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‘You Are Free To Do As We Tell You’

                For those who pay the slightest attention to politics a sudden realization arises from the start- both the Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals, the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ both seem to love freedom and liberty and want to be elected to, along with other things, make sure that freedom and liberty aren’t destroyed by the other side. This freedom thing sure is a quandary. Who doesn’t want freedom?

                Personally, I’ve been called everything from a socialist to a neoconservative, a liberal, republican, etc. Yet, the supposed justifications behind such cute labels usually come back to the notion of freedom.  In philosophy, one deals mainly with three different forms of freedom- negative freedom (freedom from constraint), positive freedom (freedom to…), and ontological freedom (freedom by nature of human consciousness). As it applies to this piece; I’ll be dealing mainly with the first two while using the third to justify the whole theory.

                Let’s begin with the wonderful stereotypes of both sides- the left are touted as the pagan nanny state advocates- high taxes, increased social safety net, fans of big bureaucracy, etc. The right is touted as those crazy fundamentalist Christian corporatists- against change unless it takes five generations to culminate, war-loving, boring, uptight, and obsessed with the supposed ‘moral degradation’ of society.  Of course there are many more things that could be added to each side but I just wanted to lay a simple framework with one more additive. Along with the aforementioned general characteristics, there is one that screams volumes- the left wants to take your money and through their oversight, allow you to more/less do what you want- do drugs, engage in gay marriage, get an abortion, allow embryonic stem cell research, etc. The right wants you to keep more of your money but then wants to legislate morality- no gay marriage, no drugs, no abortion, no embryonic stem cell research, etc. This is what I want to examine a bit further as it applies to the three notions of freedom.

                Thus far, whether you find yourself supporting the right or the left- the notion of freedom is so limited, yet largely advertised, that the notion itself is dying, serving merely as a couple more points being added on to the polls for each time you look sentimental while uttering it. So while the left seems to want more social freedom and less financial freedom, the right wants more financial freedom with less social freedom.

                Let’s make something clear- without one of these freedoms the other really doesn’t matter. Let’s not forget that these broad generalizations have many cracks- for it was the left who passed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ while the right, under President Bush Jr. passed significant Medicare entitlements. Neither side wants to discuss our abysmal ‘war on drugs,’ and neither side sees gay marriage as anything other than another notch in the moral degradation of our culture. Both sides enjoy bombing the hell out of third world countries without a declaration of war, both sides enjoy ignoring the Supreme Court when it comes to rulings on detainees, both sides love bailing out failures yet talk about our wonderful ‘free market system,’ both sides talk about ‘ending our dependency on foreign oil’ yet since the Department of Energy was created in the 70’s with the goal of doing just that…..it has grown as much as our dependency on tyrannical oil holding countries.

                This is one reason why I enjoy discussing the notion of freedom with those who think that their side is the true party of personal freedom, personal responsibility, personal liberty, for the difference between the two main parties/ideologies is pretty damn negligible.  

                Is it any more or less insulting to be told by our government that we are either too stupid to control our finances- be it education, retirement, medical costs, food purchases, etc. than to be told that we are too stupid to make our own moral decisions? How can there be such disagreement between the two sides when they both find the masses to be too ignorant to do one of two things?

                Now, due to this obvious emphasis on the limiting of positive and negative freedom, what are the options? Well,  the first thing is to see the illusory notion of bi-partisan politics. To stop screaming about the ‘left-wing’ media bias, to argue over CNN and Fox News, to decide whether to read an Ann Coulter book or a Michael Moore book, etc. ; for these entities merely serve the purpose of further dividing us on a subject they help to further fog. Bill Clinton, during his Inaugural speech, cited his mentor Carrol Quigley, who stated:

                                ‘The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps, of the Right and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to the doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can ‘throw the rascals out’ at any election without leading to any profound or extreme shifts in policy.’

                In the end folks, both the right and the left, the R’s and the D’s, don’t like freedom; at least not in any real sense of being free. They want us to be free to do as they instruct us in one form or another.

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Go to Hell, Go to Heaven….What’s the Difference?

                The notion of an afterlife is one of continual intrigue and for many reasons. First off, we have no idea if it exists; we have only promises from forever ago pertaining to some hinted, usually convoluted and metaphorical, paradise or place of unforgivable torment. This belief has a very long history and it really doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. However, some of the arguments in favor of such a notion strike me as ass-backwards if I may be so blunt. I shall attempt to respond to this notion that the existence of an afterlife provides meaning to one’s life.

                I have been told, on more than one occasion, that if this life was all that there was- what difference would it make what you did with it? What would it matter how you lived it? You live it and then it’s just gone! It is from this that the significance of life deriving from the existence of an afterlife comes into play. This so blatantly flies in the face of everything we hold dear!!

