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)

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Calculus Of Consent

"Norms for behavior have often been substituted for testable hypotheses about behavior. We do not propose to take a position on the moral question regarding what variables should enter into the individual’s utility function when he participates in social choice, nor do we propose to go further and explore the immensely difficult set of problems concerned with the ultimate philosophical implications of the utilitarian conception of human nature. As we conceive our task, it is primarily one of analysis. We know that one interpretation of human activity suggests that men do, in fact, seek to maximize individual utilities when they participate in political decisions and that individual utility functions differ. We propose to analyze the results of various choice-making rules on the basis of this behavioral assumption, and we do so independently of the moral censure that might or might not be placed on such individual self-seeking action." (James M. Buchanan, The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy)
'Each person seeks mastery over a world of slaves,' Buchanan wrote in his 1975 book The Limits of Liberty. 
- Who is this guy Buchanan?
- No less than a Nobel Prize winning economist whose theories are supposed to be behind the actual doings of the American government.
- Just what we need: another conspiracy theory.* Alright. Tell me.
- Basically, the theory goes, human beings only care about themselves. Government officials are human beings. People with money are only concerned with keeping people without money from using government to take away the money from people who have it. Therefore people with money fund both political parties, Republican and Democratic, the only difference between the parties being one is the party of slaves who want there to remain divisions or levels of slavery, with males, old, white ruling over women, young, and colored; and the other party which want to make all slaves equal, without advantage to one sex, age, race. The real government is bribed by the rich to increase their power over the slaves by changing government policy. More power over slaves may require, according to the theory, a larger government rather than small: for example, business regulation makes small business more difficult therefore favors big business and monopoly. Big government also allows mass surveillance which undermines the will of the slaves to revolt. What do you think of this?
- Where is the "logical foundation" of his book's title?
- In the assumption of rational pursuit of desires, and in what Buchanan calls "Public Choice" theory, which is that government officials also pursue their own interests, which allows those with money to buy in the marketplace of politics their complicity in the remaking of government institutions so as to lessen or even eliminate the ability of the not rich to influence government policy.
- The logic is in that, assuming everyone rationally pursues their desires in relation to other rational desire seekers, we can calculate outcomes as realized in the form of government based on the wealth of marketplace participants. Can I say I find this immensely stupid?
- It's a free country.
- Not if this theory is put into action! I meant stupid because although we humble human beings are said to rationally pursue our desires, we are not supposed to rationally choose our desires.
- Excellent.
- You agree then?
- Certainly. In presenting a game plan - capture the institutions and remake them to serve your interests - Buchanan shows the rich how to protect and increase their wealth at the expense of everyone else. But, as he writes, he makes no attempt to argue that this in any way is a humanly desirable activity.
- You mean to show it is an activity that is reasonable to desire.
- Yes.
- Could there then be a book written on the logical foundations of a government that not just managed desires but itself would be reasonable to desire?
- Because it managed only those desires that would be reasonable to desire?
- Yes.
-  A book might very well pursue the counter logic: Once human beings banded together for self defense they used the resulting security not to elaborate theories of how to permanently rape and pillage everyone else, but to shift from power relation between people to knowledge relations: to learning, loving, giving.
- And that shift from power-seeking to knowledge-seeking would be rational to desire?
- Yes.
- But if not everyone agrees - and the rich of our great nation certainly don't - how could such a logic be implemented as Buchanan's followers have so successfully implemented their theory?
- And save Buchanan's principle of unanimity: that all without exception benefit in a reasonable political exchange? The logical problem is easily solved by isolating people of different ideas of what desires are reasonable in separate local communities, which all can reasonably and unanimously federate for limited reasonable purposes such as self defense.
- I don't see how that would work.
- Why not?
- Because what the rich desire is that very rape and pillage you mentioned. If you fence them in into one community, they'll have no one to rape and pillage other than each other. Reasonable pursuit of their desires will lead to their mutual destruction.
- You're saying that the rich have a reasonable desire to stop the rest from forming a government of reasonable desires.
- Yes.
- So this is how I'd like to leave the discussion: Buchanan's Nobel Prize winning economic theory sold itself as foundation laying pure logic and mathematics. But the theory logically implemented by the rich leads them to preventing the logical action of everyone else. The theory is profoundly illogical and destructive.

Further Reading:
Believe It Or Not
Kant & Compromise
Surviving On Miracles
* See: Meet the Economist Behind the One Percent’s Stealth Takeover of America

