A Bike In Trumpland

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

Further Reading:
Dozing Off
* Rooms from $575 /night.

Freedom & Capitalism / American Character

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

Further Reading:
Puppy & Puppets
Hybrid Fates
Zagreb Stories

Puppy & Puppets

- I don't know. It's so abstract. When's the last time you were at Starbucks?
- Why do you ask?
- Things happen to you there. You probably tried out these ideas on someone. Did you?
- I did.
- Let's hear it. The conversation.
- Three characters, four including me. A woman in her early twenties, a man somewhat older, and the woman's dog, a Pomeranian, who stood impressively still on his four legs to his full six inches of height. The man I'd talked to before. He made angry, raging videos about prejudice against his race.
- Which was?
- Black. First asking and receiving permission I went to make friends with the dog. He remained quiet, not sure if I was worth noticing. I asked the young woman if as often the case with dogs and their masters he got his manners from her. She said unfortunately she wasn't so calm. She was busy day and night. Busy with what? She tended bar, and the rest of the time, like the young black man, made YouTube videos. And they were about?
- My generation. We're different. We're organized.
- Organized to do what?
- To make a difference. Your generation made a mess. We're trying to clean it up.
- Do you think you can?
- Yes. We have the internet. We're connected to each other. There are millions of us. I'll show you someone I like. He has millions of followers and he's still a teenager.
- What's his subject? Political satire?
- Yes. He makes people laugh telling the truth.
- What about you? Are you satirical?
- Sometimes.
- Your generation entertain each other, put on shows for each other. Do you think shows change anything?
- I think artists and creators are the only one's that change the world. We're serious about what we do. Entertaining we build an audience.
- You expose injustice, the criminality, stupidity of your opponents. Yet satire works by adjusting the relative power of roles in the imagination of the audience, makes the audience feel more in control, more comfortable living in a world with what they've satirized so they end up doing nothing.
- We elected a black president for the first time.
- Elected another artist, a talker, a creator of an image, a role to be played out, not something real. And consequently nothing much changed.
- A lot changed. The country's perception of itself changed.
- Do you agree? I asked the black YouTuber. He took out a vintage micro-cassette recorder and placed it on the table. This time around, he said, he chose to listen and get a recording. For this he asked and was given our permission.
- You two are very polite with your permissions.
- Have to be. Everyone is touchy about other's treatment of their image, especially those whose business it is to make images of themselves. I continued to the YouTuber:
- You're not silent like your dog, but maybe he takes after you in another way.
- What?
- As a puppet.
- People often make the mistake. He's little, but almost four, he's not a puppy.
- Not puppy, puppet: little figure of a person or animal moved around on strings. In Plato's allegory of the cave puppets are moved on top of a wall built inside the cave, a fire behind them projecting their shadows upon the back wall. Between the puppets and the back wall prisoners are chained so that all they can see are the shadows. For them, the shadows are the only world they know. They make predictions of which shadow will follow another, and this is their knowledge. If the prisoners could escape and leave the cave and see the world outside, they would at first be blinded by the light, and not understand what they see of the real world, and prefer to go back to the cave and watch the shadows of the puppets. It seems to me your generation of performers are alike in making shows of yourselves, are alike in moving puppets casting shadows in the cave. You make the show, move the puppets along the wall, fight with the other puppeteers for precedence, but your audience sees only the show, your shadow, only your words and gestures, knows nothing of why you do it or the techniques you apply to hold your audience's attention.
- If our videos are shadows, that's for the best. Our generation are not dogmatists and ideologists. We know anything anyone makes is partial, one view of the truth. Nothing is the whole truth. Get used to it. We avoid fanaticism of all kinds including Plato's idealism, his religion that in some other world ideas live eternally. We live in the real world, I think we live in a more real world than the older generation. We have to deal with global warming, nuclear weapons, economic collapse. That we don't hide that our ideas are shadows, that makes them more not real and truthful, not less.  
- What did you say to that?
- I said:
- Here's my experience of the past 24 hours. Listen, and then tell me if role play brings people together or separates them. The night before at midnight I was at FedEx's office on Wilshire sending off the memory book* to the Washington Holocaust Museum. The young man on the other side of the counter, making small talk, asked me where Washington was. There were two of them, he knew. Up near Oregon? This was going to the other one. Oh. he said. 'D.C'. Did I know what 'D.C'. stood for? Didn't he? I asked. No. Where, I asked, was the capital of the U.S? He didn't know. And you, our sound recorder, you told me you were working towards revolution. And is it true or not that when I brought up the recent wave of revolutions in the Middle East, that was the first you'd heard of them? Still recording this? And at Ralphs supermarket, where a guard lurks at the exit all night, stationed there glaring at all who come and go just to have the opportunity to catch people like this one, a mad man I often see wandering in filthy rags by the L.A. Country Club. He was cleaned up, in new clothes, but still mad, holding aloft a plastic tray with day old rolls, now after midnight, 2 days old not legally to be sold. The guard stop him, says, Where do you think you are going! He says, What? The guard says, You can't take that. He says, Oh? The manager comes over, says to him, You have to pay. You have to pay! He says, What? He moves more towards the door at which point a customer waiting and watching at check-out says he'll pay the two dollars for the two day old rolls, saving the madman from arrest and possible a week locked up in a mental hospital before being returned to the streets.
- I listened. What conclusion you draw?
- Our friend here wants to play revolutionary. He's not interested in what revolution is enough to study it, not even in very recent history. And the FedEx kid, old enough to vote, identifies himself to himself and others by his tattoos. For him that is enough, he has his role and not an idea in his head. Consequently no politics either, not curiosity enough to know where the capital is. And the corporate supermarket, those who work there are forced into slavery and most abject role practice, no humanity or reasonableness allowed.
- If roles separate us, what brings us together?
- You know your Plato, the analogy of the sun.
- Sure:
As goodness stands in the intelligible realm to intelligence and the things we know, so in the visible realm the sun stands to sight and the things we see.**
- Politics requires ideas. Ideas are shared, bring us together. Roles separate.
- Roles are based on ideas too.
- But they are not good ideas, not drawn out from a shared human nature that strives toward good. The playing out of roles and protection of roles, those made up things, is done in the dark, unilluminated by the good.
The Memory Book
** The analogy of the sun is found in the sixth book of Plato's 'The Republic' (507b–509c)

