Friday, April 2, 2021

Deadlock















- Why did you want to meet here? 
- This is where you demanded a hundred dollars* from the religious school students to allow them to perform their ritual on you?
- Yes, they come here Friday afternoons. Do you think, when you try to talk to our countrymen and find it impossible, it is because they are stupid, or deliberately misinformed, or because they have thrown themselves head over heels into the pursuit of bad intentions?
- All three at once. They're been deliberately misinformed into a state of stupid self-absorpsion with their own evil intentions. 
- On my way up to the University this morning I stopped near the new medical school building to talk with a man adjusting a remotely operated quadcopter. I asked him what he was doing.

- I'm setting up a shot for a video I'm making.
- For what?...You won't answer?
- Starbucks, actually. I'm making an instructional video.
- Instructing what?
- Kindness.
- I'll tell you about Starbucks and kindness. A bent over little woman in her 60s with nothing more than the clothes she is wearing, not so much as a plastic bag of possessions, used to fall asleep nights on the bench built against the outside wall of the West Hollywood Starbucks for the few hours they were closed. To get rid of her Starbucks took to hosing down the bench at closing time. This woman now spends the night in Westwood, Village, outside Dennys down the street from here, on the public sidewalk, throwing herself down on the sidewalk pavement, cheek directly on the concrete, no bedding of any kind, restaurant customers carefully stepping around her and the puddle of liquid streaming from her. At the Beverly Hills Starbucks a few mornings back the manager told to leave a emaciated black man who protested to her that he was cold and wet, had been sleeping on the grass outside the church when the sprinklers turned on. He was cold! Didn't she understand? Can't he stay a few minutes? No, if he doesn't go she'll call the police. Why couldn't she let him stay? I asked the manager after the shivering fellow left. She can't lose her job, she answered. She can and does help people like this man, but she can't do it on the job. That is the truth about Starbucks kindness: company policy is to turn a kind person into an unkind person.
- The tens of thousands on the streets is a problem that has to be addressed by the government, not Starbucks.
- Starbucks and the other large corporations bribe the government into policies that create the problem. The stockholders of Starbucks and of other corporations want the company to talk about kindness but don't want the company to talk about why there is a need for kindness, about the unkind behavior of the rich, the corporate stock owners.
- That is one point of view. I've got to go to work and earn a living.
- A requirement for your earning a living is not talking and not thinking.

- And you let him go?
- No, not before I revealed to him that he was stupid, had been deliberately misinformed by his slave master employers, that he was selfishly evil-intentioned. 
- Do you think what's happening here is related to what we were talking about last time, consciousness and homeostasis?**
- I do.
- We respond to the world, then respond to the responded to world, then respond to that world. A cycle, or a spiral, if we imagine ourselves advancing, like in science, or retreating, which is what we are seeing here maybe. But how does it happen we get locked into this downward spiral?
- Simple: it is the familiarity of deadlock itself that is the attraction, that provides the adhesive force. As the people stupidly repeat the evil hatred deliberately sold to them they feel safe in the habit, and the more they rely on this repetition the less able they are to see the world clearly and therefore respond to the world creatively. The more the rich impoverish everyone else, making them insecure, the more stupidly the people repeat the indoctrinated ideas, the more they admire the rich for the security represented by money that has become their sole goal. Locked out are intelligence, sympathy, understanding, the result of an economy become religion enforcing its own cycles of destructive repetition: in the violence inherent in accepting the status of slave working as a employee, in the violence of being a consumer seeking the lowest price from sellers seeking the highest, in the violence of being locked in a system itself suicidal in always requiring new external populations to buy the products in excess of what the slaves can buy with their salaries, the collective slave wages being less than the price of the collected products they have made because the employer's profit has been added. Only the additional buyers outside the home market in a colony can buy those products with the money earned from raw materials sold to the colonizing country. When the colonized cannot buy more because their raw material income has run out, and there are no more populations to colonize, the employers begin to colonize their home populations, getting them in debt by manipulating unemployment and prices, then repossessing collateral of defaulters. The slaves continuously fight their masters, buyers continuously fight sellers, each economically trapped individual continuously fights the collective fate of the economically defined civilization, seeing danger everywhere, and feeling safety in repetatively seeing danger everywhere, becoming paranoid in work, consumption and national destiny.
- Ending with the rich having everything and the rest with nothing, with what the rich exclusively live for, selling to their slaves the products they themselves have made become impossible, exposing the rich as being as stupid, self-indoctrinated and evil as their victimized slaves, locked down like everyone else in their death cult of money. When do the Yeshiva students usually show up here?
- Just before sunset and the beginning of Sabbath.
- And do they exhibit too all three characteristics of our time and place? Stupidity, self-absorption, indoctrination?
- You decide. Last week when the two kids showed up and I demanded again my $100 and refused otherwise to submit to their ritual a whole crowd of their fellow students surrounded me, and while trapped within their circle, my cap whipped off my head, one of my imprisoners recited the required prayer.
- So you were gang ritualed! We're they laughing?
- No, but I was. They were deadly serious and dispersed without a word.

Further Reading:
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Saturday, March 20, 2021

How Do You Feel?

Image result for mind
- What if I told you there's a brain scientist* who claims that consciousness is a feeling, and that feelings are about conditions getting worse or better, and that consciousness has been "localized' not in the brain's areas of rationality but in an area of feelings and homeostasis, of returning to optimal from too much or too little.
- If you told me that I'd say, interesting.
- Only interesting? The brain scientist claims that the fact that same homeostatic mechanism is operating in the brain as in consciousness shows that mind and body, brain activity and consciousness, are two ways of looking at the same thing.
- That same thing being the homeostatic activity.
- Yes.
- I'd say further that brain science seems to be catching up to 19th century Russian novels.
- Because I see you have in your hand Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, and the brain scientist would explain that you're bringing into balance the unsettled state raised in your mind while reading the book.
- If you like. Listen:
“Why is it all over with me? H'm! ... The fact of it is ... if you take it as a whole, I am sorry to lose God—that's why it is.” ... “What do you mean by ‘sorry to lose God’?” ... “Imagine: inside, in the nerves, in the head—that is, these nerves are there in the brain ... (damn them!) there are sort of little tails, the little tails of those nerves, and as soon as they begin quivering ... that is, you see, I look at something with my eyes and then they begin quivering, those little tails ... and when they quiver, then an image appears ... it doesn't appear at once, but an instant, a second, passes ... and then something like a moment appears; that is, not a moment—devil take the moment!—but an image; that is, an object, or an action, damn it! That's why I see and then think, because of those tails, not at all because I've got a soul, and that I am some sort of image and likeness. All that is nonsense! ... It's magnificent, Alyosha, this science! A new man's arising—that I understand.... And yet I am sorry to lose God!”... It's chemistry, brother, chemistry! There's no help for it, your reverence, you must make way for chemistry... But what will become of men then?’ ... ‘Without God and immortal life? All things are lawful then, they can do what they like?’
The conscious mind, the conscience of Dmitri Karamazov: 'The sense of their own degradation is as essential to those reckless, unbridled natures as the sense of their lofty generosity.' If consciousness is a feeling of making good a lack, and that is what is happening in the brain too, the implication is that the priorities of morality have no basis in reality. But Dmitri can't help thinking that though the mind might like the brain be conducting a homeostatic balancing act, a thought is not a thing, it is not in space, not "extended" as philosophers put it. And that the quality of thought of being not in space is associated with morality, that is, with a way of deciding which feelings are to be brought into balance and which not. Related words stimulated my brain stem this morning, I'll call them up on my computer. From The Sabbath by Rabbi Abraham Hershel:
To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time. There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.
Sorry, I might have told you sooner, but I know of your brain scientist and have written to him.
- Always playing games. What did you write?
- First in some detail, then more simply, this:
In a long philosophic tradition the homeostasis that is associated with the mind differs from that which is associated with the body by having the additional element of the infinite. Of course the tradition does not have to be right, but I think it does the job of describing consciousness better than a bare mechanical act.
- Did he answer? 
- He politely informed me his philosophic education was not sufficient to give me an answer.
- You yourself of course have worked out your own way of getting the infinite into the homeostatic activity of consciousness,** to give back Dmitri Karamazov his god, the authoritative Chomsky's judgment on which was what you had produced had no place in the history of scientific investigation of the subject. Didn't it seem like some kind of vindication of your ideas, your story of mechanism and feeling, that consciousness had been identified with an area of the brain that provides for feelings and the course of their regulation, albeit without including the feeling of the infinite?
- It did, but only for a moment. It makes a little less arbitrary that something as specific as a story of return be at the foundations of our mental life.

