Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Fearful Dreams

- Imagine you are dreaming. You are dreaming this very conversation you are having with me. And then, still dreaming, you wake up, understanding that your conversation with me was a dream.
- And then I wake up from the dream, and tell it to you.
- Yes.
- Have you ever had a dream like that? 
- I have. How do you feel when our president claims that every crime he is accused of committing is actually being committed by his critics, every lie he is accused of telling is a lie perpetrated by his opponents? Is it like trying to wake yourself up from a dream in which your reality is revealed to be a dream?
- Something like that.
- And could it be that the dream you struggle to awaken from is of a particularly terrible kind? The kind of dreaming called sleep paralysis in which you dream you are under threat but cannot move. In our country there is supposed to such a thing as a market in which all human nature is abstracted out except the desire for profit, and our only freedom in relation to the market is how much we allow the government to regulate it, government itself deprived of all functions except regulation of the market. Between these enclosing walls of market and government human nature is paralyzed, and an ominous fear is generated, the result of a total lack of security: anything can be expected from hundreds of millions of human beings isolated from each other by self-identifications in the products they consume, isolated and self-identified by their race, gender, wealth. The president's supporters mock us, accuse us of dreaming, and in this particular sense of having to live in this world of sleep paralysis, we agree!
- What do we do about it?
- Let's go back to the dream of our real conversation being dreamed, and in the dream waken up from. Do you remember being young and, as we say, dreaming of a life of love, friendship, adventure, achievement? How do those dreams look to you now?
- A lot of what I dreamed of came to pass, but it was not much like what I dreamed.
- How different?
- Temporary, mixed up, confused, but deeper, much deeper.
- Much better?
- Yes.
-  Plato makes the argument that only those who have the experience of the higher pleasures of knowledge know their superiority to the pleasures of the body. Would you say that about waking and dreaming?
- I don't follow.
- Dreams are stories. Reality has story too, but it is a story of interruptions: of reflection, play, imagination, experimentation, detachment.
- Then what we can do about being accused by the president's supporters of lying, of dreaming, is to point out we are experiencing these times of interrupting consciousness and therefore are awake. You've had the dreams and I haven't, so I ask you if the dreams of real life that you wake out of in your dream have these marks of consciousness.
- They do not. They are mere narrations, passively listened to stories.
- Then we search for these marks of consciousness in the words of the president's supporters...
- And don't find them.
- We who are awake know they are dreaming, but they themselves don't.
- They are caught in the fearful dreams of sleep paralysis.*

Quantified Society
* 'The more eclipsed the public becomes, the more citizens come to believe in their omnicompetence. Self-contemplation through pluralistic public discourse—necessary for genuine public self knowledge—is regarded as superfluous. Reassured by cognitive biases inculcated by the culture market that they already understand the world and themselves, pseudo-individuals prefer consuming opinions that they already agree with over facts they believe they already know.' - Trumpism and the Dialectic of Neoliberal Reason, David Lebow

Monday, September 2, 2019


- Yes, yes, it's not your area but I'd like to hear your answer to my question.
- The simple answer is: some parts of Einstein's relativity theories are real, others are matters of appearance, are observational illusions, are not experienced.
- Give me an example of an illusion.
- Different perspectives on a movement, one stationary, the other sharing the same movement, can show it taking differing amounts of time (because of the fixed speed of light).
- And an example of something real?
- A clock placed higher or lower than another will click at a different rate (because of differing pull of gravity).*
- So really it's right in the nature of things that people, including Einstein who inaugurated the study by demonstrating the particle form of light, ask the same question about quantum mechanics: Is what we are looking at real or illusion?
- Yes.
- So which is it?
- You're asking me?
- Is there anyone else here?
- Then we'll give ourselves some distance and take a few steps back. At the beginnings of Western philosophy attempts were made to describe how things can change and still be what they are. If we couldn't get them together, if they were irreconcilable opposites, was change an illusion, a mistake, or was the mistake permanence? Should we try to see our lives only in one of them? Or did we live in a cycle alternating between illusion and reality, change and rest? Plato followed Parmenides' plan of cycling between the illusory world of change to the permanent world of truth, accomplishing this transition applying the tool of knowledge; in his dialogs he developed a technology of observed life, experimenting in words, searching for knowledge of how life should be lived that could survive the test of debate. Alright?
- Yes.
- Now, long before Plato, a social technology was practiced that obstructed change. Everyone was locked in roles ranked in a hierarchy, the actions pertaining to each role specified by law. We'll be coming back to this. Following Plato, Aristotle provided a way to allow real things and illusory change to occur not in sequence but at every moment together: things had a capacity which circumstances activate, make come into being: capacity reflected change, characteristic activity reflected stability, provided a definition of what the thing was.
- An account of growth, development.
- A study of how our past experience develops our capacity to act. Do you see where I'm going with this?
- Not really.
- What would be required to adapt Plato's experimental science of mental life into an experimental science of the material world? I'll answer for you: the social roles and laws of the ancient empires. Social roles replaced by things in the world, laws of the pharaoh replaced by measured movement of things showing them in accord with natural laws. Keep in mind this distinction: the pharaoh's fixed laws and roles, Plato's self in the movement of acquiring knowledge. For Plato any social life of fixed roles and rules was lived in a world of illusion: succeeding there in the application of a technology of knowledge one gained access and rest in the true unchanging world.
- Could we say that our world of change and illusion had the capacity to lead us to experience of a real, unchanging world?
- We could. Aristotle was replaced by a social technology of material laws, losing by this Aristotle's solution to the problem of describing how a thing can remain itself and also change, the individual's capacity for change actualized in the present. Forces acted to change the position of things no one knew how or seemed to care, at least not until out of nowhere a joke was played on our scientists: experiments showed that the behavior of photons was predictable only with probability, that they acted sometimes like waves and sometimes like particles, and that they seemed to remain in connection with each other across large distances. A catastrophe for science: no fixed laws, no fixed things. In the double slit experiment waves of light pass through two slits in a wall, creating two new waves, which produce a characteristic interference patter of a series of bars and gaps on a second wall. When instead of a continuous beam of light, individual photons are shot towards the slits, when both slits remain open, the same interference pattern is made on the second wall by the accumulating dots made by the individual photons, but when one of the slits was covered, a single bar of light results, no interference pattern. Scientists generally have treated this as a problem of space, a mystery about the location of things defined as remaining the same. But isn't the problem better seen as a mystery of time, of things being in two times at once, as something very like consciousness where the influence of the past is felt on the present, where the wave-borne memory of past underpins the present appearance of particles?
- Like you say the clocks show different times after individually experiencing a history of different physical conditions.
- Yes. With a little attention on their part the scientists saw that the joke played on them was doubled: just when they had convinced themselves that consciousness was an illusion, that the material world was all there was, consciousness was back staring them in face at the most fundamental level of physical reality. Shakespeare, we've talked about this before, developed Plato's social technology of knowledge into a social technology of role play.** We can imagine that when we deliberately, self-aware take on a role in society we are manifesting ourselves, ironically as it were, from the individual personal history of the wave into the thing-like permanence of the rule-following particle.
- In the reconciling of change and rest, the particle takes the part of rest, the field the part of change. But this all is taking place in the world of illusion?
- Yes, in the world of change, allowing for a temporary stability. But if from the abandonment of Aristotle at the beginning of the scientific revolution scientists haven't seemed to care about the newly returned problem of rest and movement, our social world is increasing arranged on the same technical model as the material world, and people do notice, feel strongly the lack of relation between their social role and individuality.
- You've got me confused. You believe in both: first the means Aristotle invented of securing rest and change together, his capacity and activity model of every thing at every moment; and second, you believe in the Platonic passage through the world of change toward the world of rest where there is no change and no parts?
- Yes. Both. Maintain your individuality against society's roles and rules, then decide what best to do with your individuality. The material technology of things and laws of science, like Shakespeare's social technology of role, should be practiced for the sake of getting out of the world of illusion, and to do that requires an understanding of individual life in which rest and change are reconciled. Quantum physics can do us the service of warning us of the danger of submitting to the rules of social role, losing individuality; danger of a return to the pharaoh's social technology that locked everyone in roles ranked in a hierarchy, the actions pertaining to each role specified by law, each individual like an unchanging particle in unclear but fixed, probabilistic relation to each other.
- Quantum mechanics interpreted so is an illusion. The problem of change and rest is obscured under claims of non-locality and probability.
- Yes. Quantum mechanics alternatively can be seen in the capacity/activity interpretation, taking account of actual individual histories, and making as good as sense as we have ever made of the problem of things and change, and offering reassurance that consciousness is real.


