Progress

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- My mother when she was already very old, the year before she died, told me for the thousandth time I should write about my family.
- You haven't much.
- No. The problem is I don't know what I am looking at. Was this strange tribe I was born into mere ordinary people making ordinary compromises but retaining ordinary good nature at other times and places? Were they monsters, or was I, for not being able to accept them?
- And?
- And I've got this idea...
- Tell me about it.
- A rock, or a machine, protected from the effects of the world around will last. But the opposite is true of us human beings, of animals in general. We can't without drastic consequences isolate ourselves. If we don't move through the world, our muscles atrophy, our memory fades. Have you ever thought how strange this is?
- No. Why is it strange?
- Because muscle atrophy and memory loss is an active process: there is a balance in which using muscles inhibits the setting in motion in the muscle itself of a muscle decaying process; when we stop moving, the inhibition ends and the process of "self-eating" begins. The same goes on with memory, though we know nothing of how this works, unlike with muscles where some of the mechanisms are becoming known.
- We are made to keep moving.
- Yes. Our minds and bodies have a homeostasis mechanism that works to maintain a balance. But the results of the process is setting us out into the world where new things happen. We both move, and we remember. Together movement through the world, and memory, provide the conditions of knowledge: is this new place like that old place or not? Even nematodes, the most common and widely distributed animal on the planet, accounting for 80% of all animals, with a mere couple hundred of neurons, are known to learn.
- Our need to keep moving and exercise our memory sets us out on a path of knowledge. Eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and be expelled from the garden of Eden and set to work, and learn too, when we're not killing each other.
- Yes! Is there an equivalent process at work in our social life? Is there a mechanism in our social arrangements which makes them decay if they don't keep moving towards knowledge?
- Is there?
- I think there is. Our old friend ritual seems to play the role of the "self-eating" process that is triggered in the decline of movement.
- And what is social movement? Culture?
- Learning how to best live with each other.
- So when we stop looking into the question we rely on rules, roles, ritually repeat the same moves. And you say this destroys - what? - the social body?
- The rule following and role play involves the "self-eating" process of violence against any deviation of practice.
- How is this connected with your family? Did you think they were trying to eat you up?
- I did. But what I'm interested in now is the question of judgement: when we say of the Nazis that in their spare time when not killing they loved their children like everyone else, or say the same of our corrupt politicians and government bribing business leaders, is this even possible to be true?
- What about with your family? What did you experience?
- Demand for ritual conformity. Complete incomprehension of me. But lets go back to the question of judgement. It's something that has been bothering me for a long time. Despite all the corruption and compromise of everyday life, we are told the world is getting safer and richer. More democracies, more income, better health, less killing, at least percentage wise (there are a lot more people these days). But if we look to test the theory that a society not moving forward is moving backward, we see a new world of huge numbers of people living in hierarchies, wage slaves of one kind or another.*
- Which you interpret as meaning billions are now forced participants in the "self-eating" process.
- Yes. What do you  think?
- What has this to do with your mother?
- My question has always been whether I was right to rebel. What did I know about the balance of factors that went into the choice to compromise? What did I know about these people, father, mother, brothers?
- And this new bit of culture you've made up provides your justification. Do you believe it? Your family was going down and trying to take you with them?
- I acted on that belief.
- You kept moving.
____________________
* "Hence arose the national wars, battles, murders, and reprisals which make nature tremble and shock reason, and all those horrible prejudices which rank the honor of shedding human blood among the virtues. The most decent men learned to consider it one of their duties to murder their fellowmen; at length men were seen to massacre each other by the thousands without knowing why; more murders were committed on a single day of fighting and more horrors in the capture of a single city than were committed in the state of nature during whole centuries over the entire face of the earth." (J. J. Rousseau)