Further Reading;
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Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Hundred Dollar Ritual

 

The arm tefillin is put on first, on the upper part of the weaker arm. A blessing is recited and the strap wrapped round the arm seven times. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to put on Tefillin...

- Sunny, fierce Michele came to find me at Starbucks this morning. The first thing she tells me is yesterday walking by the art gallery with an exhibit on angels seeing her ran out and handed her a hundred dollar bill. Astonished, I ask her, What time was this?
- Slow down. Why astonished?
- At the very moment she was grasping her hundred dollar bill firmly in hand I was letting a brother hundred dollar bill slip away,
- Which Starbucks was this?
- Beverly Hills.
- Ok. Go on.
- I'll start over. Michelle is an always beautifully and colorfully dressed, self confessed spiritual women in her forties. For the past few weeks she's been sleeping on the steps of the Catholic Church down the street. She's told me how she has to fend off the attentions of the drug addicts, alcoholics and schizophrenics that hang out there. Shouldn't she go someplace else? I ask. Where was she before? It doesn't matter, she answers, everywhere she goes she is persecuted by shadowy organizations. Anyway the story I want to tell you is not about her, but about the hundred dollars, because right about the same time she was pocketing her cash I was being accosted by two college aged kids in black suits, white shirts and broad brimmed hats, students at a local Yeshiva (a Jewish religious school). They wanted to perform a ritual on me that involves leather straps being wound around your arm and a box strapped to your forehead. I was familiar with the sect they belonged to, I told them, and I didn't want them to work their magic on me. The taller young man asked me:
- Why not?
- I believe rituals are harmful.
- Why?
- Can I show you what I reading? I'll turn the computer around. I'm about three fourth through this book, Henri Bergson's 1922 published detailed argument against Einstein's claim time is an illusion. Time rather is one more dimension with the three dimensions of space in a four dimensional universe. Do you agree with Einstein, believe time is an illusion?
- No. Why are you reading on this subject?
- Obviously Einstein wasn't stupid. What went on in his mind: why was it not obvious that the statement he was making that time is an illusion was being made by him in time? Should I tell you why?
- Can I put on the teffillin?
- No. I'm in progress explaining to you why not. In philosophy since before Plato, from the time of Parmenides, movement has been a problem. We experience movement, but we have a problem knowing we do because knowledge is always static. If we want to picture how an object moves between two points, we have to imagine the object instant by instant a bit more in a forward position. Do you understand? I see you don't. Try to imagine something moving now. Well?
- What do you do for a living?
- Nothing. Listen. Here is what I want to suggest. When you say your words, do your rituals, you are doing much the same as Einstein did when he said time is an illusion. In ritual, you reenact a story of death and rebirth in the company, present or imagined, of others doing the same. You forget your weak, dying self in the group performance, and then with the ritual over, see yourself reborn strong. The movement that got you to that point was performed by a dying self, and is left behind once you are reborn in strength. Your past is forgotten in ritual. Einstein's claim that time is an illusion is an example of ritual thinking. It hides the problem of movement in forgetting and ranks the whole world, oneself included, in a complete immobility that allows all potentially to be known.
- Ritual is our way of reminding us of god's love and his commandments.
- Yes, you wear an outfit whose difference from fashion works to remind you: but this way of dressing is not a ritual, rather is a practice: no initial weakness, group not required, and as you say, no forgetting.
- What do you say I am forgetting? Let me put on the tefillin and tell me what you feel.
- You would be harming me.
- But how?
- Because you are practicing ritual. By forming a destructive relation between us, by me being used by you to achieve, you believe, a reward by god, as he raises you from weakness to strength.
- No, it would be good for you too, and good for the Jewish people as a group.
- It works even if one doesn't believe in it? Despite my disbelief I'd be closer to god? It seems that way because in the movement of ritual the participation of an complete stranger is forgotten in the outcome. Maybe if first you compensated me for the damage you'd do establishing an destructive, distancing human relation with me. How much are you willing to pay? A hundred dollars?
Now the other young man who has very apparently been bored pulls out of his front pants pocket and unfolds a new hundred dollar bill. I ask:
- Is that real?
- Yes.
- You want to give me a hundred dollars?
- Yes.
- Is there more where that came from? Where did you get it?
- From my father.
- A gift from your father. Pocket money. If you give me your money will he give you more?
- I don't know. I'll call him and ask...
- Well: what is did he say?
- He said he wouldn't.
- Ok then. I'm tempted, I have to admit. One hundred dollars. Look, here comes a customer for you.  
I make my escape.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Illusion Of Time


- We don't seem to talk much anymore.
- This year of epidemic lockdowns in L.A. is getting to me. Even now most stores and restaurants are still closed, and the restaurants that are open are outdoors only. No comfort to be found in public life. Days pass without my speaking a word. 
- What about the construction site guard you told me about a few months ago.* Have you kept in contact with him? 
- I have. I tried to see if I could wean him off conspiracy theories and his liking for our doubly impeached ex-president. It's simple. All he had to do was ask, Where's the evidence? He quickly took me up on this game. He began writing to me asking me if the explanation for this or that wasn't conspiracy, what was it? Was it true, for example, that Einstein more or less said all knowledge was a kind of conspiracy because time was an illusion? I wrote back to him that yes Einstein had said that, but it applied only to the physical world, not the world of human consciousness. Explain that, he ordered. Think of our world completely described by an equation, I said, and the years no more than different numbers substituted for a variable in that equation. Think of the fellow doing the substitution of numbers for the variable as having a life also describable by an equation, with each of his years a variable also plugged in, and then think of another guy who sees that fellow's life laid out for all time by this mathematics. See the problem? No, he didn't. The problem is that the act of changing and plugging in of the variable's value is not part of that unchanging physical world. The reason we think time is real is because for us time only goes one way, past to present to future, whereas in Einstein's world the only difference between past present and future is the quantity of the plugged in variable. It would be possible for us the go back in time, if it weren't that our actions have a multitude of effects which have themselves multitudes of effects, with the result that simply turning around and going back the way we came requires also pushing back on all those separate results of results of results. A dropped and broken wine glass to be put back together requires not a simple elevation back from the floor to our hand but a retracing upward every drop of wine and shard of glass. What if we could do that? you ask. Do you ask? I asked him. Yes, he said. But you can't do it, because that would involve actually going back to your exact past state. All the different reaches and grabs for drops and shards themselves would have to be retraced with all their proliferating results of results. Wow, he replied: So time is an illusion for the physical world but not for consciousness? It can be that too, I said. Give up on the project of trying to understand what's happening with you and you might come up with a theory like our neoliberalism where time in our economic world is indeed an illusion because its progress is assumed to be known in advance and necessary. Very strange, really complicated, he complained. Why do we have time in consciousness but not in the world? That's weird. Maybe, he suggested, Einstein was wrong. Maybe, I replied. We count out time by finding something in the world that regularly repeats: the movement of the sun, or the vibration of a quartz crystal in a watch. But think about this: what are we measuring with that repetition? Isn't it first some movement in our consciousness?** Against the background of that movement we see the sun rise, then we see the sun set, then we see the sun rise... I think time is illusory in Einstein's world because he left out the story of observing consciousness - both measuring and measured - which like with the dropped glass of wine adds back the hidden movement of the replacement of variables and in doing so makes physical time one way and real.
- Did the construction site guard understand?
- I think he did. What about you and me? Does our remaining in touch on and off keep illusion from our past and keep it real? Who are you going to believe, me or Einstein?

