Saturday, May 28, 2016

University Stories

(From Dozing Off)

The University Of California, Los Angeles

1. Cleansing Minds

- You told me when we met maybe you should be afraid to be seen with me. Now I think maybe I should be afraid to be seen with you. What happened with the police? You went there?
- Yes. I expressed my astonishment, 'What, me violent? Ha ha ha. What an idea!
- And what did they say?
- I'm declared Not A Threat.
- It's got a good ring to it. What's your next move, Not A Threat?
- I'm going to write more emails.
- To your professors criticizing them? Again? You don't understand: they sent the police to your house and ordered a psych evaluation because they really think a student who dared criticize them must be crazy. Normal students know if they don't flatter those their future employment depends on they'll have no future.
- I'll be a janitor and lead a happier life.
- If they don't first lock you up and throw away the key. Didn't I tell you the police would be sent after you? Didn't I tell you how the police are accosting and recruiting as spies all the desperate with no place to go who wander onto the campus? That they're cleansing the university of all sign of non-conformity?
- Yes, you did. You're clairvoyant.
- You better believe it. Listen to me: leave your poor idiot professors alone. You've had you fun. Enough already. You want to write this garbage put it in a novel.
- I might just do that.

2. Crazy John & The Persians

- Seen that guy John lately?
- He sat down across from me at the library, said, 'What are you doing here?'
I didn't say. He went on, 'I'm surprised they let you in here.'
- He was a graduate student in the history department before he went insane. One moment he'd be discussing literary theory, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, the next having a mental breakdown. What did you answer him?
- I asked if he was working for the police. He started shouting, 'What! What! What!' jumped up and ran out of the library. Later in the day it seems all is forgotten, he comes over to share with me it's Hitler's birthday.
- So Crazy John's been recruited by the police as an informer too.
- Apparently. The book he was reading is still on the table by his chair:
'Ideas pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology, Part Two, 'by Edmund Husserl.
- Is it good? Have you read it?
- I've read parts of Part One, decades ago. And yes, it is good, as good as any academic philosophy can be, which is not good at all.
- Why not?
- Because a university is a bureaucracy and philosophers employed by bureaucracies produce philosophies of bureaucracy.
- How does that work out with Husserl?
- Husserl believed in a real world that our thoughts couldn't help giving form to. He looked for our mind's forms of perceptions.
- And that is bad?
- It is good.
- Then what's the problem?
- Thoughts are always about objects. He called this relation of thoughts to things 'intentionality', and called the study of how thoughts were formed in a way that shaped how we see things 'Phenomenology'.
- Again, what's the problem?
- Individuals don't just have thoughts, they act. They think and move, they think as they move. Perception and the object seen arise together for the individual in his own individual bodily history. If you don't take into account the individual body you end up creating a bureaucracy of perception. Your face tells me you don't understand.
- Bureaucracy of perception? No, I don't.
- Leave behind the early 20th century of Husserl, go a couple centuries further back and you find, in Maine de Biran, the idea that language arises as habit of response. For example: with a habit of repeated exclamation at contact with a cold object, the exclamation comes to mean 'cold'. A word is not a symbol of a thing, but a symbol of a relation of our habit to the sight of the world the habit has been developed responding to.
- Interesting.
- A habit is individual and of the body, involves the particular history of one body. Husserl was a Jew in Germany teaching at Freiberg University at the time the Nazis came to power. He was expelled, and his student Heidegger, having no problem with the Nazis, stayed, becoming a member of the party. In terms of phenomenology, the Nazi superman employed superior forms of perception.
- That the philosophy could be adapted to Nazism doesn't prove it is wrong.
- It doesn't. But the philosophy didn't protect against Nazism either.
- And it should have?
- Yes.
- How?
- Ever talk to the Persian guy who calls himself poet and philosopher and wanders the campus at night?
- Is he an informer too?
- I don't know. He seems too bizarre to be, approaching me to make a declaration of some kind or another then taking off before I have a chance to say, like Crazy John, What the hell? But one never knows. Tonight he approached me, looming out of the dark where I sat outside LuValle, the only light coming from my computer's screen. I was reading Rumi. The Persian poet Rumi is his thing, along with Persian chauvinism. He told me I had to watch this video on YouTube about how all the great ideas of Greek civilization and behind our own come from Persia. I put it on. We follow along as a New Jersey professor of Persian ancestry claims that prior to contact with the Persians the Greeks were amoral, had a cyclical view of history, of going from good to bad and then starting over with good again. That conversely, the Persians had an idea of linear progress, of technology as means of improvement and of increasing political fairness: they had no slaves, for example.
- And?
- If you're a professor employed in a bureaucracy that may do. Progress obviously will be bureaucratic: stronger institutions, better rules of behavior, progress in technology.
- And a better kind of progress is?
- The problem with progress as bureaucratic is that anything that serves this progress is by definition good.
- For example, kill all the Jews, all the communists.
- Yes. Behind the Persian political equality of no slavery was an equality of subservience to the ruler.
- Like our own democratic institution of free elections conceals an economic slavery engineered by those who control the government through bribery.
- Yes. Now, those whose relation to the world is physical and individual, with habits of perception developed in response to one particular time and one place, they don't know or care about some world as a whole. Individual bodies don't respond to whole worlds. Only bureaucrats of the mind do, or rather, imagine they do. Holding bureaucratic views makes you stupid, as responding to imagined whole worlds makes you blind to the actual part of the world you find yourself it. The professor on the video, arguing for the continuing influence of Persia on the West, noted that the Persian poet Rumi was widely admired by Goethe among other Western luminaries. Wait, I'll pull up some lines of Rumi's poetry from the internet. Here:

Praise to the emptiness that blanks out existence. Existence: 

This place made from our love for that emptiness!
Yet somehow comes emptiness, this existence goes.
Praise to that happening, over and over! 

