 500 company, which with all the advantages of their huge capital reserves, established monopoly position and market relations, is now under twenty years, down from sixty years in the 1950's. The way these top companies survive longer, maintain their monopoly status, is by destabilizing markets with the help of their friends in finance and government, destroying or, failing that, buying out their more innovative competition.
Good points.
- The police are one element of control, along with debt incurred in education, the need, when under constant surveillance, to create a false appearance of harmlessness to avoid police attention,** no health insurance, no job security, no economic or physical security, all pushing individuals into absolute conformity to role expectations. There is another person of interest, as the police would say, I remember now I haven't told you about, someone I've recently met. A big guy, in his thirties I'd guess, of very good appearance. I've seen him at the late night open McDonald's in Century City a couple of times. He carries with him dozens of old books, most in very poor condition, obscure literature, history, dadaist texts, some he is reading, others he cuts up for their images and words to be mixed and read out randomly producing meaning, the images he does much the same with, producing collages, well done collages. He calls himself a born wanderer, he felt most at home at Occupy LA, some years ago. Occasionally, he says, he meets someone he's given a chance to stay with.

- He won't let himself be treated as a slave.
- I know the type.
- You're the type.
- If you say so. Lately he's been running into more and more trouble. The day before he'd been told to leave the bagel restaurant, his crime: creating disorder with his art materials. This morning at McDonalds he came out where I was unlocking my bike and told me McDonald's had just done the same.
- They threw him out?
- Yes. He and I had been the only customers in the place. What do you think? Do you agree this violence against him, violation against social habits of human kindness, fits in with the professor's analysis of the police? Starbucks in West Hollywood last week blocked all electrical outlets so the people who live on the street and need to charge their phones and laptops can't do it there. Since they blocked the outlets, half as many people are to be found sitting inside the cafe. Starbucks loses a little money in the short term, but long term, they put fear into the few independent hearts left and make monopolist consolidation go faster; their real primary business is not coffee but, in corporate language, human relations management. Whether people are customers or employees, all are slaves and are to be treated not as human beings but something like zoo animals to be managed by changing the features of their enclosures: electrical outlets removed, music so loud conversation is impossible, high tables and chairs plus freezing temperatures to make sure no one gets too comfortable. Got to go now. Be back in twenty, thirty minutes. The cafe's closing. 


- Where are you? Are you back?
- I'm back. At another Starbucks. Have I told you what happened with the bag I found?
- I don't think so.
- Well, I'd taken to the Beverly Hills police a backpack I saw sitting under a chair early one morning on Rodeo Drive. Inside was postmarked mail providing a name and address. Easy, I told the police, for them to contact the addressed person and return the bag. I'd check back with them to see what happened.** There followed weekly visits by me to the Beverly Hills Police asking for information: the reception office had none, the records department had none, the property department had none, the detective department had none. I wrote to the community relations department. A police lieutenant wrote back saying she's looking for information. Weeks passed, no information forthcoming. I visited the city offices. The reception guard, learning from me my problem, was uncertain who to send me to, settling on Human Services, that is, a social worker, who arrived to offer me a complaint form to fill out. I wrote to both the Beverly Hills City Manager and the Beverly Hills Office of the Ombudsman. Within hours the police community relations officer wrote back saying she did track down the bag: no record existed because immediately after I dropped it off they were able to contact the owner and it was picked up. There was video documenting this. I wrote that I wanted to see the video. She answered, no problem, let's make an appointment, we did, but I got sick and missed the appointment. No problem, she said, we can make another one. What, you wonder, does this story mean? In terms of the police theory we were discussing: the police had refused to grant me any information because that would negate my status as target of violence, present and future slave, but when I established contact and relation to the city political officers, that is, with the people police exercise violence to strengthen, the slave managers, everything changed.

- So the person picked up their lost bag?
- Apparently.
- The appointment you made was to see the video of the person picking up their bag, which you gave to the police?
- Yes.
- When's your next appointment?
- Haven't made one yet. I'm still sick.
- I see. Get well soon.
- I may not go see the video. It doesn't seem possible the police are bluffing and there's no video. 
- Call them on their bluff. Go check it out, just in case. Show them who's boss.