                The reason that this life matters at all is because it shall end, because of our finite time on this planet each second counts, each minute, each interaction, each tear, and each smile! I give you one of a million examples that I have formed in soliloquy fashion during my long bike rides. Even if you don’t give a damn about sports, we have all heard or seen that contest where some lucky fan gets a chance to win a million dollars by making a half court shot right? Now, upon this lucky sap realizing this amazing prize, will he no doubt practice long hours? On the day of will he not eat a ‘champion’s’ breakfast? Will he not perhaps even become superstitious by putting his lucky penny in his pocket, attaching his lucky rabbits foot keychain to his belt loop, do the most useless stretching (useless in the scope of this one activity he has to do)? Ok, now let’s take this same guy and the same prize except he gets to shoot 10,000 shots. Do you think he would exercise as much? Would he really practice such long hours and embrace all forms of superstition or would he simply go with the odds and figure that if he has the simple mechanics down, figures out the necessary force, etc. that within 10,000 shots he will eventually make it?

                Now, in the above example, I used the number 10,000…..yet within the notions of the afterlife we are talking about Eternity!! Females statistically make it to about 76yrs and males go for about 73yrs- what the hell is that compared to eternity? It is this notion of an afterlife that denigrates this life to a mere ‘test,’ a mere ‘waiting room’ before going into see the Big Doctor, so to speak.

                Why is even such a conceptual notion like ‘love’ even possible? It is because it is so fragile and finite. We buy pets knowing they will eventually die, we engage in relationships and friendships knowing that either participant could die at any minute. Thus, we have, some of us that is, this extreme passion to find ‘the one,’ to reach the extremes of nature, to get the ultimate rush……but why, because we may never get another chance. The notion of carpe diem is paradigmatic of this idea of our finite nature. For with the promise of paradise- why would I care about this life? In fact, why not go somewhere where I could be a martyr and get to this paradise faster?

                Concerning this eternal heaven/hell option presented to us…..it just flies in the face of anything of importance to us. Regardless of the milk/honey flowing in heaven or the ultimate separation from God in heaven….eventually it would get really, really boring. Any sort of utopia- real or metaphysical, how long could one tolerate being in a perfect state of mind?  If we lived forever on this planet for example- would you care as much when a relationship went sour? Would you care as much when you got fired from a job? Would you bother actively searching for ‘the one’? NO, you wouldn’t! For you have FOREVER and playing the odds appropriately…..you’re bound to find it. It is this life and this life alone we have and which we should make the most of it while keeping in mind that it is not a means to an end to get to this eternal hotel of happiness or to avoid the eternal motel of torture. But it is to look back on a life well-lived, the examined life, the lived life!

