Wednesday, April 26, 2017

20 Lessons from the 20th Century (Timothy Snyder)

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“When Hitler first began to make a name for himself—which was in the early 1920’s—nobody took him seriously, because he seemed a buffoon, uneducated, so crude and ultimately, unlikable that the elite, the intellectuals couldn’t imagine that this person would ever become a threat to the entire German, Austrian and ultimately global culture.” (George Prochnik)


Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Timothy Snyder is the Bird White Housum Professor of History at Yale University and a Permanent Fellow at the IWM.

© Author

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Trump's Lies

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- Trump's lies are no big deal, his people say. All politicians lie. But his lying is different. His lies are amazingly frequent, often the opposite to what he himself has been recorded as saying, often obviously untrue.
- How do you think he gets away with telling lies that are obviously untrue?
- His supporters believe them anyway.
- Do they?
- Don't they?
- Trump's lies are different from other politicians' in that they aren't, strictly speaking, meant to be believed. His supporters enter along with him into a world changed by his lying. The dupe of a confidence man wants to believe, wants to enter into a better world, is co-creator of that world. It is not what is being offered that entices, but rather entering in the company of another into a wonderful world where good things are coming. Trump's supporters, buyers of his sales pitch, want to join him in his creation of a fictitious world. The election results include three million fraudulent voters, The biggest inauguration crowd ever. It didn't rain on his swearing in. His predecessor wiretapped him. Belief in these lies is not important. It is not the picture being sold, but the picture-making. The bad reality of rain, doubtful popularity, damaging secrets is transformed by lies into a preferred reality; like the con man he is Trump offers something tangible, a promise of increased wealth and security. But what closes the sale is his supporters' eagerness to identify with him, share in the virtuosity of his transformation of reality.


- The political philosopher Wendy Brown offers a different explanation. About neoliberalism, defined by her as the application of free market economic practices to all areas of life, public and private, she writes:
As neoliberalism wages war on public goods and the very idea of politics, including citizenship beyond membership, it dramatically thins public life without killing politics. Struggles remain over power, hegemonic values, resources, and future trajectories. This persistence of politics amid destruction of public life and especially educated public life, combined with the marketization of the political sphere, is part of what makes contemporary politics peculiarly unappealing and toxic - full of ranting and posturing, emptied of intellectual seriousness, pandering to an uneducated and manipulable electorate and a scandal hungry corporate media. Neoliberalism generates a condition of politics absent democratic institutions that would support a democratic public and all that such public represents at its best: informed passion, respectful deliberation, aspirational sovereignty, sharp containment of powers that would overrule or undermine it.* 
Education, or protection of the environment, is justified only if it brings more productivity. Marriage is entered into only if it is a good investment of personal resources, if it raises one's "human capital". According to Wendy Brown, neoliberalism is responsible for the open lying we see practiced by politicians. Whatever works to do, should be done, even when what is done is against the very principle of free market economic efficiency, for example when the government props up failing banks.
- That was efficient neoliberal action for the class of people in control of the government.
- Exactly. In the free market neoliberal competition for power in politics the bail out of banks is a proper economic result since it represents the success of the interests of the most efficient competitor. The speech of politicians is also judged economically: whatever works to say should be said, whether true or not, despite the fact that lies have to reduce the efficiency of governmental deliberation for assisting the economy. The "open lying" argument draws from both Foucault and Marx. In neoliberalism, the choice of individuals how to live their lives, and how public life should be arranged, and what the state should be responsible for, all these decisions are taken away, replaced by technical considerations of how to manage relations to others: how to present oneself and what to invest in oneself to get a job, how to attract a economically profitable mate. The state itself has no responsibility to the individual, its only function support of the economy. Individuals tied up in these calculations of economic relations to each other risk their very survival if they dare consider how otherwise individual life and public life may be lived, consequently they are no threat to the power of government. That's Foucault. Marx describes the government itself as power struggle between classes, the employed and employers. Like the individuals who can choose how economically to perfect their lives have no choice and no idea how to live other than economically, so workers, having freedom to choose, sometimes, which employer to sell their time to, and which consumer object to buy with their wages, if they have any, are unaware they are slaves. They suffer from the loss of their freedom to choose what and when to produce, who dispose of it to, and how. They suffer from being in an inhuman relation to their employers, from being a mere instrument of another's profit making. In neoliberalism, employees who are slaves to employers in their work lives, in their private lives become slaves to themselves, objects to their own entrepreneurship.**
- Our politicians can openly lie to voters both because all of public life outside of the economic, no longer the object of choice, has become invisible, and because within the economic only the free market is seen, war of the rich against the poor also is invisible.
- That is her argument. Politicians by lying are efficiently selling themselves to voters who know nothing more of life than economic efficiency so don't mind the lying, even approve of it. They are unaware that the total economizing of life increases possibilities of profit for the rich who maximize their own individual life economies by lying in order to take control of government management of that economy of life. Do you still claim that voters knew Trump was lying and willingly went along with him, hoping to be taken with him into the world of political success and its rewards his lies gave him access to?
- They knew he was lying, but didn't believe he was lying to them. They believed, it appears so far rightly, that he would at least try to do some of what he said: his class loyalties didn't let him keep his promise to get bankers out of government, but he did try to ban Muslims from entry to the United States and says he's taken the first steps to build his wall against Mexicans. As acceptable to voters is their own lies in the marketing of themselves in private life, so is acceptable the lies of politicians in the marketing of themselves in the public arena. But there is a limit to their lying.
- Which is?
- Where deals have been made to cooperate within the ties of socially sanctioned roles, lying is definitely not acceptable. Think of a husband's lying to his wife, an employee's lying to his employer. If you still don't believe me take a look at the video*** TV comedian Steven Colbert made of Trump's address to a woman's organization in which sound engineers substituted for Trump's crowd pleasing praise of women's superior intelligence the recording of him boasting about his "pussy grabbing". Trump could, as he said, kill someone in the center of New York and not lose his supporters. He could commit a crime in public life, but he could not get away with offending against the deals that underlie the stability of class relations within corporations, families, or his own deal made with voters in his election campaign.
- You win.

Further Reading:
The Show
Homework For Serial Killers
Thomas & Little Man
* Undoing The Demos, Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution, 2015
** As employees are instruments to their employers' profits, so each social role, not in the service of some larger good, not in the service of love, beauty, or truth, is an instrument, a facilitator to the practice of related social roles: teacher/student, husband/wife, buyer/seller. That which can be measured for efficiency in serving other roles can be measured for efficiency in earning wages or making profits, and be assigned monetary value in accord with efficiency. The conjunction of specialized role in personal life with slavery in work life is what opened the way for the human species to meet the strange fate of neoliberalism.
 *** Trump Addresses The Women's Empowerment Forum

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lesser Evil Voting

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- The other day I came across a remarkable document.
- Go on.
- An Eight Point Brief For Lesser Evil Voting, published on the Internet site of Noam Chomsky last year before the election. It argues that since none of the good candidates have a chance of winning we should vote for evil Clinton because evil Trump would probably cause more harm.
- 'Probably'.
- Yes. You wonder how that probability has been determined. The answer: based on Trump and Clinton's stated intentions.
- As if Noam Chomsky for fifty years has not been pointing out how politicians do not act on their stated intentions.
- He with his co-author suggests that the Vietnam war could have been shortened if Lessor Evil voting had been practiced.
- But how can we know? Is history a science where given initial conditions we can make predictions of what will come next?
- There appears to some to be a feedback mechanism in operation in what we can call material history.
- As opposed to what? Spiritual history?
- We'll get to that. Apparently every fifty or hundred years in recent history a revolutionary crises occurs, where the rich take more and more from the poor until the poor feel they have nothing much left to lose. After the revolutionary attempt, the poor recover some resources, and the cycle starts over again. There are also smaller cycles of boom and bust in financial speculation, and larger cycles of rise and fall of empires, where having robbed the world the leaders rob or in wars express disregard for the lives of the led of their own country, and even larger cycles are claimed, where wealthy civilization is followed by dark ages followed by a renaissance.
- But as far as I know these theories are based on so little information that no exact predictions can reasonably be made. Or am I wrong?
- You're not wrong. There is a complementary proposal that goes along with that of cyclic history, that of the influence of the Great Man. Without Lenin, it is argued, the Soviet Union would not have formed or lasted.
- On what science is that claim based?
- None. An intuition of probability.
- Since the Soviet Union turned out to be not anything new, not socialism, but only state capitalism, what difference did he really make? One kind of slave society was replaced by another. Not to mention that another Great Man might have come along if Lenin hadn't. If great men don't really go against the direction of history, and material history is not going anywhere but circles, perhaps there is a spiritual history: the progress of enlightened ideas, as Kant and others have claimed?
- How are the ideas "stored" in the material world they are supposed to guide? What is the cause and effect relation, how do ideas work on, work their way into the material stuff of history?
- Haven't a clue.
- Perhaps they are not stored there? The problem with the Lesser Evil argument is that any such compromise loses the power of ideas to affect history, reduces them to actions lost in the meaningless cyclic repetitions of material history.
- What then? Our ideas float above the material world, as our thoughts somehow float above our bodies? How do they, as you put it, get stored in history so they can accumulate?
- Chomsky and his co-author say that voting for a third party candidate that is better but probably won't win is mere self expression, an empty act of vanity or narcissism. I'd say rather it is a moral example made.
- Ideas persist because the are embodied in examples of ethical actions that are emulated.
- Yes.
- So history itself doesn't go anywhere, and great men don't escape its material cycles, but ideas do.
- Maybe do.
- Maybe do. No exact science here. But if this argument is correct moral compromise is not indicated as a practical choice.
- The spiritual is more practical.
- So it would seem.

