Thursday, January 15, 2015

Same Eyes

Same Eyes

- Terrible, terrible. Last night I was at the UCLA conference on police killing of unarmed blacks, one per day this past year. Present were faculty from Black studies, Economics, Sociology, History, Asian Studies. The moderator praised the faculty participants for about 15 minutes, then got down to the business of complaining. Dark skinned people were being shot by the police, a million of them were in prisons, Los Angeles had the largest prison population of any city in the world and was planning on building more prisons. I looked on in contempt.
- Why were you there if you hate them so much?
- To learn from their mistakes.
- And what were they doing wrong aside from complimenting each other?
- What they were doing wrong was not distinguish themselves from the groups doing the killing and imprisoning of them. They were the losing group in a battle with the winning.
- What do you expect them to do?
- What they can't do. As long as they give their lectures, write their books, the corporate sponsors of the University will continue to deliver their pay and even pay them more if they make a name for themselves. They will get paid no matter what they say as long as they don't challenge a fundament assumption.
- Which is?
- That the relation of human beings to things is sacrosanct, more important than human beings to each other. As long as human relation to property is more important that human relation to humans, human beings will see each other as property, see each other as kinds of things and kill and imprison the kind of human things they have no better use for.
- Racial politics results from property being considered important than everything else?
- So I believe. When people have something real in common they not only are not classifiable by group, they are invisible to each other. I'll tell you what I mean with a story. In the early days when my wife Beatrix and I were together, she said to me, "I don't know whether I should tell you this, but when I look at you I see myself." I thought I understood what she meant: not that she was vain and the whole world was a reference to herself. No. She liked to challenge me with the demand, Tell me why you are with me? What do you want? What are you getting out of this affair? My answer was always the same: I felt at home with her, she was my equal.
- Equal in what?
- In spirit. In being willing to take on whatever the world threw at her, at being willing to take on me and my life without social standing, at least sometimes, when she wasn't running away or throwing me out. I didn't realize until last week, three years from last sight of her, what really led her to making her remark.
- Which was?
- I'd gone to the internet to watch a video Beatrix had made when she was in acting school. Suddenly it hit me: her eyes were like mine.
- So she literally saw herself when she looked at you.
- Yes. And it must have worked the same for me though I wasn't aware of it. I was only aware that she was my equal. She was with me in life. No matter how much we fought she knew I would return and I knew she would too.
- What is the application to police killing and jailing of blacks?
- There is no use complaining about gangs acting like gangs. To the extent a society is a society there has to be something in common, some real equality.
- We have to be able to see equality in each other's eyes.
- Yes. Otherwise we will identify each other in our differing relation to property. I've told you, right, I'm finished with the Internet.
- Finished with posting links, not obsessing over your wife.
- Every day I sent out titles and links to at least a 100 different stories to 10,000 social media connections. A million messages a day for three and a half years. That makes one billion messages I've caused to appear on computer screens. A half million visits to my site resulted. That's enough. I quit.
- About time since you got nothing out of it, no money, no fame. Why did you do it?
- I couldn't ask people to pay money earned by slavery to read stories telling them not to be slaves. I didn't want to establish a relation of property with them. And I didn't mind being invisible.
- You wanted them to see in your eyes their own.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Compassion & The Story

- The Millennials: they have no compassion.
- Remember when we were the younger generation and what the older and wiser said about us?
- You think there are no differences?
- Sure there are. Those who came of age in the year 2000 and after are more social, cooperative out of self interest, are less political except in protection of their freedom and demand for tolerance.
- They are ambitious.
- In a word. But do you know why they lack compassion?
- Why?
- They have no stories.
- Everyone has a story.
- Are you sure? There are only a few kinds of stories: those that end in death, those that are of wandering and returning home, those that are of falling in love and making a home. Do you see anything in common?
- What do they have in common?
- A story is an account of movement from place to place. A story ends when movement ends, when there is no longer any reason or possibility of movement. When we were kids the talk was all peace, love, understanding, beauty, truth...
- I remember.
- These words refer to states of inaction: they are reflections, bring to mind awareness of a good relation to the world.
- They tell us we are at home. I get it.
- To feel at home requires character, requires that we have a certain character that the place we find ourselves in suits perfectly, suits so perfectly we don't have to do anything. These feelings are the end of a story.
- But what is character?
- Habit. Habits are strengthened by repetition. Habits give us capacity to do things, but also take from us capacity to do other things. A body builder does well lifting weights but not at ballet. Ambitious people aim at achieving freedom from the restraints of character. To be able to do whatever is required to succeed, whatever is asked of them by others without shame or hesitation. They have no character, and consequently have no home.
- But they do have homes. They are about the only people these days who have their own place to live.
- Millennials seek freedom. They'll do what's required to get rich. There isn't a special place or person for them, because being changeable themselves, so are the places and people appropriate to their different selves changeable. What kind of stories can they have if there can be no end?
- They can still die.
- But the significance of death in those stories was in the failure to get home. Dying without trying to go home is not a story.
- Then what happens?
- Why do people want freedom? To have the power to do things. What do they want to do? Presumably not satisfy desires, that's not the Millennial type. Millennials are ambitious. They want to acquire things, not for the pleasure of use, though that comes along with it. Possessions, and especially money, are sought as symbols of power.
- They want political freedom to exercise power to acquire symbols of freedom to exercise power...
- A circle. They distract themselves from sight of this meaninglessness with entertainments, games, intoxications. For them homes are geographic places with walls that protect these activities. They go from activity outside the home to activities inside the home. They don't stop, and they don't notice they don't have a story because they keep recycling activity with others outside the home to recovery activities within the home. Ambition however can have a kind of story.
- What's that?
- Deliberately acquiring more and more symbols of power and freedom.
- If we don't have any reason to acquire power to be free for its own sake what reason can we have to acquire more power to be free for its own sake?
- None. But you see, there is a kind of character to the ambitious, despite their claim to be entirely flexible in their pursuit of more and more symbols of power. They get good at the politics of acquisition, but get very bad at everything else, finally reaching the point that the words describing what we feel when we are at home have no meaning.
- Love, peace, truth.
- On the other hand when you feel yourself struggle on your way home you don't want to be free of the demand to go home. Taking such freedom upon yourself means a loss, means literally the loss of home. Once you know what it means to be unfree and struggling you can share what people feel who are in similar circumstances. You don't blame or dismiss them as losers in the game of acquiring freedom and power, don't pretend they are practicing an arcane form of freedom unfamiliar to you. You certainly don't blame anyone for not having the character of acquiring more and more symbols of the power to acquire, which is a deviant, deformed character that can never find a home.
- The only people who have compassion for others, who can see them in their stories, are those who have stories themselves.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Where's My Gun?



- What happened today? Anything?
- No. A quiet day. No stories. Or maybe...
- What?
- You how I like to joke with people? Today I met another joker. Or at least I hope he was joking. I was waiting in line at the Westwood Trader Joes. The guy ahead of me, dressed down for shopping, middle aged, answering the cashier's questions in an accent I guessed was Indian, had with him many cloth bags decorated with a big 'U'. I asked him:
- Do you know what that 'U' stands for?
- UCLA. The University of California, Los Angeles.
- In the opinion of some. Actually it refers to the students there and stands for 'uneducable'.
- That's for the best since I've come to teach in the business school, and you know what we teach them in business school don't you?
- No, tell me.
- To lie and cheat.
- Unfortunately the only things you can educate UCLA students to do better is lie and cheat.
- Well. I've quit my last job at the Wharton School, and know what I do now?
- No. What do you do now?
- Run a hedge fund.
- Lie and cheat on a massive scale. Where's my gun? I must have left it at home.
- The cashiers have knives on their belts.
- The famous box cutters. No thanks. I'd like to help you out with your death wish but the world is full of liars and cheats. Stamp one out and another pops up.

- And?
- He took his bags and waved good-by.

Yes & No

No, Good and Bad are not relative. They are defined absolutely in deciding the presence or absence of integrity in an individual's life. Every individual has access to experience which can decide the matter. What makes a person whole and what makes a person divided feels entirely different.