Traditional Garbage pt. 2- God Hates the Gays

Dear Traditionalist,
Along with my most recent blog and recent discussions concerning interracial marriage, etc. I have done a bit more research on the history of marriage; including the history of marriage customs in the Bible. The following should demonstrate to the religious right that what they seem to infer as a ‘tradition’ is nothing more than a continuing evolution of pragmatic approaches to social conditions. For example, in the Old Testament days in which in Leviticus Chp. 18 where it says that man lying with a man is an abomination (continually referenced in modern debates), the verses right before that and after that include not wearing clothing made of two or more materials, not planting two seeds together- all punished by death. Now, since the Leviticus quote is often used as the ‘tradition argument’ from the biblical perspective- let’s see how the ancient Jews married. First off, the man didn’t receive a ring- the woman was belonging to the man and the man could acquire more wives- this is traditional. In fact, from the social perspective of populating a certain group this makes perfect sense- it’s the same reason early Mormons practiced polygamy for so long until it took federal threats (with the miraculous Church father getting a revelation) concerning religion/cult status for the practice to end. Now, in Leviticus it states that homosexuality (higher probability that it’s referring to pederasty) is an abomination (along with the other things I listed)- now in the context of the ancient Jews, the concept of abomination is concerning customary/uncustomary- for there is nothing intrinsically immoral about eating shell fish or for planting two seeds together- it just wasn’t customary in that culture. To further illustrate this concept, in the Old Testament Onan was killed by God for ‘pulling out’ instead of impregnating the woman. Now, if Christians are going to reference Leviticus- then why not the other rules- this selective moral posturing leaves much to be desired. Now, Jesus himself says nothing at all about homosexuality. The implication of this is that when it comes to the rules of the Old and the New one strategy is to infer that if Jesus doesn’t overturn them then they still stand- hence in Exodus when the charge of working on the Sabbath is punishable on death- Jesus didn’t overturn that so it should still stand.
Now, continuing with the problematic implications of arguing from tradition, the Catholic Church (way before Mussolini and Hitler showed up) disallowed; among other things, marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew for the benefit of the non-Jews. As mentioned in my previous email, state and federal laws in the US restricting interracial marriage had quite a long tradition. But I digress. The point of this piece is merely to go straight to the origin of the argument of ‘tradition’ and the religious wackos who feel that the Bible is the last authority on marriage issues.
How often is social/cultural context introduced in studies of the Bible? Many seem to think that because the presupposition of the Bible is that it is the ‘infallible’ word of ‘God’ it is thus timeless and absolute. However, two minutes of honest research shows that this is not only impossible but internally contradictory at some points. A theology professor at Harvard once stated that one can only tell you what the Bible reads….not what it says. I find this to be the crux of many of the debates in which the Bible is brought up. Sure, we all know John 3:16 and the story of Creation in Genesis; everyone knows what the devil looks like and can picture Jesus as some sort of hippy with Birkenstock sandals and ratty long hair. But how many people know the social conditions of the early Jewish people outside of what the Bible states? How about the ancient world in general in which we find Paul in Romans discussing homosexuality? I’m willing to bet that most don’t have a clue, for I am only really beginning to piece things together.
The most interesting aspect of historical context that I have come across is the notion of ‘homosexuality’ in the ancient world. In the languages surrounding the early Jews through the first Bible, there is no word in ancient Hebrew or Aramaic for ‘homosexuality.’ Let’s also throw in the fact that in the ancient world, though there was homosexuality, the dominant ‘alternative’ of heterosexuality was in fact pederasty. Many theologians argue that this is the homosexuality that is argued against for example in Romans. Now, at first I thought this might be a stretch until I remembered Plato’s Symposium in which Alcibiades attempts to seduce the much much older Socrates. I also began remembering the coming of age stories in ancient Greece in which it was customary for a younger male to sleep with an much older man. Yet, just reading the Bible on face value with no sense of historical context would make the loons like James Dobson (no religious credentials by the way), the Phelps Church (entertainingly insane), Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Focus on the Family, and the scores of homophobic theocrats look all the more intelligent. Yet it is this vitriolic pursuit of separation by such heartwarming figures and their scores of minions that not only perpetuate biblical ignorance but historical ignorance as well.
Now for a long time homosexuality was defined as a ‘behavioral disorder’ in your household dictionary. This definition is still used today, for example by James Dobson on his radio program, and the first question that must come up is ‘What is this definition based on?’- for it wasn’t much long before this time that masturbation led to blindness, a woman achieving an orgasm was Wrong, foreplay was gross, sodomy laws were prevalent, and the missionary position was the only permissible position for sex. Since we have begun to climb up out of a 2000 yr old cave of sexual ignorance, we have both APAs (American Psychological Association and the American Psychoanalytic Association), AMA, and the American Pediatrics Association coming out and arguing that homosexuality is not a ‘behavioral disorder’- which for all the traditionalists who immediately decry such information as a God-hating leftist agenda- keep drinking kool-aid with Jimmy Jones, for there is sure as hell a lot more research, peer-reviewed research than a 2000 year old tradition of violent persecution, discrimination, harassment backed up by half-ass theological research lacking an eye for any sort of context.

 

Traditional Garbage

                When discussing certain civil rights issues, or for that matter discussing certain controversial issues containing moral implications arise, the argument of ‘traditionalism’ continually arises as the end-all hammer against those who seem to be desiring the ‘erosion’ of our culture. This line of argument is most commonly found in discussions concerning ‘gay marriage,’ ‘gay rights,’ and other issues concerning homosexuals. I have heard countless politicians, pundits, religious figures, and opponents insist on the refusal to ‘undue 5000/10000 yrs of human history’ when it comes to the perceived threat of undoing ‘traditional’ marriage. As previously discussed in the context of ‘natural’ being used as a moral predicate, I intend to go after the use of ‘tradition’ as moral predicate along with the idea that it serves as an authoritative concept.

                From a pragmatic perspective- tradition is merely an aspect of history that for various reasons have been perpetuated. This perpetuation may be coming from a pragmatic perspective but this isn’t always so. Take a look at interracial marriage legislation in the US for example. It wasn’t until 1967 that the Supreme Court did away with such restrictions. From the state level, more states had repealed bans on interracial marriage just a decade or two before the 1967 Court decision. What could the pragmatic reasoning be for disallowing interracial marriage? Again, the same could be applied to institutional sexism, racism, and even the abolishment of individual rights during America’s wonderful period of coercive sterilization policies.

                For example, many atheists/agnostics (not all of course; I am thinking of one of the many arguments Nietzsche presents in his diagnosis of the ‘death of God’) argue that the ethics of religion, notably Christianity, have become obsolete, impractical. The notion of a celestial dictator when juxtaposed in the Age of Science has left the former reduced to a mere myth- a child’s story to keep them well-behaved. It further keeps us from advancing as this belief keeps us in servitude and a constant state of fear and guilt. Yet, we are told that religion is part of our ‘tradition,’ hence the inability to do away with it, but why?

