Real Democracy

 

- A new book purports to answer the question why the U.S. government hasn't prosecuted any bank executive for the crimes leading to the 2008 economic collapse. Have you seen it?
The Chicken-Shit Club.
- Yes. It's argument is that these financial crimes are hard to prove in court, and U.S. prosecutors are proud of their near 100% win record thanks to their never prosecuting cases with uncertain outcomes, to their choosing to settle out of court instead.
- And what do you think of that argument?
- It's essentially the same line taken by president at the time Obama who offered the excuse it wasn't clear that a crime has been committed, obviously untrue.
- Why?
- What could be a clearer case of fraud than Goldman-Sachs telling customers to buy what they themselves were at the same time ridding themselves of as quickly as possible? Or Wells Fargo opening without permission millions of fraudulent accounts in the names of their customers? A few years ago a federal court judge, writing in the New York Review of Books*, said there was no doubt that crimes had been committed, but prosecutors didn't prosecute corporate executives because they were not in the habit of prosecuting corporate executives: it just wasn't done.
- Prosecutors were afraid of losing if they prosecuted the corporations themselves, and they didn't want to prosecute corporate executives because that 'just wasn't something they do'.
- Yes. The same impunity of corporations and executives can be seen in the lack of prosecution of banks and their executives for creating millions of fraudulent deeds to property they now wanted to sell that they'd bought as a package without deeds, the actual practice that led up to the financial collapse of 2008. Banks to this very day** continue to produce fraudulent documents as they sell off their accumulated foreclosed properties from the collapse.
- A more convincing explanation is that many of the government prosecutors would within a few years be working at vastly greater salary for the executives and companies they made favorable out-of-court deals with.
- I agree. We're not seeing the result of inefficiency of professional practice but justice being bought out; outright corruption dressed up as business as usual.
- What did you want to ask me about?
- I had just gotten used to the idea we don't live in much of a democracy because virtually all elected officials had been bought out by corporate "donations". That wasn't so bad, because the government though a lot isn't everything. Everyday life goes on. But now we see the finance industry, the largest industry in the country, in addition to buying the government, under the protection of the government they've bought is waging direct war on the people of the country. Yet life goes on as if everyone is doing the job they claim they are doing, the government watching out for the people and finance helping them out with their money.
- Again, what did you want to ask me?
- Don't be impatient. I know corruption is nothing new. I wanted to ask you if this is new, the openness of the corruption, and the way life goes on as if nothing much is wrong.
- Would you say the feeling of unreality is related to the sense that we are supposed to be living in a democracy yet are not? That we were willing to accept that our vote didn't count if somehow something was left of democracy in the way people lived together? And that the corporations getting away with literally millions of crimes against their customers challenges the sense that everyday life can be going on as usual?
- Yes. Democracy isn't rule of the many, or rule of the poor; it's a deal made by the poor with the rich that the rich wouldn't rob too much and in exchange the poor wouldn't take away their property.
- And that deal has been broken, yet we still think we are living in a democracy. Thus our feeling of unreality at being confronted with the fact that the deal between rich and poor has unquestionably been broken.
- So what do you think?
- We see here in our times how democracy ends, but have you ever wondered how it began?
- Where the idea came from to get rid of the property qualification for citizenship?
- Yes.
- Ancient Athens.
- I mean how had the rich convinced themselves the poor wouldn't vote them out of their riches, and how had the poor convinced themselves the rich wouldn't rob them blind?
- What did the Athenians themselves say? What about Pericles' funeral oration from Thucydides?
Our love of what is beautiful does not lead to extravagance; our love of the things of the mind does not make us soft. We regard wealth as something to be properly used, rather than as something to boast about"..."Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well: even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics—this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.
- Would you agree then that democracy is a theory of political life that is being tested in its actual practice?
- What theory?
- Self control, and self-knowledge creates a human being that can reach productive agreement with other human beings irrespective of how much property they own. If you think about it, it's really a wild idea. What is it about this character of human being that allows this agreement?
- You tell me. The idea really does seem to come out of nowhere. There wasn't, was there, precedent in history before the Athenians came up with it?
- There was perhaps a different kind of precedent.
- What kind?
- The so-called Pre-Socratic philosophers, who made claims about nature that it was all variations in the shape or assemblage of water, or air, or a combination of elements. While we see change in nature, actually, they thought, something was staying the same. Water was always there, or air, or a combination of elements.
- I see. Democracy is a theory of political life that says that, produce a human character of the sort that knows itself and controls itself, and something human stays constant in political life, and that constant is what we mean by democracy, not good relation between classes or voting rights. Is that what you mean?
- Yes. We live in a country where many or even most have or would like to have democratic character, yet the actual government and economic life no longer are of the kind a people with democratic character should be able to make for themselves. Because we see nature on the same terms as we've been accustomed to see political life, the unchanging behind the changing, our political life which no longer has that form strikes us as "unreal".
_____________________
The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?
** Chain of Title

