The problem with doing any writing about culture is that it's too difficult to establish the existence of even the most obvious trends. So, I will simply point you to my writing from last week suggesting that the Internet generation is disconnected from the world, and link this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education in which a queer studies professor notes that his classes have been filled since 1991, "but gradually the political energy has died away almost completely." He notes that feminists have had the same problem. Note the weird watershed date of 1992 in his article and mine. I don't think that social interaction can be reduced to political activism. Just making a note.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Monday, October 30, 2006
Here Georg Iggers gets at what I find troubling in Herder, in a much clearer way than I can:
"Basic to Herder's position are two concepts which remain fundamental to the entire affirmative tradition of German historicism with which we are dealing. The first of these concepts involves the idea of individuality. Herder, in contrast to natural law philosophy assumes that all values and all cognitions are historic and individual. 'In a certain sense, every human perfection is national, secular, and most closely considered, individual.' History, he insists, is constant movement. Nevertheless, within the flux of history, there are certain centers with at least relative stability: the nations. They possess a morphology; they are alive; they grow. They are not rational in character, but dynamic and vital; things in themselves, not means. It is the historian's task to understand them. Nations have the characteristic of persons: they have a spirit and they have a life span. They are not a collection of individuals, but are organisms."
-The German Conception of History, p. 35.
In denying natural law, Herder makes nations into monads (and he actually cites Leibniz on this), answerable only to themselves. We cannot judge the Italians by any objective standard because we're not Italians, for example. Iggers notes that Herder eventually backed down from this position, and it's no wonder. But, you can see the impact of his argument on the storm and stress school of German writers, especially Goethe. And, as I've said, I think Hegel puts the same idea (which isn't a lot different from Christian Providence ideas itself) in different words.
Campaigning for Republicans, President Bush said Monday that "terrorists win and America loses" if opponents of his Iraq policy triumph in next week's elections.
Is there any way to read that other then "If you vote for people who disagree with me, you're giving support to the enemies of this country"?
Did Herder invent nationalism?
I've heard it argued on more that one occasion that he did, and there's something to the argument. But, it's hard to say.
I think he was the first historian to use "national character" as a category of analysis, and I suspect that he did develop that concept. In the late 1700s, when Herder was writing, it was more common to categorize groups of people by judicial or political groupings. Of course, we see others begin talking about nations in this time, but none of them seem to mean nation in a quasi-organic sense, as Herder does. The closest I've seen, and an obvious influence on Herder, was Montesquieu, who talked about regions in relation to climate. "Southern" people were supposed to be slower to anger and more lethargic, "Northern" were more independent of spirit, and so on. But, Herder talks of "Nations" as self-contained units, often using plant metaphors. They all supposedly grow according to their national character, which is contained in some sort of linguistic seed form, and eventually die off. This leads Herder to two conclusions that are characteristic, even central, to later Nationalism, and somewhat irreconcilable:
A) Nations must be self-contained, and so should not conquer other nations,
B) What nations have the will to do is justified by their character, and therefore raison d’état.
It's easy to see where these would lead to trouble with later thinkers, who tended to draw from Hegel at least as much as Herder. But, didn't Herder think the state itself was an artificial abomination?
What does Herder mean by 'Nation'?
I could be wrong, but I take his argument, in Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind, to be the standard one- that is, the nation is defined as a group of people with a common language, culture, traditions, and beliefs, usually geographically-bound in some way. So, he talks about the Persian nation, and the Greek nation, and the German nation, and so forth. Also, he tends to emphasize the mixing of nations as their downfall. So, for example, when the Israelites allowed in smaller nations, they "destroyed that internal and external compact rotundity, which alone could secure their prescribed limits." (137) For the time, his argument was fairly unique. Remember that multinational empires, such as the Ottoman, or loose confederations of principalities were more the rule in the 1700s. The 1800s would be the era of the 'nation-state'. Therefore, his criticism of the state as unnatural might well beg the question: "Would a state made up of the members of a nation be natural?" Forget the fact that it would be impossible. That fact stopped nobody in the 19th and 20th centuries from trying to create nation-states. Besides, Herder's idea of the nation is impossible.
Is Herder's idea of the Nation correct?
No. It's horseshit. In a sense, he is describing ethnicity. But, his idea of nationality is a fiction.
But how is this different from other writers of the era?
An example would be Rousseau, who calls nations, groups united by custom and character, rather than by regulations and laws, groups having the same style of living and eating, and the common influence of climate." This is virtually identical to how Herder understands the nation. And yet, Rousseau deals with all nations as basically interchangeable. In this Discourse on Inequality, he talks about how a nation goes from a state of nature to various states of society, and assumes that it was the same for all of them. Herder distinguishes each one by its own individual character, and tautologically uses that to explain what their history. He continually tells us that "what a nation is meant to do, it does", without recognizing the dangers of this argument.
Hegel makes the same argument about the state- that each state is the self-justifying embodiment of an idea. Self-justifying because whatever the state wants to do is therefore within its nature to do, or it wouldn't want to do it. Hegel wrote in support of the Prussian state, but his arguments have been used by authoritarians and dictators from Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union. The fact that so many members of the current US administration claim to have been inspired by Fukuyama, who used Hegel's argument in regards to the United States, is more alarming than anything Leo Strauss might have written.