Be My Guest

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12 a.m. Starbucks Cafe, West Hollywood

- What are you reading?
- An email from my friend the graduate student at UCLA.
- The one that got thrown out.
- Yes. He's back home now.
- What does he write?
- Greek Orthodox Christianity appeals to him at the moment.
- At the moment?
- Before it was Sufi mysticism that appealed to him.
- And before that? I can't believe how loud those policemen are. Do they come here every night?
- Yes. The Beverly Hills Police and the West Hollywood Sheriffs both are here in force.
- I count four cars, seven men sitting at the tables. They don't seem to have anything to do with the customers.
- They don't. They talk shop with each other. Laugh at the stories people tell when stopped by them innocently going about their lives.
- Is that what you do? Innocently go about your life?
- I try to. I'll tell you a story about the innocent, or rather, if you let me, I'll tell you several stories about the innocent and not so innocent.
- I'm listening. But talk a little louder, I can't hear with all the laughing coming from over there. Why do you go to this place?
- I'm convinced there's something to be learned from the people here. The guy you see sleeping across the street, wrapped in a blanket at the bus shelter, he's a regular customer.
- What can we learn from him?
- Our own future if we don't change our ways. If we're still here half hour after closing the crazy rich women will come sit outside with us. She'll start an argument with you which will end in her calling the police and accusing you of one crime or another: stealing her things, harassment, or disturbing the peace. She once, sitting outside here, cleared absolutely everyone off the terrace after calling the police and promising to accuse one and all. The Starbucks staff won't let her inside if they see her; sometimes she sneaks in. Another edifying person to be found here is the paparazzo trying to make himself famous as the unauthorized photographer of famous people. He gets angry and shouts at anyone who interrupts him.
- What can we learn from him?
- He asked me last time I saw him if I knew the book 'Catcher in the Rye'. Why did he ask? The liner notes of a CD from a rock band he's a fan of says one song is about Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of 'Catcher In The Rye'. Did I know the book?
- I've read it many times.
- Why? What's so good about it?
- It's a work of genius.
- Really? Should I read it?
- It's not for you.
- It's only for geniuses like you. What do you know about me? Nothing. The CD notes say 'protagonist': What's a protagonist?
- The main character. Holden Caulfield is a teenager having trouble deciding whether or not to give in and conform to the expectations of the adult world. He gets upset, breaks down. He can't stand 'phoneys', people who are false.
- That's me! I'm just like him, I get angry just like him. I knew it!
- You've managed to truly shock me with that claim. Holden gets riled up at the demand of phoneys that innocence be corrupted, you get angry when people challenge your phoniness you couldn't be happier with.
- Yeah? Better watch what you say.
- Or you'll do what, Mr. Innocent?
He wags his finger, enacting a parent reprimanding a child, gathers up his cameras and computer and goes off seeking better company. What do all these people hanging out in this neighborhood have in common?
- What?
- First let me tell you about more of these characters. They're not just here. The neighborhood is crowded with them. I encounter them as I make my way late night west to east through quiet streets of Beverly Hills. We'll start from here, a tour like we did in Westwood* but this time you don't  have to leave your seat. Before you arrived there was a guy sitting where you are now who confessed to me he'd just come from getting a two girl Tantric massage. Prostitution? Yep. The oldest profession. Next, where West Hollywood borders Beverly Hills, at the ultra expensive Bristol Farms supermarket, there's often this big tough guy who chants, 'Help an elderly Vietnam Vet'. If you pass on by without giving him money he shouts out at you, 'You're EVIL!' Last time, hoping to slip by unnoticed on my bike, I was honored by being told my mother is a Nazi and he hopes she dies soon.
- What's there to be learned from him? That we're evil?
- Some of us.
- What about the guy before, the one with the prostitutes? Evil too?
- You better believe it.** Down at where Santa Monica meets Wilshire, if you're there at around three in the morning you sometimes can see the crazy young gymnast who does jumps in the middle of the street when there appears a gap in the traffic, and when cars approach, does a kind of bull fight approach and confrontation at them and jumps away at the last moment. I forgot: before you get to that corner, there's the 60 year old Harvard educated lawyer who can be met outside the cigar smokers' bar closed up for the night, enjoying in solitude one last smoke. Yesterday I got off my bike to say hello. When I'd just come back from my disastrous trip to visit my brother in Thailand I'd been introduced to him by the deal-maker I told you about.*** Remember?
- Yes. You met at the drug store.
- Right. He got me over to his place, a luxury penthouse apt. He wanted me to know both his past wealth, the decades he was spending $100,000 a month, and his present state of jeopardy in which if he didn't come up with cash soon everything would be lost. He showed me his bill for the month's rent, $3800, told me the cost of all his furnishings. Pointed out his pictures of himself, usually shirtless, with celebrities from the time he was a muscle man TV star. In fact I remembered his TV appearances, was reminded how as I kid I was annoyed by his bandit's drooping mustache. Now he'd fallen on hard times, the investment deals he'd been doing since his TV days stopped working in our times' changed economy. The past five years he put his all into a final gigantic project for a golf course and residential suburb to be financed by the Chinese. It fell through, a complete loss. Not giving up, he'd set to doing something new, packaging together a mass of internet start ups for investment. That was how I came to be at his place. I'd had some start up ideas myself. He liked one of them a lot, and wanted me to pitch the idea to his lawyer friend who was also inviting over. The friend had the 5,000 cash he needed this month to cover rent and expenses and might loan him the money if he thought the idea was promising.