Further Reading:
* An Eight Point Brief For Lesser Evil Voting

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Thomas & Little Man

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- 'Here, take a look at all this'. The high school student I tutor slides across the table a thick stack of papers. It's a new assignment: write a personal essay. 'I'm lost', he says. 'I'm not even sure what a personal essay is. You can help me with it.
- I didn't know you tutored.
- On and off for decades. I've written about it on occasion in personal essays of my own. As a matter of fact that is what I proposed to my student: I'd talk him through an essay as I composed one, there at table in his house. I flipped through the pages of instructions and sample essays included in the pile of papers provided by his teacher, getting a feel for my competition, then moved back before me the meal of Indian food his mother usually serves me when I come over to their house so I could eat as I talked. According to his teacher, I , a personal essay is a story from your life together with ideas. Which did he think went first, I ask my student, story or idea? Was story to illustrate idea, or idea develop out of story? No idea, he answered. Which was it? The way I do it, I said, neither, or rather a little of both. Not beginning with story, interpreting it with ideas, nor beginning with ideas, illustrating them with story. I begin with something that has happened, happened obscurely, an episode or incident. The happening or episode or incident isn't quite a story and doesn't immediately suggest any idea. I can't see where it comes from and where its going. It's meaning isn't clear.
- Then what?
- As I tell the story see what develops. Here commences my essay, as recited to my student. I'd biked down from UCLA to Westwood after the library closed. It was almost midnight. Starbucks was closing too. Coming out I saw Thomas, or rather, Thomas & Little Man, his contact ID as he'd entered it in my phone. Little Man was the little dog he cradled in his arms as he sat in cafes, looking out the window or tapping telephone messages. Mostly Little Man slept in his arms, stretched out, lying on his back, legs stiffly extended strait up. 'Look at his little paws', Thomas would say, 'just like a bear. I love Little Man. And he loves me! Don't you love me, little doggie? Yes you do, yes you do.' Thomas is in love with his dog. He is middle-aged, well dressed in clean new clothes: chinos, button down shirt, corduroy jacket. He strikes up conversations at cafes and offers his services as movie or music producer.
- He isn't really a producer?
- He's in love with his dog, has no car, usually doesn't order anything at the cafes, his phone has a broken screen...
- Did he offer you a job?
- He did: manager of a band on tour. I accepted.
- And?
- I'm waiting. Following out through the door of Starbucks was another man of the same age in a leather motorcycle jacket, electric guitar hanging from his neck along with a portable amplifier. He start strumming a pounding rhythm. Thomas introduces us, asks if I'd like to go with them to Denny's, open 24 hours. At Denny's I'm the only one who orders: two dollar stack of two pancakes. No beverage. Tell me about himself, I say to the Rock 'n' Roller. Yes, says Thomas, tell him about your trip to Los Vegas. He was tired of the scene in L.A., so he caught a bus. By chance there was a porn convention going on. He used to be in the porn business, so he went over and talked his way in. He got completely drunk with other attendees, found himself the next morning lying in the street with money and ID gone. For the next two weeks he sat in front of slot machines dropping tokens exchanged for free coupons, drinking free drinks. Nights he hide himself in some out of the way corner of the casinos. Finally he'd had enough, called a friend to send him a ticket back to L.A. And then what? I asked. He was a musician? Yes, he'd made dozens of albums, they're all over the internet. What happened to his band? He had a band, didn't he? Yes, several, but like he had they all moved on. Where'd he move on to? Acting in, then making porno movies. It was good business. Then he went on to making movies. Making shorts. Then he made two full length features. What happened with them? Oh, that didn't matter. Why not? Had I seen the movie, 'The Producers'? A down and out producer of plays decides to raise the costs of a play many times over from many different people. All he had to do was see to it that the play was so bad it failed so the duplicate investors didn't ask for any return. Whenever he ran out of money, the rock 'n' roller said, he'd find someone to invest ten or twenty thousand. How long could did that go on? I ask. Years, he says. And then, when those years passed? He lived with a woman down in Culver City. How long? Ten years. Doing what? Sex, drugs, rock n roll. They went through a hundred thousand dollar inheritance she got from her aunt. And then? It was over. He wished I saved a little as a stake to get going again. Why was it over? Can't he contact her? What about his band mates, movie makers he worked with? No, he can't. He cheated them all. That's the way it went. Who sent him money for the ticket from Las Vegas? Can't he get more? No. You still have your guitar. Oh, that. He's had it only a few days. At a casino show he sneaked into at intermission and took the opportunity to run up on stage and grab the guitar the musician left behind. What's it worth? Only a couple hundred. He's cold, he said, And starving. He reaches over to the next table to grab a leftover pancake and swallow it down. He stands up, says goodbye to me, glances at Thomas, for the moment busy talking business with the rap singer and his girl at the table on the other side. Where's he going, I ask the rock n roller? To spend the night at the parking structure where it's warm.
- Myself, I would stake my life on the life of these characters having any meaning at all. What did your student say?
- 'Wow'. He asked me what I thought meeting and listening to these guys meant. I had no idea. But there was definitely a feeling, a mood.
- What mood?
- There was something, something suggestive in these characters opening up about without shame their lying and cheating. I'd been thinking for a while about our new President's shameless lying, wondering how he was getting away with it.
- He isn't. He gets caught all the time.
- Yet no one seems to care. Like the President, these two lie and cheat and are caught out time after time by friends and associates but somehow they are getting by on charm.
- I think you are right about the President. He even makes a joke of his lying. Unemployment he says is 25 percent. Or it's 50 percent. Or maybe even 60. The news media he says is producing fake news, and now today, he says, he has a new name for it, 'Very Fake News'. After his victory, hearing at a rally the joyous call to lock up his opponent, he says, smiling, that, they understand, was for before the election, now is a different story. The crowd roars. His supporters eat it up.
- And these are the very people who complain about political correctness, relativism, who express themselves as offended by the demand to treat people in every way of life equally. They say they are being called upon them to lie, to believe there is no fixed human nature, so no better or worse conduct for that nature. Indignant though they are at political correctness' demand they lie, they worship at the alter of their President's lies.
- Yes. And you know what else?
- What?
- They know he is lying and don't care. They like his lying. This sort of lying is not a false statement about the world they are called upon to accept. This is not lying about human nature. It is lying as a tool, creating a picture of the world not made to be imposed on themselves but on others. It is a salesman's lying, a tool used aiming at a goal, making use of language's infinite possibilities to make statements to build a picture of the world that suits a purpose.
- The president announced the other day he was moving into 'full sales' mode to sell his health care plan.
- You see. When the President lies, he is not making a claim that human nature is infinitely malleable. but painting a picture of the world that changes the world.
- But why do his supporters believe he is not lying to them too? After all, once in office he's filled his cabinet with the very "Washington Insiders" and bankers, dwellers of the swamp he promised to drain. He fulfills his promise to replace the previous president's health care law, but his new plan lowers taxes for the rich, not exactly in tune with his claim to be on the side of ordinary people.
- The President has kept certain promises, those that initiate what we've called fascist ritual.
- Identify foreigners as the enemy which if fought with violence our weakness will be gone and we will be born again in strength.
- Yes. The President as promised has moved to expel illegal immigrants, he has moved to withdraw from international trade deals. Why has he kept these promises when he's shown his willingness to break his other promises? Is it not because together with his supporters he is a participant himself in these rituals of rebirth? He's established a bond with his people, found security in the speech-making and campaign rallies, so much so after he was elected he held an additional campaign rally, supposedly the first in his four year distant battle for re-election. And now, what about where we started? Thomas and Little Man, the Rock 'n' Roll Pornographer Vagabond Thief. Is their secret like the President's, do they form deep, ritualistic bonds with all the openly lied to people brought into their pretend professions? Does that make more sense of them, round out their stories? With that question the essay concludes.

Further Reading:
Political Correctness

Friday, March 3, 2017

Are You Real?


- Have you heard about this argument coming out of Oxford University supposed to prove we live in a computer simulation?
- No. Are you interested in such stupid ideas?
- Definitely. How better to learn how we go wrong than by studying how we believe what can't be right? You agree that thinking we are in a computer simulation is obviously wrong?
- Apparently not to some people. Let's hear it.
- Probably there are many worlds of people who like to make computer games. Probably there are many worlds. Probably in most of them computer simulations have achieved a perfection we can't imagine. Probably each world produces many games. Since there are probably many more worlds of people in games than worlds of game-making people, probably we are in a computer simulation and are computer simulations ourselves.
- And what do you make of this Oxford professor's argument?
- We need to look for probabilities because we are supposed not to be able to tell whether we are simulations or real. But then, what difference does it make whether we are real or not if our experience of being real is identical to not being real?
- The people who are playing us might stop playing the game.
- And god might drown us all in a flood. We're dealing with a myth. Myths make visible what is invisible, thoughts and feelings become living beings acting the the world. What would you say is expressed by this myth of our being in a computer simulation?
- If we are in a computer simulation our consciousness is an illusion too.
- It would have to be.
- And we can't tell whether or not we are really conscious? Consciousness is only an illusion?
- That's the argument. There's no difference between being made by aliens as simulation and being made by a god. The god is real, the aliens are real, and we are not, we are simulations. We are something less than gods and alien game players. We are said to have made a mistake, to be deceived in our thinking about our place in the world. But, I think, those who make the argument want to say something different, say more than that we are ignorant about our place in the world.
- What are they trying to say?
- That we have unjustified pretensions about our meaning, our significance. That in fact we don't have meaning because we are mere signs, symbols. We are representations, pictures, imitations. But though we may not know when and how we are deceived in our perception and conclusions about the world, we do know the difference between representation and what is represented. A basic definition of consciousness is representing ourselves to ourselves. It is something we do. We know when we do it, have done it. We can be deceived about the world, but not in making this distinction between what we do when we are conscious of ourselves and what we do when we perceive and make judgments about the world.
- So you answer the alien worlds argument by saying we can be deceived about the world because our knowledge is in the form of probabilities that this kind of thing will come after that kind of thing. Representation, however, is not a matter of laws of probable relation between kinds of things, but of individual experience. When we make a science of our individual experience, discover and test laws of action and consequence, we are the world we test with our action and remake with our action.
- Since we can feel the difference between illusion in the world and representation to ourselves, we have no reason to consider consciousness to be illusion and ourselves a mere simulation in a computer. Do you know where I think this idea comes from? You wrote* about blame that the more we are caught up in social role, the less freedom we have. And since mistakes are made by doing what the group wants rather than what we as individuals know is right, the larger the mistake, the more tightly caught up in the group, the less freedom, and the less blame. Blame is a social act. Individuals don't do blamable acts. We don't blame, judge, condemn them for not obeying rules. Individuals follow their own rules. Someone who is entranced by arguments that we are not conscious and not real is living in the world of blamable but unfree acts: of failure to follow the rules of conduct fixed in relation to rules of conduct of other roles.
- They see themselves as things in the world, instead of individuals remaking themselves with their conduct.
- Yes. They live in a constant state of being blamable but not responsible. That is, they live in a world where there is something to be said about them but they have no reality as individuals.
- A world where they are mere representations.


- Last night I was talking to the Consul General from Greece...
- I can't believe you get people like that to talk to you. What did you two talk about?
- I asked him to explain to me the Prime Minister, a radical socialist elected on the promise to do something about the European Union's destruction of the Greek economy. The Consul asked me:
- Explain what?
- Six months of negotiation led to the EU hitting them with demands even worse than they began with, and threats to cut off delivery of Euros to their banks. Capitulate, or risk being thrown out of the European monetary union. The Prime Minister held a referendum asking the Greek people if they wanted to go on fighting, taking that risk. By a ratio of two to one they said Yes, take the chance. But within a day the Prime Minister defied the people that elected him and gave in to the demands of the EU. What happened? Why did the Prime Minister do it?
- Politicians are not liars. They are three hundred percent liars.
Politicians' promises might be unreal but the Consul's hatred of them was real enough. I liked him for it. I was beginning to feel the same about American politicians who claim to have taken up battle against the powers that be. Our home grown politicians are genius public speakers, way off the scale in their ability. But once they get into office the truth comes out. Three hundred percent liars!
- I know what you mean. They are such good liars. How do they manage it?
- Could we apply to them what we've just been talking about? They tell themselves that the more they immerse themselves in the falseness of political life, the more they themselves lie, the more they are blamable, but the less responsible.
- That's disgusting.
- It sure is.

Further Reading:
How Do We Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
The Three Evils

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Immediate Fix

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- Feeling depressed I thought it might help to go through our last conversation.* This professor, not a Buddhist himself, confesses himself convinced by the evidence that Buddhism makes people happy. He makes the argument that there are other kinds of happiness to be found than Buddhist selflessness, which in any case is limited in how far you can take it eliminating selfishness. You objected that the other kinds of happiness he mentions, art and politics, can't deliver happiness, because they are restless, tied to perpetual activity, and true happiness is found in rest. 
- How are you now?
- Better. Thanks for asking. When did you get so polite?
- How did you get better? 
- So that is what you want to know. I'll get to that. Feeling depressed, as I said, under the influence of your putting professors under the microscope, having as it were philosophical professors on the brain, I watched a course online in Behavioral Biology. And do you know what was the first thing I realized?
- What? 
- That here was another professor who was theorizing under the assumption that happiness is rooted in unending activity. According to the professor, Stanford's Robert Sapolsky. in depression we can't stop thinking in a way that produces pain. Because of our society, our place in it, with our own varying individual abilities we are born with, we are not able to keep the workings of various parts of the brain in harmony. Compulsive behavior that when practiced by an individual in isolation is considered insane, when embodied in religious ritual is totally alright. Aggression when confined to a game is more than alright, it is enjoyable, and has a limited place in social life in warmaking and certain acts of self defense. And in religion we can hear warning voices coming out of nowhere but like compulsion, when we hear them in absence of social involvement we are considered insane.
- The compulsive, the schizophrenic, the violent in some social situations are considered abnormal, and suffer, but in different social conditions would not suffer. Their suffering is caused by a mismatch, self and society? The conditions are not inherently painful?
- I think it's ridiculous too.
- And depression?
- A personally variable inability, in the social and individual circumstances, to recover from a genuinely frightening situation. Letting ourselves get too afraid, or afraid at the wrong times and wrong places. Like hearing voices, being violent or compulsive, given the right social setting are normal, depression, as a response to a truly frightful world, is normal. The problem is not depression itself, but not recovering from it and suffering from the brain chemistry produced when continuing long term in such a stressful relation to the world.
- The depressed person is normal like the compulsive, the aggressive, the hallucinating, as long as those conditions are not continuous and can be confined by society and situation in it to certain limiting conditions, but not otherwise.
- Yes.
- But, again, they are not inherently painful.
- No. Now, according to the professor, that I was depressed wasn't my fault, was not something I could be blamed for, because it was the result of a behavior biologically determined by genetics and environment. Genetics and environment were both out of my control. There was no room for me to choose not to be depressed.  
- Yet you somehow are no longer depressed.
- I'm not. Towards the end of the lecture series the professor recounts how he could only publish results of a long term research project in a magazine where old scientists 'no longer generating data' are relegated to the useless (because generating no data) activity of philosophizing. Data led to theories, theories to more production of data. Like the professor studying Buddhism, this professor didn't value rest. It's probably not even possible for someone otherwise inclined to get a job at a University these days of money making for the sake of money making. For a biology professor to earn his pay he must assimilate behavior to bodily activity. As it would be unnatural to block a bodily organ from doing its specific activity,,when one part of the brain too much colors thought with painful emotion we can only moderate it as best we can. We can't rid ourselves of an activity, and shouldn't. But is this right? Do we have to live with compulsive tics, unaccountable voices, the blindness of violence, or depressions of continuous fear? After our last conversation I couldn't help noticing that this world of unending activity was exactly the world of illusion Buddhists taught themselves to distance themselves from.
- You say you couldn't help realizing this. But do ideas cure depression?
- No, of course not. What happened with me was more like disgust, that is, an emotional reaction, not to a world to be afraid of, but from the sight of myself in flight from the world. 
- Which distancing from fear is precisely Buddhism. 
- Yes. Aggression, violence, illusion are all ways of fleeing from the world. It is possible to stop, to rest, and find the world, seen in that resting relation, beautiful. The professor was making bad relation to the world continuous and normal: violence, compulsive tics, voices, encompassing fear, all bad experiences. If he was wrong and they were not normal, I was blamable continuing with them when I didn't have to. Similarly with painful situation: couldn't I make it different? I didn't believe our brains and societies determine us to be compulsive, hallucinating, aggressive and aggrieved. The only reason such a stupid thing could be proposed is that we live in a stupid society of money making for the sake of money making. For the Buddhist, compulsion is not really compulsion, hearing voices is not hearing voices, aggression is not really aggression. The Buddhist stands back from himself, doesn't deny the habits, the aggression, the illusion, but takes responsibility for choosing which habits to choose when, which worlds to imagine, which to aggressively dismiss. Repetition can be distraction from reality, or a reminder. Voices can trap within an illusory world, or be a narrator a writer hears dictating a beautiful story. Being pained by this world can be a motive to get to a better world, and aggression our defense against what would restrain us from changing our situation. The choice is not with a view to balancing ineradicable activities to each other as they are expressed in society, but to get back into good relation to the world, see and rest in the world's beauty. The professor tells a story that couldn't be a better illustration of how being wrong in precisely these matters of repetition, violence, and illusion makes you blind. For decades he's studied a single tribe of Bonobo apes in Kenya. When he went back recently he found that the entire dominant level of hierarchy had been poisoned. All those aggressive enough to sneak into a camp of humans died after eating from a contaminated garbage dump. The remaining Bonobos, instead of reconstituting a ruling class, established themselves without hierarchy. Look how powerful an effect environment has on biology, the professor observes. He doesn't observe that the entire biology of violence, illusion, compulsion, of illusory rank, repetitious rituals of submission, and violence, supposedly normal, in a matter of days can entirely disappear, so seems not to be fundamental physical, biological necessity at all.