But, in regards to Herder, he makes essentially the same argument. If the nation is the self-justifying embodiment of a value, or a character, it can do whatever it wishes, and state that it could not do otherwise. In this sense, Herder is the second historical modern thinker, after Giambattista Vico, to develop a teleological explanation of history.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
President Bush has apparently been stumping so hard for Republican candidates that he has shouted himself hoarse. This brings up something that I've noticed- does he seem sort of unhinged lately? Every time I see a press conference with the President on CNN as of late, he looks like he's about ready to to step into the ring on WWF Smackdown. He's always been a bit condescending to the press, but lately, he seems angry and downright contemptuous. Is anyone else starting to wonder about his mental state?
I don't usually write about the man because I tend to view him differently than everyone else I know. I think he's essentially a good man who is doing what he believes is right, and relatively tragic in that he's simply failing as President. I don't think he's evil, or a pawn of Halliburton, or a born-again wacko. I think he's banal, if anything. So, the Conservatives who glorify him strike me as misguided, but so do the Liberals who villify him. He seems to me like he might be a great office manager or coach somewhere, but by some cosmic mishap, he became President, and he's in way over his head.
And it's sad too because I don't think he realizes how lousy a job he's done. I think he really believes that it's just a conspiracy of Liberals who want to see the terrorists win, who are complaining about him. I think he has started to go into tyrant mode; but not to protect the nation; just to protect some delusion about himself and his party. He simply does not seem to understand that a democracy cannot function without a certain trust and respect between parties. In this, he is not alone though. The rhetoric on the left and the right is downright poisionous for democracy. And again, many people do seem to hate the man as they hate no one else.
So, maybe that's why he's been screaming so much in recent news clips. It's getting to be a bit alarming. American politicians haven't been big screamers since the days of Huey Long. I think screaming makes us think of Mussolini or Hitler, or some other El Presidente. It only took one scream to undo Howard Dean, remember. Maybe it will win over the undecided voters who want a tough guy. But, I'm personally kind of exhausted by the overheated and paranoid tone of politics these days. Do they want us to vote for them, or suffer a heart attack? Personally, I'm expecting Bush's head to explode, like in Scanners, at some point.
James Gunn has made a career out of reworking other people's material. As a screenwriter, he penned the archly bizarre Tromeo & Juliet, reworking the Shakespeare original, and then broke into the mainstream with the screenplays for the Scooby Doo movie and its sequel, and the remake of Dawn of the Dead. It's not exactly surprising then that his directorial debut is an homage to the latex monster movies of the 1980s. It is surprising, though, how enjoyable Slither actually is.
Anyway, it should be remembered that Gunn is essentially paying homage to remakes. David Cronenberg's The Fly, John Carpenter's The Thing, Tobe Hooper's Invaders From Mars, and Chuck Russel's The Blob were all remakes of 50s monster movies, and Stuart Gordon's From Beyond was based on an H.P. Lovecraft story. These filmmakers took advantage of the advances in prosthetic latex effects of the era to update and completely rework the 50s monster films that they saw as children. So, Gunn is paying tribute to films that were homages and remakes.
On the other hand, those 80s films drastically updated the storylines as well. Cronenberg's The Fly is a bizarre and disgusting, and actually heartbreaking film that deals with love in the age of AIDS. Carpenter's The Thing was seen as an FX extravaganza, and it is; but it's also oddly enough a chamber drama about group loyalty under crisis. Gordon's From Beyond is a totally bizarre and kinky story that is hard to even classify as a horror movie, like all of Gordon's other movies. These 80s monster movies are nothing if not unique takes on the material by directors with their own singluar voices and visions.
These are qualities that seem to be lacking these days. As great a director as Quentin Tarantino is, he's also very limited by the fact that he seems to have no other influences but the films he's seen. When he pays homage to Godard or Truffaut, for instance, he's just paying homage to the style of Godard; when Godard paid tribute to the 50s American gangster films, he brought in the style of the films and added his own politics, and philosophical views and understanding of art. Both Truffaut and Godard were great readers as well as film-goers. Frustrating as Godard can still be, he's also well-rounded. Today's filmmakers, by comparison seemed trapped in a circle of references to other films. The idea of a completely original movie is probably impossible; but couldn't they be a little more original?
Slither is not going to win any awards for originality, but it has some clever ideas of its own. The film is basically another horror movie in which a meteorite lands on earth and aliens emerge, ready to take over people's minds and destroy earth. The first person invaded by the aliens, played by Michael Rooker, becomes the chief alien, merging mentally with an ancient alien who has colonized the universe. However, in a nice twist, the alien experiences the man's troubled relationship with his wife, and so all of the alien-zombies in town are trying to kill everyone else and get the wife back.
