Monday, August 21, 2017

Believe It Or Not

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- Listen, I've been trying to work something out. Tell me what you think.
- About?
- Politics. Political belief. I think it is not really belief. That it is not like what we mean when we say we believe the sun will come up tomorrow in the east.
- Not a prediction.
- Prediction, but of a kind that involves elements of passivity and superstition. I'll explain. People believe passively when they have been told 'this is how it is', and rewarded for agreeing and punished for disagreeing.
- Their belief is emotional, the product of indoctrination.
- Yes. When belief is active, it is either understanding or superstition. Understanding, 'standing under', is when we come to a conclusion based on past experience.
- The past 'stands under', is the support of how we see the present.
- Yes.
- And superstition?
- When how we see the world is not based on experience but is an imagined future 'standing over' our present, an expectation of the future that we in our present give ourselves.
- 'Reduce taxes for the rich and we will all gain'. A statement of the future we believe because we've been told, not because we or anyone else has ever had any experience, evidence of its truth.
- Yes. But there is also an active version of superstition in which people actively choose to hold superstitions because of political benefit from doing so.
- They're rich so their taxes are reduced.
- Exactly.
- Now this is what I want your opinion on: is it possible active superstition is more than political expediency of selling the idea to others?
- Do I think our politicians really believe?
- Yes.
- You're asking about our politicians being superstitious in a society generally considered scientific, based on understanding. They seem to be deliberately turning their back on evidence that would produce understanding. And if aware they are deliberately turning their back on the job of gathering evidence, they can't be said to be interested in discovering the truth of what they believe.
- Yes.
- But in terms of real experience, they have understanding that holding their beliefs is factually good for them. A political understanding accompanies the superstitious belief.
- Yes.
- So that is what, and how they believe: they understand it is good for them to tell others and themselves that reducing taxes for the rich is good for everyone, but the idea itself to them is a superstition, held because it is useful. In time, however, in company with their fellow politicians believing and understanding the same thing, passive belief arises based on social reward and punishment.
- And then they have both passive belief and true understanding. They believe what their group believes and understand it is good for them to do so. They forget their superstitious belief once was active.
- Yes.
- And this belief of yours: is it superstition or understanding?
- A little of both. A superstition, when we've decided on testing it, is what we call an hypothesis.
- The hypothesis is: Despite being educated in a technological and scientific society, politicians deliberately maintain a superstitious relation to the world, turning their backs on experience, doing this with an understanding that among the group of their fellow politicians it is good for them to do so. In time their active decision to hold superstitious beliefs is replaced by the passive rewards of going along with the group of other politicians.

Further Reading:
Business Is Business

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Business Is Business

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- The end justifies the means argument can be answered in a number of ways: we don't know that the desired end will come after we've used our destructive means, we don't know that it will in fact be good, or how long it will stay good, we don't know if our use of the destructive means may make us incapable of grasping or holding to the desired end if it should come within our reach after applying the destructive means.
- Then what do we do?
- Simply do what here and now makes for greater kindness.
- Huxley's argument. Love. Truth. Beauty. That's not our world.
- What is our world?
- We have a president who was elected by people who apply the means to the end argument: they are willing to make money at any cost. They think he will help them to make more money. They know he is a liar, cheat, bully, a brute, and they don't care. Billionaire CEOs have joined advisory councils set up by the president. Business is business. All that matters is profit.
- Yet most of them have quit in the last few days.
- Because the president has expressed his brutality so openly that it is likely to hurt their businesses, disturb their employees and customers.
- And what did you want to tell me?
- About the book I'm reading, the Russian writer Victor Serge's Memoirs Of A Revolutionary. He stayed in the government of the Soviet Union during the times of revolutionary terror, explaining himself thus: it would have been better to have democracy, free markets, decentralized government. But history says revolutions require violence. And history has put on offer, to committed revolutionaries like himself, only one party capable of achieving revolution, that party which murders by the millions, terrorizes, and controls all power.
- How does he think he knows this?
- He says that Russians are psychological victims of autocracy. When they get a chance for power they can't help themselves from becoming autocratic, dictatorial, cruel in their turn. So history has stuck them with this kind of mass murdering, terrorizing revolution, take it or leave it. He took it. As we Americans are willing, in order to make money, to impoverish the majority, risk nuclear war and environmental catastrophe.
- But how does he know this? That the revolution is good, or will remain good, or the people remain good enough to benefit from it? Does he say?
- Indirectly. He speaks about a Russian love of sacrifice of self for the good of the revolution.
- In ritual, sacrifice is rewarded by feeling part of a group. It is not a prediction about history, not: 'If I suffer now, later I'll be rewarded.'  Rather, it is: 'Give myself to the revolution now and immediately I'll feel strong as a member of a group of people sacrificing themselves. Whether or not the revolution is an historic good, it is good here and now for me and others who've thrown themselves into it.'
- He doesn't write anything like that, but yes, I think that is correct. He doesn't try to answer the arguments against using bad means to the good end because he must have revolution by any means.
- Because it is, as a product of ritual sacrifice, a good in itself.
- Yes. What then about our American money making by any means: isn't there a similar ritual sacrifice behind it, making it a good in itself to be had by any means? Sacrificing nature with pollution, risking the sacrifice of civilization in nuclear war, sacrificing our own natural human wish to cooperate with each other in an every man for himself pursuit of money? Aren't the billionaire CEOs associating themselves with our brute of a president doing what Victor Serge did, getting around the failure of the means to the end argument in the same way: as revolution is revolution, business is business?

Further Reading:
Lesser Evil Voting
The President's People
Believe It Or Not
The Technology Of Good
Mass Murder, Anyone?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Bye Bye Love

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Piaget, the Swiss psychologist, found in studying how children learn about the world - as opposed to learn about imitations of the world people make - that the structure, the permanence of their knowledge was not to be found in their minds, neither buried in their unconscious or conscious, but in the history of their acquiring bodily habits of perception, moving their eyes across the world and body through the world. Their knowledge of the world exists in their individual experience, which is the story of acquiring new habits of perception. It is not a picture of the world. As knowledge of the world exists only in habits of the body, that leaves the mind free to play, try out new possibilities; the habits of the body are the foundation, not limitation or enclosing frame, to future perception and knowledge. Learning that if I can see you, you can see me, does not enclose future action like rules given by a model, but enlarges possibility: you can do more with a person whose world you can imagine than one whose world is invisible to you.
- That's from another conversation.* Do you remember?
- Yes. Why do you bring it up?
- Have you heard of philosophers doing philosophic therapy or counselling?
- Wouldn't you say all philosophy is healing?
- I would, except perhaps not this philosophic therapy.
- Why not?
- Because the philosopher charges money for his time.
- If you love your work you can see the payment as a separate, practical necessity, isolated from the actual performance.
- Do you think that is possible?
- If you love your work.
- Then you'd ask the philosopher-therapist if he loves his work?
- I'd ask him if he loves or even likes his patients.
- The philosopher for hire may say so, but the only ones doing the job I know of have for clients almost exclusively business executives.
- Who tend to be selfish and aggressive, not the most attractive people in the world.
- So the philosopher doesn't really like his patients. Not liking them, following upon the ideas I quoted, would you agree that not liking means the philosopher's relation to his patient is not physical, not a matter of desire which is absent, but rather of placing his patient in a category of deficiency to which a certain category of remedy should be applied?
- Yes.
- Do you think that helps the patient? Most of the patients complain of working too much and of not knowing any more why they are working. The philosophers tell them to remember to have fun, open themselves to the ecstatic in life, to beauty.
- The philosopher too, not liking his patients, seeing them for the money, is vulnerable to developing the same problem as his patients: his work is not satisfying in itself. He can advise his patients to curtail the unsatisfying work of application of rules. Let's say the philosopher in the rest of his life acts in accord with his desire, wants to know those around him and the ways of the world. In private life his rest from action follows directly from the action. But is that what in the conversation with his patient he is showing the patient?
- No, how could that be? If he knows the patient it is by rules, not investigation motivated by desire.
- The patient pays, goes on with his life with more of acting out of desire and less of acting in accord with rules. He develops habits of both kinds of living. Perhaps he has a lover who, being human, is not perfect. At difficult times he asks himself about his lover, perhaps he should find a better lover? What is the rule? Doesn't he owe himself the best in life? And then what happens with love?
- Bye bye love.