Further Reading:
** 'It is therefore the simultaneity between two instants of two motions outside of us that enables us to measure time; but it is the simultaneity of these moments with moments pricked by them along our inner duration that makes this measurement one of time.' (Duration and Simultaneity, Henri Bergson, 1922)

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Capitol

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

- Like many people I was expecting something very like this and yet, happening as it did, it was at the same time astoundingly strange. Was the storming of the Capitol a post-modern revolution of alternative facts, was it a revolution-spectacle of imitation facts? Why were there so few police at the Capitol on a day it was known a crowd of tens of thousand would be gathering, only a skeleton crew of 500 out of a force of 2,300, no barricades, no battle horses, when we private citizens, not a mob, are under constant surveillance here there and everywhere by guards, spy cameras and on the internet, and normally would never be allowed near this seat of power?
- There appears to have been two separate groups acting at the same time.* A violent group organized on internet message boards, populated with Neo-Nazis and white supremacists, that converged on the Capitol with the goal of stopping the certification of the electoral college votes, taking Congress members hostage and killing the Vice President. If not by prearrangement, they had the luck to be let in by sympathetic Capitol police (this standing aside by forces of order a common feature of successful revolutions) and were only stopped from entering the inner chamber of the house by gun wielding, physically fit, civilian clothed dark suited men who I guess were (just a guess) secret service agents present because the Vice President was presiding over the joint session of Congress, the supposed agents shooting and killing one of the insurrectionists. This violent action occurring under cover of a separate group, the thousands of more ordinary supporters at the Trump rally near the Washington Monument with no obvious taste for violence, instructed by their leader to come with him to the Capitol Building. 'It's going to be wild,' he said.
- So then: violent insurrection and spectacle insurrection at the same time, the insurrection was expected, the strange form it took was not. 
- Also giving us the appearance of spectacle was the deliberate lies the revolutionary attempt was based on: that the election was fraudulent, that the President's opposition were totalitarian socialists trying to take away the people's freedom. We watched with astonishment violent dupes, performing the actions scripted for them by others not on stage, witnessed by a crowd worked up by the President's rhetoric of revolution, equally duped, sent over by him to be audience to the violent action. 
- Real revolution under cover of fake revolution. But I think you left out what makes this seem most unreal: that the lies told were believed. How do you account for that?
- In Trump's extortionist recorded telephone conversation with the Georgia Secretary of State threatening him if he doesn't find him more votes, the President said: 'They are shredding ballots, in my opinion, based on what I heard.' You know how money laundering works? Dirty money is moved from one bank to another, to another, to another, each transaction by the book, making it difficult in the end to trace the clean transactions back to the original dirty one. Think of the lie, 'the stolen election', as the dirty money, and each new presented bit of evidence a seemingly clean and honest confirmation. We know the election was stolen, this evidence proves it, we have thousands of affidavits.
- There are photos of ballots being trashed, photos which when investigated turn out to be from the previous year's election. Those thousands of affidavits when read are no more than statements that someone had witnessed others who filed affidavits or made statements of being eye witnesses to voting fraud.
- That would be tracing the evidence back to the original dirty laundry, something the liars take care, constantly shifting attention to another path of primed evidence, their audience doesn't do. Remember when we talked about the two paths taken by artificial intelligence programmers to recognize language: probabilities, or models? Both ways work to produce knowledge. Knowledge based on probability doesn't involve any picture or model of the world, only a mathematical relation between one part of the world and another, expressing how likely it is that when this happens, that is likely to follow. 
A model involves a whole with parts, each part having a known relation to the world and to other parts. Think of evidence laundering as a kind of prearranged build up of evidence, each piece of which increases probability the view of the follower of the path is correct, without there being an explanation of how any piece of evidence relates to others and to the world.
- Explanation which, having no character, forming no model of the world, these followers of the path of laundered truth never arrive at. Is it probable the President's own Attorney General resigns after announcing that there was no significant electoral fraud means he was 'gotten to' by the other side? Is it likely that the Georgia Secretary of State, a Republican Trump voter and Trump donor, likewise willingly betrayed the President, even after being threatened and cajoled by him to find him more votes? 
- When we say someone has character we mean we can make a model of his behavior showing how parts of the mind are related to each other and each part is related to the world. There is a relation between imagination, sympathies, knowledge, intentions, and how each is applied in the world. The character of Trump believers is broken down, disintegrated by always seeking the changing gain of the moment, acting on probability of getting what they want, or through consumer products or fantasy entertainments getting in the habit of imagining they have achieved maximum probability of getting all that they want. Without character, life that should be a matter of holding together of self in harmony and moderation, and of better relation to the world instead is a sequence of adjustments, pursuit of the advantage of the moment, doing which nothing of one's self persists, therefore no character. People with no character are ripe for propaganda and conspiracy theories,** open to be guided down the path of primed evidence never to be followed back all the way to the dirty secret of intentional dishonesty.
- But what about the equally unsurprising but still really strange behavior of Congress? Nancy Pelosi, the hundred times millionaire House leader says we are in a state of existential threat, the president must go, then adjourns the deliberative body for the weekend.
- There's more than one kind of bad character.
________________________
** Conspiracy theories are identifiable by the fact that they are not theories at all: not models of the world but assemblages of probability.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Bliss



Last night, around ten o'clock, I shut my computer, got on my bike and set out down the sidewalks of Beverly Hills towards Westwood. I stop when I hear, "Hey, hey' from somewhere behind me. It's a young man leaning against the windows of Yves Saint Laurent. I ask him:
- What are you doing there?
- I don't know.
- Where are you coming from?
- Texas. El Paso.
- How did you get here?
- I walked.
- How? By the highway? Hitchhiked?
- Walked. I got picked up by a nice couple in New Mexico who had me stay at their house for two days.
- Where do you stay?
- I don't know.
- Where will you go when we're done talking?
- The psych. ward.
- To ask yourself to be locked in? Why? Do you go crazy?
- Yes. Sometimes.
- What do you do?
- Last time I walked onto a freeway and stood in the middle.
- Why?
- I thought people were after me.
- And they wouldn't follow you to the middle of the freeway? Was it the lights that attracted you? I've noticed here in L.A., late at night, solitary figures step up to the corner of a brightly lit empty intersection and start shouting apparently at nothing but the lights.
- I like that.
- You're not planning on doing that too?
- No.
- Good.
- You look like someone famous. You're not in the movie business?
- I'm in no business.
- I don't know who. Not Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, somebody like that. But somebody famous.
- I'm nobody. Sorry to disappoint you. Maybe I could've been somebody but like you I probably have more craziness than is good for me.
- How are you crazy? You shout at lights?
- Not yet. Isn't it crazy to be so impractical that you just can't stand the company of almost everyone?
- No. Everyone's like that a little.
- You too?
- Yes. You are talking to me now. What happened?
- I wrestled the shyness out of myself.
- How?
- Living among strangers in foreign countries.
- It's good you were able to do that.
- Except that it took me a few decades to accomplish. People think I must be crazy to have achieved this advanced age having accomplished nothing other than getting ready to accomplish something.
- You must have done something. How old are you?
- Getting along in years.
- If you're not an actor, you're some kind of writer.
- Some kind.
- What kind?
- Hard to say.
- You've got something, some spirit to you.
- Nice of you to say. And same to you. Well, you've got your freeway waiting for you and I've got the sidewalks waiting for me. See you!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Meow, Meow