Philosophy & Science Of Betrayal

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- You said last time,* about the difference between philosophy and literature:
Stories model the truth, summarize in miniature how life goes. Philosophy talks about the fact that life itself is to our perception a kind of story, is filled with illusion, but some elements of which are not illusion. Our perception of the world is constructed, is a model that reflects some aspects of the world and not others. Our consciousness however seems to be, sometimes at least, at moments of love and beauty, not subject to the model making illusion of perception. Or so philosophy claims, giving itself the job to extend into the world of perception as far as possible that un-modeled, un-storied truth.
What about science? How is it different from the two?
- Like literature, its stories do not involve 'un-modeled, un-storied truth'.
- Its stories? Science is not about truth? Are you serious?
- Yes. Unlike philosophy, being without un-modeled, un-storied truth, science is further limited in being unlike literature in that its stories must be experienced, rather than the product of imagination.
- Anything else wrong with science?
- Yes, if you mean by wrong its limitations. Science tells stories and makes models of the relation of kinds of thing to kinds of thing, and confirms the stories and models by experiment. Both philosophy and literature tell stories of individual human beings experimenting with their relation to the world, looking for regularities in how doing certain kinds of things changes their relation to the world from better to worse or worse to better.
- Science experiments with kinds of things in the world, literature tells stories of experiments individuals perform on the world.
- Experiments individuals perform on their relation to the world.
- What you mean by relation to the world?
- In science the conditions of observation and instruments used are controlled, allowing anyone with the proper equipment to repeat the experiment on the same kinds of things. In our personal lives the instrument of observation is ourselves, or rather, our character, and it is modified by each of our actions and thoughts.
- We see different worlds depending on our experience and education.
- Yes. When you can name and describe the parts of a flower you see the flower differently from when you couldn't. When you are angry much of what you'd otherwise see and remember of the world is lost. In fact the first job philosophy puts its tools of analysis and synthesis to is the control of our instrument of observation, purifying it of disabling passions.
- And our instrument of observation is character.
- Since what we see of the world is the product of our past actions, what we actually see of the world is our relation to it in which there is something of the world and something our ourselves. We try, in the story of our lives, in that continuing experiment, to put ourselves in the best relation to the world.
- Best, meaning happiest?
- Yes. Notice that all three - philosophy, literature and science - involve experiments, but only science deals with the relation of classes of things to classes of things. In literature and philosophy the world unrelated to individual actions is not a concern.
- You are not saying there is no truth of the world, only that how we see the world varies with our character.
- Yes. But the truth of our character cannot be seen either except in relation to the world. The Canadian philosopher John Ralson Saul** argues that ideologies are utopias created by reason unbalanced by the other human capacities of memory, sympathy, creativity, imagination, and common sense. The problem with this is that relating classes of things - memory, sympathy, creativity, imagination, common sense - to each other is to make a science of human nature.
- And you think that is wrong. Why?
- Because it is not science but literature, bad literature: these classes of things have not been experimentally observed in relation to each other.
- Not science, and not philosophy either, because the model of human nature does not involve descriptions of being the best relation to the world, of being in sight of the real world recognition of which distinguishes philosophy from literature.
- Philosophy experiments with ideas, so let's subject the model to a thought experiment. In recent times leader after leader in the countries of South America betrayed their promises of social reform, with one notable exception: Hugo Chavez, who 'worked as an instructor in a military school, attempted a coup against a corrupt neoliberal regime, took personal and public responsibility for it and went to jail, came out and explicitly rejected the armed path to power, and helped lead a movement that has, by any definition, advanced the public good in Venezuela and in Latin America.'*** We can add to the list of betrayers the Greek Prime Minister Tsipras giving in to the European Union bankers, defying the will of the people expressed in a referendum, and our own Senator Bernie Sanders declining to challenge the proven corrupt Democratic primary or to continue his run for presidency as an independent. I don't think we can say of these betrayers, particularly not of Sanders or Tsipras, that they are unbalanced in their virtues of memory, reason, sympathy, creativity, common sense and imagination.
- So what does philosophic analysis tell us?
- That the virtues are inseparable. For John Ralston Saul capitalism is an example of a utopia of reason. But in fact capitalism is reasonable only in the use of experiment to achieve efficiency. Capitalism begins with the relation of employee to employer, which can only be established by forcibly keeping the employee from the property ownership that would give freedom to not sell himself into the part time slavery of employment, and capitalism ends with the seeking of profit for its own sake, a seeking which arises from the sense of power that is itself the product of regular class relations promising security. Capitalism is more about power than reason. In actuality, that is, in our own observed experience, when an individual experiments with his relation to the world he relies on all the virtues at once: memory of a better life lost, creativity in choice of what to try, imagination of the sympathy and love aimed to return to. Character is strengthened with every unsupportable relation to the world escaped. The betraying leaders in their world of politics perhaps displayed all the virtues, but their exercise was confined to the rule-defined management of people within institutions. They played safe, whereas Hugo Chavez placed himself in jeopardy, his relation to the world lived through and changed.
- He lived in the real world. The other politicians only played games.****

