Friday, August 17, 2018

What Is Capitalism?

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

1.

- I don't know how you can stand coming to this Starbucks. Where do these people go to when it closes? What time is closing?
- 12:30. That big man - he admits to weighing 300 pounds - the days he gathers a little money playing guitar on the street; restaurants to give him food in exchange for posting on social networks video reviews he makes on the spot. When they lock the doors here he'll push that cart you see outside down Beverly to a doorway of one of the high design furniture showrooms.
- Where he'll sleep?
- Yes.
- Who are the others?
- Drivers from Armenia. A couple of medical students. That man I suppose was just released from the hospital where he was kept locked in for observation. He'll wander up and down the streets all night.
- Going nowhere. Let's change the subject.
- Fine.
- On the subject of a past conversation, why political critique doesn't seem to change anything:* what do you think happened with Karl Marx? His ideas changed the world, but not really for the better. He was wrong in his predictions of collapse of capitalism and worker led revolution. But people are talking about him now because he was right about increasing inequality.
- Maybe only his timing was off. Capitalism's collapse and worker led revolution are coming. Is the timing right for us to talk about this? The cafe closes in 15 minutes.
- Then don't waste any time.
- You know how we often talk about ritual as a spontaneous social structure, a social behavior that seems to be an inherent possibility of human nature? Marx made his predictions about the future of capitalism assuming the presence of several of these sort of machines in capitalist society.
- And these machines were?
- (1) Advance in technology allows products to be made cheaper, workers to be paid less, and employers make profit. (2) Competition in the free market drives down prices, allows workers to be paid less, forces development of new technology, and employers make profit. (3) New technology not forthcoming at cheap enough price, employers increase their demands on workers to the point where these part-time slaves, wages at subsistence level and working all waking hours, are indistinguishable from full-time slaves.
- More injections of technology. More competition in free markets.  A race to reestablish slavery in all its purity. The fact of there now operating such social machines...
- But is it a fact?
- Assume they exist as along a path a society may or may not take. The path offers a direction, not a destiny. Society can get on and off. There being such machines possible, workers living in the midst of their operation Marx believed would wake up to their enslavement and rebel.
- Look around you. Where's the revolution?
- I think I know why. They're closing now?
- We have a couple minutes. Why no revolution?
- Marx's story of history progressing from primitive communism maintained by ritual, to slave agricultural society, kingdoms, feudalism, capitalism, and finally communism again, this time with technology: this is somewhat like the story told by Kabbalah, but with a big difference. In Kabbalah, progress is made accumulating good in the world, not in reaction to accumulation of bad.
- Kabbalah's machine is located in a world of persisting beauty, truth, wisdom, not society.
- That's right. Marx's ideas were applied in China and Russia, seeing only, reacting only to bad accumulations, bad machines. But Marx himself wrote: "I can only relate myself in a human way to a thing when the thing is related in a human way to man."** To take the final step out of slavery requires more than knowing you are a slave. Knowledge from taking that human way has to be allowed to accumulate. Relating myself to the world in a human way requires that I step off the path that surrounds me with people and things that are not related in a human way to me.
- Then we'll see about the revolution. Closing time.


2.

To continue where we left off. Spending our leisure time on premises owned by the corporate giant Starbucks, consuming its products under pressure to be quick...
 - Yes, yes. You claimed capitalism involved ritual-like spontaneously occurring social arrangements in which technology increases productivity, allowing employer profits. A second spontaneously occurring social arrangement was the free market's competition being applied to the first arrangement, making sure technology is endlessly and continuously applied to reduce costs, and provide employer profits. Am I summarizing correctly?
- Yes.
- When in the past these social machines couldn't be applied, when technology wasn't up to the task, wasn't cheap enough, employers made use of a reserve army of unemployed they'd gone to the trouble of creating for times like these, or collusion among each other to fix wage rates, or monopoly control of markets, to directly take their profits from workers in the form of reduced wages or longer working hours. Correct?
- Yes.
- Technology and the free market have been put to the service of extending part-time slavery into full-time slavery. My question to you is: you said this activity is like ritual in being a spontaneous occurring social arrangement; but isn't it itself ritual? And if so, what does it express as a ritual?
- Employers first acquired their capital by violent acts dispossessing their future workers of land held in common, and by other aggressive manipulations that have no connection with technology and the free market. Employers go back to use of these means when technology and the free market fail them. Linkage of slavery to technology and the free market regularly fails, is established, and recovers from crisis by means of actions inconsistent with, that do violence to technical application in the free market. Violence, and myth-like lack of consistent practicality, suggest ritual.
- Again: ritual expressing what?
- That if an "accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole,"*** that is the result of the functioning of natural laws of market and technology. Ritual serves to hide from ourselves the fact our society is based on violence and slavery.
- Then it's true?
- Capitalism is ritual? The formal requirements are met: repeated acts reenacting a story of emerging out of weakness reborn into strength by means of violent, unquestioned acts in the company of others. You and me here at Starbucks, consuming the corporate employer's products at higher and higher prices, we are like slaves forced into a dance with a fanatical master. I don't know. Dancing with us do corporate employers feel powerful and reborn?


3.

- Capitalism moves towards a closed system. Those dispossessed from their lives on the land become employees. Employers make a profit out of the labor of their workers who can't afford to buy the products they make: with employers profit added the total cost of products is more than the total of workers wages. Workers can buy only a fraction of what they produce.  Employers consume some of the excess. The rest must be sold in territories outside the system. As capitalism and the free market expand their reach, and populations in the territories, dispossessed from their lives on the land, become employees producing additional products that have to be sold, that outlet is closed. Competition drives advance of technology; the amount of products made for fixed cost increases. But workers can't pay more for employer products than employers pay them. Employers have the choice of hoarding the excess products, or allowing with higher wages workers to have some of them and live more than a life of subsistence: maybe then they'll work better and make more products.
- But how do employers profit from that if all they can get from their employees for their products is the same amount they have paid them in wages?
- They allow them credit to buy more.
- But that is their money too!
-They don't let it get too far away. In one scenario workers buy houses on credit at low interest rates, the boom in house buying is followed by a bust, interest rates are raised, refinancing is impossible, payments become unaffordable and houses are repossessed.
- Poor workers. Made slaves, dispossessed of their land, are allowed to buy back land, only to be dispossessed again! Is it a stupid question to ask why employers don't stop persecuting their employees and let their businesses run on without profit? Why do the rich-beyond-any-use capitalists think they need their profit?
- A company doing business in the billions operating without demand for profit presently exists: the watch manufacturer Rolex. At the death of its owner the company became a private foundation without loss of competitiveness.
- Then there is no institutional, practical necessity for profit.
- Profit isn't the only value. Have you ever tried to read Marx's Capital?
- I tried.
- Even second hand, hearing it discussed, I experience a strange sense of unreality. Value, Marx says, is socially useful labor. Employees produce that value, but employers take most of it for themselves as their profit, without doing any socially useful labor themselves. Their relation to their employers, labor, is used to explain what money is, to prove that employers are robbing employees of what is theirs.
- What's wrong with that?
- It's an explanation in terms of the severely limited world of the marketplace where everything is to be bought and sold, including people, that is, from the world of part-time slavery Marx is trying to explain. In the larger world something is socially valuable passed from one person to another as an act of sympathy, as participation in another's life, as a creative act, as an act of humor, as an act of disencumbrance...
- All of which hasn't the slightest meaning to capital's slavedrivers. They won't willingly give up the god-like act of remaking human beings from part-time slaves into full-time slaves. They're in it for the hell of it.


4.