- I'm surprised at you.
- What have I done?
- You're making speeches. Jumping from subject to another. Nothing is developed, everything is confused: capacity and activity, consciousness, quantum mechanics, social technology, material technology.
- And the truth has escaped us?
- I think so.
- Would you like to make your own speech then?
- I think I would.
- Go ahead.
- My thesis is....
- Here we go....
- My thesis is that quantum mechanics is in fact somehow related to consciousness, but only one kind.
- What kind?
- A bad kind. False consciousness. What you in your system call passion and vanity, passionate action in which self is forgotten, and vain reflection in which the world is forgotten. The transition from action to rest occurs while the self is forgotten, with the result that movement is unaccounted for.
- When a field resolves itself to a particle, that is like passionate fear and hate bringing us to a place of security when ritualistically performed in a group?
- For example. The alternative your system proposes....
- I don't have a system.
- Has you theory been tested in any way? Can it be tested? The alternative your system proposes is creative action leading to ethical thought, action taken in awareness of self ends in rest forgetting self in contemplation of the world. Because action is taken in awareness of self a history of the movement from action to rest is possible, therefore there's continuity. Is such a model applicable to quantum mechanics?
- Continue with your speech.
- It is not. We have no idea how a field resolves itself into a particle. I conclude with this: as our material technology was prepared for by a prior social technology, our new physics has been prepared for by a prior psychological technology.


- Are you finished? I won't make a speech. I want to ask you a question.
- Ok.
- What does it mean that the material world is subsequent to, and is the worse version of, personal technology, social and psychological?
- What a question! I don't know. Do you?
- I can make a guess. We have in language (1) words reflecting things (2) things acting in lawful relation to each other. A structure in the technology of language - things in lawful action - formally the same as involved in material technologies.
- But we can use language creatively. Why is it that the material world, even at the level of particles, is only of the destructive form?
- Can we ever expect to reach a level of physical reality that reflects our creative personal technology?
- Yes. What do you think?
- I think, reasoning only from what little experience we have, that if we could establish regular forms of good consciousness and good society, acquire a technology, a tool that worked all the time, it might follow that we discover an equivalent material technology. Language supplies the model of technology. Practice of social and psychological technology allows material technology to be discovered. Practice of good social and psychological technology would allow, perhaps, a good material technology to be discovered.
- Wild. Do you see any signs of that happening?
- Maybe. You know here in L.A. we have a sort of open air zoo where human beings are the, to pick up on your word, wild life. I mean the hundred thousand people with no place to sleep, who are fed and watered by various charities and the government, and then thrown back to the public, functioning as a warning of the consequences of failure to conform. Strange masks are put on by the zoo animals, strange effects are produced among them. Earlier, sitting over there in the corner booth, was a little old lady, a highly talented consumer of free services. Before she began sleeping in the park she was a worker in the offices of UCLA's neuroscientists. Foreign scientists, she was telling me, brought with them research on fetal brains and half-brain lobotomies for patients with severe epilepsy.
- Where's the strange effect?
- That is now brought in by me, who among the zoo animals is taken to be one of their own. I relished the opportunity to inform the little old lady that I was in correspondence this very day with a professor at the University of California studying consciousness.
- Is that true?
- Yes. The effect builds. Also here this afternoon was the statuesk Romanian courtesan with her newest adventures. She's always being exploited and thrown out by her landlords and landladies: from a room in a Beverly Hills apartment, $1000 a month, she must leave early in the morning and return to only late at night, to a balcony to sleep on in the same apartment for the same $1000 when she'd gone to a new city and wanted to come back, to a room in what she described as a palace, a three floor French farmhouse behind the Beverly Hills hotel, supposedly the second house built in the city, in exchange for washing the dishes, which being called on to do several times a day because of frequent guests, was a bit too much, despite the $300 a week salary with room and board, so she got angry and was given a ten day notice with a cash payoff of $500, and now what should she do? Should she go to another city? She suddenly drops the pretense she's kept up for years that the $100 here and $1000 there men give her who she meets at the bars of expensive hotels didn't require anything in return. But it's so hard, she exclaims. What she gets barely covers her rent. She can't get out of her head, every time she sees me, to ask these same questions of me: What should she do? Where should she go? Me, who is in correspondence with philosophers of consciousness and is in a direct connection to British royalty.
- Since when?
- I'm getting to it. The Romanian courtesan departs, and a few minutes later another woman arrives. She four or five decades ago was in my high school class, and now is some kind of Jew for Jesus. I asked her to confirm what she'd told me earlier: that the newest British princess was the daughter of a member of our high school class. This princess, following in the footsteps of her mother, who after high school went on to become a revolutionary member of the Black Panther Party, had recently snubbed our country's chief executive by refusing to meet him when he visited the U.K. With a prince of that country not our princess' husband, our chief executive, as you must know, is involved in the large scale scandal of Jeffrey Epstein, organizer of a island club where the rich and powerful could enjoy teenaged prostitution.
- Your point being that the rich and powerful are in their own open air zoo.
- If you like. I see masking and unmasking, and strange shifting relations, both personal and social, as opposed to clearly defined things in lawful relation.
- And, as we've said, such masking and unmasking and shifting relations are the material for personal and social creativity.***