On The Shortness Of Life - Seneca (audiobook)
Prostitution & Torture
* Justice & Terror

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


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- After our talks do you know what I do?
- Regret you wasted your time.
- Never. I try out the ideas on other people.
- How does that go?
- Sometimes better than others.  Last time, not so good. I was asked a question I couldn't answer. The subject of conversation was our favorite these days, our new president and how we ended up with him. I talked about his character or lack of and the character of the people who voted for him or their lack of character, about how people with weak character are more susceptible to being led into ritual behavior, about the particular ritual behind fascism: a group of people are told they are weak, that the cause of their weakness was outsiders who have come within them and are undermining their strength, and how the people can regain their strength by violently attacking their enemies anywhere and everywhere.
- Were you understood?
- More or less. And I was understood when I went on to talk about our president's narcissism and how his lies are not taken as true statements about the world but as statements his supporters like to imagine themselves participating in making.
- And was that understood?
- Again yes, more or less. But I was asked then what should have been to me an obvious question: how does someone like the president who contradicts himself in every speech he makes, actually in nearly every sentence he speaks, manage to lead masses of people in ritual?
- How does he do it?
- I didn't and don't have an answer so I'm asking you: how does he do it?
- When you hear the word 'ritual' you think first of some small isolated community living in a remote jungle, right?
- Right.
- Some stay home and take care of children, some go out and hunt or gather fruits and vegetables. Now these roles - hunting, gathering, caring for children - they are assigned by tradition and are not much the subject of thought. What about our roles, is the same true?
- No. We take on our roles deliberately and we think about them a lot.
- When a natural disaster strikes the primitive community it is not difficult for members to imagine themselves in a ritual that enacts a battle between gods in which an old weak god dies and is reborn a new strong god. Identification with the god is easy: in their thoughtlessness about the role they play in life they are no less a mysterious entity to themselves than is a god.
- And we narcissists* are in love with thinking about ourselves and our roles.
- "We" meaning everyone but you and me.
- Of course. So how does it work? The president can't get out two words without the second contradicting the first, and his supporters, far from being jungle dwellers ready and willing to lose themselves in their group, pride themselves on their individuality.
- Our question is how it happens that the same fascist that loses himself in real or imagined group violence consciously conceives of himself as an individual with his own self-chosen role in life?
- Yes. How have we ended up with a country of conservative fascists, individualists who love to throw themselves into group violence. Your answer?
- What do the president's supporters say when confronted with their leader's vulgarity, brutality, dishonesty, incoherence...
- ...With his every possible failure of human character. They say he is not a standard evasive politician like the others. He's himself.
- He has a role then, that of individual, an individual under attack by establishment politicians. Do you see how this works out?
- Not yet.
- Ritual requires losing one's self awareness in group violence. The president seems to be in all directions at once, but is consistent in this presentation of himself as an individual under attack. Cannot he be leading his supporters in a ritual of identification with him and his struggle?
- His supporters are conservative believers that government is a danger to their individuality, yet they go to the president's fascist style rallies to join in a crowd united by fear and hatred of outsiders. Identifying with their leader they retain their sense of being individuals even in the crowd.

Further Reading:
Trump's Lies
Mass Murder, Anyone?
Philosophy & Science Of Betrayal
* See: The Narcissist 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Philosophy And Science Of Betrayal

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- You said last time,* about the difference between philosophy and literature:
Stories model the truth, summarize in miniature how life goes. Philosophy talks about the fact that life itself is to our perception a kind of story, is filled with illusion, but some elements of which are not illusion. Our perception of the world is constructed, is a model that reflects some aspects of the world and not others. Our consciousness however seems to be, sometimes at least, at moments of love and beauty, not subject to the model making illusion of perception. Or so philosophy claims, giving itself the job to extend into the world of perception as far as possible that un-modeled, un-storied truth.
What about science? How is it different from the two?
- Like literature, its stories do not involve 'un-modeled, un-storied truth'.
- Its stories? Science is not about truth? Are you serious?
- Yes. Unlike philosophy, being without un-modeled, un-storied truth, science is further limited in being unlike literature in that its stories must be experienced, rather than the product of imagination.
- Anything else wrong with science?
- Yes, if you mean by wrong its limitations. Science tells stories and makes models of the relation of kinds of thing to kinds of thing, and confirms the stories and models by experiment. Both philosophy and literature tell stories of individual human beings experimenting with their relation to the world, looking for regularities in how doing certain kinds of things changes their relation to the world from better to worse or worse to better.
- Science experiments with kinds of things in the world, literature tells stories of experiments individuals perform on the world.
- Experiments individuals perform on their relation to the world.
- What you mean by relation to the world?
- In science the conditions of observation and instruments used are controlled, allowing anyone with the proper equipment to repeat the experiment on the same kinds of things. In our personal lives the instrument of observation is ourselves, or rather, our character, and it is modified by each of our actions and thoughts.
- We see different worlds depending on our experience and education.
- Yes. When you can name and describe the parts of a flower you see the flower differently from when you couldn't. When you are angry much of what you'd otherwise see and remember of the world is lost. In fact the first job philosophy puts its tools of analysis and synthesis to is the control of our instrument of observation, purifying it of disabling passions.
- And our instrument of observation is character.
- Since what we see of the world is the product of our past actions, what we actually see of the world is our relation to it in which there is something of the world and something our ourselves. We try, in the story of our lives, in that continuing experiment, to put ourselves in the best relation to the world.
- Best, meaning happiest?
- Yes. Notice that all three - philosophy, literature and science - involve experiments, but only science deals with the relation of classes of things to classes of things. In literature and philosophy the world unrelated to individual actions is not a concern.
- You are not saying there is no truth of the world, only that how we see the world varies with our character.
- Yes. But the truth of our character cannot be seen either except in relation to the world. The Canadian philosopher John Ralson Saul** argues that ideologies are utopias created by reason unbalanced by the other human capacities of memory, sympathy, creativity, imagination, and common sense. The problem with this is that relating classes of things - memory, sympathy, creativity, imagination, common sense - to each other is to make a science of human nature.
- And you think that is wrong. Why?
- Because it is not science but literature, bad literature: these classes of things have not been experimentally observed in relation to each other.
- Not science, and not philosophy either, because the model of human nature does not involve descriptions of being the best relation to the world, of being in sight of the real world recognition of which distinguishes philosophy from literature.
- Philosophy experiments with ideas, so let's subject the model to a thought experiment. In recent times leader after leader in the countries of South America betrayed their promises of social reform, with one notable exception: Hugo Chavez, who 'worked as an instructor in a military school, attempted a coup against a corrupt neoliberal regime, took personal and public responsibility for it and went to jail, came out and explicitly rejected the armed path to power, and helped lead a movement that has, by any definition, advanced the public good in Venezuela and in Latin America.'*** We can add to the list of betrayers the Greek Prime Minister Tsipras giving in to the European Union bankers, defying the will of the people expressed in a referendum, and our own Senator Bernie Sanders declining to challenge the proven corrupt Democratic primary or to continue his run for presidency as an independent. I don't think we can say of these betrayers, particularly not of Sanders or Tsipras, that they are unbalanced in their virtues of memory, reason, sympathy, creativity, common sense and imagination.
- So what does philosophic analysis tell us?
- That the virtues are inseparable. For John Ralston Saul capitalism is an example of a utopia of reason. But in fact capitalism is reasonable only in the use of experiment to achieve efficiency. Capitalism begins with the relation of employee to employer, which can only be established by forcibly keeping the employee from the property ownership that would give freedom to not sell himself into the part time slavery of employment, and capitalism ends with the seeking of profit for its own sake, a seeking which arises from the sense of power that is itself the product of regular class relations promising security. Capitalism is more about power than reason. In actuality, that is, in our own observed experience, when an individual experiments with his relation to the world he relies on all the virtues at once: memory of a better life lost, creativity in choice of what to try, imagination of the sympathy and love aimed to return to. Character is strengthened with every unsupportable relation to the world escaped. The betraying leaders in their world of politics perhaps displayed all the virtues, but their exercise was confined to the rule-defined management of people within institutions. They played safe, whereas Hugo Chavez placed himself in jeopardy, his relation to the world lived through and changed.
- He lived in the real world. The other politicians only played games.****