- What is capitalism anyway? Adam Smith's free market?
- Capitalism goes on fine without it. See the monopoly controlled, subsidized, cartel-ridden, government-bribed big business U.S.A.  
- Marx's wage labor plus class struggle? 
- That's a little closer. 
- Then you tell me.
- Capitalism is wage labor that uses its wages to buy products it has made. 
- A cycle.
- Yes. 
- Why?
- Why what?
- Why not slavery pure and simple? Supply the slaves food and shelter, and employ them to build pyramids to your glory or to make you luxuries. Why have them buy back the products they have themselves made?
- It has to do with the social instability of the times and the development of modern science and its similar non-stop cycling: results of research and experiment are turned to technology which yields new research, experiment, and technology. In the capitalist cycle, money invested in production pays employees who use the money to buy products they themselves have produced. Money cycles through the production process back to the employer, to be reinvested. The world may be changing all around, but life is clear to scientist and capitalist: discover the rules, apply them, repeat. For the non-scientist, non-capitalist, there's a problem: we know the rules of the world, but not of the mind, or of the mind's relation to the world. The philosophy that develops around the time modern science's cycling begins solves the problem by identifying mind and body, in the words of Spinoza, as two ways of looking at the same thing. Or in the what we call now 'process philosophy' of Marx: seeing in the world the action of the self in coming to know it; seeing in the self the world it has developed acting in response to. The employee has his world removed from his grasp when the product he makes is taken away from him as the property of his employer. Separated from the world it had been acting on, the employee's body is seen to perform meaningless repetitive actions. Later, when the hours of wage slavery have expired, exercising his freedom, his mind is engaged in attempt to recover his lost self that has been mysteriously attached to one of the objects he and others like him made and now are offered back to him for sale. The employee, who becomes a material in the production process as the employer solves his mind body problem, becomes part of the world to be researched and incorporated in new management techniques. As a human being the employee is invisible to the employer, part of the body that is no problem. The employee, if seen at all, elicits contempt as a failure, while the employer in his own judgment is an undeniable success as he participates in the great creative cycle of money passing through production back to money, money representing mind, the production representing body. The world we live in, capitalism triumphant, loads the majority of people with the unsolved mind body problem. Overwhelmed with the practical difficulty of getting enough money to keep body going, body becomes alien, standing in the way of creative intentions.
- The employer has contempt for his employee's life failure. But what the capitalist is doing - it might make the mind body problem disappear, but it isn't really creative. It is loveless, destructive of human lives, profoundly ugly.****
- As it must be. The stable class relation between employer and employee, locked together with a machine's causality, is like that of the warrior class and the producer class in the city imagined in Plato's Republic, a utopia of total management in which justice is supposed to be writ large in the relation between classes, membership in which guarantees not the least happiness.
- Capitalism's destination is Plato's Republic? Seriously?
- We'll have to see. Workers have their cycle: product - wages - product. Employers have their cycle: money - product - money. Scientists have their cycle: knowledge - technology - knowledge. These cycles working together end in forming the three classes of the republic: producers, warriors, guardians. At which point all cycles cease. The workers can only work, all means to do anything else having been squeezed out of them by capitalists demand for profit. The capitalists, with no more profit to be made out of workers, settle down into the warrior role. They protect the little world of the republic acting in which shows them who they are; they protect the republic against all those who do not have their being made by acting in that little world. And scientists, they turn to the task of keeping the republic free from change, workers working, watchdogs being watchdogs.*****


5.

- What's happening?
- Very early this morning, 2 am, I took part in a little drama. I was sitting outside at Starbucks, the cafe had locked up for the night, when the middle of my three brothers in Thailand appeared on Facebook chat and asked me your question.
- 'What's happening?'
- Yes. I answered, with some grandiosity: I'm thinking about capitalism. Brother Jerry asked:

- What about capitalism?
- Was it true that it involved a particular form of slavery, wage slavery, part time slavery, in which the slave buys back products made by him or slaves like himself, because of the opportunities it provided for a more continuous torture of slaves than previously tried forms of slavery?

- The torture being forcing the slave into exhausting work under dangerous conditions, then forcing him to buy at higher price products he himself or his fellows had produced, paid the minimum possible to keep him alive.
- Yes. Brother Jerry's types in that he'll be back on line soon, he wants to take a shower. It's hot humid daytime in Thailand. I return to my draft page, but not for long. A young, well dressed man walks up to me. He says:

- Sorry to bother you. But I'm in trouble. I've never felt like this before. I don't know where I am. I don't know what to do!
- Sit down.
- Thank you.
- What should I do?
- Were you at a bar?
- I don't remember.
- Where are you coming from now?
- I don't know!
- Where do you live?
- 234 Grey Lane.
- I don't know where that is.
- Long Beech. Where are we?
- West Hollywood. How did you get here from Long Beach? Car? Train?
- Train. Then Uber.
- What are you doing in West Hollywood?
- I don't know why I'm here.
- Can't you call someone?
- I don't have my phone. Or my wallet. Can I use your phone?
- You've met the only man within miles without a phone. Are you married?
- I have a girl friend.
- Where is she?
- I don't know.
- Do you know her phone number?
- Yes. Can I borrow your phone?
- You just asked me that. I said you've met the only man within miles without a phone.
- What am I going to do? I've never felt like this before. I don't know what's happening. I want to go home. I don't drink, smoke. I don't understand.
- You've been drugged.
- Drugged?
- You're the fourth to come up to me here late at night who didn't know where he was.****** You aren't coming from a bar?
- I don't remember. Can't we call the police?
- As I said, I don't have a phone. It's two in the morning. We'll sit here together a few minutes. Somebody will come by who'll let us use his phone. Relax.
- Ok.
- Is your girlfriend here with you?
- I don't know. Can we send her an email with your computer?
- Sure. What's the address? What's your name? Her name? Well Michael, you two seem to have the same last name. Are you married?
- Yes. No. I don't know.
- I don't know where my wife is but she doesn't want me to know. Let's ask that man:

- Hey! This fellow here has been drugged, his telephone and wallet taken. Can he use your phone to call his wife?
- Of course.

Michael makes the call. I can hear ring tones, followed by a recording. Then an hysterical woman's voice. Michael says over it, Hello! Hello! He can't get a word in. He passes the phone to me. There's a lot of noise from a crowd, a bad connection, or both.

- Hi, I'm at Starbucks with your Michael.
- I don't know where Starbucks is.
- Beverly and Robertson.
- I don't know where that is!
- Where are you? Try to stay calm.
- At the Abby.
- That's close. He's coming. Wait there.

Michael seems not to have followed the conversation. He's sitting, dazed.

- Time for you to go. She waiting.
- I'll take him, says the man as I return him his phone. He's wearing a cook's jacket. Probably he's just off work at the new restaurant down the street.
- Michael gets himself up, says to the cook, 'This guy helped me a lot.' The cook holds out his hand to shake mine, and off they go.

I return to my computer and the question whether capitalism is a form a slavery chosen for its opportunities for more constant torture. Wasn't what just had happened, this drugging, a good example, wasn't it an unnecessarily painful way to steal? I'm about to to pursue this line of inquiry when my brother returns to Facebook chat. I have to warn you this is going to be one of those dialogs where one side does all the work and the other throws in an encouraging remark here and there to keep things moving. So then. Having reappeared on Facebook chat, brother Jerry asks me:

- Have you made any progress?
- Factory owners argue that they make their employees work twenty hour days because, without the lower price that allows them to sell their products for they wouldn't be able to compete. But I wonder whether the group of people willing to becoming factory owners are not a preselected group, that of those willing to torture.
- Interesting point of view.
- If only a minority of employers had a predilection for torture, why didn't the majority of them pass laws to prevent torture and so take out the factor of competition? It is sometimes argued that the additional profit to gained from torturing workers is needed to invest in new technology. Others say No, technology cannot be constantly replaced because of the high cost, risks, and delays of installation and testing.
- That figures.
- The question is: Why make slaves buyers of the products they make? Why not have them directly make luxuries for their employers? Or if employers couldn't use any more luxuries, build pyramids to their glory? Why not forget about wages, just give them a box of cheap food every few days? The Trump administration actually proposed something like this yesterday, to change the food stamps program from providing a credit card to a box of what is certain to be junk food.
- Wow. Is that true about the Trump administration?
-Yes. Competition, it is argued, drives employers to torture employees. But is that true? Apple products sell for vastly higher prices than their competition, yet they are only marginally better for a few purposes and for others not better at all. Consumers will pay more for products that are different.
- That's for sure.
- What stops a 19th century factory owner from saying to himself, I'd rather be dead than a torturer of children? How does the fact of competition avoid that question? I think the argument from competition is false: only because the factory owners already were immoral was it possible for the argument to be raised. What do you think?
- I think you make some really good points.
- Am I right or not?
- You're right.
- What would happen if you asked American Indians or Australian Aborigines, way back at the beginnings of the industrial revolution, if in exchange for a lot of glass beads they would torture children, what would they say? You'd explain further that they couldn't get the beads without torture because their fellows would be willing to do the torture if they didn't. Wouldn't they laugh at you, knowing their fellow Indians and Aborigines would never torture masses of children?
- Well, they would laugh.
- A very small number of people own controlling interests in most of the world's largest corporations. It is they who decide company policies. Nothing forces them to make immoral choices. They have no need of more money. They don't need to be concerned about stock values since they don't ever need to sell their stock. They don't need to be concerned about dividends because their companies could, like the Rolex watch company does, operate very successfully without insisting on making a profit.
- Very true.
- So it looks to me like factory directors and stock owners positively want to torture. Their preference for torture precedes any pressure felt from competition. They chose the system of part time slaves who buy the products they make because it puts workers continuously, as both producer and consumer, in the control of a process torturing to them. Do you see any other explanation?
- I completely agree.
- If a few of the world's top billionaires spent only half of their billions to eliminate poverty, allowing the poor to have again the life on the land the billionaire's forerunners had taken from them with violence, world poverty would be entirely, immediately eliminated. But the billionaires don't consider doing anything like it. They don't think of changing the system of torture that their wealth originates in. If you asked them why not save a million people from starvation every year, they'd say it was politically impossible, meaning governments would stand in the way. But put a few million dollars in the pockets of politicians and their objections would vanish.
- That's for sure.
- Probably not myself being employed by any torturer I'll just copy this Facebook chat, post it on the internet and say I'm done.
- Haahaaha. Too funny.
- Haaha. It'll be funnier when you see I'm really going to do it.
- I'd like to read the finished masterpiece.
- I'll send it.