Further Reading:
Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, Doing For The Sake Of Doing
* Talk & Talk

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Talk & Talk

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- Isn't Beverly Hills great? The man working at the newsstand turned a friendly face to me as I walked past, so I stopped to say hello. He asked me a lot of questions about myself, but the questions I asked about him he evaded. He did tell me he came here from Sweden many decades ago. Why had he come? I asked.
- I like the way of life.
- Which is?
- No, no, I don't do that.
- Do what?
- Talk. Talk, and talk.
- Really? I love to talk. I'm interested in talking to you about why you and me here now can't have a conversation.
- What are we doing then?
- Why we can't have a philosophic conversation.
- What is that?
- A conversation about what you and me and all human being have in common. Human nature. I'm reading a book now about what there is in common human nature that makes people happy, and whether or not Buddhism makes people happy.
- Stop! Stop!
The newsstand man threw himself down to his knees on the sidewalk and bent forward repeatedly to kiss the ground.
- What are you doing?
- Thanking god for you being so enlightened and sharing your enlightenment with me.
- You don't think people should talk as I do?
- You're babbling. People should think for themselves and not impose their ideas on others.


Here's a page from the book I was reading, Owen Flanagan's Bodhisattva's Brain:
"A philosophical psychology is to scientific psychology as theoretical physics is to experimental physics. Its job is to keep the eye on the whole, on how all the experimental data fit together into a comprehensive view of what a person, a human person, is, and what a mind is and does. A philosophical psychology ought to answer questions such as these: 
What, if anything, are humans like deep down inside beneath the clothes of culture? 
What, if any, features of mind-world interaction, and thus of the human predicament, are universal? 
Is there any end state or goal(s) that all humans seek because they are wired to seek it (or them), or what is different, ought to seek because it is—or, they are—worthy? 
If there is a common natural orientation toward some end state(s), for example, pleasure, friendship, community, truth, beauty, goodness, intellectual contemplation, are these ends mutually consistent? If not, must one choose a single dominant end? Does our nature not only provide the end(s), but also a way of ordering and prioritizing them, as well as a preferred ratio among them that produces some sort of equilibrium? 
How conducive is following our nature to actually producing what we naturally seek, or what is different, sensibly ought to seek? Could it be that not everything we seek—not even pleasant experiences or truth—is good for us? 
What is the relation between our first nature, our given human nature, and our second nature, our cultured nature? 
Does first nature continue in contemporary worlds, in new ecologies, to achieve its original ends? If so, is first nature also well suited to achieving new, culturally discovered, or what is different, created ends? 
Is second nature constructed precisely for the achievement of variable, culturally discovered or created ends that first nature is ill-equipped to achieve? 
Do different societies construct/develop second nature in order to enhance first nature and/or to moderate and modify, possibly to eliminate, certain seeds in our first nature that can work against that very (first) nature and/or against our second nature and our cultured ends, which our second nature is intended to help us achieve?"
- Excellent.
- It is, isn't it? A professor of philosophy attempting to answer the question, If morality is a skill to make our lives happier, innate or developed or both, does it develop in response to environment, develop in the sense of granting new capacities of making us happier?
- And what is his answer to that question?
- Not so excellent. Generosity and selfishness make their appearance in societies all over the world. Studies of infants and children show we are born with both selfish and generous tendencies. Encouraging the generous, he argues, makes us individually happier and our societies better. Buddhism is one such system of encouragement. By teaching us to see that things are illusions, it leads us out of our selfishness. The professor observes that the 'no things' view is in line with the most up-to-date 'process' philosophy, but, he confesses, he does not understand why the 'no things' belief should lead anyone towards generosity rather than selfishness. Buddhists seem, in his view, to be lacking in a sense of political justice, and also lacking in the art of making individual lives which we selfish Americans have, in his view, rather more of. This leads him to what has been called moral cosmopolitanism, where alternate moral choices are available to be combined together and are chosen in response to different social circumstances.
- So we teach each other to be more generous because that makes us happier, but we maintain our allegiance to our societies, Buddhist or American, as each supports lives of roughly equal happiness made up of different combinations of selfishness and compassion. But am I crazy, or is that a really bad argument? If we change our habits, why not change our societies to make them more compassionate?
- Because there are costs. Political and social change that doesn't come easy may not anyway make us very much more compassionate: the professor says he doesn't really believe in the human possibility of total compassion and elimination of selfishness. That's one reason. Another is he doesn't distinguish between action and thought, the key to understanding how Buddhism's 'no things' philosophy leads to compassionate action.
- I don't understand either. How does it?
- The professor thinks the 'no things' of Buddhism is incompatible with the god-thing world soul and god-thing self soul in Hinduism, in contrast to which it is his claim the 'no things' of Buddhism developed. I believe he is wrong. The 'no things' understanding leads us into experiencing world and self together. The professor sees happiness in action, in having the best character for action. For him, compassion is a way of acting that grants happiness, but individualism, another way of acting, has its joys too. Compassion however is not something we do. It is something we are, a self that is the world and a world that is the self. It is an end, a return, a goal. It is what we practice our arts, hone our character for the sake of getting to. How we live with others gets its beauty, is happiness, because it is our connection to, our way back to "soul". Meditation can take us there, but so can creativity in the choices and practice living our personal and social lives. A society can make generous, beautiful behavior difficult, but difficulty has always been present in our first and second nature battles of selfish and generous impulse. The lack can be remedied. The private and social lives failure of Buddhism is a failure of art, a contingent, not a necessary failure, a failure second nature can take care of. But no addition of compassionate acts, no cosmopolitan combining, can save American individualistic public and private competitiveness from being what it fundamentally is, bad art, an obstacle to not a provider of happiness.
- To sum this up: compassionate is best. But the professor doubts the possibility of going very far with it. In any case, he argues, it seems to come with deficiency in personal and social arts, justice seeking and individual life-making. You argue that is wrong. The progress in favoring our better nature can continue into re-making society. Buddhism's moral claim is not fantasy, you for one can explain the connection between 'no things' and compassion. For the progressive increase in societies of compassion nothing more is required but further education of the kind the professor himself is doing: gathering information from around the world about moral conduct and happiness, and reasoning about it of the sort we're doing here. Right?
- Right.

Further Reading:
Immediate Fix

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Bike In Trumpland

Image result for beverly hills peninsula

- How's Beverly Hills?
- For me, or for the majority?
- For the majority. Then we'll get to you.
- Beverly Hills is an enclave in the middle of Los Angeles where live and work thousands of people who voted for Trump thinking he'll help them make more money,* who at the same time won't admit to voting for him because he's not politically correct and political correctness is good for business.
- And Beverly Hills for you?
- I told you about my bike?
- It was stolen. That was in Beverly Hills?
- Yes. Late last night I went to Police Headquarters. It's hidden at the end of a maze of walkways within the openly fake Renaissance-Deco addition to City Hall. The interior layout is a combination office building and bank, with lobbies, passages and stairs up to a room divided by a wall of windows over a counter. After a minute a policeman comes from the other side to the wall: they'd had to buzz me in from the main entrance downstairs so I was expected. I repeat what I said at the door: I am there about my stolen bike. The police officer says he will send someone out to talk with me. I sit down with a book. A couple minutes later two officers, a man and women, come out of a door off the lobby and approach me. I say hello, put down my book and stand. Neither man nor woman officer offers a return greeting. The policeman asks:
- Where was your bike stolen from?
- Starbucks, Wilshire and Santa Monica.
- When was it stolen?
- Five, Six days ago.
- Why didn't you come then?
- I didn't see anything you could do.
- Why are you here now then?
- The man who probably stole my bike was wearing a fez, a hat you don't seen worn around here. I was at Starbucks this morning when a man came in wearing a fez. The uniform he was wearing bore a badge of the Peninsula Hotel** just across the street.
- Tell us what happened. What time? Where were you?
- Eleven thirty to twelve at night, sitting outside. The bike was a few yards away, leaning against railing of the terrace where I sat at a table with my computer. There was only one other person on the terrace. A couple times he turned around completely to look at me then immediately looked away. When I got up to go I found my bike was gone and the man with the fez gone.
- Did you see him take your bike?
- No. My attention was on the video I was watching.
- If you didn't see, you don't have the basis to make an accusation.
- I'm not making an accusation. I want you to investigate at the hotel, talk to the employees, see if the bike is there at wherever the employees are allowed to keep bikes. The hotel insists it is your responsibility and won't cooperate with me.
- Suppose we find the bike at the hotel. How do we know it is yours? Do you have a serial number?
- No. I bought the bike second hand. It is seventeen years old. I have the name, phone number and email of the student who sold me the bike.
- Does he have the serial number?
- I doubt it. But I know every scratch on the bike.
- Maybe you saw the bike earlier and saw the scratch.
- Hundreds of people in Beverly Hills have seen me with the bike. The people at Starbucks have.
- But if we take a report from you, you realize that this is a serious accusation you are making in a criminal matter?
- Yes. That is why I went to the hotel first and asked them to help.
- You went to the hotel. That was not necessary. What exactly do you want us to do if you don't want to file a complaint?
- Since you don't want to do anything I guess tomorrow when I'm at Starbucks when the police come in for their coffee as they do every day I'll ask them to go across the street with me to the hotel.
- You can call our non-emergency number and have officers meet you there.
- I'll do that.
- Where do you live? What is your exact address?
- Why do you ask?
- We're helping you so you should help us.
- But you're not helping me.
- Ok.
The conversation ends there. Man and woman police officers go out through the side door in the lobby. The next morning I return to the Peninsula Hotel.
- I was here yesterday.
- You were plainly told that this was a police matter. You came here, talked to us. There is no reason for you to come again here.
- If you want this to go away you're going to have to be more polite.
- I'm Chief of Service in Charge of Room Management.
- I have no idea what that means.
- I'm basically the manager of the hotel.
- And?
- I'm telling you what is hotel policy.
- What is the hotel's policy?
- We don't support accusations against our employees.
- I'm not accusing. I'm investigating. Yesterday you told me to get the police to investigate. I went to the police and they told me to come here and call them to meet me and they would with your cooperation look for the bike wherever employees usually put their bikes.
- Let me call our security director.... Hello, can you come here? Now. You, or send someone. Right now.
The house detective arrives.
- What is this about?
- I'm looking into the theft of my bike from across the street. The only person around at that time was wearing a fez, as many of your employees do. He disappeared at the same time as the bike.
- And what do you want from us? You should go to the police and make a report.
- I went to the police. They didn't want to take a report, suggested I go back, call their non-emergency number for officers to come, and they could go with you to look for the bike here in the hotel. I don't think this is necessary. You could look for the bike yourself.
- That is acceptable to you?
- Yes.
- You'll trust I'll look?
- Why would the hotel want to keep a stolen bike on its property?
- Is this your coffee? Take it. Wait outside. I'm going with another of our managers. He's going to look with me and be a witness. We'll be back in a minute.
- Did they find your bike?
- No bikes were there. The detective promised to keep a look-out for my bike. I told him there was a chance he might see it because the night after the bike was stolen I was back at Starbucks at the same time, I hear a load ticking, and look up to see across the street a bike approaching, the rider wearing a fez, who seeing me immediately makes a sharp turn down the side street.
- What was the ticking?
- The sound of the gears disengaging when you're moving and stop peddling. It is unusually loud on my bike. The detective suggested I return to Starbucks same time every night to look for rider and bike again. I said I might.
- To summarize: For others life in Beverly Hills is about waiting for the profits to roll in, for you it's about waiting for the return of a thief on your stolen bike.
- That's about it.