- On the last evening before my exile from her life - the second exile, or was it the third? - she made the accusation: you think you are better than other people.
- And you answered?
- I answered No. I was upset. The City of Los Angeles lockdown and curfew orders had just been issued by the mayor. The police, he threatened, would be roving the streets to pick up scofflaws. There's something I have to explain to you, much as I don't want to.
- You don't want to explain.
- No. My friend has two cats she takes care of. Why didn't she understand?
- Understand that you are like a cat?
- The deal with cats is that they let us witness their beauty in exchange for us taking them into our lives and taking care of them.
- Feed them, play with them.
- Cats don't explain. Or rather, not to each other. They meow only when kittens, before they develop the self-awareness that makes the visible state of the bodies of other cats express what's going on with them.
- A body language.
- Not a language at all, more like mind reading. Cats don't make an effort to say anything or listen to anything.
- They see and know.
- But here's the thing. With us humans, they know we can't read minds, can't do what they do with each other, so with us they regress to the meow. They baby talk to us. Meow: Feed me! Meow: Play with me!
- And we should do what they tell us?
- Yes. Because that's the deal: we give them care, they give us beauty.
- Which beauty is that very ability to effortlessly express themselves in every bodily movement.
- Now the reason I go into this, as you guessed, is that I see a lot of myself in these cat behaviors. Though I'm really more a stray cat than house cat I'm still meowing against the human world, always telling humans what to do, telling them everything they are doing is wrong.
- And that is why your friend, who let you, the stray cat, into her life occasionally, told you you think you are better than everyone else.
- Yes.
- Let's hear some meowing them. We don't have these talks much any more.
- What can I say? The life of a stray cat in these epidemic times of lockdown and curfew is not easy.
- So meow.
- Fine. I'll do that. You humans, in this city, this country, you've got your epidemic upside-down. You've got the sick, who can't afford health care or to stop earning, going around in public, working at the supermarkets and take-out restaurants and out on the streets doing deliveries, coughing and feverish for all stray cats wandering the streets to see (humans apparently don't), these sick doing deliveries to and making sick the well who cower at home in lockdown deluded they are safe.
- When obviously the sick should be somewhere private in quarantine and the well should be out and about in pubic taking care but going about their business, an arrangement that the overcrowded slums of Bombay managed to get right and were able to successfully take control of their epidemic.
- Instead we have the corporate media with their daily death counts scaring everyone to compliance and into hiding themselves away. No one bothers to observe that if you are thirty-five you have one in a thousand chance of dying within a year, when that is the epidemic ratio of death to population for our county, the country with the worst record of all large countries. Ever hear a thirty-five year old express fear of dying?
- No.
- Meow. Meow, you idiot humans. Good for nothings, except maybe giving us food.
- So in your view, the stray cat view, how did we humans get so stupid?
- By being without beauty, living lives without beauty.
- It's not polite of me to observe, but I wouldn't say your beauty is exactly jumping out at me.
- Yes, a loss that goes with being a stray cat. The argument still stands.
- You haven't made the argument yet.
- Alright. You want to know, how did human beings produce for themselves lives without beauty? Answer: capitalism, the religion of capitalism, doing for the sake of doing, in which only success has value, all else has mere derivative value. Love? Relax? Meditate? Sure by all means, if the show of it makes you seem more compliant, worth more money to your employer. Beauty is a rest after an activity of learning. The free use of language depends on there being beauty in our action.
- How?
- Because we rest in having learned to perceive the world, in developing habits that piece into recognition something we give a name to; we rest on those habits of relation to the world. Understand?
- You're talking phenomenology. You were supposed to be Meow-ing.
- I am! You think I want to talk this way?
- You want people to look at you and know.
- That's right. But who are these people I live among? Idiot slaves, seventy-four million of whom voted for our epitome of ugliness and incoherence president, either because he plays the role that tickles their fancy of a slave talking back to his master or because they, the richer classes of our country, find themselves attached to that defeated clown because they think this monstrosity will make them richer, the rest of the world and life be damned.
- Meow meow. Let's not get into politics.
- I don't see how we can avoid it. Our upside down epidemic is happening because it benefits big business at the expense of small. Big business consolidate their monopolies, small business goes bankrupt. People are ugly because they never can rest in perception of something good or beautiful or true: there is only what conduces to more money and more success, an endless chase. You interrupted me before I got to the important point: a perception is a word: that bit of the world we've developed a habit of relation to, given a name to.
- We human capitalists, therefore, you say, having no rest have no language. We're speechless. In addition to being without beauty.
- Yes! Meow meow! We cats read minds. But you humans, speechless and restless, what sick monsters have you made of yourselves? Who's going to take care of you, ugly beasts that you are? 
- What are we doing if we are not talking?
- We? You are pushing each other's buttons, operating on each other according to program, like a machine, a computer.
- Without self awareness, understanding, consciousness.
- Yes. You humans, you've regressed so far into ugliness and speechlessness, it's hard to say whether you are even competent anymore to be our care givers, to feed and play with us. Soon we'll all be strays.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Trump Look

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

1.

- Let's talk about the appearance of the president.
- You've noticed how his bronze face, orange hair have recently been changing? Losing color, becoming more metallic. For him, somehow, this seems absolutely normal. The man seems hardly human.
- What do you think is revealed in his appearance, if anything, expressive of his character, the way he lives his life?
- Maybe nothing. Maybe that is why he is so uncanny to look at.
- Would you say he makes a masculine appearance or a feminine?
- Strangely, I think both. The tough guy Trump rushes death row executions before he leaves office, the soft, soliciting, caring, feminine Trump begs his supporters in a low, wheedling voice to see how much he loves and takes care of them. Both behaviors come off to the not like minded as posturing, not revealing anything true about him.
- Why do you think he is so obviously unconvincing? Because he so unpredictably shifts from tough guy to soft gal?
- I don't know.
- We know what Trump and his supporters have in common: placing making money, 'success', ahead of any human concern; any means to the end of moneymaking are acceptable. How does that behavior show itself in personal appearance?
- I think I can often, not always, recognize in their appearance, their gestures and language, people who are strong and people who are caring. Do people who have no character, because changeable with the changeable requirements for making-money and success, ready to be all things to all people, have any particular appearance?
- Think of it like this. The tough guy, the masculine, the ambitious man is ready to do what it takes. We have a theory,* you'll remember, that our action as human beings is always aimed at learning the world we live in, something particular about it, and that learning involves learning how to see the world, involves developing habits of perception that place our bodies, our agents in that perception, in regular relation to the world's habits, or laws, to its regular behavior. The correspondence of habits, our own habits to the world's, allows us to rest, and the particular name we have for this experience is awareness of beauty.
- A theory that traces back to Plato.
- So someone who has no character, is shifting behavior constantly in response to the shifting demands of other people, whose behaviors have no law or regularity, cannot rest in perception of beauty. Looking on at this, what do we see?
- We see ambition that never gets a rest.
- Yes. Similarly, our president's feminine 'please love me I love you so much', his feminine holding to beauty, holding his relation to the world steady because that relation is supposed to be good, is not good, not beautiful, because it is without a history, or even a future, of establishing habits of relation to the world. Masculine and feminine are characteristics more fundamental than those that fall into place as common sex roles. They are names for two phases of our relation to the world: learning in action, resting in beauty. When we look on at our tough guy attention begging gal president we are seeing a break down of this cycle into unrelated fragments. Ambition goes nowhere, rest is without beauty.
- And because this is fundamental to our nature as human beings when it is barred from practice by a money/success ideology what we see is what we see: neither a man nor a woman nor even a human being, a chameleon lizard whose hair and skin tones adapt to background colorings.


2.

- Though on the whole I like your definition of capitalism - a form of slavery in which the slaves are expected to buy back the products they make for their masters - still it doesn't sit well with me.
- What bothers you, if it is an accurate description of what happens in capitalism? 
- I don't know what perversity could account for it being thought up and adopted. Not to mention systemic problems, like the fact that since wages are less than the price of goods that include slavemasters' profit, there must be found consumers outside the capitalist world to buy the remainder, an expedient that fails when the whole world has gone capitalist. But now, what you explained about our president, never able to rest unchanging in what one's done, I think also explains the 'why' of capitalism. Capitalism is a tool people like Trump use to manufacture people like himself, remaking the world, at least the human world, in their image. Marx gave psychological and economic explanations of what it's like to be a slave in its class war: the worker's alienation from the product of his labor, the work's surplus value stolen by the employer. But what's in it for the masters? Profits? Do profits explain the craziness? What if instead capitalists desire to alter the fundamental human nature of others as they themselves have been altered? 
- Why would they?
- Because a character broken down to a condition like theirs is a character that can be made, when propertyless, to accept slavery and put money acquisition ahead of everything else. 
- Why accept slavery? 
- If money making at any cost is the goal then there is nothing wrong with slavery that makes money. Slaves might rather be masters, but with broken character they are unable to give a good reason why their enslavement is wrong. Look at how Americans act in this epidemic. I read today that one billion hotel room days have gone unused. That works out to millions of empty hotel rooms every day in the past eight months. Unemployment is in the tens of millions. The labor force is there to find the sick, hotel rooms available to offer at no charge for quarantine. But instead of identifying the sick and keeping them separate from the healthy, we get lockdowns, business closures, curfews, virtual house arrest. Commandeer hotel rooms? Offer free meals to residents while there? No, these are crimes against the supremacy of money making. Keep people locked up at home, close independent businesses? Yes, of course, but keep open big business owned departments stores, supermarkets, drug store chains, keep airlines flying and airports open, trains and buses running. Break the will of individuals and drive small business into bankruptcy. 


3.

- I'd like you to sum up our discussion that began with what you thought the president's appearance reveals to us about capitalism, in one sentence if you can.
- Capitalism, far more than an economics of profit, or a psychology of greed and alienation, or a sociology of slavery, or a politics of class war, is a complete disarticulation of every thought, word, and act from ending resolution, statement, and deed. It scares me to death.