- The chat with my brother ends there.
- What do you think happened to the guy who didn't know where he was?
- We can hope he went home with his wife.

Further Reading:
Ritual, Technology & The Free Market
Capitalism & Compulsion
The Politics Of Truth
The Technology Of Good
Let's Sue Starbucks
Indifference 

P.S. Two Forms of Torture: In prostitution, the body of the prostitute is forced to act against desire, the mind forced to imitate attraction to (or passive acceptance of) the buyer. In capitalism, work forces the body to act against desire, and the worker's mind is made to take on the role associated with the products acquired. See: Prostitution & Torture. And: Capitalism, Prostitution, Torture.
______________
Laugh & Do Nothing.
** Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.
*** Karl Marx, Capital.
**** The recollective experiences of love, beauty, and truth are experienced resting from movement. See The Care & Feeding Of Vampires & Zombies, and Noam Chomsky & Mental Things.
***** Regarding Capital's drive towards absolute control, see The Dream Of Pacification: Accumulation, Class War, And The Hunt, and How To Read Plato's Republic. 
****** See Killer At Starbucks

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Let's Sue Starbucks



Last week I was walking by the Beverly Hills Courthouse and I thought there has to be something I can do in there. Why not file bankruptcy for example. But when I went in and asked the security guard if I could do that he said I was in the wrong place. Federal Court downtown was where I should go. So I asked, what could I do there in the Beverly Hills Courthouse? You can sue somebody. Good! I've got a paper Starbucks coffee cup in my hand to remind me that when I returned to the U.S. three months ago I asked Starbucks for a job. I applied online and they had answered online that they had no job for me, either in the U.S. or out of the U.S. A week later I was sitting next to the company's regional manager at one of the Westwood cafes and told him the story. Surprised, he asked to see the emails. He said he would check it out. Another week passed, and again by chance I met the manager at the same cafe. Yes, he had checked. My application had been received by the main office, but never sent to any of the cafes. Why? He didn't know. Anything to do with the fact that there doesn't seem to be anyone over thirty-five working at any Starbucks in West L.A.? He couldn't say. So standing in the lobby, about to pass through security, I realize what are the magic words, the reason for entrance to the Beverly Hills Courthouse: Age Discrimination! I'll sue Starbucks for Age Discrimination!

The clerk hands me the papers, not too many of them. Some of the questions are pretty technical, involve terms with uncertain meaning. I do my best, present the papers back to the clerk.

- You haven't filled them out completely
- I have done the best I can. Help me with it.
- No, I don't have time.
- It'll just take a minute.
- I said no.
- Then I'll file them the way as they are.
- Then pay now 325 dollars.
- You'll find fee waiver papers there. Also incompletely filled out.
- When the judge rejects the suit you'll be sorry.
- Fine, no problem. That's the advantage of suing a company for not considering you for a job. As long as they don't give you a job you stay unemployed and can sue again for free.
- Come back on Monday. If we take the papers from you it'll take us a few minutes to record it as filed and it's time now for us to go home.
- Is that gesture, your arm extended and finger ponting, what I think it is, what's known as showing me the door? Wait a second, I have to change my glasses to see. Yes, that's the door over there.
- You're funny.
- What's your name? I'll ask for you next time. You can help me fill out the papers.
- See you on Monday.

P.S. On the 18th of April, 2011 the lawsuit Miller vs. Starbucks Corp. was filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, Beverly Hills Branch.

Further Reading:
Sue Them All

The Bag



(Continued from Stupefaction!)

At this one particular late night cafe I ask the elegantly dressed old women in her seventies, a former fashion designer, now with nowhere to go, no place to sleep, what the young, black fellow is writing she is friendly with, also with no place to go, no place to sleep, who sets out on his table stacks of paper, and she replies, offended, do I think she is so presumptuous, intrusive on the privacy of others? I ask the old woman, did she know, when did curiosity about others become a crime?' She gives back to me the question:
- Do you?
- Had to be when the public relations industry had achieved its goal of getting people to see themselves as types identified by the objects they possess.
- When was that?
- Complete success? That has to be the honor of our very own moment in time.
- That's just your opinion.
- Yes, but an opinion tested against experience.
- Your experience.
- My experience which sometimes is general. I'll give you an example. Yesterday I was playing with these ideas* I had about the president: that his paradoxical mixture of brutal authoritarianism and cowering politeness could be explained as the two phases of a self-learning process applied to politics. First phase, experiment with violent gestures that bring people together with him in his crusade to save the country from its enemies. Second phase, sharing credit with his people for setting out with him in the nobility of their cause; these people, his cohorts, who otherwise have nothing in common and need not, only their willingness to take on with him whatever new-fashioned crusade he comes up with: this power sharing expressed in apparently incompatible in a dictator forms of politeness. So you think, I'm sure, this is extremely abstract and removed from reality.
- I do think that.
- Then strange isn't that that very afternoon, I'm at the Hammer Museum courtyard with my computer, a free movie is being projected in the auditorium and I think, why not take a look? I'm stopped in the lobby by the young woman usher who tells me my bag is too big, I can't come in with it. Standing just by the theater's entrance is a sign on a pedestal that declares bags larger than itself have to be checked in at the museum front desk. Before going in I'd held my bag up to the sign and it easily fit within its boundaries. I told the young woman this. She answered:

- It's too thick.
- No thickness limit is mentioned on the sign.
- It's too thick.
- So there is a limit.
- Yes.
- What is it?
- Your bag is too thick.
- If there is no rule how do you know it is too thick?
- There is a rule.
- What is it? Where is it published?
- Somewhere, I sure.
- Is the limit 5 inches? 6 inches?
- Your bag's too thick.
- But if you don't know the limit how do you know there is one?
- Sir, you can't come in with your bag.

At this point a security guard appears. In his thirties, speaking English with an African accent. He tells me:

- Sir, you have to check in your bag.
- What rule are you following in making that demand?
- What does that matter? I told you: you can't take in the bag.
- It matters to me.
- Why?
- Because it means something. Explains things. Maybe explains everything.
- Explains everything? I don't know what you are talking about. You can't take in your bag.
- Explains our times' politics. Here you are from one of those places our president calls shithole countries, with nothing in common with this young woman here - I guess a student become debt slave to pay for her education - nothing in common with each other except seeming to have had all individuality stamped out of you and an unaccountable relish in enforcing meaningless rules.
- The job pays my rent.
- And her job her student loans.
- You have to leave, sir. You can't take your bag in.
- And there is the threat of violence!
- Please leave, sir.
_________________________
* Stupefaction 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cannibals & Capitalists

Image result for alchemy

"The occult is what is hidden. But not to everyone. Wherever there is something hidden, there is necessarily someone who knows."