Monday, December 31, 2018


Related image

- New Year's Day in a few hours. Everything in the world stays the same as we jump from the end of the calendar back to the beginning. Let's celebrate. Tell me one of your stories, something for the holiday, about how measurement of life becomes a substitute for life.
- I think I can, but I warn you, it's a stupid story.
- Just right for a stupid holiday.
- You know how we learn when children our social roles, unconsciously, fleeing from punishment and running towards reward? We develop habits that make us recognizable to strangers, giving them a sense of what to expect from us. We dress like we're in business, like a man our our age, of our wealth, etc. Note the two factors: being pushed from outside rather than by inner choice, and probability. Now in these new times that are upon us we are becoming familiar with omnipresent surveillance: Internet, email, telephone, etc. Perhaps you haven't noticed that the same two factors are involved in this surveillance as in unconscious learning of social role?
- I certainly haven't.
- Then I'll begin the story. One overcast morning this week I'd locked my bike to the rack up by UCLA's research library. The sun was slipping between tree branches to warn just the spot, so I stood where I was, by my bike, getting a little warm. Big mistake. For when I do decide to go, I hear: 'Sir! Sir! Stop.' It's the University Police. They've had reports someone of my description was possibly stealing bikes. Do I have I.D.?
- I do. But why should I show it to you when the law doesn't require it?
- It is procedure when we detain a suspect.
- I'm being detained?
- That is what is occurring.
- What am I suspected of? Stealing that bike over there? That's my bike. I will unlock the locks, proof that I'm not a thief, therefore cannot be a suspect, therefore not be detained, and not have my I.D. demanded. Let's go to my bike.
- No. Show us your I.D.
- Or you'll continue to detain me?
- What did you do?
- I showed them, under protest, my passport, and they let me go unlock my locks. Whereupon they didn't go anywhere, but proceeded to ask questions about what I'm doing there on campus, my connection to the University, where I was coming from earlier, each question an attempt to elicit an answer that would indicate I had higher than average probability of being a criminal. Note that again here are the two factors: external force, in this case, being detained by the police and threatened with further detention, and probability, but now our enforced task is to avoid having the probability of social role - that of criminal - imposed upon us.
- We are in a fight over probability.
- Yes. Now the story I'm telling is about how having to escape probability of social role can be just as confining, undermining of freedom, as taking on social role. You see this four-year old little Chromebook I use? Sometimes I thought, Wouldn't it be nice to have one of those super-delux Apple computers I see everywhere, wouldn't it be nice to find one as I often find things riding my bike? And this same week I was walking my bike, one in the morning, down Beverly Hills' Rodeo Dr., the street elaborately lighted for Christmas, and there, in front of the Bulgari jewelry store, under one of the cafe chairs left out all night, is a backpack, about the size of the one I use.
- Inside was an Apple computer?
- Yes. Also notebooks, and several envelopes, one from an insurance company, showing name and address. What a shame! I thought. I can't have the computer. And maybe I shouldn't touch this bag. Is it a trick by the police? There are cameras everywhere on this street. The police station is less that a minute away. I put the bag down where I found it, get back on my bike. Coming my way is one Los Angeles' tens of thousands of unhoused, searching through the garbage containers. I should go back and take the bag before he does, right?
- Right!
- I do, and ride off down the street. But this is terrible! Every thought now, every action I take, I'm considering for its probability of making me out to be suspicious! If stopped by the police - it's suspicious to have one bag on my back, another on the handlebars - how do I explain myself? Shouldn't I get off the main streets where the cameras are? But if I'm stopped on the dark residential streets how do I explain my riding there at this hour? Hasn't my probability of criminal appearance increased?
- You went and returned the bag again.
- I did. But the man going through the trash was still coming this way, on the same block now.
- So you took up the bag again.
- Yes. I decided I'd take it to the police.
- Who will steal it themselves.
- That's what everyone says. I didn't care at this point. All I had to do was ride the short distance to the police station and I'd be free of these constant calculations of probabilities that had completely taken over my life. And you know what?
- What?
- The bag having been dropped off, I was filled with a supreme happiness!
- What happened with the police?
- When I went back to check I was told they had a record of my dropping it off, but after that, record disappears.
- Told you!

Further Reading:
The Calculus Of Consent

Friday, December 21, 2018

Studies In Relativity


- How are the studies in relativity going?
- Everyone is laughing at me behind my back but I don't care. I think I'm on to something.
- Perhaps there is nothing wrong in being an unqualified amateur in physics when your focus is how physics has become a myth to model social behavior upon.
- Exactly! Thank you for understanding.
- You're welcome. What have you come up with?
- Einstein's theory of relativity of movement states that one thing moved across by another looks the same when the roles, stationary and moving, are reversed. Think of riding in a train or car and how sometimes it seems as if the car or train is stationary and the road or tracks are moving. When socially we play a role against others in their roles - student to teacher, boss to worker, doctor to patient - we are equally ready to take on, in imagination at least, the opposite role. In this readiness and willingness to exchange roles one imagines oneself free of the normal constraints on behavior.
- You mean ethical constraints.
- Yes. In the famous 'twin paradox' one brother takes a rocket from Earth to a star, time dilating with the rocket's approach to the speed of light, then returns to Earth to find that 200 years have past for his twin, though he has aged only two years. As social role can seem to jump from one to another in relativity of motion, individual history seems able to be duck in and out of relationships as time is lengthened or shortened.
- So even in the temporary social role settled upon responsibilities can seem to shrink and expand.
- Yes. Now when you put together the two theories, relative movement and the slowing of time, the twin thought experiment reveals a paradox: the stay-at-home twin should be able to see himself as the traveler and his brother as the stay at home, but clearly in this case, with the brother aged only 2 years, it's not possible. And why is that?
- Why?
- Because the acceleration, and the shift into a different relation to physical forces, is not part of a continuous movement, as a train on its tracks: what happens to the brother going travelling is happening exclusively inside him, invisible to his brother, a result of unseen physical forces. Now it is possible to recover relativity of movement for the twins. Instead of looking back on pasts of the twins that are not constantly in touch, we look to a future in which each twin has passed through complete life and death into the future 200 years. In this 4-dimensional space-time, where the whole world's actions moment by moment are visualized as a single thing, we can slip the one brother's travels over the other either way; the missing information that the stay-home brother needs to imagine himself the traveler and aging only two years - the plus 200 years of his brother's history - is now available to put in the story. Henri Bergson complained about Einstein's use of time that it reduced time to an act of measurement and calculation, when in reality time was lived as duration, memory, open to future creativity; the continuation of our past into the present and from present projection into the future. Movement that may also perfectly acceptably be seen as rest, time that may go slow or fast: these claims, functional as descriptions of things in the world, undermine confidence in the continuity of memory and experience in an individual's life.


- Time out! Take a breath while I summarize what you've said: In the twin paradox, the problem is the movement of two things across each other is broken in continuity, this resolved by space-time's 4-dimensional projecting time into and restoring the missing points of contact, this done at the cost of predetermining the future. The great philosopher of time, Henri Bergson, objected to Einstein's theory on the grounds that it made it hard to see that the future is in reality open, unpredictable, and indeterminate. Relative time is locked in relation to things, an element in a calculation, while an individual's time relates past to present in continuing memory, and present to future in projection of probable outcomes.
- And so the solution to the paradox is another paradox: not in the logical sense but in that of going against popular opinion: the freedom that seems to be offered by socializing relativity, bringing the myth down to Earth, ends up being the opposite: personal history and initiative is crowded out as individuals are pressed into roles as consumers of ideas, products, and politics.