But Yes, Good and Bad are not to be found in unvarying rules of conduct.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Peace Of Mind

(Continued from The Mathematics Of Consciousness)

- Drop a pebble in the water and waves spread out from the point where the pebble hit. Stirring a spoon in a jar of peanut butter creates a spiral pattern. If you try to retrace your movements with the spoon will the smooth surface you started with come back? If the pebble was on a fishing line and you drew it back out of the water will the waves retreat and smooth water reappear?
- No.
- Why not?
- Physicists talk about entropy, probabilities, many more ways of creating disorder than order. I don't really understand.
- Look at it this way. I have or had this sort of wife I like to talk about. She couldn't decide if she was staying with me or going. It drove me crazy. But at times I could manage the situation, I took a step back and was content. But then I was discontent with my content. Content was just a foundation for something more important, for happiness. Happiness meant trying to get back to love.
- So did you try?
- Yes, and failed, and became content with that failure.
- And then discontented with your content again.
- Yes.
- Does this have anything to do with your last story?
- It does. Three functions of consciousness were outlined: one bad, one good, one practical.
- The bad is ritual, the good is creative, the practical is science.
- Yes. Science, when kept practical...
- Was what you were doing in the story, you called it mathematics of consciousness, was that practical science?
- I'd say so. Science, when done as a type of creative action, with the sense that things studied are defined like our selves are defined in an undefined world when we act creatively in general.
- Experimentally, hypothetically.
- Yes. When science becomes a model, is applied in a restrictive manner to the other functions of consciousness, we get a destructive myth.
- Such as the the myth of the free market. The belief that art and love are meaningless except in their application to a life of buying and selling things.
- Before science was made a myth of, used to modify the other kinds of consciousnesses, ritual was made a myth of. First nature myths, in which each ritual involves a different god or set of gods. Then monotheism, seeing all of life as one continuous ritual, history a single performance involving only one god. The first monotheism took the inception of ritual as its model, focused on the organization of ritual, the rules that describe its practice, and looking with expectation to the power and security that would result at the ritual's conclusion. The next monotheism focused on the conclusion of ritual, on that security and power achieved, on the end of history. The third put both together, both the rules of performance and the imagining of the achieved security and satisfaction they comes from following them.
- Judaism, Christianity, Islam.
- The myths of ritual that invade the realm of creative consciousness are: strict application of the rules (ritual performance), fatalism, resigned passivity (imagined results of ritual). The myth of science invading creative consciousness: organization for the sake of organization, doing for the sake of doing, power for the sake of power. Now what if, like we've done with ritual and science, we become conscious of what we might call the myth of creativity?
- You mean the cycle going from art to beauty, movement to rest?
- Yes. Is there anything we might do to rid ourselves of it?
- Would we want to?
- In the story of my wife, definitely yes. Every new beginning of action had at its beginning a sense of betrayal. I'd lost my wife's love, and didn't have the slightest idea of how to get it back. What if this entire system of movement and rest, self and world, defined and undefined could be replaced?
- By another consciousness without distinctions between self and world, between movement and rest, defined and undefined? How? If everything is all together what can move?
- Take my love story of discontent with lost love, content with memory of love and with love's possible return, discontent with that content - doesn't this involve both movement and rest (content and discontent), involve both self and world defined as separate, and not defined as separate (not separate in love, separate in lack of love)? What if all this movement and rest and separate self and not separate self all together became the foundation of consciousness? What if we could take care of every new betrayal standing back at a distance, the Bhagavad Gita's "knower of the field"?
- With the field being not only fighting, but art, and love too. I expect you to supply a mathematics of all this.
- Let's go back to the wave made by the pebble and the spiral in the peanut butter. One way of looking at what is happening is that every incremental motion set going by the spoon or pebble creates a "machine for moving" out of the material immediately closest. Not only movement is passed on, but organization; a machine is creating copies of itself. It might be a simple switch that decides on two paths. The wave and spiral forms reflect such a decision process in operation.
- Is this science?
- It is. Certain molecules have been observed making copies of themselves. Cosmologists are using this model as explanation what order in the universe and in life arises in the first place. Now consider the sense of betrayal in my love story. I want to be content with my wife's betrayal. But when I go back with her, I wonder, is her every word a lie? Is she really listening when I talk? Will she decide to leave in the next five minutes? The original cause of betrayal ramifies into results each with their own results continuously as time goes passes.
- Like the wave and spiral.
- Yes. I can't simply go back, draw out the pebble, push the spoon the opposite way. If I am to repair the damage I will have to revers all the different ramifications. The world of the reversed spoon and drawn out pebble is a world of machines, not the smooth water and ever surface it was before. When you move through those machines they resist your movement, and pushing them you create more disorder rather than less, the smooth surface more interrupted. Following?
- Yes.
- If we know how this works we might be able to help each other take that step back to being the knower of all the fields of ritual and science and art and love. It would require a social organization where everyone surrounding someone betrayed, everyone receiving the ramified results of that betrayal immediately pushes back, compensates.
- Your friend's wife has left him so you show him confidence to help him recover his confidence.
- Exactly. Now there is an economic organization that mixes self and world, movement and rest, defined and undefined: voluntary cooperatives, developed in 19th Century anarchist political theory. People guarantee each other the practical necessities of life, food and shelter, and on that basis decide individually what to do and what to make with each other, sharing the results. In theory such an economic organization could allow a new "function" of consciousness, where everyone cooperated with everyone else to smooth out the waves and spiraling results of betrayal. We could retain all the aspects of consciousness we are familiar with and move on to something new. What do you think?
- Aren't higher states of consciousness supposed to leave you in peace? Yours makes me dizzy.

Further Reading:
Killer Metaphysics
I know It's Personal But Are You In Love?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Freedom Of Thought, Freedom Of Action



1.

- Have you ever wondered about how different freedom of thought is from freedom of action?
- As in we can write anything we want on the Internet as long as we don't do anything?
- Usually we don't try to control other people's thinking, not unless it somehow comes to interfere with our action.
- When does that happen?
- For example, the recent murder of the French cartoonists who'd make fun of the Prophet Mohammed. Religion is more about rituals than ideas. The killers found that publication of the cartoons interfered with their practice of ritual.
- Why?
- Ideas do not prevent other ideas from being entertained, but every ritual practice is inconsistent with every other. You can jump from one idea to another, use one idea to develop another, but ritual works by repetition. Interruption and alteration are enemies to the peace and security ritual provides.
- Would you say that all ritual leads to an attempt to control the thinking of non-participants?
- That's the question isn't it? When we're told we must tolerate each other's different rituals are we really being set at each other's throats? Islam is said to mean "submission". Submission is to authority, and the peace and security that is derived from submission is precisely that derived from the repetition of ritual. Consider this conversation I had with a student soldier a few days ago. He'd been momentarily separated from his troop doing military exercises in the center of the University. I approached him:

- Some people don't like to see slavery made a display of.
- I choose to serve. I'm exercising my freedom of choice.
- Your choice limits my freedom of choice.
- How? I want to serve my country.
- By voluntarily making yourself a slave you make yourself a tool politicians can use to enslave others against their will or, worse, kill them. By voluntarily making yourself a slave you encourage others to become slaves and you deprive those who want to remain free of companions and collaborators in the job of staying free.
- Sir, you have your opinion I have mine.
- Sir means father. You're making a politic gesture of submission to me as older than you, but a father should try to keep a child from making mistakes there is not time in life to recover from. You hurt yourself by your submission as well as hurt other people.

- What did he reply?
- He went back to his troop.


2.

- You are going to make yourself one unpopular guy if you go on attacking the military.
- The military is supposed to be a refuge of the unselfish from the greed of the larger society.
- Soldiers risk their lives for their country.
- They risk their lives after, having submitted their will to authority, they've given up the ability to know whether it is worthwhile to risk their lives for their country. And in fact they act no more unselfishly than the typical corporate director whose influence actually determines the government's policies. The corporate director serves the ritual of money making for the sake of money making, the soldier serves the ritual of killing without responsibility for his country. The difference is the corporate executive is much better paid.* Is it unselfish to make yourself a slave to ritual for the sake of low pay rather than high?
- I don't see why not.
- The reason why not is that ritual practice itself is selfish. It's payoff is in peace and security. Only individual and creative life is unselfish. It is difficult, uncertain, involves great risk of failure, it aims to create a life or a work of art that is inspiring to everyone. There is nothing in the world easier than to kill a man, as the mafia saying goes, and perhaps, not needless to say, nothing more selfish.
___________________
* The soldier, and the serving poor in general, are in a battle of rituals with the rich who make money for the sake of making money. The corporate director thinks no more of the lives of serving soldiers than do fundamentalist Muslims the French cartoonists they kill.

The Two Messiahs

1.

 I didn't want to write more about good and bad technology, or about magic and the metaphysics of property, and certainly not more about the Messiah of Beverly Hills, but I fell victim to fate. Walking to Westwood through Holmby Park I crossed paths with one of the two women I know in the neighborhood who wander around alone dressed in fine high fashion clothing with the added peculiarity of long hair matted in a dense pile atop the head in the form of a truncated cone, rather like a volcano or rounded pyramid. When I stop and chat she usually talks about the ghosts that inhabit regions of the city we both pass through on our walks, and today she did too, with the difference that she said she'd been thinking of me, and wanted to let me know the Defense Department was waiting for me to contact them. Why? I asked. They have something for me. Ok, I said, see you, and went on up to the UCLA campus. Where, chance would have it, I met the other woman of the neighborhood who wears fine clothes and the volcano on her head. She informed me there was a set of lectures she was going to on the subject of "Philosophy And Religious Experience", in commemoration of the retirement of a UCLA professor who'd made his name writing on the subject. I should attend, she said, I didn't need to have religious experiences to appreciate, she didn't herself, and the professor didn't either, he'd previously told her himself. Hearing that how could I resist going? The following dialog is the result.