For years I pulled my own existence out of emptiness.
Then one swoop, one swing of the arm, that work is over.
Free of who I was, free of presence, free of dangerous fear, hope, free of mountainous wanting.
The here-and-now mountain is a tiny piece of a piece of straw blown off into emptiness.
These words I'm saying so much begin to lose meaning: 

Existence, emptiness, mountain, straw:
Words and what they try to say swept out the window, down the slant of the roof.

For Rumi existence is to be swept away, not in linear social progress but in a cycle of personal history.
- So the professor's theory is wrong? The Persians didn't influence the Greeks, but the other way around, the Greeks influenced the Persians?
- Let's say they influenced each other.
- But aren't you being unfair? Rumi was a mystic; the life of ordinary people, their progress or not, goes on irrespective of someone like him.
- I don't think I'm being unfair. The Delphic 'know yourself', and 'nothing except in moderation', reflect the material being swept up into the intellectual. The same could be said of Greek philosophy, theater, architecture, politics of democracy. Nowhere except in the politics of empire, which was not especially Greek or Persian, can you find this idea progress. At least not material progress.
- What other kind is there?
- Spiritual. Progress at the individual level rather than social or technological. We find the idea in Judaism, which was there in the mix with Greek and Persian influences, specifically the Jewish mysticism of Kabbalah. In Kabbalah, the habit of knowledge of individuals "sticks" in the world, the world takes on its own habits of perception of our thoughts. The political and technological habits or character of the world trail along with the spiritual development of individuals habits of perception. As the world improves step by step, the easier it is for individuals responding to it to improve. Thus in the infinite fullness of time individuals and world will attain to completion together, history will come to an end, the golden age return.

3. Prickology

Note concerning LinkedIn members making mass exodus* after reading this story: it seems even a little Rabelaisian language disrupts the clean work place that is believed to make for greatest efficiency in work life: but who ever said we were allowed to separate work from the rest of life? I certainly didn't. Doing so means accepting an unreality that makes real compassion impossible (see here), and means being a slave to the forces of history that create and maintain that clean work and play place (see here). So, to the compassion-less and willing-slave LinkedIn members making mass exodus: goodbye and good riddance. (RM)

- Still a free man, I see. What happened?
- I'm suspended from the University. The police followed me from the administration building until I left the campus.
- Suspended until when?
- I'm going to a hearing on Tuesday.
- And your crime was?
- Not living up to the standards of student conduct.
- You sent insulting emails to your professors.
- After they insulted my ethnicity.
- Which you don't care about.
- They insulted other ethnicities too.
- Which you don't care about. What will you tell them on Tuesday?
- I was upset, drinking too much because I was upset.
- The conduct unbecoming a student the University suspended you for was your use of foul language?
- Yes. Don't I have the right of free speech?
- The rules say some kinds of speech should be contained.
- The professors didn't contain their offensive speech.
- But in their minds they were being charming, informal, likable, breaking the mold.
- So my story should be: my professors were having fun expressing themselves, the truth is, I was having fun too. I should go to the administration hearing tomorrow, explain to the Deans your theory, 'it's all in fun', and I should have fun with them too?
- How would you have fun with them?
- Are you going to publish this?
- As fiction. It is not you who's talking.
- In your fictional world, I'd go in and say to all assembled, 'I've got something to show you', and whip out my big dick.
- And what would their reaction be?
- They'd be impressed.
- By what? Your impromptu, playful, out of the box behavior?
- By the size of my big dick.
- You really think so?
- What about you? What have you to say about size? Let's hear your Philosophy of Dicks. Your Prickology.
- Primitives believed spirits good and bad could be trapped in statues, ceremonial cloths, figures of genitals, etc. Strength and spirit could be transmitted to you from the containing object through the eye. Objects both prevented this from happening, in the case of spirit containing statues, and facilitating this happening, in the case of genital representations. By your impromptu display you might be doing them either good or bad, depending on whether the spirit of your genitals is good or bad. Which is it?
- Bad for men and good for women.
- Your genitals do the service for the men of containing a threat, and for the women, the beauty of your genitals transmits its spirit to them. You of course are a student of the spirit, have made an in depth investigation of Sufi mysticism. What you did, in your profane emails to your professors, and imagine doing in your anatomical demonstration to the administrators, is show that one man's profanity is another's safekeeping and communication of spirit. Then there's the practical question. The question of fit, male organ to female. Big fits big, medium fits medium, small fits small. Perhaps you should explain to the university: they have their religion and you have yours. You contain and transmit spirit in your way and they in theirs. Unfortunately your way was perceived as profanity, as unfitting. Rather than being received in the spirit of containment and communication it was offered, they were offended by it.
- It's their problem.
- For being so small. Now what about this: our economy's pursuit of profit for the sake of profit, of constant unceasing increase in production and hoarding of goods, doesn't that indicate we see in each item hoarded and produced a captured and communicable spirit? Bigness for us is associated with more and more mindless producing and hoarding. And what about the pornography that pervades our society making use of size to communicate spirits of sexuality? And finally, there are the ancient Greeks, who preferred in their statues genitals in the open but on the small side. Do you know why?
- Why?
- Because sexuality for them was best put in the service of love and knowledge. My question for you is, which is it for the university, is their spirit more directed to the economic or the philosophical?
- In their pornographic pursuit of wealth and power they should like my big dick?
- Isn't that what you've been telling them?
* FREEDOM  OF SPEECH COMES TO LINKEDIN: Within two days of posting this story on LinkedIn over two hundred connections had disconnected themselves. 