It's All Good

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- Do you miss L.A.?
- I miss a kind of charming stupidity to be found nowhere else. I remember the man I used to see at Whole Foods Market every day who greeted me with, 'It’s all good!'
- What’s charming about that? Boring, fatalistic, new-age pseudo Buddhism. Nothing is bad you don’t make bad yourself by thinking about it, so don’t think about it. If that is all you miss about L.A. you should have answered me, No, It’s all stupid!
- The charming part is you can learn from the stupidity. One Buddhist text* describes meditation as contemplating the body in the body: “The monk, breathing in a long breath, knows 'I am breathing in a long breath’; breathing in a short breath, he knows he is breathing in a short breath." In order to say ‘All is good’, about our world of child slavery, prostitution, torture, war, etc. we call upon such a circling dance of thought and observation. We calm ourselves with ourselves. We can also calm ourselves in a dance with others in the collective behavior we call ritual. We do the dance and tell ourselves we are doing the dance.
- And we’re ready to murder and torture.
- Take the average Los Angeleno and put him in government and he’s ready to start any number of wars, rob the poor to pay the rich, in fact, do anything he can get away with. Up the coast in Santa Cruz, sister city to Los Angeles in spirituality, there is this professor of physics who has a remarkable idea.
- You mean charmingly stupid.
- Self-professed lesbian and feminist, she’s applies Bohr’s theory of complementarity to the social sciences and claims a lesbian, a woman, a human uses a different perceptual apparatus than a non-lesbian, a man, a non-human, and sees the world differently and inconsistently.
- Are you sure that isn’t true?
- No. I am sure though that this professor and no one else has yet looked.
- What are all the thousands of books on the subject doing then?
- Meditating! If a woman wants to tell me, a man, that women see the world more as a whole, I say, fine, what else is new, such has been known for thousands of years. Tell me how woman see a different world than men, then you will impress me.
- That woman just did.
- No she didn’t. She told me women see more often one part of the world, and men see more often another part. She hasn’t showed me that the two ways of seeing the world are inconsistent. One sees the glass half full of water, the other half empty, but in both cases the same glass is there and the world is the same.
- Why is it important that the world seen be inconsistent?
- Inconsistency is what tells us the world is being investigated, not merely used as excuse for meditation and ritual.
- And what is investigation exactly?
- Determination that when I do this, that follows.
- When Niels Bohr uses one experimental apparatus looking at photons, he sees waves, when he uses another, he see particles. Different, inconsistent worlds.
- Yes. If there is a lesbian or female apparatus of investigation, what world has it revealed inconsistent with the world seen by non-lesbians and males?
- Don’t ask me. But let them look.
- Who’s stopping them? But remember the story of Galileo and the Inquisition.
- Remind me.
- Contrary to popular belief, the Inquisition did not want to forbid Galileo from proposing that the sun was the center planets revolved around. What the Inquisition demanded was that he allow equal status the Church’s view that the earth was at the center.
- They were both theories, and theories were only ways of getting at the truth.
- Yes. But Galileo refused. Do you know why?
- Why?
- Because the Church’s attachment to theory was not the result of operating a research apparatus, but of not wanting to disturb the place the earth center view had in meditation and ritual.
- So the Church and Galileo's views didn’t differ like waves and particles at all.
- Right.
- Ok, put that aside. In L.A. and Santa Cruz they are just faking it. Let’s say though men and woman, and each of us as individuals, operate different apparatuses in Bohr’s sense, and see inconsistent worlds. We communicate because in the act of looking at the world we are living in the same world, and we know some things through that physical living in the same world? In addition to what we perceive though experiment?
- Yes.
- And the social role self-identifying meditator ritualists don’t live in the world so don’t communicate with each other?
- Yes again.
- I’ve heard that Galileo was both deeply religious and an alchemist. Maybe he believed his investigation into the world changed the world through the agency of “another” world.
- In fact, communication between inconsistent roles is not particularly mysterious. In every novel we read or theater performance we attend we get out of ourselves and into the represented characters. In fairy tales we are transformed into other species, the other sex, other social roles.
- It’s like we can sometimes be the wave, sometimes be the particle, because it is all not real. What’s real then?
- The world there to look at when we investigate. If the meditators and ritualists weren’t busy like the Inquisition protecting their meditations and rituals, claiming it’s all good, they’d be able to practice a very simple rule: when you see something bad, either do something to try to change it if you think you can and the time is right, or if not, look away towards something beautiful.
- Thinking and acting are different apparatuses.
- Try meditating on that!
__________________
*Satipatthana Sutta

Reading Minds

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- I'd like to ask you something I think about more than probably is good for me. Do you think people can sometimes read each other's minds?
- My so-called wife and I used to do it regularly.
- And do you think it was inspired guessing, or some direct communication?
- My thought touching hers, her thought touching mine.
- Yes. Whatever those words mean.
- There's actually a way to look at it that is somewhere between the two alternatives.
- And that is?
- The theory Niels Bohr came up with to explain how using one experimental apparatus to look at electrons he saw waves, using another experimental apparatus he saw particles. He said that we with our experimental apparatus we were co-creators with nature of the object we saw: the wave, or the particle. Both were equally real.
- So you think that you and your wife had been living closely together in the same world that was drawn upon to compose your separate perceptions, and that was why, with your much different characters, you could know each other's thoughts?
- A bit of communing, a bit of guessing. It's a theory. Rather a dangerous one.
- Why?
- Because people don't have faith; faith being reason's determination of the limits of reason, that there is another world out there. If science shows us that sometimes we see waves, sometimes we see particles when we look at electrons, maybe we are right to think our social roles or physical differences lock us into operating different and inconsistent apparatuses.
- We can't help seeing the world differently.
- Yes. And if we don't "have faith" in that other world behind the fact we observe of different worlds being seen by different apparatuses, the best we can do is tolerate each other with mutual incomprehension.
- Then you are arguing that you did, in fact, communicate with your wife on a level prior to thought?
- Alright, yes, But that level was something ordinary, was our shared everyday life.

Philosophy Of Ideology And Perpetual War

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(Continued from The Unconscious)

- Why do countries make war whenever they can? I know, in defense of their ideology, you already said that. But why ideology? What makes people ideological?
- Do you think philosophy can answer that question?
- Why not, if it takes the trouble first to define ideology? "Unconscious belief with social function".
- I think philosophy can give an answer. Not directly, but by being an example itself of ideology.
- And with the example will we know what makes people become ideologues?
- Let's see.
- Ok. This will be fun. The Marxist Zizek says Marxism is a kind of capitalism, caught up in the very ideology it criticizes. Is Zizek caught up in ideology too, also a kind of capitalist?
- He is.
- How?
- By being restless. Marxism is a theory of constant production, of history without rest.
- We'll rest at the end of history in the communist utopia.
- Yes. Until then, work. Zizek uses both Hegel and Lacan. In Hegel's philosophy of history each new idea achieved has encompassed in its field of application a world part of which contradicts it. We must have ideas, but according to Zizek's Lacanian psychoanalysis, any idea involves ideology, some part of which is social and group motivated and which we as individuals instinctively disobey, withdraw our consent from, and with violence of spirit move warily towards the formation of a new idea, helplessly taking on a new ideology. We never rest in ideas because in every case they are against us and contradictory, we never rest in being ourselves, are never individuals in our breaking out of ideas because our escape is violent and blind and our flight follows a pure logic drawing us on to formation of a new idea inevitably under the influence of our society and family.
-  We might as well go all-out and say these philosophies are Fascist: celebrating violence in action and in politics, seeing the stability of society always at risk from a "contradiction", the alien, infecting influence, a race, a religion, immigrants... Philosophies of ideas and of ideology describe worlds without rest, Fascist worlds. Where do we go from here?
- Ideology leads to war, restlessness leads to ideology.
- You don't think they arise together?
- In fact, I do. But both together arise from loss of a prior behavior.
- Which is what?
- Individual action and individual thought.
- And where is that individual action and thought if we all live in society?
- It's there, each individual safely enclosed in his own separate body. Hegel and Marx's theories of history, Freud and Lacan's pychoanalysis, describe a development in history of societies and families, not how an individual learns, acquires ideas.
- Which I take it involves rest?
- Yes! We learn by moving our bodies through the world, we develop habits of perception and of production. When our habits, as one modern philosopher of the body put it, sets our bodies in "poise" with the world, we rest, sinking down into the physical relief of beauty that accompanies the arrival of a new idea about the world. An individual who learns from his actual particular place in the world attends carefully to that place, is not violent against the place that is his teacher, and an individual who reaches a new accommodation with the world is not troubled by any contradiction.
- Is anti-ideological and anti-Fascist. People become ideological when they stop being individuals, and they stop being individuals when their societies pressure them to conform. I'm not sure we've gotten anywhere.
- But we have. If ideology is restless and ideology leads to permanent war, we have to fight against restlessness. We have to prevent it.
- By being individuals, who are subject to the demands of their families and societies to become ideologues.
- By being individuals who fight to keep hold of beauty in their lives.
- Art is going to save us from war.
- Do you have a better idea?