Tsze-lu said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?”
The Master replied, “What is necessary is to rectify names.”
 “So! Indeed!” said Tsze-lu. “You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?”
The Master replied, “How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.” (Confucius 1901, chap. 16)

- I've looked up that cognitive psychologist you're in correspondence with.
- And?
- He's also a professor of philosophy and computer science. I wonder you're not embarrassed to be making up theories of consciousness off the top of your head when there are people like him, people who have similar ideas but unlike you are trying to make rigorous mathematical models of consciousness testable by computer simulations and programming games to reveal evolutionary fitness.
- I admire his ambition. The professor argues for consciousness creating all our perceptions and that our perceptions, self-created, are illusions.**** I'd say instead that consciousness doesn't create, but arises out of the process of perception.
- What difference does it make? You have your view, he has his, but he in addition has game theory and computer modelling as supports.
- What good is it to use computers to make models and test evolutionary fitness if what you are modelling and testing is not right?
- Not a correct picture of consciousness?
- Yes.
- Obviously it would be no use at all. But if you are claiming to have a better picture, shouldn't you make a testable model like the professor is doing?
- He has a whole team working with him.
- And you're just a talker.
- Coming up with a good model to test needs a lot of talk. I told you about the Romanian courtesan, physically imposing, otherwise rather ugly. She's in love with beauty: with her own, with the beauty of her clothes, jewelry, hair, skin She's so in love with beauty, anyone who is attracted to her is loved for participating in her love of beauty. Are we, with the professor, to say her beauty is an illusion? He tells the story of a male beetle that tries to mate with a certain beer bottle having a pebbly surface it takes for a female beetle. Are we to conclude, with the professor, that what we take as reality is a convenient illusion that makes decisions more efficient but which is not an accurate model of the world? What if consciousness arises out of repeated experiences with things in the world remaining available to awareness, and therefore the attractiveness of the Romanian is not meaningfully to be called a mistake or illusion? Men seem to be mistaking her ugliness for beauty, deceived by an illusion created by certain sizes and shapes of certain parts of her. But what if, like with the actress Marilyn Monroe, her inclusion of viewers in her history-bearing consciousness of her own beauty allows them the thrill of reacting to her body as if it were real life pornography, pornography which excites even though it is not doubted for a second that it is an illusion?
- In short, consciousness is not deceived.
- In a game testing evolutionary fitness the professor carried out, seeing the color red representing both too much or too little oxygen, and the color blue the right amount, was more fit than seeing red half-way to the maximum oxygen experienced and blue the rest of the way, even though one color representing both too much and too little oxygen doesn't represent any state of the world. That's a problem if consciousness is thought to produce its own perceptions, but not a problem if consciousness arises out of a history of interactions with the world.
- The professor says the world is an illusion, our consciousness has an active role in creating perceptions which evolution selects for fitness. Our perceptions are like the icons on our computer desktops: not similar in form to the world modeled - pushing on a two dimensional square box on a screen is not similar to the electrical changes on a silicon chip - yet there exists a practical relation between the two that can be tested in game play for evolutionary fitness. You say our relation to the world is real, though sometimes what we are used to seeing connected to what we see betrays expectation. Your ideas would hold their own, you predict, tested in evolutionary game play. That seems plausible. What then? Can you model the consciousness that arises out of perception in a way that can be computer simulated?
- The professor suggests that consciousness produces space and time in perception of the world, doing that production presumably outside of time and space: if it's already there why produce it? Where then is the agent of consciousness itself that is making space and time if it is not in space and time?
- I don't know. In the quantum world?
- All alone there? Consciousness arises, I suggest, when awareness of present time looks back on the awareness of a past time, with what is perceiving in the different times, divided by time, taking on definition as different objects. We know what and where consciousness is - it's in all this detail. Wouldn't that make consciousness easier to model?
- I'm no more a computer scientist than you are.
- As an independent agent producing perception, his consciousness is a quantum world all to itself. After elbowing consciousness aside he doesn't have more than the beginnings of a model. But maybe we do, with the quantum world involved in, arising out of every perception. The professor is working within the world of bad human technology and the bad science of things and laws that developed out of it. In a good human technology we - 'we' referring to consciousness intimately connected with, having a history in the world - seek exits from the world of time and space by experimentally trying on one role after another: both space/time and evolution are in the same model and clearly related.