- This time is going to be wild.
- I can't wait. What are we going to talk about?
- Talking things.
- Robots, computers.
- No. Things, like a philosopher's stone which when put next to copper turns it to gold.
- By talking to it?
- Yes. God created the world by talking. Some things have this divine power of speech and can talk other things into being things more like themselves.
- Which things?
- All things that already resemble each other. In astrology, the stars move us, in alchemy, the philosopher's stone changes copper to gold.
- That's just talk.
- God created the world by talking.
- You said. How do the stars talk us to our destinies and how does the philosopher's stone change copper to gold?
- By being like human beings who as Pico della Mirandola said are the creatures that, made by god after all other natures and places in the world were taken, were given what was left, no particular place and a nature unlike any other that remakes itself.
- So a science that could place the right thing in relation to other things would be as it were reconstituting what god did, creating man with no fixed place but with the ability to remake himself?
- Yes. An alchemist places things together in the world as if he was god making man.
- And releases in things the power of self-change man has from god? Wild is right. Is there more?
- A lot more. Ready?
- Why not? It's all fantasy anyway.
- Don't be too sure. The philosopher's stone put next to something like itself makes it more like it. The power of resemblance is the power of speech, since speaking is a kind of doing something that changes how you see the world. Giving something a name says what kind of thing it is, and that guides you to seeing other things of those kinds easily related to that kind. How you talk about the world changes how you see it. We see the world we've named. A name is a habit of seeing. As a habit is part of us, is our character, our second nature. Something we have a name for is part of us, is in us as a habit of seeing. In that sense the world we see is already "us", composed of our words resembles us.
- And when we continue speaking using those words we make the world resemble us even more. Our words are philosopher's stones to the world we see with their aid. By the end of the sentence those words have made the world even more like ourselves. God made us philosopher's stones to the world, transforming the world we've named and so already part of us more and more in our image. The alchemist plays god by arranging for a thing to become self-making by putting it in contact with resembling things. Alchemists teach things to talk. What next?
- Say we are not alchemists but anthropologists and studying one of the last uncontacted tribes in the jungles of Brazil. We are very enlightened and civilized. The tribes people have magical rituals and superstitions. They pretend they are gods. They believe that twisting a model of their enemy will twist their enemy. They do no experiments, are not scientific. But we don't judge. Our models of the world also change how we see the world. We test a few of our models, not close to all, and almost never do we test our social models. We do not test our idea that society is a marketplace of things exchanged between enemies. We don't challenge the assumption that violence is more fundamental that sympathy. These life-models are our rituals, stories we tell ourselves over and over, and return to after disappointments.
- Are you saying that we are all stupid uncontacted tribes people and American market speculators, therefore we should simply leave each other alone? We're all good folks, all us cannibals and capitalists. All of us are following god's precedent in creating man. We're all ordinary god-like things that speak each other and the world around us into being more like ourselves and so perfect ourselves.
- No, and no again to that!
- What are you saying then?
- Wild enough for you so far?
- Come on.
- Alchemy is a science of experiment that puts one thing next to another, choosing which to put next to which on the assumption that the right resemblance will release self-making speech as resemblance draws forth more resemblance. The science of experiment we practice is different, though it too puts one thing next to another and waits to see what happens. But we aren't trying to be gods making self-making men. We measure the change in each of the things put next to each other from one time to the next. We look for laws of change.
- The things don't talk to each other. We do the talking.
- Yes. Now the Renaissance philosophers experimented not like us but with their god-like power of creating talking things. They were searching for the best way of doing this. If things could talk themselves into existence, why could not our knowledge of things itself talk more knowledge into existence?
- How does knowledge talk?
- In the same way naming speech does. One kind of knowledge recreates itself finding other knowledge that resembles it already. One philosopher-alchemist, John Dee, thought he had found the knowledge equivalent of the philosopher's stone.
- And what was that?
- A symbol that he claimed combined all the most significant other symbols. Each symbol set in train a self-creating of similarities in the world, and locked all together, this performed simultaneously, would give us the original god-like power of naming and creating the whole world that Adam had before the fall.
- This experiment, thought experiment really, put knowledge cues next to each other, and waited for one to work upon the other, in the alchemist's way of experimenting, not ours. How could we experiment on self-making in our way?
- The alchemists were following the formula of ritual: set up the situation that is repeatable to get the result you want: security or power. The alchemist serves us a world that suits people with the knowledge they already have. Our kind of experiment would give us different worlds to respond to with different languages. We'd look at how self-making itself fared with those languages and conditions. We'd come to know something about how self-making worked. We'd learn the laws of self-making. What was good for it and what not. Whether the particular self-making language we have is worse or better than others. Like setting a ball in motion on an inclined plane, we'd drop one kind of self-making in the world and see where it got to, what happened to its powers of self making; and then, changing the plane's angle of incline, try it in another situation.
- The cannibals in Brazil have the alchemist's science. A rudimentary science of self-making with the aid of magical objects and social relations established and recognized by gifts of things, things that they've talked into being part of themselves. Still, it is a science. And what about us? We have our experimental science serving technology, true, but no science at all of self-making. Or we do, for isn't capitalism in fact science of self-destroying? Where is the kind of technology you're talking about, a technology of good?* Or do you think you're an alchemist yourself and are talking it into existence?
- No comment.

Further Reading:
Anti-Alchemy
Bad History
_____________________
The Technology Of Good

Two Years



(From the novel Beatrix & Rex)

- You look like you're somebody. Are you?
- I guess so. Everybody's somebody. Who are you?
- I'm looking for a great writer to discover.
- You can be first in line.
- Are you a great writer?
- In my way.
- What way?
- Read for yourself. I'll give you an address.
- No. I don't have time. Tell me what you write about.
- My last story was about an anarchist revolution in the United States. A philosopher...
- Too many words.
- Girl gangs take over.
- How long is it?
- 25 pages, about.
- Too long. Summarize.
- The story begins with a substitute teacher entering a detention facility in....
- No. Don't have time. What else did you write?
- I wrote about my wife...
- Where is she?
- Unknown.
- Tell me about her.
- You can read the story. Give me your phone. Here

- This is boring. What's special your wife? A gold digger. Your anarchy story is better.
- The anarchy story, the wife story, all my stories are the same.
- Why should anyone read them then?
- The style.
- Is it a great style?
- In its way.
- What way? This is the second time I've asked. I won't ask a third time.
- The wife story is an anarchist story, the anarchist story is a love story. Love and anarchy you could say is my life story.
- Love and anarchy. Good. A tag line. Tell me your life story.
- If I ask myself whether my life has been a success, leaving L.A., going off to look for friends and love and something worth doing...
- Where did you go?
- Europe.
- Go on.
- I found everything I was looking for...
- But it wasn't what you expected.
- No, it was much better than I expected. The problem was, nothing lasted.
- Why not?
- Will you let me say 2 or 3 sentences without interrupting?
- Depends.
- Anarchism in politics is the application of two rules: anything left unused is free for others' use, and no one can employ another. The same rules can be applied in love: possessions shared, neither using the other for practical gain. As you can decide who to work with, you can decide who to love.
- There's more to love than sharing possessions and not using each other.
- Yes. Love has to be there first. The anarchist community and romance are both ways to make love last.
- You said nothing lasts in your life.
- Nothing lasts forever. If you know the rules to live with love, in an sense love is portable. You can leave one story to pursue another, and if you like, if things work out that way, return and apply the rules again. The first week I met my wife she warned me if I didn't watch out she'd disappear for two years and teach me a lesson..
- How long has it been?
- 2 years.

Terrible & Disgusting

No automatic alt text available.

'I don't stand by anything.' (Donald J. Trump)

(Continued from Stupefaction!)


1.

- I'll read you this tweet sent out by the president on Monday:
@MarkBurnettTV called to say that there are NO TAPES of the Apprentice where I used such a terrible and disgusting word as attributed by Wacky and Deranged Omarosa. I don’t have that word in my vocabulary, and never have...
- Fascinating.
- Not 'terrible and disgusting', to use our president's words?
- Sure, that too, goes without saying. The man not afraid to cage children after abducting them from their parents: afraid of a mere word! Trembling in fear before 'the 'N" word' while before the sentence conveying that information concludes he's back to his trademark heavy-handed incivility!
- From polite to impolite in less than a second.
- You can listen to your hearts content to leaked recordings in which the president takes on a grovelling, flattering tone.
- As we saw him do in Helsinki, abasing himself to Putin.
- The women he buys describe him as surprisingly polite and respectful. His brand of strong man totalitarianism, very unlike that of the dictators around the world he admires so much is combined with cowering, cringing politeness.
- How do you explain it?
- In the debate over the existence of god when the god-denier argues if there is a god he is evil, a torturer of guiltless children, the god-affirmer answers, that's because god gave man the gift of free will, and god misuses that gift to make children suffer, so it's man's guilt, not god's. And the god-denier counters with, couldn't your all powerful god have gave man a different nature that would have used the gift of free will better, or if god couldn't do that, why couldn't he have put man in a world made such that it would be less likely to put the consequences of man's misuse of free will upon children?
- What do believers say to that?
- God's ways are mysterious.
- Ah.
- Last time we talked about the President's...
- Respect my sensitive feelings and refer instead to  The 'T' Word.
- Last time we talked about  The 'T' Word's  self-learning politics: cycling of a challenging, violent revolutionary phase following by a phase of uniform testing and acceptance.
- His politeness with his cronies reflects the uniform phase, his break up with them the revolutionary.
- Yes. We've come upon our present incipient totalitarianism not by way of centuries of prior authoritarianism but by means of nihilism, relativism, or as we saw expressed in terms of religion, fatalism: an unwillingness or incapacity to judge good or bad, which incapacity or unwillingness in its social expression becomes tolerance and politeness. But not just that.
- What else?
- A sense of pride in and responsibility for creating the conditions of peaceful tolerance.
- Through the violence of the period of revolutionary conflict.
- Yes. The supporters of  The 'T' Word  share the pride in the power expressed in getting him elected. They are on his team.
- They wear his uniform.
- Since  The 'T' Word  came to office American society has become, precisely as expressed in the tweet we began with, both more uncivil* and more distance keeping,** rapidly shifting from one to the other. As American society becomes more militarized, with more killings by police, more caging of children, more mass surveillance, the pride in the order achieved tracks the violence had recourse to in achieving the new uniform isolation. Every smirk of self-abasement conceals pride in complicity with the violence used to establish the new order.