- Do you know what?
- What?
- It occurs to me that you both live with a Messiah and are one yourself, sort of. How are things at the Messiah's by the way? His eighty year old mother still attacking you as you try to leave in the morning, bug eyed and foaming at the mouth, raving about her lost chicken leg?
- Yes. As I was coming home last night a neighbor told me the police had been there.
- What about?
- Some woman visitor.
- One of the crazy prostitutes from the strip clubs the Messiah frequents?
- The neighbor didn't know. The Messiah grabbed the visitor, or maybe grabbed his mother. Police were called. No big deal, police are there once a month, usually called by the Messiah himself to eject the crazy prostitute he's taken home to live with him and his mother. Proudly declaring his disdain for the world and his detachment from people, he can't be still, is always stirring things up. He goes in and out of the apartment all day long. There's always a crisis there, or one brewing
- What does he do when he goes out?
- Gives away a few dollars here, a few dollars there, to people he meets on the street, at Ralphs or Starbucks, until his allowance runs out.
- Didn't you ask him what had happened?
- No. Besides, he wouldn't tell me the truth. He is the savior because he follows god's rules. But one of god's rules is what he calls the 'Wisdom of Solomon', that is, lying.
- God allows lying when it makes following god's rules easier?
- Yes. So tell me why I am a messiah.
- Around a month ago you told me this story. Computer scientists were having trouble getting robots to search out in an unfamiliar place the things they were programmed to operate on. One computer scientist had a brother who was a philosopher, a phenomenologist, and explained the problem to him. The philosopher taught the computer scientist that we learn to see by moving through the world. What computer scientists had to do with the robots was get them to do what we do, they had to move them through the motions that they wanted them to perform and have them associate those movements with the images cameras recorded of the room as they were moved through it, which images later could be recognized and responded to. It worked.
- As that research was supported by the U.S. Defense Department so is research I just heard about into what is being called "blending", previously known to philosophy in the practice of dialog and imitation. According to this theory, civilization started when human beings could "blend" themselves with others, put themselves in the position of other human beings. They - the blending researchers - have been given millions of dollars to work out how to use this idea to facilitate communication between robot soldiers.
- That's what I was getting at. If philosophy is being mined by the military to make machines of destruction placed in the hands of a government no one in his right mind could possibly say is well intentioned, can't philosophy be enlisted to do some good instead?
- And I'm supposed to be the messiah of philosophy-used-right and save the world?
- The job is open.
- What I can do is something like the computer scientists did, mine the history of philosophy, not to develop technology but to understand how technology is likely to be misused, find a language to describe that misuse.
- Go ahead. Save us from technology.
- It's philosophy that's going to do the saving. The enemy technologist found weapons in philosophy of "seeing by doing" and of building up "blends" of different individual's ideas. Our saving philosophy is going to offer us "matter", and "magic". We go back to the ancient view of Parmenides in which there are two worlds, one real and one imitation. The real one we see when we stop moving, and in that world there is no movement or separate things. All is one.
- Religious experience.
- Yes. The other world is the one we see when we are in movement. It isn't real, but we need to learn how to move through it to get out of it to the real world. Are you with me?
- Yes.
- Learning how to move through the world of appearance is a matter of technique: mastering ways of doing things that lead you to love, to beauty, to truth. You stop moving in the sight of these good things because you are out of the world of separate things. There is no place to go, and no time to get there in: there are no events in the fullness of the experience of being at one with the world. Now there is another, fundamental technique of life, opposed to this one. When an ape scares another ape by making faces, or a king scares his subjects by a show of his magnificence, the king and ape rest from their labor of show and sign making. Ape and kind have practiced the technique of arranging people or apes with each other, and when they look at lower ape and subject they see "material", they see a sign of their own power to use them. The technique of arrangement they practice is a kind of magic, in which power resides in the "matter" or capacity of the lower ape or human to do the upper human or ape's bidding. The rest from movement is in this world of separate things, so is not really rest. The seeming rest is filled with the imagined movement that can be released out of the matter, the imagined future movement of that matter, the "form" the matter can take on.
- I don't understand.
- When the king looks at his subjects he sees his power. He imagines future movement of the subjects, separate things in the world. The subject can take on the "story" of whatever work assigned to him. Getting the subject to respect his power is a kind of magic. An ape doesn't understand why making faces and threatening gestures gets the other apes to accede to his authority, but it happens. Same goes for kings and subjects. And the same goes for the alchemist, putting one metal in contact with another, saying words which are intended to do exactly what the faces the apes make do: grant power over "matter". Science develops when the relations between things is studied carefully, not left to associations and resemblances of words and appearances. I'll give you an example. When the Messiah's crazy mother had attacked me a few times I discovered the best thing to do was growl at her like a bear. Did I see this as a discovered magic power to be used in the world, as psychological science? No. I laughed. Laughing gets you out of the world. Compare the Messiah's reaction - it turns out the Messiah was in the bedroom he shares with his mother, and sleepy audience to his mother attack on me heard and enjoyed my growling defense.
- Did he laugh?
- No. He gloated. Here was a nice defeat for the old woman who'd dedicated her life to controlling his life.
- Tell me again what matter is.
- Matter is what you see when you gain knowledge and technique and don't get out of the world. And matter itself, going by the name of god, becomes the ultimate goal.
- Why?
- Because if you don't have the end of getting out of the world some other final goal in the world has to be found. Power is means to an end. Power for the sake of power is meaningless. You need to have a reason to do something and gain power to do more things. When philosophy left behind the distinction between movement and rest it began to incorporate god, formerly unmoving and undivided in his own world, now as an element among other elements in the world of movement and separate things.
- Lost me.
- Leaving behind the two worlds view, philosophers made hierarchies, charts, of different matters used to realize different powers. Body was at the bottom, realized or actualized by the soul that kept it together. Ideas were a bit higher, realized by groups of ideas, "blends" as the Defense Department researchers would call them. And above all was the matter of the whole world, with god being the realized power of every magical technique practiced in that whole world of matter.
- But why bother with this?
- Because, as I said, there had to be a goal to all the increase of power aimed at. If there was not ever to be a rest, there had to be something fixed in all the movement to be aimed at, and that fixed thing was god.
- Ok. You tell all these stories of your Messiah because he so clearly has god in his corner, in his own world. He is authorized by god to perform his magic on the world, getting power over people by giving them money, doing on a smaller scale what the big power broker in the sky does. Philosophy tells us how the misusers of philosophy misuse it. What do we do about it?
- We do to ourselves what we did for the robots: we move ourselves through the world of ideas looking for signs of absence of rest and signs of matter, we learn the world as the robot learned its room.
- We locate our gods in Beverly Hills, see our gods in raving old woman and their whoring messiah sons.
- Yes. We laugh. We avoid secrets and powers. I wrote a story about girl gangs starting an anarchist revolution in the U.S. I put it on the internet, with the sense that this in itself was a beautiful thing to do. I didn't expect to cause a revolution, though I thought the government might not know it. In fact shortly after writing and posting the story I got a message from one of my Linkedin connections, praising my technique. I'd been getting a lot of visits lately from Arlington, Virginia, site of the Pentagon, and I'd supposed I was being spied on. This LinkedIn connection worked at the Pentagon. I wrote asking what he did there. He responded, did I want to know his official job or his real one, implying of course he couldn't tell me the real one.
- He was admitting he was a spy.
- Yes. He didn't have to worry I was going anywhere with my idea, that is, anywhere in this world.
- He doesn't need to hide because you aren't hiding. There might be secret power in matter ready to be explosively released in an revolution, but you weren't interested. Any kind of direct change is no goal for you. Your use of power is not in the world, but to get out of the world. My question is, if people become able to recognize the wrong way, if philosophy can do with us poor human beings what the computer scientists did with the robots, guide us through the world by giving us experience of it of the kind that gives us sight of what is better or worse, isn't the job of messiah open to us all? Doesn't the practice of the power to get out of the world exert some power on the world we get out of? I mean, would it not be true that the more people who practice the power to get out, the fewer there are to be enslaved by those practicing the power to stay in?
- If the philosophy was good enough, maybe. There have always been people who wanted to live in the right way. How much difference it makes having a better, more high-tech language to describe the right way - that history will have to decide.
- Come on, you can do better than that. You haven't given more than a hint of what that high-tech goodness would look like.
- Our sense of possession, ownership of property is seeing a thing as matter. Without secrets, without magical language, technology can re-evaluate what is an acceptable relation to property in society. Happy now?
- Actually, I am. Could be a beginning like that is all we've been waiting for.


2.