4. Don't Be Google

- You really did it? You told Google they were evil?
- Suggested the idea to their man in charge of new advertising, yes.
- What did he reply?
- I gave a definition of evil - knowing as individuals doing something was bad but doing it anyway for social rewards. Asked him about Google producing a list of search results it claims to be the best possible, in order of usefulness, then subverting the order by putting paid advertising on top of the list.
- What did Google say?
- He'd prefer to continue the conversation by email.
- And you did, of course.
- Yes. Here it is:
Dear Mr. Pleasance, 
You remember me, I think: I asked about the inherent contradiction in Google Search's business process: search results, page ranking, reflect technical calculations of popularity, personalization, and inter-linkages. And this calculation is undermined by paid advertising, which puts at the top not the most popular, personally relevant, or interlinked, but the highest paying. 
I'm sure this is not the first time you have heard this remarked on.

A related problem is that the paid advertisers, after paying for a period of time, as their paid for popularity leads to more popularity, they gain page rank based not on payment but on unpaid characteristics (popularity, personalization, linkage), and so these results too become "contaminated" by the influence of money, rather than calculated to be of advantage to the customer.

So there are two related problems here: (1) the top results, being paid for, work against the advantage of the customer, and (2) payment promises to create a brand, or a monopoly of interest, which will find its place in the unpaid portion of the search results, thus contaminating the entirety of the results. 
Shouldn't Google, if it wants to do good, be looking into ways of dealing with these problems? 
I can think of two solutions to try, right off the bat. 
To deal with the first problem of advertising undermining the suitability of search results: "Affirmative action" advertising. Small businesses, on a competitive basis, would be chosen by Google to benefit from free top-of-the-page advertising.

To deal with the problem of monopolization of search results:

Go back to the Aardvark past of Google plus. Use robot chat to ask members, "What do you want to do?" and on the basis of personalization statistics send the best people to the questioner. The robot follows up, asking, was he/she the right one to meet?, and continues to be a presence in creative management of individuals' lives. People would more easily find each other and become each other's resource, become temporary "companies", and this robot aided formation of alliances, business and personal, potentially can undermine the market control effect of monopolies.

I look forward to your response,

- Rex Miller

Hi Rex, 
Thanks for the follow up. I think at the core of your assumption is a belief that somehow having ads included as part of a search result is disingenuous and/or bad for people. You also appear to believe that top ranked ads are placed purely to the highest bidder. I can help address both of these: 
1) Search ads that are served are done so with an expectation that they are 100% relevant to the query being submitted. In fact, the goal at Google is to make search results most relevant by having ads as part of the results and ensuring that the ads that get shown are in fact useful and relevant to the person searching. If ads were to go away, the relevance and completeness of the search result would drop and actually be of lower value to the searcher. In addition, to ensure maximum transparency, and provide the maximum choice and control to our users, we ensure that all ads are clearly marked as such so that there's never any confusion that the content at the top of the search results are paid for, while also being very relevant to their query. As such, there should never be a question in a person's mind about what they're clicking on, and they will only click on an ad if they find that it's most relevant to addressing their query. This is all very consistent with Google's mission of organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful. 
2) Search ads are not just rank ordered based on who pays the most. Ad relevance plays a much higher role in determining what gets shown. To help better understand this, here's a link to a good YouTube video by Hal Varian describing in detail how Google algorithms determine what ad to place on a page, and in what order. As above, Google's goal is for transparency and relevance and to this end, we make the advertising division of our company very transparent and available for all to learn about and understand. 
I hope this is helpful, and I hope you found my talk on Monday interesting. 
Warm regards, 
Dear Mr. Pleasance,
Thanks a lot for the completeness of your response (and I did enjoy your lecture). Can I take you at your word that Google has a positive wish to clarify their advertisement policy and continue the discussion with you a little further?

I understand, I think, what you mean when you say ads improve the search results. I may prefer to know about, as in your video, an artisan furniture maker rather than the more widely known companies at the top of the search list. 
My question is, if Google knows the results are improved, why does it wait for the artisan to come up with some money for Google before the search results are changed? Is Google not able to find the artisan furniture maker and depends for his discovery on him to come to its advertising division? In fact, I read some time ago that Google was already doing something like this, advancing in the search rank worthy individuals, in a small way and on a trail basis.

Do you see what I mean? Any good that you attribute to advertising, with respect to search results should have already been there. Unless Google is really saying it needs to advertisers to come forth and bring themselves to its attention? 
But in that case, why should businesses that put themselves forward have to pay to improve Google's search results? It is already in Google's interest of complete results to have them there. Or can you be seriously suggesting that willingness to pay makes these businesses more of interest and relevance? 
Of course, Google makes money from advertising at the top of the page listing. But there are other ways Google could make money that would not lessen the value of the search results, when, as you write, Google definitely does not want to lesson the suitability of the results to the customer. 
I suggested two steps Google could take without changing basic advertising policy. "Affirmative Action Advertising" that would allow many people to compete for Google's attention, when Google could not otherwise find them, and receive free top of the page listing on a lottery or merit basis. 
I suggested returning Google Plus to its Aardvark past, this time with robot assistance for site members, not to answer each other's information queries, but to find each other to do things with each other. Many small enterprises could be created, and the effect of monopoly arising out of popularity breeding popularity would be lessened. 
I would appreciate a response to these suggestions. Many people are interested in how Google approaches suggestions of innovation, whether they are truly open to innovation when it comes to their basic business of search. 
- Rex Miller 
Hi Rex, 
Two things: 
1) I don't think it's fair to say that Google is avoiding debate and communications on the topics you've raised. You have I have had several back-and-forths on this topic and each shared our points-of-view.