Further Reading:
_____________________

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Big Brains

Image result for mind

 

Whose plan was it? It was Capitalism’s. Not, of course, the plan they thought they were implementing. All these percolating disasters are unintended consequences of an economic system the sole purpose of which is to grind the living world to powder for money; a system without one single provision for the care and preservation of life in any form other than as a source of monetary gain. It is a system for which life itself has no intrinsic value. With this as its foundational principle, it followed that whatever was done to humanity and the living world was of no concern to Capitalism. And it hasn’t been. The fouling and pillaging of the living world and the evisceration of our society are simply collateral damage.*

- What would you like to talk about tonight?
- Counting lives. Last time** we said that supporters of our president wouldn't look for evidence of his claims because appeals to evidence were restraints on their freedom to improvise their way to acquiring money. While many among them oppose lockdown as another infringement of their freedom, the majority of Americans accept the restrictions in the cause of saving lives. They watch the numbers of deaths each day lessen with lockdown, but don't consider the costs, the untreated diseases, evictions, domestic violence, depression, suicides, the small business and individual bankruptcies, the trillion dollar bailouts of big business and banks, nor will they consider the possibility that, in the absence of closed borders and effective tracking down the contagious and then their isolation, lockdown only delays deaths from the epidemic which rapidly increase when restrictions are lifted. Lockdowns repeatedly are imposed and relaxed, deaths pile up while waiting for a vaccine. I don't want to go into this now.*** What interests me is that countable lives are functioning to the lockdown supporter like money does to a supporter of our president: more money is better, no matter how acquired; more lives saved is better, no matter the lessening quality of lives, no matter that it is not certain that more lives are actually saved, just as it is not certain that with indifference to evidence more money can be made.
- Wanting more at the cost of better. Americans, both supporters of our president and the president's opponents, suffer from this disease.
- Yes. We're dealing with mind breaking down, and this being so, permit me to look to our physical nature for an illustration of our predicament.
- Our predicament of mindlessness.
- Yes. It seems reasonable to assume that a larger brain makes for more intelligence, but there are too many exceptions to take this seriously. The same fate meets the suggestion that a larger brain in proportion to body size supports greater intelligence. It appears now that not brain size, but number of neurons, counted in the cerebral cortex, site of decision making and problem solving, and perhaps the density, speed and means of communication between neurons in general, is what is correlated to intelligence. A big dog and a little dog have different size brains, roughly the same in proportion to body size, but big or small, they have the same number of neurons in their cerebral cortex. Do you see what I am getting at?
- Thinking that big brains means more intelligence is like thinking that the more lives saved today the better and the more chance now to make more money the better. Behaviors that make little use of decision making and problem solving.
- And explain the depths of nullity and dullness we are drowning in.

Further Reading

Monday, November 9, 2020

Reasons Of State

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The Trump administration has been the worst U.S. presidency in history with an extraordinarily fierce approach to class warfare. But let us consider what fascism is: At its most basic level, fascism is a dictatorship established through and maintained with terror on behalf of big business. It has a social base, which provides the support and the terror squads, but which is badly misled since the fascist dictatorship operates decisively against the interest of its social base. Militarism, extreme nationalism, the creation of enemies and scapegoats, and, perhaps the most critical component, a rabid propaganda that intentionally raises panic and hate while disguising its true nature and intentions under the cover of a phony populism, are among the necessary elements.* 

- Finally, after a nerve-racking five years, the horribly fascinating spectacle of human degradation flourishing unchecked is coming to a close.
- With no reason to expect, in economics or politics, the monster in the White House's replacement will be any better. In fact, as the outgoing monster started no new wars we probably should be readying ourselves for worse.
- For the moment though you have to admit you're relieved.
- I am. A little. Or was. Now I'm trying to understand how the monster's behavior was so easily and commonly and is increasingly accepted: by sixty three million voters in 2016, seventy million this year.
- And what are your conclusions?
- Sitting at the picnic tables this morning I looked up from my computer thinking I heard distant shouting. I swiveled around on the bench, located the source: the seventy year old black man with whom I'd had a conversation with a few months back: one of the city's tens of thousands who sleep on the street or in the bushes, he was by the trash bins collecting cardboard to be used for the night's bedding arrangements. He wore a large set of glaringly white headphones all day tuned in to talk radio, and, considering himself a godly man he was a supporter of our president, god's messenger on earth. He was at work on a mathematical magnum opus which he believed would make him famous and allow escape from his present circumstances. When I questioned the godliness of anyone who could support a man of constant evil conduct and enumerated examples, the first that came to mind, he shouted 'fake news' and rushed away in a rage. He approached me now, the stack of cardboard held against his chest, at the picnic table and repeated what he'd been shouting:

- Congratulations! You're happy now. 
- That's true.
- They were after the president for five years and now they've stolen the election. 
- How stolen? But wait, before you answer, be forewarned that after every claim you make I'm going to interrupt you and demand evidence. 
- Do you want to hear my explanation or not?
- Go ahead.
- China created the virus.
- Evidence?
- They deliberately sent the virus to the US to destroy the economy,
- Evidence?
- To force us to lose our freedom, make us have to wear masks and force us to allow mail in ballots.
- Evidence?
- And mail in ballots are more easily faked.
- Evidence?
- There's lots.
- Where can I find it?
- Everywhere.
- Tell me where.
- I've got to go. I'm carrying a heavy load.

- A load of conspiracy theories. Why do you bother talking to people like him?
- I have the idea, was in fact trying to work it out when the poor fellow made his appearance, that our money worshiping country's insistence on placing money making ahead of all other human concerns involves a technique of argument or persuasion that is directly opposed to the gathering of evidence, is actively averse to it, as evidence would delay, undermine the adding of one possible claim after other. As: China deliberately created the virus. China deliberately sent it to the U.S. The economy is deliberately being destroyed by lockdowns. The virus is being allowed to rage uncontrolled so as to allow mail in voting. Mail in voting is more easily corrupted. Mail in ballots were corrupted. Repeating one claim after another, aware that others like minded are doing the same, produces a sense of security, safety in numbers. Each individual, being wise to what's going on, feels the build up of assurance with each reiterated claim, considers himself individually knowing and empowered. The demand for evidence could only interfere with this process of unanimity within the group of other individuals similarly crediting themselves with being wised up. In normal speech we construct a sentence out of verbs, nouns, adjectives, elements that have specific relations to each other. Looking for evidence is something like setting a verb into relation to a noun, an adjective in relation to a preposition. Those who place money first, before all other human relations, see the demand for evidence as an inadmissible limit to money making, forcing the necessity to make complete statements that would inevitably reflect the world that is being acted in, each statement reflecting the same world and accordingly having some relation to other statements. Commit yourself to a relation between verb and noun, between something done and the someone who did it? No! There must be complete freedom to do what it takes to make an impression, get a job, keep a job, to make a sale.
- The refusal to provide evidence isn't a matter of bad education, remaining in ignorance how to reason correctly, but a structural necessity to the kind of thinking that results from a belief money making must have precedence over all other concerns. That's what you're saying?
- It is.

Further Reading:
_________________________

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

David Graeber & Combinatorials


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The great merit of structural analysis is that it provides a well-nigh foolproof technique for doing what any good theory should do, namely simplifying and schematizing complex material in such a way as to be able to say something unexpected.* 

Like many others I guess I've been reading bits and pieces by David Graeber, the activist/anthropologist who died this month, much too young at the age of 59. He had just finished a new book in collaboration with an archaeologist colleague presenting the evidence that 10,000 through 40,000 years ago human beings alternated seasonally the way they organized themselves: hunting and gathering in small bands or even single families, then assembling together in small cities. The bands and cities could be either egalitarian or hierarchical. All variations had been found, all four possibilities: equal in both moving and sited communities; hierarchical in both moving and sited communities; equal in moving, hierarchical in sited communities; hierarchical in moving, equal in sited communities.The story that human beings were noble savages living free and equal but were corrupted when settled down with countable and transferable agriculture and accumulation is therefore false. And therefore false is the claim that modern life must be hierarchical as the only outcome of development.** Yes, but.... aren't the newly opened up possibilities arriving too late? Hasn't our falsely claimed to be necessary way of life a firm enough hold on us to guide us to our destruction? 

Graeber argues that living with recurrent fundamental changes in way of life made us human beings able for the first time to create art, made us self conscious, and able in some cases to organize ourselves with procedures to protect ourselves against inequality. So what happened? 10,000 years ago we'd worked this out, and now we fall victim to the apocalyptic global warming and the threatening nuclear and civil wars of Neoliberalism?

The combinatorial system of our species' early life - movement and rest, free or unequal world - was uncomfortably familiar. It was very like my very own,*** I fear, overused system to explain the differences between lives of ritual violence and power mad conformity and lives of creativity and beauty. Could it be that what is left out in our social combinatorial, leaving us vulnerable, is the relation of the individual to the social world, in both movement and rest? With the addition of these elements it becomes possible to identify what kinds of personal life fit in with equal or unequal social life, and might not that knowledge offer not just artistic ability and consciousness, but protection against getting stuck like we are in a world that likely is going to be our destruction? Knowledge of the alternatives of social life without self knowledge has not turned out well. 