The Unconscious

-  I haven't read your latest, "War". The subject is too depressing.
-  It's about a research study that concludes that countries make war when they can. The more opportunity, the more war.
- See what I mean!
- No I don't. The more we know the better.
- Not if we can't do anything.
- That is something we don't know. Why do countries want to make war on each other? Is the behavior shown by those in control of countries the same as behavior in personal life? Or is it something different, the result of what is called institutional pressure coming from demands of their groups?
- Aren't they the same? In our personal life we have our groups too, family, friends, work.
- Then if we know better how in our personal lives we allow our groups to send us into battle, as it were, and assuming changing individual behavior is more in our control that changing the behavior of groups, and changed individual behavior would change the behavior of our groups, we'd have some positive means of action.
- A lot of assumptions.
- Yes. Should we try anyway?
- Why not.
- To make use of an old word, let's say group behavior, as distinguished from personal behavior, is based on ideology.
- Defined as what?
- Unconscious belief with social function.
- What is social function?
- The agreement that creates or maintains the society as a group rather than a collection of individuals with nothing in common but being in the same group. Are you going to ask next what is meant by unconscious?
- I was.
- Good. I think that unconscious behavior is the product of our lives in a group.
- You don't think it is part of our fundamental psychological make-up?
- I don't. If it were fundamental psychology it would be mysterious and inaccessible. Since it is a product of living in a group we can account step-for-step what we did in a group to produce it.
- Produce the account.
- Last week I heard an artist who creates performances with robots talk about how to make robots walk. If you try to program the movement of each part of the body separately you get the robot to walk, but with an awkward not very human walk. Another way to do it is to work without any programming at all. Set motors on each leg going continuously to move each leg back when in contact with the floor and design the robot frame such that the whole robot falls first on one leg, then another. That produces a recognizably human walk.
- Amazing.
- The idea is that what we think involves intelligence often does not. It occurred to me that here was a way to describe where the unconscious comes from. In our lives in a group things are arranged such that we can continuously fall like the robot as we repeat certain fundamental movements. For the robots, motors pulled back their legs. For us, fear, and hatred. the passions, do the same work of driving us forward. The ideas of the group are learned without self awareness in our childhood and youth. We acquire these "motors" under threat and with reward. Society gives us the push that sets us into the fall, and society makes the level ground for us to walk on.
- The level ground is the ideology, which our motors have been adjusted to make our fall agree with.
- Yes. Do you see the implication? As the robot has no programming, so we have no consciousness of what we are doing. "Capitalism is the only alternative"? Fall, step, fall, step. "There is no truth"? Fall, step, fall, step.
- So we say these words, but in fact, they have no personal meaning: we can't account for why we are saying them.
- That's right.
- How does a society provide the level floor to walk on?
- Rules, rituals, customs. Anything regular to elicit a regular response.
- So we are whipped and bribed into our falling. We acquire unconsciously the ideas of the society and we hold these ideas unconsciously, as long as the floor stays level. Wars, I think you are going to say, are to make sure the floor stays more and more level. Am I correct?
- You are.
- And, as I always ask, what are we supposed to do about it?
- In a second. First I want to say that there is another kind of unconsciousness that is not ideological, is not group behavior but individual thought: the unconsciousness of self in contemplation of the world. After doing the work of learning what goes on in the world or in a lover's life, we rest in the world's or a lover's beauty. But in ideology, there never is any rest. Ideology can be immediately spotted using this distinction.
- You mean that if I say there is no alternative to capitalism, I don't see anything out there? No person, no world. Actually I am just falling, leaning my leg motors into action one after another as I lean down on one side then other.
- Exactly.
- What are we going to do about it?
- If unconscious behavior is not a fundamental of group life, but an alternative to individual conscious behavior, then it is a reasonable project to work to discourage the one and encourage the other.
- And you find having the benefit of that conclusion encouraging, despite the fact that wars are becoming more frequent?
- I do. You don't?
- Education. It is a very old story. It doesn't seem to be working very well for us. We've been educating mostly in the very technical knowledge, social organization and machine making, that allows countries to make wars more frequently. You imagine a future of the kind of education that would allow us to fall into beauty rather than on the face of society. Alright. I'll let you have your dream. At least it's not unconscious.