Further Reading:
The Technology of Good
How Do You Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
Authoritarian and Democratic Technics, Lewis Mumford
Studies In Relativity
Atomic Clocks Reveal Einstein's Relativity
** The Technology Of Magic
*** Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
**** "Our perceptual capacities are products of evolution and have been shaped by natural selection. It is often assumed that natural selection favors veridical perceptions, namely, perceptions that accurately describe those aspects of the environment that are crucial to survival and reproductive fitness. However, analysis of perceptual evolution using evolutionary game theory reveals that veridical perceptions are generically driven to extinction by equally complex nonveridical perceptions that are tuned to the relevant fitness functions. Veridical perceptions are not, in general, favored by natural selection. This result requires a comprehensive reframing of perceptual theory, including new accounts of illusions and hallucinations. This is the intent of the interface theory of perception, which proposes that our perceptions have been shaped by natural selection to hide objective reality and instead to give us species‐specific symbols that guide adaptive behavior in our niche." - The Interface Theory of Perception, Donald Hoffman, 2018

Friday, August 23, 2019

Numbers & Numbers

- I suppose, someone like you, you never get lonely?
- Someone like me is someone always talking to people?
- Yes.
- Talking philosophy.
- Yes.
- After spending most of last night on YouTube watching lectures on physics and debates on philosophy, I can say categorically the result was falling into a state of sadness and loneliness.
- Why do you think that was? Because you were only watching, not yourself talking?
- Watching the right kind of conversation, like the one in the movie I mentioned last time we talked, Godard's Living Her Life,* between a philosopher and a young woman confusingly setting out on a life of prostitution, only intensifies the sense of there being something important to do with people.
- What was that?
- The philosophers and physicists of the debates and lectures communicated to me information and ideas. But we don't communicate, in the sense of get close to each other, through information and ideas.
- How then?
- One of the philosophy debates was on the problem of reality: do we see the real world, or only a world of our own making? We talked last time, and many times before, about how perception works: we learn to give things a name after repeated response to what we see has had a consistent effect on what we see, something like when we speak we try one word after another, and if we're lucky at the end we've completed a sentence that summarizes our experience with the world in some way. In order for this act of naming through repeated acts of perception to work, we have to start with a response to the world. That is, we have to have the sense equipment that puts us in relation to the world that is to some extent stable. To learn the name of a chair, my eyes must be able to receive consistent images that over time seeing and touching the chair allow me to know what a chair is. Those original perceptions are not names we've learned through experiment, but inborn possible relations to the world.
- And that inborn possibility of relation, not being of our making, is a real relation to the world, a relation to the real world.
- That's the argument. Now consider the situation we are in when, with our inborn relation to the world, we find ourselves looking at something we haven't yet got a name for. Our inborn relation allows us to have a series of perceptions as we move through and in response to a world which we don't yet know. Until we've developed a habit of perception that gives us a consistent sight and therefore name of the world, our perceptions are like numbers, without content but nevertheless real and building one upon another.
- The professors of philosophy and physics you watched communicated to you their perceptions, but their words didn't go deep into that realm of numbers. And watching the movie did? How?
- First, by feeling drawn to the young woman.
- Being drawn, an attraction felt, but not to be accounted for.
- Yes.
- You are in relation to the real world. Then?
- Presumably the philosopher in the movie feels the same. He communicates ideas not much different from those I heard in the debates last night, but they are being spoken in a way emptied of content, spoken like numbers because spoken not to identify the world but as mere instruments used to come to know this mysterious young woman.
- And you're back with the ancient Greeks who believed in the magic of numbers and that words could only be spoken in a world of illusion.
- Yes.
- The words of last night's debating and lecturing philosophers and physicists left you feeling lonely because they seemed to come out of a world of illusion and to leave you stranded there with no way out, unlike the way out with the woman of the movie of coming to know her, learn her name.
- Yes.
- Wouldn't the physicists with all their mathematics be surprised to hear they weren't good enough with numbers?
- There are numbers and there are numbers.

Further Reading:
Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
My Wife Who Throws Me Out
The Mathematics Of Consciousness
* Now Voyager

