1. Political Correctness
Since childhood, I’ve passed through a flow of milk, smells, stories, sounds, emotions, nursery rhymes, substances, gestures, ideas, impressions, gazes, songs, and foods. What am I? Tied in every way to places, sufferings, ancestors, friends, loves, events, languages, memories, to all kinds of things that obviously are not me. Everything that attaches me to the world, all the links that constitute me, all the forces that compose me don’t form an identity, a thing displayable on cue, but a singular, shared, living existence, from which emerges – at certain times and places – that being which says “I.” - Julien Coupat (presumed), The Coming Insurrection- Your friend, the graduate student who got thrown out of UCLA for sending insulting emails to his professors, he wasn’t the guy who killed the professor in his office a couple weeks ago?
- No. That was someone else.
- Professors don’t seem to be too popular at UCLA. After this students won’t be able to say anything critical without being considered potential killers. Political correctness will reign supreme. What do you think? Should we talk about political correctness?
- Fine with me.
- How would you define it? A claim everyone has on each other for tolerance? Everyone can think and do anything without challenge except use violence?
- What do you mean by “without challenge”?
- We may not like what we see but we won’t demand it be changed.
- Everyone is free to do anything that is desired?
- Except use violence.
- And what would you say is being tolerated: individual acts and words and thoughts, or identities?
- People get upset about what other people do all the time. But tolerance is not about accepting individual acts: that is something psychological, something maybe calling for forgiveness. Tolerance is political. So I’ll say it is about social roles, identities.
- We are told to tolerate types of people unlike our own type, types which in some way interfere with the actions types like us perform.
- Why do we choose to see ourselves and others as types?
- Because we think we and they really are types. The types of people we are are our identities. Our Identities identify ourselves to ourselves and to others.
- Why do we need to do that?
- Could it be for security? A sense of our own power to do the kind of things the type of person we are does?
- Could be.
- But then, why do we feel insecure in the first place? Are we missing something we need in order to feel safe and powerful?
- What are we missing?
- You know Plato’s three part division of the human soul: the rational, the spirited, the irrational. The rational part thinks and reasons, the spirited part has courage and becomes indignant, the irrational part desires.
- Why do we need the spirited part? Aren’t anger and courage irrational forces like sex and aggression?
- We are passionate when a physical need is not being satisfied. Spirit is a passionate response as well, but to a social world, the world of people we live with who we have become accustomed to, a need of their company that has become “second nature”. Follow?
- Political correctness, the demand for tolerance bars spirited action.
- Because spirited action makes a demand on the others in society?
- And because the politically correct aren't allowed a home in the social world to protect, they are insecure. They still though have the other two parts of self.
- And what do they do with them?
- They have reason and desire: they think about how to most safely and regularly satisfy their desires.
- How do they do that?
- By adapting their identity to circumstances.
- That’s all?
- What else?
- Don’t people secure their satisfactions by acquiring possessions, even hoarding them as symbols of power and security?
- They do.
- Don’t people attempt to make other people their possessions, to dominate them? To force an identity on them as dominated?
- Not always.
- If people are fundamentally insecure wouldn’t this always be an attractive possibility, a desire that reason would choose to satisfy?
- But how do spirited people maintain security? Wouldn’t they be always undermining for each other the social world each makes a home in?
- Constantly. But when you live with people without identities to be protected accommodations are easily reached.
- I don’t see it.
- If you don’t have an identity to protect you don’t have to have things any one particular way. No one ever has to face the catastrophe of loss of self. All you want is that the new way can be relied on, and it be a good way, which it will be because you’ll naturally be at home with people who’ve reached agreement with you.
- Naturally. So you argue that the crime of political correctness, respect for identities, is that it leads to possessiveness and domineering. Which political correctness tell us we have to tolerate.
- And worse. One class of people identify themselves as political and business leaders. In their insecurity they pursue endless accumulation of possessions, taking advantage of the dispossession of the rest to dominate them, to force them to sell themselves as employees or to adopt a submissive identity. Political correctness, by repressing the spirited part of ourselves, eases the way to dispossession and domination.
Killing At The University
2. Spectacle & God
- So. It's Donald and Hillary.
- If not the end of the world. Did you watch Bernie Sanders' capitulation speech, Hillary Clinton standing by his side?
- No. What did I miss?
- As he talks about his campaign, boasting of the millions of individual donations received and the number of delegates won, Clinton goes through a whole series of gestures apparently at random, smiling, nodding, turning her head to the side. Sanders is talking about his battle against her. What can she be agreeing with, if that is what she is doing, nodding her head? Is she letting herself go, showing the world now it no longer matters that it is in fact literally true she is a puppet? Finally Bernie Sanders says with spirit, 'The revolution continues!' But, he says, 'She won,' and wraps his arm around her shoulders for about a quarter of a second before he thinks the better of it.
- That's worth watching. I'll take a look.
- Sanders, the presumed honest politician, who ran a campaign that, as one comedian put it, went to the extreme of offering the people everything they want, with his arm around Hillary Clinton, the epitome of the dishonest politician who has spent the last decade going around with her husband from one corporation to the next giving speeches at two or three hundred thousand dollars a pop, collecting more than a hundred million dollars in what can only be called bribes: corporation executives are required by the terms of their employment to seek profit for their shareholders and can't be seen as throwing away money expecting nothing in return but the words of a woman who never in her life said anything memorable.*
- You think Bernie Sanders is a hypocrite?
- I think he is a politician who wanted to be a politician and asked himself what would be the least bad position he could get away with taking and went ahead and took that position.
- But it was a honest position, honestly representing the people's wishes, promising to give the people what they wanted: free health care, education, etc.
- Is it honest if he is not willing to do what it takes to make good on his offer? To follow in the footsteps of the Prime Minister last year in Greece, who when presented with the choice between doing what he said he would do and taking a risky path, or going against his own principles and the expressed will of the people keep doing his job under fairly regular circumstances, chose the latter?** Guy Debord, the Situationist philosopher of the '68 student revolution in France, said that in our times spectacle has become real, and real become spectacle.
- If Bernie Sanders allowed himself to tell the truth about what might be better politics it was because he knew it would only be a show? What's real then?
- Politics based on the power of money.
- What is the spectacle become real?
- Our entertainments. For Aristotle an exchange economy was destructive because it was potentially infinite. Money accumulation can go on forever, destroying the order and limits necessary for life lived well. He allowed trade to the extant it served home life. But our times have turned Aristotle upside down, and home life is dedicated to achieving maximum efficiency in the exchange economy. The consequence is that for respite from the endless striving of money making we throw ourselves into our entertainments which still do have ends.
- And because Aristotle was right and we are ordered things who have limits our games which return limits to our lives feel more real than the reality of our money making.
- This statement is by the Eleatic Stranger in Plato's dialog The Sophist (247E):
I suggest that anything has real being that is so constituted as to possess any sort of power either to affect anything else or to be affected, in however small a degree, by the most insignificant agent, though it be only once. I am proposing as a mark to distinguish real things that they are nothing but power.- I see. Bernie Sanders' 'real' words of truth about what the people want and think would be good for them, being without power are not real. And our games, which giving us conclusions and rests we need, having that power, are real. That leaves what goes on in 'politics based on the power of money'.
- Real, but not a spectacle.
- It is what goes on in the background while the people are occupied with the spectacle of their unreal games and the spectacle of truth equally unreal because without power to have any effect. Everything for us is spectacle.
- But only for us. For those in power, life is real, because they do have power. But they don't have the power to tell or act on the truth except if that makes them money and they don't have the power to rest, because money making has no end.
- A real bad life on one side, on the other, an unreal life of unacted upon truths and meaningless games. Such is the Situationist analysis. Plato's definition of real as power reminds us that our ideas don't exist independently as things (or if they do they are imitations, unreal, that is, spectacle), rather they arise in movement: they have a past and they have a future. We see and identify a thing because we have a past with it, learning what it is by repeated encounters with it, and once we have a name for a thing we more easily see it. Note that this is the real Plato, not the Christianity influenced misinterpretation prevalent more or less for the past two thousand years. However, with life as spectacle mowing down everything in its path, religion too has become a casualty, with the result that theologians and philosophers of religion have turned to the process philosophy we talked about*** and gone back to Plato looking for answers, this time with more open eyes, adopting Plato's idea that the world has a soul just as individual animals do and interpreting our god in accord with this idea of world soul.
- But in process philosophy there are no things.
- Only patterns in flux.