Further Reading:
There Is Nothing Either Good Or Bad But Thinking Makes It So
** The Unconscious Civilization
*** Ricochet Magazine
**** The actions they are afraid of taking they soon lose interest in taking: leaders lose sympathy for the led they have power over. See Killer Metaphysics. See also The Show

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

There Is Nothing Either Good Or Bad But Thinking Makes It So

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- Our president can get away with anything, it's almost mystical. As he told a rally during the election he could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose voters.
- It's no mystery. His supporters don't believe in human character. They believe his lies that he is on their side or he will make them richer. And the Republicans in control of congress, as long as he plays along with them, block political consequence.
- Americans think they have nothing to fear from bad character. They believe, as famously put by Hamlet, 'there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.' I've wondered at that line for a long time. Did Shakespeare mean it as a bit of philosophy or as the characterization of a mad man?
- On Youtube there's a wonderful television interview* with the philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch. The interviewer asks her the difference between philosophy and literature. Both, she answers, are in search for the truth, but philosophy is about clearing away illusion, literature is about the deliberate construction of illusion.
- And what do you think?
- Both philosophy and literature are stories.
- Then how are they different?
- Stories model the truth, summarize in miniature how life is. Philosophy talks about the fact that life itself is to our perception a kind of story, is filled with illusion, but some elements of which are not illusion. Our perception of the world is constructed, is a model that reflects some aspects of the world and not others. Our consciousness however seems to be, sometimes at least, at moments of love and beauty, not subject to the model making illusion of perception. Or so philosophy claims, giving itself the job to extend into the world of perception as far as possible that un-modeled, un-storied truth. There's a philosopher by the name of Hoffman** who argues the contrary, that all we know of the world is models, and since they are fictions constructed by our minds it is futile to use those models to explain our minds, but the reverse should be possible, using consciousness to explain the sort of models of the world we make. To do this he comes up with a mathematical model of consciousness, a function of mind that goes from world to experience to act to changed world to experience, which he then works up into the basic mathematical equations of natural science.
- And leaves out the un-modeled beauty and love included in your conception of philosophy?
- Yes.
- Then it's only a kind of fiction explaining a kind of fiction.
- In Iris Murdoch's first novel Under The Net the protagonist enrolls himself in a medical study testing a medicine. By chance today I went to the University Hospital to do the same, signed myself up for a test of migraine medicine. I am among those who have one fairly rare form of migraine in which 'object blindness' occurs in the first stages: you can see shapes, but not identify objects. Model making of perception is disabled. What's seen is what the retina works up without benefit of memory of past experience and future expectations of good: object blindness generates a sight that feels insignificant and inapplicable. Memory of similar sights seen in the past and the good the objects can be used to bring us to is required for meaning to arise.
- And what you've just done is an example of philosophy: a model of experience that includes elements that aren't modeled: the good aimed at. Hoffman's mathematics of consciousness leaves out the good aimed at, which is, as it were, hovering above on another level, which other level mathematic's own Godel's theorem is supposed to have proved cannot be brought into any mathematical formula.
- And in any case his model is a description of what goes on with any living thing of any degree of consciousness.
- And so what do you say is consciousness?
- Precisely this looking down from one level on another.
- Looking down on the modeled world of perception from a place where the un-modelable experience of beauty or love resides.
- Yes.
- And the story you are telling now about it is a model of experience, the special kind of literature or story telling we call philosophy that includes elements of the story that are on another level which are not modeled and cannot be.


- As to Hamlet, here's the passage in which the line occurs:
HAMLET: Denmark's a prison.
ROSENCRANTZ: Then is the world one.
HAMLET: A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.
ROSENCRANTZ: We think not so, my lord.
HAMLET: Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.
ROSENCRANTZ: Why then, your ambition makes it one; 'tis too narrow for your mind.
HAMLET: O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
GUILDENSTERN: Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.
HAMLET: A dream itself is but a shadow.
ROSENCRANTZ: Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow's shadow.
HAMLET: Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretched heroes the beggars' shadows. Shall we to the court? for, by my fay, I cannot reason.
And what do you say to it?
- Hamlet is awake to the illusion of experience, he is living in the migraine state of object blindness. He knows there is something to be done, but suffers from detachment.
- He has forgotten love in his wounded pride and defied ambition. It's like he's the philosopher Hoffman: beginning from a loveless consciousness and building a world upon it nothing seems worth doing.

Further Reading:
Philosophy Of Betrayal
The Show
* Philosophy And Literature
** The Interface Theory Of Consciousness

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mass Murder, Anyone?

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- First, I want to read you something about our new president by Timothy Snyder, historian of central Europe and the Holocaust:
What is patriotism? Let us begin with what patriotism is not. It is not patriotic to dodge the draft and to mock war heroes and their families. It is not patriotic to discriminate against active-duty members of the armed forces in one’s companies, or to campaign to keep disabled veterans away from one’s property. It is not patriotic to compare one’s search for sexual partners in New York with the military service in Vietnam that one has dodged. It is not patriotic to avoid paying taxes, especially when American working families do pay. It is not patriotic to ask those working, taxpaying American families to finance one’s own presidential campaign, and then to spend their contributions in one’s own companies. It is not patriotic to admire foreign dictators. It is not patriotic to cultivate a relationship with Muammar Gaddafi; or to say that Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin are superior leaders. It is not patriotic to call upon Russia to intervene in an American presidential election. It is not patriotic to cite Russian propaganda at rallies. It is not patriotic to share an adviser with Russian oligarchs. It is not patriotic to solicit foreign policy advice from someone who owns shares in a Russian energy company. It is not patriotic to read a foreign policy speech written by someone on the payroll of a Russian energy company. It is not patriotic to appoint a national security adviser who has taken money from a Russian propaganda organ. It is not patriotic to appoint as secretary of state an oilman with Russian financial interests who is the director of a Russian-American energy company and has received the “Order of Friendship” from Putin. The point is not that Russia and America must be enemies. The point is that patriotism involves serving your own country.  (From: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, 2016)
- Our president is a bad guy and likely a traitor. What else is new?
- He might try a fascist take-over. He spouts the fascist program: the people are weakened, they suffer the incursions of a evil enemy, but he, not afraid to use violence, is the one the lead the the nation back to greatness. Hitler promised a government that would improve the material lives of his people, but his real goal was to embark on a race war in which Germans could purify themselves of the corruptions of ideas of sympathy, kindness, and cooperation the Jews had contaminated the whole world with. Our new president also claims to be interested in the well-being of his people, but he may have intentions similar to Hitler's of taking control of the entire government and ending the rule of law; and then, on the occasion of a terror attack, real or fake, embark on a program of conquest.
- And you worry Americans might become mass murderers like the Germans?
- I do! What's to stop Americans from becoming agents of terror to each other inside the country and mass murderers outside? Snyder has collected evidence that most of the Jews killed in the Holocaust were killed in the countries east of Germany invaded first by the Soviet Union then by Germany. Natives of the invaded countries were employed as killers, first in the name of protecting communism from its enemies and then in the name of protecting the Nazis from their communist enemies, the Jews. Mass killing doesn't seem to require belief, only requires willingness to use violence, identification with one's role in one's group, and characterization of the enemy as dangerously alien.
- The killers didn't have to be anti-Semitic?
- Not at all. Some were, but belief was not required. Any story could be told. What cannot be done without, is essential, is loyalty to one's place in the group, indulgence in violence, and discovery of enemy infiltration. The social psychologist James Waller argues* that situations satisfying those conditions can produce a mass murderer out of anyone, though some individuals are able to hold out longer than others.
- Then he excuses everyone.
- He says he doesn't excuse, that he is only speaking of probabilities. He explains the conditions under which mass murder can be expected, but individuals are still responsible. It's like he's looking out a window at people pass by: when this man is seen, this woman usually is too. He doesn't know the relation between, the reason for, the two observations being associated, which is perhaps that the man and woman are married. All that he has to suggest is that if we are authentic and responsible we might be able to better resist the demands of the group. But does this get us anywhere? Are we saying anything more than someone who can resist a group's demand that he mass murder is someone who resists demands of a group? We need to know how this linkage between character and deed comes about, the cause, not just the probability. We need to know what allows some but not others to resist the demands of the group. Do you have any idea?
- I have what it pleases you to make to fun of calling it my system or computer: types of behavior identified as either ethical or vain, based on Yes or No answers to whether there is awareness of self and world in action and rest.