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Now Voyager

- Picture a deserted street in Beverly Hills. 2:30 in the morning. Fairy lights in the trees. An empty cafe terrace. I sit alone with my computer. Hearing footsteps, I turn to see a pretty young woman standing still, looking at me. She asks:
- Do you know when they open?
- Not for a couple hours.
- Do you have any money? Or food? Or marijuana?
- No. There's a little Scotch left in my bike bottle. Should I get it?
- Yeah.
- Sit down.
I fill for her the small plastic sample cup I had in my pocket. She asks if I mind her smoking. I notice her deeply stained hands as she lights up. You know the feeling of being floored by life delivering to you what maybe decades ago you'd told yourself would be just about the best thing you could imagine happening?
- I haven't yet been so lucky.
- Well, here before my very eyes was being recreated my favorite scene from my favorite movie, Jean-Luc Godard's Living Her Life. A young woman, after losing her job and place to live, both out of need for money and contempt for society slips nonchalantly into prostitution. She strikes up a conversation with the man reading a book in the next booth at a late night Parisian cafe. She asks if he'll buy her a drink. She asks him, if I remember correctly, why he's reading so late. He says it's his job. He's a philosopher. Though this cafe I'm at is closed and this is LA not Paris, and though no one in his right mind would ever give me a job as a philosopher and I'd be very surprised if she's an existentialist and not crazy or a drug addict, or both, this is my chance to play philosopher to a pretty woman mysteriously appearing out of the night. I ask her what's brought her here. Where is she coming from? She answers:
- Now, or in general?
- Either.
- Now, from the beach, Santa Monica.
- How long have you been in LA?
- Two, three days.
- And before LA?
- In Mexico.
- Where were you born, raised?
- Up North.
- Where up North? Seattle? You don't want to say. What were you doing in Mexico?
- Being a medium of communication.
- Communicating what?
- Solutions to the people's social problems.
- Do you have the solutions to their social problems?
- Not to put into words; but through my being there I express what needs to be done.
- Will you do the same here back in the US? What needs to be done?
- My generation is lost. Things will get better with this president I think.
She asks if she can play some music from YouTube on my computer. She calls up a video with lyrics of a rap song, words grunted out to a simple rhythm with the usual jerky violence, expressing the deep truth of the singer's own story, which is before he was weak and poor and now, look at him! He's rich and has what everyone else only dreams of, money, music, cars, and bitches, bitches meaning prostitutes, bitches being the generally accepted term for women in this art form. Why did she like this, I ask her. A generational thing, she answers. Sex, drugs, rock and roll: like the song, that's what's she's about. I tell her I don't miss a chance to interrogate anyone who admits  to liking our president. Last time was a wealthy woman in her late sixties, only hours before at Bristol Farms Market, the supermarket the cup she's drinking from comes from. I ask her how she knew the president was the great, heroic person she said he was, and she answered it was her intuition. What, I asked the pretty young woman, did she think of this rich old woman also sending and receiving communications by intuition? She doesn't answer; asks for another drink of whisky. I oblige, and ask if she'd like me to tell her about what I've been thinking about. Usually at this time I'd be reading, but tonight like she had I'd gone to YouTube and was watching a lecture by an historian of the Holocaust. His latest book argues that both our president and Russia's president operate on an assumption that history has ended or going nowhere. Progress was an impossibility. Not something new, rather what is the order of the day is to clear away the enemies to the perfectly good arrangements of the past. For us history has ended with the establishment of capitalism and democracy. For Russia history never should have begun, history should be done away with. Any society no matter what kind must be corrupt. Any society, Russia included, is the product of a fallen world. Only Russia as a spiritual entity was pure, and must be defended by using to the limit expertise in corrupt practice in battle against corrupt enemies both internal and external and their corrupt practices. An earlier book by this same historian,* a book I had actually read, explains how the majority of the killing of the Holocaust occurred in stateless places, in countries where through successive occupations national institutions had collapsed, leaving citizens without a nationality. People without nationality, stateless, were easily murdered. My guess would be this was because personal progress requires society. To understand others, in my own experience, I first had to understand myself, and to understand myself I needed to see myself reflected in the eyes of others. If the historian is right, depriving someone of participation in social institutions raises doubts of having a personal life, thus making that person a non-person, as easily killed as animals that are likewise non-persons. Easier, in fact, when the killing is done in the rehearsal of ritual, in which the killer, under attack from the existence of the non-person, who is an infection, part of an invasion, is an adulteration of the society; the killer loses himself in cleansing violence, and in the end his enemies are eradicated and he is reborn in strength. No actual murder is required to achieve the result of restored strength. Passively listening or remembering a story suffices. Merely imagining the story told in the company of like minded people works. The certainty of the greatness of their leader-story teller, presidents of the United States and Russia, seems to have been proven to the ritualist without need for them to point out a single actual deed or characteristic. Knowledge is ascribed to intuition. A sense that time cannot take us anywhere. There is no progress, only return to the purity of the nation or the perfection of achieved institutions, with the act of return justifying taking on any power and using any amount of violence. Claims made by totalitarian states about the nature of time, and ritual consciousness of the individual - that particular time consciousness, a timelessness from forgetting in rebirth - are closely related. So too is related the physics of our times - that however is being more and more challenged - in which the passage of time is said to be an illusion: the sense of now, of flow, of there being a one-way direction to movement, past to preset to future, all is a deception. In four dimensional space-time there's no special present, no flow, no direction to history. But when we look to time, and its progress, mysteries abound. What is time? Aristotle said: a counting of change. Every day the sun comes up. The counted repetition is time measured. But what about time itself? How can we be aware of time itself? What counts the moments of time? An Israeli physicist puts it this way:
Ordinary experience notoriously clashes with physical theory with respect to time. We keep feeling that time “goes by,” that there is a special “Now” moving from past to future, and that future events are born anew out of the present. These characteristics of reality are referred to as “Becoming.” Yet theoretical physics dismisses this so-natural impression as mere illusion, and for good reasons. Time is the parameter of all motion and change; ascribing motion or change to time itself is bound to run into absurdities. For example, if time flows, or if the “Now” moves, how fast is this motion? To apply such terms to time would entail a higher time parameter, which would in turn necessitate a yet higher time and so on ad infinitum.** 
Aristotle's full definition of time in the Physics is 'the number of motion in respect of before and after.' Time counts motion. What I was thinking this evening was that there was a natural sort of counting to consciousness itself: moving from action to thought, creative uncertainty to contemplation, from naming of the world, where each name was a repeated perception of the world that finally resulted in a habit of perception, to stopping of movement in the perception in the world of the thing named. In physics, a direction to time, progress requires causal determinism to overcome the tendency to disorder, that is, to entropy. But the determinism which takes the form of the search for knowledge is exercised on a world not yet of named things, a world where qualities are seen as flowing. When we speak, we begin in the unique moment now, unaware of how our sentence will conclude. We listen passively to each word seemingly being dictated to us, while the words spoken one after another with no assured grammatical connection or ending seem to flow into each other, and when the sentence is completed, progress has been made, action is complete, a meaning new to us expressed. If the consciousness of a no-history ritualist's, of someone whose sense of time has become fixed, is of intuition of communication, is the product of rehearsed passionate action or imagination, those who allow time to progress have an entirely different consciousness, one that gives them a sense of an unique now, of experiencing the flow of experience, of seeking understanding in the progress in knowledge towards an open future. I think it's possible to recognize right off people like this who are counting out time in its various phases of now, flow, and direction. Being aware of time's passage comes with the wish to seek the aid of others to make progress in the knowledge of life. Time's passage, knowledge, society all together;  a philosopher, a lover of talk, ready to learn from the company of the passing moment, at a cafe late at night with a lost young woman.