2) Regarding your suggestions for ways Google could improve its products, I think you should publish those and let the readers weigh in. Our product teams are constantly on the look out for opportunities to make our products the best they can be for our users and customers and I'm sure they'll see your ideas and also see how readers weigh in with their views on your ideas. 
All the best, 
Dear Mr. Pleasance, 
Thanks for your quick response. You are right that if I publish a story about Google, the company will one way or another get to hear of it. However, when that happens, Google does not respond. That lack of response is what we are talking about here. It makes Google appear to be an institution that makes its way in the world through the use of power, rather than knowledge. Google claims otherwise, so I ask the company, through you, why it is impossible to communicate with the company? 
- Rex

- And?
- There was a round going over the same ground I've left out.
- Aside from the fun of asking your innocent question, does it really matter? Google is evil, the rest of big business is evil, politics is evil. 
- Did you ever get around to reading Guns, Germs, And Steel*?
- I'm meaning to.
- The book argues that technology, material and social, develops best in regions with moderate connectedness, neither too high nor too low.
- What's wrong with high connectedness?
- It allows communication to be seized hold of, controlled, monopolized, filtered, reduced.
- So Google, monopolizing access to internet communication, is reducing access, retarding social development? How?
- By putting at the top of their search results what has been paid for, when what is at the top is already, in a sense, the result of monopoly, of what is most popular becoming more popular by being at the top of the list.
- When there is medium amount of communication, there are some pockets which do not get absorbed in that cycle of popular becoming more popular, and they survive to issue a challenge to the monopoly.
- Exactly. You can see our culture as a kind of epidemic, which ends when it kills everyone, but in Europe, for example it didn't, because there were always other pockets of people to move on to and infect.
- Then Google, as their guy said, by subverting their own monopoly with advertising, opening it up to uninfected pockets of information, is doing something good. Their results are better with the advertising. That's why you suggested extending the benefit with affirmative action advertising. And, I understand now, that was the idea behind the social network sending people to each other to do things with: each person with his connections is to the other is a pocket of communication that can be put in contact with another pocket of communication with his connections. Not too much connection, not too little.
* Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond, 1997

5. Gypsy Kings & The Cheat Of Religion

“Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” -Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Research Library

- What's going on here? Why did she bring you the food? Do you know her?
- I've spoken with her.
- About philosophy? Incredible. Where does she live?
- She sleeps in one of the basement window openings of the corporate housing complex formally known as 'The Palladio', now even more grandly renamed 'The Glendon At Westwood'. Five or six windows are available, but places fills up quickly.
- I thought so. And she brings you a plate of food. Are you king of the gypsies now?
- The food is from a lecture in the room back there. It's on the word religio in Roman times.
- You're not interested?
- The highly esteemed professor doing the lecture has plagiarized it in its entirety from Wikipedia and a French on-line dictionary.
- This University is nothing but criminals.
- Like the rest of our society. How could it be otherwise, worshiping money and success as we do? Why obey any rules?
- Because it is right.
- And how would anyone know that?
- From religion. Seventy percent of us in this country claim to be religious. Highest percentage of any civilized nation.
- So we're civilized?
- Compared to a gypsy like yourself, yes. What's up with that, anyway? Why did she bring you food?
- There are already gypsy kings in our part of the world so I don't see how I can accept the title much as I'd like to. In fact, up until yesterday I was helping a genuine gypsy prince with his English, his uncle a gypsy king on the East Coast. A movie was made about the king and his brother, my student's father. You might have seen it.
- Why if he's American born does he need help with English?
- He says he has managed to go strait, give up the traditional ways, nevertheless he wants me to help him cheat on his coursework for a Ph.D.
- A Ph.D. In what? I'm afraid to ask. Is it part of a con?
- He needs the diploma to lend legitimacy to his natural healing business.
- Naturally. And you helped him?
- Until I stopped.
- Why did you stop?
- Religio. As Socrates would have said, my daemon warned me against proceeding further.
- You hear voices.
- That professor busy plagiarizing in the back room would tell you what you call hearing voices is at the origin of our English word 'religion'. Religio meant for the Romans to feel sudden doubt, to have qualms, reservations, without being able to give a reason.
- It comes from another world.
- From the sacred world. Already for the Romans this sudden doubt had moved on to being a warning to perform neglected rituals, whereas for Socrates it had been a warning of going the wrong way, with wrong way to be determined by one's own judgment.
- Not by god's?
- No. You're thinking of our modern 'religion'. Christianity takes up the word, changes what was a call to action into a recommended state of rest. Religio changed to religion, changed from being a warning of doing something wrong and became instead a state of devotion and universal love.
- And doubt became guilt. How did Socrates or the Romans know the religio, the warning daemon, spoke the truth?
- Because they made a test of it, because religio was part of a continuous self observation of the consequences of actions, a determination whether or not they got us to a happy state of love, beauty, and truth.
- You mean when the daemon spoke the Romans searched their experience, looking for whether in fact they were about to break their own rules, and for the most part it turned out for them they were? Tell me about you and the gypsy prince.
- I told him I'd rewrite his work but not do it all for him.
- What difference does it make? It's all cheating, isn't it?
- My daemon said otherwise.
- Why?
- The rule I find, when I look back in my experience, is keeping my mind clear: not only in thinking, but in personal relations. I didn't want to be in that relation to people, a professional aid to cheating. That was much too much like being a mafia functionary, looked much too much like succumbing to the demands of our society, a mafia society of groups jockey with each other for power.
- You convinced yourself you were right to listen to your voiceBut you don't really know.
- Never said I did.
- But Christians do claim to know when god talks to them.
- When the time of action is over. Christians don't have Socrates' or the Roman's kind of daemon because they, without doing the work of testing, can cheat and go directly to religious experience. But they pay a price for their cheating.
- What price is that?
- You brought it up yourself. They have a daemon, too: guilt, a voice after the fact rather than before. They go through life, our seventy percent of Christians, congratulating themselves on their holiness, but if they are the least bit honest, they see they are lying, cheating, stealing, betraying bastards. Yet none of this, not even its admission, prevents them from having their religious experience.
- And how does that work out for them?
- Not well! How could it? A moment later, they suffer guilt, our seventy percent of good Christians, but as they can always leave behind that guilt without taking corrective action by entering religious experience, how are they ever going to change? We're accustomed to express wonder at the unaccountable stupidity of our leaders, for example Hitler's determination in 1944, when the possibility of losing the war was staring him in the face, to expend most of the resources available to him in trying to exterminate all the Jews he hadn't yet exterminated.
- He was crazy.
- He was impractical. He had his heart set on doing what for him was glorious. Most of the societies that have collapsed did so in just that same way, with just that impracticality, using up their limited resources building monuments to themselves.* Kings like their subjects are cheaters. Some few are wised up gypsy kings, cheating in a world of cheaters. Most are cheaters in the religious sense, in the sense of the Christian religion, of being able, even when it is obviously destructive, to reward themselves in advance with religious experience, be able to get away with anything that makes them feel good without having to go through the trouble of thinking whether what they did to get there is really good or bad.
- Like you claim to do, cheating the world's expectations in the process. Your food's getting cold. Eat up, gypsy king.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond, 2005