On the subject of breath: the best current definition of life is a cyclic recovery of stability in response to the repeated destabilizing effects of the world. Breath is in and out, life is recovery, then holding. If you want to see how the personal sense of time can take in the relative time of physics, look no further. Times that seem to have passed fast in the living, looked back on seem to have been slow; and times that seemed to have passed slow in the living looked back on seem to have gone by fast. Slow times lived are times when we wait for opportunity to act, for a click of the clock as it were. Looked back on, clicks of the clock few and far between, time seems to have passed before you knew it, with little to measure its passage by. Fast times are marked by repeated frequent responses to the world, many clicks of the mental clock, making it seem, looked back on, that a lot was done in that limited time, time dilated it seemed to allow more acts to fill it. Do you follow?
- I think so. You're saying that life has its own internal relativity, dilating and constricting in relation to varying proportions in one's life of rest and action.
- That's it. Bergson wrote he had set out to 'explicitly prove that there is no difference, in what concerns Time, between a system in motion and a system in uniform translation.'
- By 'Time', with a capital 'T', meaning the dilation and constriction between action and rest in one's personal sense of time.
- Time that was capable of absorbing into itself without a trace the relative clock time of the physicists.

Further Reading:
Duration and Simultaneity, Henri Bergson, 1922

Monday, December 3, 2018

Rights & Ritual

Great Seal of the United States (obverse).svg
(Not A Government Publication)

- There's this ordained Christian minister, former New York Times foreign correspondent who says a lot of the things you do. He has this show on the Russian propaganda network RT, Russia Today. You know him?
- Yes.
- Do you like him?
- Do you?
- No.
- I don't either.
- Why not? Because of the dour tone to his speeches? Because he's Christian and you're not?
- Judaism came out of the time of a new idea: rest in beauty and rules of action must share attention and importance. Overindulgence in either is limited by the need to return to the other.
- The world is going to hell, we've got to try to do something about it, but we're not to forget that the world's not serious, nothing to get too upset about, it's not real, only the world we see when we rest is. 'The future masters of technology will have to be light-hearted and intelligent.' You hold against him that he's not Jewish and not a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. Anything else?
- Have you seen his latest speech about how the president's supporters are a cult?
- Yes. You say much the same.
- No. I don't.
- But you're always going on about ritual, losing one's sense of insecurity in imagining a winning battle against the enemy and strength restored.
- Let's make some distinctions. Ritual can be personal, like coffee in the morning. Ritual can be a group practice, of a few people, or the millions of a nation, as indeed the president's so-called rallies are an example of. Ritual can be also political but not group practice.
- How if a polity is always a group?
- Do you agree there is something off about calling the president's supporters a cult?
- Yes. I imagine a cult like a herd of beasts, each directing the other, communicating fear and anger. No individuality.
- And you think of Americans, even the president's supporters, as lovers of individuality.
- Yes.
- So if they are performing a ritual, and it is not by communicating their fear and anger to each other, how are they doing it?
- How are they?
- Like with coffee drinking, by communicating the message to themselves of insecurity recovered from.
- If they're recovering all the time why do they need the president?
- They see relations to others in terms of rights, which are demands on others to leave them alone: don't attack, rob, imprison, silence, etc. Somehow, their rights are under attack: the mechanism is obscure, but not the outcome, lives that are daily worsening.
- The president's supporters don't form a cult communicating in a panic fear and anger to each other, but are drawn to the president by his providing clarity, a script to a ritual which will end the attacks on their rights.
- The president's supporters, feeling attacked, try to defend themselves with pornography and violence, identifying with the actors in entertainments or acted out in their own lives; the president promises he is going to end the provocation and recover for them their security. Accompanying each time they fend off an attack now is the reassurance that soon this will all be over. Like the recurring stimulant of coffee drinking, the attack and needed defense is an irritation, but reassuring in its reliably expected arrival.
- The group of the president's supporter is the very opposite of a mass, a herd, a crowd. Each in the group is thinking his rights are under attack: he doesn't see the group. For him others exist if at all as threats to his rights, not to be taken cues or direction from. Passion for the president's supporters is expressed not in loss of themselves, as in the crowd, but in self-protection.
- Strange. Rights seem to be something possessed by the individual, but instead are demands on others. They are not a property or possession of the individual. Because of this, when they are threatened, the response is not individual, but passionate, open to resolution in leaders arriving with a script to ritual. Rights lead to ritual. If we're to avoid political ritual, should we then not talk about rights? How should we talk?
- About what makes for a good life and what doesn't. You recall I told you about the old woman with with big hat and long coat* - these days she spending all night sitting outside Starbucks - who outright claimed only impersonal matters were fit subjects of conversation, anything else was an invasion of privacy?
- How could I forget? She's still on the street? Are you saying that the people like her you meet are defenders of their rights, waiting for the dictator to arrive, rather than seekers after good life?  What's happening with the others? Anyone new? If you are correct, they'll all be supporters of the president.
- They are, almost without exception. There's the hunchback, every night from nine to closing at Whole Foods' cafe, always dressed in the same outfit: over-size white T-shirt, 'Panavision' written on the back, an image of the company's camera on front, blue jeans, and white sneakers, the same every day but always neat and clean. He carries around a leather binder overflowing with loose-leaf papers which over time become frayed and are replaced by others.
- Is he writing?
- No one's ever seen him open the folder. He reads on his phone while he eats, the same every night: a bag of tortilla chips. Time after time he gets up from his table and goes to the salad bar to get free samples. But before each new foray he rinses his fingers with the flow from the water dispenser, then holding out his hands theatrically shaking them dry, droplets flying everywhere. Sometimes afterwards he falls asleep at the table.
- Probably has no place to sleep. Is he deliberately being irritating?
- When a pretty girl comes in he'll get up and start a conversation, adjusting his bent body so his face is inches away from her, often driving her to pack up in a hurry and go.
- Like the hat-coat woman sleeping outside Starbucks who claims she has a home she's still paying for but is too bored when there to go back to: in place of making a life good on personal terms he is making a life out being a permanent public spectacle and provocation. Is this true also of the Turkish green-card lottery winner who goes around to conferences and lectures for the free food, taking home as much as he can get away with, boasting he keeps his stomach full on less than ten dollars a month? 
- Yes. And true too for the full-time bike messenger and 'hustler' (He once, in allergy season, after a full ten minutes of bargaining sold me for $1.75 the pill I was dying for) who's slept outside the same church for 17 years and writes on the internet about himself, his sleeping rough, scavenging, his health problems. Their attention is on their aggrieved condition, rights denied, and the provocations they make of themselves fighting back.
- And now their savior has arrived.