Further Reading:
The United States & Totalitarianism
Numbers & Numbers

Further Viewing:
A Speech To Europe
* Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Timothy Snyder.
** Consciousness Makes A Difference: A Reluctant Dualist's Confession, Avshalom C. Elitzur

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Second As Farce

Image result for karl marx wiki
“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”
― Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
- Wouldn't it be nice if it were so.
- That history had a direction. 
- And a simple, repeating mechanism, like the tick of a clock. 
- This particular claim of direction to history is exceptionally wrongheaded. Satire following tragedy, as a technique of art, was first practiced in the tetralogies of ancient Greek theater: three serious plays followed by a comedy. Concluding with comedy had a specific function: to allow the audience to learn from the preceding tragedies without getting stuck seeing the world itself as tragic.
- Leaving the world undefined, their own individual actions unconfined.
- Yes. And if the nature of the world, not of a man-made art, is tragedy followed by comedy, openness goes out the window. Openness can go out a window if the window's open.
- Why not? This weekend I had the chance to relive a scene that the first time was, not by any means tragic, but let's say somewhat serious, and the second time...
- Farce.
- I had returned from years wandering Europe to a Los Angeles where I was born and raised but where I knew no one, was a complete stranger. I had ten dollars. What to do? A girl sitting next to me at Starbucks suggested, I was Jewish, right? Try the rabbis. I could start with the one at her temple, she knew him, and she wrote down on a paper napkin the name of the temple. I immediately went to see the rabbi, the first of a half dozen or so visits to temples and rabbis. 
- What did he say?
- If I wasn't a member of his congregation he couldn't get involved.
- Involved in your life?
- Yes.
- Nice guy.
- The next two rabbis, believe it or not, said the same. Resources were scarce. 
- Lifeboat morality. Load on too many people and the boat sinks.
- At one particularly rich temple the rabbi takes a closer look at me, says: you're still young. The rabbis at Jewish center in Century City are young too. He goes off for a minute, returns telling me to wait: he's called the rabbis, they're coming there to see me. 
- Do they come?
- Yes, a couple of them, wearing wide brimmed hats and black suits. They tell me to go to the Jewish Center when it closes around midnight. 
- I remember this story.*
- At about one in the morning I was led into a room where five rabbis sat. I was asked about my life, ending with the question, Was I a child molester?
- So that story is really true?
- Mostly.
- And did they have any ideas about what you should do, other than look somewhere else for children to molest?
- One of them asked me for a member of my family they could call. They'd try arbitration. Call if you like my brother in New Jersey, I said, but don't blame me. For what? You'll see.
- And your brother told him he was 'tired of you'.
- Yes. The rabbi said, that's that. Good luck. Oh, yes, there was something more he could do for me.
- What was that?
- He had a sleeping bag I could use, sleeping outside the religious club on the sidewalk, or any place of my choice I elected to sleep.
- As our president would say, Sad! But better than nothing.
- Do you think? Now earlier this week, waiting on my bike at the corner of Wilshire and Doheny for the light to change, a tall man came up to me and asked if I was Jewish. 
- Yes, I am.
- Both parents?
- Yes.
- What are you doing? Where are you coming from?
- I'm riding my bike, as you see, coming from Starbucks.
- Where are you going?
- I haven't decided. What about you? Where are you going?
- That's something I think a lot about.
- What is your profession?
- I'm an investment baker. But my real job is collecting souls.
- I see. Is there a special place, some kind of vault, you store your collection of souls?
- What do you do?
- Nothing much. I write on the internet.
- Where on the internet? Your own site?
- Yes.
- You're a blogger.
- If you like.
- What do you write about? What are you doing Friday?
- Nothing.
- Come to my temple.
- You won't be able to do any rituals on me.
- Come to dinner after temple. 
He writes down the address. My soul, I warn him, is a slippery thing hard to take hold of. There's no chance of him catching it. Come, he says. 
- And this guy was from the same organization, that group of rabbis that asked you if you were a child molester, called your brother, and offered you the sleeping bag so they or others could walk over your warm sleeping body in some doorway as they arrived to work the next morning.
- Yes. Proselyting Jews. Their newest temple was down the street from where he'd stopped me to talk.
- You went to the dinner. And?
- I acquiesced to undergoing the ritual hand washing before meals, which however I botched by reaching for the soap - not allowed! - and had to start over again. The man who invited me hadn't arrived yet. I was shown to a seat at table, one of many arranged in a large 'U'. I try to start conversations with the men to my left and right: on the right, my guide to hand-washing, a man my age with a deeply lined face, wearing a tailored light blue suit, untypically lean for this crowd serious about their food. On my left, a retired used car dealer. Neither wants to talk. Across sits a row of silent old women. A prayer is said by a rabbi, and the meal begins. 
- I'm sorry, but what's so funny about this meal?
- Wait. The investment banker arrives. He makes a speech advising good deeds. In the bank of god there is no better investment. You'll be paid back with interest in good fortune. A self described Kentucky Hill-Billy Jew stands and makes a speech telling the story of his conversion and travels to Jerusalem. Then another rabbi, the head rabbi present, stands to tell the story of what he personally was up to lately: a great good deed, navigating complex government bureaucracies, helping to get to a famous Jewish financial criminal sentenced to twenty-two years in jail the equipment he needs to perform his rituals. 
- This guy is the one who operated the pyramid scheme that made tens of billions of dollars disappear? You must have been remembering the sleeping bag.
- I was. It seems some good deeds banked with god bring a greater return than others.

Further Reading:
Beverly Hills Jews
* Back In L.A.