2.

At this one particular late night cafe I ask the old, elegantly dressed women in her seventies, a former interior decorator, now with nowhere to go, no place to sleep, what the young, black fellow is writing she is friendly with, also with no place to go, no place to sleep, who sets out on his table stacks of paper, and she replies, offended, do I think she is so presumptuous, intrusive on the privacy of others? I ask the old woman, did she know, when did curiosity about others become a crime?' She gives back to me the question:
- Do you?
- Had to be when the public relations industry had achieved its goal of getting people to see themselves as types identified by the objects they possess.
- When was that?
- Complete success? That has to be the honor of our very own moment in time.
- That's just your opinion.
- Yes, but an opinion tested against experience.
- Your experience.
- My experience which sometimes is general. I'll give you an example. Yesterday I was playing with these ideas I had about the president: that his paradoxical mixture of brutal authoritarianism and cowering politeness could be explained as the two phases of a self-learning process applied to politics. First phase, experiment with violent gestures that bring people together with him in his crusade to save the country from its enemies. Second phase, sharing credit with his people for setting out with him in the nobility of their cause; these people, his cohorts, who otherwise have nothing in common and need not, only their willingness to take on with him whatever new-fashioned crusade he comes up with: this power sharing expressed in the apparently incompatible in a dictator forms of politeness. So you think, I'm sure, this is extremely abstract and removed from reality.
- I do think that.
- Then strange isn't that that very afternoon, I'm at the Hammer Museum courtyard with my computer, a free movie is being projected in the auditorium and I think, why not take a look? I'm stopped in the lobby by the young woman usher who tells me my bag is too big, I can't come in with it. Standing just by the theater's entrance is a sign on a pedestal that declares bags larger than itself have to be checked in at the museum front desk. Before going in I'd held my bag up to the sign and it easily fit within its boundaries. I told the young woman this. She answered:
- It's too thick.
- No thickness limit is mentioned on the sign.
- It's too thick.
- So there is a limit.
- Yes.
- What is it?
- Your bag is too thick.
- If there is no rule how do you know it is too thick?
- There is a rule.
- What is it? Where is it published?
- Somewhere, I sure.
- Is the limit 5 inches? 6 inches?
- Your bag's too thick.
- But if you don't know the limit how do you know there is one?
- Sir, you can't come in with your bag.

At this point a security guard appears. In his thirties, speaking English with an African accent. He tells me:

- Sir, you have to check in your bag.
- What rule are you following in making that demand?
- What does that matter? I told you: you can't take in the bag.
- It matters to me.
- Why?
- Because it means something. Explains things. Maybe explains everything.
- Explains everything? I don't know what you are talking about. You can't take in your bag.
- Explains our times' politics. Here you are from one of those places our president calls shithole countries, with nothing in common with this young woman here - I guess a student become debt slave to pay for her education - nothing in common with each other except seeming to have had all individuality stamped out of you and an unaccountable relish in enforcing meaningless rules.
- The job pays my rent.
- And her job her student loans.
- You have to leave, sir. You can't take your bag in.
- And there is the threat of violence!
- Please leave, sir.

Further Reading:
A Face To Indifference 
_____________________
* See: President Trump’s Worst Behaviors Can Infect Us All 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Stupefaction!


generative-adversarial-network



1.

"Anyway, I like it now," I said. "I mean right now. Sitting here with you and just chewing the fat, horsing -- "
"That isn't anything really!"
"It is so something really. Certainly it is! Why the hell isn't it? People never think anything is anything really. I'm getting goddam sick of it."
(J.D. Salinger, 'The Catcher In The Rye')

- Have you lately been feeling dull, depressed, lethargic?
- Do you want to sell me a drug?
- Why haven't you been producing any new material, new ideas?
- Why should I all the time? Am I a robot?
- Funny you should say that. I was feeling guilty about calling the people around me robots.
- Because they thought only about doing things, never about whether they had good reason for what they did?
- Yes.
- Why feel funny about that?
- Remember what you wrote six years ago in a piece entitled Close Elections & The Fashion Business?*
- Why don't you leave my old ideas alone?
- Why don't you produce any new ideas?
- Why don't you?
- Maybe I will.
- Do it now. Why does calling people robots make you feel bad?
- Because the robots think they're still human.
- And they're not?
- They're stupefied humans.
- And what does that mean?
- With the earliest use in the 15th century, to be stupefied is to be struck numb, made senseless, resulting either in paralysis or convulsions. To be stupefied, for example by the words or the eyes of an orator or the beauty of a young man results in either inactivity or activity but in both cases with memory, will, desire of the victim nullified.
- And you think that defines the robots all around us, for example the 62.8 million people who voted for our president?
- Yes I do. How did the country get to have 62.8 million people without character to vote for a candidate without character?
- They were stupefied. By our president or others?
- By a hundred years of public relations and advertising, then by our president. I think I have something new here to say, but I want you to calm down and help me me with it.
- Not stupify you with my objections. I'll try. Go on.
- Trump voters feel like they are still human beings because when struck dumb they are in a state of rest and in a state of rest thought arises.
- Except that in the stupified state of rest one is dull and thoughtless.
- Yes. But remember along with paralysis stupefaction also leads to repetitive compulsive movement. In that dialog of yours you explain close elections by the need of the fashion business to provide consumers with clothing that suggest both a uniform and revolt from uniformity. Revolutionary design attracts many wearers who in their multitude weaken the expression of revolt but provide the compensating benefit of a crowd to hide in that wearing a uniform offers. But ultimately another fashion takes over with a new claim to revolutionary design. The two political parties produce close elections because as each gains an advantage in supplying the crowd the comforts of uniformity opportunity is given to the other side to take the revolutionary position. Is that a correct summary?
- It'll do.
- Perhaps you are not aware of it but two years after your piece was published a computer scientist, working on the problem of programming computers to create new images of given type, came up with the idea to have two neural network learning computers compete with each other, one randomly generating new image combinations, the other testing whether the new images fit into the class defining set of images it was pre-programmed with. To explain how this works one expert actually uses the competition between two political parties as an illustration.**
- And how does this relate to stupefaction?
- I know very well, don't try to deny it, you were stupefied like the rest of us not yet made into robots by the results of the presidential election; the president's bad character was a bad joke. You and the AI scientist described a learning mechanism. What took us by surprise was that in a democracy a learning mechanism could be operating in the service of stupefaction. Not merely close elections, but increased skill by politicians in stupefying the electorate to a compulsively expressed acquiescence. We looked on uncomprehendingly at each new outrageous falsehood and its immediately acceptance by his roaring crowd of followers, to be the same day or the next to replaced by another outrageous statement immediately taken up and repeated by his followers.
- Revolutionary calm followed by uniform repetition. Idiot Trump had stumbled into a self-learning politics, continuously playing revolutionary to his crowd's uniformity, withdrawing the rug from under his opponent, depriving her of any chance to play revolutionary to his uniform followers.
- That's possible, maybe even the right explanation. It assumes however that human character had already been lost, because only someone without character lowers himself to the uniformity and revolt of fashion and politics.
- Of course. You originally proposed the idea in 2012. Since 2014 computer scientists have been working on perfecting the process of adversarial learning applied to production of images of a required description. Trump two years later came along and applied it to politics.
- With stupefying success.
- Yes. Lost in the unending activity of revolution and uniformity is the reason we do things: to make life good. The good things in life are experienced in a reflective, not stupefied state of rest: in love, sympathy, contemplation.
- That politics and computer science can explain each other shows how far human character has atrophied and those capacities gone which identify us as human.

Further Reading:
How Stupid Are They?
A Machine For Making People Unhappy
Capitalism & Compulsion
How Do You Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
_________________________
Close Elections & The Fashion Business
** 'In a way of an analogy, GANs act like the political environment of a country with two rival political parties. Each party continuously attempts to improve on its weaknesses while trying to find and leverage vulnerabilities in their adversary to push their agenda. Over time both parties become better operators.' From the article: Generative Adversarial Networks

P.S. (Me Too'Let me learn to love with the aid of philosophic discourse', or something like that ran Socrates' prayer. Because learning to live well assists in learning to love, and love attracts love, learning wisdom is itself attractive. Or once was. In our times love, or rather its simulation, has to be bought by the most successful; success for us is achieved by stupefaction: suspension of desire, memory, will. In our anti-Socratic times learning to succeed is training in unattractiveness.