Further Reading:
Believe It Or Not
Character Circus
* See The Forest & The Trees

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

In The Service Of Religion

The rational mind is a faithful servant and the intuitive mind is a sacred gift. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. (A. Einstein)
- What first comes to mind if I say to you that religion and science, for the great mass of Americans, don't talk about the same thing? Science talks of the world, religion talks of rules of action, that is, morality; if I say that Americans have no trouble in being both scientists and religious because the two ways of knowledge do not communicate?
- I'd say that that statement is obviously false. Our judgments about what is the best action depend on our scientific conclusions about what is possible for us to do in the world. And science depends on imagination to suggest theories to be tested, imagination that is guided by how we feel best in the world, by our sense of beauty. Morality depends on our individual awareness of the better and worse relation to the world that is consequent on taking different kinds of action, depends on a scientific study of this question. And in setting the direction of our science, choosing which theories to test, we go in the same direction as in the past led to knowledge that gave us a religious feeling of being in the best relation to the world: of beauty, unity, completeness.
- Religion has a science to it, and science has religion to it in the guidance it takes form the imagination. But there's more involved than that.
- Go on.
- Religion actively uses science to secure its position in the world.
- How so?
- Take for example our two main political parties, the two parties of business, as they have been described. Both parties see the world as a place of business. That is their science. Can you tell me what their religion is?
- Money. Making money is for its own sake. Money is what matters more than anything else. Money must always must come first.
- So how, if Republican and Democrat see the same world, do the parties differ in religion?
- You tell me.
- The democrats are content with what they have achieved for their religion. The ritual of trade has become the basis of morality. The future Democratic leader of the House yesterday spoke of the 'marketplace of ideas' where the two parties must settle their differences without digression to the subject of what might be good for the people they were elected to represent. Put to the test is a scientific hypothesis: ideas don't have to be resolved in debate; rather the world is so made, that just like selfishness of each in trade works out best for all, supposedly, ideas in their compromised form will somehow work out for the best, the regularity of outcome from selfish trade and compromised ideas a comforting ritual to be participated in.*
- Compromised ideas and selfish trade are religious practice, rules of action for feeling good in the world.
- Correct. The Democrats are the conservative party of business that, having successfully remade the world in the image of the market, get a happy feeling from present ritual, whereas the Republicans...
- The Republicans are unhappy...
- Well, the leaders are happy to make their followers unhappy with their place in the world. They fear-monger, shout 'the enemy is within', characterize the opposing party as crazy outsiders, then preach the violence that will restore to these unhappy souls reassuring unity and security.
- The fascist description of the world and the proper response to it.
- Yes. Our happy religious leaders of the radical business party, applying social technology to achieving a state of religious perfection, are presently experimenting with fascism, hyper-surveillance, authoritarianism, demonization of the weak, etc.
- And the experiment is working out, confirming their theory of the world. We see clearly that some of the religious at least, our leaders, have no problem employing scientific thinking, remodeling the world, duping their supporters about their ultimate intentions, consolidating their power over all aspects of life, achieving for themselves the highest religious state they know: the security of having ever larger amounts of money and possessions.
- Large numbers of self-described religious people support the president, monster of immorality that he is, among them his press representatives who can be daily seen outrageously lying for him, because he promises to make their rules of behavior the laws of the land, and - here's where there is some truth to the idea we started with questioning - outside of establishing in the world their rituals of power these people of religion don't care about the world, scientifically described or not. They're concerned only, as they've been taught to be by those who fund the parties of business, about the self-image reflected back to them by their acquisitions and possessions.
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them...The future masters of technology will have to be light-hearted and intelligent. The machine easily masters the grim and the dumb. (A. Einstein)

Further Reading:
Einstein & Intellectual Physics 
 *See: Nancy Pelosi Wants to Find “Common Ground” With Donald Trump. But Her Job Right Now Is to Fight Fascism.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Character Circus