                                     action                       rest

self aware?                     Yes                           No
aware of world?              No                            Yes



                                    action                       rest

self aware?                    No                           Yes
aware of world?             Yes                           No

Ethical action aims towards ethical rest. Vain action aims towards vain rest. In moving from ethical action to ethical rest, we are aware of our self in movement. We can tell that story. In moving from vain action to vain rest, we are not aware of ourselves in movement, consequently we cannot tell a story. We forget the passage, and this forgetting is what allows for the claim to be reborn in ritual. The "combinations" of ethical action leading to vain rest, and vain action leading to ethical rest, are excluded, as the first allows only awareness of self and none of world, the other only awareness of world and none of self.**
- Your behavior computer computes them to be insane: we need some knowledge of both self and world to assemble a relation of self to world. Without a consistent relation of self to world we go crazy.
- Yes. Risk of insanity provides a natural barrier to changing from ethical to vain.
- And vain to ethical.
- Yes. If you can stand something so simple applied to something so complicated, I'll go on.
- Go on.
- The mass murderer's behavior fits perfectly into the categories vain action and vain rest. Vain action is intoxicated, a self-unaware rush to change the world back to a form in which we felt more powerful: self unaware, aware of the world acted upon. The vain rest of the mass murderer is spent thinking of himself having recovered security through seeing himself in his power to murder others: self aware, world (outside of others murdered) unaware. Turn this upside down, and we get ethical action and ethical rest. Action: awareness of self in role, but a role played without fixed relation to the world, which is left unaware while it undergoes change caused by our role play. Rest: unaware of ourselves in awareness of being at home and secure in the beauty of the world. The mass murderer loses himself in a world that is defined as the object of his violence. Secure relation in one's role to the role of others in the group is what is important, not at all the world or any truth about it. Meaning is found in achieving that security, not in the truth of a story of one group's danger to another. You see the connection with the way our new president constantly lies and contradicts himself?
- He says what he thinks will give him power in the situation he finds himself in. Truth about the world is no consideration at all.
- Yes.
- Our resistance to becoming mass murderers is not a matter of probability, depending on the temptation of the situation and a vaguely defined authenticity and responsibility, but a question of whether we can maintain a clearly defined ethical character, a question of practice, of how we are in the habit of living. Resistance is not a question of society, of whether there is a rule of law. Mass murder arises in countries that have become stateless, and in one-party states in which the rule of law is absent, such as the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia. But strict obedience to law, if it is done unthinkingly, fits the description of unethical action. It is used in training soldiers to kill. In a state where rule of law reigns, the strictly obedient, when tempted by the fascist program, easily succumb, don't resist while rule of law is dismantled. Far from being a protection against mass murder, rule of law can be a preparation for it. Snyder tells the story of policemen who one day were directing traffic in Munich three days later were in Eastern Europe marching Jews into the forest hundreds at a time and shooting them.
- Avoiding becoming mass murderers is not a question of what kind of society we have, how far away from lawlessness it is. Rule of law while it lasts gets in the way of mass murder, but it need not last. Avoiding mass murder depends on how individuals are in the habit of living, ethically or not. The question for us then is, How are we Americans living? Ethically?

Further Reading:
Beverly Hills Jews
The President's People
United States & Totalitarianism
The Golden Rule & The Deviant Path
The Mathematics Of Consciousness


- Rule of law is unable to stop people from becoming mass murderers because it assigns them a role, the role of "forced to obey", and obviously submission is a relation of weakness. Add a culture of violence to this sense of being weakened, and add an enemy identified as responsible for your state of weakness, and you have met the requirements for a society falling into mass murder. Alright?
- Yes.
- Free Market economics also is no protection, for the same reason: it institutionalizes violence in every transaction. Sellers wish to give the least for the highest price and buyers get the most for the lowest price, establishing a relation of enmity that does violence against the natural impulse we human beings have to cooperate and sympathize  -  I assume you really believe in these other, ethical characteristics of the human species. You do?
- Yes.
- Society as a protection against mass murder isn't doing too well. We've got a launching pad to vanity in the rule of law which is set over us to control our desires. We've got a launching pad to vanity in our free market economics, the rules of which control our relation to property, our sense of home and our spirited nature that shows itself when home is threatened, and that is constantly for us. What's left?
- The reasonable, if you're following Plato's three part human nature: desiring, spirited, reasoning.
- I am.
- And how well will democracy, the form of government our reasoning has chosen, guide us away from mass murder?
- Not well. Our democracy is built on the assumption there is no agreement on what is human nature, therefore the state should express only that idea, that of no shared human nature.
- And that expression is in the insistence we be tolerant.
- Yes. Denied in our public life the opportunity to seek what is right in communication with our fellow citizens, we feel ourselves wounded and under continuous attack.
- Our laws, our free markets, and our democracy, all three, with the sense they produce of our being under constant attack, lead us into vanity and Yes, mass murder when the additional requirements of cruelty condoned and enemy identified are met.
- And the solution?
- Isn't it obvious?
- Ethical rules, ethical economics, ethical politics. How are we going to work that out in practice?
- Voluntary association,** property traded on a basis that respects a natural human concern for other human beings, and an open and continuous search for truth. On this last:
(Transcript)  "My name is Noam Chomsky, I'm a retired professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I've been for 65 years. I think I can do no better about answering the question of what it means to be truly educated than to go back to some of the classic views on the subject. For example the views expressed by the founder of the modern higher education system, Wilhelm von Humboldt, leading humanist, a figure of the enlightenment who wrote extensively on education and human development and argued, I think, kind of very plausibly, that the core principle and requirement of a fulfilled human being is the ability to inquire and create constructively independently without external controls. To move to a modern counterpart, a leading physicist who talked right here [at MIT], used to tell his classes it's not important what we cover in the class, it's important what you discover. To be truly educated from this point of view means to be in a position to inquire and to create on the basis of the resources available to you which you've come to appreciate and comprehend. To know where to look, to know how to formulate serious questions, to question a standard doctrine if that's appropriate, to find your own way, to shape the questions that are worth pursuing, and to develop the path to pursue them. That means knowing, understanding many things but also, much more important than what you have stored in your mind, to know where to look, how to look, how to question, how to challenge, how to proceed independently, to deal with the challenges that the world presents to you and that you develop in the course of your self education and inquiry and investigations, in cooperation and solidarity with others. That's what an educational system should cultivate from kindergarten to graduate school, and in the best cases sometimes does, and that leads to people who are, at least by my standards, well educated." (Video: On Being Truly Educated)
- And what are the chances we learn to educate each other before we murder each other to extinction?
- I couldn't say.