- Did he?
- No. I asked the lawyer if the deal maker had been thrown out of his penthouse. No, somehow the deal maker was paying his rent. How? Doing his deals. In fact, the lawyer tells me, he just came from there. And he, I ask, how was he doing? The deal maker had told me some things about him. Before Harvard Law he'd studied Chinese poetry. He'd fallen on hard times, was sleeping on his mother's couch, working at evicting people from their houses for a demonic real estate speculator, carrying around $50,000 in money orders because his bank accounts had all been attached. This night he tells me he things have gotten so bad for him he keeps losing all his cases. The judges don't listen to anything, even read arguments, they simply decide for the side that is richest and biggest and that's not his. Ok. Want to ask what we can learn from him? No? Let's keep going west. The day before yesterday, around the same early morning hour, I saw a man a block away rapidly approaching me. This proved to be an extremely well dressed, handsome man about thirty-five who evidently knows me though I don't know him. He asks me how the writing is going, tells me he's reading my work on the internet. I'm a genius, he says. He also says I'm dead.
- 'You're dead'. What did he mean?
- Dead to the material enticements of the world. I ask him where he is going, all the while trying to remember who he is. He's going to meet his girl. Where's your girl? At her apartment. Where's that? That way. He points opposite to the way he was going. Who was this guy? A drug dealer? A gigolo? I don't know. Want to know what you can learn from him?
- No!
- Continuing. At Holmby Park, on the other side of the L.A. Country Club. late nights you can meet a middle aged Russian man dressed all in black, a bulky man a little overweight, projecting belly encased in a tight fitting shirt. With him is a little dog he'd warned me against approaching. The dog loves only him, he says, no one else. He was abandoned: I could imagine what happened to him, he tells me. As Kant and Hegel said life is about power, everything else was a lie. Kant and Hegel said that? Yes, do you know the names? He was looking after the dog, it was his son's ex-girlfriend's. His son is a big time drug dealer. His son always takes care of his girls when he breaks up with them. He sends them to school, he buys them a house. His son lives in a two million dollar house in the Hollywood Hills. He, the father, himself also is a millionaire, though he still gets up at five in the morning to go over to his eighty plus year old parents' place he bought them. He went there to wash his father, who's alone while his mother vacations in Alaska. From his parents' place every morning he then goes to the apartment buildings he owns and sweeps out the hallways. From apartment building sweeping he then goes to the pawn shop his son bought but doesn't have time to manage. The life of a millionaire, he sighs. He was a millionaire because he was willing to do what it takes, whatever it takes, to get ahead. My problem, he says, is I'm not willing. That is correct. Like one Salinger character says of another, I thought of myself as 'intricately calibrated', my adjustments easily disrupted. I could like he did do the anything required of me to do, but I couldn't do it without losing calibration. I was in agreement with employers who by their use of profiles reveal their assumption some types of person have greater capacities than other types for some things, for if not, why profile?
- What abilities were you unwilling to risk losing?
- The ability to stay innocent,
- I'll call you Holden from now on.
- In response to which argument of my intricate calibration the Russian says '#!%-#!' I'm a spoiled American man. He was in prison in Siberia. His first job in L.A. was as an apartment manager. He stole supplies from the apartment's storage which he used setting himself up as a painter. His business grew, he took on employees, he bought apartment buildings, became a millionaire. But his drug dealing son was much richer than he was. He ran the pawn shop as a favor to his son. But not as a normal business man. He was a Russian, he had a heart. He asked the story of everyone who brought something in to pawn. He did everything he could to help them out, made extensions of the loan period before he sold. I ask him to tell me one story. This is the story. There was this dentist who started taking all his things to the pawn shop. What had happened? Well, a patient came in one day, asked for a cleaning. He did his usual inspection, found a few cavities, asked the patient if she wanted them filled. Yes. So he does the work, presents his bill, three hundred dollars. But, the patient protests, the ad she saw said 'introductory special, $39.95'. That was for a first cleaning, not cavities, the dentist explains. But he didn't tell her that, she protests. The discussion gets more and more animated, the dentist raises his voice. The patient runs out without paying and the next day goes over to the office of the dentistry board and files a complaint. They call him in, ask him to give his side of the story. He tells the story, getting angrier and angrier, getting angry finally at the board members for not understanding him. The board suspends his license until he competes an anger management course. He finds a special all weekend intensive course, sits through it, and on the Monday following goes to the school office for his certificate of completion. That will be $5,000, he's told. He explodes in anger at the anger management coarse leader, leaves without paying and without the certificate, and goes directly to the office of the dentistry board and complains to them about this school they'd sent him to. When they ask why he didn't ask the price first just like his patient he got angry at didn't ask him his charge, he gets furious at them and storms out of their office. They suspend his licence indefinitely. With nothing to do all day he takes to drink. With no income he has to sell his possessions to pay his rent and so comes into the pawn shop.