Further Reading:
Leadership
_________________________
There Is Nothing Either Good Or Bad But Thinking Makes It So
** The Unconscious Civilization
*** Ricochet Magazine
**** The actions they are afraid of taking they soon lose interest in taking: leaders lose sympathy for the led they have power over. See Killer Metaphysics. See also The Show

Free Speech Against Free Speech





- Hey Rex. Where are you coming from? Are there any events today?
- Could be. I was at the sculpture garden, and do you know what happened?
- What?
- I was sitting, writing, computer on my lap, when I felt something on my arm: a sparrow had landed on me!
- What did you do?
- I flinched, and the sparrow flew away.
- Why did you do that?
- I'm not accustomed to birds being summoned by my words. I'm not Saint Francis. And then, do you know what?
- What?
- The sparrow flew back.
- To your arm?
- Yes.
- Did you shake it off?
- No. It stood still for a few moments, then flew away. You know, I'm going to put you in what I'm writing. I'll bring in the bird somehow.
- Are you using my name?
- Sure.
- You have to change it.
- I'll change it from 'Dolly' to 'Molly'.
- That's too close.
- No matter. Upon reconsideration I don't think I will be making a change. As a committed supporter of our new president you're not deserving of my charity.
- What are you writing about?
- Thought experiments. How about I do one on you? See that old man over there?
- Yes. You know him?
- No. Imagine him coming over here and saying to you, Will you be my friend?
- No, I won't. Why should I?
- Wait, we haven't finished setting up the experiment. This old man goes on to describe himself to you, and not to make a mystery of this, everything he is going to say about himself is true of our new president who you are so attached to. Not true because someone somewhere says it is, but because court documents and videos of him admitting the truth himself prove their truth. So this is what he says:
Please, little old lady who's lived on the street for the past seventeen years, sleeping on church porches and going to lectures at the university for the free food and drink, pretending to be interested: dear little old lady, will you be my friend? May I tell you about myself? I love to brag about how I molest women and get away with it. I cheat people, both rich and poor, in the many contracts I make. I refused to pay immigrant workers from Poland I hired to build my buildings. I refused to pay caterers for my many parties. Courts ordered me to pay these people, and then since I had to I did. I loved defrauding poor people desperately trying to better themselves by buying from me a high priced education, I loved cheating them by claiming I was personally involved when I wasn't, lying that I was offering accredited university education when I was only offering trade school. I love to incite crowds to beat up people who disagree with me, offering to pay their legal expenses if they're arrested for the crimes I ask them to commit. I love to lie, to lie, to lie and lie and lie again, to lie all the time. I lied yesterday when I got the head of the FBI fired who kept investigating me for my illegal business arrangements with Russia, I lied when I told people I got him fired because he had illegally exposed my greatest adversary, though I've been recorded many times praising the man for making that very exposure. I lie careless of consequences or obviousness. I'll say it's sunny when it's raining. Look at me. I twist my face into repulsive grimaces, the hair on my head seems to belong to another species, and both my face and hair have an unnatural orange color. My use of language, vocabulary and grammar, is worse than an average three or four year old child's. In fact what I'm telling you now is far beyond my language abilities, I must be inspired by god. So, Dolly, will you be my friend? I molest, cheat, lie, incite people to violence, can barely speak and am physically repulsive. Will you be my friend, Dolly?
- Don't call me 'Dolly' when you write.
You will be my very good friend, Molly-Dolly? You know, my very good friend, though I molest, cheat, beat up others, I'd never do that to you. You know that could never happen, my dear Dolly.
- Write 'Molly'!
- Can this man be your friend, Dolly-Molly?
- You're just resentful because you're not rich like he is.
- So your answer is, Yes? You do take him for your well-chosen friend?
- Yes. He's unconventional, like me
- You don't care about the sexual assaults and cheating the poor, his incitement to violence and non-stop lies?
- That's just what you say.
- For the thought experiment I ask you to assume that it is all true, as in fact it is. Making that assumption, he'd still be your chosen friend, right? It wouldn't make any difference.
- No, it wouldn't! No one's perfect. All politicians lie.
- They do. But in the same quantity? Are they corrupt to the same extent? Haven't the efforts of other politicians to keep the appearance of good behavior restrained them from the worst possible excesses while in office? Whereas we see in our new president's behavior that absolutely nothing restrains him from the most outrageous, openly dishonest behavior.
- That's your opinion, I have mine.
- For our thought experiment then your answer is, Yes, my dear, I accept your friendship.
- You've told me about Dolly before. I like her. You make fun of her, but I think by some miracle she is enjoying herself in her difficult circumstances. I like your sparrow too. Do you assign it any meaning? A symbol portending your future?
- No.
- Is that because, as you said about narcissists, they make the world their instrument,* you'd be using the incident as tool of interpretation?
- Can't I simply say it was beautiful? 
- I won't stop you. Speaking of thought experiments: Do you know 'The Trolley'? A trolley car is out of control, rushing towards five people tied to the tracks. You have in your hand a lever to shift the trolley to another track where only one person is tied. What would you do?
- What would you do?
- Last night I saw an Australian / Indonesian movie** built around the experiment. A teacher asks his students to select those few they'd take with them into a bomb shelter before a nuclear attack and those they'd leave behind there was no room for. In the course of the movie they make the selection several times, and we watch dramatizations of how the chosen make out in the bomb shelter.
- And how do they make out?
- The first groups, selected to have the most useful skills, not well: they all die. In the last selection the choice is made to include, not the most useful, but the best, the most sympathetic. Even if they have, with little practical skills, little chance of surviving, their time will be spent trying to live the best lives human beings can. Is that what you mean by non-instrumental?