6, Drinks & A Movie With The Autistic

- What's new? Sit down. What do you want to drink?
- How many messages did you send me about tipping the waiter?
- It was my mistake. Last time we were here I didn't leave a tip for Paul. It wasn't his fault. 
- I was here too, don't you remember? You left a small tip.
- The restaurant was busy. The waiters are not professional, they all have other lives. It wasn't his fault. 
- Write a book about it why don't you.
- You think I'm crazy?
- You sent obscene emails to your professors, got yourself thrown out of UCLA for no apparent reason. Tell me again why you did it. Do you even know? Were you drunk?
- Yes.
- But still, even drunk you must have known what was going to happen, that they'd throw you out. You don't remember?
- No.
- They've already got you seeing a psychologist from Student Health, right? Why not claim mental illness, get your suspension removed?
- Do they give Ph.Ds to the mentally ill?
- Sure. Temporarily insane. You're going through a bad period in your life. Understand how psychologists think. All you have to do is admit the problem is you, not the world. You were temporarily insane when you wrote the emails. Going through a bad period in your life. A momentary aberration.
- I wrote my professors again the next day.
- You suffered from deep frustration. Once wasn't enough. You were getting it all out of your system. You did the same with the cult, right, the week before. Why?
- I don't know.
- Did I have anything to do with meeting me? We met around that time.
- I don't know.
- You don't know a lot. Ok. This is your story: Back East, you were in a Sufi cult. You were a student of Arabic Studies, somehow you fell in with these people. How many of them were there?
- A handful.
- What attracted you in the first place to Islam? You're of protestant stock, correct?
- I thought it was a masculine, powerful religion, unlike Christianity.
- You believed some of that masculine power would rub off on you after you joined the cult. 
- I never joined. 
- Why not?
- I don't know. Never was sure. Finally I realized the leader was power mad, everything was a lie. I broke away. If I do write a book its first line will be, 'Becoming a drunk saved me from becoming a Muslim'.
- Why did you break away now, after so many years? 
- I don't know. 
- You don't know. 
- It was the biggest mistake of my life coming to Los Angeles. What is here? Everyone back east tried to warn me. Are you listening to me? What are you watching? 
A movie on YouTube. I think if I was growing up now I'd be diagnosed as autistic. I've decided that's the mental illness you have to claim to suffer from. I was just reading about it in The London Review of Books. The article mentioned the preference the autistic had for text messages over person to person contact and I immediately thought of you and your penchant for insulting messages. Autism was first defined as a mental condition of personal detachment, of being unable to love. Lacking love, sufferers from autism fall back on private rituals. They get violent when their rituals are interrupted. According to the article the condition of being unable to love has steadily became more common, and the designation has been extended to include people who can't stand people but who can stand dealing with others professionally. Asperger's is the name given to the most highly functional autism. Not being able to love makes you better as some jobs, it seems. Outside of the requirements of professional conduct, the Asperger's try not to look at people at all, for they might not like what they see. They may see that the idea they have of themselves they've made the basis of private rituals is being challenged by others, and then they'll go crazy. What do you think? 
- It's simplistic.
- Of course it is. But you can tell the psychologist you're a highly functional Asperger's. She'll be impressed.
- Ok. I'm an Asperger's guy. What about you? How were you autistic?
- Who said I was autistic? I said if I had the misfortune to grow up now I might have been called autistic. I turned my back on the world, like autistic do. But unlike them, it wasn't because I feared the world wouldn't accept the place I'd made for myself, my image and role. Rather I had to protect myself from my anger at the destructive roles people around me gave themselves.
- Can't I claim that I'm the same?
- Not if you want to be let back in. Didn't the cult ever make you confess? You have to say your extreme behavior is your problem, not theirs, the normal people of the world. You're the world's victim, not its critic. Your anger was the result of your need for stability, had nothing to do with their the good people of the world's failure to deserve your respect.
Did you ever stop judging the world?
- I've found once in a while people I could stand looking at.
- You found love.
- That's right.
- I don't believe in love. I just want to be left alone.
- Keep that bit of autism for the psychologist.  Here, I want you to watch this scene at beginning of the movie Breakfast at Tiffany'sParty girl Holly Golightly, played by Audrey Hepburn, holds her cat and talks to her new apartment house neighbor.
Poor old cat, poor slob, poor slob without a name. The way I look at it I don't have the right to give him one. We don't belong to each other. We just took up by the river one day. I don't even want to own anything until I can find a place where me and things go together. I'm not sure where that is but I know what it's like. Its like Tiffany's. / Tiffany's, you mean the jewelry story? / That's right. I'm crazy about Tiffany's. Listen, you know those days when you get the mean reds? / The mean reds. You mean like the blues? / No. The blues are because you are getting fat and maybe its been raining too long. You are just sad, that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you are afraid and you don't know what you are afraid of. Did you ever get that feeling? / Sure. / When I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany's. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it. Nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany's then - then I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name. 
- I don't like movies.
- Good. Another sign of mental illness. Now this is what you have to do. Go to the school, to the Dean, to the mental health professional. Tell them you saw this movie and had an epiphany. You and the school were like Holly Golightly and her no name cat, poor slob, you picked up each other and were doing fine, in your autistic loveless way. When times got rough, Holly had her fine dignified Tiffany's, you had your Sufi cult. Tiffany's made Holly feel good, association with expensive things made her feel safe. Being in your Sufi cult likewise gave you a feeling of power and safety; with regard to the efficacy of its ritual it no more mattering that it was spiritual rather than material things that were supposed to be being worshiped. Tell the school that when your Sufi Tiffany's was closed for business you went autistic wild and lashed out at your poor slob professors. But it was mental illness and you have to be forgiven. You can assure them you never considered the cat should have a name. In the last scene of the movie, Holly's friend declares his love and says that she belongs to him by right of that love. She's very upset. Like you lost your special place, her special place is no longer so special after a visit there with her friend and the reality of social class revealed. She replies to her friend's demand - wait, I'll play it for you:
People don't belong to people. I'm not going to let anyone put me in a cage. I'm like cat here. We're a couple of no name slobs. We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us, we don't even belong to each other.
Friend makes a pompous speech, somewhat in my style, warns her she's in the cage of herself, the cage of not loving. Holly orders the driver to stop the cab they're travelling in. She puts out the cat and orders the driver to drive on. The friend orders the driver to stop, gets out and begins calling for the cat. Holly sits and thinks. She decides she needs the cat, like you need your school. She gets out, finds cat who still doesn't have a name, but she also reunites with friend, who does. They kiss and the movie ends.