- With today's Democratic capture of the House of Representatives we've got ourselves some breathing room. But do you know what I think?
- What?
- That the current circus in which the president lies and cheats outrageously and we all look on powerlessly will be replaced by the new circus in which the democrats, unable to pass legislation, pursue criminal charges against the president and he lies and cheats outrageously, constantly changing his strategies of evasion. Meanwhile, like before, with attention elsewhere, mergers, privatizations, subsidies continue to enlarge monopolies, transferring more and more wealth to the' rich. Do you see anyway out of this mess we're in?
- I like the expression you chose, 'breathing space'.
- 'Breathing room'.
- Even better. It reminds us that we, schemers and victims alike, have bodies moved about in our schemes. We've talked some about about bodies in politics. Democracy only is possible when citizens share power, and have power to share with each other: without property, without being in a position of not having to beg strangers to be allowed to eat and have shelter, democracy is impossible. Bodies figure in Republican party doctrine of every man for himself, in Republican neutrality with respect to the president's bad character.
- How so?
- Character is a matter of habits, habits are built by repetition, and the building that habits construct is the body.
- I'm not sure I understand what you mean.
- We learn to see and recognize and object, a chair for example, by moving our eyes over one chair after another, until the movements form a habit of perception. When the 60 million of Americans support a man of the worst possible character like the president they are showing that they don't see character, they don't look at people that way any longer.
- How do they look at people?
- Without sympathy.
- Why?
- Because sympathy is felt when we reconstruct in imagination the ethical habits of others and we rehearse, in our own body, the other's habit-building bodily movements. The think-tanks funded by the rich have deliberately used advertising and public relations to foster the idea that freedom and equality do not mean equal power to meet each other and discuss what is best: no, that might lead to a demand for a more fair distribution of wealth. In this liberal view, the view of the Democratic party, what is best for the individual is to be allowed to make his way in a world already structured well enough; no character, no body type or history, should be allowed to impede upon another in the journey through that fixed mass of circumstances.
- Both Democrat and Republican politics promote blindness to character. So what can we do in the breathing room we have? Even if somehow the Democrats get through the next two years, and in addition to the House, a Democratic Senate and president is elected to govern a, by then, after rampant privatization, deregulation, mergers and monopolies, an even more unequal population, what then? The population will have been even more deeply indoctrinated into the two competing, mutually exclusive versions of blindness to character.
- An insecure situation ripe for fascism.
- Exactly.
- So much for our breathing room! Neither side believes in character. Both sides believe the circumstances of the world are better not be meddled with: we must be left to work out our own fate in those circumstances we find ourselves in with the body we were born with. One side additionally wants to give every body an equal starting position, in terms of recognition of that body, not material equality, not in how much security in food or shelter one has.
- Equality of blindness to character in starting position is the Democratic difference, both parties believing in leaving material circumstances to themselves.
- Yes. Something happened to me last night, a conversation, of a type that seems to be a fate of my own particular circumstances, bears on this. Should I tell you about it?
- Of course.
- Our problem, in the time of our breathing room, is what to do about how the people of the two parties talk to each other who don't believe in human character, who believe in deliberate blindness to human character. The Democrats want to cooperate with their adversaries in order to block the approach of fascism, but, not believing in character, they don't experience sympathy, therefore they don't like each other.
- Like you, they like to talk, maybe.
- Sure. And this conversation occurred on that insecure foundation. Insecure because no one who couldn't care less for the person he's talking with can bear to be contradicted, or worse, proven wrong, by him. That our power of speaking or thinking has been threatened by contact with another is anti-democratic, is against the principle that everyone should be allowed an equal start to set out on one's fate through the unquestioned circumstances. To be contradicted is an aspersion on one's character, a judgment that is not to be tolerated.
- So what was this conversation about?
- You' won't miss the irony. At the film school a preview screening of a new documentary called Cleaners, about the people and procedures social media companies employ to censure postings, has just concluded, and a question and answer session with the movie's producers was going on in the theater. I'd stepped out to the lobby to have a cup of the coffee I'd brought with me. The only other person in the lobby was a former director of these screenings I'd made small talk with before, a graduate student in film theory from Germany. Like you've done with me, I struck up a conversation with him about the election results, and what we could expect from them. I presented these same ideas, in less depth, well-experienced with the limitations of a UCLA education. I told him that if things were going to change for the better people would have to be able to talk with each other, and for that to happen, they'd have to recover the idea of human character, of better and worse actions, and be able to like or not people for their making habitual in their lives better or worse actions. He replied there is disagreement about what is good character, and that some problems were intractable, like for example the problem of how to censor social media the movie being screened discussed. I said it was a problem easily solved. All that was required was that individuals themselves have settings they could control for what kind of posts they want to receive and what they don't. The reason this is not how social media censors is that these companies profit from the greater involvement that results from sending people more of what they already like to see. The problem is that these companies make more money, at least they think so, from the worst aspect of human nature being expressed, and that if people cannot agree that the panic and violence of mass behavior is undesirable they cannot be expected ever to meet to act democratically. The film student was replying with the party line that that's just one view among many, when a girl comes out of the box office. She tells me that our discussion is inappropriate. We're creating a disturbance, and must go outside. I tell her:
- So you want to censor our conversation like is done by the social media companies the movie is about? Are you joking?
The graduate student reproaches me with: 
- Statements like that are uncalled for.
 I sat to the girl:
- The public lobby of the film school in a public university? If that is not a place for discussion, what is?
The girl answers:
- I'm the organizer of this event and you are causing a disturbance.
- Conversation is a disturbance? Since when?
- If you don't leave I'll call the police.
- And then what?

- I said, 'Fine with me.'
- A character building experience.
- There's that. I waited for her to go back to the box office and call the police, expressed to the film student my contempt for his character, passive like a good German to this episode of social control, and went out to get my bike.

Further Reading:
What Is Capitalism?
Political Correctness
The Religion Of Irresponsibility

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Way Out

Great Seal of the United States (obverse).svg
(Not A Government Publication)

One could argue that the formal order of the liberal state depends fundamentally on a social capital of habits of mutuality and cooperation that antedate it, which it cannot create and which, in fact, it undermines.*

- Have you heard the latest from our cretinous corporate Nazi?
- You're referring to the president?
- What do you think? Is there any way out for the country? How do we turn things around?
- No hope, if things go on as anthropologists say they have in history, where in every case we find that democracies decline into authoritarian states, and never find that authoritarian states rise up to democracy.*
- But our kind of state is different.
- How different?
- As our technology is different than that of primitive communities the anthropological argument is based on: we improve our science in a cycle.
- New knowledge, new tools based on it, new evidence based on use of the new tools, new experiment, new knowledge, new tools based on that knowledge...
- Yes. The rules governing our modern states are similarly not fixed. They're not supported by taboos, by unreasoning fear, but have been consciously chosen and maintained by reasoning.
- Progressing perhaps like science but, unlike science, as our democracy declines, as all have declined in history, we have in our political technology not a continuous progress, more like a balancing, a countervailing force lifting democracy back up from recurring decline.
- In myths of the founding of democracy the laws are said to be brought by a law-giver, mortal or god. Could it be that our reasoning is doing what it can, barely keeping our heads above water while we wait for our very own lawgivers to appear, with whose help we can fall ever more slowly from ever-greater heights?

