Philosophy

Concerning philosophy by school, by behavior, by implication or as a meme.

I think there’s an odd problem waiting for the right wing media who keep desperately trying to officially classify the San Bernardino shootings as Islamic terrorism (because it’s about blaming Obama for terrorism on American soil, get it? So much for not politicizing).

The main killer, the guy, seems to be using Islam as the rationale but really he’s perfectly in the mold of the seething, isolated grudge holder who we’ve seen so often. He’s an unusual new hybrid for Americans: He’s killing because he’s a fucked up jerk, but he’s hitching his wagon to a larger cause, Islam. Of the two issues here I would say it’s more like he did it because he was a fucked up angry jerk. Since he would identify this act as Islamic terrorism though, who am I (or the news media) to argue with him? His stockpiling of weapons and the readiness of his wife to join him in suicide/mass murder indicates a long period of drifting toward this moment.

But if THIS is terrorism then so is the more common garden variety carried out more typically in this country by angry right wing men who have hitched their wagon to anti-abortion or anti government causes. The personality type for these events is a mostly a forgone conclusion. If we can’t register guns maybe we can register bitter, grudge holding bastards. Of course it would just become one more thing on their list of reasons they plan to kill some folks.

I am 100% in favor of calling Islamic terrorism what it is. There are people who balk at the phrase, instantly complaining that it indicts all Muslims. * Of course it doesn’t represent all of Islam…It represents the terrorist side of Islam. In its own way it’s as ridiculous as arguing with the phrase “Islamic charities” because not all Muslims are charitable! This is simply using words meaningfully, to describe what something in particular is.

I would like to extend this logic though. When we have an act of right wing terrorism let’s call it loud and clear. When we have an act of left wing terrorism let’s call it loud and clear. We haven’t had an ongoing issue of left wing terrorism in this country since the sixties but we do have a chronic right wing terror problem. And for some reason it’s virtually taboo to state this fact. That reason of course is that the American news media are made of entirely of jelly and kissing up to power. To protect their commercial revenue and increasingly meaningless “access” they keep within the lines approved of by those they report on.

Truth in naming is notable for its absence in most public conversations. But I would adore hearing Bill O’Reilly say “Another act of right-wing terrorism” (I got your “no spin” right here, pal). Potentially some acts should even be called Christian terrorism if the rationale put forward by the perpetrators has some Christian theological justification.

But somehow I don’t think the right wing media is going to start calling it that.

— Update: It’s come out that in their online courtship the two killers shared an interest in martyrdom and prepared for an attack far in advance.

 


*(Honestly, the left is SO concerned with being nice and not offending anyone that they virtually become BFFs with the some of the most regressive, hidebound, anti-woman, anti-gay theology on the planet. But that is another topic.)

 

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Some humans can live as wild and solitary as tigers. Humans can live as isolated families miles from their neighbors. They can live in tribes, villages, clan groups, small towns, cities and mega-cities. Humans are not infinitely adaptable but they are capable of many different modes of existence. It’s well known that these different life styles operate under different rules. Neighborliness and charity for example, are different things when surrounded by ten, ten thousand or ten million people.  

If you live in a town of two hundred people and you see a person broken down beside the road, well first of all, you know them! If you don’t know them directly, they most likely know someone you know. But even if not, it’s likely that they will be approached and given aid. So there is this appearance of a warm generosity. On the downside of course is the famous way that small town folks know each other’s business TOO much…there’s the sense that you can’t reinvent yourself, you can’t break free of everyone’s conclusions about you. Rather like the whole town had become a kind of extended family, uncomfortably defining you. 

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“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”  Hamlet, scene ii

 An Odd Revelation

When I was a college boy many, many years ago I saw a cat.
I saw a cat and the cat was acting like a cat.
The cat was catlike and there was nothing about it that was anything BUT catlike.  

This was a revelation and like most revelations it loses practically everything in the translation from shimmering vision to paragraph in black and white. 

 He was stalking and playing and being curious and easily startled and all sorts of catty things that anyone could predict. What filled me with awe was the fact that this cat had a nature and that he could do nothing that was not of a piece with that nature. The word nature comes from the Greek natura meaning “essential qualities, innate disposition” and that is the sense in which I mean this. I saw that cat as an expression of the essence of “catness” but not as some platonic ideal, I saw it as an instance of a running program. The program “Cat” existed in millions of instances all over the surface of the earth and I was watching a single instance of it having a nice moment in the Florida sunshine. Continue reading

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I think there is a continuum of cruelty. But cruelty may be the wrong word; if I stick to the letter C I might pick coldness or convenience. It’s about whether other people are real or not. Dehumanizing begins in a perception and then reveals itself in actions. I’m starting in the coldest spot I can find and working toward “room temperature” because of the perspective it offers.

Murder is scorn for the very existence of another. It may be for hate or profit or amusement but the exchange is based on a “good for me” foundation that takes EVERYTHING from the other for our profit. Raymond Chandler said that murder was “infinite cruelty” because you aren’t just taking everything a person has, you are taking everything they ever would have had. Whether it’s a robber in an alley or a spouse killing because divorce is too hard, it comes to the other being an inconvenience. This has to be because the other person is already seen as “something in the way”. 

 Slavery is scorn for the life and aspirations of another. It is based on a “good for me” foundation that takes everything from the other while harnessing their energy and abilities for our profit: Essentially it is a form of parasitism. Slavery is “murder lite”. If murder is “infinite cruelty” then slavery must be only a certain number of steps removed. They are visible on the same spectrum of coldness. You have taken what they had and what they would have had, but left them alive to see the sky and think their thoughts. 