2. 
'I don't stand by anything.' (Donald J. Trump)

- I'll read you this tweet sent out by the president on Monday:
@MarkBurnettTV called to say that there are NO TAPES of the Apprentice where I used such a terrible and disgusting word as attributed by Wacky and Deranged Omarosa. I don’t have that word in my vocabulary, and never have...
- Fascinating.
- Not 'terrible and disgusting', to use our president's words?
- Sure, that too, goes without saying. The man not afraid to cage children after abducting them from their parents: afraid of a mere word! Trembling in fear before 'the 'N" word' while before the sentence conveying that information concludes he's back to his trademark heavy-handed incivility!
- From polite to impolite in less than a second.
- You can listen to your hearts content to leaked recordings in which the president takes on a grovelling, flattering tone.
- As we saw him do in Helsinki, abasing himself to Putin.
- The women he buys describe him as surprisingly polite and respectful. His brand of strong man totalitarianism, very unlike that of the dictators around the world he admires so much is combined with cowering, cringing politeness.
- How do you explain it?
- In the debate over the existence of god when the god-denier argues if there is a god he is evil, a torturer of guiltless children, the god-affirmer answers, that's because god gave man the gift of free will, and god misuses that gift to make children suffer, so it's man's guilt, not god's. And the god-denier counters with, couldn't your all powerful god have gave man a different nature that would have used the gift of free will better, or if god couldn't do that, why couldn't he have put man in a world made such that it would be less likely to put the consequences of man's misuse of free will upon children?
- What do believers say to that?
- God's ways are mysterious.
- Ah.
- Last time we talked about the President's...
- Respect my sensitive feelings and refer instead to  The 'T' Word.
- Last time we talked about  The 'T' Word's  self-learning politics: cycling of a challenging, violent revolutionary phase following by a phase of uniform testing and acceptance.
- His politeness with his cronies reflects the uniform phase, his break up with them the revolutionary.
- Yes. We've come upon our present incipient totalitarianism not by way of centuries of prior authoritarianism but by means of nihilism, relativism, or as we saw expressed in terms of religion, fatalism: an unwillingness or incapacity to judge good or bad, which incapacity or unwillingness in its social expression becomes tolerance and politeness. But not just that.
- What else?
- A sense of pride in and responsibility for creating the conditions of peaceful tolerance.
- Through the violence of the period of revolutionary conflict.
- Yes. The supporters of  The 'T' Word  share the pride in the power expressed in getting him elected. They are on his team.
- They wear his uniform.
- Since  The 'T' Word  came to office American society has become, precisely as expressed in the tweet we began with, both more uncivil* and more distance keeping,** rapidly shifting from one to the other. As American society becomes more militarized, with more killings by police, more caging of children, more mass surveillance, the pride in the order achieved tracks the violence had recourse to in achieving the new uniform isolation. Every smirk of self-abasement conceals pride in complicity with the violence used to establish the new order.


3.

At this one particular late night cafe I ask the old, elegantly dressed women in her seventies, a former interior decorator, now with nowhere to go, no place to sleep, what the young, black fellow is writing she is friendly with, also with no place to go, no place to sleep, who sets out on his table stacks of paper, and she replies, offended, do I think she is so presumptuous, intrusive on the privacy of others? I ask the old woman, did she know, when did curiosity about others become a crime?' She gives back to me the question:
- Do you?
- Had to be when the public relations industry had achieved its goal of getting people to see themselves as types identified by the objects they possess.
- When was that?
- Complete success? That has to be the honor of our very own moment in time.
- That's just your opinion.
- Yes, but an opinion tested against experience.
- Your experience.
- My experience which sometimes is general. I'll give you an example. Yesterday I was playing with these ideas I had about the president: that his paradoxical mixture of brutal authoritarianism and cowering politeness could be explained as the two phases of a self-learning process applied to politics. First phase, experiment with violent gestures that bring people together with him in his crusade to save the country from its enemies. Second phase, sharing credit with his people for setting out with him in the nobility of their cause; these people, his cohorts, who otherwise have nothing in common and need not, only their willingness to take on with him whatever new-fashioned crusade he comes up with: this power sharing expressed in the apparently incompatible in a dictator forms of politeness. So you think, I'm sure, this is extremely abstract and removed from reality.
- I do think that.
- Then strange isn't that that very afternoon, I'm at the Hammer Museum courtyard with my computer, a free movie is being projected in the auditorium and I think, why not take a look? I'm stopped in the lobby by the young woman usher who tells me my bag is too big, I can't come in with it. Standing just by the theater's entrance is a sign on a pedestal that declares bags larger than itself have to be checked in at the museum front desk. Before going in I'd held my bag up to the sign and it easily fit within its boundaries. I told the young woman this. She answered:

- It's too thick.
- No thickness limit is mentioned on the sign.
- It's too thick.
- So there is a limit.
- Yes.
- What is it?
- Your bag is too thick.
- If there is no rule how do you know it is too thick?
- There is a rule.
- What is it? Where is it published?
- Somewhere, I sure.
- Is the limit 5 inches? 6 inches?
- Your bag's too thick.
- But if you don't know the limit how do you know there is one?
- Sir, you can't come in with your bag.

At this point a security guard appears. In his thirties, speaking English with an African accent. He tells me:

- Sir, you have to check in your bag.
- What rule are you following in making that demand?
- What does that matter? I told you: you can't take in the bag.
- It matters to me.
- Why?
- Because it means something. Explains things. Maybe explains everything.
- Explains everything? I don't know what you are talking about. You can't take in your bag.
- Explains our times' politics. Here you are from one of those places our president calls shithole countries, with nothing in common with this young woman here - I guess a student become debt slave to pay for her education - nothing in common with each other except seeming to have had all individuality stamped out of you and an unaccountable relish in enforcing meaningless rules.
- The job pays my rent.
- And her job her student loans.
- You have to leave, sir. You can't take your bag in.
- And there is the threat of violence!
- Please leave, sir.

Further Reading:
A Face To Indifference 
_____________________
* See: President Trump’s Worst Behaviors Can Infect Us All 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

What We Know

Image result for robert musil
The problem for these critics of Enlightenment rationalism, as Robert Musil defined it, was not that we 'have too much intellect and too little soul', but that we have 'too little intellect in matters of the soul'.
That is from Indian writer Pankaj Mishra's frustrating 2016 essay, 'Welcome to the Age of Anger',* later a book under the title 'Age of Anger: a History of the Present'.
- What's frustrating about it?
- Terrorism and the return of fascism in our times are seen as the result of the failure of capitalism to deliver its promised increased equality and prosperity and its inferiority, even if it did, to the traditional ways of life it replaces. Because Mishra includes himself among the critics of the enlightenment who have too little intellect in matters of the soul and have no solution to offer, the powers that be can hail the book and think themselves virtuously self-critical and feel comfortable about changing nothing.
- You think then we do have some intellect in matters of the soul?
- Yes. Over the years we've talked over the ideas of geographers that nations last longest when more people are in charge, where resources are not easily monopolized, or where people can be re-establish themselves across a frontier or up in the hills.
- Monopoly is the enemy of both democratic politics and free-market economics.
- Yes. We educate ourselves in matters of the soul by being intelligent about physical things such as water supply and mountain barriers. We've talked about the related idea of anthropologists that equality is replaced by hierarchy in the sedentary life of agriculture where there is nowhere to escape to and resources readily monopolized, forcing the majority of people into dependence and slavery.
- How is a geographic origin of inequality a matter of the soul?
- The resurgence of fascism we are now seeing is a willing submission to authority.
- And that comes about in geographic conditions of masses of people subject to monopoly who are unable to escape across borders.
- Yes. Leaders are loved for their instituting rituals in which the victims of monopoly and enclosure can recover from their sense of weakness in the collective blaming of enemies, internal or external, standing in the way of their past and again to be future power.** Something to be done then is known: place obstacles in the way of monopoly.
- How do we do that?
- We understand that both democracy and capitalism are not themselves conditions of progress: both left to themselves tend towards monopoly, democracy to fascism and capitalism to corporate capture of the government.
- Then what?
- We are intelligent enough about the soul to create conditions where fascism and corporate capture of government are less likely.
- Which are?
- Very obvious: outlawing both employment for hire,*** the institutionalizing of the master/slave relation, and hoarding, the ownership of unused property.
- And that would save democracy and capitalism? Or are you looking ahead to alternatives to representative government and free markets?
- Isn't it something that we can say we have made progress, are not completely stupid in matters of the soul? Or would you want to claim to know enough to make predictions about the future of humanity?
- Not me!