Saturday, July 27, 2019


- The 26 percent of the electorate who voted for our president, a man who last night the television comedian Steven Colbert called 'the worst man in the world', about 63 million people, apparently don't see his bad character.
- Advertising has taught people to associate consumer products with emotion, and to seek only good feeling in making their choice of politicians. The president uses ritual, telling his supporters they are weak and suffer from the attacks of an enemy hidden within, but together they will eradicate the enemy and once again be strong. The president's supporters don't care to listen to anyone but him, believing him when he says journalists are liars and his enemies, so are not aware he is one of the elites he promised to save them from.
- But the novelty of the campaign product they bought should have long ago worn off, and ritual rallies don't happen every day. Why aren't they experiencing buyer's remorse? Why don't they wake up to the president's astonishingly bad character? Why don't they wake up to his lying, bullying, sexual assaults, his cheating, his ignorance? It's true these 63 million Americans have been deceived by a con artist, their attention diverted from noticing his bad character, but must not they have had bad character themselves long before not to have woken up to him by now? Only a person with bad character can fail to notice bad behavior in others when no attempt is made to hide it, it is out in the open.
- Seems to me we've been through all this before.
- I want to look at it from another angle, that of research into artificial intelligence. And yes, we've been a little into this too.* Experts claimed, some of them, that studying how computers work will help us understand how human beings think. Other experts claimed the reverse: studying how people think will help us make smarter computers.
- And?
- Those who wanted to make computers work in ways like it was supposed we think were ignored, while those who wanted to see people in terms of a computer's logic, symbols, models predominated. The logic, symbols and model's camp failed to make much progress and ultimately were forced to admit defeat and went over to the other side. The other side used what's called an intuitive approach, in which numerous attempts were made in many different situations, and the success or failure taken into account to adapt the subsequent attempts. Success if it came did not bring with it any model of how that success was achieved: you learn to ride a bike by practice, without having a model, without being able to say what posture, leanings, pedal force was required in which circumstances. The ideas of the philosopher Hubert Dreyfus, a phenomenologist, were used to successfully teach a robot to locate its position in relation to objects it was to manipulate by the programmer taking physically hold of the robot's arm and guiding it through the motions required. Dreyfus warned the logic, symbols and models camp they wouldn't get far. He was ostracized. Most prominent among the symbols, logic and models camp was Marvin Minsky at MIT. He is said to have single-handedly been responsible for more than a decade's delay in progress in AI. In his book Society of Mind he wrote that we are made up of thousand of little minds, that is, little programs arranged in hierarchies, with the top level supervisory programs - programs like play, sleep, speak -  competing with each other for precedence. And supervising these top level programs or minds were models unconsciously acquired from authority figures in our childhood who laid down the law about when and how much to work, play, speak. These outside imposed programs also didn't always succeed in holding control, for though top level they are only a few programs to be executed among thousands.
- Who is executing all these programs?
- Programs are turned on and off by other programs.
- No one is in charge?
- No one. For Marvin Minsky the self is an illusion. A person doesn't have a self any more than a computer does. And further: emotions are faulty thoughts. Love is not something special about human beings, distinguishing life from mechanism. Love is merely a thinking that has been deprived of critical sense. Since love can be defined as a kind of thought process it is not different in kind than the thought process a computer has. If you said to Minsky, as many people did, that being a kind of thought didn't stop an emotion from also being more than a thought, to have other qualities, he missed the point, couldn't see it. If you said love often involves fear of loss, how is that fear a thought? He would reply that fear is a recognition that a thought would likely be interrupted, that tasks would not easily be completed.
- He didn't have much choice. He couldn't very well believe in the reality of emotion and have those thousands of little minds or computer programs making emotional demands on each other.
- Take away from this bit of AI history a dominant view that human beings have no self and no emotions, and let's return to our president. His supporters are bored with their presidential good feeling choice, and campaign rituals are not everyday things. But the supporters have modeled themselves on computers, or rather, been educated by popular culture to model themselves on computers. They have emotions, but emotions mean less than nothing, mean defective thinking and shouldn't be allowed to have consequence in the competition between minds going on within themselves subject also to outside demands which they themselves are only partially in control of: demands to get a job, make money, find a mate. In the course of meeting those top level demands coming from outside and all the inside ones too, thousands of them, how could anyone keep to the truth, be consistent in life, have principles, show discipline, encourage one's better feelings and restrain the worse?
- So you think the president's 63 million supporters think of themselves as fundamentally incoherent, a collection of selves competing for command and obscurely guided from without, which is to say they have no character, and couldn't care less that the president has also no character.
- Yes.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Odyssey