Further Reading:
Icarus, Or The Future Of Science, Bertrand Russell
James Waller, 'Becoming Evil, How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing', Oxford University Press, 2002
** See: Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
*** Laws ruling by external threat is not the only possibility open to democracy. In Aeschylus' Orestes Trilogy the Goddess Athena ends a cycle of revenge by instituting trial by law, deciding a tie with her vote and inviting the Furies to take up residence. Decision by law is thus made both incalculable and enforced by a threat of violence that is internal to the community; law is the divine product of the divine power of vengeance deferred by each citizen. See: Killer Metaphysics and Prostitution, Employment, Slavery.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Free Speech Against Free Speech / Thought Experiments

- Hey Rex. Where are you coming from? Are there any events today?
- Could be. I was at the sculpture garden, and do you know what happened?
- What?
- I was sitting, writing, computer on my lap, when I felt something on my arm: a sparrow had landed on me!
- What did you do?
- I flinched, and the sparrow flew away.
- Why did you do that?
- I'm not accustomed to birds being summoned by my words. I'm not Saint Francis. And then, do you know what?
- What?
- The sparrow flew back.
- To your arm?
- Yes.
- Did you shake it off?
- No. It stood still for a few moments, then flew away. You know, I'm going to put you in what I'm writing. I'll bring in the bird somehow.
- Are you using my name?
- Sure.
- You have to change it.
- I'll change it from 'Dolly' to 'Molly'.
- That's too close.
- No matter. Upon reconsideration I don't think I will be making a change. As a committed supporter of our new president you're not deserving of my charity.
- What are you writing about?
- Thought experiments. How about I do one on you? See that old man over there?
- Yes. You know him?
- No. Imagine him coming over here and saying to you, Will you be my friend?
- No, I won't. Why should I?
- Wait, we haven't finished setting up the experiment. This old man goes on to describe himself to you, and not to make a mystery of this, everything he is going to say about himself is true of our new president who you are so attached to. Not true because someone somewhere says it is, but because court documents and videos of him admitting the truth himself prove their truth. So this is what he says:
Please, little old lady who's lived on the street for the past seventeen years, sleeping on church porches and going to lectures at the university for the free food and drink, pretending to be interested: dear little old lady, will you be my friend? May I tell you about myself? I love to brag about how I molest women and get away with it. I cheat people, both rich and poor, in the many contracts I make. I refused to pay immigrant workers from Poland I hired to build my buildings. I refused to pay caterers for my many parties. Courts ordered me to pay these people, and then since I had to I did. I loved defrauding poor people desperately trying to better themselves by buying from me a high priced education, I loved cheating them by claiming I was personally involved when I wasn't, lying that I was offering accredited university education when I was only offering trade school. I love to incite crowds to beat up people who disagree with me, offering to pay their legal expenses if they're arrested for the crimes I ask them to commit. I love to lie, to lie, to lie and lie and lie again, to lie all the time. I lied yesterday when I got the head of the FBI fired who kept investigating me for my illegal business arrangements with Russia, I lied when I told people I got him fired because he had illegally exposed my greatest adversary, though I've been recorded many times praising the man for making that very exposure. I lie careless of consequences or obviousness. I'll say it's sunny when it's raining. Look at me. I twist my face into repulsive grimaces, the hair on my head seems to belong to another species, and both my face and hair have an unnatural orange color. My use of language, vocabulary and grammar, is worse than an average three or four year old child's. In fact what I'm telling you now is far beyond my language abilities, I must be inspired by god. So, Dolly, will you be my friend? I molest, cheat, lie, incite people to violence, can barely speak and am physically repulsive. Will you be my friend, Dolly?
- Don't call me 'Dolly' when you write.
You will be my very good friend, Molly-Dolly? You know, my very good friend, though I molest, cheat, beat up others, I'd never do that to you. You know that could never happen, my dear Dolly.
- Write 'Molly'!
- Can this man be your friend, Dolly-Molly?
- You're just resentful because you're not rich like he is.
- So your answer is, Yes? You do take him for your well-chosen friend?
- Yes. He's unconventional, like me
- You don't care about the sexual assaults and cheating the poor, his incitement to violence and non-stop lies?
- That's just what you say.
- For the thought experiment I ask you to assume that it is all true, as in fact it is. Making that assumption, he'd still be your chosen friend, right? It wouldn't make any difference.
- No, it wouldn't! No one's perfect. All politicians lie.
- They do. But in the same quantity? Are they corrupt to the same extent? Haven't the efforts of other politicians to keep the appearance of good behavior restrained them from the worst possible excesses while in office? Whereas we see in our new president's behavior that absolutely nothing restrains him from the most outrageous, openly dishonest behavior.
- That's your opinion, I have mine.
- For our thought experiment then your answer is, Yes, my dear, I accept your friendship.
- You've told me about Dolly before. I like her. You make fun of her, but I think by some miracle she is enjoying herself in her difficult circumstances. I like your sparrow too. Do you assign it any meaning? A symbol portending your future?
- No.
- Is that because, as you said about narcissists, they make the world their instrument,* you'd be using the incident as tool of interpretation?
- Can't I simply say it was beautiful? 
- I won't stop you. Speaking of thought experiments: Do you know 'The Trolley'? A trolley car is out of control, rushing towards five people tied to the tracks. You have in your hand a lever to shift the trolley to another track where only one person is tied. What would you do?
- What would you do?
- Last night I saw an Australian / Indonesian movie** built around the experiment. A teacher asks his students to select those few they'd take with them into a bomb shelter before a nuclear attack and those they'd leave behind there was no room for. In the course of the movie they make the selection several times, and we watch dramatizations of how the chosen make out in the bomb shelter.
- And how do they make out?
- The first groups, selected to have the most useful skills, not well: they all die. In the last selection the choice is made to include, not the most useful, but the best, the most sympathetic. Even if they have, with little practical skills, little chance of surviving, their time will be spent trying to live the best lives human beings can. Is that what you mean by non-instrumental?
- It is. The Trolley experiment leads participants into accepting the 'bad means to good end' argument: accepting use of present bad means for the sake of an expected future good. It's a variety of the 'the lesser evil'*** argument.
- Choosing a bad means to a good end is less evil that doing nothing and getting the worse end?
- Yes. The argument has big problems: we can't accurately account for consequences; we can't know if choosing the lesser evil will become a habit of bad action, a corrupting model followed by others and oneself; even if good results are foreseen, we don't know if bad results will not soon follow; we don't know how far ahead we have to look, which factors are most important to be taken account of.
- But the simplified situation of the experiment evades those challenges. We know nothing of the past or future of the world of trolley cars, nothing of your character as decision maker or of the character of the six people in the experiment.
- It does. But don't you see?
- The lack of characterization forces upon the participant instrumental thinking, thinking that doesn't respect individuality.
- Yes. I for one do all I can to avoid making a world for myself like that of the trolley experiment. I keep a distance from people I don't care about, who don't know me and I don't know, no matter how useful they might be. I choose to live with those I do know and care about, no matter how great the danger they might represent.
- Even if the people you know and care about are making you their instrument?
- Sometimes even then.
- But what about the Trolley experiment: what would you do?
- What you said was done at the end of the movie. You tell yourself the world you live in is filled with known and unknown, liked and disliked. You make decisions to make your world more known and more likable, make yourself more known and likable, which is another way of saying you aim with your decisions to make yourself and others happy. You never will be in a situation where you know and like nothing about yourself and others. Finding yourself in such a world is proof you have given up on ethical life, you have made your choices on the basis of quantitative predictions of what will make you more wealthy, secure, more powerful.
- When the world you have to decide in is the world of the trolley experiment, you have already left the world of morality, consequently the experiment, not allowing a moral choice, has no relevance to moral decision making?
- Yes. Last night, maybe while you were watching your Australian movie, I watched a video of 'The Battle For Berkeley'.**** Have you heard about it?
- The riots when Trump supporters came to U.C. Berkeley and tried to speak?
- Yes. In the tradition of Neo-Nazies marching in a Jewish neighborhood of New York, conservative speakers scheduled lectures in this place of student protest. Massive resistance from students and others forced cancellation. The conservatives complained, Didn't they too have a right to free speech? No they didn't, not there, answers Sunsara Taylor, veteran of the civil rights movement, co-founder of the "Refuse Fascism"***** organization. Can you guess her argument?
- As the trolley experiment fails to have moral application because it blanks out all individual characteristics of the people involved, so does an absolute application of any rule or law. Laws are only approximations. Unforeseen circumstances arise. More than one law or rule may apply in the same situation, leading to different resolutions. For example, the law does not allow us for the fun of it to cry 'fire!' in a crowded theater, with people trampled to death in the resulting panic. How'd I do?
- You're right on track. She says the right to free speech has never been absolute. She very properly observes that there is also a common law right of self-defense involved. What the conservatives propose, the substance of their speech, is a real danger to the people. Should you let someone come close to you who is already shouting far and wide you have no right to exist? Should you let him try to convince your neighbors or even your family to kill you? The rule of free speech, when free speech has already been widely exercised elsewhere, has no force when weighed against the imperative need for self defense. The application of common law right to self-defense may create a disruption of ordinary rules, demonstrations may disrupt free flow of traffic in a city center, but that too must be accepted by the same argument that in any particular situation different rules carry different weights.
- But how can we be sure we are not manipulating the argument for self-defense, claiming views are dangerous when they are not? Can't the conservatives claim liberal views are a danger to the their people? In fact aren't they now doing exactly this when they and our new president call the press the enemy of the people?
- We rely on our ability to define clearly what is dangerous.
- How? Not every situation is as obvious as shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater.
- In the case of the conservatives trying to speak in Berkeley we rely on our ability to define and identify fascism. Fascism, a ritual movement of a crowd, openly exhibits its ritual origins: it is both violent and convention bound. It is violent in its formation of the crowd identity, attacking outsiders who endanger the people, secretly infiltrating within; and rule bound and conventional, demanding mindless observance of the laws and mores that keep the crowd thus formed together. The same president who with fierce vulgarity incites his crowd to violence, calling on all to smash protesters in the face, this president says in justification, suddenly shy and afraid of open words, that the protesters 'made this gesture, you know, this rude thing, with a finger...' This same president who for fifty years has been breaking laws, promises, contracts, who's been continually cheating, assaulting, defrauding, wants to strictly enforce on others existing and new laws.
- Instead of defining Fascism as a form of government, or a psychology, you say it has a distinctive signature in its relation to violence: in the same person, at different times, violence together with strict obedience to rules.******
- Yes. It is violence that creates and defines the crowd, conformity that unifies it. 
- Maybe we could say that the trolley experiment forces the decision maker into participation in a crowd: the five to be saved are the un-individualized participants in a ritual of exclusion, the one to be sacrificed is the strange and unknown foreigner.