- Then, to paraphrase a popular song, what's god got to do with it?
- Ideas, which are unchanging, are moment by moment brought into being by the demiurge, an aspect of the soul in operation at each individual moment. God, the world soul, persuades us to participate by our own free will and realize eternal ideas in our lives. God is aware of us and of eternal ideas, just as we are of our own particular situations and eternal ideas we strive to bring to reality.
- No things, but we have us, animals with souls, we have the demiurge, and we have god, the world soul. A lot of things for a world without things!
- Which is why Plato presents these ideas and moves on.
- You explained last time,**** quoting his predecessor Heraclitus: language is a sacred disease, to be used with caution.
- Let's go back to the people with power who run the world of buying and selling. What about their ideas?
- You mean the ideas they use to justify what they do?
- Yes. Are they real? Do they have any power?
- No serious economist says they are anything other than the most provenly false ideas in social science history.
- But we, the powerless people, live in worlds of spectacle, where ideas put on a show but have no power, and the ideas we play with we know are false.
- Our overlords get away with imposing on us their false ideas, their Neo-Liberalism, their Free Market economics, because we have no use for truth?
- Why can't we put our true ideas into practise?
- The world of power struggle over money has no place for them.
- Then why can't we do something about that world?
- Change the system? Real change?
- You'd have to first change the way we the poor people think.
- We'd have to stop thinking of ourselves as things.
- As long as we think of ourselves as things we'll be easy to convince it's right that we be manipulated by supposed natural laws regulating exchange of things, right that we be reduced into beings fit only for a world of spectacle. Well, we've got the process philosophers and theologians to help us. They're even Americans mostly.
- I wonder what it would mean if we as a people were able to read Plato right. A new renaissance?
- You say while this very year we may have a fascist president waiting for us.
Philosophy & Politics, Saving The World
The Society Of Spectacle (pdf)
* WikiLeaks Exposes Clinton Connection to ISIS, Corporate Cash
3. Kant & Compromise
- We're told it's unreasonable to expect we'll ever have someone represent us in government who is not
a sociopath or clinical narcissist, (who has) failed to be the target of fraud lawsuits, sexual-harassment claims, or federal criminal investigations...(who hasn't) the capacity for unspeakable evil that is generally considered necessary to win higher office.*We're told we have to vote for Clinton to make sure we don't get Trump. We have to choose the lesser of two evils. Do we?
- We don't.
- Why not?
- Because it is a compromise that is sure to have drawbacks and is sure not to have benefits.
- How can that be? The benefit is to save the world from Donald Trump, who with nuclear launch codes in hand can basically end the world.
- Aldous Huxley's 'Ends And Means'** argues that the only end we could choose bad means to reach was there being greater charity in the world. Choosing any other end we'd be doing certain bad for the sake of uncertain good, at the cost to both ourselves and others, losing our integrity and becoming a bad example.
- We'll have our integrity while the nuclear bombs are exploding over our heads.
- In the 18th Century Immanuel Kant wrote an essay,*** drawing on Plato's allegory of the cave,**** that argued that people are weakened by dependence on others and don't dare to take back their independence. But once they do,
free thought gradually reacts back on the modes of thought of the people, and men become more and more capable of acting in freedom. At last free thought acts even on the fundamentals of government and the state finds it agreeable to treat man, who is now more than a machine, in accord with his dignity.- And what if there is no time?
- Kant advocated freedom only in public speech, not in personal life:
Thus it would be very unfortunate if an officer on duty and under orders from his superiors should want to criticize the appropriateness or utility of his orders. He must obey. But as a scholar he could not rightfully be prevented from taking notice of the mistakes in the military service and from submitting his views to his public for its judgment.- Then Kant advocated compromise too.
- He advocated obeying the rules in our personal lives when combined with free speech in public life, because that was he believed sure to result eventually in change for the better in our lives. If we merely call on each other to compromise in our personal lives, without the free speech in public life, our compromise will cost us our integrity and our good example and get us nothing.
- Except maybe not having nuclear bombs falling on our heads.
- Wouldn't that risk be better taken care of by people coming out and talking to each other, looking to another candidate or another political party rather than voting for the lesser of two evils?
- If there is time and if you can get people to talk to each other.
* From the Borowitz Report, July 24, 2016 issue, The New Yorker Magazine
** Ends And Means, (An Enquiry into the Nature of Ideals)
*** What Is Enlightenment?
**** The Allegory Of The Cave
4. Crimes Of The Rich
- I've done a little research. According to Kant, because ability to be free develops slowly and is limited by present conditions, we have no choice but to accept present political conditions, in his case a more or less benevolent dictatorship, in ours oligarchy, and talk our way into more and more enlightenment which will in time change the present political circumstances. Correct?
- As incredible as it may seem, my research shows that present conditions may not be a restraint for us much longer. Want to know why?
- A few years ago you talked about throwing out the existing Congress and electing a whole new one.* There now is a political movement called Brand New Congress** for doing just that in 2018 when all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will be up for grabs. You also talked about criminal prosecution and taxing of the rich to fund economic freedom for the majority of the people. The charity Oxfam, hardly a radical organization, in 2013 calculated that half of the income of the world's hundred richest people would be enough to save the lives of millions dying every year of starvation.*** Existing law in the United States makes it a crime to fail in the "duty to save".**** Putting this research together I come up with the surprising conclusion that in 2018 it is not impossible to elect a Brand New Congress with the exclusive mandate of criminally prosecuting and confiscating the wealth of our country's richest citizens for gross negligence of duty to save.
- Save from what?
- Poverty, conditions of violence and social injustice, all of which can be directly laid to the door of their hoarding of wealth, not to mention their bribery of the government in the service of that hoarding. Two years ago you wrote all this should happen.
- I did. And it is true, we have the wealth, we have the law, we have the political organization necessary for change. But part of the restraining conditions are the use of advertising and political speech to convince people change like this is impossible. Voters are allowed to choose only between images of leaders that make them feel better about themselves.
- Even if in public life they are told about other possibilities, they won't be able to act on them because in their personal lives they have been made idiots by advertising, movies, TV, music. I'm not so sure.
- Why not?
- Because as statistics tell us Americans are some of the most religious people on the planet, and really all we are talking about here is the golden rule: act with others as you would like them to act with you. Right now Americans are being told, Let those guys be billionaires as they like to be billionaires, because wouldn't you like to be a billionaire too and act as you like with your billions? But Americans haven't had the opportunity to see that those billions were acquired and maintained by criminality that costs million of lives every year, many of them in their own communities.
- They haven't had the opportunity to see because their minds are controlled by those same rich people who are criminals under current law.
- But Kant's theory of the enlightenment, and despite all our faults we are creatures of the enlightenment, predicts that that control can't indefinitely be maintained against public talk of new political parties, the world's increasing wealth, and existing law.
Be My Guest
* A Spiritualist Campaigns For Congress, An Anarchist Attends
** Brand New Congress
*** Oxfam report
**** Duty To Save
5. Puppy & Politics
- I don't know. It's so abstract. When's the last time you were at Starbucks?
- Why do you ask?
- Things happen to you there. You probably tried out these ideas on someone. Did you?
- I did.
- Let's hear it. The conversation.
- Three characters, four including me. A woman in her early twenties, a man somewhat older, and the woman's dog, a Pomeranian, who stood impressively still on his four legs to his full six inches of height. The man I'd talked to before. He made angry, raging videos about prejudice against his race.
- Which was?
- Black. First asking and receiving permission I went to make friends with the dog. He remained quiet, not sure if I was worth noticing. I asked the young woman if as often the case with dogs and their masters he got his manners from her. She said unfortunately she wasn't so calm. She was busy day and night. Busy with what? She tended bar, and the rest of the time, like the young black man, made YouTube videos. And they were about?
- My generation. We're different. We're organized.
- Organized to do what?
- To make a difference. Your generation made a mess. We're trying to clean it up.
- Do you think you can?
- Yes. We have the internet. We're connected to each other. There are millions of us. I'll show you someone I like. He has millions of followers and he's still a teenager.
- What's his subject? Political satire?
- Yes. He makes people laugh telling the truth.
- What about you? Are you satirical?
- Your generation entertain each other, put on shows for each other. Do you think shows change anything?
- I think artists and creators are the only one's that change the world. We're serious about what we do. Entertaining we build an audience.
- You expose injustice, the criminality, stupidity of your opponents. Yet satire works by adjusting the relative power of roles in the imagination of the audience, makes the audience feel more in control, more comfortable living in a world with what they've satirized so they end up doing nothing.