Further Reading:
The Art Of The Possible
The Future Of Science
Kant & Compromise
* Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play, James C. Scott 

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Superlative Horse

'The human voice conspires to desecrate everything on this earth.'  
- I've prepared three question for you. Ready?
- Ready.
- Is it true that once the world is defined it becomes a danger? Is there a way of living in an undefined, or at least differently defined world? Is there a connection between the Buddhist's calling the world an illusion, and the risk that whenever you picture a utopia, the perfect state, you'll treat people as means to the end of achieving that state, up to and including murder, even mass murder. Can you answer these questions?
- Do you really need me to? Isn't the answer all around us?
- You mean because I'm asking questions of the world, the whole world answers?
- Because there's something fundamental here. Why else would I always be encountering one form of answer or another? From movie watching today: So you'd make the world a utopia? Then 'get thee glass eyes, and like a scurvy politician seem to see the things thou dost not.'* In fact, it would make it easier to answer your questions if you'd allow me the help of a series of quotes. Alright?
- Fine.
- If you see the world as fixed, describable, defined, you'll tend to either run away from it or want to keep it that way. And if you want to keep it that way, you'll tend to treat people as means to the that end, up to and including murder, even mass murder. In politics we see on a larger scale the danger of living in a described world. Think about how the world looks when you take a walk. The changing sight is directly related to your continuous movement. You share responsibility for how the world is presented to you. There is nothing there of a fixed nature to establish a power relation to, wanting to keep it or be rid of it. But stop and continue to look, the world becomes legible, its form clearly defined. From last week's reading, the anthropologist Scott:
Compared to Haussmann’s retrofitting of the physical geography of Paris to make it legible and to facilitate state domination, the Bolsheviks’ retrofitting of rural Russia was far more thoroughgoing. In place of an opaque and often obstinate mir [world], it had fashioned a legible kolkhoz [collective farm]. In place of myriad small farms, it had created a single, local economic unit. With the establishment of hierarchical state farms, a quasi-autonomous petite bourgeoisie was replaced with dependent employees. In place, therefore, of an agriculture in which planting, harvesting, and marketing decisions were in the hands of individual households, the party-state had built a rural economy where all these decisions would be made centrally. In place of a peasantry that was technically independent, it had created a peasantry that was directly dependent on the state for combines and tractors, fertilizer, and seeds. In place of a peasant economy whose harvests, income, and profits were well-nigh indecipherable, it had created units that were ideal for simple and direct appropriation. In place of a variety of social units with their own unique histories and practises, it had created homologous units of accounting that could all be fitted into a national administrative grid. The logic was not unlike the management scheme at McDonald’s: modular, similarly designed units producing similar products, according to a common formula and work routine. Units can easily be duplicated across the landscape, and the inspectors coming to assess their operations enter legible domains which they can evaluate with a single checklist.
In yesterday's reading, the zen tale included by J.D. Salinger in his story Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters tells of not paying attention to the legible world:
Duke Mu of Chin said to Po Lo: "You are now advanced in years. Is there any member of your family whom I could employ to look for horses in your stead?" Po Lo replied: "A good horse can be picked out by its general build and appearance. But the superlative horse — one that raises no dust and leaves no tracks — is something evanescent and fleeting, elusive as thin air. The talents of my sons lie on a lower plane altogether; they can tell a good horse when they see one, but they cannot tell a superlative horse. I have a friend, however, one Chiu-fang Kao, a hawker of fuel and vegetables, who in things appertaining to horses is nowise my inferior. Pray see him." Duke Mu did so, and subsequently dispatched him on the quest for a steed. Three months later, he returned with the news that he had found one. "It is now in Shach'iu" he added. "What kind of a horse is it?" asked the Duke. "Oh, it is a dun-colored mare," was the reply. However, someone being sent to fetch it, the animal turned out to be a coal-black stallion! Much displeased, the Duke sent for Po Lo. "That friend of yours," he said, "whom I commissioned to look for a horse, has made a fine mess of it. Why, he cannot even distinguish a beast's color or sex! What on earth can he know about horses?" Po Lo heaved a sigh of satisfaction. "Has he really got as far as that?" he cried. "Ah, then he is worth ten thousand of me put together. There is no comparison between us. What Kao keeps in view is the spiritual mechanism. In making sure of the essential, he forgets the homely details; intent on the inward qualities, he loses sight of the external. He sees what he wants to see, and not what he does not want to see. He looks at the things he ought to look at, and neglects those that need not be looked at. So clever a judge of horses is Kao, that he has it in him to judge something better than horses." When the horse arrived, it turned out indeed to be a superlative animal.
And from listening a few minutes ago to Bob Dylan:
There's no success like failure, and failure's no success at all.
We want protection from seeing a legible world. We also want to find the superlative horse. How do we do it? We want to improve our lives.
- Well, how?
- Two ways: when we're at rest, when we're in motion. At rest: when we see something as beautiful we see it immersed in the world as a whole and no longer legible to power relations. And in motion, when, for example, in our walks, we keep a sense of unreality, impermanence of what we see that is reaffirmed continually by our awareness of our own movement's participation in what we see. Follow?
- No. I don't follow.
- Let's take a step back. Each sight of the world is a kind of knowledge of the world. Agreed?
- Agreed.
- I'm taking a walk and as it were I say to myself, that is a tree.
- The sight you see you've put into the category of tree.
- Yes.
- You know it is a tree.
- Yes. Now we have two basic ways of knowing the world: with probability, and with laws. Social roles are probabilities: what we can expect from persons of our type. But we can also know what we see by understanding its laws: how a tree branches out from the seed, and the different organs of leaf, fruit, flower.
- There's a regularity of form to what we see.
- That we've learned to see as it were by our walking our eyes over objects of this kind repeatedly. According to the linguist Noam Chomsky (recently checked in with) lawful knowledge is achieved in practice like this: when you’re studying vision you first ask what kind of computational task - what input, what output - is the visual system carrying out? And then you look for an algorithm that might carry out that task. And finally you search for mechanisms of the kind that would make the algorithm work. He sees three levels to our understanding of the world: computational task, algorithm to perform the task, and an organic, instinctual process or mechanical relation to the world: how the child knows to pick out the sounds that are language from those that are not, how in physics some molecules take on a spherical shape rather than cubic.
- How our eyes are made disposes to what in the world they can see.
- Yes. Obvious, when you think about it. There's the task of seeing a tree, how our eyes do it (identify the laws of what makes a tree a tree) and the physical mechanism - cells of nerves, eyes, brain - that we do the seeing with. How does identifying these computational operations help us avoid seeing the world as fixed, legible and then using people as means to achieving a preferable fixed state? If we know people statistically, how someone their age, sex, income, appearance, health is likely to act in these particular circumstances, the types of person state action is to be taken on is soon determined. In Chairman Mao's Cultural revolution, intellectuals were probable counter-revolutionaries, and were accordingly exiled into peasant life in the countryside. But let's say for our political rules we look at not probabilities but knowledge based on laws. At the bottom, foundational level, it may be for example that the part time slavery of employment by another and hoarding interfere with the natural social functioning; if we make a veto of them foundational to our social choices, we don't have to worry that a leader will identify us a potential hoarder or employer and exile us accordingly. Like a foundational theory in the natural sciences, such a politics could be said to underlie, but cannot be made a variable, an element of calculation of political action: the physical relation of our eyes to the world exists on a level not accessible to the ways of moving our eyes we learn in our coming to see the world.**
- With the difference that we can update our political foundation if we come up with a better foundation.
- Yes. At the foundational level the mechanism of our relation to the world is always engaged, we are always walking, consequently always protected from utopias and passions.