Further Reading:
Why Nations Fail
Freedom Rising & Falling
Why We Can't Let You Go
____________________
* Welcome to the Age of Anger
** In ritual, the reality or lack thereof, a story of mythical gods or Mexican rapists, in the conditions acted out is completely irrelevant. Consider this week's Trump rally in Florida where the president explained that ID cards for voters to prevent fraudulent voting is not such an outlandish idea since law already requires a photo ID to buy groceries. This statement of a man who apparently always has had people shop for him and has never in his life entered a market is let pass without protest or disturbance in the general spirit of acclaim by his audience. To the president's supporters reality or lack thereof clearly was of no account in the activity of repetitive submission to their leader they were participating in.
*** As opposed to self-employment or partnership.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

How Stupid Are They?

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- The other day, marveling at the antics of our president, I remembered your old slogan: Think For Yourself, Act For Others.
- As opposed to Think With Others, Act For Yourself.
- Yes. With every new traitorous, or self interested, or irrational, or blackmailed induced act the president takes, he is gaining not losing favor among his supporters. It occurred to me that what looks like insanity in the president and his supporters is perfectly explained by your formula.
- The negative side of it.
- Yes.
- Explained as reasonable?
- As having a logic to it.
- Which is?
- Thinking with others in private life, putting on any show for the sake of success, applying technique.
- So the private life self, attentive to consequence, problem solving, wouldn't be taken in by the false promises made by our president.
- No, the private life self would not. But the private life self, the self that will do anything demanded by others for success, is not that which is involved in public life. Our president's supporters create an image of themselves they want the political world to reflect back to them as much as possible. They fall into two main classes: those who see themselves as godly, and want their image to be reflected back in a public life in which abortion is made illegal and a god-made world is taught in schools; and those who see themselves in money and the possessions they acquire with money. No matter for what reason our president is doing what he does, so long as he appears to be moving the world in the particular direction his supporters favor they will ignore everything else.
- Ignore his using his office for personal gain, treason, constant lying, extreme vulgarity...
- Whatever. Don't you see? The president's supporters think with others in their private lives, adapting personal behavior to what is required, then in public life caring nothing for the other people who constitute that public, looking only to the feeding of their self images.
- And there is nothing unreasonable about that?
- I said it has its logic: of course it is not reasonable! And it is wrong.
- We should be thinking for ourselves, acting for others.
- Yes. Our private lives should not be lived in conformity to others for the sake of material success, but be a realm of self-observation and testing. Public, not private life is where techniques, collaboratively arrived at, should be applied.
- In private life think for yourself, in public life act for others. Technique used not to make a self image but the best public life. Trump supporters are not absolute idiots, since it is possible to discern a logic to their behavior, but in their personal lives they have no character and in their public lives they have no knowledge. They make use of technique to continuously adapt their self image to the expectation of others rather than to discover better and worse ways of living together.

Further Reading:
Stupefaction!
The Technology Of Good
The Show
The President's People
A Bike In Trumpland

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Unfree Will



(Continued from A Life Not Worth Living)

- The three montheisms make use of three stages of ritual: (1) Following the rules (2) The world seen placed back in order (3) Both the rules followed and the world seen ordered. There is here a progressive adjustment to the end of history: (1) The end is expected, as long as we follow the rules (2) The end is about to arrive, so forget what we do, it only matters that we love each other (3) The end is here now, it will go on with rules of action and relations between people decided for all time. But history is not really ended.
- Of course not.
- History is out there in the real world, but monotheists are focused only on their rituals. How is it they don't realize this?
- They do. What else are they doing when they ask whether or not there is a life worth living? Wouldn't a good god make sure their lives were worth living since life is his gift to them?
- He gave them free will. And they use it to make lives not worth living.
- That is the usual argument. The counter is: What about suffering children who never got a chance to exercise free will before they were made to suffer.
- We are told there are things we can't understand.
- But we do understand that certain political conditions, which are under the control of human beings, can make a life not worth living. We know that political conditions are sensitive to geography. When people are threatened with slavery, if they can they flee across the frontier or up to the hills where a life worth living is possible. Since god made both human beings and the world, is there any explanation for why he put certain human beings in geographical conditions (no frontier, no hills) that were likely to lead to politics in which life is not worth living? How does giving human beings free will entail putting them in conditions where they are certain to fail to exercise this gift rightly, when they can be put in conditions where with the same gift of free will they are likely to choose well?
- The latter wouldn't be a hard enough test.
- Ritualists expect to be reborn out of their trying circumstances. The god who appears in ritual is good because he delivers the gift of rebirth. God puts human beings in conditions in which they are certain to fail, but in ritual they're reborn, so in a way it doesn't matter.
- We feel in our revived power from ritual that our failure in the test of free will out in the world does not matter, is merely an event in history which is coming to an end, even when that failure entails the suffering of children.
- Ritualists don't take into account that their very sense of renewed power and freedom of will is the product of only one aspect or capacity of human nature: that which allows the effectiveness of ritual. Ritual hides from practitioners the other possible worlds in which human freedom can be exercised, those outside the closed, human-constructed, unfree conditions of ritual.
- Hides the outside world in which god's gift of free will is likely to produce good or bad results. The monotheistic god, like us concerned only with ritual that is the product of lacking freedom, is unfree in setting up the conditions of our freedom. His faulty free will of creation is hidden from us in our own unfree practice of ritual.
- The monotheistic god is like us a practitioner of ritual. He makes children suffer along with the rest of us in history coming to an end in order that they can be reborn out of history with us.
- He's not a god who knows things like the relation between geography and politics of a life worth living. He's a god of power, not knowledge.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Life Not Worth Living

California extends film and TV tax credit program to 2025

Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. But the over-examined life makes you wish you were dead. Given the alternative, I'd rather be living. (Saul Bellow)

- I was talking with my friend about lives worth living and lives not worth living.
- Of lives death was preferable to?
- Yes. I told her about you, and how once you'd told me that a life worth living was a political, not personal concept. She immediately objected that a life worth living was one that satisfied physical necessities so as to allow exercise to the fullest our human capacities to create, to perceive, to know. All personal.
- And what did you say to her?
- I wanted to impress her. I threw at her ideas you'd thrown at me years and years ago. That no one knows about you and your ideas has its advantages. I began by defining ritual: a group of people reenacts a story of a god, or god-like human, going through death and rebirth, different gods representing different capacities. For the ritual participant there comes the security of known action in a known world of people, each performing known actions, with at the conclusion of the reenactment a sense of rebirth and power. Monotheism made of history a single ritual. You claimed that, with Judaism, this allowed ritual to be turned to a completely different, spiritual end: a definition of the world as material, and of the individual as a free manipulator of that material. Christianity imagines the ritual over: important is only love for each other, rules and all else left behind. Then Islam comes to explicitly specify the behavior according to the rules that is to be endlessly repeated in the shared new world. The life of individual action is over: all is specified from above. Those three steps - ritual, conclusion of ritual, repetition of ritual - exhaust the structural possibilities of ritual to create the spiritual out of the material. The Jews got a world never completely ordered, the Christians, a general love settled in inaction, and for Muslims, the freedom of willing submission of all decision making to rules. Now I was thinking about what I read in an old book of yours* I found in the library. You saw three cycles: despair, disgust, paranoia. It's as if each of the three monotheistic rituals got attached to a corollary solitary ritual: the Jewish rules for the individual producing a self repeatedly fled from in despair; the Christian world fixed at the end of history gave us a world repeatedly fearfully fled from in paranoia, and Islam's defined self in defined world making us repeatedly flee in disgust. Am I getting this right?
- So far so good. In a sane life work leads to rest, rest back to creative activity; love back to work and on back to love. Despair, paranoia, disgust, all three block this regular progress. The despairing, the disgusted, the paranoid, each keeps making for himself a world to run away from. And why are they doing that?
- The security of power over life that comes from ritual, even insane ritual. Again, tell me if I'm getting you wrong. The phrase 'a life not worth living' originates at the penalty phase of his Socrates' trial, in which he expressed a preference for the sentence of death rather than exile. Almost all his life, following what he saw was the dictate of an oracle, he has been asking and answering questions about life with the people of Athens. Separated from them, an unexamined life was not worth living.
- He could only examine life in his city.
- Yes. When you and me talk of a life not worth living, we mean essentially the same: we are blocked from continuing the cycle from rest and love to action and creativity and back again. We have lost out in love, and it seems life without love is meaningless. Or we can do our work, but can't find anyone to love, to do our work for. The three insanities do a good job of blocking this passage.
- You can't think that Socrates of all people, exiled from Athens, would not be able to examine life among strangers because he would be diverted into despair, paranoia, and disgust? Because it was impossible for him to love the new, differently educated people he was thrown among? Hasn't it been your experience that with time and with luck we can flourish in new worlds in remade lives?
- Yes. But that takes time and luck because not every world equally allows for easy remaking of lives and loves.
- Some do and some don't.
- Thank you! You confirm the position I took with my friend that finding ourselves in a life not worth living ultimately depends on politics.
- So what kind of politics allows a life worth living?
- I went on to my friend: any politics that allows you to make the attempt to fight one's way back to love, even a politics that doesn't currently but yet allows for revolt already provides, in being on the way back in being in revolt, a life worth living. So what kind of politics is it in which it would be ruled out as futile to even embark on revolt in? I got stuck at this point.
- And you came to me with your problem.
- Yes.
- The late Christopher Hitchens said of Islam that unlike the other monotheisms and other religions it was uniquely dangerous because it closed off all aspects of life: it had the rules for action of the Jews, combined with the end of the world ordained relationships between people of Christianity. What is seen at rest and what is done in action is absolutely prescribed. Protecting such an all inclusive structure led to fanaticism and violence, Hitchens argued. Is there something in political life similarly decisively different that would make life not worth living?
- By making examination of life in loved company impossible?
- Yes.
- A lifetime is limited. Socrates' choice was clear to him not because he feared falling victim to despair, disgust and paranoia, but because he was old and soon to die. Staying and making of his death a teaching example for the loved people of Athens to benefit from would be making the best use of his time left. Now take modern day Los Angeles, world headquarters of capitalist materialism. Monotheism has been eradicated. The emergence from the material world that it had allowed is not in effect. That means people do not distinguish themselves clearly from the world. They have no determined meaningful relation to the world. No fixed structures are there to be discovered of the kind we have been discussing for the last quarter hour. Their relation to the world has to be made individually. The people in Los Angeles have to work all the time because they create an identity by acting in a regular way in relation to a world itself without fixed meaning. Everyone is defining themselves in contact with others doing the same, each to the other a material and meaningless world. What could Socrates examine in the company of such people who never look at life and don't love? Is that not a closure like Islam represents, both of rules, in individually chosen behavior, and world, in its loveless meaningless?
- But he could look for people who were exceptions to the rule.
- Which could take a lifetime. Meanwhile, maybe not Socrates, guided by oracles and his own private daemon, but mere mortals like you and me would have to fight off the despair at having to see how the people in LA saw us, fight off the paranoia the product of eliciting from them defensive violence against someone who did not fit in, fight off disgust at seeing the futility of life lived in the company of such people. That's an answer then. Life not worth living is a fatality that is political, not personal.