Here are the combinations, taken from out of the set of possible combinations, that seemed to me to define basic moral categories: 


Ethical Life:


movement: self defined, world open


rest: self open, world defined

We create playing ourselves through a world undefined in the movement of change.
We rest in the defined world of beauty, with no awareness of self. A society of people seeing the world as beautiful and with no fixed sense of self is likely to be equal.


Vain Life:


movement: self open, world defined


rest: self defined, world open

We are impelled in our movement by passions, unaware of what is driving ourselves, only knowing what world we want to return to or create.

We rest, glorying in the power of our selves, we who have created a world that appears to us only as a reflection of our power.


An Example From Recent History

The French philosopher Michel Foucault, also at the end of his life, was working both on the history of Neoliberalism and the history of care of the self. He had the idea that because in Neoliberal doctrine any interference, any attempt to regulate the marketplace would create inefficiencies, the lack of government intervention in a society defined by the market would allow individuals to 'change, purify, transform, and transfigure' themselves in relative freedom.**** Here was a world defined by the inequality of employer and employee, chained to the movement of markets, in which individuals could care for themselves, remaining to themselves undefined. That is what he thought might be in the future of Neoliberalism. Instead, as we ourselves experience today, rather than engage in self examination and moderation, individuals were pressed to invest in themselves, market themselves, assign themselves a place, a person, and a price.


Further Reading:
Debt Of Conversation
**** Michel Foucault. The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1981–1982) Care of the self might involve, among other things, 'nightly examination of conscience to prepare restful sleep, the drilling into memory of key precepts so as to have them ready for action, daily meditation to withdraw from the world and remain undisturbed by what is taking place, regular trials of endurance to help resist temptations, arts to cultivate listening so as to better receive instruction, and daily reflection on one’s own death in order to better appreciate what you have and to bear what is to be expected.' 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Meaning Of Life / A Handful Of Gold

A cache of ancient golden coins was found buried in a clay jar in Israel. Photo by Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

- Time was there was nothing better in life than to sit at a cafe and philosophize. Now look.
- What's that doing there? What is it exactly?
- A handful of gold. I found it this morning riding my bike across Wilshire. Right in the middle of the street. Must have been run over by trucks and cars a dozen times to get into the state it's in.
- Worth a thousand dollars, minimum.
- I guess.
- What are you going to do with it?
- Nothing. Look at it on this cafe table.
- Give it to me then.
- No.
- Why not?
- It will help me find the meaning of life.
- Find gold and you find also the meaning of life?
- Maybe.
- So what is it, the meaning of life?
- The question assumes life is a sort of message, a word with an unsure meaning it asks for. That's first.
- Life is really a message, or is message being used as a metaphor?
- Either, both. I don't know. Second, the question assumes the life you and me are living is a means to an end, and that end is its meaning.
- And the means we are living through is meaningless?
- Yes. If you are satisfied with life as it is now, the question won't have any meaning to you. Do you agree? What are you doing?
- I'm testing your claim, looking at the pile of gold on the table, looking at you, looking back at the gold.
- Cafe philosophy is an end in itself, the gold a means to an end.
- Yes.
- Then if I ask you what you think the meaning of life is, you answer?
- The second way of understanding doesn't apply to me, not here not now, this place I'm at is good enough, my friend sitting across from me.
- And gold on the table.
- And contemplating gold on the table.
- And in philosophy we consider whether metaphor entering our lives, substituting word for meaning, actually is responsible for raising the question of life's meaning.
- How does metaphor enter our lives?
- You'll laugh. George Lakoff, a U.C. Berkeley professor, honored and respected, calls himself a neuro-linguist. He argues - get this - that our primary mode of thinking is metaphor, and that metaphor is wired in the brain. That is why citizens who are wired by authoritarian parents to submit and admire submission can't communicate with nurturing citizens raised by nurturing parents.
- Politics is a battle of metaphors.
- According to this professor.
- The message spelled out in society has the meaning 'submit,' for one type of person, for the other, 'nurture'?
- Yes.
- Probably these ideas had meaning for the professor because they were means to the end of his wealth and fame. Did he become rich and famous?
- To some extent.
- Unlike you.
- See the gold on the table.
- Do you know what is so laughable about the professor's ideas?
- No, what?
- That politicians who become very rich and very famous for inflexibly holding onto ideas, for their framing metaphors which are supposed to be fixed, hard wired in the brain by education, once they get into office feel not a single qualm of conscience from immediately doing the exact opposite of what their politics has been messaging. Free market proponents demand tariffs and subsidies and form monopolies. Liberals lower taxes for the rich and cut social programs for the poor.
- This talk of brain wiring reminds me of Socrates trying to describe how no one knowingly chooses the worse, yet it looks like we do it all the time, submitting to the temptation of a pleasure we know will later cause us pain. We know the 'good' that draws us to indulging in the pleasure is an illusion, a mismeasurment, but can't help ourselves.
- We have two metaphors or frames of what makes life good: good is giving, or good is obedience. And we have two means to an end arguments: live for pleasure or live in control of pleasure. If both submit and nurture meanings of life are legitimate, actually indisputable since they are hard wired, how do we decide? Is it our fate to be both authoritarian and liberal stuck in one brain in a fight to the finish?
- Our politicians can effortlessly give up their hard-wired convictions because, as we've had occasion to say elsewhere, we have body and mind, and above both we have awareness. We choose our messages, our metaphors, our meanings and our ends.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Shklar

Page 130 of 130 - The blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas ...
                         Judith Shklar

- You've been spending your afternoons in this heat wave at the shopping center.
- Yes.
- Do you know what I've noticed?
- What?
- You'll hardly believe it. The older and more wealthy of L.A. are not deceived about what is happening in our great country.
- You've been talking with them?
- They're the only people who talk any more.
- Talk to a stranger in a public place.
- Yes.
- They're not afraid. They're rich. They've not been trapped behind their screens, isolated from each other in self absorption.
- Have you changed your mind? Usually you're telling me Americans are obsessed by money and success.
- They are.
- They sold out.
- Sure they did.
- Why do you have any interest in them then?
- I'm interested in why our great American people don't seem to care about what's happening to them. Their country robbed by the rich. Locked in their houses. Kids in cages. 30 million unemployed. The ten richest men adding in a few months more than ten billion dollars to their already accumulated tens and hundreds of billions. Pedophilia is the favorite hobby of our leaders. Etc., etc.
- You have something to say now?
- You know how that place, Harvard, is so good at demonstrating how money corrupts your thinking? Something interesting came out of there not long ago. At the end of the 20th century they had a professor in their department of government, a German speaking Latvian Jew, an escapee from Hitler's Europe. Her name was Judith Shklar. She came up with a theory. Government is dangerous. It must be restrained from any attempt to justify its predations by any definition of human nature, whether that definition was freedom and creativity or human rights or subservience to the group. Any principle of human nature could be adopted by a government and used as a basis of, an excuse for oppression. The solution she found was a rule of government that would be self correcting: stop any fear of the cruelty of the more powerful inflicting pain on the less powerful. This rule, she thought, would limit government oppression, and restrain any effort to build up a state on the basis of a particular claim of human nature.
- Other than a general fear of the cruel actions the powerful take against the weak.
- Yes. Fear being communicable spreads into a 'climate' of fear and a sort of democratic unanimity.
- Are individual acts of injustice subject to this principle? Breach of contract, theft, assault, murder forbidden?
- They are acts it would be cruel of government, allowing them to go unchecked, to be complicit with. But in many cases of this kind remedying the fear of cruelty that one person or class of person feels would cause fear of cruelty to the persons or classes being accused. For example, I claim the way you, a more powerful person than I am, speak of Jews makes me afraid, and I demand the government remedy my fear. But the government, more powerful than you, doing so, regulating your speech, would cause you fear and pain. Cruelty balanced out by cruelty, no government action could be taken. Even in these days of the epidemic the rich having their money taken away is still felt to be an act of cruelty not to be permitted to the government.
- It isn't clear. Or am I wrong?
- No, you're not wrong. Almost anything can be considered cruel. And almost nothing. The poor feel the pain of the rich having their money and property threatened, but the rich don't give a damn about the poor. The poor are a class apart, live a different sort of life; they sell themselves as slaves by the hour to their masters in corporate offices and factories.
- Why do the poor fear cruelty to the rich but the rich don't fear cruelty to the poor?
- The rich have lives in which freedom can still be practiced, and the poor do not. The rich do not feel the pain of the poor. But being deprived of money and property is something the poor have experienced and so they do fear the pain the rich would experience if deprived of their money and property. The majority of the people of this country, enslaved and impoverished, unused to freedom, don't fear, literally don't notice the cruelty inflicted on them by the government, by the rich monopolizing markets and buying politicians.* Shklar's theory doesn't work because class relations develop without being considered cruel, and once they've been created, indifference of the rich to the poor (and the poor to themselves) follows, rendering protection of the people from their government, authorized exclusively by fear of cruelty, impossible.