- We elected a black president for the first time.
- Elected another artist, a talker, a creator of an image, a role to be played out, not something real. And consequently nothing much changed.
- A lot changed. The country's perception of itself changed.
- Do you agree? I asked the black YouTuber. He took out a vintage micro-cassette recorder and placed it on the table. This time around, he said, he chose to listen and get a recording. For this he asked and was given our permission.
- You two are very polite with your permissions.
- Have to be. Everyone is touchy about other's treatment of their image, especially those whose business it is to make images of themselves. I continued to the YouTuber:
- You're not silent like your dog, but maybe he takes after you in another way.
- As a puppet.
- People often make the mistake. He's little, but almost four, he's not a puppy.
- Not puppy, puppet: little figure of a person or animal moved around on strings. In Plato's allegory of the cave puppets are moved on top of a wall built inside the cave, a fire behind them projecting their shadows upon the back wall. Between the puppets and the back wall prisoners are chained so that all they can see are the shadows. For them, the shadows are the only world they know. They make predictions of which shadow will follow another, and this is their knowledge. If the prisoners could escape and leave the cave and see the world outside, they would at first be blinded by the light, and not understand what they see of the real world, and prefer to go back to the cave and watch the shadows of the puppets. It seems to me your generation of performers are alike in making shows of yourselves, are alike in moving puppets casting shadows in the cave. You make the show, move the puppets along the wall, fight with the other puppeteers for precedence, but your audience sees only the show, your shadow, only your words and gestures, knows nothing of why you do it or the techniques you apply to hold your audience's attention.
- If our videos are shadows, that's for the best. Our generation are not dogmatists and ideologists. We know anything anyone makes is partial, one view of the truth. Nothing is the whole truth. Get used to it. We avoid fanaticism of all kinds including Plato's idealism, his religion that in some other world ideas live eternally. We live in the real world, I think we live in a more real world than the older generation. We have to deal with global warming, nuclear weapons, economic collapse. That we don't hide that our ideas are shadows, that makes them more not real and truthful, not less.
- What did you say to that?
- I said:
- Here's my experience of the past 24 hours. Listen, and then tell me if role play brings people together or separates them. The night before at midnight I was at FedEx's office on Wilshire sending off the memory book* to the Washington Holocaust Museum. The young man on the other side of the counter, making small talk, asked me where Washington was. There were two of them, he knew. Up near Oregon? This was going to the other one. Oh. he said. 'D.C'. Did I know what 'D.C'. stood for? Didn't he? I asked. No. Where, I asked, was the capital of the U.S? He didn't know. And you, our sound recorder, you told me you were working towards revolution. And is it true or not that when I brought up the recent wave of revolutions in the Middle East, that was the first you'd heard of them? Still recording this? And at Ralphs supermarket, where a guard lurks at the exit all night, stationed there glaring at all who come and go just to have the opportunity to catch people like this one, a mad man I often see wandering in filthy rags by the L.A. Country Club. He was cleaned up, in new clothes, but still mad, holding aloft a plastic tray with day old rolls, now after midnight, 2 days old not legally to be sold. The guard stop him, says, Where do you think you are going! He says, What? The guard says, You can't take that. He says, Oh? The manager comes over, says to him, You have to pay. You have to pay! He says, What? He moves more towards the door at which point a customer waiting and watching at check-out says he'll pay the two dollars for the two day old rolls, saving the madman from arrest and possible a week locked up in a mental hospital before being returned to the streets.
- I listened. What conclusion you draw?
- Our friend here wants to play revolutionary. He's not interested in what revolution is enough to study it, not even in very recent history. And the FedEx kid, old enough to vote, identifies himself to himself and others by his tattoos. For him that is enough, he has his role and not an idea in his head. Consequently no politics either, not curiosity enough to know where the capital is. And the corporate supermarket, those who work there are forced into slavery and most abject role practice, no humanity or reasonableness allowed.
- If roles separate us, what brings us together?
- You know your Plato, the analogy of the sun.
'As goodness stands in the intelligible realm to intelligence and the things we know, so in the visible realm the sun stands to sight and the things we see.'**- Politics requires ideas. Ideas are shared, bring us together. Roles separate.
- Roles are based on ideas too.
- But they are not good ideas, not drawn out from a shared human nature that strives toward good. The playing out of roles and protection of roles, those made up things, is done in the dark, unilluminated by the good.
How To Read Plato's Republic
* The Memory Book
** The analogy of the sun is found in the sixth book of Plato's 'The Republic' (507b–509c)
6. Better People
- I want to go back to what you said last time:
Satire works by adjusting the relative power of roles in the imagination of the audience, makes the audience feel more in control, more comfortable living in a world with what they've satirized so they end up doing nothing.*Our political freedom has greatly increased in the last century, but has that made us into better people?
- Do we lead better lives as individuals?
- I doubt it.
- Isn't that strange? A year ago ** you were talking about the atrophy of good: like our muscles the minute we stop exercising them start being weakened, when we stop being good we start being bad. Apparently the opposite is not true: When we stop being bad we don't start being good. Satire reminds us not to be bad, but that reminder doesn't help us become good, in fact it can make us worse. Why do you think that is? Is it that we never lose the ability to be bad, so when good declines we immediately become more bad. But we do lose the ability to be good, so when bad lessons we simply are less bad, but no more good?
- Something like that must be right.
- But why? Why do we forget how to be good, but not how to be bad? Are we bad by instinct which never leaves us and good only by education?
- Wouldn't the difficulty of recovering good be accounted for if we have it in us to be both good and bad, but our education is unrelenting towards the bad?
- Then the reminder to be good would be the exception, which when it ends leaves us chained to the bad influence of our social education.
* Puppy & Puppets
** The Atrophy Of Good
7. American Character
- Sometimes I think I've got these ideas almost worked out but then, when I need them most, I'm lost. Will you help me out?
- If I can.
- You know how when someone asks, 'How are you?' and you answer honestly, 'Not too good, there are these problems I just can't manage to solve, not for lack of trying, I've tried everything I can think of.' And the person you're talking to answers that he is a great believer that it's possible to do anything you set your mind to. You've been through this?
- Many times.
- It makes me angry. I am being told to do what I never was willing to do in the past in order to allow me to do what I want to do now. I'm being asked to do things I fundamentally don't want to do, like lie, disrespect strangers, turn completely around the direction of my life and go another way. Follow?
- So tell me, what exactly defines this wrong way we refuse to go in order to get to where we won't otherwise ever be? They, the good Americans, tell us traitorous complainers, if only we turned our minds to it, repeated to ourselves over and over anything is possible, anything would be possible. We traitorous complainers answer, 'Maybe, much is possible, if we're willing to destroy ourselves, but we aren't.' And the good strong positive thinking true Americans ask us what we're talking about. 'Destroy what about yourselves? Your inflexibility? Yes, now you're talking, destroy that! Do it right now!' What do we say to them?
- We ask them, Isn't it true that if we have a certain character, we have certain habits, ways of doing things, and these habits make it easier for us to do some things and harder to do others? And if so, how can a person of strong character do everything and anything?
- By strong character they mean the strength to go against their own habits when necessary.
- And that is the American character that anything is possible to.
- A sort of instantly renewed character to suit constantly changing circumstances.
- Where would such a character be at home?
- In America, obviously.
- But would there be any particular place they'd be more at home than another that would suit their character best?
- That would have to be the place where instant adaptation of character would get most exercised.
- And where would that be?
- Would such a character find any rest in America?
- How, if being at home meant constant change and adaptation?
- Then being at home would mean constantly moving, inventing, producing. For those who have the un-American character of having habits rather than having a habit of change, the reward and goal of activity is rest at home when activity has come to an end. What is the reward and end for those who have a habit of changing their habits? Do they never rest?
- I'd say they don't. The more money they make and possessions they acquire the more they want to make money and acquire more possessions.
- Would you agree that if it is true to say they rest at all, it is a rest in their confidence in and satisfaction at the thought they can continue to perform and acquire new habits successfully in any conditions?
- Yes. They gloat over their sense of power.
- But only to go on and acquire more power, because only in their thoughts is there a sort of rest, not in the world itself, there is no comfort anyplace for them when they stop doing things.
- So, when they tell us, if we only turned our mind to it, we like them could do anything, we answer, maybe, maybe not, but we don't want to lose our sense of home, we don't want to lose our character.
- And they tell us, yes, you say it yourself, you have another character, you are different from us, you are un-American losers.