Further Reading:
A Bike In Trumpland
On Bureaucrats & Violence
What is Capitalism?
Violence Work: Policing And Power, Micol Seigel, 2018
** Watching
P.S. "It isn’t hard to begin imagining a series of practical, stepwise actions that we could take without preamble, for the first step towards abolition is simply to shrink the police. ‘Plans for change,’ Rachel Herzing of Critical Resistance has written, big dreams and bold steps toward a police-free future ‘must include taking incremental steps with an eye toward making the cops obsolete.’ We could immediately cut police budgets, decriminalize and otherwise change laws so that there is less for the police to do, while fortifying the social programs and human networks that keep people from needing to risk illegal activity in order to survive. As Critical Resistance has argued, reclaiming the language of ‘safety’ from law enforcement, we could fund those things that genuinely make us safe: health care, high-quality housing, real and good food assistance, excellent public education, green space, unpolluted neighborhoods, and other measures people need in order to thrive. Universities could begin by abolishing campus police. Smaller cities could begin by disarming their patrols. The federal government could repossess the military hand-me-downs transferred from Iraq and Afghanistan and states could prohibit their acquisition in the future. Larger municipalities whose PDs have ‘outreach police,’ ‘homeless police,’ ‘service police’ and other euphemistically-named service-focused units could transfer those funds to agencies that perform the same functions using social workers not trained in violence and free of coercive power. After all, as Herzing continues, ‘[t]aking incremental steps toward the abolition of policing is even more about what must be built than what must be eliminated.’ Lawmakers could decriminalize poverty so that police were never called out to confront the poor or people without homes. City budgets could diminish the size of their police departments to the point that they could be fully funded, eliminating fee-seeking arrest quotas." Micoh Seigel, The Dilemma Of ‘Racial Profiling'

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Religion Of Irresponsibility

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
'Debord sees technology as a man-made force that became an independent reality in control of human’s reality. It has pervaded every aspect of the individual’s life and society. It has created a society of appearances where reality has been substituted by images. As he said: ‘The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.’ The spectacle for him is the ‘complete inversion of life…the autonomous movement of the nonliving.’ The mark of the technological society of late capitalism is the total commodification and alienation of life, including space, time and human relationships. The media and communication promote the aims of the spectacle. The individual and society go to sleep in this falsely constructed life and consciousness.'*
- I saw a fantastic movie last night.
- Where'd you see it?
- Up on the UCLA campus. I don't know the building.
- The film school?
- The entrance had a lot of movie posters all over the walls. Is that the film school?
- Yes. You didn't see me?
- Were you there?
- Until they threw me out a couple minutes before starting.
- Threw you out! Why?
- I got bored at a screening last month** and left the auditorium. Standing alone in the lobby was the student organizer of these shows I'd passed the time with on a number previous occasions. I struck up a conversation with him on the subject of this night's movie. Suddenly out pops a young woman from the box office and demands of us: 'Take the conversation outside; you're creating a disturbance.' Who is she, I ask? She says she's the manager of the venue, whatever that means. 'This guy's the manager of the screenings,' I piece out, 'and you're the manager of the venue?' Why, I ask her, does she think she should try to stop a conversation in the lobby of the film school of a public university? The student organizer of the movie series has backed away, mumbling: 'Ok, Ok, Ok.' I say: No, not Ok! Not Ok at all! 'Then,' the young woman threatens, 'I'm calling the police.' Go ahead, I say, do that, express yourself, show us yourself literally calling upon threat of force to repress freedom of speech.
- What happened?
- She went into the box office to make the call. I went on my way, not without expressing my contempt for the student organizer's immediate capitulation.
- So, what, they've blacklisted you?
- Yes, according to the three hundred pound middle-aged Mexican man who'd tapped me on the shoulder from the seat in row behind mine and told me I had to leave or he'd call the police.
- What was his job?
- 'Building manager'. I asked him what exactly that involved as I followed him out of the theater. He motioned me to a bench outside where, with me standing and he seated, we had ourselves a little free speech. He said - indicating the man working on the lobby door's hardware - he took care of things such as call a locksmith. He also helped elderly professors with audio visual equipment they were unable to figure out. I said:
- You're a kind of handy man. What business does a handyman have performing police actions, threatening audience members at a theater in a public university?
- It's a private function.
- How's that?
- The student organization rents the space from the building management. The theater becomes private property during the term of the rental.
- A kind of magic, where a public university takes money from a student organization in that same public university and suddenly only the rules of private property apply where before there were rules of civility. Where previously there was movement toward acquisition of knowledge, now there was only management of property. The UCLA administrators, I recalled, had recently used that argument - privatization as excuse for immorality - to explain why they allowed an inflammatory radical conservative to speak who'd been invited by a student organization that also had rented a room from the university. But what about you personally? You're not ashamed to be doing the job of repressing free speech at a public university? He answers:
- I'm doing my job.
- Just obeying orders. What will you think when the shoe is on the other foot and the police, just following orders, come around and harass you?
- Happens all the time. They see a big Mexican and immediately out comes the guns.
- Here at the film school?
- Yes. And at my home last year. If you look like me you get used to it.
- And yet here you are, not giving a thought to participating in a police action performed for the sole purpose of repressing discussion. Well?
- I've got to go.
- Nothing further to say?
- You're not a bad guy.