7. The Artist Of What Is Not There

- Have you seen your friend? The one that got kicked out of school?
- Not for a while.
- Meet anyone new?
- A fellow from San Francisco, early this morning waiting for Starbucks to open. I invited him to share the single table. He said he had come to L.A. for the movie business "like everyone else". He'd had some trouble, a long story. I said, let's hear it. He wasn't willing. He wanted to hear about me. He asked:

- You look like Chomsky. Do you teach?
- I'm not an academic. I help people with English sometimes. What do you think of Chomsky?
- I'm obsessed with him. I've seen every video of him on YouTube.
- Do you think he has had any political effect in his half century of writing books and public speaking?
- No. What about you?
- No.
- Why not?
- Do you like to talk, just not like to talk about yourself?
- Why do you ask?
- We're at the beginning of a long conversation. I don't want to drag anyone along with me who doesn't want to come.
-  It's 4:30 in the morning. I've got a few minutes to hear about Chomsky. What's your background, anyway?
- As I said I'm not an academic.
- What did you study?
- Philosophy.
- Ah.
- What's that mean?
- Nothing. About Chomsky?
- He's written over a hundred books. Videos of the public lectures he's been giving for decades have millions of views. He answers every email he receives. I've written to him myself.
- You have? What did he say?*
- He revealed his limitations.
- Which are?
- The same as his fellow but much younger activist Michael Moore whose movies are seen by tens of millions, whose web site is visited by millions of people every day.
- And those limitations are?
- I don't know if I can tell you.
- Why not?
- Because the answer I'll give is about confidences passed between people and all I know about you is you are unwilling to confide in me.
- I'll tell you about myself some other time if there is some other time. What time is it, by the way?
- A couple minutes after four thirty.
- When you wrote to Chomsky you felt he didn't confide in you either? You know, he probably was answering emails from hundreds of others at the same time.
- Two things about Chomsky and Moore: they are political artists, and they are millionaires.
- They're hypocrites? They put on a show and are well paid for it?
- Apparently they're sincere. I mean their art finds its reward in their privates lives.
- What's wrong with that?
- Both Chomsky and Moore believe times are getting better: we have a black president with a middle name out of Islamic history, we have homosexual marriage, feminism. Plans to extend again the Canadian oil pipeline were defeated. This despite deepening economic slavery they both talk a lot about.
- They think the political success we've achieved should be able to deal with the economic failure.
- Do you think they're right?
- What do you think?
- I think they don't know anything about it. They've never studied the question.
- What question?
- How we talk about the world changes the world, or fails to. And this has to do with finding reward for political talk in private life.
- Instead of where? In public life?
- In knowledge. I've been reading lately about Da Vinci. He believed art had to be balanced with science, technique with knowledge.**
- He must have had a private life too.
- Sure. But he took his art in a direction that brought knowledge, and knowledge he believed brought with it love.
- How?
- By representing what he did not see. By representing theories. If he was an artist of politics, like Chomsky or Moore, he'd depict how economics and politics affect each other. Instead he worked on what interested him. He drew pictures of stormy skies in which can be seen in detail rain in lines, wind in vortexes, clouds of spray in a way we can't actually see together: we need to focus on the different elements of lines, cloud, vortex separately. He did the same when he drew the heart and included spiral turbulence of blood flow he'd seen so much of in nature and suggested building a glass model of the heart to test. He famously painted pictures of people in which the expression of personality, like the drawn vortex flows in the heart or stormy sky, stuns us with its complexity and completeness.
- Mona Lisa's smile.
- Yes. He drew and painted what was there, but wasn't there to be seen. He drew and painted knowledge, a theory to be tested.
- And Moore and Chomsky, being happy and rich, go back to private life instead of taking their art to the next level of testable knowledge. That's interesting. I'll think about it. But how do you know they aren't already doing what you ask? They make a lot of practical proposals, organized resistance, etc.
- Da Vinci can answer that too. Art was to be balanced by knowledge, which brings love. Art without knowledge we can identify by its lack of love. We see lack of love by seeing a world that is unlike Da Vinci's depictions of stormy skies, hearts pumping blood in vortexes, human figures glowing with personality. In each of these examples what we see isn't really there, hasn't really been seen there. Da Vinci saw the parts in succession. He depicted reality like on a sketch pad in which different attempts, angles and sections are included. The boundaries between the different parts are meaningless. The views are as it were overlaid one on the other as in a wash. That's how knowledge of the world made of art looks. The world made for us by our art not reaching knowledge looks absolutely different. Everything in it has a boundary separating it from others. That boundary is composed of nothingness, a blank; without that nothing being there we wouldn't be able to separate one thing from another.
- Da Vinci thought all this?
- He did, believe it or not. It's in his notebooks. The world made by our art that is not led into knowledge is a world of facts swimming in a sea of nothingness. It is ugly. It is meaningless. It says nothing to us. It is without wholeness. It is without love. And, this is what I've been getting at: we communicate not by throwing the isolated objects we make at each other but in the collective act of testing our knowledge.***