Further Reading:
Sick Of Art
Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
*King Lear, Act 4, Scene 6
** 'In theory, though we don’t know how, you can talk about the neurophysiological level, nobody knows how, but there’s no real algorithmic level. Because there’s no calculation of knowledge, it’s just a system of knowledge. To find out the nature of the system of knowledge, there is no algorithm, because there is no process. Using the system of knowledge, that’ll have a process, but that’s something different.' -  Noam Chomsky, interview in The Atlantic Magazine, 2012.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Forest & The Trees

- I went into the cafe to look for the old lady you told me about,* the retired interior decorator who has no place to live, spending nights on the street as best she can.
- Did you see her? She's there every night until closing.
- I saw a long blue great coat sitting up at the back behind a table, and hovering above it a wide brimmed felt hat tilted down to vertical. I suppose there was a body and head somewhere there.
- She'd fallen asleep.
- I'm surprised she isn't thrown out.
- She's a customer, she's tolerated. No personal distinctions are supposed to be made in the prevailing culture of 'only the marketplace' where everything other than activities pertaining to buying and selling are excluded. I've been reading about how, seeing the forest exclusively a source of building material and kindling, Germans in the 18th Century began clearing away everything but a single species of tree that most efficiently produced those profit making materials, clearing away in the process insects, fungi, mammals, birds, ground cover that enriched the soil. Great profits were made from the engineered forest, until the once rich soil, feeding the trees but no longer being replaced, was entirely depleted, and the trees started dying. Our exclusively market valuing society has been depending upon for its efficient operation a store of rich human qualities, depleting them year after year, but clearing away the ways of life that once allowed them to be replenished, with the result that the marketplace society is marching towards totalitarianism. The anthropologist James Scott offers this summary:
1. The legibility of a society provides the capacity for large scale social engineering.
2. High modernist ideology [everything efficiently organized] provides the desire.
3. The authoritarian state provides the determination to act on that desire.
4. An incapacitated civil society provides the leveled social terrain on which to build.
- By 'legibility' he means a single criteria of human life that becomes the focus of attention.
- Yes. Scott continues:
The market is itself an instituted, formal system of coordination, despite the elbow room that it provides to its participants, and it is therefore similarly dependent on a larger system of social relations which its own calculus does not acknowledge and which it can neither create nor maintain. Here I have in mind not only the obvious elements of contract and property law, as well as the state’s coercive power to enforce them, but antecedent patterns and norms of social trust, community, and cooperation, without which market exchange is inconceivable. Finally, and most important, the economy is 'a subsystem of a finite and nongrowing ecosystem,' whose carrying capacity and interactions it must respect as a condition of its persistence.**
The old woman and me are to the cafe's business like the pests that swarm through the cleared out single species forest floor. As poisons and predators are introduced to control the pests, the cafe posted yesterday new earlier closing hours to chase her (and me) away.
- You two are chased away under cover of efficiency like the approaching American totalitarianism is undermining civility under cover of protecting the marketplace.
- Sometimes I can't stand the sight of her, her unprotesting acceptance of the unacceptable life she is living. I tell her she's the craziest person in L.A., wandering the streets at night with no place to go when she has a house to go back to and her retirement income...
- Which is not enough to rent even a room in LA.
- That's right. Her home, shared with a friend, waiting for her she's continuing even now to pay for. She can't stand being there she says because it's completely isolated, is 'out in the wilderness'. She plans to stay in L.A. until she's dealt with the swelling of her legs caused by never resting horizontal, and until she's refreshed her voice that is croaking from breathing the night air, and she lands a well paying interior decorating job like she had prior to retirement. I tell her she's a good example of the monoculture the anthropologist writes about, the single species of tree forest, the human society that is focused exclusively on the marketplace. If she can't enslave herself once more to the insanely hoarding rich, rearranging their furniture for them, she's decided that nothing she could do with herself in the wilderness is worth anything; no reading, no movie viewing, taking walks, gardening. Instead here she is, every night for the sake of achieving a return to ideological conformity to the market she's offering herself up to be murdered by one of the thousands of drugged out or schizophrenic who wander the streets of the city.
- What does she say?
- That no one has ever in her life talked so bad to her. I tell her I do it with the hope somehow I might get through to her, but anyway, it's funny: she feels the damage to her self image but within seconds revival of her self possession is achieved. It's like shooting down zombies in a video game that immediately jump again to be a target.
- And what does she say to that?
- She laughs.
- Smart crazy lady.
- Interesting, isn't it, the way we Americans do our best to keep ourselves somewhat sane as the market expands to totality and the soil of our once good nature is daily being depleted? It's a sad, ugly sight, the single species forest kept going with ad hoc measures that in turn require their own compensatory measures, citizens of the marketplace allowed to entertain themselves with any self-introduced personal identity, supporting the market with tolerance of everyone taking the place of the cleared away kindnesses.
* The Third Way
** Seeing Like A State, James Scott, 1999