Further Reading:
Conservatives & Totalitarians
Bird Song & Machine Talk
A Study Of The Influence Of Custom On The Moral Judgement
* The Narcissist
** After The Dark / The Philosophers, 2013
*** Lesser Evil Voting
**** The Battle For Berkeley
***** Refuse Fascism
****** Watch Yale University historian Timothy Snyder on the two phases of Fascism: Mass killings by nations happen in states with single party control and in states fallen into anarchy.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Narcissist

    Related image
- Our new president is derided as 'Narcissist In Chief'. He's a joke.
- How would you define narcissism?
- Being in love with an image of oneself.
- Not in love with oneself, but with an image of oneself? A deliberately looked for or even constructed image of ourselves?
- Yes. It's bizarre. A strange combination of passion and artifice. A passion for artifice.
- Then it would be correct to say you are curious about narcissism?
- Yes.
- And to be curious is to feel pleasure in not knowing?
- I never thought of it like that, but why not?
- Do you imagine a narcissist ever being curious?
- No. They pretend they know everything all the time. They never willingly admit they are wrong.
- Would you agree then that a narcissist is someone who is afraid of not knowing, so always tells himself and the world that he does know?
- Again, why not? But in focusing on knowledge aren't we straying from what people usually mean by narcissist: someone who is in love with himself?
- To be curious about what you don't know, would you say it is necessary to have some confidence you eventually will understand?
- Yes.
- And to have that confidence, you must have in the past, after being confused, reached understanding, made discoveries?
- Yes.
- But to study, discover, understand requires some stability of circumstances. Remove the stability, wouldn't what before was pleasurable confusion now be a threatening unknown?
- The narcissist is someone who, previously secure in having learned how to learn, finding mystery a pleasure, now in a state of instability can't learn, so fears not knowing?
- Yes. Both curiosity, and its failure in narcissism, are relations to knowledge.
- How do we get from fear of not knowing to love of an image of oneself?
- By knowing something about yourself that tells you you have no reason to fear.
- How is that knowledge love?
- It isn't. It's relief, looking at yourself from a position outside yourself.
- How can we do that?
- Divide ourselves in two?
- Yes.
- Through the experience of seeing ourselves in another person's eyes. The narcissist tries to give himself an appearance that, in his imagination of someone looking on, would represent maximum security from fear. The narcissist learns how to make that appearance to which he is, through the intermediary of others, the real audience. The picture of self has to be continually remade as the world changes. Lacking real knowledge of the world, as opposed to knowledge of that part of the world that reflects an image of themselves, narcissists need over and over go back to work remaking a secure image.*
- You mean narcissists seek power?
- Yes. We don't usually call them insane unless they are very wrong about others' perception of the themselves and the extent of their power.
- I'm beginning to recognize our President. He doesn't seem to want to do anything with the new powers he's acquired except admire himself for having them and for his having had the skill to acquire them. Come to think of it, can't we say a narcissist like him does have curiosity about himself, I mean about what new grandiosity of image he legitimately does have some knowledge how to produce?
- But is this the same kind of curiosity?
- Why wouldn't it be?
- When we are curious about the world we move from a position of security to, if we come to know the world, increased sense of security from having new knowledge of the world. The curiosity of the narcissist arises out of fear of losing power, from a constant need of reassurance.
- So it isn't really curiosity.
- No. We use other words.
- Obsession. Fixation.
- Correct. Still there is a relation to knowledge, a need for knowledge, but from a perceived position of weakness rather than strength.  A narcissist has this relation of fixation or obsession to all three basic tasks of knowledge a human being faces: the need to master the tools for living in the world, to learn how to acquire food and shelter and safety; the need to learn how to get along with other people; the need to master our own passions so we can get along with people and have the peace of mind needed to learn enough about the world to feel curious about learning more. We must be safe first if we are going to be curious, to enjoy learning to perform these three tasks. The narcissist, living in insecurity, instead will seek to establish a sense of power in one or all three tasks.
- How does our new president do this, if he does?
- He most definitely does.
- All three?
- Certainly, all three ways an individual establishes a relation to himself instead of to the world: being in love with his reasoning; being in love with his ability to manipulate other people; being in love with his ability to satisfy all his desires without fear of consequences. Our President likes to talk about how he is very smart, he has the best words; how he's very rich and powerful and can make deals no one else can; how he can grab pussies and get away with it.
- But if you are right about this being what narcissism is, isn't the whole of our society more or less narcissistic? Everyone trying to impress themselves and all who look on with the extent of their satisfied passions, their achieved ambition, their worldly cleverness?
- People live insecure lives,** have to sell themselves into the part-time slavery of employment. When you can't make your own decisions how to live you can't enjoy learning to control yourself, understand others, or know the world. The only relief you know is in exercising your powers to satisfy your passions, manipulate the people around you, and make the world your instrument.***