(Continued at Unfree Will)
_______________________
* Sex For Success, 1989, Special Collections (N7433.4.M617 A74 1989), University Of California, Los Angeles  

Friday, June 29, 2018

Personal Lives

Because it places us, in relation to our fellow human beings, in the same relation we are to ourselves in consciousness.

- Happy birthday.
- Thanks. Sometimes after passing through periods of your life when you hardly recognize yourself you wonder if it is your life you are leading and not a set of inconsistent lives going on under your name.
- Certain philosophers say that ego or sense of self is an illusion; we are in constant change; we are like a nation, citizens of which change constantly. What gives us an idea of self is no more than physical and mental continuity.
- And you believe that?
- No. You don't either.
- Then what do you believe makes a self, allows a life to have consistency, even in periods where your life hardly can be recognized?
- Consciousness.
- Consciousness comes and goes with sleep and accident, and has different degrees.
- Comes and goes, yes; no, different degrees. Degree reflects only how far consciousness has gone, or not.
- Explain.
- Computer scientists look for consciousness on the model of one part of the brain looking on and modifying another, but that's not it. Consciousness is a relation of rest to activity; a standing outside of time and space, looking down on the actions of the past.
- The "Knower of the Field", as the Bhagavad Gita has it.
- Yes. Unlike the self, which is nothing but a mix of experiences, perceptions, and desires, a special kind of consciousness, the consciousness of good, immediately reestablishes connection after a break.
- How exactly?
- You know Kant's way of founding morality?
- Remind me.
- Being moral is doing what we all, if we were rational, would agree to do.
- And why should we care to follow that rule?
- Because we want to more than anything else. Do you know why we want to? (This is not Kant anymore.) Because it places us, in relation to our fellow human beings, in the same relation we are to ourselves in consciousness.
- Again, explain.
- I'm not sure how much I can. You take over.
- You assume I agree with you.
- You do.
- When, knowers of the field, we're detached from desires impelling us to action, the world we see is beautiful, people's action good, statements true; such a world is like the universality of reason in moral judgment that is able to include everyone in its overview. Even in periods like the year I'm coming out of all can be brought together, even if it is related and included only by noting the love that conspicuously was lacking.
- Everything is brought together, seen under the sign of eternity.
- And that is where consciousness goes, when it lessens in degree? Into eternity?
- It comes from nowhere at the beginning of life and goes to nowhere at the end; why not travels also in the middle?
- Are there places of return in nowhere, and other places of no way back?
- 'Places in nowhere!'
- A strange combination of words, but maybe not stranger than the statement we can conclude with: that we are most ourselves when we are in agreement with all.

Further Reading:
Consciousness, Science, Perception

Monday, June 25, 2018

5:13 AM, Holocaust Time

Image result for doheny dr. beverly hills
Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills


1. 5:13 AM

- Hi. What are you doing now? Where are you?
- At Starbucks, as usual this time of morning.
- Anything new happening?
- The movie producer met here I told you about yesterday turns out was a real movie producer: produced and wrote the story for a big Hollywood movie in 1989 about the holocaust, expensive but not very good. Since he ran out of money he has been staying at the cult-like Jewish organization nearby. They literally worship money over there, believing god wants to give money to those he loves - especially to them, the rabbis. It wasn't long, staying there, before the rabbis gave the producer an ultimatum: 'You must ask 200 people for money for their organization or you have to leave!' He left! But he's been sneaking back in, leaving early in the morning and coming to Starbucks. This guy is 78 years old, living like that.
- Wow.
- He has been making a living, he says, in China, where he has a contract with the government which requires him to live there twenty-five percent of the year. He has projects he's working on. He is not quite coherent. He says he had a stroke a while back, mostly recovered brain function. He was born in Israel in 1941. I thought I'd see him here today; not yet. I've seen him most days the past month. He says he has daughters who live in the valley in LA, but they have lives and he doesn't want to bother them. He'd rather be an old age movie producer vagabond.
- That's so neat you meet all these interesting people.
- As our president would say, "SAD". He has no money at all, says he expects a deal to come through any day. He spent he says 3 million in the past few years. 
- Wow. Anything else?
- Yes. A few days ago riding the bike I just bought from Westwood to Beverly Hills the back derailleur literally fell to pieces. I stopped and picked them up. The next morning I wheeled the bike to the only bike shop left in the Beverly Hills area, the one not far from my old school, Fairfax High. They put the derailleur back together. Because the bike hadn't been used for a long time the parts had completely unscrewed. On the way to the bike shop, wheeling the bike on Beverly blvd, a little guy about thirty walked past, stopped ahead of me and said: "Old man! Your life is over! You're a dead man! Blackie! Nigger! Old Man! Dead Man! I stopped, and he walked right into my face (my red, not remotely dark face). I looked at him, he looked at me, then he turned and sprinted away to behind the Taco Bell restaurant. Was this crazy guy predicting my future of meeting the old movie producer? That takes us to date on stories.


2. Afternoon

- Or actually, no, it doesn't. Riding my bike down the sidewalk on Doheny I stopped, seeing a bent old man raking leaves in front of his house. He was the French communist survivor of the Dachau camp in his 90s I'd met and written about* a couple years ago. He didn't want my help. I was about to ride away when an old couple, younger than him by a decade but no more, stopped by to say hello to him. I say hello as well. I get into conversation with the woman, while her husband goes off home. Turns out the woman is a (Jewish) survivor of Auschwitz 'and many other camps'; she shows me the tattoo on her wrist. She hadn't known the bent old guy was also in the camps. She asks about me. I tell her my day was being scripted on a holocaust theme. I relate to her the story of the holocaust movie producer I'd met that morning. She says it's nice I was concerned about him, but God helps those who help themselves. She learned that in the camps. I respond independence is a virtue only when it allows people to help others by choice. The world we live in, I opine, is lacking in that virtue, people are independent only to be selfish. She disagrees, asks what I do. I say:

- I stay out.
- You do nothing? You have to work.
- Well...
- How don't you?
- You wouldn't understand.
- Oh. Then...
- Don't be offended. If I see a world of people acting in ways I have contempt for why should I perform the compromise of entering it? - I don't more than I have to. I stay out.
- But how?
- It's a mystery.
- Humph.

Her husband has come back looking for her. He reproaches her for leaving him alone so long, and I'm back on my bike. That's how the day's script ends.
___________________
Beverly Hills Jews