- Do you believe that story?
- No. It's much too neat. I don't believe any of it in fact, not the son the soft-hearted gangster, not the five apartment buildings. For all these people I'm telling you about life's all a big show, strangely sad in their cases because they don't have anyone to show off to except me, and I'm not on anyone's stage.
- You're Holden Caulfield, a fictional character.
- Their isolation makes it easier to see the meaningless of their vanity. They are ridiculous doing their part on the stage without the other players, in having to talk about themselves to me, who isn't even allowed on any stage. When others are playing complementary roles on stage up with them, the meaninglessness of their role play is there but our sight is distracted by the drama between roles of who wins whatever is being fought over in the script. The police and sheriffs laughing it up at midnight in the West Hollywood Starbucks you'd think would be right in their element in today's police state, but they too are fish out of water when they climb onto a stage other than that their job is performed on. This is dangerous situation, you have to watch out, be careful you don't change role from being the superfluous other cafe customer to becoming their work. You better not look too long at them or appear to guiltily look away when they have their eyes on you. You know Marshalls, the discount store over across from the Beverly Center? See these jeans?
- What about them?.
- The alternatives were going naked or buy a pair of pants. I gave in. I went over to the superstore, grabbed off the rack the first pair my size, and went to wait my turn in line to pay. A cashier beckons me forward, callling out, 'Next guest!' I ask him:
- I'm your guest?
- Yes.
- So I don't have to pay?
- Yes, you have to pay.
- But if I invited you to my house, I mean if I had a house, if I invited you over to be my guest for dinner I wouldn't ask you to pay.
- Here guests have to pay. Would you like a bag?
- As your guest or customer?
- You're funny. The bag is free.
After this conversation I went on the internet to research this important matter. Found in seconds a New York Times story right on topic, the decision of stores to begin calling their customers guests. The Times found that a small chain of stores in the mid-west was the pioneer in this change, which didn't really get going until the Disney conglomerate took it up. The chain store and Disney conglomerate claimed calling people guests is friendlier that calling them customers.
- Sure it is. But it's not true customers are their friends. They have to pay.
- Of course it's not true. I don't think it's true either that the businesses' intention was to be friendlier.
- What was their intention then?
- To confuse the distinction between what is done for money and what is done out of friendship. If you go to the public library in Beverly Hills you'll see a big sign hanging over the checkout counter that says 'Customer Service'.****
-. So at big business outlets paying visitors become guests, but at the public library, visitors who used to be called patrons, because as members of the public they are owners of public institutions and are entitled to free passage, are now treated like they have to pay for the right to visit, are customers.
- On one side, paying-visits invades the territory of non-paying visits, on the other side, non-paying visits are treated like paying-visits.
- Do you think the obscuring of the difference between paying- and non-paying visits is intentional?
- Yes. And far from being friendly, the goal is to deprive the word 'friend' and what it represents of clear meaning by confusing it with what is done for money.
- Because people whose lives are more about spending money than being with friends make better customers.
- Yes.
- And the police and sheriffs at Starbucks are there, in this new conspiracy against friendship you've invented, to make sure even cafes are no longer places for friends to meet but are places you consume and if you don't watch out you'll be a consumable offered to the forces of law and order hanging out there. As happened to your friend the Greek Orthodox Christian thrown out of UCLA, who didn't think such things were possible. What do you think, by the way, of his advocacy of Greek Orthodoxy?
- I sympathize with the idea that the messiah has already arrived, no need to make the earth again a paradise, the other world awaits. But why must I be subject to that particular story? There are many other stories with the same message. For example there's Holden Caulfield's message. He wants to get away from the world of phonies and do something good, wait in the field of rye below the place where children are at risk of falling and be there to save them. Why if this world is only instrumental to getting to the other world should there be any privileged story in this world? Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, Buddhist, Sufi, etc. Each thinks it has the privilege, yet the way I see it none should have it. It doesn't matter at all which should have it so long as religion too should share the status of everything else in this world of only instrumental meaning, the world worth living in and talking about only to figure out the best way of getting out of it.
- What does your friend say to that?
- I'll have to ask him. I'll let you know.