Further Reading:
Indifference
Indifference Revisited
Killers
What A Billionaire Deserves
What Is Capitalism?
______________________
* Judith Shklar: 'If citizens are to act individually and in associations, especially in a democracy, to protest and block any sign of governmental illegality and abuse, they must have a fair share of moral courage, self-reliance, and stubbornness to assert themselves effectively. To foster well informed and self-directed adults must be the aim of every effort to educate the citizens of a liberal society. There is a very clear account of what a perfect liberal would look like more or less. It is to be found in Kant's Doctrine of Virtue, which gives us a very detailed account of the disposition of a person who respects other people without condescension, arrogance, humility, or fear. He or she does not insult others with lies or cruelty, both of which mar one's own character no less than they injure one's victims. Liberal politics depend for their success on the efforts of such people, but it is not the task of liberal politics to foster them simply as models of human perfection. All it can claim is that if we want to promote political freedom, then this is appropriate behavior.'

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Crazy Or Evil?

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- Well?
- What would you like to talk about?
- Tell me about your tramps, the people you used to see wandering around Beverly Hills and environs. The city continues to be in lockdown. What's happening with them?
- They aren't mine. And they are mostly still around. They can't pass the time inside at the cafes, they can sit outside at some, but they don't seem to want to. I see them in transit from one place to another.
- Where are they going?
- The supermarkets are open, some stores, the Century City shopping center is open. I came across Pablo there this morning, in fact.
- And who is Pablo?
- I'll get to him. I was sitting at the market's little outdoor dining quadrant, thinking of lesser evil presidential voting and a possible way out of it.
- We've already been through it.* We said that to use bad means to a good end was to take a step towards totalitarianism. We said that a worse immediate outcome might, waking people up to action, quicken the arrival of a better outcome.  Our present acceptance of a unreasonable, useless partial lockdown without testing and isolation is an example of lesser evil choice, growing I think out of fear of taking necessary risk.
- I was thinking of something simpler. A question: what if one of the candidates isn't evil, but crazy? Which is worse, crazy or evil? Evil is consistently acting on bad principle. Crazy is acting repetitively in response to an image of an unchanging world of your own making.
- I think both candidates are evil, and both crazy, but not much crazy.
- No crazier than the majority of Americans, a very crazy people.
- Yes.
- So we get nowhere with this argument. Or rather, we get back to the people living on the street in and around Beverly Hills. At least one of them, Pablo, is not living on the street, but at the Beverly Hills Marriot, a $300 a night hotel, that is, used to be one before the lockdown. Now it is called, with some humor, the Homeless Hotel, according to a March L.A. Times article I remember reading that left the hotel unnamed to prevent an invasion of hoping to be guests. I also read a Yelp review from a poor unfortunate paying full-rate astonished by the caliber of guests the hotel was now catering to. Apparently this was the last visit from that breed of guest, for the city of L.A. soon had successfully turned the place into a sort of prison, with curfew and lockout if you've failed to check in before 6pm. I met the aforementioned Pablo, as said, outside Gelson's Market in Century City. He'd got into the Marriot through his social worker, an absolute must, in case I was interested; he was eligible because he'd long been on government rolls as officially crazy.
- You're not? Sorry. How is he crazy?
- The way our president is crazy, an unquestionable egomaniac who has no subject but himself. We call that kind of behavior bad character,** not insanity.
- You're right. So with crazy or evil we haven't evaded the problem of lesser evil voting, but tell me more about craziness. Tell me why I should believe you when you claim you are not crazy.
- You know how my favorite character study, Noam Chomsky, whom I guess you're getting tired of hearing about, first made his reputation in linguistics? He came up with a very strong argument that the rules languages follow can't be learned by experience: the rules seem to originate in thought rather than communication (the use of compression makes communication more difficult), they are extremely complex, some remain unknown, their application involves cycling recursion, and they are not to be found attending to the sentences themselves. His detailed argument is something great, an immense achievement.
- You admire it.
- Certainly. I don't admire how he explains what he's observed as embedded in the operation of a language organ.
- Rooted in an organ, speaking metaphorically, or as actually rooted physically in the brain?
- The latter.
- And you think that is a mistake?
- Yes. Better to turn away from material explanation altogether.***
- And what does that get you?
- An explanation for why my impracticality, my improvidence, isn't crazy.
- I'm waiting.
- If you are visible to yourself when you are doing things, your attention is on yourself in process of change, not on the world. And when you get yourself to a place where there is beauty and love and truth, your attention is on the world, you are invisible to your self. In both action and rest, therefore, you can't and don't have a fixed vision of yourself.
- You can't be an egomaniacal American.
- No you can't. And as a result you'll have no fear of death.
- You'll take what appear to be unreasonable risks. I'm to understand that is why your carelessness is not really crazy? Your behavior is not self attending?
- That's for others to judge.
- I'll let you know when the conversation is over.
- We're almost done. Chomsky's language producing self that performs the complex cycling conversion from internal to external language is an organ, a material structure somewhere in the brain.
- While the self you see, or rather don't see, is either in change or unattended to at rest. And that makes the self invisible, unavailable to glorification in egomania.
- Your judgment now? Crazy or not crazy?
- I'll know for sure if some day I find you locked in at the Marriot.

Further Reading:
Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
Selfless
________________
* Totalitarianism & The Lesser Evil
** 'Treachery, disloyalty, cruelty, tyranny....are our ordinary vices.' (Montaigne, 'Of Cannibals')
*** Language & Leaders

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Why The Epidemic Is So Bad In America

Hitler portrait crop.jpg

- I don't know about you but I'm getting really tired of this.
- This epidemic.
- This epidemic of stupidity. A new article in an old establishment magazine, a prominent player in the media circus,* comes right out and says the lockdown is a delaying tactic while the epidemic is allowed to rage without any serious use of the tools known to work from the experience of dozens of other countries: testing, tracking, isolation. I get angry, then I tell myself, calm down, clarify, specify what's really happening.
- And what's really happening?
- The useless in itself, mere delaying tactic of lockdown is a deliberate distraction from transfer of wealth to the rich from everyone else.
- The pain of the destructiveness is the distraction.
- Yes. I used to think the repression was a political act, to get people used to the idea of being slaves to the government.
- And now?
- I see it more in terms of class warfare, an act weakening and distracting its victims.
- The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite, That ever you were born to set it right!
- Call me a crackpot, a conspiracy theorist. I'm beyond caring.
- Isn't it funny that usually conspiracy theorists are raising the alarm that things are much worse than people know, and nothing is being done about it, but in this case the crackpots are being accused of saying this situation, the epidemic, is much less dire than is claimed** and much is being done in its name by the government and all of it out in the open?
- I don't find it funny.