Further Reading:
More Adventures In Trumpland
Dozing Off
* The majority of those making less than $50,000 a year voted for Clinton, while a majority of those making more than that voted for Trump. Almost two in three white men, 63 percent in all, voted for the far-right Republican candidate.
** Rooms from $575 /night.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Stories Of The Election

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1. 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 (presumed), The Coming Insurrection

- 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 accepting 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 types of people 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.

Further Reading:
Killing At The University
UCLA Stories

2. Spectacle & God

- So. It's Donald and Hillary.
- If not the end of the world. Did you watch Bernie Sanders' capitulation speech, Hillary Clinton standing by his side?
- No. What did I miss?
- As he talks about his campaign, boasting of the millions of individual donations received and the number of delegates won, Clinton goes through a whole series of gestures apparently at random, smiling, nodding, turning her head to the side. Sanders is talking about his battle against her. What can she be agreeing with, if that is what she is doing, nodding her head? Is she letting herself go, showing the world now it no longer matters that it is in fact literally true she is a puppet? Finally Bernie Sanders says with spirit, 'The revolution continues!' But, he says, 'She won,' and wraps his arm around her shoulders for about a quarter of a second before he thinks the better of it.
- That's worth watching. I'll take a look.
- Sanders, the presumed honest politician, who ran a campaign that, as one comedian put it, went to the extreme of offering the people everything they want, with his arm around Hillary Clinton, the epitome of the dishonest politician who has spent the last decade going around with her husband from one corporation to the next giving speeches at two or three hundred thousand dollars a pop, collecting more than a hundred million dollars in what can only be called bribes: corporation executives are required by the terms of their employment to seek profit for their shareholders and can't be seen as throwing away money expecting nothing in return but the words of a woman who never in her life said anything memorable.*
- You think Bernie Sanders is a hypocrite?
- I think he is a politician who wanted to be a politician and asked himself what would be the least bad position he could get away with taking and went ahead and took that position.
- But it was a honest position, honestly representing the people's wishes, promising to give the people what they wanted: free health care, education, etc.
- Is it honest if he is not willing to do what it takes to make good on his offer? To follow in the footsteps of the Prime Minister last year in Greece, who when presented with the choice between doing what he said he would do and taking a risky path, or going against his own principles and the expressed will of the people keep doing his job under fairly regular circumstances, chose the latter?**  Guy Debord, the Situationist philosopher of the '68 student revolution in France, said that in our times spectacle has become real, and real become spectacle.
- If Bernie Sanders allowed himself to tell the truth about what might be better politics it was because he knew it would only be a show? What's real then?
- Politics based on the power of money.
- What is the spectacle become real?
- Our entertainments. For Aristotle an exchange economy was destructive because it was potentially infinite. Money accumulation can go on forever, destroying the order and limits necessary for life lived well. He allowed trade to the extant it served home life. But our times have turned Aristotle upside down, and home life is dedicated to achieving maximum efficiency in the exchange economy. The consequence is that for respite from the endless striving of money making we throw ourselves into our entertainments which still do have ends.
- And because Aristotle was right and we are ordered things who have limits our games which return limits to our lives feel more real than the reality of our money making.
- Yes.
- This statement is by the Eleatic Stranger in Plato's dialog The Sophist (247E):
I suggest that anything has real being that is so constituted as to possess any sort of power either to affect anything else or to be affected, in however small a degree, by the most insignificant agent, though it be only once. I am proposing as a mark to distinguish real things that they are nothing but power.
- I see. Bernie Sanders' 'real' words of truth about what the people want and think would be good for them, being without power are not real. And our games, which giving us conclusions and rests we need, having that power, are real. That leaves what goes on in 'politics based on the power of money'.
- Real, but not a spectacle.
- It is what goes on in the background while the people are occupied with the spectacle of their unreal games and the spectacle of truth equally unreal because without power to have any effect. Everything for us is spectacle.
- Yes.
- But only for us. For those in power, life is real, because they do have power. But they don't have the power to tell or act on the truth except if that makes them money and they don't have the power to rest, because money making has no end.
- A real bad life on one side, on the other, an unreal life of unacted upon truths and meaningless games. Such is the Situationist analysis. Plato's definition of real as power reminds us that our ideas don't exist independently as things (or if they do they are imitations, unreal, that is, spectacle), rather they arise in movement: they have a past and they have a future. We see and identify a thing because we have a past with it, learning what it is by repeated encounters with it, and once we have a name for a thing we more easily see it. Note that this is the real Plato, not the Christianity influenced misinterpretation prevalent more or less for the past two thousand years. However, with life as spectacle mowing down everything in its path, religion too has become a casualty, with the result that theologians and philosophers of religion have turned to the process philosophy we talked about*** and gone back to Plato looking for answers, this time with more open eyes, adopting Plato's idea that the world has a soul just as individual animals do and interpreting our god in accord with this idea of world soul.
- But in process philosophy there are no things.
- Only patterns in flux.
- Then, to paraphrase a popular song, what's god got to do with it?
- Ideas, which are unchanging, are moment by moment brought into being by the demiurge, an aspect of the soul in operation at each individual moment. God, the world soul, persuades us to participate by our own free will and realize eternal ideas in our lives. God is aware of us and of eternal ideas, just as we are of our own particular situations and eternal ideas we strive to bring to reality.
- No things, but we have us, animals with souls, we have the demiurge, and we have god, the world soul. A lot of things for a world without things!
- Which is why Plato presents these ideas and moves on.
- You explained last time,**** quoting his predecessor Heraclitus: language is a sacred disease, to be used with caution.
- Let's go back to the people with power who run the world of buying and selling. What about their ideas?
- You mean the ideas they use to justify what they do?
- Yes. Are they real? Do they have any power?
- No serious economist says they are anything other than the most provenly false ideas in social science history.
- But we, the powerless people, live in worlds of spectacle, where ideas put on a show but have no power, and the ideas we play with we know are false.
- Our overlords get away with imposing on us their false ideas, their Neo-Liberalism, their Free Market economics, because we have no use for truth?
- Yes.
- Why can't we put our true ideas into practise?
- The world of power struggle over money has no place for them.
- Then why can't we do something about that world?
- Change the system? Real change?
- Yes.
- You'd have to first change the way we the poor people think.
- How?
- We'd have to stop thinking of ourselves as things.
- As long as we think of ourselves as things we'll be easy to convince it's right that we be manipulated by supposed natural laws regulating exchange of things, right that we be reduced into beings fit only for a world of spectacle. Well, we've got the process philosophers and theologians to help us. They're even Americans mostly.
- I wonder what it would mean if we as a people were able to read Plato right. A new renaissance?
- You say while this very year we may have a fascist president waiting for us.

Further Reading:
Philosophy & Politics, Saving The World 
The Society Of Spectacle (pdf)
WikiLeaks Exposes Clinton Connection to ISISCorporate Cash
** Bernie Sanders: "The structure of American politics today is such that I thought the right ethic was to run within the Democratic Party." Armed with Wikileaks documents showing DNC bias in favor of Clinton and systematic influencing of the news media in her favor, the outcome of the primary could be contested. (A report by Election Justice USA, a national coalition of attorneys, statisticians, journalists and activists, estimating the distortion of results from electoral cheating and fraud concludes Sanders to be the actual winner.) A run as an Independent looks to stand a chance. Voters by party affiliation: 39% Independent, 31% Democratic, 29% Republican.
*** Consciousness (For Sale)
**** The First Loser

3. Kant & Compromise

- We're told it's unreasonable to expect we'll ever have someone represent us in government who is not
a sociopath or clinical narcissist, (who has) failed to be the target of fraud lawsuits, sexual-harassment claims, or federal criminal investigations...(who hasn't) the capacity for unspeakable evil that is generally considered necessary to win higher office.*
We're told we have to vote for Clinton to make sure we don't get Trump. We have to choose the lesser of two evils. Do we?
- We don't.
- Why not?
- Because it is a compromise that is sure to have drawbacks and is sure not to have benefits.
- How can that be? The benefit is to save the world from Donald Trump, who with nuclear launch codes in hand can basically end the world.
- Aldous Huxley's 'Ends And Means'** argues that the only end we could choose bad means to reach was there being greater charity in the world. Choosing any other end we'd be doing certain bad for the sake of uncertain good, at the cost to both ourselves and others, losing our integrity and becoming a bad example.
- We'll have our integrity while the nuclear bombs are exploding over our heads.
- In the 18th Century Immanuel Kant wrote an essay,*** drawing on Plato's allegory of the cave,**** that argued that people are weakened by dependence on others and don't dare to take back their independence. But once they do,
free thought gradually reacts back on the modes of thought of the people, and men become more and more capable of acting in freedom. At last free thought acts even on the fundamentals of government and the state finds it agreeable to treat man, who is now more than a machine, in accord with his dignity.
- And what if there is no time?
- Kant advocated freedom only in public speech, not in personal life:
Thus it would be very unfortunate if an officer on duty and under orders from his superiors should want to criticize the appropriateness or utility of his orders. He must obey. But as a scholar he could not rightfully be prevented from taking notice of the mistakes in the military service and from submitting his views to his public for its judgment.
- Then Kant advocated compromise too.
- He advocated obeying the rules in our personal lives when combined with free speech in public life, because that was he believed sure to result eventually in change for the better in our lives. If we merely call on each other to compromise in our personal lives, without the free speech in public life, our compromise will cost us our integrity and our good example and get us nothing.
- Except maybe not having nuclear bombs falling on our heads.
- Wouldn't that risk be better taken care of by people coming out and talking to each other, looking to another candidate or another political party rather than voting for the lesser of two evils?
- If there is time and if you can get people to talk to each other.
* From the Borowitz Report, July 24, 2016 issue, The New Yorker Magazine
** Ends And Means, (An Enquiry into the Nature of Ideals)
*** What Is Enlightenment?
**** The Allegory Of The Cave

4. Crimes Of The Rich

- I've done a little research. According to Kant, because ability to be free develops slowly and is limited by present conditions, we have no choice but to accept present political conditions, in his case a more or less benevolent dictatorship, in ours oligarchy, and talk our way into more and more enlightenment which will in time change the present political circumstances. Correct?
- Yes.
- As incredible as it may seem, my research shows that present conditions may not be a restraint for us much longer. Want to know why?
- Why?
- A few years ago you talked about throwing out the existing Congress and electing a whole new one.* There now is a political movement called Brand New Congress** for doing just that in 2018 when all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will be up for grabs. You also talked about criminal prosecution and taxing of the rich to fund economic freedom for the majority of the people. The charity Oxfam, hardly a radical organization, in 2013 calculated that half of the income of the world's hundred richest people would be enough to save the lives of millions dying every year of starvation.*** Existing law in the United States makes it a crime to fail in the "duty to save".**** Putting this research together I come up with the surprising conclusion that in 2018 it is not impossible to elect a Brand New Congress with the exclusive mandate of criminally prosecuting and confiscating the wealth of our country's richest citizens for gross negligence of duty to save.
- Save from what?
- Poverty, conditions of violence and social injustice, all of which can be directly laid to the door of their hoarding of wealth, not to mention their bribery of the government in the service of that hoarding. Two years ago you wrote all this should happen.
- I did. And it is true, we have the wealth, we have the law, we have the political organization necessary for change. But part of the restraining conditions are the use of advertising and political speech to convince people change like this is impossible. Voters are allowed to choose only between images of leaders that make them feel better about themselves.
- Even if in public life they are told about other possibilities, they won't be able to act on them because in their personal lives they have been made idiots by advertising, movies, TV, music. I'm not so sure.
- Why not?
- Because as statistics tell us Americans are some of the most religious people on the planet, and really all we are talking about here is the golden rule: act with others as you would like them to act with you. Right now Americans are being told, Let those guys be billionaires as they like to be billionaires, because wouldn't you like to be a billionaire too and act as you like with your billions? But Americans haven't had the opportunity to see that those billions were acquired and maintained by criminality that costs million of lives every year, many of them in their own communities.
- They haven't had the opportunity to see because their minds are controlled by those same rich people who are criminals under current law.
- But Kant's theory of the enlightenment, and despite all our faults we are creatures of the enlightenment, predicts that that control can't indefinitely be maintained against public talk of new political parties, the world's increasing wealth, and existing law.