- Tomorrow in Europe is the official Holocaust Remembrance Day.
- As if we could learn from history, as if that particular mass murder was unusual and other mass murders were not a fixture of our history.
- We can't learn from history because it never repeats itself in exactly the same way, but that doesn't mean history can't teach.
- We can't learn from history but history can teach?
- Much of what happens in what we call history is of unimportant things, different varieties of enslavement, degrees of mass murder, innovations in popular deception. Many different models of prediction can be made. It is difficult to learn from them, to know which applies in our own time and place's enslavements, murders, indoctrinations.  However...
- However...
- Sometimes, as in the Holocaust, history teaches because it models good and bad in conflict, shows two clear moral models in battle. On one side, a civilization that rewarded those who individually knew what was good but were willing to do bad when the group demanded...
- The Nazis.
- And on the other side, a civilization that required of the individual to do good on his own responsibility while resisting social influence to bad. Good ranged against bad, teaching us not what to do in a particular confluence of events of murder, enslavement, and indoctrination, but in general.
- And you think that technology, the good and bad use of it, are two moral models that have come into conflict in our times so enabling history to teach?
- I do.
- No one seems to have learned anything from the Holocaust so why should we learn from a civil war in technology?
- It may be learning from the model of good and evil in mass murder, by the mere demonstration that such models can exist, leads us to the model of technological good and bad. Technology has been raiding philosophy for its knowledge of how we think and see. Philosophy may be beginning to test and improve models one after another, to mine science for an experimental approach to moral modeling.

Further Reading:
The Technology Of Good
The Girls (A Story Of Revolution)

The Dispossessed

- I had this amazing day...
- What happened?
- I find myself in fundamental agreement with the Messiah, the Guru.
- The guy you live with who gives away money. Which is it? Messiah or Guru?
- Doesn't matter.
- He invites crazy prostitutes over to the house he shares with his demented mother who attacks you when you try to leave in the morning. She hides things, forgets where she hid them, accuses you and everyone else of stealing from her. What are you accused of stealing now?
- The Jewish moneylender in The Merchant Of Venice cries out, "My daughter! My Ducats!" In modern day Beverly Hills the Jewish matriarch screams, "My chicken leg! My peanut!"
- And what is this agreement you mentioned?
- The Messiah has method behind his madness: every week he gets his allowance, and within a day or two has given it all away to the desperate his sees on the street. He does this, he says, deliberately without knowing or wanting to know the people he is trying to help: he is explicit, in theory and practice, that he acts only by rule.
- What rule?
- The Jewish god's rules.
- And now you think that is not madness? Do good without caring about people? You've said you believe it is impossible to do good without knowing the people you are trying to help and that it impossible to know the people you are trying to help unless you care for them. Have you changed your mind?
- No. This morning the crazy mother went as usual on the attack, fists flying. I didn't respond. I looked at her quietly in a way I can't recall ever looking at anyone before in my life.
- You looked without caring?
- That's right. And like the Messiah, the lack of caring went along with a strong awareness of the rules of conduct I had to use in the circumstances.
- What were they?
- Avoidance of harm, of course, and a quick end to the situation. But this is not what amazed me. The Guru...
- Call him The Messiah.
- The Messiah considers himself dispossessed of property. Lodged more or less permanently in the house there is also another old woman, the crazy mother's widowed sister-in-law from the old country. She sits on the couch in the living room eighteen hours a day, making admiring noises or laughing hysterically the several hundred times a day the mother tells the same two stories, how the Messiah when he was eight years old went to the bizarre with her and demanded she give money to a beggar, then demanded she give more, and how the old tyrant of the old country was good, and the new gang of tyrants bad. This widowed sister-in-law doesn't move a muscle when she sees the mother go at me. At the end of the eighteen hours of sitting and laughing hysterically at the mother's stories she lowers herself to the horizontal on the same couch, talks herself to sleep and goes on talking in her sleep. She says she has a house in the old country, but apparently to save money she rents it out and camps in our Beverly Hills flop house. The mother is the tyrant in control of the family property. We've talked about democracy. From the beginning in Ancient Athens democracy relied on citizens having property. No property, no democracy. No democracy, no rules of cooperation.
- What rules then?
- The minimal.
- Don't do harm, and keep your eyes open for a better opportunity.
- Yes.
- The Messiah's religion is the religion of the dispossessed. And you get down on your knees to practice it with him when his mother attacks.
- Something like that. For example, yesterday: to get out the door I have to turn two lock bars and the door knob. It takes a couple of seconds, seconds I don't have when the old woman is screaming at me, "My chicken leg! My peanut!" so what I did was turn back, reared up on my hind legs and roared at her like a lion.
- And that worked?
- Like a charm. Escape successfully executed, I went over to Starbucks, struck up a conversation with a man in his sixties. We commiserated on the economic situation. He was a retired architect. Medical expenses from a heart attack had ruined him, wiped out his assets. Our county was entering into an unprecedented era of extreme poverty, a million people sleeping on the streets every day, nature was being destroyed by pollution and global climate change. He worried for the future of his grandchildren. I said:
- I'm not worried. I'd like to see the world go down.
- You're crazy. Why don't you go away, to Cuba? You can teach there, find a woman.
- How am I supposed to do that?
- What's stopping you?
- Money.
- Alright, I see. You could go to Yosemity, sit under the giant Redwood trees.
- With no money.
- You have no money at all?
- Even if I did, even though I like trees, it could be that I'd find more pleasure in staying put and seeing out the destruction of nature.
- Only a crazy person could talk like that.
- But if I blame Mother Nature for the crime of allowing the human species to persist? Doesn't Mother Nature deserve torture and death for allowing the human species to flaunt its love of death and torture?
- You're crazy.
- I could be detached from my circumstances, wait patiently for improvement, do no harm. Or I could hope that destruction of nature would clear the slate for another better kind of nature and I could do away with detachment and care deeply about what I was doing.
- You're crazy.
- You are crazy.
- I was playing with the revolutionary mood in which one finds life not worth living and is willing to risk all on the chance of something better. It is our nature as human beings to like each other. And we have a faculty usually called "spirit": as the body has its desires, so we by education and habit develop a "social body", and have desires to protect that social body. If our society attacks us physically and dispossesses materially, that "spirited" faculty of our nature cannot be practiced.
- Thus lack of compassion.
- Yes. The revolutionary mood shows our faculties of desire and thought working in the absence of compassion to remake a social body in which compassion can again be felt.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Mathematics Of Consciousness