Further Reading:
Lockdown
The United States & Totalitarianism
Sick Leave
Compliance
Convergence
_____________________
* The Atlantic
** New statistic: of the 600,000 U.S.Post Office employees, to date 75 have died from COVID-19.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Sick Leave

Related image

- Explain why the United States is doing just about the worst among all countries in the world in the war against COVID-19. We have five percent of the world's population, but twenty-five percent of the world's COVID-19 deaths, and the war is just getting started.
- You adopt Trump's war analogy? Sure, I'll explain. But first you explain to me why doctors, lawyers, journalists, politicians all are silent on the obvious stupidity of the lockdown, the uselessness of it.
- I asked a retired physician that question yesterday morning.
- And he answered?
- 'No one wants to stick his neck out.' Later that day I asked a new medical school graduate the same question. He hadn't thought about it, he said and changed the subject.
- We are a country of people who put money making first among all other goals. How you look, speak, move, everything is optimized for the sake of making money. We are not interested in the world except in how we can make money out of it. Once money is made we permit ourselves some entertainments until we throw ourselves back into the principle duty of life, making money. Money making is not achieved by knowing anything about the world, by making a model of the world. What's required is predicting the meaningless panic behavior of a herd, calculating probabilities: do this, and that is likely to result, no one knows why and no one cares. It's not necessary.
- Not necessary for making money.
- Are you a typical American? Then you are a believer in free speech. Not really a believer, in the sense you can give reasons for why it is preferable. All you know of free speech is it helps you make money, so far at least, subject to reevaluation in the future. But what about the free speech of holocaust deniers? of Neo-Nazis? The people who differ from the majority are exactly those people whose speech has to be protected, you argue. But maybe you have argued at another time that it is wrong to enter into a debate into certain subjects, for example, the pros and cons of rape, or whether the holocaust really occurred. Then what?
- The opposed principles have to be balanced.
- To allow free speech to holocaust deniers is to promote the debate on the subject of the reality of the holocaust. A decision to advocate debate or not to requires a general picture of how human life is lived in all its complexity, not mere probability of 'this is usually followed by that'. Another example: assuming we want to decrease the amount of violence in the world, could it be that terror is an act of violence that reduces violence in the world? Can that be a probability? But can't the violence of terror produce its own longer term bad results interfering with the calculation of probable peace in immediate results?
- I know the argument: violent people are not capable of maintaining the peace achieved by their violence. And I know from whose biography you took these stories.*
- Good for you. If you like, I'll tell you a story from my life. A couple years ago I was offered a job editing a book written by the son of a retired Iranian gynocologist with his mother advocating cesarean section for all deliveries. If free speech should be protected in all cases, then my objection to this idea shouldn't lead me to refusing the job.
- What did you do?
- I decided there were other principles involved, including the value of my life story in which I didn't want some degree of responsibility for even one woman dying on the operating table from an unnecessary operation.
- You must be the only person in the country who thinks that way.
- Let's look at our lockdowned country. Who here pays attention to the real world? Like the huckster promoter who is our president we're willing to say or do whatever is calculated to work, we don't need to know why. The government says lockdown will reduce deaths so we must have lockdown. Instant unthinking compliance! that's where the money's at! Are there other principles involved like we saw with free speech probabilities and terroristic violence?
- Unless the lockdown is of the entire population some of those in lockdown will be infected by fellow residents who leave the house to do go out in public where they become infected. Those in lockdown who escape infection, when the lockdown is ended, will be exposed to thousands of the infected and stand a good chance of being infected themselves.
- Making any partial lockdown virtually useless.
- Yes. Imagine we are in, as the president says, a war against the virus. Lockdown is our army, the herd of people in retreat from the virus. We run away as far as we can go, close ourselves off from the world. Violence is bad, free speech is good: simple principles, probablistically established, like the financier's humanly empty predictions of herd behavior in the marketplace.
- An epidemic fades away when an infected individual can't find others to infect before the infection's time of contageousness expires because too many people are naturally or from past infection immune. People in lockdown can't perform this role of blocking the spread of infection and hastening the disappearance of the epidemic.
- Healthy young people could perform the role if they unlocked themselves, taking a risk minimal compared to that taken by the old and sick if they did the same who instead remain safely locked down. Our lives are full of calculated risks: from car accidents, violent crimes, unnecessary death from hospitalization, choice of profession...
- So in our lockdown when we soldiers stage a retreat, like selling in a declining market, following probabilities, we don't know what is going on in the world. We don't think about how a lockdown is supposed to work and what its future can possibly be. In our self concern and indifference to everyone else we must be complicit with the government if we are ever to make a whole lot of money. Then, later, our money safe and sound, we decide to throw ourselves back into the fray, from prisoners become again soldiers, and reduce or end the lockdown, and...
- People start dying again in large numbers!
- Yes, of course, what else could happen? We see it all over the world, in country after country, people who in lockdown had been protected from exposure now are blindly marching into a viral attack.
- Then what should we do?
- People who are sick ought to be identified and quarantined, and those who are not sick, who are young and healthy or simply risk takers, if it is their choice, should march back into battle and live their public lives.
- And the epidemic will die out?
- If it doesn't we look for another model. Anything is better than our huckster in chief's retreat to speculators' probability.
- Anything is better than our present living for money and dying for money.

Further Reading:
An Epidemic Of Bad Thinking
Compliance
_______________________
Narrowing Focus

Saturday, July 25, 2020

America In Search Of Repression

Luigi Pirandello in 1932

I just want to go away and look at people and think.* 

- I was talking with, call him my friend, the construction site guard, and something interesting came up. Should I tell you about it?
- Why do you hesitate to call him your friend?
- We only talk while he is working.
- Why do you talk to him then?
- To keep in practice.
- You don't have anyone else to talk to?
- No.
- If he's the only one something must be special about him.
- Maybe. Twenty-three now, he went through a period of about five years where, in his words, he partied every night at the house of his friend, much older than himself, a drug dealer.
- Party, meaning drugs and alcohol.
- Yes. A wide variety of each. He also had a girlfriend during this period, again much older than himself. To make a long story short, he discovered his girlfriend was keeping up internet correspondences with other guys, broke it off with her, and then, at a bar one night his friend the drug dealer deliberately provoked a group of "ghetto blacks", as he put it, who proceeded to beat him up. The guard took to his heels, a betrayal the drug dealer felt to be inexcusable.
- The guard concluded his girl wasn't his friend, his friend concluded he wasn't his friend, and you never thought of him as your friend. Is that the story?
- No. I'd asked his opinion why he thought people in this country, and in many countries all over the world, so quickly, without challenge, even carelessly accepted government repression: closing public places, businesses, schools, locking up people in their houses.
- What did he answer?
- We're all absorbed in our private lives. Know what I'd been doing that afternoon? I asked him. Researching how ordinary people have in the recent past responded to the build up leading into totalitarianism. I found two articles proposing the same explanation: an Argentinian wrote that the county's authoritarian dictatorship was accepted as a relief from uncertainty. An historian of the Nazi period came up with the identical explanation.
- What did the guard say?
- He asked me what I thought. The situation we're in, I answered, didn't feel that way to me. It was more like the life I was living had been interrupted because its author had disappeared. Even before the words had left my lips I knew this wasn't my own idea. Then I remembered: Pirandello's 1921 play Six Characters In Search Of An Author. Pirandello described his composition of the play like this:
"Why not," I said to myself, "present this highly strange fact of an author who refuses to let some of his characters live, though they have been born in his fantasy, and the fact that these characters, having by now life in their veins, do not resign themselves to remaining excluded from the world of art? They are detached from me; live on their own; have acquired voice and movement; have by themselves -- in this struggle for existence that they have had to wage with me -- become dramatic characters, characters that can move and talk on their own initiative; already see themselves as such; have learned to defend themselves against me; will even know how to defend themselves against others. And so let them go where dramatic characters do go to have life: on a stage. And let us see what will happen."
- People had their roles to play and looked with relief at the clear stage directions repression provides for playing them.
- Yes. Do you see the difference between Pirandello's staging of personal role in its relation to public life and acceptance of repression in Argentina and Germany?
- Can't say I do. What's the difference?
- Pirandello's six characters in search of an author wander onto a stage where a director is beginning rehearsal of a play with his troop of actors. One of the six characters, the Father, explains his predicament to the director: he, the director, thinks his character has reality, but if he is honest with himself he will admit that he is always changing, and not living up to the roles he plays. Whereas he, The Father, is one thing all the time, the part written for him, but that part is an illusion, something made up by the author; he requires, if he is to experience any kind of ease, the reality of playing out the part on stage with the other five characters. Do you see?
- Not yet.
- There is progress in two directions here. The director is said to be in his own life and in his work putting changeable character into fixed form, while the actors, who already have fixed character, see that is mere words and ideas, they want their character realized in action.
- When the theater director tries to clarify himself to himself by acting in a role, he's really trying to. When the six characters in search of an author invades his theater and convince him to be their author and put them in action on his stage, they still are not real. They are performing a scenario, acting out fiction. Is that what you mean?
- Yes. I said to the guard, Look to your experience, discovering your girlfriend wasn't living up to the role, that you yourself were't considered by your drug dealer friend to be his friend. You want, I think, to forget about roles, our own or played, want friendship to be real.** The approaching government repression doesn't promise to do anything like that, only to make unreality more convincing and permanent.

Further Reading:
Eve In The Garden Of Eden
____________________
* Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio.
 ** Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world - and defines himself afterwards. If man as the existentialist sees him is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. (Jean-Paul Sartre, 'Existentialism is a Humanism', 1946.)