Further Reading:
The Two Worlds
** Prostitution & Torture
*** While You've Been Gone
**** A Visit To The Library

Kant & Compromise

Image result for kant immanuel


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


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

Time's Up

              D-Wave's Quantum Computer

There's this theory I've been reading about. As communications that once were controlled by monopolies at high profits are now produced and consumed directly by people at no cost on the Internet, so energy and transport will go the same way. Everyone will have solar panels on their rooftops and everyone will share transport rather than own a car. The production of the tools of communication and energy production and transportation are getting cheaper and cheaper through automation, approaching the point where the tools can manufacture themselves and repair themselves. Only the raw materials the tools are made from need be provided, but they can be recycled. Sounds good, right?
- Do you remember the conversation?* Last year, I think?
- Yes.
- From what I've been reading we are now within five or ten years of the point where the tools can manufacture themselves and repair themselves. We have already functioning 'machine learning' with neural network computing. Its weak point is the immense power of computation required to connect more and more 'neural' nodes to each other. However quantum computing is developing fast, and is poised to provide almost unlimited computation power. And then...
- Then?
- The head guys involved in both machine learning and quantum computing don't neglect issuing the usual warnings about technology being a tool that can be used for good or evil. Their job is to develop the technology, the society at large has to take care of the problem how to use it safely.
- There are whole institutions dedicated to this question.
- Staffed by technicians.
- Should they be staffed with philosophers who don't understand the technology?
- Perhaps they should, if this warning from 50 years ago, the ideas developed 30 years before that, turns out to be true:
The danger to democracy does not spring from any specific scientific discoveries or electronic inventions. The human compulsions that dominate the authoritarian technics of our own day date back to a period before even the wheel had been invented. The danger springs from the fact that, since Francis Bacon and Galileo defined the new methods and objectives of technics, our great physical transformations have been effected by a system that deliberately eliminates the whole human personality, ignores the historic process, overplays the role of the abstract intelligence, and -- makes control over physical nature, ultimately control over man himself, the chief purpose of existence.**
- Lewis Mumford. His astonishing idea that technology, before it constructed machines of metal, made machines out of people, organizing them in massive armies for constructing monuments to their leaders or to fight wars.
- From the same 1963 essay:
Let us fool ourselves no longer. At the very moment Western nations threw off the ancient regime of absolute government, operating under a once-divine king, they were restoring this same system in a far more effective form in their technology, reintroducing coercions of a military character no less strict in the organization of a factory than in that of the new drilled, uniformed, and regimented army....
And, towards the conclusion:
Again: do not mistake my meaning. This is not a prediction of what will happen, but a warning against what may happen. 
- So with machine learning here and quantum computing on its way: time's up.
- Slaves provided the human material to ancient civilizations to construct their technology, so as Mumford put it there was no need for 'inorganic' material and to develop metal based technology. Once, however, all our inorganic machines are making and taking care of themselves, immense supply of organic material - we human beings - will be available for use to serve the 'human compulsions' that were behind the drive to construct the first social, organic technologies, and are already a dominant element in present day social organization.
- What are those human compulsions?
- Doing for the sake of doing. Endless production. The more times you can successfully repeat an action, the safer you feel in your power to perform that action, and others related to it.
- A question of safety then. How are we ever going to get past that?
- Find security in our knowledge.
- Technology is knowledge and it is in the service of this power madness.
- The wrong kind of knowledge. We have the most perfect myth to express this: Adam and Eve,*** expelled from the garden of Eden for acquiring knowledge, become mortal. They can apply their knowledge to their work, but they are punished by work and reproduction being a pain to them and by being confined within their social roles of master and slave. Work is to do what you don't want to do, that you don't have a personal reason to do. Reproduction is a pain. Put these ideas together, and you get doing for the sake of doing, production without end never without pain. You have to do what your role tells you to do and you have to do it for no reason outside itself and you have to keep doing it forever. It is the only thing that makes you feel safe in your state of mortal uncertainty and fear.
- So you end up doing it more and more because the more you do it the safer you feel you can continue to do it. If you have the chance, you make yourself into a pyramid building pharaoh or modern day prince of finance or industry.
- Yes. Adam and Eve are out and can't get back in to Eden, but their descendants have a way back if they use knowledge right.
- Which is?
- For the sake of getting back to Eden.
- Which is where exactly?
- In the company of the people we love. Or perhaps you want a more technical answer? Here's Mumford:
The reconstitution of both our science and our technics in such a fashion as to insert the rejected parts of the human personality at every stage in the process. This means gladly sacrificing mere quantity in order to restore qualitative choice, shifting the seat of authority from the mechanical collective to the human personality and the autonomous group, favoring variety and ecological complexity, instead of stressing undue uniformity and standardization, above all, reducing the insensate drive to extend the system itself, instead of containing it within definite human limits and thus releasing man himself for other purposes. We must ask, not what is good for science or technology, still less what is good for General Motors or Union Carbide or IBM or the Pentagon, but what is good for man: not machine-conditioned, system-regulated, mass-man, but man in person, moving freely over every area of life.