Further Reading:
Free Speech Against Free Speech 
Issue #78, The Wednesday 

Monday, January 14, 2019

I Find A Family

- Americans glorify violence, yet they are prudish in sexuality. A population divided by a habit of indulging in violence against each other is incapable of political resistance; special interests with different manners take control of government.
- Corporations and the very rich.
- For example. And similar in political effect, the prudishness that negates the drawing together of sexuality, that is embarrassed by shows of affection. Can we say we agree on this?
- Yes. But why do you bring it up?
- I was at the dining corner of Ralphs supermarket one early morning not long ago when I looked up from my computer and saw a grey haired middle-aged woman and a young man coming towards me. I greeted them:
- You're still alive?
- As you see. We came here looking for you.
- How long has it been? Two years?
- Eight.
- That's not possible.
- It is. You wrote about us then on your website.
- I'll check the date of posting.* Incredible: you're right. Eight years! And you and your son are still wandering around spending no money, passing the nights in fast food restaurants, going to public events for free food and entertainment.
- We were at a temple dinner last night. It was fantastic.
- Why were you looking for me?
- I missed our talks. Most people are so touchy you can't talk about anything. You can't say the slightest thing positive about the president without getting attacked.
- You think that is wrong?
- Yes. You don't? He may not be perfect but people act like he is as bad as Hitler.
- The president has become a model of bad character, a person without honesty or sympathy. His supporters are assumed to be the same. I know you to be the same, if you've haven't changed in eight years. By the way, your son doesn't speak? He's here with us and hasn't said a word. Watch, I'll ask him a question: 'You don't talk? Why not?' ... and there's no answer ... he raises his shoulders. What's going on with him?
- He hasn't talked in more than a year.
- Why?
- I don't know.
- You don't think it's your fault? He's in his early thirties now, right? and he's been going around the country with you for more than a decade, no place anywhere to call his own, passive while you make an idol of living cheap? You don't worry there's a connection?
- He's living the dream.
- Your dream or his?
- Both.
- Dream of living cheap?
- Traveling without ties.
- And without language now. Is he crazy?
- No. He's brilliant. He'll talk when he's ready to.
- Maybe he thinks you're not worth talking to  because your whole life is led around saving money. His spirit rebels against your materialism.
- He is spiritual. He won't use a telephone or computer. He said once he was an Amish.
- When he was still talking. Are you sure he isn't looking at you like those who don't support the president look at those that do, with revulsion?
- No, I'm his mother.
- But you do have bad character.
- How can you say that to me? That's the first thing out of your mouth meeting again someone you haven't seen for eight years?
- I guess it is. I'm interested in bad character. In bad characters.
- I don't have bad character. I'm not a bad character.
- You're not lying to the people and institutions you stay with or chow down with, at minimum pretending to like them when you don't? In my experience, no one not absolutely insane lives as you are living who has a real friend somewhere in the world. The parts of the world not yet too much influenced by American life, where generally people still tell the truth to each other and like each other, can't understand this country's million living on the streets, can't understand why no one known by the million takes them in.
- I wouldn't call it lying. I tell stories. It's creative. And I do care about people.
- You care about the people you lie to?
- Sure. Everybody lies.
- Some liars are cared about and some aren't? Lying doesn't stop you from caring?
- Yes.
- Maybe you like even more the people you trick?
- Maybe I do!
- Is it possible your son, this silent fellow sitting at the table with us, thinks his loving mother has tricked him into a meaningless life and that is why he won't talk?
- No. He likes his life. He's living the dream.
- So you say. He doesn't say anything.
- You meet the craziest people.
- They follow to extreme conclusions the principles held by the majority of the country.
- Living with the violence of dishonesty and behind a barrier established between them and those they say they care about.
- Yes.
- Have you met the mother and son after that conversation?
- Yes. A few times. The mother presses me for information about restaurants she can go to at night, take a seat at a table and lay down her head undisturbed by employees. It's difficult, because the corporations which run the restaurants are torn between keeping up appearances for paying customers and fear of damage to the image of social concern and humanity they spend a fortune to lodge in their customers' minds. But do you know what happened last time I met the family?
- What?
- The son spoke.
- Suddenly, for the first time?
- Yes. I asked his mother why he'd started speaking. She said she didn't know, if it wasn't because of me.
- What did he say?
- 'Parking lots are the solution.'
- 'Parking lots are the solution.' To what?
- The people living on the streets. As the new economy develops, impoverishing more and more, and the single million living on the street turns into many millions, and as the popularity of ride sharing apps increases, there will be less cars, therefore less need of parking lots. The newly empty parking lots can be re-purposed, each space individually rented out by the hour to people to throw themselves down on who otherwise would be chased from one place to another, sleeplessly wandering the city.
* I Find A Family (2010)