Further Reading:
Be My Guest
A Spiritualist Campaigns For Congress, An Anarchist Attends
** Brand New Congress
*** Oxfam report
**** Duty To Save 

5. Puppy & Politics

- I don't know. It's so abstract. When's the last time you were at Starbucks?
- Why do you ask?
- Things happen to you there. You probably tried out these ideas on someone. Did you?
- I did.
- Let's hear it. The conversation.
- Three characters, four including me. A woman in her early twenties, a man somewhat older, and the woman's dog, a Pomeranian, who stood impressively still on his four legs to his full six inches of height. The man I'd talked to before. He made angry, raging videos about prejudice against his race.
- Which was?
- Black. First asking and receiving permission I went to make friends with the dog. He remained quiet, not sure if I was worth noticing. I asked the young woman if as often the case with dogs and their masters he got his manners from her. She said unfortunately she wasn't so calm. She was busy day and night. Busy with what? She tended bar, and the rest of the time, like the young black man, made YouTube videos. And they were about?
- My generation. We're different. We're organized.
- Organized to do what?
- To make a difference. Your generation made a mess. We're trying to clean it up.
- Do you think you can?
- Yes. We have the internet. We're connected to each other. There are millions of us. I'll show you someone I like. He has millions of followers and he's still a teenager.
- What's his subject? Political satire?
- Yes. He makes people laugh telling the truth.
- What about you? Are you satirical?
- Sometimes.
- Your generation entertain each other, put on shows for each other. Do you think shows change anything?
- I think artists and creators are the only one's that change the world. We're serious about what we do. Entertaining we build an audience.
- You expose injustice, the criminality, stupidity of your opponents. Yet satire works by adjusting the relative power of roles in the imagination of the audience, makes the audience feel more in control, more comfortable living in a world with what they've satirized so they end up doing nothing.
- We elected a black president for the first time.
- Elected another artist, a talker, a creator of an image, a role to be played out, not something real. And consequently nothing much changed.
- A lot changed. The country's perception of itself changed.
- Do you agree? I asked the black YouTuber. He took out a vintage micro-cassette recorder and placed it on the table. This time around, he said, he chose to listen and get a recording. For this he asked and was given our permission.
- You two are very polite with your permissions.
- Have to be. Everyone is touchy about other's treatment of their image, especially those whose business it is to make images of themselves. I continued to the YouTuber:
- You're not silent like your dog, but maybe he takes after you in another way.
- What?
- As a puppet.
- People often make the mistake. He's little, but almost four, he's not a puppy.
- Not puppy, puppet: little figure of a person or animal moved around on strings. In Plato's allegory of the cave puppets are moved on top of a wall built inside the cave, a fire behind them projecting their shadows upon the back wall. Between the puppets and the back wall prisoners are chained so that all they can see are the shadows. For them, the shadows are the only world they know. They make predictions of which shadow will follow another, and this is their knowledge. If the prisoners could escape and leave the cave and see the world outside, they would at first be blinded by the light, and not understand what they see of the real world, and prefer to go back to the cave and watch the shadows of the puppets. It seems to me your generation of performers are alike in making shows of yourselves, are alike in moving puppets casting shadows in the cave. You make the show, move the puppets along the wall, fight with the other puppeteers for precedence, but your audience sees only the show, your shadow, only your words and gestures, knows nothing of why you do it or the techniques you apply to hold your audience's attention.
- If our videos are shadows, that's for the best. Our generation are not dogmatists and ideologists. We know anything anyone makes is partial, one view of the truth. Nothing is the whole truth. Get used to it. We avoid fanaticism of all kinds including Plato's idealism, his religion that in some other world ideas live eternally. We live in the real world, I think we live in a more real world than the older generation. We have to deal with global warming, nuclear weapons, economic collapse. That we don't hide that our ideas are shadows, that makes them more not real and truthful, not less.  
- What did you say to that?
- I said:
- Here's my experience of the past 24 hours. Listen, and then tell me if role play brings people together or separates them. The night before at midnight I was at FedEx's office on Wilshire sending off the memory book* to the Washington Holocaust Museum. The young man on the other side of the counter, making small talk, asked me where Washington was. There were two of them, he knew. Up near Oregon? This was going to the other one. Oh. he said. 'D.C'. Did I know what 'D.C'. stood for? Didn't he? I asked. No. Where, I asked, was the capital of the U.S? He didn't know. And you, our sound recorder, you told me you were working towards revolution. And is it true or not that when I brought up the recent wave of revolutions in the Middle East, that was the first you'd heard of them? Still recording this? And at Ralphs supermarket, where a guard lurks at the exit all night, stationed there glaring at all who come and go just to have the opportunity to catch people like this one, a mad man I often see wandering in filthy rags by the L.A. Country Club. He was cleaned up, in new clothes, but still mad, holding aloft a plastic tray with day old rolls, now after midnight, 2 days old not legally to be sold. The guard stop him, says, Where do you think you are going! He says, What? The guard says, You can't take that. He says, Oh? The manager comes over, says to him, You have to pay. You have to pay! He says, What? He moves more towards the door at which point a customer waiting and watching at check-out says he'll pay the two dollars for the two day old rolls, saving the madman from arrest and possible a week locked up in a mental hospital before being returned to the streets.
- I listened. What conclusion you draw?
- Our friend here wants to play revolutionary. He's not interested in what revolution is enough to study it, not even in very recent history. And the FedEx kid, old enough to vote, identifies himself to himself and others by his tattoos. For him that is enough, he has his role and not an idea in his head. Consequently no politics either, not curiosity enough to know where the capital is. And the corporate supermarket, those who work there are forced into slavery and most abject role practise, no humanity or reasonableness allowed.
- If roles separate us, what brings us together?
- You know your Plato, the analogy of the sun.
- Sure:
As goodness stands in the intelligible realm to intelligence and the things we know, so in the visible realm the sun stands to sight and the things we see.**
- Politics requires ideas. Ideas are shared, bring us together. Roles separate.
- Roles are based on ideas too.
- But they are not good ideas, not drawn out from a shared human nature that strives toward good. The playing out of roles and protection of roles, those made up things, is done in the dark, unilluminated by the good.

Further Reading:
How To Read Plato's Republic
The Memory Book
** The analogy of the sun is found in the sixth book of Plato's 'The Republic' (507b–509c)

6. Better People

- I want to go back to what you said last time: 
Satire works by adjusting the relative power of roles in the imagination of the audience, makes the audience feel more in control, more comfortable living in a world with what they've satirized so they end up doing nothing.*
Our political freedom has greatly increased in the last century, but has that has made us into better people?
- Do we lead better lives as individuals? 
- Yes.
- I doubt it. 
- Isn't that strange? A year ago ** you were talking about the atrophy of good: like our muscles the minute we stop exercising them start being weakened, when we stop being good we start being bad. Apparently the opposite is not true: When we stop being bad we don't start being good. Satire reminds us not to be bad, but that reminder doesn't help us become good, in fact it can make us worse. Why do you think that is? Is it that we never lose the ability to be bad, so when good declines we immediately become more bad. But we do lose the ability to be good, so when bad lessons we simply are less bad, but no more good? 
- Something like that must be right.
- But why? Why do we forget how to be good, but not how to be bad? Are we bad by instinct which never leaves us and good only by education?
- Wouldn't the difficulty of recovering good be accounted for if we have it in us to be both good and bad, but our education is unrelenting towards the bad?
- Then the reminder to be good would be the exception, which when it ends leaves us chained to the bad influence of our social education.
Puppy & Puppets
** The Atrophy Of Good

7. American Character

- Sometimes I think I've got these ideas almost worked out but then, when I need them most, I'm lost. Will you help me out?
- If I can.
- You know how when someone asks, 'How are you?' and you answer honestly, 'Not too good, there are these problems I just can't manage to solve, not for lack of trying, I've tried everything I can think of.' And the person you're talking to answers that he is a great believer that it's possible to do anything you set your mind to. You've been through this?
- Many times.
- It makes me angry. I am being told to do what I never was willing to do in the past in order to allow me to do what I want to do now. I'm being asked to do things I fundamentally don't want to do, like lie, disrespect strangers, turn completely around the direction of my life and go another way. Follow?
- Yes.
- So tell me, what exactly defines this wrong way we refuse to go in order to get to where we won't otherwise ever be? They, the good Americans, tell us traitorous complainers, if only we turned our minds to it, repeated to ourselves over and over anything is possible, anything would be possible. We traitorous complainers answer, 'Maybe, much is possible, if we're willing to destroy ourselves, but we aren't.' And the good strong positive thinking true Americans ask us what we're talking about. 'Destroy what about yourselves? Your inflexibility? Yes, now you're talking, destroy that! Do it right now!' What do we say to them?
- We ask them, Isn't it true that if we have a certain character, we have certain habits, ways of doing things, and these habits make it easier for us to do some things and harder to do others? And if so, how can a person of strong character do everything and anything?
- By strong character they mean the strength to go against their own habits when necessary.
- And that is the American character that anything is possible to.
- Yes.
- A sort of instantly renewed character to suit constantly changing circumstances.
- Yes.
- Where would such a character be at home?
- In America, obviously.
- But would there be any particular place they'd be more at home than another that would suit their character best?
- That would have to be the place where instant adaptation of character would get most exercised.
- And where would that be?
- America.
- Would such a character find any rest in America?
- How, if being at home meant constant change and adaptation?
- Then being at home would mean constantly moving, inventing, producing. For those who have the un-American character of having habits rather than having a habit of change, the reward and goal of activity is rest at home when activity has come to an end. What is the reward and end for those who have a habit of changing their habits? Do they never rest?
- I'd say they don't. The more money they make and possessions they acquire the more they want to make money and acquire more possessions.
- Would you agree that if it is true to say they rest at all, it is a rest in their confidence in and satisfaction at the thought they can continue to perform and acquire new habits successfully in any conditions?
- Yes. They gloat over their sense of power.
- But only to go on and acquire more power, because only in their thoughts is there a sort of rest, not in the world itself, there is no comfort anyplace for them when they stop doing things.
- So, when they tell us, if we only turned our mind to it, we like them could do anything, we answer, maybe, maybe not, but we don't want to lose our sense of home, we don't want to lose our character.
- And they tell us, yes, you say it yourself, you have another character, you are different from us, you are un-American losers.
- They do.
- What do we say to that?
- That they are the true losers.
- What have they lost? Themselves? Truth?
- Yes. But what I was thinking particularly to tell them was that they have lost exactly what they think they have gained.
- Which is?
- Freedom. Call it a bad habit, a character flaw if you will, but one last time will you let me make use of Plato's allegory?
- Prisoners are chained in a cave...
- Behind and unseen by them is a wall on which puppets and objects are paraded. And behind that wall the puppets are moved along is a fire which throws their shadow on the back wall of the cave the prisoners face. Outside the cave are the real people and things the puppets represent, but the prisoners only see the shadows of the puppets. Let's say the American 'we can do anything' character is that of a prisoner who has broken his chains but rather than escape to the upper world of real things remains down in the cave to be a puppeteer. In his bets with his fellow prisoners about what the shadows will do he almost always comes out on top because he is no longer simply himself, he can do what he wants with all the shadows including the one that the other prisoners are now told represents himself. He can do anything he wants, subject to the need to avoid the danger of losing his advantage by teaching too many of the other prisoners to do the same he has. What do you think? Does this describe the American character of having no character we've been talking about?
- It's not really true the prisoners can do anything: it's true only that they can do anything with the shadows.
- Yes. Outside the cave is the real world illuminated, not by the artificial light of a fire, but by the sun, which is the source of good. Getting up and getting out of the cave we establish a real relation to the world we come to know. We find that known part of the world to be good, and rest in the feeling of being at home.
- The unchained but still in the cave prisoners are free to produce for themselves the most powerful representation of themselves. It's like magic to the other prisoners who can't change their own representations and are afraid to break their chains and do what true Americans can do.
- We know though that among the prisoner puppeteers there can be no discussion about truth: each tries in his own way to put on the show that brings the most possessions into association with his own puppet. There is no truth to the show except that it is a show.
- But it's all about things. It's a show about things.
- What else could it be about if there never is any home or rest?
- So the prisoner puppeteers are capitalists: there is no fixed right and wrong, there is nothing but the fact a show is to be performed, a show about things being produced and exchanged, and in that show they can do anything, they can destroy competitors' puppets and the things associated with them, do it behind the scenes or openly on the wall, whatever they can get away with. But no matter what they do their world is exclusively a world of things.
- To people without character everything is allowed, everything except getting out of this world composed only of things and their shadows. Or to put it another way: Americans are entirely free to do anything they can get away with except question property, the idea that meaning in life is to be found in associating oneself with things. They never get out of the cave. They are not free to make their lives good.
- But, you know, I allowed you the cave, allow me to risk making myself ridiculous and speak for the whole country: these people we are calling Americans are not Americans. You and me are Americans. We don't want freedom to move around things and images of ourselves. We want freedom to do good with our lives. These people are 'doers for the sake of doing'. They are materialists, they are restless, they are without home.
- Altogether too much character for people who claim to have no character.