Starbucks, South Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills

- What are you writing?
- About a philosopher I found on the internet.
- What about him?
- Are you interested in philosophy?
- Yes. As much as I can understand.
- I'll explain, but tell me when I lose you. A while back I'd used the idea of emergence in something I'd written, and it occurred to me to look on the internet to see what others had done with the idea. I write stories - here, this my site - and bring in ideas along the way. I don't go into ideas in depth. Not when I'm writing. But afterwards I often do, having become more deeply interested because I've used the idea. Does that sound the wrong way around, self important?
- No. You don't force yourself to be interested in what you aren't.
- Are you familiar with emergence?
- I don't think so.
- In one form, it is when a whole is more than its parts, and the parts create the whole by doing nothing different from what already they do as parts. A flock of birds is created by each bird following the rules, keep a distance from other birds, and don't keep too far a distance. A democracy, another form of emergence, is created by individuals with power over their lives coming together and finding that seeking power together increases their power, gives them ability to do things they couldn't do alone. Understand?
- Yes.
- Pebbles can accumulate to form strata. Strata can build on top of each other to form sedimentary rock. A pile of strata can be twisted up into becoming a mountain. The collective activity of mountain, pile, strata involves no new behavior of the individual pebble. But in a democracy, the other form of emergence, individuals, thinking and acting cooperatively are able to individually do things they'd not been able to do before. In the case of ancient Athens, produce the greatest theater, architecture, philosophy. Do things, for example, like I had a chance to do last night, talk with a physicist at UCLA and test my ideas about consciousness on him.
- What ideas?
- Defining consciousness by what it does: produce something original. Emergent thought and action. Still with me?
- Fascinating.
- Really? Good. It was at one** of those Art + The Brain get-togethers I'd been going to. Last week it was more about science using the tools of art. One scientist was making artificial brains, following the path pointed out by a philosopher.*** But this time it was more about science being thrown into art, with ludicrous results, for reasons I'll get to in a minute. A performance art piece was underway, a dinner party where we dressed in lab coats and were given stick-on labels to wear identifying ourselves as members of different animal species, monkeys, pigs, sheep. I was a sheep. The performance was supposed to be an illustration of the Hox genes which guide the development of the basic top down form of many animals including us, heads, arms and legs, etc. Sitting down to a meal of each other's meat we were acting out the possibility of communing with each other on that genetic level we had in common, the artist explained afterwards, we were imagining a recognition of common origins. I was supposed to stay within my own species, but I could hear a physicist explaining research into how plasma under controlled conditions could be made to register something done to it, have a kind of memory. I slipped over and joined his species, the monkeys. As our party was broken up and we were herded out to the lecture part of the evening I asked the physicist if he was specially interested in how material systems resembled mental ones. We'd stopped outside in the hall to let the crowd pass. He said he was very interested in the subject of consciousness. I said, did he mean the relation of mind to body? Yes. What would he accept as an explanation? What kind of description? Mathematics. What element does mathematics involve? Functions and variables. What if I could give him one such a mathematical description? Then I'd be the most famous man who ever lived in history. I'd accept the honor I said, begin work on my acceptance speech. To do the mathematics, I went on, I have to use a description of things of the mind that includes the things of the world, not the other way around, because physical description can't do anything with mental world. It can, he said. You mean prod the brain in a certain place and a certain thought results? Yes, for example. Imagine, I answered, that we figured out how to prod the brain in one place after another until we assembled a complete sequence of thought for ten seconds. This would be like what Plato described a prisoner in a cave sees when his captors parade puppets outside before the sun and the puppet shadows are projected on the cave wall the prisoners face. The description would be like a memory. When we do this thing called remembering, we are there doing the remembering. We who are not identical with the remembering, because we do also other things like feel passions of fear and anger, feel emotions like love and loss; they lead one to another, and are the background to our remembering. The alternative experiences are lived in the real world of people outside the cave. I asked the physicist, how in prodding the brain would these other experiences be prodded into it?
- What did he say?
- That he didn't have an answer. Did he still want me to give him the math? Yes. Ok then: it happens that in our mental world every thing the physicist does is included, all the actions he performs and the experimental result all appear to the mind. It makes sense to find in the "data" of mental experience the material with which to define function and set variables. The variables, in the rough model I worked out decades ago, are: self and world, each defined or undefined, in two states of rest and movement. That's much too schematic, the words can't mean anything to you. What I want to say is I think consciousness always involves the infinite. I tried this idea on a philosopher once.* He wouldn't accept the infinite as data. What about this physicist? Would he? No, he wouldn't. He had to go soon.
- Me too.
- I'll be quick, I said to him and say to you too. Start from one set of variables, you can expect another set of variables to follow. You can establish a law of change from one to another. You can observe two basic "functions" of one set of variables being replaced by another set. And those two kinds of change describe two kinds of consciousness.
- What are they?
- Being conscious or unconscious, when acting or at rest. Creative action involves seeing ourselves in a deliberately chosen habit or movement, which, based on past success, we try out. And if it gets us where we're going, we become unaware of ourselves, and see the world as beautiful. That's one set. The second is intoxicated action and vain thought. Being unaware of ourselves in action, only aware of the world we are trying to make, and when succeeding in getting the world as we like it, aware of ourselves as powerful and paying no more attention to the world. The first function is conscious thought and action, the second unconscious thought and action. It turns out that a function of a third set of variables, regularly moving from action to rest, gives us a description not of consciousness, or unconsciousness, but of the behavior of doing science. It is not a kind of consciousness because it is discontinuous. It involves a gap in description, where nothing is defined so no story continued. It is: limited self, limited world at rest; unlimited self and unlimited world in movement. In the other "functions" of consciousness, either self or world is defined in both states of rest and movement. You can tell a story. But in this third "function" of consciousness, definition vanishes in movement. Before movement things were here. After movement things are there. What happens in-between no one knows. Philosophers call this the mind body problem, how the mind and body affect each other. Scientists don't give the problem a name. They ignore it. They ignore the problem because they can, because physical theories work despite the confusion about what a thing and movement really are.****
- Why do they work?
- The best I can come up with is they work because of an obscure relation to one of the staked out possibilities in how we think and act, that "third function" of consciousness. But I'm not sure that means anything. Anyway, to go on. The citizens in a democracy gather together with other citizens and pass a law, funding public theater for example. Attending that theater will be something new for the citizens, teaching them something about themselves perhaps, changing them as individuals. But the pebble is still the same old pebble when assembled together with other pebbles in layers. Nothing new in what a pebble itself can do arises from its arrangement in layers or within a mountain. How then can it be possible to do what the physicist is trying to do, discover the emergence of mental things like democracy from "natural" things like particles and atoms in movement? Instead, the discontinuous physical world trying to emerge into the mental world provides a function and variable description of all major categories of insanity. Depression and catatonia: being locked in the defined world and self. Mania and psychosis: being locked in movement with undefined self and world. Schizophrenia: the passage of one to the other, depression to psychosis, losing history crossing the gap in undefined movement between world of defined things before movement and defined things after movement, where the origin of our own thoughts is forgotten and our own thoughts become outside voices.
- I never thought going into Starbucks to look up something and send my daughter a message I'd be hearing anything like this.
- There's more, if you have time.
- Yes. But I have to get the information my daughter asked for to her soon.
- Everyone is in a hurry.
- Not you.
- No. As you see. I outlined what I just said for the physicist who was more in a hurry than you. I told him I wouldn't go into the details of the different kinds of conscious and unconscious thought and action. What I wanted to know, he'd already told me he didn't like the idea of infinite as data, was would he accept such a mathematics? Really more like formal logic as it didn't involve quantities, but it was what he asked for. I was sure, I said, he wouldn't accept it.
- And?
- He said he wouldn't.
- Why not?
- I asked. He said he really had to go and he went. Now the philosopher I was writing about when we met and I said I'd tell you about. I found his name in footnote to an article related to emergence. I'd heard him mentioned several times before by people who didn't particularly inspire confidence so I hadn't looked him up. This time I did. I was astonished to see he wrote about many of the same subjects I had, and was coming up with similar conclusions. Like me he was particularly interested in the problem of why we can't have a political debate. He said he didn't have an answer. I felt some satisfaction when I read that because I did have an answer. I'll get to that. I read through the first half of his new book, some of his older books, then played a few of the videos posted on his site. I couldn't believe this guy: pompous, false, affected. How could he have come up those ideas which include anarchist economics? How could anything good be produced by a professor for forty years at Harvard University, that institute of social conformity? Had this guy been reading my stories maybe? Seemed unlikely, though Google told me when I checked that I have readers in Cambridge where the professor lives. I was curious what people had to say about him, went to an recent interview he gave to a reporter at the Financial Times. Somewhere in the middle of the interview his wife came home and jokingly asked the interviewer if her husband is using her ideas without giving her credit.
- Really?
- Yes. Better late than never I woke up to the fact that he'd coauthored a book with a physicist who uses ideas of emergence, that he'd coauthored another book with a French philosopher who wrote about the emergence of democracy. This guy who looked on video like he couldn't be the originator of his ideas wasn't. Of course not. They'd been put together out of other people's ideas. But to get back to the problem why we can't have a debate. The Harvard professor says he is neither a dogmatic leftist who want to change the economy in accord to a blueprint, nor is he a dogmatic rightest who want to let to things go further along the same path. He wants to experiment with different economics. But, as his French coauthor explained, people are immobilized, they have unconsciously learned to accept that only existing political alternatives are possible.
- Like the physicist.
- Yes. But how do you wake people up out of their unconsciousness? At the end of his life the French philosopher went back to studying ancient Athens. Actually he was a Greek spending most of his life in France, as the Harvard professor was a Brazilian who spent most of his life in the U.S.
- What are you?
- Me? American American. You won't catch me making affected gestures, I've got being cool down cold.
- You're funny.
- Glad you think so. In his video, the French Greek coauthor, seen arm pounding an invisible mallet on the table, goes back to his Greek roots and the famous funeral oration of Pericles as reported in Thucydides. I quote the speech a lot myself. I'll get it on the computer. Athenians, according to the funeral oration, thought of themselves like this:
Our love of what is beautiful does not lead to extravagance; our love of the things of the mind does not make us soft. We regard wealth as something to be properly used, rather than as something to boast about. Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well: even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics—this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.
Democracy is a sharing of power, concludes the philosopher pounding his imaginary mallet. If you give your power to someone else, giving him the job to represent you, doing nothing yourself to make the democratic thing being made, the thing made will not bear your stamp. It is not yours and no longer will serve your interests. He doesn't go further in the video. But you can add that in Athenian property inheritance laws only the elder male inherited. And citizenship required property ownership. The only way later born males could get property and citizenship was by marriage or adoption into another family without male heir. The others simple were out of the democracy. Athens was a slave society, citizens made up a small fraction of the population, but slavery was a misfortune, not a natural state. Anyone could be captured in war and become enslaved. Slaves could be and were freed. A slave was a slave because without power, and no other reason. It was very easy to become a slave: lose power. I know you have to go. The point I want to make is that the French philosopher in his commentary on the speech of Pericles left out an essential element: beauty. For the Athenians, the power to create was limited by the sense of beauty. They create so as to make something beautiful, and when they've done that they stop. They don't go to excess. They stop. They don't create for the sake of creating for the sake of creating, with each creation carrying forth the movement to new creation. Doing for the sake of doing is a characteristic of our period of market economics, and you know why?
- Why?
- The Athenian example explains how laws and ideas that are against the interest of the majority of people are supported by them without their knowing why. You can't know how and why laws are made if you don't participate in making them. The laws don't emerge from your own activity, they are not part of your history. You learn them without attention, unconsciously imitating the behavior of those around you, And the laws don't respect your interests because they were not produced as a function of your power. When you don't exercise power, participate in politics, when you delegate authority to a leader the emergent laws don't represent you. In the course of debate the Athenians change in their character to the kind of people who can understand the law they are instituting. Making a law establishing a festival of theater they become the kind of people who are the understanding audience to the performances produced at the theater. Still with me?
- Yes.
- When you stop moving in a democracy, you give up your power to participate in what is constantly emerging, and at the same time lose understanding of what emerges; the resulting laws don't respect your interests, you unconsciously learn to obey laws you don't understand by imitating of the behavior of those around you. The only way to maintain power, knowledge, consciousness, avoid becoming a slave is to keep moving.
- But I don't understand. Democracy is good, isn't it?
- If it isn't a democracy without beauty like ours! When you remove beauty from a society of emergent laws you get modern times. Freud built his psychology on democracy without beauty. What we thought was love, he said, was regressive memory of the security and pleasure of being in the womb. The life of the mind was a constant fight against blockages that appear the moment you are inactive, blockages caused by unconsciously followed laws continually produced without you and against you. In Athens laws were not constantly being made. People had other things to do with their lives. Remember what I said to the physicist: prodding the brain he might succeed in creating a story of consciousness that was like a dream or a memory, a puppet show in the cave. It would leave out all the rest of life: love, art, imagination. In democracy without beauty you get philosophers who can't stop talking, texts and performances that are ugly, even self consciously so. The French philosopher says in the introduction to his big book that he is setting out his ideas as he creates them, that there is no finished order, that the book is not art like a completed building, but is more like a construction site. To pause in the exercise of power is to have the continually emerging power go on without you. When you step off the path of power you step on the path towards slavery. There can be no rest. The philosopher of democracy without beauty speaks in a self perpetuating way: every sentence produces a new foundation to be built upon. He speaks not to please an audience, not even to please the audience of himself, the first audience of any creator. Instead, one idea emerges after another, the pebble and sediment layer way, not the way of Athenians whose voting into existence a theater remakes them into the audience of that theater. The philosopher of democracy without beauty pounds into your head his idea: the self directed activity he calls autonomy creates the thing autonomy which is itself creating the thing autonomy, etc, expressing the fundamental incoherence of the physical world left to itself: thing, movement, thing, movement. Layer laid down on layer. No story. No exit. No rest.  But think about the words of Pericles. They're beautifully expressed, wouldn't you say? Speaking with art takes the audience along the path the words travel all the way to the beautiful result. There the audience rests, conscious and empowered, having followed successfully in the footsteps of the artist. Beauty is where people meet. The arrival of beauty was the criterion used by the Athenian to makes their decisions, the sign that something done better had emerged.
- Are these your ideas or the ancient Greeks?
- The ideas were in the air. Expressed by Parmenides in form of a poem, they were to be found also in the Jewish religion, the day of rest after six days of creation, god stopping to say it is good after every individual act of creation. Let's leave it at that. But before you go...
- What?
- I think I saw you before. Twice before.
- When?
- Today, when I was on Beverly Drive walking to the market. You, or your double, looked at me as I looked at her, or you. And then your double or you passed me again when I was sitting outside the market and even threw an over the shoulder glance back at me. I called after but wasn't heard, I guess. I wanted to meet her, your double. I thought she and I had the same kind of power, to put it in language we've been using. Something might come of it. And I liked your double's looks.
- It wasn't me. I didn't go to the market.
- I'll know if you are your double by your walk when you leave.
- I'll walk now. Well?
- It's you.
- But I didn't go to the market.
- I didn't see your double actually in the market. Were you walking down Beverly Drive at all?
- No.
- Are you sure?
- Yes. No. Maybe. I've got your site's address. If I remember I'll let you know.
- Do that. It's been a pleasure.
- It's been beautiful.