- It is. The Trolley experiment leads participants into accepting the 'bad means to good end' argument: accepting use of present bad means for the sake of an expected future good. It's a variety of the 'the lesser evil'*** argument.
- Choosing a bad means to a good end is less evil that doing nothing and getting the worse end?
- Yes. The argument has big problems: we can't accurately account for consequences; we can't know if choosing the lesser evil will become a habit of bad action, a corrupting model followed by others and oneself; even if good results are foreseen, we don't know if bad results will not soon follow; we don't know how far ahead we have to look, which factors are most important to be taken account of.
- But the simplified situation of the experiment evades those challenges. We know nothing of the past or future of the world of trolley cars, nothing of your character as decision maker or of the character of the six people in the experiment.
- It does. But don't you see?
- The lack of characterization forces upon the participant instrumental thinking, thinking that doesn't respect individuality.
- Yes. I for one do all I can to avoid making a world for myself like that of the trolley experiment. I keep a distance from people I don't care about, who don't know me and I don't know, no matter how useful they might be. I choose to live with those I do know and care about, no matter how great the danger they might represent.
- Even if the people you know and care about are making you their instrument?
- Sometimes even then.
- But what about the Trolley experiment: what would you do?
- What you said was done at the end of the movie. You tell yourself the world you live in is filled with known and unknown, liked and disliked. You make decisions to make your world more known and more likable, make yourself more known and likable, which is another way of saying you aim with your decisions to make yourself and others happy. You never will be in a situation where you know and like nothing about yourself and others. Finding yourself in such a world is proof you have given up on ethical life, you have made your choices on the basis of quantitative predictions of what will make you more wealthy, secure, more powerful.
- When the world you have to decide in is the world of the trolley experiment, you have already left the world of morality, consequently the experiment, not allowing a moral choice, has no relevance to moral decision making?
- Yes. Last night, maybe while you were watching your Australian movie, I watched a video of 'The Battle For Berkeley'.**** Have you heard about it?
- The riots when Trump supporters came to U.C. Berkeley and tried to speak?
- Yes. In the tradition of Neo-Nazies marching in a Jewish neighborhood of New York, conservative speakers scheduled lectures in this place of student protest. Massive resistance from students and others forced cancellation. The conservatives complained, Didn't they too have a right to free speech? No they didn't, not there, answers Sunsara Taylor, veteran of the civil rights movement, co-founder of the "Refuse Fascism"***** organization. Can you guess her argument?
- As the trolley experiment fails to have moral application because it blanks out all individual characteristics of the people involved, so does an absolute application of any rule or law. Laws are only approximations. Unforeseen circumstances arise. More than one law or rule may apply in the same situation, leading to different resolutions. For example, the law does not allow us for the fun of it to cry 'fire!' in a crowded theater, with people trampled to death in the resulting panic. How'd I do?
- You're right on track. She says the right to free speech has never been absolute. She very properly observes that there is also a common law right of self-defense involved. What the conservatives propose, the substance of their speech, is a real danger to the people. Should you let someone come close to you who is already shouting far and wide you have no right to exist? Should you let him try to convince your neighbors or even your family to kill you? The rule of free speech, when free speech has already been widely exercised elsewhere, has no force when weighed against the imperative need for self defense. The application of common law right to self-defense may create a disruption of ordinary rules, demonstrations may disrupt free flow of traffic in a city center, but that too must be accepted by the same argument that in any particular situation different rules carry different weights.
- But how can we be sure we are not manipulating the argument for self-defense, claiming views are dangerous when they are not? Can't the conservatives claim liberal views are a danger to the their people? In fact aren't they now doing exactly this when they and our new president call the press the enemy of the people?
- We rely on our ability to define clearly what is dangerous.
- How? Not every situation is as obvious as shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater.
- In the case of the conservatives trying to speak in Berkeley we rely on our ability to define and identify fascism. Fascism, a ritual movement of a crowd, openly exhibits its ritual origins: it is both violent and convention bound. It is violent in its formation of the crowd identity, attacking outsiders who endanger the people, secretly infiltrating within; and rule bound and conventional, demanding mindless observance of the laws and mores that keep the crowd thus formed together. The same president who with fierce vulgarity incites his crowd to violence, calling on all to smash protesters in the face, this president says in justification, suddenly shy and afraid of open words, that the protesters 'made this gesture, you know, this rude thing, with a finger...' This same president who for fifty years has been breaking laws, promises, contracts, who's been continually cheating, assaulting, defrauding, wants to strictly enforce on others existing and new laws.
- Instead of defining Fascism as a form of government, or a psychology, you say it has a distinctive signature in its relation to violence: in the same person, at different times, violence together with strict obedience to rules.
- Yes. It is violence that creates and defines the crowd, conformity that unifies it. 
- Maybe we could say that the trolley experiment forces the decision maker into participation in a crowd: the five to be saved are the un-individualized participants in a ritual of exclusion, the one to be sacrificed is the strange and unknown foreigner.

Further Reading:
Bird Song & Machine Talk
A Study Of The Influence Of Custom On The Moral Judgement
_______________________
The Narcissist
** After The Dark / The Philosophers, 2013
*** Lesser Evil Voting
**** The Battle For Berkeley
***** Refuse Fascism

The Narcissist

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- Our new president is derided as 'Narcissist In Chief'. He's a joke.
- How would you define narcissism?
- Being in love with an image of oneself.
- Not in love with oneself, but with an image of oneself? A deliberately looked for or even constructed image of ourselves?
- Yes. It's bizarre. A strange combination of passion and artifice. A passion for artifice.
- Then it would be correct to say you are curious about narcissism?
- Yes.
- And to be curious is to feel pleasure in not knowing?
- I never thought of it like that, but why not?
- Do you imagine a narcissist ever being curious?
- No. They pretend they know everything all the time. They never willingly admit they are wrong.
- Would you agree then that a narcissist is someone who is afraid of not knowing, so always tells himself and the world that he does know?
- Again, why not? But in focusing on knowledge aren't we straying from what people usually mean by narcissist: someone who is in love with himself?
- To be curious about what you don't know, would you say it is necessary to have some confidence you eventually will understand?
- Yes.
- And to have that confidence, you must have in the past, after being confused, reached understanding, made discoveries?
- Yes.
- But to study, discover, understand requires some stability of circumstances. Remove the stability, wouldn't what before was pleasurable confusion now be a threatening unknown?
- The narcissist is someone who, previously secure in having learned how to learn, finding mystery a pleasure, now in a state of instability can't learn, so fears not knowing?
- Yes. Both curiosity, and its failure in narcissism, are relations to knowledge.
- How do we get from fear of not knowing to love of an image of oneself?
- By knowing something about yourself that tells you you have no reason to fear.
- How is that knowledge love?
- It isn't. It's relief, looking at yourself from a position outside yourself.
- How can we do that?
- Divide ourselves in two?
- Yes.
- Through the experience of seeing ourselves in another person's eyes. The narcissist tries to give himself an appearance that, in his imagination of someone looking on, would represent maximum security from fear. The narcissist learns how to make that appearance to which he is, through the intermediary of others, the real audience. The picture of self has to be continually remade as the world changes. Lacking real knowledge of the world, as opposed to knowledge of that part of the world that reflects an image of themselves, narcissists need over and over go back to work remaking a secure image.*
- You mean narcissists seek power?
- Yes. We don't usually call them insane unless they are very wrong about others' perception of the themselves and the extent of their power.
- I'm beginning to recognize our President. He doesn't seem to want to do anything with the new powers he's acquired except admire himself for having them and for his having had the skill to acquire them. Come to think of it, can't we say a narcissist like him does have curiosity about himself, I mean about what new grandiosity of image he legitimately does have some knowledge how to produce?
- But is this the same kind of curiosity?
- Why wouldn't it be?
- When we are curious about the world we move from a position of security to, if we come to know the world, increased sense of security from having new knowledge of the world. The curiosity of the narcissist arises out of fear of losing power, from a constant need of reassurance.
- So it isn't really curiosity.
- No. We use other words.
- Obsession. Fixation.
- Correct. Still there is a relation to knowledge, a need for knowledge, but from a perceived position of weakness rather than strength.  A narcissist has this relation of fixation or obsession to all three basic tasks of knowledge a human being faces: the need to master the tools for living in the world, to learn how to acquire food and shelter and safety; the need to learn how to get along with other people; the need to master our own passions so we can get along with people and have the peace of mind needed to learn enough about the world to feel curious about learning more. We must be safe first if we are going to be curious, to enjoy learning to perform these three tasks. The narcissist, living in insecurity, instead will seek to establish a sense of power in one or all three tasks.
- How does our new president do this, if he does?
- He most definitely does.
- All three?
- Certainly, all three ways an individual establishes a relation to himself instead of to the world: being in love with his reasoning; being in love with his ability to manipulate other people; being in love with his ability to satisfy all his desires without fear of consequences. Our President likes to talk about how he is very smart, he has the best words; how he's very rich and powerful and can make deals no one else can; how he can grab pussies and get away with it.
- But if you are right about this being what narcissism is, isn't the whole of our society more or less narcissistic? Everyone trying to impress themselves and all who look on with the extent of their satisfied passions, their achieved ambition, their worldly cleverness?
- People live insecure lives,** have to sell themselves into the part-time slavery of employment. When you can't make your own decisions how to live you can't enjoy learning to control yourself, understand others, or know the world. The only relief you know is in exercising your powers to satisfy your passions, manipulate the people around you, and make the world your instrument.

Further Reading:
Political Correctness
The Show
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* Having no sense of self that is not a show made to the public, narcissists have no sense of privacy, they have nothing which must be held in reserve from what is shown the public.
** 'A life in which we’re all alone, alone facing the necessity for each one to make a living, house oneself, feed oneself, realize one’s potential, and attend to one’s health, by oneself. Disgust with the miserable form of life of the metropolitan individual—scrupulous distrust / refined, smart skepticism / shallow, ephemeral loves / resulting extreme sexualization of every encounter / then the periodic return to a comfortable and desperate separation / constant distraction, hence ignorance of oneself, hence fear of oneself, hence fear of the other.' ('To Our Friends', The Invisible Committee)

Conservatives & Totalitarians




1. The United States & Totalitarianism

- A totalitarian nation controls all of individual life in the name of perfecting social arrangements.
- Doesn't sound much like the United States.
- Another way to define totalitarianism is by the practice of continuous, unending ritual*. We are threatened by the communists, the Jews, the capitalists, we must be vigilant in eradicating these threats. We see ourselves as weak, we perform a ritual according to the known procedures, and come out feeling stronger.
- What are the known procedures?
- Depends on the country. War making, conceived as response to threat to security. Or exchange of goods and services between parties defined as adversaries in an economic transaction. Ritual in its basic form is an occasional means of recovery. Practiced too often, like a drug too often had recourse to, ritual becomes addictive**, for the same reason: our ability to lead ordinary lives is lessoned when not practiced, and with less ability the world become more inhospitable, making the security delivered by ritual more attractive.
- So countries limitlessly make wars, expand the realm of trade.
- Yes. Doing for the sake of doing***. The state institutions, originally the servant of individuals, become an end in themselves, administrators of the settled, unvarying practice of continuous ritual.
- Money making, war making.
- When this continuous ritual is turned away from foreign practice and turned inward to the state itself we have totalitarianism. The elements within us opposing the trade of goods and services, or opposing the ideal society of sharing we are in the way of perfecting, have to be eradicated.
- The actual achievement of the society of sharing, communism, or the actual achievement of free markets, capitalism, isn't important then, only the application of ritual to assigned obstacles?
- The United States is no more a country of free trade**** than the Soviet Union was a country of sharing.
- Still private life is very free in the United States. It is nothing like totalitarian countries in that respect. But maybe you'll say we're on the way there, with increasing inequality of wealth, monopoly ownership of means of communication and natural resources.
- Monopoly serves expansion by controlling markets. The danger is that the monopolists, with political power bought with their economic power, will not be satisfied only with economic ritual turned within, satisfied with the power to force everyone, like it or not, into transactions with them; that labeling holdouts threats to the nation, as truly they are obstacles to continuous practice of economic ritual, they begin to perform continuous rituals of war against them, step up practice within the country of what they have long been practicing outside. That economic and war expansion share the same form of continuous ritual encourages the transition from one to another, and this is true of all relations internal and external, economic and war making: between external war, internal terror, economic empire and internal monopoly.
____________________


2. Conservatives & Totalitarians

- We said that we don't see any reason to think there is a direction to history*, of one form of government inevitably following another; that trying to institute any form of government as an end leads to treating individual lives as means to that end, leads to the idea of efficiency of means to the end and so leads to individuals being sacrificed to the idea of efficiency.
- I remember.
- If we concentrate our efforts on building the state, we end up crushing the individual. What if we start from the individual? Can we build up to an idea of the state that won't be destructive of individuality?
- We tried something like that already when we argued that rather than describing the mental world in the terminology of the physical we should do it the other way around, describe the physical world in terms of the mental.**
- A government is a thing like a body is a thing, a thing that moves, whose moves are repetitive, repetition that maintains, in response to a changing world, the thing in the same shape. A government is a sort of artificial body.
- Yes. So let's see how far we can take this, starting from the state and working back to the individual. We see an approach of totalitarianism in our country with its new president. Russia and East European countries are already half way there. We know that totalitarianism is maintained by isolating individuals from each other. Isolated individuals can't easily organize a resistance. But we don't see how totalitarianism actually produces that isolation. We can follow how shared support of totalitarianism produces a crowd through shared passions, but how the non-adherents end up isolated from each other, end up a set of isolated individuals, we have no explanation for. Whereas we can see how changes in the status of individual conduct can produce totalitarianism.
- We can? I know your definition of totalitarianism: acting out on the national stage a ritual of collective rebirth. Our country is weak where it once was strong. There is an enemy within, allied with external enemies. With violence we will drive them out and bring on a national revival of our greatness. Where does individuality, the mental explaining the physical, come in?
- One of the myths about capitalism is that it is about work; hard, selfless work. It absolutely is not. Or not for the capitalists. Selfish work is for the employees, who literally lose sense of themselves as they slave for the sake of their employers. Who, far from having a will to selfless work in what they do, begin with a sense that they institute, they force their choice upon the world how to invest their money for the sake of making profit. They feel a need to continually set out on a risk-taking activity, to set out from a state of wealth and security to a state of insecurity, relying on a mysterious process called the free market economy not directly in their control. They know some rules which in the past have worked to achieve profit. Some of these rules are ways of working, techniques of production for example. But it can be the case, as it is in our times, that the rules for market behavior can direct lying and cheating aimed at achieving the same goal, profit. The capitalist has no preference how the dangerous ocean of the economy is navigated across; the period of risk passes in a sort of gambler's trance, and what occurs, whether careful management or fraud, monopoly, collusion with and bribery of the government, or simply lucky choices, is left behind and forgotten as a renewed state of security is achieved.
- OK, we have talked about this too. The capitalist approaches his money making as self-instituted ritual. The more he practices his ritual of rebirth in renewed profit, the more quickly insecurity returns: this comes of living in a controlled, artificial world, knowing only how to make money and knowing nothing about how to live in the world outside that ritual activity; only in the renewed practice of money making does the capitalist feel he has a grip on life. The economy is a mystery having the power to constantly generate profit for anyone willing the play the role of capitalist and submit himself to it.
- In the case of the United States the individual changes himself deliberately through ritual in three ways: politically, in threats or actual violence against internal enemies and external allies; economically, in the capitalist's submitting himself to the mystery of the free market; and to this list we add spiritually: we have sinned but we can be reborn passing through a trance state of religious ecstasy where god's work is being done on us, reborn into strength leaving our old weak selves behind.
- So then we're saying now that the capitalist and the born-again religious are attracted to the totalitarian form of government as politics, public life sharing a form with what they are doing in their private lives?
- Exactly. It calls upon a fundamental behavior already being successfully practiced. So does conservative politics, the government interfering with the individual as little as possible for the sake of allowing room for individual responsibility in the inception of ritual, taking the business risk or baptismal plunge.
- Which explains the otherwise strange alliance of conservatives, who demand least possible government interference in private life with totalitarians, who submit to total government interference in private life.
- Now all these formally identical ritual behaviors isolate each individual from all other individuals who do not take part in their particular rituals. A stranger at a cafe does not have the script to your personal spiritual revival and will definitely not be happy being the victim of your lying and cheating economic rebirth in profit taking.
- Before totalitarian politics locks individuals away from each other individuals already already are leaving each other alone.
- Yes. I think if we want to see totalitarianism coming we should look for rapid increase in the isolation of individuals. I see it already in Los Angeles. Waiting in line at the market the cashiers tell me not to talk to the other customers as it slows down the line. At Starbucks, for a change getting into a heated discussion - well, actually, one customer is trying to stop another from talking to me! - the manager steps in with, 'break it up or you all have to leave.' You know, I help kids from a couple of families with their reading and writing English. One of them is a little boy. Here's how our last conversation ended:

- Rex?
- Yes.
- You're ugly.
- Not too much.
- You have grey hair.
- What's wrong with that?
- You're old.
- What's wrong with that?
- You're going to die.
- And you being 9 years old think death is for other people. What else?
- You have fur on your hands.
- Monstrous. What else?
- You have a big nose.
- True. What else?
- You have pointy teeth.
- Like a vampire. So. You've been studying me. Any other discoveries?
- You are a bad influence.
- Who told you that? 
- No one.
- Someone. It's not a word you use.
- What happened to your wife? Why don't you get back together?
- I don't know where she is.
- Why don't you look for her?
- She doesn't want me to.
- Why not?
- She moved on.

- What's with the boy?
- He already speaks two other languages with his parents. English practice seems unnecessary to him. I was hired to help him with his reading: he would guess the words from the general shape of the letters rather than sound them out completely. For him that was all the attention reading deserved. He confided in me that our twice a week one hour sessions were the worst part of his life.
- He was trying to get you to quit.
- Or trying to take revenge. He saw my failure in ritual performance: I don't take the initiative with my appearance or my marriage. I got old and am going to die without getting anywhere. But despite these failures, he finds that he himself fails to pin me down. I pay a great deal of questioning attention to his attack of words, but let pass over my head his attempt to construct his own little totalitarian state with me, he taking the role of the employer with initiative, I forced into the role of the irritant outsider, an employee forced into the role of worker without initiative. My flourishing in the forgotten regions of ritual transition where operate the spiritual, economic, national mechanisms of rebirth fascinates him. Before he knows it he has completed his days reading aloud.
Do you enjoy teaching under those circumstances? If I taught I wouldn't let my students disrespect me.
- And if you enjoyed it?
- The disrespect?
- The teaching despite disrespect. The pleasure derived from rituals of rebirth is what Plato called pleasure in the relief of pain. Only the pleasure of knowledge doesn't require prior pain. Ritual requires forgetting, acquisition of knowledge requires remembering, collecting together all that has been experienced seen differently now something is known of it. Individuals isolated from each other in their self instituting political, economic, and spiritual rituals become, as we said, the more ritual is practiced, the more removed from the world outside of ritual. They can make other people the objects of their rituals, they can take pleasure in subjecting other people to their violence, but can never get to know them, never have a story to tell about what happens when lives come in contact with each other.

Further Reading:
Compassion & The Story
____________________
Lesser Evil Voting
** See: Noam Chomsky & Mental Things

Trump's Lies

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1.

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


2.

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

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

Lesser Evil Voting

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

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

Are You Real?

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

Further Reading:
Political Correctness

Thomas & Little Man

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

Further Reading:
Political Correctness

Immediate Fix


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

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