Further Reading:
Puppy & Puppets
Hybrid Fates
Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, Doing For The Sake Of Doing
Zagreb Stories

8. Politics & Philosophy

- Going to the museum?
- Where's the museum?
- On the corner. 
- No. I haven't been there yet.
- Where are you from?
- Greece.
- Tell me something. Why didn't you Greeks try to get rid of your prime minister when he ignored the results of the referendum and betrayed you and democracy?
- What should we have done? Make a revolution?
- Why not?
- Violence. And whoever we got next in office would be the same.
- Is that what Greeks believe? They weren't surprised by the prime minister's betrayal?
- I wasn't.
- How did you know? Had he done anything, said anything, that was a giveaway that he didn't really believe in making life better for the people who elected him?
- No. Just that all politicians are puppets on strings held by the true powers.
- There have been exceptions.
- There are some now in Greece.
- But not with real power. And if they got it, nothing better could be expected of them. Power corrupts.
- It's human nature to be self-interested.
- Not fundamentally. You're waiting for someone?
- No. I need this coffee before I go to work.
- What work do you do?
- Biology.
- At UCLA?
- Yes.
- Ok, I'll stand here at the table and talk until you tell me to go away. If the world is ever to be saved from politicians it is by people talking to each other.
- Will that help? People everywhere are taught to be obedient. The world will never change.
- Assuming it's human nature to be mostly self-interested and there is no alternative to political decisions made by a class of leaders with interests separate from the people they lead. But both assumptions are false: political arrangements don't have to remain as they are, and that because human nature is not fundamentally selfish.
- What is human nature? We're not very different from animals.
- We're distinguished from other animals by our greater ability to arrange our ideas so that they refer to each other, develop each other hierarchically. We do that in language and technology. Animals can do it in thought and behavior, but lack hierarchical language, haven't the ability it gives of communicating and concentrating on alternative models of what is preferable to do in what situations, what tools to make, when to change habits. This distinction in itself wouldn't be very much, but we are also the only species that is evil: empowered by our hierarchical ability we alone put language to use making models that undermine our cooperative nature.
- And what is evil?
- Knowing what is good as an individual but doing bad for rewards from acting in a group. A political representative of a radical socialist party deciding to defy the mandate he was elected to pursue for the benefits of being among the ruling class.
- We don't have to be selfish, but then, evil is human nature? You're serious?
- Evil is what most distinguishes our species. But it is not our unchanging nature, rather it is a liability or weakness, a susceptibility of our nature to be overpowered in our inborn tendency to cooperate, and to lose its ability to remake itself, to use creatively its ability to build model upon model.
- If we are evil what hope is there?
- If we get things right we can use our power of language to remake ourselves and our technology to keep at a distance our susceptibility to evil.
- How?
- Shouldn't something that creates also be able to save? 
- Maybe. Not always.
- The philosophy that began in your country gave us what good politics we have. I think philosophy is the only thing that can save us.
- You shouldn't idealize the ancient Athenian democracy. It didn't work well.
- The new better ways beginning were mixed with the old bad ways, and the bad ways won out, just as they do in our times.
- Einstein said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
- He was talking about the kind of ideas that make a world for us and leave us there in it. Evil ideas. Ideas that justify social relations and define human nature in relation to them. Nothing real in our relation to the world is fixed like that. Sometimes we choose to act, sometimes we rest. Sometimes the world betrays us and we have no choice, we have to act. Sometimes when we act we have a choice which way to go, sometimes we don't. The world we live in is of alternative selves acting, or not, in alternative worlds. Looking at a world permanently described by a single model, seeing a fixed conception of human nature in relation to fixed social relations, is the outcome of "evil", of an individual giving up seeking knowledge out of personal experience for the sake of the rewards of group conformity. It is not accurate to our experience. Do you understand?
- Yes. But philosophizing you aren't going to change the world. People don't have time to think anymore.
- Ideas of only a few people, many in your country, made our world. Why should it take more than a few to save it?
- I couldn't say. I've got to go to work.

Further Reading:
Spectacle & God
It's All Good
Against Leaders
The Technology Of Good

9. Detour

- On the occasion of today's presidential election: What are we to think about this setback to the cause of enlightenment? The 18th century's Emanuel Kant proposed that free speech, without revolution, would progressively insinuate better ideas into political institutions: you told me that. You also told me about the atrophy of good, how when we stop acting to better ourselves we start acting worse, and how when we stop acting bad, we don't automatically start acting better,* this because our educational institutions overpower our habits, what's in us that urges us to live well. For hundreds of years our progressive ideas have been working their way into our institutions, but now it seems the character our institutions educated us into having protects the institutions from the influence of our ideas.
- What character is that?
- Isolated one from the other, "atomized". The good of self-questioning and authenticity taught us by modern institutions turns into vanity and self-absorption. The prosperity of our economics and the large scale generosity it allows turns into selfishness and greed. The love of truth that guides our technological advance turns into technical practise for its own sake, doing for the sake of doing. I'll read you something from a Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, from his book 'The Ethics Of Authenticity':
What our situation seems to call for is a complex, many-leveled struggle, intellectual, spiritual, and political, in which the debates in the public arena interlink with those in a host of institutional settings, like hospitals and schools, where the issues of enframing technology are being lived through in concrete form; and where these disputes in turn both feed and are fed by the various attempts to define in theoretical terms the place of technology and the demands of authenticity, and beyond that, the shape of human life and its relation to the cosmos. But to engage effectively in this many-faceted debate, one has to see what is great in the culture of modernity, as well as what is shallow or dangerous. As Pascal said about human beings, modernity is characterized by grandeur as well as by misere. Only a view that embraces both can give us the undistorted insight into our era that we need to rise to its greatest challenge.
The Canadian philosopher, a practicing Catholic, thinks the atomized state our institutions have put us in can be overcome by an act of conversion, in which selfishness becomes authenticity, competitive trading becomes cooperative and well-intentioned, technology becomes again love of truth, and thus the project of enlightenment continues after not much disruption.
- And let me guess. You're all in favor of spiritual conversions, even on a mass scale. But like Kant said of revolution, progress will not be lasting because the character of the people has not changed. We might for the moment stop being bad, but under the continuing atomizing pressure of institutions and the character they have educated us into having, we won't start being good. And with no experience acting in different circumstances there is no consensus which way to go, the institutions easily resist any pressure to change.
- What then?
- We look for institutions of a kind that don't isolate themselves from the people by educating them into isolation from each other.
- How do you imagine these, call them self-immunized institutions?
- A Catholic philosopher imagines that with enough love we can get back on the track of enlightenment and progress. But think about our relation to dogs and cats, our pets, or as they are now known, companion animals. We provide the home, the institution within which they live. And we could hardly love them more than we do, without question we love them more than we love each other. And what is the result, what sort of world do our companion animals live in? A world very much like our own. We keep about one percent of us human beings locked in cages, another few percent in and out of the cages in any one year. About the same numbers are true of dogs and cats in our animal shelters! We kill every year a few million of them. And about the same number of us humans are killed every year ten or more years before their time, poisoned by bad air, water, food administered to us all by our corporate leaders and government officials controlled by them.
- If love is not going to save us from our institutions what will?
- We have to look at new forms that can continue to guide our progress while preventing our atomization and consequent end to the enlightenment project, doing as much as possible democratically, as much as possible without leaders. Leaders have a technical relation to those they lead. Objects of technique are things. Things are by definition isolated, separate from each other.
- Why do I find that answer so satisfying? After a lifetime of being told we have to wait, submit to the demands of our institutions, progress is slow but continuous, you tell me now, love each other all that we want, progress is at an end unless we turn our technological prowess to the invention of the institutions themselves.

Further Reading:
Beyond Voting
Kant & Compromise
Against Leaders
You Have To Have A Story
The Technology Of Good
Compassion & The Story
Better People 
The Atrophy Of Good

10. Dying To Get Back Home

- You've been putting me off for a week.
- What do I have to say about our new president? Those who voted for him amount to less than twenty percent of the population, and a little more than a quarter of eligible voters. What should be done? Immediately upon his being sworn into office impeachment proceedings should be started against him for the many crimes he is known to have committed. The other eighty percent who didn't vote for him, children included, should start posting on social media and demonstrate in the streets for the entire congress, who otherwise can be expected to be bribed into complicity with the new president, to resign, with special elections called for replacements.
- 'Children included'. Why should members of Congress start impeachment proceedings if they have to quit anyway?
- Because they want to buy-off their constituency from prosecuting them for breach of contract to represent voters not corporations. One organization, Brand New Congress,* is already at work selecting candidates for the 2018 elections in all congressional districts who've pledged to actually represent the people once in office.
- Are these real possibilities?
- Our new president is a surprise; why not the surprise of getting rid of him?
- You're letting yourself get carried away with your rhetoric.
- You wanted to know what I think of our new president, what I think is the significance of his winning the election?
- Yes.
- The election means that about about a fifth of the American people are entirely ignorant of the fact of human character.
- They believe they can and therefore should make what they want of themselves, that nothing restrains what is possible to them in achieving their goals.
- They believe that there is no such thing as good human conduct, nothing in their own nature, for the sake of their own sanity and happiness, to restrain them from making certain choices rather than others towards achieving their dreams.
- Characteristics such as honesty, compassion, love of justice, etc. Characteristics our new president has made it obvious he lacks.
- Yes.
- You think that the fifth of Americans who voted for this man without honesty, compassion, justice, themselves must be lacking in these qualities?
- Yes. What about you? Do you agree?
- It's said that people voted for him not because they liked him but because they were desperate for change.
- Could anyone with any honesty, compassion, and love of justice imagine that the change made by this man would be the kind of change they looked for?
- No. I don't think so.
- So the rest of us have been taken by surprise that such a large number of us could be, to speak plainly, completely worthless human beings. You, me, the people who live in this liberal part of liberal Los Angeles, in liberal California, we expected the poorer and badly educated, together with the greedy better educated rich, to be seduced by promises of improved life and profits; we thought however they'd wake up, be disabused of the illusion of safety in their selfishness when confronted by the constantly accumulating evidence that the man making the promises was a pathological liar, tax evader, sexual predator, defrauder of creditors, advocate of war crimes, the greatest bankrupt in the country's history...
- It must be as you say: sixty million of us don't see or care about bad character. Do you think they even know what bad character is?
- No. Thus the character of their bad character is invisible to them as well.
- And what is the character of their bad character? How can we describe it?
- By what it has and what it lacks. It lacks compassion, honesty, love of justice. It has...
- Fascism.
- Yes. Fascism in a previously unseen form, fascism of the cheater that doesn't care about anything, not even politics, other than material possessions and money as symbol of power to acquire more possessions. Getting closer, seeing enlarged can help us at times, but our new president is such an outrageous, outsized figure, maybe seeing him in small would better help us place him in his true pettiness. Imagine then him stripped of his inherited hundreds of millions of dollars, stripped of everything he has and everyone he knows, of every penny in his pocket. Imagine him living in our part of town, attending the lectures at the university and museums where free food is offered, making a game out of it, going where he is technically permitted but unwanted because going only for the food, coming to pride himself on his skill to please himself with no concern for others' disapproval. This miniaturization of Trump's way of life is in fact the way of life of a little middle aged woman who used to sleep in the basement vents of Palazzo Corporate Housing in Westwood Villiage and has moved on to sneaking into the grounds of a religious institution for the night. Like our new president she is wildly inconsistent in her fascism. You remember how we've defined fascism: love of violence, an enemy within, a sense of dangerous weakness, need of a total response encompassing all of society. Like Trump, she has immigrants in her family. Her father was an immigrant from South America, but that doesn't stop her from expressing virulent hatred even or especially against those of Latin American origin. Her father was legal, she explains, unlike the twelve million undocumented trespassers on our country's land. Anyway, she adds, her father was half European, so she has only a quarter of the offending blood.
- Our new president put fascism to use to get elected. What does she use it for?
- To feel good about herself. There's a reason Fascism always involves race: an inferior race that comes and makes unanticipated demands on our own superior race.
- And that reason is?
- Fear of losing our character from having to deal with the disruption of people different from us coming within our midst.
- How can people without character fear losing their character?
- Because they feel a sense of loss and fascism promises them recovery. This little old woman, profiting by cheating and proud of it like our new president, is proud to be a verbally violent defender of her race. Having a race is at least having some kind of character, something to be relied upon in a dangerous world. Should I make use of another comparison to show you what I mean?
- Go ahead.
- In some of the warehouses of the giant internet company Amazon goods are stored haphazardly: they are shelved as they arrive in the nearest found vacant space. The warehouses look like immense secondhand stores. With many more possible "stowage" places, work-time is saved compared to transporting to a predetermined location. Time is also saved in retrieval, what Amazon calls "picking" for shipping out, because the same things are scattered around in many places, not only one perhaps distance location. The efficiency gained depends on a computer knowing exactly where every single individual item has been placed.
- That's amazing.
- Isn't it? Now imagine if we humans did the same with all the things in our lives and our relations to people. Ever have the experience of someone you love accusing you of being inattentive, incapable of returning their love, even being bored by them, unwilling to share a spontaneously offered confidence?
- Obviously you have.
- I have. I defended myself, or tried to, saying, 'No, give me time, my mind was elsewhere!' There's a verse in 'On The Level', one of Leonard Cohen's last songs:
I knew that it was wrong
I didn't have a doubt
I was dying to get back home
And you were starting out
- Your character, whatever that is, was restraining you, keeping you from paying attention to your lover?
- That's how I see it. Think of all these foreigners coming into our lives as demand upon demand that attention be turned to them as required, independent of whatever inertia our habit of character loads us with to stay home with it. Imagine that like an Amazon warehouse we had to pile up our experience as it came and somehow remember the location and timing, instead of our "characteristic" way of dealing with life of keeping each thing in its own place.
- Race is our piled up things each in its own place, our own blood and no one else's in our veins. And then foreigners with their own blood seek to impose their own immediate demands for attention and response, demand we take them on making our lives worse with an Amazon style character-less, however efficient solution. Our new president and his supporters have no character, and they embrace racism and fascism out of a nostalgia for the character they lack. But if that is the case, then there's really nothing new about this election.
- Fascism may be new to our country but by no means is unknown to our times.