                Tradition, as the attempt in using natural as a moral predicate, fails across the board. For many traditions of our history have been horrible and through our moral and mental evolution have done away with- slavery is a paradigmatic example of course. Traditions do serve a purpose for a variety of reasons but if traditions were never reformed, abolished, amended, etc. then we would be living in the dark ages. It was the tradition of feudalism that was abolished at the onset of the Industrial Revolution. It was the theories of John Locke and Montesquieu that helped paved the way for democracy in the Americas; it was the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers that led to the abolishment of an age old tradition of the ‘separate but equal’ ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

                One can surely argue against gay marriage- however, deep down whether willingly or not, the only real gun one has is the notion of tradition, which historically and as I attempted to touch on briefly has had a long history of abolishment and overturns.  So next time the argument of ‘our tradition is…..,’ further inquire as to the specific justification of said tradition, have it defended from a pragmatic perspective. For if this response is avoided stagnation shall become our new tradition.

‘Love of Wisdom’: An attempt at a normative epistemology

What is intelligence? What does it mean if someone says that you are smart? I use to think it just meant that you knew a lot of stuff- memorized dates, knew a foreign language, or even memorized pi to 30 digits. However, I now find that concepts of ‘smart’ or ‘stupid’ are mere relative; comparable concepts used to simply differentiate certain levels of knowledge usually based off of society’s priorities.

Here’s one example: Let’s say that I have memorized all of the Beatles albums in order while you have memorized all the battles of the Civil War- who’s smarter? Allow me to further demonstrate the ambiguity of terms such as ‘smart’ by adding that the number of Beatles albums I list in chronological order is the same number of battles in the Civil War chronologically. This type of learning seems to be quantitative without a doubt. It’s similar to when, as a kid, you memorized all the US state capitals (which I did thanks to a placemat and my dad’s quizzes during dinner).

On the other side of quantitative knowledge, there is also qualitative knowledge. To use the above example in this context, you can tell me gobs of information on the Civil War itself- but not before it, after it, or even similarities to other civil wars, the history of civil wars, etc. In other words, there is lacking a certain historical/global context to frame this in. This form of knowledge is qualitative because you can go in-depth into this single topic, apart from just listing dates, names, battles, weaponry, etc.

Let’s not forget that throughout school (I know I’m not the only one), many of us would study the assigned chapters, take the test and by the end of the week, most if not all that information would be lost. We would see homework, reports, and other assignments as a mere means to that wonderful ‘A’ result. By seeing the assignments and test as mere means replaces any intrinsic meaning to the assignment with the desire to finish it to get a good grade, graduate, etc, thus making the assignments more/less meaningless.  This type of learning seems to be utility-oriented in that it merely is performed to attain something else. You go to work not because you LOVE your job- but you need the paycheck to pay bills, buy food, and buy the latest book on Nietzsche. If you had an endless supply of the aforementioned commodities- why the hell would you go to work? How many of you would do your job for free?

This last question, as absurd as it sounds, is my normative epistemology. It has taken me some time to realize this but since then the acquisition of knowledge has become all the more fulfilling. To treat knowledge as a good-in-itself is what I am arguing for. Jacques Lacan, the ignored French psychoanalyst after Freud, integrated knowledge from several disciplines to supply examples, justifications, anticipate counter-arguments, and to merely elucidate his theories; this he called lateral thinking. For example, Lacan used Saussurean linguistics, Husserlian phenomenology, Hegelian dialectics, Marx’s labor theory of value, and even James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ in his work. As I argue here, I consider all knowledge to be connected- thus enabling lateral thinking.

If one were to start with say (as painful as it is to use such an example) a Harry Potter book and didn’t see the book as a mere means to an end (chatting with friends about it, to be able to compare to the movie, etc.); one could then read other fantasy novels, study literary theory and criticism- do you know how many disciplines that would lead into? You would eventually be reading 20th century philosopher Michel Foucault’s notion of the ‘death of the author,’ and Plato’s dialogues in which his utopia would kick out the poets and artists, along with Umberto Eco’s work on semiotics and literature and on and on.

You must ask yourself if having a college degree makes you intelligent, if so, then not having one must make you quite unintelligent. Does reading four chapters and then answering thirty questions solely based on those chapters correctly make you smart? Or does it mean you can memorize information well? Does memorization imply intelligence? If I memorized all the battles of the Civil War yet know nothing past that- that knowledge dies right there- it is useless, without context, lacking a broader understanding of military history, political history, economic history, etc.

I am not bashing memorizing of course, it is what is then done with what is memorized that I am concerned with. Simple regurgitation of numbers, figures, and dates does absolutely nothing but get you that ‘A’. I am calling for acquiring knowledge that serves no purpose other than a launching pad to more knowledge and so on. Philosophy, translated in the Greek breaks down into ‘love of wisdom’- this epitomizes my normative epistemology.