- Do you know what I find most interesting in this?
- What?
- Mumford warned that control over physical nature and over man himself had already become the chief purpose of existence. If that is true, we should be seeing the two acting together.
- How do you mean?
- We should be seeing people treated as property and defined and distinguished from each other by their relation to property. We should be seeing all parts of the human personality outside of these definitions being rejected, both by threat of exclusion from social participation and by outright violence upon those whose present social position is an irritant to the efficient practice of accepted social roles. I have some personal experience of this happening.
- Tell me.
- So far, all rather ridiculous stuff. On my way back to Westwood late at night I'm often trailed at walking pace by Beverly Hills police cars. I've been approached by the University police and asked to inform them of any suspicious people (like myself) I see on campus.
-What did you say?
- That there was already too much spying going on and I didn't want to be approached again.
- They must have thought you were crazy.
- They must have. To continue. My single valuable possession, a 17 year old Italian racing bicycle, regularly suggests to bike thieves who are out in force late at night that as it was too good for somebody like me it would be better in their hands than mine. Earlier this month a man was gesturing crazily across the street as I was coming towards him. When I passed he exclaimed, 'That's a nice bike', and ran after me, grabbed hold of the bike seat and tried to pull me to a stop.
- He didn't?
- No. The benefit of a fast bike. At Starbucks in Westwood a twitchy drug addict told me his story. A poet and filmmaker, he was also a biker. He had gotten into drug dealing with one of the numerous bike gangs that group-ride late at night in L.A. They demanded of him that he steal a bike for them as sort of an initiation. When he refused, his story goes, one of the leader's friend's asked to try out his bike, and rode away never to return. Whereupon the gang leader with suitable menace sends him on the way home on foot: an all night walk from Burbank to West L.A. As I got up to leave he repeated his observation, what a nice bike I had, placed his hands on the handlebars, asked couldn't he take it for a ride?
- You didn't let him?
- No. The ridiculousness reached a new level a couple days ago. I was sitting at the tables outside of Trader Joes market in Westwood, eating lunch and reading, when a strong wind rose and blew the large garden unbrella down on top of the woman at the next table. She got up and left, and I tried but failed to steady it so it wouldn't fall next on me. I was unlocking my bike to leave when a man approached me, crying out, "What are you doing to our property?" I asked,
- Who are you?
- I work for the association. We got a call that a strange man was breaking our umbrella.
- The Westwood Community Association. Who called you?
- The manager of Trader Joe's.
- Hard to believe.
- Are you calling me a liar?
- Let's go inside and talk to the manager. If he denies he called you, then I'll call you a liar.
- No.
- No what?
- I won't go inside. I'm here because a strange man was damaging our property. You admit that strange man is you.
- Your property fell on the head of the woman sitting at the next table. She left and I attempted to set it straight so it wouldn't fall on me.
- You have no right to touch our property. You have to leave.
- What?
- You have to leave. Right now.
- Who are you?
- I work for the association. I'm protecting our property.
- Your property is a public hazard. And your property is on public property.
- No. This is our property.
- It's public property.
- It's ours.
- Possibly it's Trader Joe's property which you've been given the authority to manage.
- No it's not.
- Let's go in and ask them..
- No.
- Then I'll go in. But here's the manager now.
- What's going on?
- This idiot from the Westwood Association claims he manages this area outside the store for you. Is this your property?
- No.
- No. Did you call him to come here?
- No.
- No. You're a liar, idiot.
- You can't call me an idiot.
- I can't? Is this your property?
- Yes.
- Idiot.
- Don't call me idiot! Leave right now!
- You leave. If you choose to stay I'll conclude you're such an idiot you want to be called an idiot many more times.
- You can't talk to him like that.
- I can't? Is this your property, manager of Trader Joe's?
- No.
- Then you can't control what I say.
- But you're not right to ...
- Nothing's keeping you here. You can go back into your store.
- Tell this man he has to leave.
- Look, idiot...
- Don't talk to him that way!
- Idiot, you leave, go back the way you came, and you, manager of Traders Joes, if you don't like the conversation go that way back to your store.
- Wow. The manager went back into the store?
- Yes. And the association man also went away.
- Without either community association representative or market manager showing the slightest concern about the dangerous garden umbrella.
- But showing, which is why I'm telling the story, plenty of menacing authority.