- That's it?
- The San Franciscan left.
- Do you think he understood you?
- Can I practice what Da Vinci preached and he himself practiced better than anyone who ever lived? Have I an art of talking that makes its way into knowledge? You tell me. Was it beautiful or not? Is that a smile I see on your face?

P.S. "We have already rejected any idea of a frontal attack. Mind cannot withstand matter (brute force) in open battle. It is rather a question of perceiving clearly and without prejudice what are the forces that are at work in the world and out of whose interaction tomorrow must come to be; and then, calmly, without indignation, by a kind of mental ju-jitsu that is ours by virtue of intelligence, of modifying, correcting, polluting, deflecting, corrupting, eroding, outflanking . . . inspiring what we might call the invisible insurrection. It will come on the mass of men, if it comes at all, not as something they have voted for, fought for, but like the changing season; they will find themselves in and stimulated by the situation consciously at last to recreate it within and without as their own." (A Revolutionary Proposal: Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds - Alexander Trocchi)

Further Reading:
The Technology Of Good
Machines & Consciousness
* Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
** "He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast. " "I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do." (Da Vinci)
*** "Love is the offspring of knowledge; the passion of love grows in proportion to the certainty of knowledge." (Da Vinci). 

8. Killing At The University

This morning, while I was at the library at UCLA, the police announced there was an "active shooter" on campus, and all about 70,000 people on campus were confined whereever they happened to be. The police call taking this precaution "lockdown".

Everyone checked the internet for news. 2 people had been killed in the Engineering building. No details. 

In the library, the student security service went around the floors ordering everyone into the bathrooms and meeting rooms. I drifted off down the stacks of books before anyone could try to herd me into these small spaces. 

A student I passed going the opposite direction asked me why I seemed so calm. I answered that it looked like the police were deliberately not giving out any information so as to create panic. Literally hundreds of police from all over the city were now on campus. You could hear shouting from outside the library even up on the 5th floor where we were.

I went on with reading (the novel "Elizabeth" by Coetzee, the South African writer). A few minutes later, a SWAT team in riot gear (helmets, armored vests, etc.) moved through the aisles of books on the 5th floor, rifles in their hands. The library's own uniformed security guard arrived saying that there had been a report of "shots fired" on the 5th floor of the library.

Internet news reported that police were emptying the engineering building of students, ordering them out "their hands held in the air". 2 hours later student library security staff arrived on the 5th floor to announce that a SWAT member was outside and wanted everyone to leave the library. That turned out to be untrue. True instead was the "lockdown" was over and people could leave. No more information was given. 

It was another hour before the police revealed to the news media that "apparently" there had been a murder suicide; there was some kind of note. Now 5 hours later the police still have not said more.

On the basis of 2 dead bodies being found in the engineering building, along with an apparent suicide note, 70,000 people got locked in buildings and led to believe they were in utmost peril. In many buildings students had barricaded themselves in classrooms blocking up the doors and windows with furniture.

9. Political Correctness
Since childhood, I’ve passed through a flow of milk, smells, stories, sounds, emotions, nursery rhymes, substances, gestures, ideas, impressions, gazes, songs, and foods. What am I? Tied in every way to places, sufferings, ancestors, friends, loves, events, languages, memories, to all kinds of things that obviously are not me. Everything that attaches me to the world, all the links that constitute me, all the forces that compose me don’t form an identity, a thing displayable on cue, but a singular, shared, living existence, from which emerges – at certain times and places – that being which says “I.” - Julien Coupat, The Coming Insurrection