It’s not my fault, it’s human nature’s fault: A response to indirect determinism

                Often enough we hear certain theories concerning human nature; be it from the Contract Theorists (Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and John Locke) or even just a theoretical discussion with a friend. Now, such ‘theories’ are not scientific in any way, no general guidelines needing to be followed, nor a certain required perspective necessary to postulate a possible definition of ‘human nature.’ More often than not, whether one admits it or not, one’s theory on human nature comes from one’s own experiences or from a certain reading of history. One who lived during the Holocaust will no doubt have a different view of human nature than someone born and raised in luxury their whole lives (this isn’t a law of course, but seems to be somewhat predictable). Not to mention that if one lives a sheltered life (not reading history or other cultures) and primarily lives within one’s own community entirely, the infrastructure of that community will be the sole basis on which to base a theory on. I would like to argue, contrary to the moral pronouncements of religion, politics, and other studies, that there is no ‘human nature’ but a ‘human condition’ from which the freedom of man is manifested within a framework.

                Now, to anticipate the counterargument of my distinction being merely semantic, let me clarify the distinction. As opposed to the theories of ‘human nature’ (Hobbes- brutish, nasty, selfish; Rousseau- good, pure, innocent; etc.), the human condition is best explained in Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1946 essay ‘Existentialism and Humanism’ in which it is man’s facticity that constitutes the human condition. We find ourselves in the same world, where we have to labor, we have to die, we have to eat, drink; we are dictated by the physical laws of the universe, we are born to certain parents at a certain time in a certain part of said world, etc. Human nature, by contrast, argues for a human ‘essence,’ in which a generic essence is in all of us, a certain propensity towards this or that. Now, Sartre argues this first from dismissing the existence of a God. For, as Sartre famously writes ‘Existence precedes Essence,’ is only really possible if there is no God to have conceived of man’s ‘essence.’ If there is no God, then there is no entity to have created man’s essence; however the human condition in an atheistic universe does not contradict itself.

                For if one wants to argue a ‘human nature’ (as stated in the first paragraph) – what sources does one use? What are the guidelines one must follow to remain ‘objective’ in any hopeful sense? This seems absolutely relative. One could use the Bible, Koran, California, the 15the century, etc. to postulate a theory of human nature. Unless one had all of history in one’s head with full knowledge of perspectives, psychology, sociology, cultural distinctions, etc. it seems that anybody’s theory is as good as any other. In the end, a theory of human nature seems to be the projection of one’s own life.

                As Noam Chomsky accurately stated in an early 90’s interview:

‘Yeah, but if you look at the results of human nature, you see everything: you see enormous self-sacrifice, you see tremendous courage, you see integrity, you see destructiveness, you see anything you want. That doesn’t tell you much’ (‘Understanding Power: The Indispensible Noam Chomsky’ pg. 214).

This is exactly my point, as well as that as Sartre’s distinction between human nature and the human condition. From the human condition (facticity), anything within the realms of human possibility is found- this not only seems to discredit any theory of human nature but also seems to imply an ontological (theory of existence) freedom; meaning that within the framework of the human condition we as humans have the freedom to choose our fate, our actions, our goals, and the methods to achieve the aforementioned.

                So be weary of anyone espousing a theory of human nature- be it theological, political, or what have you. They can be very interesting, enlightening, inspiring different perspectives in seeing the world- but they amount to nothing more than a shot in the dark based off conscious/subconscious manifestations of one’s experiences or reflections. There is no human nature, for if there was, where’s the moral accountability, where’s the individual responsibility?

The Existential Ironist at Play

                ‘Rather than engage with his social world either by taking part in or criticizing it, he [existential ironist; my addition] lifts himself out of it altogether.’ (Andrew Cross; ‘Neither either nor or: The Perils of Reflexive Irony,’ The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard)

Kierkegaard’s sense of irony elaborated into the ‘existential ironist’ is paradigmatic of the radical subjectivity found thematically in many of my previous writings; be it on Nietzsche or religion for example. Now, in the context of Kierkegaard’s sense of the existential ironist, the practitioner, as stated earlier, does not attack nor resign from society- but merely plays along. How is this possible without the eventual self-doubting, self-loathing, or even melancholy resulting from this half-assed engagement with society and its many members?