- They do.
- What do we say to that?
- That they are the true losers.
- What have they lost? Themselves? Truth?
- Yes. But what I was thinking particularly to tell them was that they have lost exactly what they think they have gained.
- Which is?
- Freedom. Call it a bad habit, a character flaw if you will, but one last time will you let me make use of Plato's allegory?
- Prisoners are chained in a cave...
- Behind and unseen by them is a wall on which puppets and objects are paraded. And behind that wall the puppets are moved along is a fire which throws their shadow on the back wall of the cave the prisoners face. Outside the cave are the real people and things the puppets represent, but the prisoners only see the shadows of the puppets. Let's say the American 'we can do anything' character is that of a prisoner who has broken his chains but rather than escape to the upper world of real things remains down in the cave to be a puppeteer. In his bets with his fellow prisoners about what the shadows will do he almost always comes out on top because he is no longer simply himself, he can do what he wants with all the shadows including the one that the other prisoners are now told represents himself. He can do anything he wants, subject to the need to avoid the danger of losing his advantage by teaching too many of the other prisoners to do the same he has. What do you think? Does this describe the American character of having no character we've been talking about?
- It's not really true the prisoners can do anything: it's true only that they can do anything with the shadows.
- Yes. Outside the cave is the real world illuminated, not by the artificial light of a fire, but by the sun, which is the source of good. Getting up and getting out of the cave we establish a real relation to the world we come to know. We find that known part of the world to be good, and rest in the feeling of being at home.
- The unchained but still in the cave prisoners are free to produce for themselves the most powerful representation of themselves. It's like magic to the other prisoners who can't change their own representations and are afraid to break their chains and do what true Americans can do.
- We know though that among the prisoner puppeteers there can be no discussion about truth: each tries in his own way to put on the show that brings the most possessions into association with his own puppet. There is no truth to the show except that it is a show.
- But it's all about things. It's a show about things.
- What else could it be about if there never is any home or rest?
- So the prisoner puppeteers are capitalists: there is no fixed right and wrong, there is nothing but the fact a show is to be performed, a show about things being produced and exchanged, and in that show they can do anything, they can destroy competitors' puppets and the things associated with them, do it behind the scenes or openly on the wall, whatever they can get away with. But no matter what they do their world is exclusively a world of things.
- To people without character everything is allowed, everything except getting out of this world composed only of things and their shadows. Or to put it another way: Americans are entirely free to do anything they can get away with except question property, the idea that meaning in life is to be found in associating oneself with things. They never get out of the cave. They are not free to make their lives good.
- But, you know, I allowed you the cave, allow me to risk making myself ridiculous and speak for the whole country: these people we are calling Americans are not Americans. You and me are Americans. We don't want freedom to move around things and images of ourselves. We want freedom to do good with our lives. These people are 'doers for the sake of doing'. They are materialists, they are restless, they are without home.
- Altogether too much character for people who claim to have no character.
Puppy & Puppets
Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, Doing For The Sake Of Doing
8. Politics & Philosophy
- Going to the museum?
- Where's the museum?
- On the corner.
- No. I haven't been there yet.
- Where are you from?
- Tell me something. Why didn't you Greeks try to get rid of your prime minister when he ignored the results of the referendum and betrayed you and democracy?
- What should we have done? Make a revolution?
- Why not?
- Violence. And whoever we got next in office would be the same.
- Is that what Greeks believe? They weren't surprised by the prime minister's betrayal?
- I wasn't.
- How did you know? Had he done anything, said anything, that was a giveaway that he didn't really believe in making life better for the people who elected him?
- No. Just that all politicians are puppets on strings held by the true powers.
- There have been exceptions.
- There are some now in Greece.
- But not with real power. And if they got it, nothing better could be expected of them. Power corrupts.
- It's human nature to be self-interested.
- Not fundamentally. You're waiting for someone?
- No. I need this coffee before I go to work.
- What work do you do?
- At UCLA?
- Ok, I'll stand here at the table and talk until you tell me to go away. If the world is ever to be saved from politicians it is by people talking to each other.
- Will that help? People everywhere are taught to be obedient. The world will never change.
- Assuming it's human nature to be mostly self-interested and there is no alternative to political decisions made by a class of leaders with interests separate from the people they lead. But both assumptions are false: political arrangements don't have to remain as they are, and that because human nature is not fundamentally selfish.
- What is human nature? We're not very different from animals.
- We're distinguished from other animals by our greater ability to arrange our ideas so that they refer to each other, develop each other hierarchically. We do that in language and technology. Animals can do it in thought and behavior, but lack hierarchical language, haven't the ability it gives of communicating and concentrating on alternative models of what is preferable to do in what situations, what tools to make, when to change habits. This distinction in itself wouldn't be very much, but we are also the only species that is evil: empowered by our hierarchical ability we alone put language to use making models that undermine our cooperative nature.
- And what is evil?
- Knowing what is good as an individual but doing bad for rewards from acting in a group. A political representative of a radical socialist party deciding to defy the mandate he was elected to pursue for the benefits of being among the ruling class.
- We don't have to be selfish, but then, evil is human nature? You're serious?
- Evil is what most distinguishes our species. But it is not our unchanging nature, rather it is a liability or weakness, a susceptibility of our nature to be overpowered in our inborn tendency to cooperate, and to lose its ability to remake itself, to use creatively its ability to build model upon model.
- If we are evil what hope is there?
- If we get things right we can use our power of language to remake ourselves and our technology to keep at a distance our susceptibility to evil.
- Shouldn't something that creates also be able to save?
- Maybe. Not always.
- The philosophy that began in your country gave us what good politics we have. I think philosophy is the only thing that can save us.
- You shouldn't idealize the ancient Athenian democracy. It didn't work well.
- The new better ways beginning were mixed with the old bad ways, and the bad ways won out, just as they do in our times.
- Einstein said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
- He was talking about the kind of ideas that make a world for us and leave us there in it. Evil ideas. Ideas that justify social relations and define human nature in relation to them. Nothing real in our relation to the world is fixed like that. Sometimes we choose to act, sometimes we rest. Sometimes the world betrays us and we have no choice, we have to act. Sometimes when we act we have a choice which way to go, sometimes we don't. The world we live in is of alternative selves acting, or not, in alternative worlds. Looking at a world permanently described by a single model, seeing a fixed conception of human nature in relation to fixed social relations, is the outcome of "evil", of an individual giving up seeking knowledge out of personal experience for the sake of the rewards of group conformity. It is not accurate to our experience. Do you understand?
- Yes. But philosophizing you aren't going to change the world. People don't have time to think anymore.
- Ideas of only a few people, many in your country, made our world. Why should it take more than a few to save it?
- I couldn't say. I've got to go to work.
Spectacle & God
It's All Good
The Technology Of Good
- On the occasion of today's presidential election: What are we to think about this setback to the cause of enlightenment? The 18th century's Emanuel Kant proposed that free speech, without revolution, would progressively insinuate better ideas into political institutions: you told me that. You also told me about the atrophy of good, how when we stop acting to better ourselves we start acting worse, and how when we stop acting bad, we don't automatically start acting better,* this because our educational institutions overpower our habits, what's in us that urges us to live well. For hundreds of years our progressive ideas have been working their way into our institutions, but now it seems the character our institutions educated us into having protects the institutions from the influence of our ideas.
- What character is that?
- Isolated one from the other, "atomized". The good of self-questioning and authenticity taught us by modern institutions turns into vanity and self-absorption. The prosperity of our economics and the large scale generosity it allows turns into selfishness and greed. The love of truth that guides our technological advance turns into technical practice for its own sake, doing for the sake of doing. I'll read you something from a Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, from his book 'The Ethics Of Authenticity':
What our situation seems to call for is a complex, many-leveled struggle, intellectual, spiritual, and political, in which the debates in the public arena interlink with those in a host of institutional settings, like hospitals and schools, where the issues of enframing technology are being lived through in concrete form; and where these disputes in turn both feed and are fed by the various attempts to define in theoretical terms the place of technology and the demands of authenticity, and beyond that, the shape of human life and its relation to the cosmos. But to engage effectively in this many-faceted debate, one has to see what is great in the culture of modernity, as well as what is shallow or dangerous. As Pascal said about human beings, modernity is characterized by grandeur as well as by misere. Only a view that embraces both can give us the undistorted insight into our era that we need to rise to its greatest challenge.The Canadian philosopher, a practicing Catholic, thinks the atomized state our institutions have put us in can be overcome by an act of conversion, in which selfishness becomes authenticity, competitive trading becomes cooperative and well-intentioned, technology becomes again love of truth, and thus the project of enlightenment continues after not much disruption.
