Monday, December 3, 2018

Rights & Ritual

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

In The Service Of Religion

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

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Character Circus

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

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

Further Reading:
What Is Capitalism?
Political Correctness

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Way Out

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

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

Further Reading:
Kant & Compromise
* 'One could argue that the formal order of the liberal state depends fundamentally on a social capital of habits of mutuality and cooperation that antedate it, which it cannot create and which, in fact, it undermines.' (Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play, - James C. Scott) 

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Superlative Horse

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

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

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Forest & The Trees

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

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Truth & Character In Politics

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

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

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Mafia Economics

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- Got anything for me?
- Well, yes. I think I do.
- I'm listening.
- I've read how some economists, studying of all things the Finnish stock exchange, have decided that the free market isn't really free, at least not at first.
- What is it at first?
- Exclusive, mafia style agreements to give each other preferential, better than market treatment, made for the benefits of trust and security between individuals and groups who know each other. After a while, the economists say, 'disruptors' enter the market, offering extra-good deals causing the mafia arrangement to break down as one or both partners take the better offer and enter into the now again temporarily free market.
- Do I have to complain that nothing ever comes out of the mouths of economists but idiocy like that?
- Why not? It's good to hear it out loud once and a while. Besides that, what occurs to you?
- That anyone who actually does trading knows that a private arrangement comes about not for gain but against the idea of gain and profit.
- As an expression of friendship.
- Yes. The arrangements don't break down when extra-advantageous trades are to be had.
- When do they break down?
- When the practice of friendship breaks down. Something more like the economists describe happening in the Finnish stock market is what England feared the American colonies would do: struggle for independence the moment they were strong enough to do without the trust and security of being tied to the mother country.*
- Which in practice meant that there were in reality no other than practical ties involved.
- Yes. In present politics we can see the movement in the opposite direction, from market to mafia. Political power was once distributed throughout a market of numerous purchasers, dominated but not controlled by rich individuals and corporations. Now an exclusive deal has been made where a cabal has been formed to gain and hold total power for those dominant groups collectively.
- The Republican Party acting in service of billionaires and multinational corporations.
- Yes.
- So you claim this fatality, this decline of our country happened not because of the security and advantages to political agents forming that cabal - that is 'idiotic, economist's thinking' - but because, what? ideas of friendship have decayed, which ideas previously provided security from otherwise unrestrained markets? I'm a little lost. How does friendship function to provide security in the political market?
- In a couple, fairly obvious ways. First, in reminding that politics has to keep as much as possible out of private life, the sphere in which friendship operates. And second, by ensuring that the ideas of politics demanded are those that are friendly: that is, which respect human nature and aim at helping it flourish.
- And there we are, all the way from the Finnish Stock Exchange! I gave you mafia economics, you gave back a friend's politics. We did pretty well from our trade.

Further Reading:
* See: Theodore Draper, 'A Struggle For Power'

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Third Way

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- Individual and society. Society corrupts individuals, who then seek to perfect society, to find the society that won't corrupt the individual, and then find that any fixed form of society corrupts the individual because in the service of making that society any form of violence, any means to that end, can be justified.
- Expressed by Huxley when he wrote that the only end worth adjusting means to attain was charity, that is, kindness.
- Which cannot provide a defined form of society. Yet, why not?
- Because kindness done by society defining rules is not kindness.
- Because kindness arises from sympathy, a fellow feeling. Kindness is a relation between one individual and another, a sort of third way between self concerned individuality and selfless social conformity. Language is not the same as thought. The upscale world of classical physics is not the same as the quantum scale world - that's as far as I've got. Your thoughts on this?
- The social world works with anonymous atoms. Atoms are types of things isolated from one another. The quantum world works with obscurely entangled particles. The types of things ordered by rules, experimentally discovered, is the work-in-progress society, is more rule guided language than continuously merging thought. While the quantum world is that of individuals who can't be understood separate from their relations to other individuals, a relation established and reestablished on a case by case basis.
- And?
- The French Revolution brings about the totalitarianism of the Terror. Rousseau's endangered individual is told to lose himself in a societal 'general will'. American democracy delivers itself up to a general will that is a collective acting out of a gangster's self-willed individuality.
- The human being isn't getting it right, not for long, not finding that third way of the individual experimenting with rules, attached neither to any defined form of society nor to a self-destroying individualism.


- That old woman* I told you about, the one who thought it was impolite to be concerned with the private life of the people around her, involving herself instead in details of the lives of the famous? She came back to LA where she lived most her life from her isolated rural home with her friend, another old woman. Why? To be back in the thick of things. The acquaintance she stayed with in LA turned her out, and with not enough income to pay for hotels or even a room, ends up nights sleeping on the street, days hanging out at cafes. The possessions -  clothing, bags, photographs, manuscripts - she left with her betraying LA acquaintance he later claimed were stolen from his place. She tells me she wanted to reestablish herself in LA, but with her portfolio and printed resumes gone, and no place to live, job search was out of the question. From stress and sleeplessness she's become emaciated and developed serious health problems from never lying down: most of her money's going to paying doctors for treatment instead of paying rent she can't afford. I tell her every time I see her: Go home! She refuses. Too isolated there. Her friend whom she's still in good relations with and regularly talks to on the phone: she asks too much from her. Too much money, too much help. Is it better, I ask, to slowly die on the streets of LA? Be robbed or murdered by one of the thousands of roving derelicts out at night? She says she appreciates my concern, my health advice about resting horizontal; she is trying to be careful. She claims unconvincingly those health problems prevent her travelling, and repeats her unwillingness to return to rural isolation. I say:
- So you came to LA to join in the community of robbers and murderers?
- There are a lot of nice people here.
- Where?
- This market for example.
- They don't like you here. They're being polite. Or they pity you.
- How do you know?
- Wearing the same clothes every day, carrying around with you that tattered plastic shopping bag, you make it easy for them to type you as destitute, someone with no friends, no family, no job, no money, no past and no future.
- You're wrong.
- You came to LA to wander days among strangers, be treated by them with well intended gestures of kindness, and risk death every night sleeping on some bench on the street, when you have a home with a friend who wants you to return.
- It's my life. I'm not going to explain myself to you.
- Fine. I've warned you.
- And I appreciate it. 
- Do you see why I told you this story?
- No, I don't.
- This old woman, she's a sort of runaway, she's on a pilgrimage.
- Seeking what?
- The third way between individual selfishness and total-society. On her own, living by her own choices, and living among others for their gestures of kindness.
- But she has no place to live. And sounds like from what you say she is slowly dying.
- She's mixed the categories of individuality and society, but both are empty.
- Yet it seems to work for her. She must be crazy.

Further Reading:
The Forest & The Trees
* The Bag

Friday, August 17, 2018

What Is Capitalism?

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Bag

(Continued from Stupefaction!)

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cannibals & Capitalists

Image result for alchemy

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

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

Further Reading:
Bad History
The Technology Of Good

Two Years

(From the novel Beatrix & Rex)

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

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