                First off, I believe it is best illustrated through Sartre’s distinction between ‘being-for-itself’ and ‘being-in-itself.’ The former (humans, by nature of consciousness) status is reserved for those who have both facticity and transcendence. As elaborated on in an earlier piece, facticity is things that can be consciously reflected upon and which are things you can’t change- birthday, parents, place of birth, eye color, etc. Transcendence, in its easiest form, is merely your future as you see it happening according to your own goals. Sartre famously states that ‘I am what I am not, I am not what I am’- this captures perfectly the notion that we are continually reflecting on our past while forming our future. Now, with Kierkegaard, the radical subjectivity that he praises arises from the realization that one’s facticity is contingent in that it would not defy logic for you to have been born at a different time, different place, to different parents, or in fact to never be born at all.

                Now back to Kierkegaard’s notion of the existential ironist, he says: ‘He is suspended above all the qualifications of substantial life,’ and ‘for him, the whole given actuality had entirely lost its validity; he had become alien to the actuality of the whole substantial world’ (‘The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates’). The metaphor that Kierkegaard often uses in distinguishing the existential ironist, he summarizes with: ‘ironist has risen above all society, all interpersonal interactions and relationships.’  And is supplemented with the following: ‘Just as he is not personally invested, or defined by, his social roles and activities, so he is no longer personally invested in, or defined by, his relation to others.’ (Andrew Cross)

                This is where radical subjectivity comes into play. As a thought experiment, attempt to define yourself without any societal attachments in which it is your own consciousness that you use to define yourself. As Tyler Durden famously said in the extraordinary film ‘Fight Club’- ‘you are not your fucking khakis.’ This is the key to what existentialists refer to as ‘authenticity.’ Not only consciously refusing to go along with the crowd but realizing the contingency of all that surrounds you. Sure, we have to go to work, pay bills, shake hands, but the goal here is to realize that it is all meaningless in any real profound sense- it is merely contingent on the time and place you are at functioning on customs and mores that you were not present to direct as being in accordance with civility or any other standard. It is those who attempt to define themselves by race, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation that is truly lost. Case in point- on Kierkegaard’s tombstone, as was requested, it simply states ‘The Individual.’

The Consummation of Ignorance and Arrogance

‘I was somewhat surprised to see your acknowledgment of von Hayek. I have not read his book myself; it is much read and discussed in this country, but praised mostly by the protagonists of free enterprise and unrestricted capitalism, while all leftists regard him as a reactionary.’—Letter from Analytic philosopher Rudolph Carnap to F.A. Hayek’s friend and also a philosopher Karl Popper.

                In the introduction by Bruce Campbell to F.A. Hayek’s ‘The Road to Serfdom,’ (edition can be found in blog, ‘Reading 2011), Campbell goes through many of the receptions this book received in both Britain and in the US- but this one stood out as particularly interesting. Campbell goes on to point out that both the left and the right would be surprised by the inaccuracy of their misconceptions  upon reading this text, but there is a similar issue that the beginning quote merely touches with a feather tip, but captures an overall tendency.  Campbell goes on to cite those who ‘haven’t read Hayek but think that they already know what he is all about’ (pg. 6).

                How often have you come across the vulgar manifestation of this tendency? I urge you to think back to the time when you heard someone say, ‘I hate (CNN, Fox News, Noam Chomsky, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, anybody you want)’ who then immediately admits, with no glaring shame that he/she has never read the author, watched the program, seen the interviews, but the hatred is not only justified, but ‘fair’ because the person in question was critiqued (bashed, mocked) in a source ‘that I trust’? This, for some horrible reason is seen as completely practical in today’s discourse- which mostly is found in politics but can be found in other controversial issues.

                As far as I’m concerned, if you haven’t read it yourself, seen it yourself, shut the hell up!! Now dear friends, I consider myself a libertarian-anarchist (as to whether left or right anarchist, a whole other blog, but for now, irrelevant to the purpose here), and yet I have read Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Thomas Sowell, George Lakoff, John Stossell, Bernard Goldberg. I have seen Michael Moore’s films along with the lower budgeted conservative reaction films. My point in this is not to showcase all the books I’ve read (I would have picked different authors to showcase that I assure you), but to demonstrate what I’m referring to in my righteous rage when I hear someone hate a commentator/theorist, etc. and then admit that they heard it on Media Matters, Daily Kos, mentioned on Limbaugh or O’Reilly.

                Now this doesn’t include for example, Carnap’s admittance at the beginning of this piece, admitting you haven’t had firsthand experience and merely reiterate what seems to be a consensus of reception.  The quote meant to highlight the more responsible way to address an issue/policy/figure you aren’t that familiar with. To admit ignorance but throw out some perceptions or report some others’ thoughts is not the arrogance I am arguing against, it is the overall reluctance to admit any kind of ignorance whatsoever. I have met liberals who detest Bill O’Reilly yet have never seen his show on Fox News nor read any of this books. I have met conservatives who hate Noam Chomsky because Limbaugh told them to and Limbaugh is a trusted source to them- so why not right?