- We're not meeting as often as we used to. Is something happening with you?
- What would you like to talk about?
- Stories.
- You think my problem, if I have a problem, is that I'm in the wrong kind of story?
- I'm not accusing you of anything. I know you've given some thought to stories, we've gone into it together, and I want to tell you what I think now.
- I'll tell you what's going on in my life: a bad example of a good story.
- What makes a story bad?
- It doesn't mean enough.
- Of Christopher Booker's seven basic plots - rebirth, tragedy, comedy, voyage and return, the quest, rags to riches, the monster - which would your story be?
- Voyage and Return, but the long drawn out type, as in the ten year journey of return home in the Odyssey, stuck in the middle with many episodes of capture and escape, over and over again, capture and escape; I'm equally far now from memories of being at home and from hopes of return.
- And that is a bad story to live through. Though departure and return is good?
- Not exactly bad, say rather a hard story to live through. 
- And a hard story does not necessarily mean more meaningful.
- Correct. Are we done?
- We've just begun, be patient. You don't see any value in the numerous episodes of capture and escape? Is it that you want to get back home, for you value is in being home, you don't care at all about the stories themselves of you attempting to get there, you don't pride yourself on the ordeals passed through.
- No, I don't. 
- There are others who place value in stories exactly opposite to the way you do, others who value the stories of departure and return more than the life left behind and returned to.
- Who, for example?
- Joseph Campbell. I'm sure you know him and his theory of one basic form to all the world's myths. His books have sold more than a million copies.
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day to a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. In laying out the monomyth, Campbell describes a number of stages or steps along this journey. 'The hero's journey' begins in the ordinary world. He must depart from the ordinary world, when he receives a call to adventure. With the help of a mentor, the hero will cross a guarded threshold, leading him to a supernatural world, where familiar laws and order do not apply. There, the hero will embark on a road of trials, where he is tested along the way. The archetypal hero is sometimes assisted by allies. As the hero faces the ordeal, he encounters the greatest challenge of the journey. Upon rising to the challenge, the hero will receive a reward, or boon. Campbell's theory of the monomyth continues with the inclusion of a metaphorical death and resurrection. The hero must then decide to return with this boon to the ordinary world. The hero then faces more trials on the road back. Upon the hero's return, the boon or gift may be used to improve the hero's ordinary world, in what Campbell calls, the application of the boon.*
What you find hard to take, the repeated episodes of capture and escape all while far from home, for Campbell is one heroic journey after another, is the life story of a hero repeatedly daring to seek his bliss. In Campbell's words:
Artists are magical helpers. Evoking symbols and motifs that connect us to our deeper selves, they can help us along the heroic journey of our own lives. [...] The artist is meant to put the objects of this world together in such a way that through them you will experience that light, that radiance which is the light of our consciousness and which all things both hide and, when properly looked upon, reveal. The hero's journey is one of the universal patterns through which that radiance shows brightly. What I think is that a good life is one hero journey after another. Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure, you are called to new horizons. Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss.
Why do you think what depresses you is for Campbell an ideal life? He talks of daring, a  strong will to pass through ordeals, to test oneself. He talks of ordinary life voluntarily left behind to seek one's bliss, he talks of gaining power. Whereas you see yourself as having involuntarily been ejected from, not ordinary life, but a life of love, of having been betrayed and having no choice but to go through your Odyssey-like repeated captures and escapes. Is that a correct summary?
- Yes.
- I'll tell you about my intellectual journey in the last weeks I've been deprived of your company. I'd been thinking about what kind of life would teach one to be willing to admit one's mistakes, and make one prefer to be corrected than be left uncorrected and wrong about the world. Was there, I wondered, one kind of life story that would have that result?
- And?
- And this was in the back of my mind as I came across on YouTube the six hours of TV interviews Campbell gave near the end of his life. Strangely, he reminded me of our president, Donald Trump. 
- Stunned by my betrayal, you spent that time in the strange world, mythic world of a Trump-like Joseph Campbell.
- Like you're something of a joker, Campbell's something of a bully, an authoritarian. I checked the Internet for articles about him. Indeed, there were accusations of antisemitism, of his being in sympathy with Fascists and Nazis during the war.
- And what did you make of that?
- It raises the question whether Campbell's monomyth, the one basic story to life which gives structure to life, had the same kind of story that Fascism had, and of which you have given a definition: individuals who each separately feel weak join together in a group to follow a leader who tells them of the necessary task: expel the enemy hidden within responsible for all their troubles and be then strong again.
- Campbell would say that his hero was not today's isolated man, overspecialized by his work and distracted by his entertainments, but a strong and independent hero.
- But consider the form of the story: from ordinary life, to strange supernatural, back to a more powerful ordinary life. Campbell's hero begins isolated, ends with the power to be even more isolated, but passes through an unfamiliar world in which he loses himself and his independence, is forced to undergo what all must undergo or lose self respect. Whereas in the kind of story you advocate we start in the social world of love, pass through a strange world in which we individually, experimentally disguise ourselves, with no commitment to following any one path or to being one sort of person or another - which lack of commitment includes being or not being the kind of person who is right all the time. In Campbell's story the self is not much. It is not free to duck out of supposedly universal ordeals; the self is a thing to be seen through to reach a higher consciousness, gained by force of will passing through ordeals and achieving new power. Which of the two kinds of story can we imagine a fascist leader tells to assemble a mass of followers around him? Obviously he tells Campbell's, where uniformity in following the same story comes easy to people who believe they are compelled to participate in ritual, who are interested not in facts, in things themselves, but seeing through them to attain power, higher consciousness, and bliss.
- And all of whom must follow the same script, stick to the same story, any story, if they are to achieve the security that group ritual practice provides.
- Hannah Arendt wrote: 'What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.'
- The truth of the story doesn't matter, because truth and falsity are extraneous to what is wanted and delivered by participation in the ritual performing crowd. And so you have an answer to your question, what kind of story teaches people to be willing to admit to being wrong, and what kind teaches not to admit to being in the wrong.
- Those who won't admit to being wrong are those who must follow the ritual script, be in agreement with the others doing so, who start from isolation and weakness, achieve a higher consciousness in seeing through the things of life that is the hero's journey, and who end back in isolation but newly strengthened. 
- Yes.
- And now too is your own intellectual journey over without even having to admit you've been wrong, the practice you claim to have discovered the training for.
- Almost over. I found this just published study about the effects of divergent political views upon the group editing of Wikipedia:
As political polarization in the United States continues to rise, the question of whether polarized individuals can fruitfully cooperate becomes pressing. Although diverse perspectives typically lead to superior team performance on complex tasks, strong political perspectives have been associated with conflict, misinformation and a reluctance to engage with people and ideas beyond one’s echo chamber. Here, we explore the effect of ideological composition on team performance by analyzing millions of edits to Wikipedia’s political, social issues and science articles. We measure editors’ online ideological preferences by how much they contribute to conservative versus liberal articles. Editor surveys suggest that online contributions associate with offline political party affiliation and ideological self-identity. Our analysis reveals that polarized teams consisting of a balanced set of ideologically diverse editors produce articles of a higher quality than homogeneous teams. The effect is most clearly seen in Wikipedia’s political articles, but also in social issues and even science articles. Analysis of article ‘talk pages’ reveals that ideologically polarized teams engage in longer, more constructive, competitive and substantively focused but linguistically diverse debates than teams of ideological moderates. More intense use of Wikipedia policies by ideologically diverse teams suggests institutional design principles to help unleash the power of polarization.**
Look at the journey of the group editing like this: In the beginning, the community of editors are at home with each other, proud of their group undertaking. Then, especially in political articles, they fall out with each other. But in the give and take of the supernatural would of disagreement they in the end reach homecoming in the production of a superior article all can be proud of participating in the making of, some giving up part of their positions, some not, but this of no importance compared to a peaceful homecoming. Ok, that's all. Have I cheered you up any by my storytelling?
- I think you have. And what about you? Have you been following your bliss, have you caught up to it in the art-work like beauty of the story of your search, the story bringing you to a heightened consciousness, which you've been kind enough to put on display to me? Or is that not you?
- It's not me. Maybe I'd say, if I didn't think you'd make a joke of it, how relieved I am to be able to leave that whole story behind and simply be happy we're talking again.

Further Reading:
Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
MyWife Who Throws Me Out
* Wikipedia

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What You Can Expect At Whole Foods Market Beverly Hills

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

Tuesday, June 18, 2019



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

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

Thursday, June 13, 2019

In The Mood For Philosophy

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

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

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

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Philosophy To A Mood Of Political Distress

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

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

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Passion & Reason

Denis Diderot
          Denis Diderot

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

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