Further Reading:
Philosophy Of Ideology And Perpetual War

War

- There's this problem that's been bothering me for some time.
- What's that?
- You know how the European Union is destroying its weaker member countries by austerity policies, even though its own research institutions have reported that the only outcome of these policies is destruction. What I realizes is that, of course, the leaders of the EU don't believe in all this stuff they talk about, free market, tolerance. But what they do believe in is the punishment of austerity, at least when it is another's austerity. For the last hundred years or so wars, though generally involving a lower percentage of population, have been becoming more and more frequent.* This is because with the breakdown of colonialism there are more countries. There are also more democracies, and democracy don't fight wars at all with other democracies. They do however fight wars with non-democracies, and there are more of them too, just as there are more democracies. Financial strength and high technology reduce costs and make it more likely that a country will start a war. Wars, ever less destructive and more frequent, with an average 60 percent chance of losing once initiated, still are a good investment when the rewards of success are high.
- And what new do you conclude out of all that?
- In The United States and the European Union the rich, through their control of political and economic institutions, are waging war against the rest of their people. That is the meaning of the neo-liberal austerity policies being imposed. The people don't realize what is happening. With the government approving monopolies and granting subsidies there is no free-market, and there is tolerance of your life style as long as you don't wake up and pay attention to something other than lifestyle, for example to the economic war that is being waged upon you. And do you know what really is interesting?
- What?
- The reason we poor deluded souls are being warred upon is because we are not democratic!
- We're in a democracy but we are not democratic?
- That's right. Our efficiently power sharing leaders look down upon us poor deluded souls with our tolerance and idiotic swallowing whole their free market lies. Democracy is the sharing of power between people but we have been rendered impotent: because we tolerate everything we cannot communicate with each other any suggestion of better or worse political action, we can't even communicate the idea it might be better not to be waged war upon by the class of democratic rich who control government and economic institutions.
- And the solution is?
- Obviously we have to become democratic too! I was talking to a geography professor at UCLA about these things. He told me that most wars now were civil wars. As new countries are being created, new wars have started within them. Ethnic and religious groups which were getting along fine dredged up memories of past grievances.
- Even if they had been democracies they, like the EU and the United States, found a basis to define a group as non practicing of democracy and thus the valid target of war.
- Yes. He gave Israel as an example. I told him how the day I'd had a conversation with an book editor and journalist and all around well connected big shot in Israel about his country's carelessness in defending itself against the charge it was occupying the Palestinian Territories, Gaza, and Golan Heights. He said,
- Israel is occupying those lands.
- They were taken in a defensive war.
- The UN passed a resolution in 1967 stating that lands won in war have to be returned.
- Against all previous historical practice.
- The idea is to maintain post World War II borders.
- Except for civil wars? The Chinese and Vietnamese communists took control of and have been allow to retain their whole countries.
- Israel isn't engaged in a civil war.
- Isn't it? It is true that the lands you mentioned were obtained in defensive war. But the people who want them back from Israel wish, openly state, even put it into writing, their demand that Israel totally cease from existing as a state. Both sides living in the same territory want permanent control of all of the same territory. Looks like civil war to me.
- The international community doesn't see it that way. Israel took the lands after invasion, and that is absolutely rejected.
- But you are looking at it wrong. It is true the land was taken in invasion. But then? The international law says 'give it back', but are these people, themselves not remotely democratic, really members of that in principle democratic body of states in which Israel is included if they openly deny the right of Israel to exist? Isn't it ridiculous to apply the law in this case? 
- The argument is that the Palestinians have been defined as outside the democratic community and so become legitimate objects of attack.
- Yes. Israel has no hesitation launching its own economic and social war against its own people, an assault at least as strong as ours and the EUs, but it is determined to not fight with the powers that be. The only way it can do that is to show its power to be a democratic member of that community in good standing, and they do that by refusing to be patronized and by not caring much about defending themselves against the rhetoric of the weak.
- How can we save ourselves? When trade and technology only make wars easier and more common, when though democracies don't wage war against each other they more and more often wage war within themselves?
- As I said: by being determined to become democratic ourselves.
- But how?
- By recovering our power.

Further Reading:
Ideology & The Unconscious
___________________
* The Frequency Of Wars, Harrison & Wolf, 2011

Zizek At Starbucks

Continued from A Place For Themselves In Other People's Places

- Those late nights at Starbucks I was telling you about: most of the time I spent watching lectures by the Slovenian philosopher Zizek, one after the other. And this afternoon, when I walked into my back-up late-night Starbucks a couple blocks away at the Ralphs supermarket, who do you think I saw sitting there, just where I like to sit watching videos? Zizek himself! I stopped dead in my tracks. He soon became aware of me staring at him. I said:
- I've been watching you the past few days.
- How? I just arrived here.
- On Youtube.
- You know, we East Europeans are sensitive about being watched.
- Are you speaking at UCLA?
- Yes, probably, some problem about time, someone speaking first....
- Here. (I hand him a slip of paper with my web site address.)
- What's this?
-  My writing.
- 'LatestWriting.com'. So big. Like no one else's writing counts, only your writing. You must be arrogant.
- I am. Maybe see you later.
- And that's all? Did you go to his lecture?
- I did, but didn't speak with Zizek.
- Why not? You must like him if you dedicated so many hours to him.
- I do. I agree with almost every conclusion he draws. I don't think there is another person in the world I could say that about.
- Then what?
- I'm not sure. Zizek praises the ecstatic experience of falling in love, but he also likes to point out how the ecstasy produced by high art or in religious experience was used by Nazis and wartime Japanese Buddhists to make killing easier. He talks about the "Other", meaning our submission to social instruction in the form of habits we've learned to practice without being aware, and the "others" which are people who seem to be different and hostile to us because they serve another "Other". I'm not sure I've got that right, I find it difficult to even listen to this kind of thing.
- It's from Lacan.
- Yes, I suppose so. Zizek underwent Lacanian pyschoanalysis and is a certified psychoanalyst himself.
- And you don't like the terminology?
- I don't like that he stops there, producing his explanations with these words. I want to know how ecstatic experience can lead to both bad and good results, I want to know why we are conscious of "the other" only when we we feel threatened by it.
- Are you saying you don't know yourself and expect Zizek to answer these questions for you? That doesn't sound like you. Do you know the answers?
- I have some ideas. Ecstatic experience in love leads you to focus complete attention on a single person. Ecstatic experience leading to violence takes you away from your individual choice towards conformity with your group.
- And why are we conscious of other groups only to hate them and unconscious of our conformity to our own?
- Because in one case we are in the midst of constructing a ritual, and in the other we are repeating by habit a completed story that tells us of our secure relation to the world.
- Love is individual, so it can have nothing to do with rituals, which are group actions, either in their formation or repetition?
- That's right.
- Then I understand.
- My problem with Zizek?
- Yes. I am now able to do a Lacanian psychoanalysis of you. Should I?
- Is Zizek my "other"?
- No. But you worry he may think you are his.
- Why would he if we agree on everything?
- You don't agree with terminology you suspect is used ritualistically. And rituals construct "the other".
- Not bad. Congratulations.

A Place For Themselves In Other People's Places

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(Starbucks Coffee, Westwood Village, Open 24 hours)

- Who was that guy you were talking to? It sounded like you were mentoring him. I do that myself.
- No, just met him. I saw him at Ralphs last night after seeing him here at the cafĂ©, said hello, and he told me about his life.
- What did he say?
- His life was going about looking for a place for himself in other people's places. The first place was a Zen Buddhist monastery, across the street from the aged Filipino woman he was taking care of in Hilo, on the big Island of Hawaii. He hung out for years there at the monastery. Then he had some legal difficulties with the ethnic Hawaiians, and switched to hanging out around the Hilo courthouse, the only place he felt safe from the police. He became an expert in local crime. Then he returned to the mainland and lived, he claims, six months in the San Francisco airport.
- Why?
- He said he was afraid people wanted to hurt him. Then he spent another six months living out of an adminstration building of the University Of California at Berkeley, until he got caught and charged with trespassing. A public interest lawyer he found got him off, and he came down to L.A. He's been hanging out at Malibu, attending the Habad Center there. The rabbi had agreed to help him convert to Judaism and go live in Israel at a Yeshiva. He was copying the entire bible by hand so as to memorize it.
- What did he get angry with you about? Sorry, I didn't mean to eaves-drop...
- I pointed out that he kept talking about Jesus, and about himself as someone chosen by fate to be a significant religious force, and that this didn't look much like Judaism to me, rather it looked like ego mania. He began insulting me and I asked him to leave.
- There's a lot like him around here.
- What about you? What do you do? Are you also a messiah?
- No. I have several projects I'm developing.
- What kind of projects?
- Music, movies, a hedge fund, many things. An entire conglomerate actually. I've put it into lockdown now while I get my life in order.
- While you're hanging around here. Ok. It's really a remarkable crew that passes the nights at this Starbucks. Do you know any of them?
- I keep to myself, do my own things.
- They do too, mostly. In front of me is the computer programmer, in a moment you see him go into his routine of wrist twitching, finger pulling and joint cracking. At the far right corner is an old con artist who acts like he is my friend. He tried to trick me out of 500 dollars when I returned from Europe a couple of years ago.
- How?
- Said he'd give me a job writing a television show. Minimum wage, but a good start to show my talent. But was I a member of the Writer's Guild? He was a member of the Producer's Guild and he could only hire Writers Guild members. No? No problem. He could send his lawyer right now to the Guild and get a temporary membership. Only five hundred dollars. Let's go to the ATM, he said, and get your money.
- You didn't give him the money?
- It was really tempting, even though I knew the whole thing was ridiculous. He'd never read a word I'd written.
- How did he know you?
- He saw me through the window of the cafe and came in, sat down next to me, asked me if I was a writer. So, I told him I didn't have the money, but he could take it back out of my first two weeks salary. He said he couldn't do that, it wasn't professional. I was making a mistake, he warned me, maybe the worst mistake of my life, I'd always regret it. That's the story, he left the cafe to try the trick on other poor hopefuls. But back to the regulars here. Around the corner, in the other room, is the grey bearded man being treated at the University hospital whose medical expenses ruined him. Ahead of you is the black family, mother, father, two teenaged daughters, who work quietly at their table on their individual projects.
- What kind?
- I don't know. At the window is the Russian, or maybe only Russian reading man who spends his days at the UCLA library, nights here, also sometimes in a sleeping bag in a doorway on Westwood Blvd. Three or four women regularly spending their nights in village doorways come in here as well. I'm sure you've seen them. They don't talk to anyone.
- They talk to themselves.
- Yes. There's the guy who never takes off his ear speakers, and is writing a screenplay, seems to live somewhere hidden on the UCLA campus. There's the black guy who sits smoking outside giving everyone provoking hostile looks. Last night a woman sleeping on the street began screaming Help! Someone called the police. This smoking provocateur was throwing garbage at here while she tried to sleep. He didn't even bother to leave. The police came and took both him and the woman away. More people stay here, but enough for now, right?
- I was the one who called the police. Are you going to put me on your list?
- Do you think you belong? What they all have in common is their great similarity to the orthodoxy of our world.
- They're victims of the powerful. The government gives them free food and no place to live so they can scare the rest of us into conformity.
- They do the work of scare crows. And like scare crows resemble real men and woman, so these people on the street resemble those they are meant to scare. What they have in common is their attachment to social role, despite the fact that in their present way of life there is no one along with them up on stage, and in fact, there is no stage either. I'll tell you what I mean. In the last week, there have been two more scandals about UCLA. Scandals are nearly continuous these days. The first was the hospital being fined 250,000 dollars by the state of California for endangering the lives of their patients through negligence. It seems that in one out of every three thousand operations surgeons leave inside the bodies of their patients a sponge or towel or some instrument or other object. That is ten times the state average, with most hospitals reporting no cases at all.
- The surgeons are in a hurry to move on to their next operation.
- That's what the nurses I talked to about it said. The other scandal isn't even reported. At the California Nanoscience Institute there is one out of only two in the world x ray microscopes which can make three dimensional images at the atomic level, can actually see molecules. Though developed by public funding, maybe in the billions of dollars, it is being rented out exclusively to drug companies to do research at the price of 200 dollars an hour.
- About the cost of a cheap car repair.
- Yes. I've told you about these things because I want to make a point: the overnighters here at Starbucks each have their role, they'll tell you about it if you ask. Some are messiahs, others, many others actually, are writers and filmmakers. We think there is something pathetic about this self conception they have because no one else in the world has a role to play with them, to give the writers a job, the messiah a people to save, whatever. And they don't have any regular place they live to perform their roles in. But look at the UCLA surgeons and scientist administrators. Surgeon is supposed to be functioning with patient, scientific administrator with the California public. Instead the surgeons treat their patents like disposable garbage bags and the scientific administrators are no different than the con artist I pointed out to you. The con man doesn't run from me, the man attacking the woman on the street for the fun of it doesn't run from the police, because there is no place they are performing their role in. They don't live anywhere. They can play their solitary role anywhere. But if the people here overnight don't have a stable place to play their roles, neither do the surgeon and administrator. They couldn't be scared so easily if they did by the show of these scare crows wandering the village and campus. Administrators and surgeons know no one is really safe. That's why they go for the money in the first place. The real difference between the people down here at the cafe and those up at the university is possession of property, and property can easily be taken away.

(Continued at Zizek At Starbucks)

The Test Of A Man

Image result for greek democracy
- Listen, can I make what is going to sound like an outrageous claim?
- What would be new about that coming from you?
- The new government in Greece is facing off with the European Union about paying back their debt. The new government was elected on the promise not to pay, the European Union is determined to do everything it can to make Greece pay.
- You're talking about money, finance, budgets. Boring stuff.
- More than money is involved. The Greeks don't want to pay on principle, and the EU wants to make them pay on principle. The Greeks argue that it is wrong to be bound by your promise. The EU believes it is wrong not to be bound by your promise.
- Ok. How is it wrong, according to the Greeks, to be bound by their promise?
- Because we must always do right, and a promise is binding us to future conduct which, sometimes, when the future arrives, we will see is not the right thing to do. When our drunk and insane friend asks us to return the gun he asked us to hold for him when he was sober and sane, we don't perform on our promise, we say it would be wrong to keep our promise.
- And why is it wrong for the Greeks to pay back their debt?
- All kinds of reasons. For example, the debt was incurred by a corrupt, clientelist government, not by the Greek people themselves; or the debt repayment is destroying the economy of the country.
- But they made the deal. The EU also has their interests to be respected. Or no?
- No.
- Why not?
- Because the only reason to be bound by a promise of future action you no longer think is good is to provide a secure environment for future dealings. In the case of the Greeks and the EU, the EU is treating Greece like an enemy, knowingly destroying the everyday life of the Greek people by exacting repayment. If the EU was doing something good, instead of acting drunk and insane, things would be different.
- I'm sure the dour and rational EU bankers would think you were drunk and insane for characterizing them as drunk and insane.
- I suppose they would. If the Greeks are arguing that it is wrong by be bound by principle when it happens that is clearly something bad to do, the EU is acting on the opposite presumption, that there is literally nothing more important than continuing to bind future conduct by past principle.
- So your outrageous claim is that the Greeks, the inventors of democracy, argue good takes precedence over promise, and the EU bankers, beneficiaries to ideas of democracy the Greeks invented, face off each other in some sort of apocalyptic philosophical battle. Do I have you right?
- You do.
- Then what, if a philosophic war is being enacted before our eyes, is the reasoning of the bankers, what is their response to the argument for not repaying? Have I missed something? I don't believe I've heard anything from the bankers other than, "Do it because you must, you naughty, naughty children, you who don't respect the authority of a promise". And for that matter, I don't think I have heard the Greeks express anything of the kind you are telling me now. They talk about a power struggle in which the EU deliberately gets poor countries into debt, forces austerity measures including privatizations which allows the bankers to acquire their valuable property cheap.
- Nevertheless, a philosophic battle is underway.
- But how can you say that?
- This morning I was at the University Research Library, up on the 5th floor walking through the stacks. The first book that caught my notice was the complete poems of Emily Dickenson. I flipped through the pages, read a few poems. Down the same aisle, the second book I pulled out was The Test Of A Man*, a fifteenth century book of Indian philosophy.
- Never heard of it.
- Me either. That is my point.
- What is your point?
- That the ideas behind this epic battle are in the air.
- The much polluted, over-breathed air that the whole world has inherited from the long gone Greek democracy.
- Yes. In the chapter of The Test Of A Man entitled "In The Tale Of The Millionaire Magnanimous" a rich man observes himself and his wealth, and comes to the following conclusions. It is not his unique character, his fate, or his good fortune that made him rich, but rather his having many "skillful and obedient servants" who had to be continually managed. A moment's idleness, and his wealth could vanish. Real wealth, he argues, is not the material acquisitions themselves, but the ability to earn. But because the minute that ability to earn is not exercised the possibility of loss of wealth is threatened, he feels anxious for his wealth even though he has known for a long time he has much more wealth than he can use.
- Wealth brings with it an anxiety to be always acquiring more wealth.
- Precisely.
- And that was written in 15th century India. Fantastic!
- If you want the philosophic history on the other side of the argument, that a promise has no moral standing, William Godwin at the end of the 18th century in England produced just the book for you, more than a thousand pages of closely reasoned exposition, An Inquiry Into Political Justice.
- And if I walked through the stacks at the research library Research Library I'd find it too?
- You would. Godwin was the father of Mary Shelly, the author of Frankenstein and wife of the poet Shelly, a professed admirer of his father in law's ideas.
- Ok. On the surface, the EU bankers are saying to the Greeks, you bad boys, you know the rules, you promised and now you have to pay up. The Greeks are saying to the EU bankers, No, You! You are the rule breakers, tricking us and the other poor countries of Europe into entering into economic relations which you knew would destroy us, pretending all the while you care about us, were actually concerned with our education and worried we were being spoiled by the temporary prosperity that arrived with you deigning to let us join your club. But behind the scenes of the these words Greek and EU politicians throw at each other in public, according to you the reality is the Greek bankers feel an anxiety to go on acquiring useless wealth, as expressed in 15th century India of all places, and the Greeks refuse to be bound by any economic or political principle at all, in fact will be bound by nothing but the wish to form a society that would be good. Is that right?
- Exactly right.
- Right that it is a good principle to follow, or that the Greeks are in fact following it?
- Think about what happened two months ago in Greece in the election that brought the new government into power. For democracy to function power has to be in the hands of the people. People have power in a democracy when they are capable of exercising power. That means when they are capable of making political decisions. If we look at our country, The United States, we can say unequivocally Americans are presently so indoctrinated and ignorant they don't have that power. But two months ago the Greek people, a majority of them, displayed a basic understanding of the things we've been talking about: not being bound by promise, and their tormentor's anxiety to gain more and more wealth.
- Are you claiming the majority of Greek voters actually have that understanding?
- Maybe not to put into words, into the philosopher's words.
- What words then?
- The party in power promises to restore Dignity to the people and to defy the Greed of their opponents.
- They promise.
_____________________
* The Test Of A Man, Being The Purusha-Pariksha Of Vidyapati Thakkura

Alien Invasion

 


1.

- You know this book by the physicist, A Short - (something) - About Time, said to be the most bought and not read book in human history? Have you read it?
- Didn't buy it but tried to read it in a bookstore.
- The physicist says, maybe someplace else, I'm not sure, that if we want to know how aliens will treat us when they land on our planet we should look at how those of us with high technology treat those with lower technology.
- They'll massacre most and enslave the rest.
- Yes.
- I guess people bought the book thinking that to compete they had to be up to date on technology and then didn't like reading the part about technology dooming the species to massacre each other and finally be massacred by aliens. Did you get far enough yourself to find out if he talked about societies that didn't organize themselves as parts in a machine?
- The first societies* where prestige of doing things well was tied to giving away the products of doing things well. Wealth wasn't accumulated, so wasn't inherited. And the technical knowledge responsible for accumulation, also not inherited, could not become the basis of social class.
- And not lead to massacring and enslaving each other.
- I am among those who couldn't finish the book, but I'm willing to bet it's not there.
- What about another bet? What are the chances alien invaders come from the end of the line of technological evolution rather than the beginning?
- Since the exceptions to technology and slavery appear only at the beginning of our history and in scattered small societies that have been isolated from history, isn't it likely aliens will travel the same path?
- We've had a lot more bad societies than good.
- Yes.
- And the only good societies we've had don't do well when contacted by the bad.
- They don't. The good don't survive.
- Will the bad societies survive?
- They have, so far.
- Suppose though slavery, massacre, inherited hierarchy destine us for destruction. On the other hand, the archaeological record and continuing survival of isolated communities show that good societies are stable and long lasting.
- So if good societies that go bad self-destruct, and good societies that stay good survive, and there is no necessity for good societies to go bad, then our reasoning is wrong: it is infinitely more likely we'll be contacted by people who stayed good, because there are more good societies than bad out there in space.
- As you said: if good societies don't all go bad. And if they get technology.
- What if technology always makes us bad and without technology we'll always be conquered by those with?
- Then aliens will come massacre and enslave us.
- Look on the bright side: every year that we continue to survive and the aliens don't come to get us is an argument that they don't want to. They have better things to do.
- And then like them we'll someday work out how to use technology and stay good.
- Do you know what else is encouraging?
- What?
- No one reads that guy's book.


Further Reading:
Einstein & Intellectual Physics
The Technology Of Good (And Other Stories)
Democracy & Inequality
____________________
* See The First Culture

2.

- Hierarchical technological societies destroy the simple sharing societies, and end up destroying themselves. If simple sharing societies got technology, reason taking the place of ritual, they'd be able to protect themselves from the hierarchical, technological societies. Assuming there is no beginning or end to time, and no beginning or end to space - we have already found thousands of planets orbiting other stars - since two types of society are destined for destruction and a third type not necessarily, the aliens that arrive one day to visit us will most like be from the third type, sharing and technological. You said technology may always make us bad. Could you go into that a little more?
- The Situationists* in the 50s and 60s came up with the brilliant idea to extend Marx's theory of alienation with Rousseau and Plato's description of society as imitation, representation, or in the Situationist's word, spectacle. When a worker is paid to make a product it is taken from him, and is no longer part of his own history, his own life story. Products in the world of the market, of employment, buying, and selling, are alien to the individual who made them, but acquire a mysterious social meaning for their buyers, possessing them becomes a symbol of their social role. The Situationists said that each of us in society works to make our social role, and were both alienated from our "self" - the product we've  made of ourselves - and acquire for ourselves a mysterious symbolic value derived from the power and security that comes from having a place in society.
- What about private life?
- Trading for making money is without limit, and being without limit inconsistent with the defined goal-seeking nature of life. This according to Aristotle. He limited profit seeking to activities outside the home and only for the sake of securing the home.
- So he thought everyone in the market, producers, and buyers and sellers too, risked alienation if they didn't have home life. The Situationists said those times are over, because we ourselves are now the product, and we take that product self home with us. Is that right?
- Right. The Situationists wanted to make a revolution and counted on the ever increasing alienation from self and world to find them supporters. The '68 student revolt is tied directly to their agitation.
- So what happened?
- Do you think when we work to make a self in our society of spectacle, invent a role for ourselves, this process is like a worker making a product for an employer who takes it from him to sell?
- We don't have our self, after we make it, taken from us. We play it out.
- Yes. It is true that we intuitively know the difference between the made self and the self without artificial construction that is possible in life at home, but as we participate in the society of spectacle, playing our role, we feel safe and secure.
- Secure and alienated both. Not too promising for finding companions in revolution.**
- It may be difficult or impossible for a sharing technological society to develop out of hierarchical ones.
- Should we expect then a lower class of alien invaders?
- Not necessarily. We shouldn't expect hierarchical technological societies to go anywhere but their destruction, in general.
- In general?
- We can't rely on history, development of a society as a whole, we can't say as did Marx and the Situationists that it contains the seeds of its own reform. However some individuals in the society likely do contain those seeds, and nothing in what we've said prevents them from planting them.
- And given an infinite amount of time and place for experiment, some are bound to survive.

3.

On Two New Sciences, Galileo,1638:
Salviati: These difficulties arise because we with our finite mind discuss the infinite, attributing to the latter properties derived from the finite and limited. This, however, is not justifiable; for the attributes great, small, and equal are not applicable to the infinite, since one cannot speak of greater, smaller, or equal infinities. An example occurs to me which I shall refer to your consideration, Signor Simplicio, since it was you who started the discussion. I take it for granted that you know which numbers are squares and which are not.
Simplicio: Aware of the fact that a square number arises through the multiplication of any number by itself; for example,4 and 9 are square numbers formed from 2 and 3.

 
Salviati: Excellent. You remember also that just as the products are called squares, the factors, that is, the numbers which are multiplied by themselves, are called sides or roots. The remaining numbers, which are not formed from two equal factors, are called non-squares. If then I state that all numbers, squares and non-squares taken together, are more numerous than the squares taken alone, that is an obviously correct proposition, is it not?
Simplicio: It cannot be denied.
Salviati: If now I ask you that how many square are there, one can answer with truth, just as many as there are roots; for every square has a root, every root has a square, no square has more than one root, no root more than one square.
Simplicio: Entirely correct.
Salviati: Again, if I ask how many roots are there, one cannot deny that they are just as numerous as the complete number series, for there is no number which is not the root of some square. Admitting this, it follows that there are just as many squares as there are roots, since they are as numerous as the roots and every number is a root. Yet we said at the outset that all numbers are more numerous than all squares, since the majority of the former are non-squares. Indeed, the more numbers we take, the smaller is the proportion of squares ; for up to 100 there are 10 squares, that is, one tenth are squares ; up to 10000, one hundredth; up to 1000000, only one thousandth. Still up to an infinitely large number, granting we can conceive it, we were compelled to admit that there are just as many squares as numbers.
Simplicio: What is to be our conclusion?
Salviati: I see no escape expect to say: the totality of numbers is infinite, the totality of squares is infinite, the totality of roots is infinite; the multitude of squares is not less than the multitude of numbers, neither is the latter the greater; and finally, the attributes equal, greater and less are not applicable to infinite, but solely to finite quantities.

- Your turn.
- I don't know. I'm expected to outdo Galileo?
- Yes. What do you have to say?
- The infinite is an idea, but not an idea about the world.
- What else can it be about?
- About both us and the world, about something we do in the world.
- What?
- Operate a machine of thinking. We take what we have and add one. Then take that and add one. We instruct ourselves to continue doing this. The infinite is a sort of recipe for action,
- A program.
- Yes. We can follow a recipe to construct an infinite series of odd numbers, like we can for all numbers. We imagine that the odd infinite must be smaller than the all number infinite because the all number series also includes the even numbers which also are infinite. Imagine we count at the rate of one unit per second.
- We operate the mental machine once per second.
- Yes. We don't see a larger or smaller infinite. We don't see a thing, "the infinite" at all. Ideas are collected experiences we see all together when we stop acting and rest. Infinites, continual action by recipe, cannot be ideas, cannot be seen.
- Then what are we doing when we talk about larger and smaller infinites?
- We imagine that the counting in our mind is shown in a movement in space. Each time we count one more we move a little forward. It looks like the set of all numbers is moving forward more than the set of odd or even numbers. When we get to 2 for all numbers, we have taken two steps, but for the even or odd numbers, only the first.
- We seem to be packing more movement and distance covered in the same infinite counting?
- Yes. Counting odd numbers and even numbers and squares is slower, covers less distances.
- So when we talk about bigger and smaller infinites we are really comparing speed of constructing infinite series.
- Right. Now this has some rather amazing implications for social life.
- Here we go.
- Social roles both provide security and are alienating. They provide security by giving us a sense of power, the power to do repeatedly what is done in our particular role. Social role is a kind of infinite. We imagine how we could "operate" our role on whatever the world throws at us, always adding one more instance of successful performance. On the other hand, social roles are alienating. We imagine that if we had no particular role at all, were instead all roles, we'd be like the set of all numbers not only odd, even, or squares, we'd be "larger infinities", we'd get further quicker, we'd cover more ground in life.
- This reminds me of the paradox, Zeno's arrow. In one second it will hit the target. In half a second it is half way there, in a quarter second more it gets closer, in an eighth of a second more, closer still, in a sixteenth of second more, closer still. We can operate this machine of adding ever smaller periods of time, and the arrow seems to never get to the target. Are you saying something similar?
- When we choose a social role, we are like the arrow traveled half way.
- I see that. Like odds or evens or squares.
- Imagine then we take on further specificity of social role. For example, Asian, female, Christian, homosexual student life, the subject of a movie I saw today. Each new role seems to be adding to life, but halves the ground covered, like odd numbers are half of whole numbers. The more specific the roles we take on, the smaller our infinite, and that makes us feel alienated. Our power is increasing but life is shrinking.
- Like the arrow, really we're getting nowhere.
________________
*The Society Of Spectacle, Guy Debord.
See Debord's  Film
** The few who aren't happy in their roles in society are happy in their roles as protestors against society: members of the Situationist group accuse each other of only playing at being a Situationist...