                This needs to stop….Take the time to find out for yourself what you think of these people in their own words. This does not mean you need to devote a summer in advanced study of Sarah Palin or Michael Moore, but watch one of the latter’s films, watch a speech of the former in its entirety or read one or two of her books. Be able to reference a firsthand source, not some commentator’s source. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a conception of something that was drastically overturned by actually taking the time to look up the actual document, quote, read the author in question, listen to the politician on his/her own turf. Try it and I’m sure you may be amazed.

America’s Sucide Bombing of its own Exceptionalism

A properly funded police, intelligence and military response is essential; but so are improved diplomacy and efforts to deradicalise potential terrorists, for the Hot and Cold Wars are now parallel.’—Michael Burleigh- ‘distinguished historian’ in ‘Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism’ (itallics and bold type my addition)

 Let’s juxtapose his recommendations, as pragmatic as they seem, with what America’s response has been not just historically, but currently. As is rightfully recommended that one not judge a book by its cover; perhaps it should also be recommended that one not judge a book by its preface. Now, this being a history book, the preface merely serves to demonstrate more/less the author’s angle in his approach, the overriding thesis in a book- possible challenges, documentation retrieval, difficult interviews, and thankful sentiments to a host of collaborators. However, this book was written post 9-11- for the final chapter deals specifically with Islam terrorism and Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Let’s break this down a tad and see what Michael is talking about shall we from the American perspective.

                Thus far, we are getting molested and being x-rayed nude at the airports, the Patriot Act has more/less incinerated and pissed on the ashes of the 4th Amendment. Our congress has; whether voluntary or not, kneeled down to the king of the Executive Branch who can now invade whoever he/she wants, for whatever reason- it doesn’t matter if there are American interests involved (but economic interests sure don’t stop the rising death toll), doesn’t matter if it’s a civil war, land dispute, etc. that should be handled by the involved parties in the region. Homeland Security continually attempts to act like the country that spawned the term ‘homeland security’ (I’ll give you a hint….the leader had a weird moustache and is used in American politics as a napkin should be used by a child at the dinner table). Similar to our undeclared war on drugs and poverty, the War on Terror is never ending, no real objective defined (sure, let’s kill all those who hate us, let’s burn all the drug crops, and let’s make everyone rich), and continually shifting from one country to another regardless of any real pretenses- i.e. Most people think of the drug wars in Latin America involving Columbia- that was only after  the drug cartels shifted from Bolivia in which fields were sprayed and the poor peasants were told to grow bananas (oh, and by the way, we have more non-violent [drug possession, distribution] criminals in prison than any industrial country in the history of the world, more black non violent prisoners than recorded numbers of total slaves in the southern colonies).To highlight this point- this undeclared war has spread to drones in Pakistan, bombings in Yemen, bombings in Libya (oh sure, Libya isn’t involved in the war on terror right- neither was Iraq, and Libya has an anti-American dictator, like Saddam  became after invading Kuwait, let’s not be delusional here folks).

                My argument is that the latter point, well, the point on ‘improved diplomacy’ is what I favor. Contrary to Ann Coulter’s point at this years’ CPAC in which she said that ‘bombs are the answer,’ I feel that does not work. Just think of this for one second- what was the last country that the Soviet empire attempted to ‘control’ before its economic downfall……..Afghanistan. Why did the Soviet Empire fall? Was it because of the gulags? Was it because of the violence? No, it was strictly economic…..and we seem to be wanting to mimic them by spending over a trillion dollars on a war that has really no goal, no objective other than some abstract enemy ……why not declare a war on jealousy or even anger while you are at it and let me know your strategy in that (well, Soma might help now that I think of it).

                Oh, let’s not just resort to the Soviet Union for comparisons; let’s pick something even more grand- grander for historical reasons. Why did the Roman Empire fall? Was it cause of the Vandals and Visigoths specifically? Was it because of the Roman Legion eventually becoming a bunch of disenfranchised and alienated boy scouts with swords? Nope, it was the stretching out of the empire- through North Africa and Western Europe that led to what economists call in the business world ‘diseconomies of scale’- too big to manage, too large to maintain. The result- the Vandals, Visigoths, and other German ‘barbaric’ tribes conquered. No, never mind that we are currently engaged in roughly five military involvements (I’m not talking bases or advisors, I’m talking bombs being dropped, bullets being fired, people dying), we have over 900 military bases in over 135 countries, and we give foreign aid out like candy on Halloween.

                This wonderful country is not Rome nor is it the Soviet Empire, nor is any of these comparisons what the Founders wanted. Sorry Neoconservatives and Obama devotees- if the Founders wanted the President to be able to go to war and send troops to kill people for whatever reason he/she wanted, they would have insisted a bit longer that George Washington be the first King of America and upon his insistent refusal, they would have found someone else. It is only through jingoistic talking points (not patriotism, sorry) that certain people feel we have the moral obligation to police the world, install dictators, and dictate codes of political institutions on other countries.