                                                          * * *

P.S. 'The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.' - Albert Einstein

Something To Look Forward To
** Authoritarian and Democratic Technics
*** Eve In The Garden Of Eden

Spectacle & God

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

Further Reading:
The Society Of Spectacle (pdf)
Consciousness (For Sale)
** The First Loser

The First Loser

Image result for cain abel text

- Did you hear? They found a dead girl in the trash behind Jerry’s deli.
- When?
- Early this morning. And last Saturday when they came to work at Coffee Bean there was a body lying on the sidewalk.
- Dead?
- Yes. On TV every week now there’s a report of the police killing someone, usually black.
- Last night at Starbucks, at closing time, one of those who live on the street came in. He dug a crumpled dollar bill from his pocket, asked for coffee. The girl behind the counter said it was $1.95. He turns out his pockets. He has no more. $1 only. The girl repeats he has to pay full price. He cries out, “I’m trying here.” Her coworker appears, confirms full price is required. Behind us in line is the nurse who comes in with a trolley every night getting drinks for the intensive care unit at Cedar Sinai. She says she’ll pay. He's handed his coffee and told he has to go. He gets angry, shouts, not understanding that it is past closing and everyone has to go, everyone except the three Sheriffs deputies that also come in every night at this time. One deputy shouts back at him: Leave! Another deputy laughs, warns 'We’re all going to be on YouTube tonight.'
- What happened?
- The intensive care nurse gently urged him out.
- Probably saved his life.
- Probably. Have you seen the new guy? Comes at night to Ralphs, sits on the stairs up from the side street to the parking level, surrounding himself with dozens of little bottles filled he says with detox juices.
- White guy?
- Black. Claims to be a music producer, been in L.A. five years, worked with many famous acts but his accounts receivable is backed up, he expects substantial amount of money, until then…
- Sits on the iron stairs up to Ralphs all night. Maybe he’s the killer, maybe he's the guy on the street the police kill next. How does he look?
- Take a look for yourself. He’s there now.
- Maybe later. What’s happening with you?
- I got my first death threat. Sent from a little used Google Plus account. Not really a threat, more like a heart-felt wish: 'Hope someone kills you soon.'
- Why would someone want to kill you?
- It was a comment on a story I wrote about Donald Trump.
- What will you do?
- Nothing. I feel like I’ve finally made it. I’m important enough to kill. The paparazzo who comes here tells me that after I’m dead they’ll all remember me by my bike locked outside.
- Don’t joke. It might be serious. There is a killer on the loose in the neighborhood.
- The world is a world of killers. I think we’re entering into a period of realism in which the structure of human life is becoming clear. We talked about indifference, the people living on the street in Westwood.* Some are gone, dead or dying in hospitals. Some are still there. They’re the ones we Americans like to call 'losers': they go along with the idea that everyone must have a role, they don’t want more from life than money and power. Until then they study to play the role they have been given by fate, they work out where to go at what time. Bad as things are, they’re confident of the future and of themselves.
- Losers we have contempt for, for the role they accept. So we’re not indifferent to all of the people on the street, only those who have no role. Police have the power to do away with them. The rest of us have no feeling at all for them, only a conviction they don’t belong and the world's better off with them gone.
- Yes.
- And you? Do you have a role?
- I’m proud to say apparently not: If people want to kill me, it means I’m among those with no place in life. I'm not even in the role of loser, the object of contempt. I'm open to the violence of anyone interested in relieving themselves in that way. Though to be fair there's this man who comes in here, a retired real estate speculator, friend of the Guru. He says he’s afraid of me, I’m poor and have too much confidence. According to him if I were rich I’d be another Hitler.
- You told me about the Guru, he and his gang pretending to be orthodox Jews, going to temple in the morning visiting prostitutes at night. Can social roles really be so important that we kill those who don’t have any, either by our indifference, or with the police?
- Yes, absolutely. The more we see the world as a world of things, the more we focus on improving the technology of things, the more we see people as things useful to other people in the way things are useful.
- How do we see the world as not of things?
- From the beginning, both in the West and the East, there's been an attempt to answer that question with metaphor and story.
- Why can’t it just be answered directly?
- Because of language. Language uses nouns and verbs, things and actions.
- So maybe that is the way it is.
- No. Our thoughts don’t work that way. The world we see is in flux, a movement out of which we draw out things in movement when we want to talk about or do something. Heraclitus called this necessity a 'sacred disease'. The I Ching put the situation like this:
[Separating itself out, the hard rises to the top, and in doing so provides the soft with pattern;] this is the pattern (wen) of heaven. It is by means of the enlightenment provided by pattern that curbs are set, and this is the pattern of humans. One looks to the pattern of heaven in order to examine the flux of the seasons, and one look to the pattern of humans in order to transform and bring the whole world to consummation.
- I didn't understand a word.
- Here's Helaclitus again:
Wisdom is one thing. It is to know the thought by which all things are steered through all things.
- He's meeting straight on the 'sacred disease' of words. Anything that changes in response to the world cannot be accurately defined in isolation from the world. We have a sense of ourselves in movement, changing in relation to the world; repeatedly responding to the world we learn about the world. Because we change and the world changes (gives us different responses to our differing responses) it makes no sense to talk about ourselves as things.**
- If we aren't things what are we?
- We don't ask "what". That's the point. We move. We see a pattern to our movement. We aim to get somewhere.
- Where? And what is this 'we'? You told me don't ask 'what' thing but what am I supposed to say to ask my question?
- We can identify repeated paths of change of relation to the world.
- What in relation to what?
- A cell joins with other cells into an organ, and it finds itself part of new activities. Athenian citizens joining together in assembly gain new opportunities of social life.*** A child moving its hand over a toy experimentally in time learns to see it, and in addition to what it could do before now can identify and play with the toy. We're talking about things here, using words that name them: child, citizen, cell, but things in the process of change in reaction to other things that change.
- You said that. The truth is we still see things, but focus instead on the pattern of their changes. That, according to Heraclitus, is wisdom, gets us to the heaven of the I Ching. I got it. When we talk about ourselves in our roles, we are locking ourselves down in relation to other locked down things of the world. We don't lay down a pattern in our story, we don't get to heaven. Is that what you mean? Maybe it is more clear now that we make a sport of killing people without role, but it doesn't seem like anything new to me.
- It's not. We see it in our founding myths.**** Adam and Eve are thrown out of the garden of Eden, rebelling against god just as he intended.
- Why?
- Because they are made in god’s image and god is not obedient.
- God doesn’t play a subservient role. He doesn’t play any role.
- Exactly. Adam and Eve break the rules, act independently, get thrown out. They’re punished by having to painfully work the land and punished worse by being locked in a hierarchy of social roles, woman subservient to man. But what happens then? Their first boy becomes a farmer, their second a shepherd. Note that a shepherd does not work the land, does not stay in the same place, a shepherd manages a community of animals. God likes Abel’s sacrifice better, despite the fact Abel has evaded the ancestral punishment of being tied to the land and its pain. Cain goes crazy, and like our police are drawn to kill those who live without social role, he kills his brother. And what does god do to Cain? Set’s him off to wander the world with nothing, no herd of sheep, no community to be the managing spirit of.****  When Cain complains everyone will kill him, god establishes him in stable social role by marking him with a sign of his protection, warning of retribution should something happen to him.
- Cain is the first loser!
- He has his role wandering endlessly and uselessly like the people of the street. No one will kill him.