Continued at Peace Of Mind

(The mathematics of consciousness in more detail here)

Further Reading:
Machines That Think
My Wife Who Throws Me Out
Mystery
________________
Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
** Bird Song & Machine Talk
*** We Make Brains
**** Machines & Consciousness

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Duty: Two Points


 Raul Wallenberg

According to a Swedish diplomat's published memoir, in the fall of 1944 he hosted a dinner at a house in the Buda hills of Budapest. Attending was his superior officer, Raul Wallenberg, and Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi in charge of deportation of the Hungarian Jews. Eichmann is reported by him to have responded to Wallenberg's attack on Germany and his prediction of Germany's impending defeat as follows. He does not believe Nazi party ideas. He has gotten to the top in life, has an enviable life of power and pleasure. He understands Germany has lost the war, and that he has a limited time left to live his life of grace. But in that time and until the end he would continue to do his duty to the best of his ability and to reap the great rewards for doing his duty.

His duty in Hungary was arranging the murder of 800,000 people. He succeeded in sending 400,000 to their deaths.

Note in the words of Adolf Eichmann:
1. his pride and satisfaction in doing his duty
2. his gratitude to his group for providing a better life
3. his knowledge of unjustified group practice

At dinner parties we celebrate our lives together, and Eichmann took the opportunity of being questioned to make one final affirmation of his life. Our definition of evil is the deliberate denial of our human nature for the sake of the rewards of acting in a group. Eichmann then is a perfect example of evil. Evil is the deliberate choice of belief over knowledge. Obedience to one's group, mere convention, is allowed to overpower knowledge that grows from one's own experience. Evil is the wrong way, a turning on its head the civilized precedence of knowledge over belief.

That is the first point. The second point is even harder, even uglier.

What made the Jews a unique target of mass murder is their religion of an individual contract with god, with the group functioning only as a reminder of that contract. It is a religion that makes those who practice it incapable of evil. That is not to say it makes them good.

In The Nazi's Last Victims, a book published in 1998, Rudolf Vrba tells the story of his escape from Auschwitz concentration camp, his making his way into his native Slovakia and contact with the Jewish community leaders there, his drawing up of his eye-witness report of the preparations for the mass murder of the Hungarian Jews. That report was sent to Switzerland and published there, was also placed in the hands of the Jewish leaders in Budapest. They chose not to inform the Jewish people, thousands of whom a day were being loaded onto boxcars, 80 or more to a car, to be killed in Poland. Instead, the community leaders arranged with massive bribes to protect one or two thousand of the rich and influential including of course themselves. (Some later said they tried to tell, but were not believed. Some denied they knew.)

We want to call this behavior evil, but it does not fit our definition, group loyalty leading us to do what we know is wrong, and definitions are important, are all we have to hold onto ourselves in a world that defies us to give up the job of making sense of it. The Jewish leaders in Hungary were not evil, rather they were simply failures, intellectual failures. Individual responsibility to know and act on the truth is one component of what is necessary for a good life. The other is love. We tell the truth and do good for the sake of love, not for ourselves. We think for ourselves, act for others.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Days Before I Met My Wife


The Island Of Cyprus

What I was doing again in Cyprus? The Cypriot couldn't figure me out. Why had I left my own country to go there and do nothing? Was I doing nothing, was I not a spy, for the United States, for Israel? Was I even really American? Why was I living like I was, spending time with a Serbian woman who, protected companion of a powerful local lawyer plainly didn't belong with me or to me or me belong to her in any way? Why was I helping her when no one else would, putting myself at risk?

She had moved me from my beach apartment to the store's loft, where I could sleep in the company of plastic bags filled with clothes donated to churches and bought by her by the pound. The owner of the restaurant next door tried to bully her, suffered astonished the fearless sharpness of her tongue, and proceeded to the performance of dirty tricks, knocking down trees in the courtyard and blocking her door, smashing, removing things. This about a place open 2 hours in the evening a few days a week. Sales averaged about 10 dollars a day as far as I could tell. I was brought over to house-sit.

Every morning I would climb down the loft steps cluttered with more plastic bags of clothes, make my way to the door, unlock it, drag out a table and a chair and make myself instant coffee. Knowing I was a reader, my friend had greatly expanded her collection of donated paperbacks. The customers liked to ask my advice on their selections. They'd ask me, sitting outside in the garden with coffee in one hand and book in the other, do you work here? No, just a guest. Go on in. Prices are on the board by the door. Leave the money on the book shelf. Just go on in? Yes.

Many people found the trust and nonchalance the most amusing thing about the place. More than one mentioned a Yiddish writer unknown to me by the name of Grade, and a story of a religious man who managed his store the same way.

I had Shakespeare, and best sellers, Plato and strange books on history and politics and poetry that would turn up at the churches. My Serbian friend would arrive most nights with yogurt and pizza for me, and we would sit outside together under the night sky. We had known each other for years, met in Budapest before she came to Cyprus, met her protector, and began to settle down. She would tell me sometimes, when I asked why she was being so good to me, she was my friend because I had helped her in the past, made her gifts, and I would always say I never would have given her anything if I knew it was going to be considered the price of her friendship. She'd laugh, and say, too late now, and in any event I let her repay the generosity or whatever it was.

After I had been there a couple of weeks the attacks of the restaurant owner resumed. The palm branch decorations on the roof are thrown down before the door. I go to the mayor's office to complain when my friend's visit to the police is unproductive. Eventually much of the town knows about this little war going on in the courtyard. And then it comes back to me.

From the garden a young man and a woman enter the store, ask me if I work there. I say no, I am staying upstairs. They can go in, if they find something they want they can leave the money on the shelf, prices are listed on the board. The man asks if he can buy the book I am reading and holding in my hand? I tell him it happens to be my book, not the store's. But I will be finished in a few minutes, and then you can take it. You are under arrest, the man says. Why? Tell you later.