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Truth & Character In Politics

Image result for trump mussolini image

- I've got something to say about what you told me yesterday.
- What did I tell you?
- About how Saturday afternoon you were sitting outside the closed University cafe, you look up and see eight heavily armed University police with pistols and rifles drawn and pointed in your direction. Did you see anything, the nearest policeman asks? You haven't. An alarm went off, the policeman explains. Would you mind leaving the table? You wouldn't, and you walk away a distance where a graduate student is watching developments. The student asks, What's going on? You two get to talking, while the police, satisfied with their menacing of the empty cafe, make their retreat. You express your opinion that the near daily observable increased in police activity at the university and the city has come with the new presidency. The graduate student expresses surprise at both the observation and attributed cause; it turns out he is a student of philosophy and to have voted for this president, though, he confides, he can't without risk to his career or of insult admit to other students or faculty this fact.
- Ok, I remember. What interests you now?
- The connection between the increased authoritarianism of this presidency represented by among many other things increased police activity, and the strange failure of study of philosophy to develop sensitivity to human character. The student can't safely admit to his vote because the president's obvious racism goes against the political correctness that dominates politics at the university. But I think most of the president's support came not from fellow racists but from people who thought he would send more money their way, would improve the economy, as this student says was true in his case. Didn't he care though about the astonishing number and obviousness of his lies, you asked? No, all politicians lie, more or less is not an issue, he explained. What, you ask, about the president's contempt for the poor and weak and his violence against women? Who knows what the truth is about these things, he replies, everyone in politics is lying about everything.
- He said he didn't impossibly try to determine the truth about the president's racism or violence against women and chose to vote for him simply because of his background in direct money making rather than his opponent's more devious money making through the intermediary of politics.
- And strangely, that same day, also a UCLA politics faculty member began a conversation with you at the research library, and he also admitted to supporting the president with the identical explanations that all politicians lie, it's impossible to discern the truth about them, and his expectation from him of a better economy.
- Yes, these conversations took place.
- Well, you gave out as your opinion that this president could only be supported by people who were lacking in character. What, you asked, did they have to say to that? And they both answered that, again, it's impossible to know the truth about how much his opponent lies, bad character in politicians is a constant.
- And?
- And that is where you left it, or they left you and the conversations.
- And now you'd like to continue. Proceed.
- Proceed I will! Violence, a product of fear and anger, produces forgetting. Violence, regularly repeated, becomes ritual: establishes a relation of power between two classes, those powerful like you and those against whom you use power; forgotten is actual relations between individuals and your weakness at the beginning of ritual practice. When the argument is made that we can never establish the truth, that everything is relative and expresses one bias or another, we are assuming a world in which forgetting is integral.
- Why?
- Because ordinarily, and we see rigorously practiced in the sciences, we remember our past experiences, and reach conclusion about new experience according to how well they fit in with past experiences. The more experiences that can be held consistent with how we understand present experience, the more we can rely on that understanding. The practice of violence in personal life leads to institutionalized violence in public life: to someone who always is forgetting himself, who does not seek coherence in personal life - which is a way of saying, someone who does not wish to improve his character - there is also no more or less coherent view of public life, all in the world is equally doubtful. This, while private life, the province of power relations established by repeated ritualized violence against an arbitrarily chosen enemy, is filled with certainty the result of all else being forgotten in the process. Personal violence makes for forgetting, which produces a public world entirely doubtful and therefore unreliable and therefore threatening, which leads to public violence in rituals meant to re-establish secure, certainty producing power relations. Leads, in one word, to fascism.
- You think, then, a professor of politics, and even more a student of philosophy, should have been able to see through the claim that all politicians are equally liars and been able to distinguish the president's lying in the service or violence, from lying that is in the furtherance of simple personal ambition.
- If the study of philosophy in particular, and science in general, can't be done otherwise, entails attempting as much as possible to be consistent, to hold together the world. A student of science and especially philosophy should be able to read in incipient fascism a different and much worse kind of lying and bad character than is demonstrated by the liar merely for personal gain.
- Which personal gain lying can be done calmly, deliberately? Without entailing a belief in a world entirely relative and always doubtful truths, or willingness to have recourse to violence?
- Yes. What do you think?
- If I don't express an opinion will you accuse me of lacking character and believing in a world with no fixed truth?
- I will.
- Then I will exercise my memory and paraphrase Plato: 'Something like you say must be the truth.'

Further Reading:
Believe It Or Not
Compassion & The Story
You Have To Have A Story