Further Reading:
Killer Metaphysics
The Way And The End
Political Correctness
Consciousness (For Sale)
Process Philosophy
Donald Trump
** Since childhood, I’ve passed through a flow of milk, smells, stories, sounds, emotions, nursery rhymes, substances, gestures, ideas, impressions, gazes, songs, and foods. What am I? Tied in every way to places, sufferings, ancestors, friends, loves, events, languages, memories, to all kinds of things that obviously are not me. Everything that attaches me to the world, all the links that constitute me, all the forces that compose me don’t form an identity, a thing displayable on cue, but a singular, shared, living existence, from which emerges – at certain times and places – that being which says “I.” - Julien Coupat (presumed), The Coming Insurrection
*** Prostitution, Employment, Slavery
**** Eve In The Garden Of Eden  
***** Bringing Back Stray Sheep

The Character Of Donald Trump

Image result for trump

We admire good character: directness, openness, etc. We ask about politicians whether or not they in fact act, in their personal and professional lives, up to the character they work hard to display to the public.

Donald Trump is a building speculator who started with inherited wealth, repeatedly went bankrupt, and was repeatedly bailed out by the public. He is a man who was bailed out, an interference with free-market discipline, and who also claims to support conservative principles of no interference with free market discipline*. Hypocrisy is evident, that is, bad character. Much, probably most, of Trump's wealth was acquired acting in TV shows*** and licencing for profit his name, activities which make use of the show of character, not actual character, and certainly do not make use of business genius unless business genius, contrary to conservative free market principles, means profiting from claiming business genius without having the reality. Trump went bankrupt in 1991, 1992, and 2004 prior to his TV acting career, with his bankruptcies continuing in 2009 and 2014 during his acting career. Even if he had business genius, use of it in speculation in housing for the rich is not admirable or creative behavior, and does not benefit anyone other than himself:
Drawing from a deep well of data Piketty found that for almost all recorded history, those who are rich enough to be sitting on a pile of cash and assets will get richer just from the returns on their capital at a faster rate than the economy can grow as a whole. In other words, if you don’t start with capital, you can never close the gap with the rich, no matter how hard you work; whereas if you do start with capital, you’ll get richer and richer whether you work or not. Over time this leads to greater and greater inequality. (from The London Review Of Books)

Trump talks of "our people". It is natural and inescapable to care more about people you know than those you don't. That however does not make it a sign of good character to irrationally hate strangers or act without information and judgment in defense of "our people". Indiscriminate bombing of terrorist enemies in foreign countries, which Trump recommends be intensified, has caused the United States to go from having a limited number of enemies in one small corner of Afghanistan to having tens of thousands of enemies in dozens of countries all over the world -- the kind of result to be expected when show of character substitutes for reality.
* Trump, in fact wildly inconsistent in his economics, has made a point of putting himself on record to be in favor of free market principles (for example with regard to health care). However, being wildly inconsistent in economics is typical of free market conservatives who in practice mean free markets to be for the poor, and protection to be for their sponsors, the rich. Trump, like did his fellow nationalists the Nazi party (the National Socialistsin Germany of the 30s, for the sake of getting elected, as a bribe temporarily delivered, is including the poor electorate in the spoils of market economics normally reserved for the rich.
** No major U.S. company has filed for Chapter 11 more than Trump's businesses in the last 30 years. See this article in CNN Money.
*** The exact amount Trump has been paid for his TV performances is in dispute. See this article in the The Hollywood Reporter.

Political Correctness

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

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

Further Reading:
Killing At The University
UCLA Stories

Gypsy Kings & The Cheat Of Religion

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

UCLA, Research Library

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