- And let me guess. You're all in favor of spiritual conversions, even on a mass scale. But like Kant said of revolution, progress will not be lasting because the character of the people has not changed. We might for the moment stop being bad, but under the continuing atomizing pressure of institutions and the character they have educated us into having, we won't start being good. And with no experience acting in different circumstances there is no consensus which way to go, the institutions easily resist any pressure to change.
- What then?
- We look for institutions of a kind that don't isolate themselves from the people by educating them into isolation from each other.
- How do you imagine these, call them self-immunized institutions?
- A Catholic philosopher imagines that with enough love we can get back on the track of enlightenment and progress. But think about our relation to dogs and cats, our pets, or as they are now known, companion animals. We provide the home, the institution within which they live. And we could hardly love them more than we do, without question we love them more than we love each other. And what is the result, what sort of world do our companion animals live in? A world very much like our own. We keep about one percent of us human beings locked in cages, another few percent in and out of the cages in any one year. About the same numbers are true of dogs and cats in our animal shelters! We kill every year a few million of them. And about the same number of us humans are killed every year ten or more years before their time, poisoned by bad air, water, food administered to us all by our corporate leaders and government officials controlled by them.
- If love is not going to save us from our institutions what will?
- We have to look at new forms that can continue to guide our progress while preventing our atomization and consequent end to the enlightenment project, doing as much as possible democratically, as much as possible without leaders. Leaders have a technical relation to those they lead. Objects of technique are things. Things are by definition isolated, separate from each other.
- Why do I find that answer so satisfying? After a lifetime of being told we have to wait, submit to the demands of our institutions, progress is slow but continuous, you tell me now, love each other all that we want, progress is at an end unless we turn our technological prowess to the invention of the institutions themselves.
Kant & Compromise
You Have To Have A Story
The Technology Of Good
Compassion & The Story
* Better People
The Atrophy Of Good
10. Dying To Get Back Home
- You've been putting me off for a week.
- What do I have to say about our new president? Those who voted for him amount to less than twenty percent of the population, and a little more than a quarter of eligible voters. What should be done? Immediately upon his being sworn into office impeachment proceedings should be started against him for the many crimes he is known to have committed. The other eighty percent who didn't vote for him, children included, should start posting on social media and demonstrate in the streets for the entire congress, who otherwise can be expected to be bribed into complicity with the new president, to resign, with special elections called for replacements.
- 'Children included'. Why should members of Congress start impeachment proceedings if they have to quit anyway?
- Because they want to buy-off their constituency from prosecuting them for breach of contract to represent voters not corporations. One organization, Brand New Congress,* is already at work selecting candidates for the 2018 elections in all congressional districts who've pledged to actually represent the people once in office.
- Are these real possibilities?
- Our new president is a surprise; why not the surprise of getting rid of him?
- You're letting yourself get carried away with your rhetoric.
- You wanted to know what I think of our new president, what I think is the significance of his winning the election?
- The election means that about about a fifth of the American people are entirely ignorant of the fact of human character.
- They believe they can and therefore should make what they want of themselves, that nothing restrains what is possible to them in achieving their goals.
- They believe that there is no such thing as good human conduct, nothing in their own nature, for the sake of their own sanity and happiness, to restrain them from making certain choices rather than others towards achieving their dreams.
- Characteristics such as honesty, compassion, love of justice, etc. Characteristics our new president has made it obvious he lacks.
- You think that the fifth of Americans who voted for this man without honesty, compassion, justice, themselves must be lacking in these qualities?
- Yes. What about you? Do you agree?
- It's said that people voted for him not because they liked him but because they were desperate for change.
- Could anyone with any honesty, compassion, and love of justice imagine that the change made by this man would be the kind of change they looked for?
- No. I don't think so.
- So the rest of us have been taken by surprise that such a large number of us could be, to speak plainly, completely worthless human beings. You, me, the people who live in this liberal part of liberal Los Angeles, in liberal California, we expected the poorer and badly educated, together with the greedy better educated rich, to be seduced by promises of improved life and profits; we thought however they'd wake up, be disabused of the illusion of safety in their selfishness when confronted by the constantly accumulating evidence that the man making the promises was a pathological liar, tax evader, sexual predator, defrauder of creditors, advocate of war crimes, the greatest bankrupt in the country's history...
- It must be as you say: sixty million of us don't see or care about bad character. Do you think they even know what bad character is?
- No. Thus the character of their bad character is invisible to them as well.
- And what is the character of their bad character? How can we describe it?
- By what it has and what it lacks. It lacks compassion, honesty, love of justice. It has...
- Yes. Fascism in a previously unseen form, fascism of the cheater that doesn't care about anything, not even politics, other than material possessions and money as symbol of power to acquire more possessions. Getting closer, seeing enlarged can help us at times, but our new president is such an outrageous, outsized figure, maybe seeing him in small would better help us place him in his true pettiness. Imagine then him stripped of his inherited hundreds of millions of dollars, stripped of everything he has and everyone he knows, of every penny in his pocket. Imagine him living in our part of town, attending the lectures at the university and museums where free food is offered, making a game out of it, going where he is technically permitted but unwanted because going only for the food, coming to pride himself on his skill to please himself with no concern for others' disapproval. This miniaturization of Trump's way of life is in fact the way of life of a little middle aged woman who used to sleep in the basement vents of Palazzo Corporate Housing in Westwood Villiage and has moved on to sneaking into the grounds of a religious institution for the night. Like our new president she is wildly inconsistent in her fascism. You remember how we've defined fascism: love of violence, an enemy within, a sense of dangerous weakness, need of a total response encompassing all of society. Like Trump, she has immigrants in her family. Her father was an immigrant from South America, but that doesn't stop her from expressing virulent hatred even or especially against those of Latin American origin. Her father was legal, she explains, unlike the twelve million undocumented trespassers on our country's land. Anyway, she adds, her father was half European, so she has only a quarter of the offending blood.
- Our new president put fascism to use to get elected. What does she use it for?
- To feel good about herself. There's a reason Fascism always involves race: an inferior race that comes and makes unanticipated demands on our own superior race.
- And that reason is?
- Fear of losing our character from having to deal with the disruption of people different from us coming within our midst.
- How can people without character fear losing their character?
- Because they feel a sense of loss and fascism promises them recovery. This little old woman, profiting by cheating and proud of it like our new president, is proud to be a verbally violent defender of her race. Having a race is at least having some kind of character, something to be relied upon in a dangerous world. Should I make use of another comparison to show you what I mean?
- Go ahead.
- In some of the warehouses of the giant internet company Amazon goods are stored haphazardly: they are shelved as they arrive in the nearest found vacant space. The warehouses look like immense secondhand stores. With many more possible "stowage" places, work-time is saved compared to transporting to a predetermined location. Time is also saved in retrieval, what Amazon calls "picking" for shipping out, because the same things are scattered around in many places, not only one perhaps distance location. The efficiency gained depends on a computer knowing exactly where every single individual item has been placed.
- That's amazing.
- Isn't it? Now imagine if we humans did the same with all the things in our lives and our relations to people. Ever have the experience of someone you love accusing you of being inattentive, incapable of returning their love, even being bored by them, unwilling to share a spontaneously offered confidence?
- Obviously you have.
- I have. I defended myself, or tried to, saying, 'No, give me time, my mind was elsewhere!' There's a verse in 'On The Level', one of Leonard Cohen's last songs:
I knew that it was wrong- Your character, whatever that is, was restraining you, keeping you from paying attention to your lover?
I didn't have a doubt
I was dying to get back home
And you were starting out
- That's how I see it. Think of all these foreigners coming into our lives as demand upon demand that attention be turned to them as required, independent of whatever inertia our habit of character loads us with to stay home with it. Imagine that like an Amazon warehouse we had to pile up our experience as it came and somehow remember the location and timing, instead of our "characteristic" way of dealing with life of keeping each thing in its own place.
- Race is our piled up things each in its own place, our own blood and no one else's in our veins. And then foreigners with their own blood seek to impose their own immediate demands for attention and response, demand we take them on making our lives worse with an Amazon style character-less, however efficient solution. Our new president and his supporters have no character, and they embrace racism and fascism out of a nostalgia for the character they lack. But if that is the case, then there's really nothing new about this election.