Further Reading:
The Way To Stop Trump
Ken Knabb: Out In The Open
Close Elections & The Fashion Business

Elections won by party, not candidate
Brand New Congress

11. Correct Me If I'm Wrong

- Here's what I think about our recent presidential election. You place the blame on voters' complete lack of character,* ignorance that such a thing as character exists, and the resulting lack of ability to understand the consequences of their voting for someone with bad character. Voters, you argue, have no character at all, always adapting to conditions as consumers of products that produce for them a sense of identity. as the rich have no character always adapting to the requirements of producing not a character but profit in money or power. Others cite particulars of bad character of the electorate - greed, racism, chauvinism, etc - with some saying corporate media is deliberately destroying American character. Others say the election illustrates not character but a primal urge in response to correctly understood corruption to throw over the game of politics, to bomb the election. Some say the electorate actually believes our new president when he says he is against "Washington insiders", and without caring for what he says one way or another, simply voted for the enemy of their enemies. Others are said to actually buy into the new president's program, inconsistent as it is. But do you know what I think?
- You asked already. What do you think?
- Actually I got the idea from you. How many times have you said to someone after you've criticized them and they responded you were entitled to your opinion and they to theirs, that in fact No, they were not entitled to their opinion, at least not without further response from you. Why do you have that right? they demand. Because, you answer, you have to live in the same place with them, and leaving them in a state of ignorance actually is dangerous to you. 
- And what do you make of the argument?
- The danger we face now of our new president is the fault not just of those who voted for him, but also those who didn't, as it is the product of our politically correct failure to correct each other. 
- And a very nice irony it is. Political correctness has give us the most politically incorrect president ever.

Further Reading:
The Character Of Donald Trump
Political Correctness
Capitalism & Freedom / American Character
* Dying To Get Back Home

12. The President's People


- You're not one of those publishing how disturbed they are about the mystery of our new president's character. One of them* speculates on the new president's 'doubleness, this randomness, the sheer cascade of horseshit and affronts, of dog whistles and non-sequiturs.' The article continues:
At best, the incoherence can be interpreted as evidence he’s a gormless, love-hungry 70-year-old child, a sort of feral president, an evil Chauncey Gardiner, as much the dupe in his own confidence scheme as he is its perpetrator, and utterly at the mercy of whichever voice just whispered in his ear. The other possibility, that he’s a totally Machiavellian sophisticate, a knowing possessor of the variety of ‘voice’ genius Jung ascribed to Hitler, is probably worse, and probably less probable.'*
- No, I'm not disturbed. The new president is an image-maker who changes his image in accord with what he guesses will bring him more of what he wants.
- What does he want?
- What everyone who lives by producing images wants: power. Sometimes power is to be gained by holding to one image, being a pillar of the community; sometimes more power is to be gained from changing the image, adapting to circumstances. The pillar of the community creates an image of strong character, someone who in this moment does what he said he would do in the moment before. The producer of changeable images, whose action of the present has no connection with actions of the past, reveals the desire for power that is hiding behind the images and is responsible for their shifting. The election of our new president shows that large numbers of Americans don't care about bad character. About ninety percent of Democrats voted Democratic, about ninety percent of Republicans voted Republican. Those party-unaffiliated who thought the rich were robbing the poor too much voted Democratic, those party-unaffiliated who thought the poor were robbing the rich too much voted Republican. The bad character of the new president had little bearing of the voting.
- What do you make of that?
- Only people who themselves have bad character can be unaware of the danger of putting power in the hands of someone with bad character.
- But behind the image of pillar of the community isn't there likely to be the same reality of bad character? Our present president puts on the pillar of the community act. But consider his re-activation of the Bill of Rights destroying Patriot act, his persecution of those who risk their lives to reveal government corruption, his intensification of unconstitutional surveillance of the American people, his personally authorized assassinations, and all the rest of it.
- It could have been the case the voting was a tantrum of destruction, a protest against the falseness of all candidates. The evidence shows otherwise: the rich voted for our new president, the poor against. Rich and poor both say, when asked, they believe the new President will do what he promises. The rise in the stock market since his election shows investors think the same.
- Then the rich elected a rich guy they think will make them richer and are not concerned about his bad character. Which you say shows the bad character of the rich who voted for him. So the election does not reveal racism, sexism, fear of foreigners of the American people, nor does it reveal their wised up disgust with the images politicians produce, but rather a disinterest in politics both in form and substance, a disinterest in whether politicians have character or not, a disinterest concerning whether the country becomes more racist, sexist, xenophobic. The election reveals that in this nation of more than 320 million people, around a quarter of those who could vote, a quarter wealthier than the other three quarters, have bad character. That's a lot of people.
- It is. The bad character of the people is a political fact. Behind their smaller scale shows of being pillars of the community like our president on his way out or defiantly inconsistent like our president on his way in, they seek to satisfy their desire for power. When economics block this expression of power it breaks out in racism, sexism, hatred of strangers. People with good character have the wherewithal to resist these prejudices becoming expressed in political violence. People with bad character don't.

Further Reading:
Eve In The Garden Of Eden
Jonathan Lethem, in the London Review Of Books


- I've been looking into things since we last talked. I found an article* by an academic in Berlin who reached the same conclusion we did: the main significance of the election was that so many people could put into office a man with such obvious bad character. You said that only people with bad character could want a man with bad character to lead their country, and I think you were right. I want to know whether you agree with me about how we got to where we are.
- I'm listening.
- Twenty-seven percent of the electorate, something around twenty percent of American adults, voted for this, let's call him, president of the immoral. And do you know what?
- What?
- At the end of World War II over a quarter of Americans were self employed. Now it is around seven percent and rapidly falling.** See what I'm getting at?
- The number of independent people the country has lost in the last fifty years is matched neatly by the number of people without character who voted for this president without character. 
- Yes. It's as if those who would have been independent have instead become depraved. But that can't be.
- Why not?
- Because even after World War II seventy-five percent of Americans were employees and it is ridiculous to say they were depraved.
- Then what do we say?
- We say the existence of a substantial number of Americans who were in ideals and in reality independent, this was a support and an encouragement to other Americans that they might achieve similar independence. With now the number of self employed shrunken to a small and rapidly declining fraction of the population, both the existence of independent people and the encouragement they provided is gone, and we get about the same number of people who previously were exceptionally independent now being exceptionally without character.

Further Reading:
Prostitution, Employment, Slavery
Abhor The Event: Voting Patterns And The Rise Of Trump
** Death Of Small Business


Beginning again with a quote, this time by you:
Farabi interpreted Plato in this way: most people never get beyond the received thinking of childhood, thinking that is so which is taught to be so, seeking reward and avoiding punishment. The philosophic law-giver composes religion as the best form of received thinking, while the philosopher himself lives above the shadowy realm of religious doctrine and seeks and attains to some extent the truth. The religious community is constructed as something lower, from conclusions derived from the higher life of philosophy.
Contrast this with our idea that from within the orthodoxy of our received group thinking, confusion develops from confrontations with other doctrines, new ideas and techniques develop. The philosophical is produced from within the confused community, not merely from a confusion of ideas deliberated upon by isolated philosophers. 
The philosophers who are thinking their way out of confusions developed from within the shadowy life of the religious group, when they reach new conclusions, these are necessarily practical, refer to real life lived among others. This leads to adapting the same kind of thinking to practical technology: and we know that the Arabs following the tradition expressed by Farabi of law-given orthodoxy in society failed in this application.
Philosophy as creative and protective of lower dogmatically enforced religious doctrine is a good definition of fanaticism. It involves both no loyalty to any community, no love of particular people or places or things, and an insistence on loyalty to an orthodoxy known to be partly arbitrary, and inevitably treating people for whom one has no particular love as means to the end of maintaining the partly arbitrary orthodoxy and sustaining the possibility of the philosophers' higher lives.*
You wrote that six years ago. If we say our new president's religion - he calls it his art - is making money, couldn't we describe what we should be getting ready to expect from him in office as totalitarianism? With him as the king / philosopher of money leading the 'higher life'?
- And?
- Did you expect anything like this when you wrote those words? How did we get here so quickly?
- It's hasn't been all that quickly. What has come to be called Neo-Liberalism has been in the works for centuries. Remember we talked about** Foucault's last works on the subject? Neo-Liberalism when put into practice is a sort of confidence trick, a self-fulfilling prophesy.
- How so?
- Neo-Liberalism proposes the existence of a natural law of the marketplace. When theories are the basis of action intended to produce a desired result, we call that practice the application of technology. With Neo-Liberalism those results are the opposite predicted by the theory, general economic decline rather than advance, but the technology has produced a religious result that is very advantageous to those who operate it. Like application of certain technologies that produce pollution, application of Neo-Liberalism, both its partial (never close to total) opening of free markets, and the rapid monopolization of the market that develops when government regulations of the market are removed, interfere with other human practices based on knowledge, in general those that we use to say made life good and worth living. Because of this interference by polution with other lawful orders, species become extinct, and similarly, as we mentioned last time, self employment in the United States is becoming extinct. In the case of pollution the instability created by technology threatens the very existence of human beings practicing the technology, and calls in question the practice of that technology. But with Neo-Liberalism, instability creates conditions that tend to make it appear a proven fact that economic life, life of practicality, making money, has to be attended to before anything else, for it is a matter of survival. All other aspects of life must take second place.
- The more people who are put out of work, threatened by wars waged for profits of corporations, the more unstable people are and the more they must think how they are to get money to survive. 
- Exactly. A leader arises who claims to know the natural laws of the market better than anyone, who demonstrates in word and action he subordinates to it all other human concerns like that for truth, beauty, peace, love, and beauty. The more disproven Neo-Liberalism is an effective technology, the more that it produces destruction instead of the claimed to be expected prosperity, the more attractive it is as a religion, and the more likely is it to become the tool of totalitarianism.
- Thus, our new president.

Further Reading:
More Adventures In Trumpland
Technology & Fanaticism
** Bringing Back Stray Sheep

IV. The Show

-  You said at the time of the election that in general Republicans voted Republican and Democrats voted Democrat, and that in general there was a changing of the guard after an uneventful presidency one party to the other, so that what was important was the fact the outrageous bad character of our new president did not interfere with established voting practice. You also said that only people with bad character could entrust their future to someone with bad character. That's what I want you to explain. Did you mean that people with bad character are blind to the existence of character?
- That is what I meant.
- Explain to me how that works.
- The short answer is it works by character being throw in shadow.
- The shadow of what? And anyway, I want a better answer than a metaphor.
- In larger societies, people have specialized occupations in which special knowledge is practiced. Each member of society needs to cooperate with others, trade goods and services. But some members of society make a special occupation itself out of that cooperation, put into practice a technical knowledge of how to do that. Instead of living with others now fully, with attention, understanding, sympathy, imagination, the relation to others is put into service of performance of specialized occupation. Follow?
- Yes.
- J.J. Rousseau described in detail how a child, in the doings of childhood, a kind of occupation, learns to manipulate adults to get what he wants. He stops seeing the world as place to be learned and looking to other people for assistance in that learning.
- We've been over this before.
- Many times. The child wants to do what he wants to do, and in the service of those desires puts on a show for adults. Do you know how that happens?
- No! If I knew how a children get corrupted I would have solved the problem of good and evil.
- And is that so impossible? What is it that connects specialized occupation and show-making? Why should they be associated?
- In larger societies life is lived among strangers. Show of manners, of uniform clothing, help us identify what we offer each other.
- Yes. Now we agree that our new president's bad character appears in the deliberate use of showmaking to gain power over others?
- Alright.
- We talked about how the United States has gone from a country of a large number of self-employed people to a country of few. Do you see? Being employed, and being the audience to a show are much alike.
- I don't see.
- Both audience and employee are passive. An employee may not follow his own will, but must do what he is told. An audience member in body sits passively in the theater, while his mind is transferred in identifying with the characters represented in the show. An imitation, a representation, requires this passivity to operate.
- By operate you mean we take it as real. The child pretends to like his teacher, the new president pretends to care about the American people. But as long as the child learns, and the new president does what he says he will do in his show, what difference does it make?
- The child represses his real desires, and his goal becomes not his own happiness but the manipulation of adults. Like the child does not allow himself to act on his real desires, the employee is not allowed to do what he wants. He becomes unreal to himself, while he sees himself in the character of his employer put on show for him, or in the president he puts into authority over himself.
- I think I'm beginning to understand. When human relations, what we want from them, is put second to practical relations, when we get others in their special occupations to give us what we want in our special occupations, we see ourselves in those in power over us, and seeing others as means to the end of your power over them is a definition of bad character. Because we are passive to our own real desires of full life with other people, we don't look for anything other than the shows made by us and presented to us by others. Our desires, the world of their possible fulfillment, is placed in shadow, to use your image.
- And that is true both for employee and employed, elected and electorate.
- Why?
- It makes no difference whether economic conditions force you into part time slavery or whether a TV actor decides to show-make himself into the office of president. Whether you put on the show yourself or identify with the showmaking done by another, natural desires are repressed, are replaced by a state of passivity of audience to show.
- But what if the politician or employer knows he is lying, does not believe his own lies? That's at least possible, isn't it?
- To not be seduced by your own showmaking you need to avoid becoming passive to your natural desires for human relation, and the only way that can be done is if you are actively practicing those relations while you put on shows for others. Our literature has many examples of characters trying to do this, with varying success.
- Ok. The idea of hidden depths in our new president is laughable. He obviously has bad character. He says anything he thinks will bring him votes, without regard for reality. He is liked by the people who already are on the side he places himself on, the side where the poor are believed to be robbing the rich. They identify with him, see themselves in him. Some subset of them do more, and identify with the manipulative ever changing showmaking he does. But how can this work? Doesn't the obvious unreality of the show being put on undermine the suspension of disbelief necessary in theater?
- No, because being employees they can't easily escape the theater, the world created for them in their passivity. Identifying with him, they don't take the step back to see what kind of character he has. But even if they do take that step back and see his character, his aim to perform in the show with the greatest skill, to put into practice the best technique, they rush back into the theater to become passive audience to that show of character. Identifying with the high-tech showmanship, they remain ignorant of the real world thrown into shadow by the showmaking going on all around them.

13. Has Anybody Seen My Love?

- Those Starbucks you go to in Beverly Hills, I think they belong on the list of the craziest places on Earth. What about the guy who has no place to live who comes in early in the morning pulling a trolley holding that day's change of clothes, from hat to shoes a different out every day from different high fashion designers. In Starbucks bathroom he washes and perfumes himself and does what's needful to maintain his smooth bald head and then spends the day prancing around the cafe making small talk with the real wealthy of Beverly Hills, his poverty masquerading as wealth appreciated as picturesque eccentricity.
- The clothes are donations to the church he gets first crack at by volunteering there. He had on a new all white outfit this morning. The hotel maids were as usual at the long table, screaming gossip to each other I guess wanting to enjoy Beverly Hills while they can before the new president deports them. There were, yes, a couple of conversations yesterday we might find some interest in.
- I'm listening.
- They were with cafe customers who take to the table with them bags holding all their worldly goods. The first, a talk in passing as I left the cafe, with middle-aged man sitting outside. He wore a cap with the name of a retired US Navy ship embroidered in front. The second, with the young woman who another time told me she worked for the police and had knowledge of my stolen bike.**

The first conversation:
- I read this description of our new president: He is
reckless, unstable, ignorant, inane, infinitely vulgar, climate-change-denying white-nationalist misogynist with authoritarian ambitions and kleptocratic plans.
He is
patriarchy unbuttoned, paunchy, in a baggy suit, with his hair oozing and his lips flapping and his face squinching into clownish expressions of mockery and rage and self-congratulation.*
- I don't see the point in name calling.
- You know, I've been wanting to talk with someone like you for a long time. I overhear talk from those camped out on the street when I'm on my bike late at night waiting at a corner for a light to change. You like our new president, though he would call you the losers of all losers.
- That's your opinion.
- You think he likes people like you, who have nothing but what they carry on their backs, sleep on the street, are hunted by the police?- He's on the side of my people.
- Who are your people?
- White people. He's going to do something about immigration, jobs.
- You expect one day to go back to some sort of more normal life?
- I do.
- Why do you think the new president will do anything he says, or that he cares about you, when in the past he's made it clear that he doesn't?
- That's your opinion, what you read in the liberal press.
- Do you think court documents are faked that report the new president paying settlements for numerous cases in which he was accused of fraud?
- I haven't seen any documents. You say they exist. I don't have to believe you.
- Have you looked?
- Looked where?
- The liberal press, or the internet. Courts have their own websites. Do you think they are faked too?
- I don't know of such things. I'm not from crazy California, I'm from one of the "fly over" states in the middle of the country. We there see the world more simple.
- "We need a guy who talks tough who doesn't care what anyone thinks. Who is not afraid of violence to stop other people from taking away our country." Evidently you're not aware beliefs like that authorize a would-be dictator to remove all legal protections? That you'll lose your country because of your fear of losing it?
- That's your California paranoia.
- It's not California but the rest of the country lives in fear. New lives are tried out here and that looks crazy because most of them are idiotic.
- So then you admit it.
The second conversation:
- What are you listening to?
- Bob Dylan.
- He won the Nobel prize.
- I heard.
- I'm nominated for two Nobel prizes.
- At Starbucks past midnight you meet very influential people.
- You're influential too.
- It would be nice if that were true. What are you nominated for?
- The peace prize. And literature.
- I see you writing here some nights. What do you write?
- An unauthorized biography is coming out in the spring about me.
- What's your name?
- You'll know the book when you see it.
- Will your picture be on the cover?
- Probably. Don't you want to be published too? I can help. Many famous people are my patrons, even movie stars. Casey Affleck wanted me to go to the Golden Globe Awards with him.
- Did you go?
- No. You see me here, they're going on tonight. I told him wait and I'd go with him to the Academy Awards. I can ask the Afflecks to help you too.
- Why not?
- What's the connection between conversations?
- Two extreme cases of our human ability to imagine different lives for ourselves. Put virtual reality goggles on rats, and do you know what happens?
- Has somebody done that?
- Yes, a UCLA Professor of Neuro-Physics. He developed needles ten times thinner than a human hair to record the firing of individual neurons.
- And?
- With the VR goggles on, the rat brains' visual centers showed totally anomalous results: forty percent of measured neurons stopped firing completely, the rest of the neurons measured went haywire, as he put it.
- Why?
- These are new results, the neuro-physicist says he isn't ready to offer any explanation.
- But you're ready.
- We've talked about *** how we humans are able to identify with actors in a theater performance, while we sit passively in the audience, how we are similarly able to pacify our own desires, while we submit to those in others who we must serve in our specialized roles in society, as we learn how to give them what we want rather than do what we ourselves want. We have been entering virtual realities for as long as we have been civilized, whether in a drawing or a movie or three dimensional VR. We somehow deal with the disconnection between our own lack of sense of physical motion, and what we witness in made worlds. We can even imagine ourselves in altered worlds, while we feel ourselves remaining inactive in our own. Rats can't do this.
- So in the confusion between what they see and what they fail to feel in their body, their brains shut down or go crazy.
- Here are the lyrics to the Bob Dylan song Things Have Changed I was listening to when my friend, who saw herself his potential successor in the prize, sat down with me:
A worried man with a worried mind
No one in front of me and nothing behind
There's a woman on my lap and she's drinking champagne
Got white skin, got assassin's eyes
I'm looking up into the sapphire tinted skies
I'm well dressed, waiting on the last train
Standing on the gallows with my head in a noose
Any minute now I'm expecting all hell to break loose
People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
This place ain't doing me any good
I'm in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood
Just for a second there I thought I saw something move
Gonna take dancing lessons do the jitterbug rag
Ain't no shortcuts, gonna dress in drag
Only a fool in here would think he's got anything to prove
Lotta water under the bridge, lotta other stuff too
Don't get up gentlemen, I'm only passing through
People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
I've been walking forty miles of bad road
If the bible is right, the world will explode
I've been trying to get as far away from myself as I can
Some things are too hot to touch
The human mind can only stand so much
You can't win with a losing hand
Feel like falling in love with the first woman I meet
Putting her in a wheel barrow and wheeling her down the street
People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
I hurt easy, I just don't show it
You can hurt someone and not even know it
The next sixty seconds could be like an eternity
Gonna get lowdown, gonna fly high
All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie
I'm in love with a woman who don't even appeal to me
Mr. Jinx and Miss Lucy, they jumped in the lake
I'm not that eager to make a mistake
People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed.
And here are the lyrics to the Dylan song I was listening to before, Tight Connection to My Heart:
Well, I had to move fast
And I couldn't with you around my neck.
I said I'd send for you and I did
What did you expect?
My hands are sweating
And we haven't even started yet.
I'll go along with the charade
Until I can think my way out.
I know it was all a big joke
Whatever it was about.
Someday maybe
I'll remember to forget.
I'm gonna get my coat,
I feel the breath of a storm.
There's something I've got to do tonight,
You go inside and stay warm.
Has anybody seen my love,
Has anybody seen my love,
Has anybody seen my love.
I don't know,
Has anybody seen my love?
You want to talk to me,
Go ahead and talk.
Whatever you got to say to me
Won't come as any shock.
I must be guilty of something,
You just whisper it into my ear.
Madame Butterfly
She lulled me to sleep,
In a town without pity
Where the water runs deep.
She said, "Be easy, baby,
There ain't nothin' worth stealin' in here."
You're the one I've been looking for,
You're the one that's got the key.
But I can't figure out whether I'm too good for you
Or you're too good for me.
Has anybody seen my love,
Has anybody seen my love,
Has anybody seen my love.
I don't know,
Has anybody seen my love?
Well, they're not showing any lights tonight
And there's no moon.
There's just a hot-blooded singer
Singing "Memphis in June, "
While they're beatin' the devil out of a guy
Who's wearing a powder-blue wig.
Later he'll be shot
For resisting arrest,
I can still hear his voice crying
In the wilderness.
What looks large from a distance,
Close up ain't never that big.
Never could learn to drink that blood
And call it wine,
Never could learn to hold you, love,
And call you mine.
Dylan sings in the first song of feelings like we might imagine the virtual reality rat as having: things have changed, the world is strange and there's nothing he can do. He's found himself in a world, he sings in Dark Eyes, he can't accept:
Oh, the gentlemen are talking and the midnight moon is on the riverside
They're drinking up and walking and it is time for me to slide
I live in another world where life and death are memorized
Where the earth is strung with lover's pearls and all I see are dark eyes.
A cock is crowing far away and another soldier's deep in prayer
Some mother's child has gone astray, she can't find him anywhere
But I hear another drum beating for the dead that rise
Whom nature's beast fear as they come and all I see are dark eyes.
They tell me to be discreet for all intended purposes
They tell me revenge is sweet, I'm sure it is
But I feel nothing for their game, where beauty goes unrecognized
All I feel is heat and flame, and all I see are dark eyes.
Oh, the French girl, she's in paradise and a drunken man is at the wheel
Hunger pays a heavy prize to the falling god of speed and steel
Oh, time is short and the days are sweet and passion rules the arrow that flies
A million faces at my feet but all I see are dark eyes.
- But in Tight Connection To My Heart our laureate is willing to take on the strange world of the other songs, the imagined world become real and a trap, he stops being passive to "their game where beauty goes unrecognized", and goes out and sees what he can do. He asks, Has anybody seen my love? knowing he still has a tight connection to her heart: he can leave her behind in the audience tied to her by his love, and move with the actors on the stage, but do this in his real life creating real worlds as he goes.
* Rebecca Solnit, The London Review Of Books
** More Adventures In Trumpland
*** The Show

Epilog: Close Elections & The Fashion Business

- Fashion: remember our definition?
- Uniformity and revolt together.
- Too many people wearing the same uniform, and the new style doesn't seem very revolutionary anymore. Too revolutionary, not enough people adopt the new fashion and it doesn't become a uniform.
- Why should revolutionaries want to wear a uniform?
 Because they are revolutionary only in the choice of role.  They must have one role or another. They don't want to stand out alone.
- Ok.
- Fashion is a tool of monopoly economics.
- Why?
- Because of the power of advertising. Advertising is the deliberate creation of fashion. The more advertising, the more the sense of uniform community created around the product being sold, and the more the product can be sold as a revolutionary improvement. Do you follow?
- Yes.
- The techniques of selling fashion can be applied to selling political candidates to voters. Some basic uniform is produced, a simple story of how life should be lived. For Republicans, it is small government and individuality, for Democrats, a fair and caring society. These ideas are sold as revolutionary, constantly threatened by the encroachments of the opposite party. Have you ever wondered why the Presidential elections are often so close?
- I've assumed it was because both sides are using the same techniques of persuasion and are equally good at it.
- That's what I first thought.
- Not anymore?
- I think that like in advertising fashions, political persuasion comes up against a natural limit: a too successful campaign, throwing a uniform on too many people, stops delivering the thrill of being in revolt.
- So the less successful campaign recovers and gains a more equal position.
- Yes.
- I never thought of it that way before. But if you are right why do monopolies arise?
- The goal of business is not making or selling products, but profit. Competition is eliminated by mergers, buyouts, underpricing, government subsidies, exclusive agreements with suppliers and distributors. Customers of monopolies don't get to vote.