Further Reading:
The Character Of Donald Trump
Political Correctness
The Show
* Having no sense of self that is not a show made to the public, narcissists have no sense of privacy, they have nothing which must be held in reserve from what is shown the public.
** 'A life in which we’re all alone, alone facing the necessity for each one to make a living, house oneself, feed oneself, realize one’s potential, and attend to one’s health, by oneself. Disgust with the miserable form of life of the metropolitan individual—scrupulous distrust / refined, smart skepticism / shallow, ephemeral loves / resulting extreme sexualization of every encounter / then the periodic return to a comfortable and desperate separation / constant distraction, hence ignorance of oneself, hence fear of oneself, hence fear of the other.' ('To Our Friends', The Invisible Committee)
*** See: Free Speech Against Free Speech

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Nothing Doing

- It's been a few weeks again. What have you been doing?
- Nothing.
- Doing nothing, or nothing you want to talk about? Fine, don't answer. Talking about doing nothing would be doing something, would be an expression falsifying what it expressed. I get it. But do you think it is even possible to do nothing? Like the capitalist is always doing something and never rests, the Buddhist in his monastery sits absolutely still, receiving the world and thinking to do nothing with what is received.
- I've seen plenty of capitalists take their doing for the sake of doing to the limit, so why not Buddhists taking their doing nothing to the limit?
- Well, I don't believe anyone has ever seen such people. Have you?
- I've seen some getting close.
- You have? Good. Tell me about them.
- I have already, many times. Remember the supermarket in Westwood where all those who live with no place to live go to pass the night hours, the dining area under the sign that claims this store is "The Happiest Place On Earth," an outrageous lie much in the style of our new president? To fight back against this invasion of people with no other place to go the supermarket hired a security company who brought in a cadre of obese black women from the South Central L.A. ghetto to do crowd control. When that didn't work, they closed the seating area between 10 pm and 5 am, the market remaining open twenty four hours a day. But they kept coming, those doing their best living with no place to live, spending the nights as they did before they found this supermarket refuge on sidewalk pavements or benches, on church steps or in the bushes on the grounds of the university, in the morning filing back in to the corporate happiest place on earth. The insane, talking back to the voices in their heads, dancing around and raving about this and that, or standing immobile like statues, these the security forces, concerned for their own safety left alone so long as they didn't destroy anything. But if anyone, chronically sleep deprived, sitting quietly let their eyes close more than half a second the obese guards would waddle over and shake the culprits awake, shouting "no sleeping allowed!" then making as rapid a retreat as their obesity allowed, cackling with laughter, soliloquizing 'What a place I work in, what a job I have!' They were so famous that a UCLA fraternity made it part of their initiation to send candidates into the dining area by pairs, shouting obscenities, getting themselves chased about the store by the obese ghetto guards, finally making their way out watching themselves on the video monitor above the door give the camera the finger.
- A Buddhist does his nothing by strict training of mind and body to stay still. How can you say that that group of idlers is doing anything comparable?
- They are disciplined in their own way. They don't drink, smoke or take drugs. They can't, if they are to survive their dangerous way of life. They might take some money from the government for food, the majority don't, but all of them think too highly of their independence than to allow themselves to be locked in institutions for the night in exchange for the gift of a bed in a room of beds occupied by drug addicts, the crazy, the alcoholic, the sick, and the dying coughing their lungs out.
- Come on. The world they receive as they sit dozing in their chairs under the sign locating them in the happiest place on earth, that world is the Internet, right? They all have phones with WiFi. That very store sells the phones for less than 10 dollars.
- It does. But think about it. What is a greater danger to a monk's enlightenment than his vanity at his own superiority and advancement? Receiving the world through the intermediary of the Internet these doers of nothing can't easily come to think they themselves are responsible for the world they see at their ease.
- You can't be serious.
- They are not on the Internet all day as you might expect. They really are doing nothing and want to do nothing, and they are doing it without benefit of any authority above them, or even any real ability to rely on each other or contact with anyone outside. Because of this they do really escape the vanity of the monk in the monastery. Not all of them, of course. You find those not remotely spiritual who like the ghetto guards, feeling they never had a chance, seek to exonerate themselves and blame others for their undeserved suffering.
- And those at the supermarket don't suffer?
- They do, but take little notice.
- But you can't possibly admire them. Like the capitalists are always doing for the sake of doing, never taking a rest, your friends at the supermarket, not receiving much of the world's truth, have nothing to teach the rest of us in our task to manage our lives of doing so we can make our way back back to rest.
- I never said I admired them. I gave them as an example of doing nothing.
- But why should we care? Their doing nothing is only a knack, doesn't involve self knowledge, any control of body or mind?
- Have you heard the argument that the election of our new president might indirectly be a good thing and move us forward because he brings into the open the falsity of capitalism's claim to serve democracy and prosperity for any but the wealthy?
- I've heard the argument. Do you agree?
- No. If the situation eventually teaches us anything it will be no more than a political and economic lesson. We might be led to a new politics and economics, away from worship and hoarding of property and towards voluntary sharing and collective decision making. But once there in our advancement would we have any reason to think the new state of affairs will last?** It looked to us like we'd have continuous progress in our freedoms, but the latest improvements in racial and sexual equality came at the cost of economic slavery and political impotence. If there is a progress of civilization it more likely is a progress not in the way we do things but in the way we don't.
- In the way we do nothing?
- In the way we receive the world when we do nothing. Progress in ideas, spiritual progress. Some have claimed the thousands of monasteries that used to be in Tibet, the hundred thousand monks, were a battery of stored spirituality kept in trust for the world, held for when it was ready to receive it. Could it be that the million in this country who have no place to live may come to play the same role in our lives? They are not vagabonds looking for adventure, they cant no dogma about their spirituality and what they are doing, or rather not doing. The subject doesn't interest them. They've got it managed.
- And what about you?
- What about me?
- Have you got it managed, your doing nothing? Ok, fine, don't answer. Don't think you're fooling me with this nonsense.

Further Reading:
About Buddhism
* Westwood Stories
** Lesser Evil Voting

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Conservatives & Totalitarians

1. The United States & Totalitarianism

- A totalitarian nation controls all of individual life in the name of perfecting social arrangements.
- Doesn't sound much like the United States.
- Another way to define totalitarianism is by the practice of continuous, unending ritual*. We are threatened by the communists, the Jews, the capitalists, we must be vigilant in eradicating these threats. We see ourselves as weak, we perform a ritual according to the known procedures, and come out feeling stronger.
- What are the known procedures?
- Depends on the country. War making, conceived as response to threat to security. Or exchange of goods and services between parties defined as adversaries in an economic transaction. Ritual in its basic form is an occasional means of recovery. Practiced too often, like a drug too often had recourse to, ritual becomes addictive**, for the same reason: our ability to lead ordinary lives is lessoned when not practiced, and with less ability the world become more inhospitable, making the security delivered by ritual more attractive.
- So countries limitlessly make wars, expand the realm of trade.
- Yes. Doing for the sake of doing***. The state institutions, originally the servant of individuals, become an end in themselves, administrators of the settled, unvarying practice of continuous ritual.
- Money making, war making.
- When this continuous ritual is turned away from foreign practice and turned inward to the state itself we have totalitarianism. The elements within us opposing the trade of goods and services, or opposing the ideal society of sharing we are in the way of perfecting, have to be eradicated.
- The actual achievement of the society of sharing, communism, or the actual achievement of free markets, capitalism, isn't important then, only the application of ritual to assigned obstacles?
- The United States is no more a country of free trade**** than the Soviet Union was a country of sharing.
- Still private life is very free in the United States. It is nothing like totalitarian countries in that respect. But maybe you'll say we're on the way there, with increasing inequality of wealth, monopoly ownership of means of communication and natural resources.
- Monopoly serves expansion by controlling markets. The danger is that the monopolists, with political power bought with their economic power, will not be satisfied only with economic ritual turned within, satisfied with the power to force everyone, like it or not, into transactions with them; that labeling holdouts threats to the nation, as truly they are obstacles to continuous practice of economic ritual, they begin to perform continuous rituals of war against them, step up practice within the country of what they have long been practicing outside. That economic and war expansion share the same form of continuous ritual encourages the transition from one to another, and this is true of all relations internal and external, economic and war making: between external war, internal terror, economic empire and internal monopoly.