The policemen, as he leads me into the lock up behind the station, says, "Your problem is you think you can change the world."

I meet many fine people on the other side of the fence, young men from the Indian subcontinent mostly. And I work over my ideas on Shakespeare's supernatural worlds, to one of which I have evidently been transported. Next morning I am taken before the court, met by a lawyer I had selected from a list provided by American Embassy. I am charged with working illegally. Passport confiscated. Bail money demanded, police drive me to automatic teller machine. And then I am out. The lawyer gets to work putting pressure on the prosecuting officials at the courthouse, and he recommends I get help from the Embassy. The pressure works, next day the prosecutor's representative is in court saying he believes there is no reason to continue with this case. Judge says he will await an official statement of this from the main office. Next day, the same official appears in court to say he has changed his mind. I get on a bus to the capital to speak with the American Embassy. They don't care, don't want to be bothered: put it in writing, they say, and we'll see. Next week back in court, another lawyer I have asked to help has been working again on the prosecutor's officers. She tells me they are ashamed of what they are doing. Then why are they doing it? Instructions from above. Continuances have been day after day arranged by the lawyers, and the judge is getting irritated. What are we waiting for now? An answer from the Embassy determining what they are going to do. I have been spending my days in the courthouse cafe, reading, meeting the other accused. The court interpreter suddenly appears and sits down at my table.

He tells me the judge wants this case to move forward. What do I expect from the American Embassy? I said I have asked the Ambassador to contact the Attorney General of Cyprus. What does the Ambassador say? I don't know, haven't spoken with him directly. Tell him the judge wants an answer. How? Call him. O.K., I will give it a try. I dial the number of the Embassy, ask to speak with the woman whom I'd been talking with before. She repeats the formula that the United States doesn't involve itself with the internal legal affairs of foreign countries. I respond that it is the judge here that is demanding a response. Really? Put your lawyer on the phone. I do, my words are confirmed. What do I want them to do exactly, the Embassy official asks me? I want the Ambassador to call the Attorney General and ask him if he knows what is going on here. That a prosecutor from his office has said in court that the case should not be prosecuted, there was no grounds whatsoever for the action to continue, then returned the next day saying he would proceed anyway. OK, she'll do that. I hang up, the interpreter asks me what she said. The Ambassador will call the Attorney General, I repeat, and the interpreter jumps from the table knocking over his chair and runs out of the cafe. Five minutes later he rushes back in, saying "Case closed! Call the ambassador! Tell him not to call the Attorney General". I make the call, the Embassy woman answers impatiently,

- Yes? What now?
- Case closed, the judge wants you to tell the Ambassador not to call the Attorney General.
- Too late, she says, I am looking at him on the phone right now talking with the Attorney General. What happened?
- I don't know.
- Incredible!

So it is over. My lawyer hands me later the official story: the prosecutors claimed they found a misplaced document from the capitol that had closed the case days before.

What was this all about? The usual: hatred of Americans, hatred of Israelis (anyone thought to be Jewish was considered Israeli), hatred of immigrants (my Serbian friend), anger at being defied by both me and my friend (the offending neighbor I had been told worked for the police as an informer).

This hatred was widespread. At Starbucks, the Lebanese manager had stuck used chewing gum on the inside of my cup lid. The manager of MacDonald's, like the rest of the town, had heard of my war with the authorities, and said the Jews were always stirring up trouble and bring it on themselves. A restaurant owner, who told me he also knew everything, warned me he wasn't on my side, he hated all Americans. Who was on my side? A pastor of a home church, a group of Christians who meet together privately at the house of this Cypriot owner of a large fruit cannery. I'd got into conversation with him on the beach promenade, and when he heard the sad tale immediately invited me to stay with him in his house. He agreed it wasn't safe to stay at the store any longer, and his house is where I was to be found the nights of the days of court delays, debating definitions of religion, doctrine, practice. I tried out my new ideas with a visiting English preacher who had acted in Shakespeare at school.

I was told the cannery mostly employed immigrants. What was going on with me was part of a vicious program of attack on immigrants, which seemed to have no purpose other than cruelty. Impossible papers were demanded, immediate expulsions ordered....

On the day the court gave up on me, I bought the first ticket I could get out of Cyprus to Budapest where I had friends. At the stop over in Prague I got talking with a student, who it turned out had been researching in Cyprus the subject of the persecution of immigrants. I told my story, and her comment was swift: she knows this very well. In a place where immigration is not a problem and the immigrants themselves generally admired and welcomed by the people, the police hunt them as a sport. The Cypriots were themselves, before they got rich from tourism and off shore banking, humiliated foreign workers. The people who are studying the situation, and apparently there are many, say that the police enjoy the reversal of roles. They are literally mad about it.

The very afternoon I arrived in Budapest I met my wife-to-be....


(Continued at How I Met My Wife)

Beverly Hills Jews



Starbucks Coffee, Olympic and Doheny, Beverly Hills

- I sent your picture to a friend. "A typical Jewish Intellectual", she said. Are you are a "Jewish intellectual"?
- Jewish by ethnicity, not practice. Intellectual? That charge I don't think I can escape.
- Then she asked, "This isn't the Beverly Hills Jew you're always talking about?" Are you a Beverly Hills Jew?
- Don't you have anything else to talk about?
- No.
- I did most of my growing up next door in the Fairfax area. My mother lived for about a decade in Beverly Hills after I went away to college.
- And you live in Beverly Hills now.
- If you call it living.
- Who was that woman pounding on the window?
- What window?
- Here in Starbucks. Yesterday. Don't you remember?
- You mean Leah. How could I forget Leah.
- Are you going to tell me about her? Why was she pounding on the window?
- She was taunting the rabbis sitting at the round table.
- Ah.
- You're happy because you're back on your subject, Beverly Hills Jews.
- Your subject too. You've told me the only people you're sure read your stories are government spies and haters of Jews.
- You're in luck. Leah is fine material.
- How do you know her?
- I was at Ralphs market one night around midnight waiting for the Guru to come out...
- The Guru of Beverly Hills. The guy you live with.
- Yes. Leah, outfitted in the costume of an orthodox Jewish woman, long plain skirt, peasant blouse, and covered hair, was going around to every man on his way to or from his car asking whether he was Jewish and if he was did he want to marry her.
- Was she serious?
- Yes. But aware as well she was being entertaining. Before she went crazy she'd studied music at an elite academy in New York. That was long ago. She was about fifty now, divorced, with three teen-aged children. Ex-husband and children have gone to court to get a restraining order against her visiting them. The Guru has one too now. So does Starbucks. Probably the rabbis too.
- Why was she pounding on Starbucks' window?
- I'll get to that. Leah at last came over to me, asked me her questions: am I Jewish, will I marry her? At that moment the Guru came out of Ralphs. I told her, here comes your perfect husband. He's an orthodox Jew and crazy like you. They started talking and soon had it all arranged. They'd get married.
- No!
- Yes. There was a slight problem however. The Guru was already married, his separated wife in constant telephone contact. But that was no problem two adult human beings couldn't handle. Sadly, it didn't work out.
- Why not?
- Leah demands money and personal assistance from everyone she meets. She has artistic and business projects. She takes being Jewish seriously. Follow the rules set by the group, be aided by the group in accordance with those rules, do something good. Unfortunately somewhere along the line she went crazy, developed this maniacal anger appearing instantly when anyone refused any of her demands for assistance. The family threw her out, got their restraining order. At the time of meeting her at Ralphs she was living in an apartment paid for by family and on a thousand dollar a month allowance from them. That's no more.
- What happened?
- She got worse. She tried to seduce the Guru's eighty year old mother whose mind is gone.
- Thus the restraining order.
- Yes. Then she decided the carpet in her apartment was dirty so she tore it up and rolled it over the balcony to the street one floor below. She got evicted, and was to be seen wandering up and down Doheny demanding aid and services from everyone, from the rabbis at the Temple across the street, from me, from anyone going in or out of Starbucks.
- Her family won't help her?
- Apparently not. So do you know who she ended up staying with?
- How should I know?
- The Holocaust survivor down the street. Ninety-two years old, and not Jewish. She introduced me to him outside his house, had him give me a copy of his book. I was instructed to make a TV mini-series out of it.
- Was he in a concentration camp?
- The worst, Auschwitz, for about a year. I knew of the book's existence but hadn't come across it before. I saw on the back cover it was published by a marketing company. That was strange. I'd read enough of these memoirs and didn't want to read the book, especially since, as the author explained, it'd been co-written by a professional writer. The two had met when they both worked at the old Beverly Canon Theater, long only a memory, where the Montage Hotel is now.
- How is the book?
- Nicely written. I'll have to be Jewish intellectual for the rest of my answer. I hope you don't mind.
- Not at all.
- Philosophers like to play with the question, what is the human species' primary characteristic? Language, tool use, upright posture? Foresight? Or is it the ability to deliberately forget, as I myself once thought? Or better, is it mass killing? No other animal makes such a habit deliberately getting together to kill. I'd choose the last as a better answer. It brings together almost all the special characteristics. More than bringing them together, it organizes them. We humans are able to look ahead to forgetting ourselves in acts of group killing aided by technology.
- Isn't that also your definition of evil: deliberately doing what you know as an individual is wrong for the sake of rewards acting in a group?
- Nice that you remember. It is.
- The specific characteristic of the human species is evil?
- Do you doubt it? The Holocaust memoir of Leah's host was published by a marketing company. In the marketplace of life mass murder would be the human being's trademark. Life is characterized by growth and reproduction. With our mass destruction we have to be the life form most incompetent at life.
- So we're evil.
- You said it. Here's the part of my explanation you won't like, the Jewish intellectual part. If in Nazism the individual is the agent of the group, in Jewish life the group is the agent of the individual. The group is the storehouse of the rules, is the tool the individual uses to remember. But the individual makes his deal directly with god, not with the group. The Holocaust isn't special as a mass killing, mass killing is the characteristic of human beings. But it is special as a model, a paradigm of evil.
- Why?
- Because the Jews, acting as Jews, are logically incapable of evil. In Jewish life the group is the tool of the individual. Evil requires the reverse, the individual lowering himself to being the tool of the group, forgetting what he knows is good, getting in exchange rewards of group conformity. I brought this up because this model or paradigm has no applicability to the old man's Holocaust memoir. The previous ones I'd read were full of grief, confusion, anger, with the knowledge the tool of their memory, their group, was being destroyed, with disappointment and shock the rules weren't working. This book, however, was written with ironic detachment, a story of cleverness and resourcefulness that reminded me of Homer's The Odyssey more than anything else.
- The old guy committed the crime of not being Jewish.
- All I'm saying is reading the book I felt a flatness, the absence of the model, of the attempt of evil to destroy its opposite.
- So Leah is living with the Holocaust survivor down the street...
- Yes. Last night leaving Starbucks on my way home I saw a crowd gathered around the old guy's house. A police car was parked in front. You can guess what happened.
- They'd arrested Leah?
- Taken her away. One policeman, two social workers, one long-time friend of the old guy who'd driven him a few times to speak to organizations about the Holocaust, and four or five concerned neighbors. The younger of the social workers explained to me: the law allowed the police to take someone who appeared dangerously unstable to a hospital for observation, and that is what had occurred. She went on:
-They can hold her for about a week, then she'll be out again. Back here maybe. We're concerned for the old man's safety. His rib was broken the last week.
- Do you know Leah's family?
- No, but my partner has spoken with them.
- They can help her, they're rich, right? Her ex-husband the vice-director of the country's biggest Jewish organization, her brother a Beverly Hills doctor? That's what she told me.
- How are you involved?
- I know Leah. I've met her host. I have his book. I'm a concerned neighbor too. I'm worried that Leah might hurt the old guy inadvertently like a big dog lying down on an infant. So her family won't help anymore?
- No, they're tired of her.
- Tired of her? I've heard that before. The free market in action. If someone doesn't make money, it's at the individual's discretion whether it's better to see your mother dying on the street outside your window or to pay out a little cash to avoid the eye-sore. Leah's family evidently chose to save the cash and watch mother die on the street. The eye-sore parades up and down Doheny, demanding respect and cooperation from everyone, is denied by everyone, everyone except this last of the Holocaust survivors who takes her in, putting himself in danger. The man who the Nazis couldn't kill the Free Market might.