- Fascism may be new to our country but by no means is unknown to our times.
The Way To Stop Trump
Ken Knabb: Out In The Open
Close Elections & The Fashion Business
Elections won by party, not candidate
* Brand New Congress
11. Correct Me If I'm Wrong
- Here's what I think about our recent presidential election. You place the blame on voters' complete lack of character,* ignorance that such a thing as character exists, and the resulting lack of ability to understand the consequences of their voting for someone with bad character. Voters, you argue, have no character at all, always adapting to conditions as consumers of products that produce for them a sense of identity. as the rich have no character always adapting to the requirements of producing not a character but profit in money or power. Others cite particulars of bad character of the electorate - greed, racism, chauvinism, etc - with some saying corporate media is deliberately destroying American character. Others say the election illustrates not character but a primal urge in response to correctly understood corruption to throw over the game of politics, to bomb the election. Some say the electorate actually believes our new president when he says he is against "Washington insiders", and without caring for what he says one way or another, simply voted for the enemy of their enemies. Others are said to actually buy into the new president's program, inconsistent as it is. But do you know what I think?
- You asked already. What do you think?
- Actually I got the idea from you. How many times have you said to someone after you've criticized them and they responded you were entitled to your opinion and they to theirs, that in fact No, they were not entitled to their opinion, at least not without further response from you. Why do you have that right? they demand. Because, you answer, you have to live in the same place with them, and leaving them in a state of ignorance actually is dangerous to you.
- And what do you make of the argument?
- The danger we face now of our new president is the fault not just of those who voted for him, but also those who didn't, as it is the product of our politically correct failure to correct each other.
- And a very nice irony it is. Political correctness has give us the most politically incorrect president ever.
The Character Of Donald Trump
Capitalism & Freedom / American Character
* Dying To Get Back Home
12. The President's People
- You're not one of those publishing how disturbed they are about the mystery of our new president's character. One of them* speculates on the new president's 'doubleness, this randomness, the sheer cascade of horseshit and affronts, of dog whistles and non-sequiturs.' The article continues:
At best, the incoherence can be interpreted as evidence he’s a gormless, love-hungry 70-year-old child, a sort of feral president, an evil Chauncey Gardiner, as much the dupe in his own confidence scheme as he is its perpetrator, and utterly at the mercy of whichever voice just whispered in his ear. The other possibility, that he’s a totally Machiavellian sophisticate, a knowing possessor of the variety of ‘voice’ genius Jung ascribed to Hitler, is probably worse, and probably less probable.'*- No, I'm not disturbed. The new president is an image-maker who changes his image in accord with what he guesses will bring him more of what he wants.
- What does he want?
- What everyone who lives by producing images wants: power. Sometimes power is to be gained by holding to one image, being a pillar of the community; sometimes more power is to be gained from changing the image, adapting to circumstances. The pillar of the community creates an image of strong character, someone who in this moment does what he said he would do in the moment before. The producer of changeable images, whose action of the present has no connection with actions of the past, reveals the desire for power that is hiding behind the images and is responsible for their shifting. The election of our new president shows that large numbers of Americans don't care about bad character. About ninety percent of Democrats voted Democratic, about ninety percent of Republicans voted Republican. Those party-unaffiliated who thought the rich were robbing the poor too much voted Democratic, those party-unaffiliated who thought the poor were robbing the rich too much voted Republican. The bad character of the new president had little bearing of the voting.
- What do you make of that?
- Only people who themselves have bad character can be unaware of the danger of putting power in the hands of someone with bad character.
- But behind the image of pillar of the community isn't there likely to be the same reality of bad character? Our present president puts on the pillar of the community act. But consider his re-activation of the Bill of Rights destroying Patriot act, his persecution of those who risk their lives to reveal government corruption, his intensification of unconstitutional surveillance of the American people, his personally authorized assassinations, and all the rest of it.
- It could have been the case the voting was a tantrum of destruction, a protest against the falseness of all candidates. The evidence shows otherwise: the rich voted for our new president, the poor against. Rich and poor both say, when asked, they believe the new President will do what he promises. The rise in the stock market since his election shows investors think the same.
- Then the rich elected a rich guy they think will make them richer and are not concerned about his bad character. Which you say shows the bad character of the rich who voted for him. So the election does not reveal racism, sexism, fear of foreigners of the American people, nor does it reveal their wised up disgust with the images politicians produce, but rather a disinterest in politics both in form and substance, a disinterest in whether politicians have character or not, a disinterest concerning whether the country becomes more racist, sexist, xenophobic. The election reveals that in this nation of more than 320 million people, around a quarter of those who could vote, a quarter wealthier than the other three quarters, have bad character. That's a lot of people.
- It is. The bad character of the people is a political fact. Behind their smaller scale shows of being pillars of the community like our president on his way out or defiantly inconsistent like our president on his way in, they seek to satisfy their desire for power. When economics block this expression of power it breaks out in racism, sexism, hatred of strangers. People with good character have the wherewithal to resist these prejudices becoming expressed in political violence. People with bad character don't.
Eve In The Garden Of Eden
* Jonathan Lethem, in the London Review Of Books
- I've been looking into things since we last talked. I found an article* by an academic in Berlin who reached the same conclusion we did: the main significance of the election was that so many people could put into office a man with such obvious bad character. You said that only people with bad character could want a man with bad character to lead their country, and I think you were right. I want to know whether you agree with me about how we got to where we are.
- I'm listening.
- Twenty-seven percent of the electorate, something around twenty percent of American adults, voted for this, let's call him, president of the immoral. And do you know what?
- At the end of World War II over a quarter of Americans were self employed. Now it is around seven percent and rapidly falling.** See what I'm getting at?
- The number of independent people the country has lost in the last fifty years is matched neatly by the number of people without character who voted for this president without character.
- Yes. It's as if those who would have been independent have instead become depraved. But that can't be.
- Why not?
- Because even after World War II seventy-five percent of Americans were employees and it is ridiculous to say they were depraved.
- Then what do we say?
- We say the existence of a substantial number of Americans who were in ideals and in reality independent, this was a support and an encouragement to other Americans that they might achieve similar independence. With now the number of self employed shrunken to a small and rapidly declining fraction of the population, both the existence of independent people and the encouragement they provided is gone, and we get about the same number of people who previously were exceptionally independent now being exceptionally without character.
Prostitution, Employment, Slavery
* Abhor The Event: Voting Patterns And The Rise Of Trump
** Death Of Small Business
- Beginning again with a quote, this time by you:
Farabi interpreted Plato in this way: most people never get beyond the received thinking of childhood, thinking that is so which is taught to be so, seeking reward and avoiding punishment. The philosophic law-giver composes religion as the best form of received thinking, while the philosopher himself lives above the shadowy realm of religious doctrine and seeks and attains to some extent the truth. The religious community is constructed as something lower, from conclusions derived from the higher life of philosophy.
Contrast this with our idea that from within the orthodoxy of our received group thinking, confusion develops from confrontations with other doctrines, new ideas and techniques develop. The philosophical is produced from within the confused community, not merely from a confusion of ideas deliberated upon by isolated philosophers.
The philosophers who are thinking their way out of confusions developed from within the shadowy life of the religious group, when they reach new conclusions, these are necessarily practical, refer to real life lived among others. This leads to adapting the same kind of thinking to practical technology: and we know that the Arabs following the tradition expressed by Farabi of law-given orthodoxy in society failed in this application.
Philosophy as creative and protective of lower dogmatically enforced religious doctrine is a good definition of fanaticism. It involves both no loyalty to any community, no love of particular people or places or things, and an insistence on loyalty to an orthodoxy known to be partly arbitrary, and inevitably treating people for whom one has no particular love as means to the end of maintaining the partly arbitrary orthodoxy and sustaining the possibility of the philosophers' higher lives.*You wrote that six years ago. If we say our new president's religion - he calls it his art - is making money, couldn't we describe what we should be getting ready to expect from him in office as totalitarianism? With him as the king / philosopher of money leading the 'higher life'?
- Did you expect anything like this when you wrote those words? How did we get here so quickly?
- It's hasn't been all that quickly. What has come to be called Neo-Liberalism has been in the works for centuries. Remember we talked about** Foucault's last works on the subject? Neo-Liberalism when put into practice is a sort of confidence trick, a self-fulfilling prophesy.
- How so?