- What’s happening with your friend, the graduate student who got thrown out of UCLA for sending insulting emails to his professors? He wasn’t the guy who killed the professor in his office a couple weeks ago?
- No. That was someone else.
- Professors don’t seem to be too popular at UCLA. After this students won’t be able to say anything critical without being considered potential killers. Political correctness will reign supreme. What do you think? Should we talk about political correctness?
- Fine with me.
- How would you define it? A claim everyone has on each other for tolerance? Everyone can think and do anything without challenge except use violence?
- What do you mean by “without challenge”?
- We may not like what we see but we won’t demand it be changed.
- Everyone is free to do anything that is desired?
- Except use violence.
- And what would you say is being tolerated: individual acts and words and thoughts, or identities?
- People get upset about what other people do all the time. But tolerance is not about individual acts: that is something psychological, something maybe calling for forgiveness. Tolerance is political. So I’ll say it is about social roles, identities.
- We are told to tolerate types of people unlike our own type, types which in some way interfere with the actions types like us perform.
- Yes.
- Why do we choose to see ourselves and others as types?
- Because we think we and they really are types. The type of person we are are our identities. Our Identities identify ourselves to ourselves and to others.
- Why do we need to do that?
- Why?
- Could it be for security? A sense of our own power to do the kind of things the type of person we are does?
- Could be.
- But then, why do we feel insecure in the first place? Are we missing something we need in order to feel safe and powerful?
- What are we missing?
- You know Plato’s three part division of the human soul: the rational, the spirited, the irrational. The rational part thinks and reasons, the spirited part has courage and becomes indignant, the irrational part desires.
- Why do we need the spirited part? Aren’t anger and courage irrational forces like sex and aggression?
- We are passionate when a physical need is not being satisfied. Spirit is a passionate response as well, but to a social world, the world of people we live with who we have become accustomed to, a need of their company that has become “second nature”. Follow?
- Yes.
- Political correctness, the demand for tolerance bars spirited action.
- Because spirited action makes a demand on the others in society?
- Yes.
- And because the politically correct aren't allowed a home in the social world to protect, they are insecure. They still though have the other two parts of self.
- And what do they do with them?
- They have reason and desire: they think about how to most safely and regularly satisfy their desires.
- How do they do that?
- By adapting their identity to circumstances.
- That’s all?
- What else?
- Don’t people secure their satisfactions by acquiring possessions, even hoarding them as symbols of power and security?
- They do.
- Don’t people attempt to make other people their possessions, to dominate them? To force an identity on them as dominated?
- Not always.
- If people are fundamentally insecure wouldn’t this always be an attractive possibility, a desire that reason would choose to satisfy?
- But how do spirited people maintain security? Wouldn’t they be always undermining for each other the social world each makes a home in?
- Constantly. But when you live with people without identities to be protected accommodations are easily reached.
- I don’t see it.
- If you don’t have an identity to protect you don’t have to have things any one particular way. No one ever has to face the catastrophe of loss of self. All you want is that the new way can be relied on, and it be a good way, which it will be because you’ll naturally be at home with people who’ve reached agreement with you.
- Naturally. So you argue that the crime of political correctness, respect for identities, is that it leads to possessiveness and domineering. Which political correctness tell us we have to tolerate.
- And worse. One class of people identify themselves as political and business leaders. In their insecurity they pursue endless accumulation of possessions, taking advantage of the dispossession of the rest to dominate them, to force them to sell themselves as employees or to adopt a submissive identity. Political correctness, by repressing the spirited part of ourselves, eases the way to dispossession and domination.

10. Indifference Revisited

- Before, when we were talking about why people are indifferent to the suffering of others,* you said that the cause was making a society in our minds and determining our and others' place in it. If someone didn't have a place in that picture there was no obligation of response. No rules, because no roles. Is that correct?
- Yes.
- Can we say now, after talking about political correctness, that the reason this happens is the power relation that always comes with roles?
- Yes.
- Literally anything can be done with someone with no place in society. Sometimes we have one role dedicated to handling these people without roles, the so-called "forces of order." They watch them, imprison them, torture them, kill them. In the absence of rules violence is called upon. Right?
- Right.
- You know, sometimes you have nothing to say like now, other times you overwhelm me with one assertion after another and when it's all over I feel like I've been tricked. That's how I feel on the subject of indifference. I discovered that maybe the most influential philosopher of our times has based his career on saying exactly the opposite of what you do. Know who I mean?
- Peter Singer.
- Yes! He argues that because we can make a rule about what makes living things worth caring about, we ought to care about all that can play the role and satisfy that rule. Worth caring about are living things that suffer. Therefore, he argued, we ought to care about equally animals and human beings. More recently he extended the argument to near and distant human beings, claiming that distance, and particular knowledge were irrelevant to satisfying the conditions of the rule, allow to suffer or not? We ought to help all who suffer, close or near. You see what I mean? He constructs a picture of a future society, defines the society by a role all in it should play: end suffering. Many people were inspired by reading his books to become vegetarians and to dedicate a large part of their wealth to charity. But you argue this is not good, that somehow all this caring is going to lead to indifference. This because of the relation between roles, and the rules governing them, will produce destructive power relations. Show me how that works in the example of Peter Singer.
- Singer's argument is a bit tricky. He assumes that we all, if given the opportunity, would want to end each other's suffering.
- Don't you think that is true?
- I do. But, assuming that we all want to end suffering, he argues we must make choices based on calculations of who is first and who gets more of our help. First there is the assumption, we all want to help, then the calculation, we have to help some first and some more. But what if we also have, in addition to an inherent desire as individuals to end suffering, also, we when we join together to form a society, an inherent tendency to establish power relations with each on the basis of our roles?
- And we have been arguing that.
- In the case of what Singer called "animal liberation", it turns out that an unborn child, the infirm, the aged, have less claim to our concern for their suffering that healthy animals do, because they satisfy the description of role of animals: they use memory independently to make choices that determine the future.
- Because the relation of those with roles to those without is violence.
- Yes. In the case of giving help to those near and far from us equally, it turns out that again power relations in the realms of economics and politics are in operation against those at a distance or those near but unknown.
- You're referring to Neo-liberal or colonial politics where, as in Africa, we try to control diseases and starvation with our money while at the same time our politics and business create the conditions that lead to disease and starvation.
- Yes.
- The relation of violence to those outside is expressed economically and politically while we believe we are acting universally to end suffering. I think you've convinced me this time. But that is only half the problem I have with this idea of a society defined by rules and roles being unacceptable. The other problem I have is if we don't do that, what do we do? We don't want people to be indifferent, so how do we make a society in which that is true?
- Al Farabi, one of the Arab transmitters of Greek philosophy through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and our times, said that if we imagined god had an idea of the best society, our actual society, made in accord with that plan, would never be any more than an imitation, shadow of that world, with all the limitations and weakness of an imitation in comparison with reality. Take the Delphic prescriptions: "know yourself" and "nothing too much". They require of us we pay attention not to rules (following them leads you to extremes) but our own experience (know yourself).
- Rules that rather than define roles keep you from defining yourself in role.
- Exactly.
- Then how is society constructed? Religiously? What does that mean in practice?
- It means it is defective in not telling us what to do, is a mere shadow or imitation, but nevertheless is in accord with the truth sufficiently to warn us* from becoming trapped in roles and indifferent to those without role. The rest is left up to individuals.

Further Reading: