Friday, February 23, 2018

Why We Can't Let You Go

Harvard shield wreath.svg

(Continued From The Situation In Catalonia)

- To return to Catalonia...
- Yes?
- Catalan politicians advocate independence, the national government jails them for sedition. Clearly they have broken the law, says the national government, Spain's constitution doesn't allow secession. Catalans argue the constitution is a contract requiring compliance by all parties, and has been broken by the actions taken by the national government. The national government says they say what is the law and not in relation to the constitution.
- They take an athoritarian position. The government has exclusive use of force, relinquished to them by citizens, leaving citizens powerless in relation to the state, in the relation of child to parents. Secession from a state is like a child's running away from home; of course it is forbidden.
- That assumes citizens chose freely to give up their power to the state: that the decision was not extorted from them under threat of violence; and assumes that the descendents of parents who agreed to give up freedom are not to be allowed to make their own decision about their freedom. Can you imagine a reason they should be bound by an hereditary choice?
- None, except the same argument that citizens are always better off giving up power to the state because without the state they will kill each other, so even if citizens were no better than children in relation to the state, there is nothing for them to decide. One decision is enough for eternity. Further: if only the state provides peace to people who, if they hadn't given up their power, would be killing each other, then relations between states, without a similar contract between them giving up the use of force, is war. To allow secession is to allow the creation of an enemy state, and that is not be tolerated.
- So behind the conservative 'respect for the law' there is an authoritarian contempt for the populace, and a readiness to use force to prevent the creation of a rival state.
- Add to that the not inconsiderable importance of economic loss attendant on the secession of a wealthy province.
- Conservatives all over the world are engaged in a battle over these ideas.
- I agree. But they don't respond to the observations we've made here. They don't argue the necessity for an authoritarian state that treats the populace like children. Instead, they argue the benefits of authoritarianism outweigh its costs.
- I'd like to hear those arguments.
- Then look to Harvard University; you'll always find good conservative rhetoric coming out of there. This year one of their professors of psychology* updated with a new book one he wrote six years ago claiming the world is getting less violent, more healthy, better educated, in general, happier.
- What about the 20th Century's hundred million dead in two world wars, the tens of millions who died in famines caused by Mao and Stalin or were outright murdered by them?
- Because there are more people living in democracies, and so far, democracies don't start wars with each other, however authoritarian, though they do, more than ever, start wars with and kill millions of people in non-democracies (Vietnam, Iraq, Afganistan, etc), and because there are so many more people, more than a billion living in a state of slavery to totalitarian China, who live without killing each other longer, the statistics show an improvement.
- So for this Harvard psychologist the authoritarian state is fine, so long as the state finds it to be to its own benefit that the slave citizen is kept healthy and alive.
- The second Harvard professor** is an anthropologist. He claims that the ancient Chinese saw the world, including our own uncontrolled desires, as chaotic, continually escaping attempts to organize it, and the purpose of ritual was to impose an habit of order-making on it. Therefore, he says, it is not correct to see this religion as static and unchanging; it is rather a continual act of creation.
- But unless the rituals themselves are individually chosen and changable, I don't see how how this understanding of Chinese religion shows it to be less static; the only difference is that it places responsibility for keeping the religion going on the individual.
- Yes. It's like the Spanish government saying to the Catalans: You're bad! Don't you know the ritual of our Spanish laws depends on all of us observing and reaffirming them? Don't you see now why we can't let you go? ***

Further Reading:
The Honor Of Thieves
Political & Personal
Real Democracy
_________________
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, & Progress, 2018, S. Pinker 
** The Haunted World of Humanity: Ritual Theory from Early China, 2010, M. Puett
*** See: Spanish Bishops Condemn Catalan Nationalism After Poll Violence, Kropotkin's Are We Good Enough? and Bakunin: "It is said that the harmony and universal solidarity of individuals with society can never be attained in practice because their interests, being antagonistic, can never be reconciled. To this objection I reply that if these interests have never as yet come to mutual accord, it was becausc the State has sacrificed the interests of the majority for the benefit of a privileged minority. That is why this famous incompatibility, this conflict of personal interests with those of society, is nothing but a fraud, a political lie, born of the theological lie which invented the doctrine of original sin in order to dishonor man and destroy his self-respect."

Debt!



- People think you are crazy.
- I know. Explain it to me.
- You talk too long. After twenty seconds of listening the only thought is escape. Also, twenty seconds is the maximum allowable eye contact.
- So I should stop after twenty seconds and ask, are you following me?
- You should give messages, not lectures. Conversation is the wrong place for that.
- I've just given you a lecture on debt lasting two minutes, ten times the maximum length allowable without pain to ears and eyes. Are you willing to....
- What?
- Mandated pause after twenty seconds. Can I go on?
- Yes.
- Debt, David Graeber says in his new book, is a perverted promise.
- Why?
- Thanks for the prompt.
- You're welcome.
- Do you think these rituals of "thank you" and "you're welcome" are there to split up lectures into conversation?
- Don't start any lectures. Why is debt a perverted promise?
- Well, when someone in normal friendly relations gives something to another, there is not necessarily any return expected. The friendly relations are themselves a constant promise.
- Then normal people would soon give everything away and have nothing.
- Only if they were living with abnormal people. Normal people would be making gifts, not as a return, but because they liked making gifts.
- You can't be serious.
- What are these short sentences we are exchanging but gifts to each other? You don't want me to talk too long because it doesn't give you a chance to make your gift to me.
- Maybe.
- You also could be acting on more perverse motives, wish to praise yourself, wish to trick me in some way, wish to hurt me by denying me the chance to do what I love.
- And debt is not allowing people to give away everything?
- Crazy as it sounds, that's right.
- What stops anyone from giving away everything he has and being happy?
- Well, you just gave a perfect example. You insist when I give you my words you be allowed immediately, or within twenty seconds, to give me back words in exchange.
- Go on.
- Thank you.
- You're welcome.
- You make a return for my gift immediately. Since we are not enemies threatening to kill each other, the question is, why insist on it? Why immediate return, why do you owe me or I owe you a debt of return, when return is not demanded at all?
- And?
- It means first that you don't want to wait. You don't believe you live with good people who like making gifts and especially like making gifts to those who have made them gifts. That you are not making a gift at all, but an exchange.
- What's wrong with that?
- In the exchange, your giving away hurts you and your receiving hurts the other. The pain of giving is balanced against the pleasure of receiving in a transaction between enemies.
- And that is why you say it is perverse.
- We calculate how much our words and time speaking cost us and how much we have to gain. We invest our time and effort for making a profit.
- So your lectures seem like stealing our time and we have to escape.
- Yes. When I am everyone's enemy.
- You know I am your friend. I am trying to help you.
- If I am trying to make a gift of my words, but all you want to get from me is my listening to you, to get a special, limited human relation of attention, you pay the cost of listening to me and I am cheating you by talking too long. You refuse the gift. And that puts the relation, again, into that of enemies. People who want to get something limited and defined from someone not lived with and potentially dangerous. Debt is the perverse giving to others in pain and getting from others with pleasure. You can turn around and stop covering your ears. I'm finished.
- You are talking about selfishness, not perversity. Selfishness is normal. It is what you owe yourself, not others. It doesn't have anything to do with what we mean by debt.
- Say you are fighting a war, but want something your enemy has. You call a truce so you can make a deal, you put aside temporarily your preference to use violence and take without giving, at least while you negotiate. Each enemy pretends a temporary peace.
- Why "pretend"?
- Because at every moment of that truce is the threat it will be broken. A debt is exactly this time of threat within truce between enemies: the time between getting back after you have given. Debt is the extension of this situation over time.
- If the person who owes is an enemy why does he pay?
- Because of the threat of violence. Debt is not a relation of people in permanent war with each other. It is of otherwise peaceful people entering into a temporary state of war.
- Then why not just kill and take?
- That happens too. Debt is a less risky alternative. It leaves open the possibility of returning to a separate, peaceful life lived more like between friends, the possibility of both making profit and staying safe. But if over time the debt is not repaid the truce is declared over and force used.
- Debt is the relation of enemies who rather than immediately try to kill each other make a temporary peace treaty.
- Yes. Both parties would prefer to take without giving. The party who succeeds is called the debtor.
- If the one who doesn't pay is the winner, why does everyone think it is bad not to pay?
- The answer is everyone doesn't think that. People think it is good not to pay, when you are under no real threat of violence to force you to pay. Look around you. Governments borrow and don't pay. Banks borrow and don't pay. It is only bad when you feel yourself under constant threat of violence until you do pay. You don't win the game simply by taking and not giving. You win by doing this safely, by getting away with it.
- Is everything you are saying taken from the book by Graeber?
- Yes. But I'm sure he would see it as a gift.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Political & Personal



1.

- Four times now in the past month I've read that our political problems will remain with us until people become more intellectual, less atomized, less party loyal. 
- And you don't think that's true.
- It occurs to me this claim is related to the way liberal politicians keep surprising me with their betrayals. Let me ask you a question. Say our political goal is independence, justice, to be left in peace by others. Why would anyone open himself up to a stranger for the purpose of getting to the goal of a politics which would control strangers to our benefit, allow us to stay closed to strangers? For that is what it means to be more social, more open, more smart about our relations to others, but only for the sake of a political goal, not the relations themselves.
- Putting personal relations in the service of politics, hypocrisy is built in. 
- I wonder. If you ask someone to engage in liberal politics with you so to be left alone, at any moment your political comrade may leave you alone too.
- And that is what you think liberal leaders always do?
- Yes. So I thought then we have start the other way around.
- Which is?
- Like in Plato's Republic, where politics are discussed, not for their own sake, but as a means to improve personal life and understanding. Our leaders betray us, and they always will, so long as they keep asking us to get together only to change our politics, to keep us better apart and safe from each other's crimes. 
- Can you give me an example of discussion of politics made to serve personal understanding?
- Easy, I already have: leaders betraying us after doing the opposite.


2.

-  I'm not saying you're wrong. I think there's some truth in your ideas. Our leaders betray us because they have power and we don't, and they develop class loyalty with those like themselves with power, and see us, the people they lead, as children in their power to be managed as they see fit. I also think there's truth in your argument that our leaders, proposing better ways of keeping us from assaulting and robbing each other, end up keeping themselves in isolation from us too. But...
- But?
- I think the level of discussion is wrong. Put together ideas of class, and efficiency of each of us like a part in a clock to be kept in maximal order and free from damage from the other parts, and what do we get? We get a materialism of selves. We get economics. And economics, as a primary description of human nature, is insane.
- Tell me how.
- Have you ever heard our leaders say that capitalism does not necessarily involve employment by hire? or the hoarding of unused property? That both can be forbidden without challenge to private property and investment?
- Those are anarchist ideas.
- Yes they are. You don't like them? Then add back in employment for hire and hoarding of unused property and you get classic capitalism: the employed are also consumers, and three kinds of insanity arise: first, that of class relations, master to slave.
- The insanity there?
- Of vanity. Thinking that you are a kind of thing, a master, a slave, defined by your repetitive relation to another person seen as a kind of thing.
- Why is that insane?
- Because the power to force a repetition of that relation is felt to be a power over the world as a whole, when in fact maintaining that relation results in less power, blindness and ignorance of the world outside of the relation between classes.
- Ok. Next.
- The next insanity is the employers' doing for the sake of doing. Endless, pointless, continued pursuit of profit for profit sake. A classic example of compulsive behavior.
- Ok. Next.
- Hallucination in the necessity to create a world in which money creates money, that world where more and more money is needed to fund the slaves' consumption of products at prices higher than their wages.
- Vanity, Compulsion, Hallucination. You've sold me. Our leaders, by promising us a mere economic rearrangement, an alteration in the world of things, are living in a world of insanity, and can't help but fall victim to it themselves.

Further Reading:
Leaders Who Betray
Community

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Honor Of Thieves



- Spain is out to show Catalonia who's boss.* I don't know if this is a stupid question, but why would the leaders of a democracy want to oppress a nationality, a state, an ethnicity? Democracies at least in theory are about equality. Or not?
- Democracies are about equality, but equality always within a limited class.** Democracy is about sharing of power, and political equality is only between those who have power. Democracy has always existed together with unequal, oppressive power relations between classes: rich/poor; men/women; old/young; white/black.
- But democracy, even if it is only equality within a class, in our times at least isn't it progressively making inroads on those class oppressions?
- Until the mid-seventies maybe. From then on free-market neoliberalism began to be imposed. Presented as an increase in democracy, it is in fact the reverse.
- How so?
- Protection from regulation of marketplace collusion and monopolization is provided to those who can influence the government in their favor, that is, the very rich and large corporations. For the rest, equal freedom to trade with anyone means in practice being subject to the unrestricted manipulations of the market on the part of the rich and large corporations. For most, free trade results in being less able to sell what they make, and more likelihood they will have to sell themselves by the hour to one of the very companies manipulating the market with the assistance of the government. Political freedom is bought by the rich and the corporations, their money granting them a kind of democratic equal access, while the people are left unprotected, left with a useless freedom to buy and sell subject to gangs of economic predators.
- In our democracies, all sorts of class oppressions are in operation, and if you are right, to participate in a free market means to belong to an a class oppressed by another class, the rich and corporations monopolizing markets with the protection of the government. Free market 'capitalism' instead of promoting democracy, actively works in the opposite direction.
- A sort of paradox. Freedom leads to inequality.
- The second paragraph of the U.S. Declaration Of Independence reads, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness'. In Common Sense, published the same year as the Declaration, Thomas Paine wrote that government is to protect from human misdeeds, society is to further human good nature. Here are Paine's words:
SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.
The equality we look for is a product of society, not government, where it is no more moral than the honor of thieves.
- Put that way, obviously to be equally free of necessary protection of the government is not desirable.
- The confusion about equality arises from a reversal of expectations - the fact that the class receiving equality is the lower class - and from the overlap in classifications. A property owning adult white male may be said to have political equality with other property owning adult white males, and have economic equality as members of the free market, but in one case they are members of a class of superior power, and in the other case they are members of a class power is imposed upon. Political equality within their class and superiority to other classes doesn't protect them from economic oppression in the free market by the more powerful class supervising it.

Further Reading:
Real Democracy
__________________________
The Situation In Catalonia
** Samuel Johnson, on American demands for independence: "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" Slaves made up 20% of the population of early 18th century New York City.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Situation In Catalonia

Coat of arms of Catalonia

- Since you're there, tell me, what's happening in Catalonia?
- The state, or "autonomous community", of Catalonia sought to hold a referendum on the question of independence from Spain. Spain forbid the referendum, declaring it illegal, as the constitution (like most) does not allow succession. Spain sent the national police to try to stop the voting, injuring many people in the process. The vote was in favor of independence. The Catalonia legislature declared independence. Spain cried: Sedition! arrested many members of the Catalonia government, and utilizing a provision of the constitution took over direct control of the Catalan government. The president, with a Spanish arrest warrant in his name, remains safe from arrest in Belgium. Spain ordered new elections in Catalonia. A separatist majority was the result as in the previous election, and the same president the choice. Spain says Catalonia can't have a "fugitive" as president, and says it will arrest him if he tries to return to Catalonia.*
- And what is it all about?
- Ferran Requejo,** a professor of politics in Barcelona, says there are three good reasons for succession when the constitution doesn't freely allow it: there is good cause, a sort of breech of the contract the constitution establishes; a nationality or minority is oppressed culturally or economically; or the will of the people is expressed by vote to leave. Spain's neoliberal policies have blocked Catalan attempts to take care of the poor;*** Spain has limited the use of the Catalan language in schools; Catalonia transfers consistently more taxes to the national government than it gets back; and the national government has used violence attempting to stop voting in Catalonia, and now arrested members of the Catalan government.
- And what does the national government say?
- That they are enforcing the law. Requejo argues that by Spain's violence, economic and cultural oppression, the contract made by the constitution has been broken so a declaration of independence cannot be "sedition". It's a way of Catalonia saying to Spain, 'If you are independent of your obligations to us, we are independent of you.'
- So it's not about nationalism?
- The president says no. Anyone, he says, can be a Catalan.
- The Catalans are oppressed but there is no Catalan nation.
- In fact, that is right. Do you want to talk about this?
- I do.
- The subject is "class". A class is a group, a collection of individuals.
- With something in common.
- Yes, and no. The something in common may be only that each in the class is treated the same way by each in another class. In the theory of moral decline from the practice of agriculture, the repetitive acts of farming, producing grain after grain, leads to a sense of power, security in the ability to perform the same actions. As the grain is seen as the instrument of safety and power, other human beings come to be seen in the same way. They get put into the class, "people who can be repetitively acted upon in a certain way," by other people who alike act upon them in that way. Do you follow?
- Yes.
- Capitalism can be seen as an instance of this, with the repetitive act of seeking profit become an end in itself, and classes of people being made the tool of the profit making class.
- Profits are counted. Vanity, security, sense of power results. Classes of people made into the instrument of that repetitive action.
- Yes. Now the actions of class on class tend to overwhelm all other human relations. The profit making classes compete with each other to achieve monopoly status: the greatest possible number of repetitions, of actions class on class, with the greatest safety; capitalists can't stop seeking more profit without losing position to other capitalists in the race to monopoly. Should they try to stop they find they no longer have capacity or opportunity to do anything else: the relation master to servant of the profit making class to the class of their tools is destructive of other human relations which are not repetitive and do not seek power and security.
- The argument of Aristotle that profit making could only not be harmful if it was done for the advantage of the household, and not for its own sake.
- Exactly. So what we find is that capitalism, that is, the class of profit makers, is constantly seeking new classes of people to make into tools. They tend to fall into the category of race, when they are located in the periphery, tend to be described by ethnicity or nationality, when it is a question of one state seeking to take advantage of another, and by class, when within the same state.**** Because in each case the relation is defined by the fact of use by the dominating class, the actual character of the class is not involved. A North African migrant worker can be described racially as black, while having light skin color. A woman is paid less in the United States not because of any weakness, or having any less need for money, but because she is assigned to a class that is to be made use of by another class of people. In the same way, as monopoly progresses, prices are set not by competition but by class relation, producer class to consuming class, with each producer in the class setting price in the same way, leaving consumers no choice but to pay.
- As an English peasant, after public lands had been enclosed, or a worker in the periphery after local agriculture had been destroyed, has no choice but to accept to work in a factory.
- To return now to Catalonia. It can be a reality that class is imposed, without any supposed nature of the class (justifying inferior status as tool) having reality. But sometimes there is reality to the class. Catalonia does have its own language.
- Then the fight in Catalonia is a fight about nationalism?
- That doesn't follow. Aristotle's statement about profit making being allowable when in the service of the household applies to class relations generally: you can defend against an imposition of class relations, without practicing class relations yourself outside your defense.
- Speaking Catalan in your own household is not a class relation.
- Yes.

Further Reading:
Why We Can't Let You Go
Class & Equality
Leaders Who Betray
Zombies, Vampires, Sleepwalkers, Psychopaths, Monopolists
There Is No Conspiracy Because There Are No People
_________________________
* In an annual report on democracies worldwide by British think tank 'Economist Intelligence Unit', in the ranking of 'full democracies' Spain is now last, in 19th place. "The national government’s attempt to stop Catalonia’s illegal referendum on independence on October 1st by force and its repressive treatment of pro-independence politicians have put it at risk of becoming a 'flawed democracy,''' the report states.
** See: Ferran Requejo, Secession theories & processes in plurinational democracies. The Catalan case. In a personal communication, Ferran Requejo expresses himself generally in favor of federation of democracies, -- so long as the federal government acts democratically.
*** "For example, the Spanish constitutional court annulled Catalan Parliament policies including a guaranteed basic income, poverty reduction measures, a tax on nuclear waste and sugarised beverages. More recently, Madrid imposed punitive restrictions on the right of the City of Barcelona to use its budget surplus carry out social projects, and prohibited the housing of refugees in facilities that the City had built for that purpose." (Yanis Varoufakis, DiEM25)
**** Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, Balibar and Wallerstein. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

They Want You Ruined


- Let's talk about money.
- Let's.
- Since the 2008 collapse the government has created over $3 trillion of new money, without producing much inflation. Where did all that money come from? Where did it go to?
- The government "loaned" money to the Federal Reserve Bank or "sold" bonds.  Either way, it made up money and transferred it, on terms of repayment. Easy terms of repayment, because banks can generate many times the amount of money from taking on that debt.
- How?
- They are required to keep only a small percentage of the money they have. The rest they can loan at interest. The money loaned eventually is deposited in another bank, where it too can be loaned, minus the reserve percentage. From bank to bank the money goes, less each time; ultimately many times the original deposit has been loaned.
- Where did the new trillions created go?
- The majority of Americans now have no assets, while banks and corporations are said to have trillions in un-invested cash on hand...
- The money went to the rich.
- A good guess.
- Why doesn't the government simply make up the money?
- This system is thought to be a brake on how much money the government can make up thus helping the money be more worthy of trust. But to get around the brake, all the banks had to do was find a way to bring into the system something like money but not subject to the fractional reserve requirement, and that is what they did with bundles of loans they 'deposit' with, loan to, pass on variously to each other, endlessly circulating and endlessly establishing collateral on the basis of which they loan out more money. Since the 2008 crash they've continued to do this in ever more elaborate ways.
- I understand: as long as banks keep the money circulating among themselves, its multiplication doesn't create inflation in the real economy. But while all this money is being created, isn't an equal amount being owed? Where's the profit?
- The profit accumulates to the rich as fees are charged, interest and salaries paid, stock dividends awarded. When money can be infinitely created those costs are insignificant. A part of the money funds the Federal deficit, a part pays corporations for war supplies, a part goes into the pockets of financiers.
- Won't money lose its value?
- The value of money is tied to what it can buy. Ultimately, its money is accepted because the government has the power to use force to acquire and give in exchange something real.
- I've thought in the past that the so-called austerity policies that crash economies were used to further monopoly by handing over for pennies privatized public property and foreclosed private property, and by undermining small business and self-employment in general. And deliberately crashed economies create a climate of fear authoritarian leaders use to justify repressive policies. Could it also be that punishing, authoritarian posturing is meant as a sign of government willingness to take property, whether the taking is called taxation, penalty, privatization, repossession or confiscation, and whether the taking is more from the poor than the rich, and thus backs up the money supply that otherwise has nothing behind it? Is financial speculation one of a pair with authoritarianism?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Will Pop Science End The World?

     Related image

- I've found something I think you'll like.
- You're getting good at that.
- The Israeli historian Yuval Harari's book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and its sequel have sold more than a million copies. Human beings, its story goes, developed by getting together in large groups, this made possible by a new ability to make up and tell each other fictions. From this innovation, the next was agriculture, which made life more burdensome but facilitated the aforementioned communication. The scientific revolution followed.
- And?
- The story Harari tells is of technological progress, but not necessarily progress in how well life is lived.
- Not a new idea. Technology is in the hands of leaders and increases their power to hold their positions at the expense of everyone else.
- Yes. But, he observes, a social technology, involving human rights, seems to be bringing progress to our times, progress in the scientific sense of a more efficient society. But human rights are fictions like all other stories people tell each other in order to keep on communicating with each other. Science may not be good for us, but we can't say no to whatever efficiency creating story evolution sticks us with. The problem is, Harari thinks that the ruling class of the future will bio-engineer itself into a different species. And with robots making most people obsolescent, and masses no longer needed as slaves or soldiers, the leaders will create their own more efficient fiction that justifies leaving behind everyone else.
- He can't claim this is bad, moral claims are fictions; he can't say it is inefficient, by definition it is. So what's his intention? To scare people? On what basis can he argue it is good to guard the general efficiency of humanity against a future elite's monopolized efficiency?
- Obviously, he can't. His only good is efficiency. From learning how to communicate in lies, to the agricultural and the scientific revolution's misery inducing revolutions, efficiency comes at a high cost.
- But - really, this is a stupid game - unless Harari shows that lives lived less well means inefficiency, our complaining is merely something we say to each other about each other and of no account at all.
- Technology progresses, we distinguish ourselves from other species by our learning to communicate better and form large groups, until finally, maybe, at the end of progress we don't find being in large groups efficient. The human rights fictions will no longer be efficient, and consequently will be abandoned.
- In sum: technological progress creates misery, social ideas to control that misery are false and ultimately will be abandoned relegating the masses to elimination if that is what proves most efficient. A reverse evolution of Homo Sapiens' supposed unique attribute of communication efficiency will have occurred. Why do you think a million people paid money to read this?
- People enjoy being scared - at a distance, playing just pretend, and what can this claim be, in the logic of the argument, but another fiction? But here's what I'll think you'll like. If the human species is reverse evolving itself out of its species-specific efficiency of communication, then we will be becoming literally idiots, in the entomological meaning from the Greek idiōtēs, private person. Harari recently wrote an article for a newspaper claiming that we are relatively safe from a future major war because it doesn't pay these days for big countries to fight wars. But, he concludes, you can't underestimate human stupidity. Yet why should leaders care if their county's whole population dies so long as they and friends don't? Technological progress of the kind predicted, bringing with it a species regression in communication, means they won't. They'll be idiots.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Time Of Beauty

Image result for alchemy

(Continued from Birthday & The Man)

- What are coincidences then?
- Reversals. Improbable events reversing expectation of the probable.
- If they are merely improbabilities, why do we feel like they mean something?
- Because we feel like we deserve to expect them.
- Expecting improbability? Improbabilities become probable?
- Yes! I mentioned Amazon last time. I'm want to tell you about my experience with that company. But first let me say I spent all my life avoiding the world Amazon typifies, all my life up until a few years ago. I got out. I ran away. I judged that a good life was improbable in the America of money and only money. And this is what I want to tell you: I was right. All those years of being out, now that I'm in, partly in, I look back on as a time of beauty.
- A time of beauty.
- You object to the phrase?
- How does coincidence fit in?
- Coincidence tells you that your decision based on probability, which after all is all we ever have to go on, was correct.
- 'They' tell you: who is that 'they'? How are coincidences a 'they'?
- We have to decide the must important things in our lives based on probabilities, and sometimes when we do, and are right, improbabilities start assembling themselves; and what I think is they are telling us things are different now, that turning our backs on, calculating probabilities in the world we knew, we were right in how we decided.
- 'They' are telling us?
- As beauty speaks to us: improbability, coincidence is the world getting our attention, notifying us in advance the probability of the return of love. You accept that the world can speak to us with its beauty?
- Yes, I think I do. Reversals of probabilities, when they involve our own lives, are somehow beautiful. Tell me about Amazon.
- A company about money and only money. A company that exists to provide quantities of things cheaper and monopolize markets. Quantity and cheapness has made them the world's largest retailer and granted them monopoly status. Like the products sold, employees are cheap and handled in multitudes. Employee costs in relation to profits are minimal. Computer programs record every movement of every employee, measuring efficiency second by second. But a surprise is in store for you when newly hired you show up to work. No manager is there. You are expected to train yourself by following around the other employees. Amazon has managers, but their salaries are so much greater than yours that it is not efficient for them to show up and manage you. In fact, the managers are managed in the same way themselves, their efficiency controlled by other managers whose own efficiency is monitored by other managers.
- Everyone is watching and no one is managing. How is that efficient?
- Without the monopoly profits it wouldn't be. But as this is a company about money and only money, management is not competent to do anything else. In its surveillance of employees by employees themselves surveilled the company never sees a human being, no manager ever decides like a human being. It's amazing. It's the end of the world. The employees hate the company, hate what they are doing, and have no interest in the other employees they immediately see hate the company and what they are doing. Why bother discussing it with each other?
- You misunderstood me earlier. I wasn't objecting to your 'time of beauty.' I was thinking rather that this kind of, as you put it, listening to the world is something entirely different from probability: it is all or nothing. Similarly, I think you're saying of our world of money it too is an absolute in the way it talks to us. Am I right?
- Yes. Beauty or its opposite: if they address themselves to us even for a moment they spread out in memory and imagination occupying everything there is.
- But still. If you had made an effort and talked to the employees maybe they'd have turned out to have lives just like yours.
- Unlikely. Probabilities are important. Time is limited. It was time to go.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Correspondences


(Continued from Birthday & The Man)

- What we said about Goethe's Elective Affinities,* that it was the opposite of the romantic call to accept passion as opposed to reason I always thought it was, I have to admit is hard for me to accept. I looked back at Goethe's views on nature, and found, in fact, they were in accord with our dismissal of thinking of ourselves as things moved by things, parts moved by parts. For him science was or ought to be like perception: seeing things as a whole, seeing how things were composed. But -
- Yes?
- In Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship there are major religious and mystical elements: a whole separate novel is inserted of a woman who wishes to live entirely in religious feeling; and in the main story there is another woman who has an intimate relation with astronomical movements, with the stars and the planets, with the Cosmos. What do you make of this?
- I'm afraid you'll think I'm joking.
- 'It seems my fate to be in the wrong with you about the smallest things. I must be very good-natured to overlook such an unfailing superiority as yours.' **
- Fine. Jonas, you remember, the author of The Phenomenon Of Life, describes life as an interrelation with the world, involved in the world by feeling its intrusions, and willing in turn to intrude on it, in a constant movement that retains the form of life, with the goal of self preservation through constant remaking of itself. 'Will' and 'feeling' are not, he says, facts about the world: they are not parts of things put in movement against other parts. They involve a sense of direction. That is, they involve a selection between possible arrangements of the world. Freedom of how to speak of the world, how to see the world, arises out of the fixed 'vocabulary' of things come to be known.
- We respond to the world, we feel it, and willing it to take on a preferred arrangement we act on it.
- Yes. The character who is detached from the world in religious feeling can be seen to be, by an act of will, standing back from the world, being 'the knower of the field'. And the character who's in intimate relation to the cosmos, and can perhaps act on it to make it better, that reflects the capacity life has to will the world into shape. Well?
- Here's the thing. Brain scientists, neurophysicists, whatever they are calling themselves now, they imagine they don't feel and don't will. They call mental states epiphenomena. That is, things in a world of parts moving parts but which themselves don't have parts therefore can't be anything. How can people be so stupid? They say they know how to talk about the world and if some part of the world doesn't let them talk that way they say it must not be in the world. Where is it then?
- A good question. Do you know, I think the reason, as you put it, they can be so stupid is that they know the experience of making an error in their conclusions, dumping the bad idea, and backtracking.
- But dumping a bad idea, a logical progression or scheme of classification, is not the same as dumping knowledge of your own experience.
- It is, if you never consider these kinds of questions.
- And they don't.
- They never consider these kind of questions because they can't imagine how the freedom that comes of not having parts acting on each other is related to the lack of freedom in having parts acting on each other.
- Can you?
- Has Goethe given you any ideas?
- Yes and no. Sometimes he seems to believe in meaningful coincidences, fate, a personal destiny, the world taking on a form that suits our will; other times he seems to be making fun of the idea, for example showing that when Wilhelm thought he was pursuing his own way in life actually a secret society had been guiding his fate.
- Try putting that together with Goethe's views on nature.
- The science he said he wanted to do was of making representations, rather than explanations.
- Yes. We know that when science looks for a relation of explanations to each other it looks for whether the parts in one move the parts in the other. What is the relation of representations to each other?
- I don't know.
- What about when we talk?
- Yes, you already said that with a fixed vocabulary we have infinite freedom in ways of combining words into sentences. Representations are kinds of symbols. But how does that solve our problem?
- Our feeling of the world is a perception of the world, of how what we see is composed as a whole, and this knowledge, coming about through our body's response to the world, is unfree, part acting on part. But the will's use of that perception, how it puts it together with other perceptions, is unlimited, like the unlimited way of combining words into sentences. That perception, knowledge, feeling all arise together gives will something to grab hold of, without being tied to, or determined by.
- I can't say I'm convinced.
- Then let's return to Wilhelm Mesiter's Apprenticeship and the strange confusion of fate that is being followed and directed at the same time. The coincidences that occur in the story and Wilhelm thinks are fate but may really have been staged by the benevolent secret society: the staging can be like feeling, the act of the world on us, that is also perception and knowledge, and his impression of fate is his will to make his life his own.
- And why the coincidences?
- They are like words in a sentence that seem to go together, to be representing the world, but where the sentence goes, how it concludes, is up to him. I'll tell you something that happened last night in the courtyard up the street. A very well dressed woman in her late 60s sat down on the bench next to me, first time anyone had done that in the month I'd been going there. I strike up a conversation with her: she takes out a notebook and starts writing down words - in Catalan, French, English - suggested to her by the objects nearby, the color of my thermal flask, the name of the man on the cover of magazine in her lap, the words or subjects from our conversation struggling through bits of many languages. Separating parts of words from each other, these parts she then interpreted and connected to the other words, or their parts. And these words and suggestions were related to her recent experiences, places she had been and the words associated with them or seen there. She makes sure, she says, connections lead her in a positive direction. This was a first coincidence: I'd hours before finished reading Pullman's new fantasy La Belle Sauvage, in which a clockwork (but mysterious exactly how) device, the alethiometer, in response to questions, reads out symbols that yield layer upon layer of interpretations. The elegant woman tells me she wants to write to Amazon, the internet retailer, about something she's discovered. She takes out a metal box of pastilles, on the lid the brand 'Bezos', also the name of Amazon's founder. I tell her that Amazon's grocery delivery service I briefly worked for in L.A. has its Barcelona warehouse occupying the next block's interior courtyard, the block where I'm staying. Another coincidence. And then she, on the subject of these courtyards inside residential blocks, tells me the drug company Beyer which she once worked for, and I too once worked for in Budapest, used to be here in this courtyard before the city cleared it out to be reopened to the public. There I sit every day using the wifi from the Toyota showroom along one side.
- Good thing you don't write novels.
- You'll have to excuse me if my coincidences don't stand up against Goethe's. Like the times we live in they are mostly commercial: objects exchanged as if people involved don't matter, rather than the reverse, exchange of objects that don't matter except in their bringing people together.*** But that only makes it clearer, doesn't it?
- What clearer?
- That the coincidences are objects, parts of things tied to parts of things, meaningless in themselves, freely made use of to make our relation to people better.

Further Reading:
A Time Of Beauty
________________________
* Elective Affinities
** Denis Diderot, 'Supplement to Bougainville's Voyage' (1772)
*** See Marcel Mauss

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Elective Affinities



(Continued From Birthday & The Man)

- This talk of science, individuality, society, is putting me out, putting me off. I can't even talk.
- Sure you can.
- An individual's life ought to be naturally, reasonably, intelligently worked into society. Making the different parts involved and how they relate to each other the subject of conversation doesn't begin to tell me how to do that.
- What does?
- Stories of people trying.
- I'm listening.
- We've looked at Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship.* Goethe's last novel, according to him his best and requiring three readings for full comprehension, was Elective Affinities. The title refers to an account of the way two chemical elements that are compounded together, in the presence of another compound of two elements, each of the two joined elements separates, and each of the two parts of each compound joins instead to one of the two parts of the other compound.
- The compounds separate only to combine with the separated elements of the other compound.
- Yes. At the beginning of the story the chemical dance of changing partners comes up in conversation, with obvious application to present company: the rich aristocrat Eduard, his wife Charlotte, the Eduard's friend the Captain who's come to stay, and his wife's absent, but under consideration for invitation, protege Ottilie. Charlotte immediately observes such application would be an unrealistic simplification.
- Which is Goethe's position?
- We'll get there. An aristocrat, it is said in Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, must make a show of good breeding, but need not actually have it and consequently usually doesn't. Eduard and his wife in Elective Affinities had both made previous marriages of convenience, though they were in love with each other even then, and only the death of both their spouses allowed them ten years later to marry.
- Marriages of convenience evidence of living more for show than natural impulse.
- Yes. Now it comes to pass that Eduard falls in love with the invited Ottilie, his wife to a lesser extent with the Captain. All four characters have the syllable 'ott' in their names: the Captain's name is Otto, that is also one of Eduard's names, his wife's name is Charlotte, and then there's Ottilie. We said about science that it relates classes of parts of things to classes of parts of things. The parts of things in the class are treated as if they were identical, varying from each other only in place or movement. In tableau vivants organized at the castle living people enact famous pictures, according to the narrator improving upon them but leaving an uneasy feeling in the audience: the living have become 'elements' in the picture, parts of themselves that have their being among parts of other people and the background of the scene presented.
- What's Goethe's point? Eduard and his wife were proper aristocrats, making a show of good breeding. Then, when opportunity arises and love interests more to their taste arrive, they - again? - in acting on their passion are merely putting on a show, they've lowered themselves to the status of elements of a picture? They're all instances of "otts", are drops of chemicals, dabs of paint?
- So it would seem. The prime activity of Eduard, his family, his friends, and employees is remaking the extensive grounds of the castle into parkland, drawing out its beauty, making it a show of itself. The characters live in a strict hierachy: Eduard is served by his wife, she by her protege Ottilie, Ottilie by her own protege and numerous servants, and below them all: the poor. Special police are employeed to keep beggers away from the family and friends' elaborate celebrations of birthdays, that is, their shows to the glory of themselves and their 'quality'.
- How does the story end?
- To be guilty of a simplification like the analogy of elective affinities itself: Ottilie and Eduard each die of being unable to accept appearances of themselves. Ottilie resists breaking up Eduard and Charlotte's marriage; taking on the daily care of the newly delivered, surprise child of that marriage, her carelessness leads to its accidental death by drowning. She stops talking; then stops eating and dies. Eduard, seeing himself without her as permanently bereaved, is found dead in his chair.
______________________
* Romantic Lives

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Birthday & The Man

Goethe (Stieler 1828).jpg

1.

- Correct me if I'm wrong, but we both really like the novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, despite not liking, or rather, not being interested in its author.
- Go on.
- Wilhelm believes in the romantic life of following desire and chance where they lead. To more responsible parties that involves treating unexamined desires as necessity, and letting chance lead you into radical improvidence, into failure to secure the minimum practical necessities of life.
- 'For if we do not know our environment, we shall mistake our dreams for a part of it, and so spoil our science by making it fantastic, and our dreams by making them obligatory.'  George Santayana.
- Interesting quote, but I don't want to go in that direction. Wilhelm's problem is not reality, or even fantasy.
- What is Wilhelm's problem?
- Whether there can be an art to life, whether life as a whole can be a work of art.
- In his other works Goethe suggests instead that life is a matter of will, of reiterated and left behind bouts of creativity.
- But in this novel things are more complex. The argument is made that a secure foundation, a family, or a patron, or a society of friends, is required to take care of necessities whereupon chance can be followed, and become the basis of creative response, whether in life or in art. Wilhelm's actress-mistress assumes such a necessity of secure foundation, understands the insecurity of Wilhelm's intended life in the theater, and at the end of the novel it is revealed that at least partly the romantic sequence of supposed chance events has been a secret society's show produced to educate Wilhelm.
- Educate him to the importance of security upon which rely episodes of creative response to life, with life not having meaning as a whole.
- Except that what is so wonderful about the novel is that it gives exactly the opposite impression, of the romantic life of chance having meaning. Wilhelm is, unbeknownst to him, living within a show put on by secret friends, but he, within that show, acquires for himself an adoptive family, a boy and a girl.
- Creativity is not just in responding to chance, but in choosing the conditions of necessity. The society of friends adopt him, he adopts the children.
- Yes. What do you think?
- I'm thinking.
- The question hits close to home.
- In my experience, in finding the chosen foundation in the midst of romance, and so solving the problem of arbitrariness of chance, practical necessity is neglected and the whole falls apart.
- Where does that leave us?
- In great difficulty. Wilhelm explains to busnessman Werther: 'How immensely, dear friend, do you err in believing that a work, the first presentation of which is to fill the whole soul, can be produced in broken hours scraped together from other extraneous employment. No: the poet must live wholly for himself, wholly in the objects that delight him. Heaven has furnished him internally with precious gifts; he carries in his bosom a treasure that is ever of itself increasing; he must also live with this treasure, undisturbed from without, in that still blessedness which the rich seek in vain to purchase with their accumulated stores.' A family or patron must be found to take care of practical necessity, on which basis you can seek your own chosen family, in relation to, love and care for which, your episodic creative use of chance has its meaning.
- Problem solved.
- If your problem is writing a novel in which these ideas are explored. If your life as an artist is a series of such willful acts of reiterated creativity.
- But that is not the idea in this novel.
- No. If your problem is putting these ideas into effect, not merely in art, but in your life, unless you were born to the necessary conditions you have to rely on chance to create them. You must become a romantic against your will.


2.

- Happy birthday.
- Thanks. Sometimes after passing through periods of your life when you hardly recognize yourself you wonder if it is your life you are leading and not a set of inconsistent lives going on under your name.
- Certain philosophers say that ego or sense of self is an illusion; we are in constant change; we are like a nation, citizens of which change constantly. What gives us an idea of self is no more than physical and mental continuity.
- And you believe that?
- No. You don't either.
- Then what do you believe makes a self, allows a life to have consistency, even in periods where your life hardly can be recognized?
- Consciousness.
- Consciousness comes and goes with sleep and accident, and has different degrees.
- Comes and goes, yes; no, different degrees. Degree reflects only how far consciousness has gone, or not.
- Explain.
- Computer scientists look for consciousness on the model of one part of the brain looking on and modifying another, but that's not it. Consciousness is a relation of rest to activity; a standing outside of time and space, looking down on the actions of the past.
- The "Knower of the Field", as the Bhagavad Gita has it.
- Yes. Unlike the self, which is nothing but a mix of experiences, perceptions, and desires, a special kind of consciousness, the consciousness of good, immediately reestablishes connection after a break.
- How exactly?
- You know Kant's way of founding morality?
- Remind me.
- Being moral is doing what we all, if we were rational, would agree to do.
- And why should we care to follow that rule?
- Because we want to more than anything else. Do you know why we want to? (This is not Kant anymore.) Because it places us, in relation to our fellow human beings, in the same relation we are to ourselves in consciousness.
- Again, explain.
- I'm not sure how much I can. You take over.
- You assume I agree with you.
- You do.
- When, knowers of the field, we're detached from desires impelling us to action, the world we see is beautiful, people's action good, statements true; such a world is like the universality of reason in moral judgment that is able to include everyone in its overview. Even in periods like the year I'm coming out of all can be brought together, even if it is related and included only by noting the love that conspicuously was lacking.
- Everything is brought together, seen under the sign of eternity.
- And that is where consciousness goes, when it lessens in degree? Into eternity?
- It comes from nowhere at the beginning of life and goes to nowhere at the end; why not travels also in the middle?
- Are there places of return in nowhere, and other places of no way back?
- 'Places in nowhere!'
- A strange combination of words, but maybe not stranger than the statement we can conclude with: that we are most ourselves when are in agreement with all.


3.
But use of reason, as a means, is compatible with any end, no matter how irrational.*
- I've been reading, thinking. Consciousness, in the perception of beauty, goodness, and truth, solves the problem of seeing ourselves as disparate collections of parts. But, as Hans Jonas* says, isn't consciousness itself what leads us into seeing separate things in relation to each other? Sight, Jonas says, gives to us an instantaneous assembly of different parts ranged from near to far and right to left. Those assemblies of parts are then what science uses experimentally putting them in different relations and giving them a push to see what happens, looking for a regular relation between the assemblies, and that regular relation allows predictions of perceptions. Science comes out of an understanding of what perception is that only the collecting together, seeing all at once, and then standing back from, of consciousness makes possible.
- Science beginning in consciousness of perception. What conclusion do you draw from this?
- First, it was already clearly seen at the beginnings of our civilization in the myth of knowledge bringing a fall, and in Parmenides' view that knowledge of things was an illusion but necessary to be acquired.
- Is there no other way to acquire knowledge?
- There certainly is. It is the way an artist learns to use materials by the use of them, building up habits which bring regular results.
- How is that different from what is done in science?
- It is the thing itself that is being learned, not how arrangements of different things can be made to change. If I want to see whether heavier things fall faster than light things, I put a heavy thing a yard above the ground and let it fall, then do the same with a lighter thing, and see if the elapsed time is the same or not. I haven't learned anything about any individual thing that fell, except that it is a part of a large collection - that of all things - that fall at the same rate.** There is beauty in scientific, artificial perception let's call it, in its truth. But this truth involves the falsity that isolated things exist separate from one another. In fact we learn about the world through intimate repeated contact with it,*** culminating in a sense of beauty which removes the 'thingness' of its parts. Things we learn in this way we resist being destroyed. No so the objects of perceptions that science puts in relation to each other. We do not form bodily habits in responses to classes of things like 'things that fall', they do not build up into a natural perception. The beauty of scientific truth is derivative, resides in its power of recalling to mind actual perceptions of beauty.
- Consciousness gives us the things of science and suggests what to do with them. Scientific perceptions are different from personal perceptions: they aren't beautiful so we don't inordinately care about them. Is that a problem?
- Absolutely! Because, as we talked about last time, personal knowledge and perception easily take on the form of scientific perception. And then we don't know any more who or what we are.
- Then we need only keep the two apart.
- Only! Do we even know if the relation master to slave, dominance to submission isn't the product of consciousness discovering the artifice of scientific perception, perhaps with the beginnings of agriculture? Once hierarchical relations**** are established, nothing is more useful or rather essential than maintaining the priority of artificial perception.*****


4.

Do we even know 'if the relation master to slave, dominance to submission isn't the product of consciousness discovering the artifice of scientific perception, perhaps with the beginnings of agriculture?'
- We don't know, but we have good reasons for thinking so. Pre-literate societies were in general not hierarchical: roles complemented roles, things were directed to those who needed them, people felt connected to each other. One suggestion is that the hunting male's aggression was turned against the female, the old's insecurity and fear against the young. But fear and aggression breaking out when the communal form of society made them unnecessary is what we need to explain, and can't be its cause. Another suggestion is that an inner will to dominate that has always has been present but repressed in human nature finally breaks out. But again: why this break out when dominance had been effectively controlled by the rules of communal society?
- Then perhaps we, like some animals, started practicing dominance rituals, impelled by that inner darkness.
- Same problem: why regress to dominance rituals, when ritual had been turned to sypathetic imitation of nature spirits, making us feel secure by alliance to regularities of nature and seeming by the strength of our security to hold nature to continuing that regularity.
- So what happened?
- Resident, settled agriculture. The practices of hunting and gathering are occasional: they come and go with time of day and season. Resident, settled agriculture is present to us all the time. Technique can be applied continuously.
- And that is like the cycle of modern science, where knowledge gained is immediately applied, observing the results of which new knowledge is gained.
- Yes.  Also, hunting and gathering take us to different places, but our action on the field is on the same field. We see the results of applying the last perception in what we see now before us.
- And that is Jonas' consciousness of perception that makes us aware of parts.
- Yes. The field is no longer something independent, with its own characteristic events, but a thing with separate parts enmeshed in the cycle of our perception and applied knowledge.


5.

- This talk of science, individuality, society, is putting me out, putting me off. I can't even talk.
- Sure you can.
- An individual's life ought to be naturally, reasonably, intelligently worked into society. Making the different parts involved and how they relate to each other the subject of conversation doesn't begin to tell me how to do that.
- What does?
- Stories of people trying.
- I'm listening.
- We've looked at Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. Goethe's last novel, according to him his best and requiring three readings for full comprehension, was Elective Affinities. The title refers to an account of the way two chemical elements that are compounded together, in the presence of another compound of two elements, each of the two joined elements separates, and each of the two parts of each compound joins instead to one of the two parts of the other compound.
- The compounds separate only to combine with the separated elements of the other compound.
- Yes. At the beginning of the story the chemical dance of changing partners comes up in conversation, with obvious application to present company: the rich aristocrat Eduard, his wife Charlotte, the Eduard's friend the Captain who's come to stay, and his wife's absent, but under consideration for invitation, protege Ottilie. Charlotte immediately observes such application would be an unrealistic simplification.
- Which is Goethe's position?
- We'll get there. An aristocrat, it is said in Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, must make a show of good breeding, but need not actually have it and consequently usually doesn't. Eduard and his wife in Elective Affinities had both made previous marriages of convenience, though they were in love with each other even then, and only the death of both their spouses allowed them ten years later to marry.
- Marriages of convenience evidence of living more for show than natural impulse.
- Yes. Now it comes to pass that Eduard falls in love with the invited Ottilie, his wife to a lesser extent with the Captain. All four characters have the syllable 'ott' in their names: the Captain's name is Otto, that is also one of Eduard's names, his wife's name is Charlotte, and then there's Ottilie. We said about science that it relates classes of parts of things to classes of parts of things. The parts of things in the class are treated as if they were identical, varying from each other only in place or movement. In tableau vivants organized at the castle living people enact famous pictures, according to the narrator improving upon them but leaving an uneasy feeling in the audience: the living have become 'elements' in the picture, parts of themselves that have their being among parts of other people and the background of the scene presented.
- What's Goethe's point? Eduard and his wife were proper aristocrats, making a show of good breeding. Then, when opportunity arises and love interests more to their taste arrive, they - again? - in acting on their passion are merely putting on a show, they've lowered themselves to the status of elements of a picture? They're all instances of "otts", are drops of chemicals, dabs of paint?
- So it would seem. The prime activity of Eduard, his family, his friends, and employees is remaking the extensive grounds of the castle into parkland, drawing out its beauty, making it a show of itself. The characters live in a strict hierachy: Eduard is served by his wife, she by her protege Ottilie, Ottilie by her own protege and numerous servants, and below them all: the poor. Special police are employeed to keep beggers away from the family and friends' elaborate celebrations of birthdays, that is, their shows to the glory of themselves and their 'quality'.
- How does the story end?
- To be guilty of a simplification like the analogy of elective affinities itself: Ottilie and Eduard each die of being unable to accept appearances of themselves. Ottilie resists breaking up Eduard and Charlotte's marriage; taking on the daily care of the newly delivered, surprise child of that marriage, her carelessness leads to its accidental death by drowning. She stops talking; then stops eating and dies. Eduard, seeing himself without her as permanently bereaved, is found dead in his chair.


6.

- What we said about Goethe's Elective Affinities, that it was the opposite of the romantic call to accept passion as opposed to reason I always thought it was, I have to admit is hard for me to accept. I looked back at Goethe's views on nature, and found, in fact, they were in accord with our dismissal of thinking of ourselves as things moved by things, parts moved by parts. For him science was or ought to be like perception: seeing things as a whole, seeing how things were composed. But -
- Yes?
- In Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship there are major religious and mystical elements: a whole separate novel is inserted of a woman who wishes to live entirely in religious feeling; and in the main story there is another woman who has an intimate relation with astronomical movements, with the stars and the planets, with the Cosmos. What do you make of this?
- I'm afraid you'll think I'm joking.
- 'It seems my fate to be in the wrong with you about the smallest things. I must be very good-natured to overlook such an unfailing superiority as yours.' ******
- Fine. Jonas, you remember, the author of The Phenomenon Of Life, describes life as an interrelation with the world, involved in the world by feeling its intrusions, and willing in turn to intrude on it, in a constant movement that retains the form of life, with the goal of self preservation through constant remaking of itself. 'Will' and 'feeling' are not, he says, facts about the world: they are not parts of things put in movement against other parts. They involve a sense of direction. That is, they involve a selection between possible arrangements of the world. Freedom of how to speak of the world, how to see the world, arises out of the fixed 'vocabulary' of things come to be known.
- We respond to the world, we feel it, and willing it to take on a preferred arrangement we act on it.
- Yes. The character who is detached from the world in religious feeling can be seen to be, by an act of will, standing back from the world, being 'the knower of the field'. And the character who's in intimate relation to the cosmos, and can perhaps act on it to make it better, that reflects the capacity life has to will the world into shape. Well?
- Here's the thing. Brain scientists, neurophysicists, whatever they are calling themselves now, they imagine they don't feel and don't will. They call mental states epiphenomena. That is, things in a world of parts moving parts but which themselves don't have parts therefore can't be anything. How can people be so stupid? They say they know how to talk about the world and if some part of the world doesn't let them talk that way they say it must not be in the world. Where is it then?
- A good question. Do you know, I think the reason, as you put it, they can be so stupid is that they know the experience of making an error in their conclusions, dumping the bad idea, and backtracking.
- But dumping a bad idea, a logical progression or scheme of classification, is not the same as dumping knowledge of your own experience.
- It is, if you never consider these kinds of questions.
- And they don't.
- They never consider these kind of questions because they can't imagine how the freedom that comes of not having parts acting on each other is related to the lack of freedom in having parts acting on each other.
- Can you?
- Has Goethe given you any ideas?
- Yes and no. Sometimes he seems to believe in meaningful coincidences, fate, a personal destiny, the world taking on a form that suits our will; other times he seems to be making fun of the idea, for example showing that when Wilhelm thought he was pursuing his own way in life actually a secret society had been guiding his fate.
- Try putting that together with Goethe's views on nature.
- The science he said he wanted to do was of making representations, rather than explanations.
- Yes. We know that when science looks for a relation of explanations to each other it looks for whether the parts in one move the parts in the other. What is the relation of representations to each other?
- I don't know.
- What about when we talk?
- Yes, you already said that with a fixed vocabulary we have infinite freedom in ways of combining words into sentences. Representations are kinds of symbols. But how does that solve our problem?
- Our feeling of the world is a perception of the world, of how what we see is composed as a whole, and this knowledge, coming about through our body's response to the world, is unfree, part acting on part. But the will's use of that perception, how it puts it together with other perceptions, is unlimited, like the unlimited way of combining words into sentences. That perception, knowledge, feeling all arise together gives will something to grab hold of, without being tied to, or determined by.
- I can't say I'm convinced.
- Then let's return to Wilhelm Mesiter's Apprenticeship and the strange confusion of fate that is being followed and directed at the same time. The coincidences that occur in the story and Wilhelm thinks are fate but may really have been staged by the benevolent secret society: the staging can be like feeling, the act of the world on us, that is also perception and knowledge, and his impression of fate is his will to make his life his own.
- And why the coincidences?
- They are like words in a sentence that seem to go together, to be representing the world, but where the sentence goes, how it concludes, is up to him. I'll tell you something that happened last night in the courtyard up the street. A very well dressed woman in her late 60s sat down on the bench next to me, first time anyone had done that in the month I'd been going there. I strike up a conversation with her: she takes out a notebook and starts writing down words - in Catalan, French, English - suggested to her by the objects nearby, the color of my thermal flask, the name of the man on the cover of magazine in her lap, the words or subjects from our conversation struggling through bits of many languages. Separating parts of words from each other, these parts she then interpreted and connected to the other words, or their parts. And these words and suggestions were related to her recent experiences, places she had been and the words associated with them or seen there. She makes sure, she says, connections lead her in a positive direction. This was a first coincidence: I'd hours before finished reading Pullman's new fantasy La Belle Sauvage, in which a clockwork (but mysterious exactly how) device, the alethiometer, in response to questions, reads out symbols that yield layer upon layer of interpretations. The elegant woman tells me she wants to write to Amazon, the internet retailer, about something she's discovered. She takes out a metal box of pastilles, on the lid the brand 'Bezos', also the name of Amazon's founder. I tell her that Amazon's grocery delivery service I briefly worked for in L.A. has its Barcelona warehouse occupying the next block's interior courtyard, the block where I'm staying. Another coincidence. And then she, on the subject of these courtyards inside residential blocks, tells me the drug company Beyer which she once worked for, and I too once worked for in Budapest, used to be here in this courtyard before the city cleared it out to be reopened to the public. There I sit every day using the wifi from the Toyota showroom along one side.
- Good thing you don't write novels.
- You'll have to excuse me if my coincidences don't stand up against Goethe's. Like the times we live in they are mostly commercial: objects exchanged as if people involved don't matter, rather than the reverse, exchange of objects that don't matter except in their bringing people together.******* But that only makes it clearer, doesn't it?
- What clearer?
- That the coincidences are objects, parts of things tied to parts of things, meaningless in themselves, freely made use of to make our relation to people better.


7.

- What are coincidences then?
- Reversals. Improbable events reversing expectation of the probable.
- If they are merely improbabilities, why do we feel like they mean something?
- Because we feel like we deserve to expect them.
- Expecting improbability? Improbabilities become probable?
- Yes! I mentioned Amazon last time. I'm want to tell you about my experience with that company. But first let me say I spent all my life avoiding the world Amazon typifies, all my life up until a few years ago. I got out. I ran away. I judged that a good life was improbable in the America of money and only money. And this is what I want to tell you: I was right. All those years of being out, now that I'm in, partly in, I look back on as a time of beauty.
- A time of beauty.
- You object to the phrase?
- How does coincidence fit in?
- Coincidence tells you that your decision based on probability, which after all is all we ever have to go on, was correct.
- 'They' tell you: who is that 'they'? How are coincidences a 'they'?
- We have to decide the must important things in our lives based on probabilities, and sometimes when we do, and are right, improbabilities start assembling themselves; and what I think is they are telling us things are different now, that turning our backs on, calculating probabilities in the world we knew, we were right in how we decided.
- 'They' are telling us?
- As beauty speaks to us: improbability, coincidence is the world getting our attention, notifying us in advance the probability of the return of love. You accept that the world can speak to us with its beauty?
- Yes, I think I do. Reversals of probabilities, when they involve our own lives, are somehow beautiful. Tell me about Amazon.
- A company about money and only money. A company that exists to provide quantities of things cheaper and monopolize markets. Quantity and cheapness has made them the world's largest retailer and granted them monopoly status. Like the products sold, employees are cheap and handled in multitudes. Employee costs in relation to profits are minimal. Computer programs record every movement of every employee, measuring efficiency second by second. But a surprise is in store for you when newly hired you show up to work. No manager is there. You are expected to train yourself by following around the other employees. Amazon has managers, but their salaries are so much greater than yours that it is not efficient for them to show up and manage you. In fact, the managers are managed in the same way themselves, their efficiency controlled by other managers whose own efficiency is monitored by other managers.
- Everyone is watching and no one is managing. How is that efficient?
- Without the monopoly profits it wouldn't be. But as this is a company about money and only money, management is not competent to do anything else. In its surveillance of employees by employees themselves surveilled the company never sees a human being, no manager ever decides like a human being. It's amazing. It's the end of the world. The employees hate the company, hate what they are doing, and have no interest in the other employees they immediately see hate the company and what they are doing. Why bother discussing it with each other?
- You misunderstood me earlier. I wasn't objecting to your 'time of beauty.' I was thinking rather that this kind of, as you put it, listening to the world is something entirely different from probability: it is all or nothing. Similarly, I think you're saying of our world of money it too is an absolute in the way it talks to us. Am I right?
- Yes. Beauty or its opposite: if they address themselves to us even for a moment they spread out in memory and imagination occupying everything there is.
- But still. If you had made an effort and talked to the employees maybe they'd have turned out to have lives just like yours.
- Unlikely. Probabilities are important. Time is limited. It was time to go.