- Neo-Liberalism proposes the existence of a natural law of the marketplace. When theories are the basis of action intended to produce a desired result, we call that practice the application of technology. With Neo-Liberalism those results are the opposite predicted by the theory, general economic decline rather than advance, but the technology has produced a religious result that is very advantageous to those who operate it. Like application of certain technologies that produce pollution, application of Neo-Liberalism, both its partial (never close to total) opening of free markets, and the rapid monopolization of the market that develops when government regulations of the market are removed, interfere with other human practises based on knowledge, in general those that we use to say made life good and worth living. Because of this interference by pollution with other lawful orders, species become extinct, and similarly, as we mentioned last time, self employment in the United States is becoming extinct. In the case of pollution the instability created by technology threatens the very existence of human beings practicing the technology, and calls in question the practice of that technology. But with Neo-Liberalism, instability creates conditions that tend to make it appear a proven fact that economic life, life of practicality, making money, has to be attended to before anything else, for it is a matter of survival. All other aspects of life must take second place.
- The more people who are put out of work, threatened by wars waged for profits of corporations, the more unstable people are and the more they must think how they are to get money to survive.
- Exactly. A leader arises who claims to know the natural laws of the market better than anyone, who demonstrates in word and action he subordinates to it all other human concerns like that for truth, beauty, peace, love, and beauty. The more disproven Neo-Liberalism is an effective technology, the more that it produces destruction instead of the claimed to be expected prosperity, the more attractive it is as a religion, and the more likely is it to become the tool of totalitarianism.
- Thus, our new president.
More Adventures In Trumpland
* Technology & Fanaticism
** Bringing Back Stray Sheep
- You said at the time of the election that in general Republicans voted Republican and Democrats voted Democrat, and that in general there was a changing of the guard after an uneventful presidency one party to the other, so that what was important was the fact the outrageous bad character of our new president did not interfere with established voting practice. You also said that only people with bad character could entrust their future to someone with bad character. That's what I want you to explain. Did you mean that people with bad character are blind to the existence of character?
- That is what I meant.
- Explain to me how that works.
- The short answer is it works by character being throw in shadow.
- The shadow of what? And anyway, I want a better answer than a metaphor.
- In larger societies, people have specialized occupations in which special knowledge is practiced. Each member of society needs to cooperate with others, trade goods and services. But some members of society make a special occupation itself out of that cooperation, put into practice a technical knowledge of how to do that. Instead of living with others now fully, with attention, understanding, sympathy, imagination, the relation to others is put into service of performance of specialized occupation. Follow?
- J.J. Rousseau described in detail how a child, in the doings of childhood, a kind of occupation, learns to manipulate adults to get what he wants. He stops seeing the world as place to be learned and looking to other people for assistance in that learning.
- We've been over this before.
- Many times. The child wants to do what he wants to do, and in the service of those desires puts on a show for adults. Do you know how that happens?
- No! If I knew how a children get corrupted I would have solved the problem of good and evil.
- And is that so impossible? What is it that connects specialized occupation and show-making? Why should they be associated?
- In larger societies life is lived among strangers. Show of manners, of uniform clothing, help us identify what we offer each other.
- Yes. Now we agree that our new president's bad character appears in the deliberate use of showmaking to gain power over others?
- We talked about how the United States has gone from a country of a large number of self-employed people to a country of few. Do you see? Being employed, and being the audience to a show are much alike.
- I don't see.
- Both audience and employee are passive. An employee may not follow his own will, but must do what he is told. An audience member in body sits passively in the theater, while his mind is transferred in identifying with the characters represented in the show. An imitation, a representation, requires this passivity to operate.
- By operate you mean we take it as real. The child pretends to like his teacher, the new president pretends to care about the American people. But as long as the child learns, and the new president does what he says he will do in his show, what difference does it make?
- The child represses his real desires, and his goal becomes not his own happiness but the manipulation of adults. Like the child does not allow himself to act on his real desires, the employee is not allowed to do what he wants. He becomes unreal to himself, while he sees himself in the character of his employer put on show for him, or in the president he puts into authority over himself.
- I think I'm beginning to understand. When human relations, what we want from them, is put second to practical relations, when we get others in their special occupations to give us what we want in our special occupations, we see ourselves in those in power over us, and seeing others as means to the end of your power over them is a definition of bad character. Because we are passive to our own real desires of full life with other people, we don't look for anything other than the shows made by us and presented to us by others. Our desires, the world of their possible fulfillment, is placed in shadow, to use your image.
- And that is true both for employee and employed, elected and electorate.
- It makes no difference whether economic conditions force you into part time slavery or whether a TV actor decides to show-make himself into the office of president. Whether you put on the show yourself or identify with the showmaking done by another, natural desires are repressed, are replaced by a state of passivity of audience to show.
- But what if the politician or employer knows he is lying, does not believe his own lies? That's at least possible, isn't it?
- To not be seduced by your own showmaking you need to avoid becoming passive to your natural desires for human relation, and the only way that can be done is if you are actively practicing those relations while you put on shows for others. Our literature has many examples of characters trying to do this, with varying success.
- Ok. The idea of hidden depths in our new president is laughable. He obviously has bad character. He says anything he thinks will bring him votes, without regard for reality. He is liked by the people who already are on the side he places himself on, the side where the poor are believed to be robbing the rich. They identify with him, see themselves in him. Some subset of them do more, and identify with the manipulative ever changing showmaking he does. But how can this work? Doesn't the obvious unreality of the show being put on undermine the suspension of disbelief necessary in theater?
- No, because being employees they can't easily escape the theater, the world created for them in their passivity. Identifying with him, they don't take the step back to see what kind of character he has. But even if they do take that step back and see his character, his aim to perform in the show with the greatest skill, to put into practice the best technique, they rush back into the theater to become passive audience to that show of character. Identifying with the high-tech showmanship, they remain ignorant of the real world thrown into shadow by the showmaking going on all around them.
13. Has Anybody Seen My Love?
- Those Starbucks you go to in Beverly Hills, I think they belong on the list of the craziest places on Earth. What about the guy who has no place to live who comes in early in the morning pulling a trolley holding that day's change of clothes, from hat to shoes a different out every day from different high fashion designers. In Starbucks bathroom he washes and perfumes himself and does what's needful to maintain his smooth bald head and then spends the day prancing around the cafe making small talk with the real wealthy of Beverly Hills, his poverty masquerading as wealth appreciated as picturesque eccentricity.
- The clothes are donations to the church he gets first crack at by volunteering there. He had on a new all white outfit this morning. The hotel maids were as usual at the long table, screaming gossip to each other I guess wanting to enjoy Beverly Hills while they can before the new president deports them. There were, yes, a couple of conversations yesterday we might find some interest in.
- I'm listening.
- They were with cafe customers who take to the table with them bags holding all their worldly goods. The first, a talk in passing as I left the cafe, with middle-aged man sitting outside. He wore a cap with the name of a retired US Navy ship embroidered in front. The second, with the young woman who another time told me she worked for the police and had knowledge of my stolen bike.
The first conversation:
- I read this description of our new president: He is:
reckless, unstable, ignorant, inane, infinitely vulgar, climate-change-denying white-nationalist misogynist with authoritarian ambitions and kleptocratic plans.He is:
patriarchy unbuttoned, paunchy, in a baggy suit, with his hair oozing and his lips flapping and his face squinching into clownish expressions of mockery and rage and self-congratulation.*- I don't see the point in name calling.
- You know, I've been wanting to talk with someone like you for a long time. I overhear talk from those camped out on the street when I'm on my bike late at night waiting at a corner for a light to change. You like our new president, though he would call you the losers of all losers.
- That's your opinion.
- You think he likes people like you, who have nothing but what they carry on their backs, sleep on the street, are hunted by the police?- He's on the side of my people.
- Who are your people?
- White people. He's going to do something about immigration, jobs.
- You expect one day to go back to some sort of more normal life?
- I do.
- Why do you think the new president will do anything he says, or that he cares about you, when in the past he's made it clear that he doesn't?
- That's your opinion, what you read in the liberal press.
- Do you think court documents are faked that report the new president paying settlements for numerous cases in which he was accused of fraud?
- I haven't seen any documents. You say they exist. I don't have to believe you.
- Have you looked?
- Looked where?
- The liberal press, or the internet. Courts have their own websites. Do you think they are faked too?
- I don't know of such things. I'm not from crazy California, I'm from one of the "fly over" states in the middle of the country. We there see the world more simple.