Further Reading:
Try To Stay Home
Beverly Hills Stories

Friday, November 28, 2014

Peace Of Mind

(Continued from The Mathematics Of Consciousness)

- Drop a pebble in the water and waves spread out from the point where the pebble hit. Stirring a spoon in a jar of peanut butter creates a spiral pattern. If you try to retrace your movements with the spoon will the smooth surface you started with come back? If the pebble was on a fishing line and you drew it back out of the water will the waves retreat and smooth water reappear?
- No.
- Why not?
- Physicists talk about entropy, probabilities, many more ways of creating disorder than order. I don't really understand.
- Look at it this way. I have or had this sort of wife I like to talk about. She couldn't decide if she was staying with me or going. It drove me crazy. But at times I could manage the situation, I took a step back and was content. But then I was discontent with my content. Content was just a foundation for something more important, for happiness. Happiness meant trying to get back to love.
- So did you try?
- Yes, and failed, and became content with that failure.
- And then discontented with your content again.
- Yes.
- Does this have anything to do with your last story?
- It does. Three functions of consciousness were outlined: one bad, one good, one practical.
- The bad is ritual, the good is creative, the practical is science.
- Yes. Science, when kept practical...
- Was what you were doing in the story, you called it mathematics of consciousness, was that practical science?
- I'd say so. Science, when done as a type of creative action, with the sense that things studied are defined like our selves are defined in an undefined world when we act creatively in general.
- Experimentally, hypothetically.
- Yes. When science becomes a model, is applied in a restrictive manner to the other functions of consciousness, we get a destructive myth.
- Such as the the myth of the free market. The belief that art and love are meaningless except in their application to a life of buying and selling things.
- Before science was made a myth of, used to modify the other kinds of consciousnesses, ritual was made a myth of. First nature myths, in which each ritual involves a different god or set of gods. Then monotheism, seeing all of life as one continuous ritual, history a single performance involving only one god. The first monotheism took the inception of ritual as its model, focused on the organization of ritual, the rules that describe its practice, and looking with expectation to the power and security that would result at the ritual's conclusion. The next monotheism focused on the conclusion of ritual, on that security and power achieved, on the end of history. The third put both together, both the rules of performance and the imagining of the achieved security and satisfaction they comes from following them.
- Judaism, Christianity, Islam.
- The myths of ritual that invade the realm of creative consciousness are: strict application of the rules (ritual performance), fatalism, resigned passivity (imagined results of ritual). The myth of science invading creative consciousness: organization for the sake of organization, doing for the sake of doing, power for the sake of power. Now what if, like we've done with ritual and science, we become conscious of what we might call the myth of creativity?
- You mean the cycle going from art to beauty, movement to rest?
- Yes. Is there anything we might do to rid ourselves of it?
- Would we want to?
- In the story of my wife, definitely yes. Every new beginning of action had at its beginning a sense of betrayal. I'd lost my wife's love, and didn't have the slightest idea of how to get it back. What if this entire system of movement and rest, self and world, defined and undefined could be replaced?
- By another consciousness without distinctions between self and world, between movement and rest, defined and undefined? How? If everything is all together what can move?
- Take my love story of discontent with lost love, content with memory of love and with love's possible return, discontent with that content - doesn't this involve both movement and rest (content and discontent), involve both self and world defined as separate, and not defined as separate (not separate in love, separate in lack of love)? What if all this movement and rest and separate self and not separate self all together became the foundation of consciousness? What if we could take care of every new betrayal standing back at a distance, the Bhagavad Gita's "knower of the field"?
- With the field being not only fighting, but art, and love too. I expect you to supply a mathematics of all this.
- Let's go back to the wave made by the pebble and the spiral in the peanut butter. One way of looking at what is happening is that every incremental motion set going by the spoon or pebble creates a "machine for moving" out of the material immediately closest. Not only movement is passed on, but organization; a machine is creating copies of itself. It might be a simple switch that decides on two paths. The wave and spiral forms reflect such a decision process in operation.
- Is this science?
- It is. Certain molecules have been observed making copies of themselves. Cosmologists are using this model as explanation what order in the universe and in life arises in the first place. Now consider the sense of betrayal in my love story. I want to be content with my wife's betrayal. But when I go back with her, I wonder, is her every word a lie? Is she really listening when I talk? Will she decide to leave in the next five minutes? The original cause of betrayal ramifies into results each with their own results continuously as time goes passes.
- Like the wave and spiral.
- Yes. I can't simply go back, draw out the pebble, push the spoon the opposite way. If I am to repair the damage I will have to revers all the different ramifications. The world of the reversed spoon and drawn out pebble is a world of machines, not the smooth water and ever surface it was before. When you move through those machines they resist your movement, and pushing them you create more disorder rather than less, the smooth surface more interrupted. Following?
- Yes.
- If we know how this works we might be able to help each other take that step back to being the knower of all the fields of ritual and science and art and love. It would require a social organization where everyone surrounding someone betrayed, everyone receiving the ramified results of that betrayal immediately pushes back, compensates.
- Your friend's wife has left him so you show him confidence to help him recover his confidence.
- Exactly. Now there is an economic organization that mixes self and world, movement and rest, defined and undefined: voluntary cooperatives, developed in 19th Century anarchist political theory. People guarantee each other the practical necessities of life, food and shelter, and on that basis decide individually what to do and what to make with each other, sharing the results. In theory such an economic organization could allow a new "function" of consciousness, where everyone cooperated with everyone else to smooth out the waves and spiraling results of betrayal. We could retain all the aspects of consciousness we are familiar with and move on to something new. What do you think?
- Aren't higher states of consciousness supposed to leave you in peace? Yours makes me dizzy.

Further Reading:
Killer Metaphysics
I know It's Personal But Are You In Love?