2. Conservatives & Totalitarians

- We said that we don't see any reason to think there is a direction to history*, of one form of government inevitably following another; that trying to institute any form of government as an end leads to treating individual lives as means to that end, leads to the idea of efficiency of means to the end and so leads to individuals being sacrificed to the idea of efficiency.
- I remember.
- If we concentrate our efforts on building the state, we end up crushing the individual. What if we start from the individual? Can we build up to an idea of the state that won't be destructive of individuality?
- We tried something like that already when we argued that rather than describing the mental world in the terminology of the physical we should do it the other way around, describe the physical world in terms of the mental.**
- A government is a thing like a body is a thing, a thing that moves, whose moves are repetitive, repetition that maintains, in response to a changing world, the thing in the same shape. A government is a sort of artificial body.
- Yes. So let's see how far we can take this, starting from the state and working back to the individual. We see an approach of totalitarianism in our country with its new president. Russia and East European countries are already half way there. We know that totalitarianism is maintained by isolating individuals from each other. Isolated individuals can't easily organize a resistance. But we don't see how totalitarianism actually produces that isolation. We can follow how shared support of totalitarianism produces a crowd through shared passions, but how the non-adherents end up isolated from each other, end up a set of isolated individuals, we have no explanation for. Whereas we can see how changes in the status of individual conduct can produce totalitarianism.
- We can? I know your definition of totalitarianism: acting out on the national stage a ritual of collective rebirth. Our country is weak where it once was strong. There is an enemy within, allied with external enemies. With violence we will drive them out and bring on a national revival of our greatness. Where does individuality, the mental explaining the physical, come in?
- One of the myths about capitalism is that it is about work; hard, selfless work. It absolutely is not. Or not for the capitalists. Selfish work is for the employees, who literally lose sense of themselves as they slave for the sake of their employers. Who, far from having a will to selfless work in what they do, begin with a sense that they institute, they force their choice upon the world how to invest their money for the sake of making profit. They feel a need to continually set out on a risk-taking activity, to set out from a state of wealth and security to a state of insecurity, relying on a mysterious process called the free market economy not directly in their control. They know some rules which in the past have worked to achieve profit. Some of these rules are ways of working, techniques of production for example. But it can be the case, as it is in our times, that the rules for market behavior can direct lying and cheating aimed at achieving the same goal, profit. The capitalist has no preference how the dangerous ocean of the economy is navigated across; the period of risk passes in a sort of gambler's trance, and what occurs, whether careful management or fraud, monopoly, collusion with and bribery of the government, or simply lucky choices, is left behind and forgotten as a renewed state of security is achieved.
- OK, we have talked about this too. The capitalist approaches his money making as self-instituted ritual. The more he practices his ritual of rebirth in renewed profit, the more quickly insecurity returns: this comes of living in a controlled, artificial world, knowing only how to make money and knowing nothing about how to live in the world outside that ritual activity; only in the renewed practice of money making does the capitalist feel he has a grip on life. The economy is a mystery having the power to constantly generate profit for anyone willing the play the role of capitalist and submit himself to it.
- In the case of the United States the individual changes himself deliberately through ritual in three ways: politically, in threats or actual violence against internal enemies and external allies; economically, in the capitalist's submitting himself to the mystery of the free market; and to this list we add spiritually: we have sinned but we can be reborn passing through a trance state of religious ecstasy where god's work is being done on us, reborn into strength leaving our old weak selves behind.
- So then we're saying now that the capitalist and the born-again religious are attracted to the totalitarian form of government as politics, public life sharing a form with what they are doing in their private lives?
- Exactly. It calls upon a fundamental behavior already being successfully practiced. So does conservative politics, the government interfering with the individual as little as possible for the sake of allowing room for individual responsibility in the inception of ritual, taking the business risk or baptismal plunge.
- Which explains the otherwise strange alliance of conservatives, who demand least possible government interference in private life with totalitarians, who submit to total government interference in private life.
- Now all these formally identical ritual behaviors isolate each individual from all other individuals who do not take part in their particular rituals. A stranger at a cafe does not have the script to your personal spiritual revival and will definitely not be happy being the victim of your lying and cheating economic rebirth in profit taking.
- Before totalitarian politics locks individuals away from each other individuals already already are leaving each other alone.
- Yes. I think if we want to see totalitarianism coming we should look for rapid increase in the isolation of individuals. I see it already in Los Angeles. Waiting in line at the market the cashiers tell me not to talk to the other customers as it slows down the line. At Starbucks, for a change getting into a heated discussion - well, actually, one customer is trying to stop another from talking to me! - the manager steps in with, 'break it up or you all have to leave.' You know, I help kids from a couple of families with their reading and writing English. One of them is a little boy. Here's how our last conversation ended:

- Rex?
- Yes.
- You're ugly.
- Not too much.
- You have grey hair.
- What's wrong with that?
- You're old.
- What's wrong with that?
- You're going to die.
- And you being 9 years old think death is for other people. What else?
- You have fur on your hands.
- Monstrous. What else?
- You have a big nose.
- True. What else?
- You have pointy teeth.
- Like a vampire. So. You've been studying me. Any other discoveries?
- You are a bad influence.
- Who told you that? 
- No one.
- Someone. It's not a word you use.
- What happened to your wife? Why don't you get back together?
- I don't know where she is.
- Why don't you look for her?
- She doesn't want me to.
- Why not?
- She moved on.

- What's with the boy?
- He already speaks two other languages with his parents. English practice seems unnecessary to him. I was hired to help him with his reading: he would guess the words from the general shape of the letters rather than sound them out completely. For him that was all the attention reading deserved. He confided in me that our twice a week one hour sessions were the worst part of his life.
- He was trying to get you to quit.
- Or trying to take revenge. He saw my failure in ritual performance: I don't take the initiative with my appearance or my marriage. I got old and am going to die without getting anywhere. But despite these failures, he finds that he himself fails to pin me down. I pay a great deal of questioning attention to his attack of words, but let pass over my head his attempt to construct his own little totalitarian state with me, he taking the role of the employer with initiative, I forced into the role of the irritant outsider, an employee forced into the role of worker without initiative. My flourishing in the forgotten regions of ritual transition where operate the spiritual, economic, national mechanisms of rebirth fascinates him. Before he knows it he has completed his days reading aloud.
- Do you enjoy teaching under those circumstances? If I taught I wouldn't let my students disrespect me.
- And if you enjoyed it?
- The disrespect?
- The teaching despite disrespect. The pleasure derived from rituals of rebirth is what Plato called pleasure in the relief of pain. Only the pleasure of knowledge doesn't require prior pain. Ritual requires forgetting, acquisition of knowledge requires remembering, collecting together all that has been experienced seen differently now something is known of it. Individuals isolated from each other in their self instituting political, economic, and spiritual rituals become, as we said, the more ritual is practiced, the more removed from the world outside of ritual. They can make other people the objects of their rituals, they can take pleasure in subjecting other people to their violence, but can never get to know them, never have a story to tell about what happens when lives come in contact with each other.

Further Reading:
Compassion & The Story
* Lesser Evil Voting
** See: Noam Chomsky & Mental Things