- "We need a guy who talks tough who doesn't care what anyone thinks. Who is not afraid of violence to stop other people from taking away our country." Evidently you're not aware beliefs like that authorize a would-be dictator to remove all legal protections? That you'll lose your country because of your fear of losing it?
- That's your California paranoia.
- It's not California but the rest of the country lives in fear. New lives are tried out here and that looks crazy because most of them are idiotic.
- So then you admit it.
The second conversation:
- What are you listening to?
- Bob Dylan.
- He won the Nobel prize.
- I heard.
- I'm nominated for two Nobel prizes.
- At Starbucks past midnight you meet very influential people.
- You're influential too.
- It would be nice if that were true. What are you nominated for?
- The peace prize. And literature.
- I see you writing here some nights. What do you write?
- An unauthorized biography is coming out in the spring about me.
- What's your name?
- You'll know the book when you see it.
- Will your picture be on the cover?
- Probably. Don't you want to be published too? I can help. Many famous people are my patrons, even movie stars. Casey Affleck wanted me to go to the Golden Globe Awards with him.
- Did you go?
- No. You see me here, they're going on tonight. I told him wait and I'd go with him to the Academy Awards. I can ask the Afflecks to help you too.
- Why not?
- What's the connection between conversations?
- Two extreme cases of our human ability to imagine different lives for ourselves. Put virtual reality goggles on rats, and do you know what happens?
- Has somebody done that?
- Yes, a UCLA Professor of Neuro-Physics. He developed needles ten times thinner than a human hair to record the firing of individual neurons.
- With the VR goggles on, the rat brains' visual centers showed totally anomalous results: forty percent of measured neurons stopped firing completely, the rest of the neurons measured went haywire, as he put it.
- These are new results, the neuro-physicist says he isn't ready to offer any explanation.
- But you're ready.
- We've talked about *** how we humans are able to identify with actors in a theater performance, while we sit passively in the audience, how we are similarly able to pacify our own desires, while we submit to those in others who we must serve in our specialized roles in society, as we learn how to give them what we want rather than do what we ourselves want. We have been entering virtual realities for as long as we have been civilized, whether in a drawing or a movie or three dimensional VR. We somehow deal with the disconnection between our own lack of sense of physical motion, and what we witness in made worlds. We can even imagine ourselves in altered worlds, while we feel ourselves remaining inactive in our own. Rats can't do this.
- So in the confusion between what they see and what they fail to feel in their body, their brains shut down or go crazy.
- Here are the lyrics to the Bob Dylan song Things Have Changed I was listening to when my friend, who saw herself his potential successor in the prize, sat down with me:
A worried man with a worried mindAnd here are the lyrics to the Dylan song I was listening to before, Tight Connection to My Heart:
No one in front of me and nothing behind
There's a woman on my lap and she's drinking champagne
Got white skin, got assassin's eyes
I'm looking up into the sapphire tinted skies
I'm well dressed, waiting on the last train
Standing on the gallows with my head in a noose
Any minute now I'm expecting all hell to break loose
People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
This place ain't doing me any good
I'm in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood
Just for a second there I thought I saw something move
Gonna take dancing lessons do the jitterbug rag
Ain't no shortcuts, gonna dress in drag
Only a fool in here would think he's got anything to prove
Lotta water under the bridge, lotta other stuff too
Don't get up gentlemen, I'm only passing through
People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
I've been walking forty miles of bad road
If the bible is right, the world will explode
I've been trying to get as far away from myself as I can
Some things are too hot to touch
The human mind can only stand so much
You can't win with a losing hand
Feel like falling in love with the first woman I meet
Putting her in a wheel barrow and wheeling her down the street
People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
I hurt easy, I just don't show it
You can hurt someone and not even know it
The next sixty seconds could be like an eternity
Gonna get lowdown, gonna fly high
All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie
I'm in love with a woman who don't even appeal to me
Mr. Jinx and Miss Lucy, they jumped in the lake
I'm not that eager to make a mistake
People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed.
Well, I had to move fastDylan sings in the first song of feelings like we might imagine the virtual reality rat as having: things have changed, the world is strange and there's nothing he can do. He's found himself in a world, he sings in Dark Eyes, he can't accept:
And I couldn't with you around my neck.
I said I'd send for you and I did
What did you expect?
My hands are sweating
And we haven't even started yet.
I'll go along with the charade
Until I can think my way out.
I know it was all a big joke
Whatever it was about.
I'll remember to forget.
I'm gonna get my coat,
I feel the breath of a storm.
There's something I've got to do tonight,
You go inside and stay warm.
Has anybody seen my love,
Has anybody seen my love,
Has anybody seen my love.
I don't know,
Has anybody seen my love?
You want to talk to me,
Go ahead and talk.
Whatever you got to say to me
Won't come as any shock.
I must be guilty of something,
You just whisper it into my ear.
She lulled me to sleep,
In a town without pity
Where the water runs deep.
She said, "Be easy, baby,
There ain't nothin' worth stealin' in here."
You're the one I've been looking for,
You're the one that's got the key.
But I can't figure out whether I'm too good for you
Or you're too good for me.
Has anybody seen my love,
Has anybody seen my love,
Has anybody seen my love.
I don't know,
Has anybody seen my love?
Well, they're not showing any lights tonight
And there's no moon.
There's just a hot-blooded singer
Singing "Memphis in June, "
While they're beatin' the devil out of a guy
Who's wearing a powder-blue wig.
Later he'll be shot
For resisting arrest,
I can still hear his voice crying
In the wilderness.
What looks large from a distance,
Close up ain't never that big.
Never could learn to drink that blood
And call it wine,
Never could learn to hold you, love,
And call you mine.
Oh, the gentlemen are talking and the midnight moon is on the riversideThey're drinking up and walking and it is time for me to slideI live in another world where life and death are memorizedWhere the earth is strung with lover's pearls and all I see are dark eyes.A cock is crowing far away and another soldier's deep in prayerSome mother's child has gone astray, she can't find him anywhereBut I hear another drum beating for the dead that riseWhom nature's beast fear as they come and all I see are dark eyes.They tell me to be discreet for all intended purposesThey tell me revenge is sweet, I'm sure it isBut I feel nothing for their game, where beauty goes unrecognizedAll I feel is heat and flame, and all I see are dark eyes.Oh, the French girl, she's in paradise and a drunken man is at the wheelHunger pays a heavy prize to the falling god of speed and steelOh, time is short and the days are sweet and passion rules the arrow that fliesA million faces at my feet but all I see are dark eyes.- But in Tight Connection To My Heart our laureate is willing to take on the strange world of the other songs, the imagined world become real and a trap, he stops being passive to "their game where beauty goes unrecognized", and goes out and sees what he can do. He asks, Has anybody seen my love? knowing he still has a tight connection to her heart: he can leave her behind in the audience tied to her by his love, and move with the actors on the stage, but do this in his real life creating real worlds as he goes.
* Rebecca Solnit, The London Review Of Books
** More Adventures In Trumpland
*** The Show
Epilog: Close Elections & The Fashion Business
- Fashion: remember our definition?
- Uniformity and revolt together.
- Too many people wearing the same uniform, and the new style doesn't seem very revolutionary anymore. Too revolutionary, not enough people adopt the new fashion and it doesn't become a uniform.
- Why should revolutionaries want to wear a uniform?
- Because they are revolutionary only in the choice of role. They must have one role or another. They don't want to stand out alone.
- Fashion is a tool of monopoly economics.
- Because of the power of advertising. Advertising is the deliberate creation of fashion. The more advertising, the more the sense of uniform community created around the product being sold, and the more the product can be sold as a revolutionary improvement. Do you follow?
- The techniques of selling fashion can be applied to selling political candidates to voters. Some basic uniform is produced, a simple story of how life should be lived. For Republicans, it is small government and individuality, for Democrats, a fair and caring society. These ideas are sold as revolutionary, constantly threatened by the encroachments of the opposite party. Have you ever wondered why the Presidential elections are often so close?
- I've assumed it was because both sides are using the same techniques of persuasion and are equally good at it.
- That's what I first thought.
- Not anymore?
- I think that like in advertising fashions, political persuasion comes up against a natural limit: a too successful campaign, throwing a uniform on too many people, stops delivering the thrill of being in revolt.
- So the less successful campaign recovers and gains a more equal position.
- I never thought of it that way before. But if you are right why do monopolies arise?
- The goal of business is not making or selling products, but profit. Competition is eliminated by mergers, buyouts, underpricing, government subsidies, exclusive agreements with suppliers and distributors. Customers of monopolies don't get to vote.