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It occurs to me that the most basic refutation of Ayn Rand is what would happen if all people everywhere were passionate “objectivists” (her incredibly self congratulatory name for her “system”). It would be a planet of arrogant lizards hissing at each other.

Rand’s philosophy requires  a world pre-populated with the rich and poor already in place so she can align herself with the one and spit on the other. Her own lifestyle, the one she oddly evangelized, requires losers to step on and revile. Besides communists and such though, these losers include everyone who shows some societal concerns and compassion. It includes mother love, family love, friendship and any impulse toward generosity. Ayn Rand produced only one consumable that anyone would pay for: That product is a greasy lotion to be rubbed upon the rich which leaves them with a golden glow of complete comfort and satisfaction with the status quo. It has a secondary property of encouraging some people who aren’t rich to assert their complete justification in behaving as assholes any time they feel like it. As a totally selfish asshole, Rand realized that a product niche existed and she could fill it very lucratively. The delicious malicious truth is that in her purest, most “objective” thinking she is utterly dependent upon other people after all, the boring, needy, prosaic people she despised. Her “philosophy/literature” is the artistic portrait of a furious toddler foot stamping or a mean teenage sister with no friends who calls everyone “loser”.


 

And as an addendum to the “hissing lizards” idea: Thomas Paine on the subject of “You didn’t build that all by yourself”– “Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land originally. Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.” -Agrarian Justice Part Three

 


One of my favorite philosophers, Robert Anton Wilson on meeting Ayn Rand: “The first new dogmatism I embraced after rejecting the Marxist BS (belief system) was Ayn Rand’s philosophy (not yet called Objectivism in those days.) The Fountainhead had exactly the appeal for me that it has retained, decade after decade, with alienated adolescents of all ages. (The average youthful reader of Thus Spake Zarathustra decides he is the Superman, and the average youthful Randroid decides she is an Alienated Super Genius.) Like most Randroids, I went around for a few years mindlessly parroting all the the Rand dogma and imagining I was an ‘individualist.’ “Some years later, after becoming a published writer, I actually was invited to meet Ayn Rand once. (I was ‘summoned to the Presence,’ as Arlen said.) I confessed my doubts about certain Rand dogmas and was Cast Out Into the Darkness forever to wail and gnash my teeth in the Realm of Thud. It was weird. I thought the Trots and Catholic priests were dogmatic, but Ayn Rand made both groups look like models of tolerance by comparison. “I thought she was a clinical paranoid. It was nearly 30 years later that I found out Rand was merely on Speed all the time, which creates an effect so much like paranoia that even trained clinicians cannot always tell the difference, and some even claim there is no difference.”

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There is no “idea” or blueprint of a hive. No ant works or dies “for the hive” No ant is sentient though there is a localized being with some flexibility of response. Scientists have observed a range of “personality” types or at least behavioral types. Some ants are lazy. Some are even by ant standards, dumb.  No ant thinks of the past or future.

In 100 million years no ant has ever imagined or thought of a hive. There is no hive except through the combined actions of essentially unconscious operators. And yet, operational responses to various situations flow naturally with seemingly coordinated group efforts to collect food, care for larva, fight off enemies and rebuild walls. What the hell is the model in the brain of a worker ant rebuilding a broken wall that says: “OK, I’m done.” ?

The hive is the emergent whole of its tiny individual parts. It doesn’t exist without them and they don’t exist without it.

What are you a tiny constituent of? What emerges from variations of YOU multiplied a million times? Can you see it? Can you think of it?

T93vqKV

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Meet Your Professors!

All across the United States public college systems have adopted a system of having a tiny minority of full time teachers and an overwhelming majority of part timers (“adjunct” “transient” “contingent” Smell the euphemisms?).

1. We do not receive equal pay for equal work
2. We face teaching caps, limits to how much we CAN work because then we would cross a barrier to a better pay and benefit scale.
3. Many receive no benefits, those who do, lose them if their workload drops from 50% to 49%.
4. We have no job security, quarter to quarter employment is luck and relationships.
5. If we have the bad luck to become unemployed, we receive no unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile of course the college is FULL of administrators, office workers, and support staff all of whom have more security and respect than us. The reason college has become so expensive is that for the last 40 years or so this administrative and office strata has swollen beyond all reason. It simply propagates at the expense of actual teaching and actual teachers. The internal cost cutting has been accomplished entirely at the expense of faculty who have become a legion of temp workers.

And it’s interesting (in an awful way) but there’s a strange class sensibility and “politeness” framing this. They’ll hold “Adjunct Recognition Day” as they did just a few days ago, by order of the Governor no less, where we are offered home baked cookies. If I was to say “Hey these cookies are great but could I have my health insurance back?” Everyone would just look at me like a burped loudly. “Do you have have to bring up such a painful subject?” Always coming from someone whose benefits are unquestioned. 

  1. http://portside.org/2013-10-30/her-own-words-adjuncts-and-academic-labor-force-campus-equity-week-october-28-november-2
  2. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/when-a-college-contracts-adjunctivitis-its-the-students-who-lose/
  3. http://www.forbes.com/sites/noodleeducation/2015/05/28/more-than-half-of-college-faculty-are-adjuncts-should-you-care/
  4. http://college.usatoday.com/2014/07/17/underpaid-and-overworked-adjunct-professors-share-their-stories/

 

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Benjamin Bratton reveals the truth behind the “happy pill” that is TED talks.

It’s a short sharp shock for TED but hopefully corrective. The point isn’t that TED should shutdown but that it should splash a little water on its face and notice how formulaic it has become and how it actually steers clear of real problems, preferring happy talk.

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