                Want to know how to avoid ‘creating’ a bin Laden? The same way you avoid creating a Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Mao, and all the others. Lenin and Stalin came out of Czarist Russia- where oppression was king- oppress people enough and you will get a Lenin. Install a military dictator in a democratic Cuba- hello Castro. Want some Ayatollahs taking US embassy members hostage? Give Iran a Shah after overthrowing its democratic government.  It is real simple folks. Want a Hitler- give Germany the Treaty of Versailles. Oh, want to waste 70 billion dollars real quick- hand it to Mubarak of Egypt, as we did over the 30yrs of his reign.

livres philosophiques: A Critique of ‘Justine’ pt. 2

‘The idea of God is the sole wrong for which I cannot forgive mankind.’—Marquis de Sade

‘Is man merely a mistake of God’s? Or God merely a mistake of man?’-Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Now, in the context of ‘Justine,’ the battle is found in the idea of a world with God (universal ethics, Providence) and a world where the rules of amoral Nature filter down into the hearts of man (nihilism, egoism, libertinage). Justine, as stated in the previous piece, represented Virtue- and its foundation is found on the idea of a supreme God. For example, when Justine runs into her first libertine experience, she pleads the following which should help elucidate the moral foundation found in de Sade’s notion of Virtue:

“Oh Monsieur,” says I, weeping, clutching the wicked man’s knees, ‘unbend, I beseech you; to be so generous as to relieve me without requiring what would be so costly I should rather offer you my life than to submit to it…Yes, I prefer to die a thousand times over than violate the principles I received in my childhood.” (Justine, pg 473, italics my addition)

It surely does seem about halfway through the book that Justine is just a gullible, idealistic child in the face of the reality of the world she has been thrown into. Continually, she invokes God, altruism, and kindness to open ears but closed minds.

                Friedrich Nietzsche and Marquis de Sade would agree on the notions of Judeo-Christian morality and the concept of metaphysics in general. Nietzsche famously referred to the devotion of metaphysics as ‘other-worldly;’ meaning, that it took attention away from this world, it inhibited the natural inclinations of man under an abstract sense of ‘right’ and wrong.’ The Marquis seems to be hinting at something similar by his continual insistence that it is Nature that should guide us- hardly a metaphysical postulate.  The difference between the two lay in de Sade’s advocacy of libertinage vs. Nietzsche’s insistence on ‘self-cultivation,’ or as the ancient Pindar famously said, ‘Become who you are.’ Nietzsche, for example, would laugh at the Catholic ‘Seven Deadly Sins,’ for they require no responsibility, no self-responsibility, but merely obedience- a robotic following of rules that are inhuman. Marquis de Sade actually advocates the exact opposite of the morality- seeing that any system of morality is itself antithetical to human nature.

                Marquis de Sade’s libertines in ‘Justine’ often seem to be happier, fulfilled, prosperous, powerful, and cunning- this can be accounted for by the staunch egoism they practice in the face of Justine’s insistence that it is by the hands of God that man should be ‘nice,’ and continue to strive for a moral social cohesion.  As Maurice Blanchot points out concerning the linear thought process de Sade uses to arrive at libertinage:

“Sadean man denies man, and this negation is achieved through the intermediary of the notion of God. He temporarily makes himself God, so that there before him men are reduced to nothing and discover the nothingness of a being before God.” (Justine, pg. 59)

De Sade flips the egalitarian notions involved in Christianity on its head to apply the negation of man. For if all man is equal, then each man holds no significance and by the process of staunch egoism (‘He temporarily makes himself God), the power of one is the only determining factor in action. It is by the process of making oneself God and the logical consequences of egalitarianism that libertinage finds its ultimate justification.

                Friedrich Nietzsche in works such as ‘Human all too Human,’ attempts to abolish the notions of egalitarianism but without the negation of man itself. Nietzsche argued that all men are not born equal, nor is there enough free will or a Lockean tabula rasa (‘blank slate’) to ensure that each person will become a Goethe or a Beethoven. Nietzsche’s theory of ‘amor fati’ (‘love of fate’) then comes into play as a substitute for the notions of free will and egalitarianism.

In the context of an atheist world, Nietzsche seems to be a pseudo-Machiavellian moralist while de Sade comes across as the ten yr old boy at home alone and being gripped by his wandering imagination. This isn’t to say that de Sade is necessarily being juvenile, but it illustrates the extent that de Sade’s egoism manifests itself. In their insistence of the ‘death of God’ and the ‘reevaluation of morals,’ Nietzsche states:

‘After the Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave- a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown.- And we- we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.’ (The Gay Science’)

It seems through the acts of staunch egoism and libertinage that de Sade wants the shadow not only vanquished but absolutely destroyed in a crowd of the most pious.