Further Reading:
Killer Metaphysics
______________________
* The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology, Hans Jonas, 1966.
** "Organism is seen as primarily determined by the conditions of its existence, and life is understood in terms of the organism-environment situation rather than in terms of the exercise of an autonomous nature." Ibid, Second Essay, 'Philosophic Aspects of Darwinism'.
*** "Food cultivation, practiced in a truly ecological sense, presupposes that the agriculturist is familiar with all the features and subtleties of the terrain on which the corps are grown. He must have a thorough knowledge of the physiography of the land, its variegated soils’ — crop land, forest land, pasture land — mineral and organic content, and its microclimate, and he must be engaged in a continuing study of the effects produced by new flora and fauna. He must develop his sensitivity to the land’s possibilities and needs while becoming an organic part of the agricultural situation." (Ecology and Revolutionary Thought, Murray Bookchin, 1964.)
**** Seeing oneself as a thing in a world of things generates fear. As the thing you are is defined in relation to the things other people are, since you as an individual are never interacted with by others or known to yourself, when that relation to others changes, you become invisible to yourself. You have no idea what to expect; fear arises and leads to violent, passionate action on other people seen as things to reestablish relation and thus visibility. Hierarchy is established as other people seen as things are forced into stable relation to you, doing what you decide best reflects back your stability as a thing, your power to maintain relation. See: Noam Chomsky & Mental Things.
***** See: Leaders Who Betray
****** Denis Diderot, 'Supplement to Bougainville's Voyage' (1772)
******* See: Marcel Mauss

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Consciousness, Science, Perception

Image result for schizophrenia

But use of reason, as a means, is compatible with any end, no matter how irrational.*

(Continued from Personal Lives)

- I've been reading, thinking. Consciousness, in the perception of beauty, goodness, and truth, solves the problem of seeing ourselves as disparate collections of parts. But, as Hans Jonas* says, isn't consciousness itself what leads us into seeing separate things in relation to each other? Sight, Jonas says, gives to us an instantaneous assembly of different parts ranged from near to far and right to left. Those assemblies of parts are then what science uses experimentally putting them in different relations and giving them a push to see what happens, looking for a regular relation between the assemblies, and that regular relation allows predictions of perceptions. Science comes out of an understanding of what perception is that only the collecting together, seeing all at once, and then standing back from, of consciousness makes possible.
- Science beginning in consciousness of perception. What conclusion do you draw from this?
- First, it was already clearly seen at the beginnings of our civilization in the myth of knowledge bringing a fall, and in Parmenides' view that knowledge of things was an illusion but necessary to be acquired.
- Is there no other way to acquire knowledge?
- There certainly is. It is the way an artist learns to use materials by the use of them, building up habits which bring regular results.
- How is that different from what is done in science?
- It is the thing itself that is being learned, not how arrangements of different things can be made to change. If I want to see whether heavier things fall faster than light things, I put a heavy thing a yard above the ground and let it fall, then do the same with a lighter thing, and see if the elapsed time is the same or not. I haven't learned anything about any individual thing that fell, except that it is a part of a large collection - that of all things - that fall at the same rate.** There is beauty in scientific, artificial perception let's call it, in its truth. But this truth involves the falsity that isolated things exist separate from one another. In fact we learn about the world through intimate repeated contact with it,*** culminating in a sense of beauty which removes the 'thingness' of its parts. Things we learn in this way we resist being destroyed. No so the objects of perceptions that science puts in relation to each other. We do not form bodily habits in responses to classes of things like 'things that fall', they do not build up into a natural perception. The beauty of scientific truth is derivative, resides in its power of recalling to mind actual perceptions of beauty.****
- Consciousness gives us the things of science and suggests what to do with them. Scientific perceptions are different from personal perceptions: they aren't beautiful **** so we don't inordinately care about them. Is that a problem?
- Absolutely! Because, as we talked about last time, personal knowledge and perception easily take on the form of scientific perception. And then we don't know any more who or what we are.
- Then we need only keep the two apart.
- Only! Do we even know if the relation master to slave, dominance to submission isn't the product of consciousness discovering the artifice of scientific perception, perhaps with the beginnings of agriculture? Once hierarchical relations***** are established, nothing is more useful or rather essential than maintaining the priority of artificial perception.******


2.

- Do we even know 'if the relation master to slave, dominance to submission isn't the product of consciousness discovering the artifice of scientific perception, perhaps with the beginnings of agriculture?'
- We don't know, but we have good reasons for thinking so. Pre-literate societies were in general not hierarchical: roles complemented roles, things were directed to those who needed them, people felt connected to each other. Some suggest that the hunting male's aggression was turned against the female, the old's insecurity and fear against the young. But fear and aggression breaking out when the communal form of society made them unnecessary is what we need to explain, and can't be its cause. Another suggestion is that an inner dominance always has been present in human nature, a fear of domination which finally breaks out. But again: why this break out when dominance had been effectively controlled by the rules of communal society?
- Then perhaps we, like some animals, started practicing dominance rituals, acting on the suggestion of our inner darkness.
- Same problem: why regress to dominance rituals, when ritual had been turned to sypathetic imitation of nature spirits, making us feel secure by alliance to regularities of nature and seeming by the strength of our security to hold nature to continuing that regularity.
- So what happened?
- Resident agriculture. Improving skills in the hunt, in gathering, is occasional: these activities are tied to cycles of day night, the seasons. In resident agriculture, evidence of the success or failure of technique is continuously before us. We can apply our technique continuously.
- And that is like the cycle of modern science, where knowledge gained is immediately applied, observing the results of which new knowledge is gained.
- Yes.  Also, hunting and gathering take us to different places, but our action on the field is on the same field. We see the results of the last perception in what we see now before us.
- And that is Jonas' consciousness of perception that makes us aware of parts.
- Yes. The field is no longer something independent, with its own characteristic events, but a thing with separate parts enmeshed in the cycle of our perception and applied knowledge.

Further Reading:
Killer Metaphysics
______________________
* The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology, Hans Jonas, 1966.
** "Organism is seen as primarily determined by the conditions of its existence, and life is understood in terms of the organism-environment situation rather than in terms of the exercise of an autonomous nature." Ibid, Second Essay, 'Philosophic Aspects of Darwinism'.
*** "Food cultivation, practiced in a truly ecological sense, presupposes that the agriculturist is familiar with all the features and subtleties of the terrain on which the corps are grown. He must have a thorough knowledge of the physiography of the land, its variegated soils’ — crop land, forest land, pasture land — mineral and organic content, and its microclimate, and he must be engaged in a continuing study of the effects produced by new flora and fauna. He must develop his sensitivity to the land’s possibilities and needs while becoming an organic part of the agricultural situation."
(Ecology and Revolutionary Thought, Murray Bookchin, 1964.)
**** The continuous cycle of perception and application of modern science is ugly: beauty is in rest, learning new habits of perception after repeated acts on the world that acts on us; our science never rests, so never presents an immediate world to develop habits of response to.
***** Seeing oneself as a thing in a world of things generates fear. As the thing you are is defined in relation to the things other people are, since you as an individual are never interacted with by others or known to yourself, when that relation to others changes, you become invisible to yourself. You have no idea what to expect; fear arises and leads to violent, passionate action on other people seen as things to reestablish relation and thus visibility. Hierarchy is established as other people seen as things are forced into stable relation to you, doing what you decide best reflects back your stability as a thing, your power to maintain relation. See: Noam Chomsky & Mental Things.
****** See: Leaders Who Betray