Does this all sound silly? Well, I think the reason the film works is that Gunn takes the romantic aspect seriously, and makes the scary scenes scary, and plays the rest for laughs. There is a fine-line between witty horror (see Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and cheesy horror (See, well, Tromeo and Juliet), and surprisingly enough, Gunn has made a witty horror film. Granted, it borrows a bit too much (I was particuarly annoyed that its poster is a direct rip-off... er, homage to Cronenberg's They Came From Within), but it also suggests that Gunn might be creative enough to keep watching.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Trailer Park Boys
I don't know if Trailer Park Boys is televised anywhere in the states, but it's very popular up here. People keep telling me that it's "very Canadian humor", but it makes me laugh.
Once again I (pedantically) emplore everyone to stop abusing our language! Today's example is the bizarre Alphabet Soup style of gay activism.
When I was a kid, there was the "Gay Community".
Then, they became the "Gay and Lesbian Community". This was okay, although, in case you haven't noticed, lesbians are, in fact, gay.
Then, they tried: "Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay Community". To be honest, I never felt that bisexuals needed a community, since we already had the goth and new wave scenes. But, okay. Fine. One person suggested calling it the "Les-bi-gay Community", because that could be taken as a calling: "Let's be gay!" No, I'm not making that up. Nor did I get that from South Park.
Okay, then everyone started worrying about the rights of transgendered people, who probably could have gone in one of the above categories, and it became the "LBGT Community". Aside from your first impulse when you see this to ask: "What is a Labgit?", it's just aesthetically ugly. Yes, I find certain combinations of letters to be ugly. Asperger's dude.
Now, I get an email about a "LBGTQ Community Meeting". Of course, my first thought was that the Q stood for Queer; but, nope, it stands for "Questioning". Seriously. Questioning isn't a stage in sexual life anymore, it's a community. People can be life-long members of the "questioning community". Their slogan can be "Neither shitting, nor getting off the pot!" or "We're Here! We're Confused! Huh?!"
"What do we want? We don't know! When do we want it? Not sure!"
Please, stop the madness! These random combinations of letters are just ugly and confusing. The idea of a "community" based in sexual preferences is pretty goofy anyway; but, hell, it's a good excuse for social events! But, just call it "The Alternative Sexuality Community", or even the "A Bit Fruity Community". I'll buy the tee-shirt and wear it. But, as for the whole LGTBQTVM" (Lesbian-Gay-Transgendered-Questioning-Transexual-Virgin-Masochist) stuff, please STFU!
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
1. How strange it is to be nostalgic at age 32! And yet, I remember belonging to so many small communities back in those golden days around 1992- political groups, book clubs, theatre troupes, and weekly potlucks! What happened to all of them? Half of them are now Yahoo! groups! I recently discussed this with an older and wiser friend who told me that he remembers running into people in his poetry circle about ten years ago who would tell him what books they were currently reading. Now, they don't show up for the poetry readings, and the few that do show up, aren't reading any books currently. Why do people keep telling me about "ten years ago"?
2. What happened? Did we trade an eye for an ear, and then turn around and pawn the rest of the body? We keep getting ripped off, don't we?
3. But, seriously, folks (although never quite seriously) did we get anything meaningful in return for moving out of the physical world and into cyberspace? Was it a good move? Did we move out of the old country and into a new one in which you can never leave the house safely or smell onions cooking? Are we living in the slums?
4. At age 23, I decided to find out where the best hot dogs are in America. After a few years, and several Greyhound trips, I settled on Philadelphia. Most of my friends disagree with me on that. If I had been born later, I could have googled this and known the answer in five minutes.
5. The Internet puts a world of information at your fingertips- what a horrible existence that must be!
6. Imagine never having explored, or searched, or wandered, or probed. Imagine instead having always accessed. We will educate the first generation that never had reason to be curious.
7. Imagine a life in which wandering was replaced by accessing, and romance was replaced by hooking-up (or plugging in. I forget). How flattened you affect would be, how shallow your understanding of the world.
8. Imagine a world in which there was nothing beneath the surface of your fingertips. Nothing that you had to dig into the soil to touch. No mystery. No hidden places.
9. Without wandering and curiosity, does being-in-the-world still exist? Has the snythetic gnosticism of the computer age made our existence cursory at best?
10. The sage has no name. But, techgnosis is not safe for everyone. Remember the monk whose legs fell off as he sat around gaining enlightenment!
11. Are we enlightened yet? We're definitely not getting any lighter! The philosophes talked of reason as a sort of intellectual self-determination. This would seem to exclude "googling".
12. One gained an independent existence by applying this intellectual faculty to the things of the world. In doing so, one was no longer beholden to the ideas of others. How often can you read a blog and find an original idea?
13. I define curiosity as the active intellectual pursuit of novelty. I mean this to be a precise definition.
14. By intellectual, I also mean erotic. I do not have in mind Socrates sitting around and dreaming of the forms until his legs fall off! Nietzsche said that thinking should be a form of dancing. I have in mind active pursuit- Rousseau's Emile, wandering in a field! Sophie too!
15. Let's be honest, I speak of the exact opposite of what we offer in most courses- which tend more towards the bureaucratization of thought.
16. But also, perhaps the opposite of what the public wants. This is a generation that has never had the time or the patience to wonder. No wandering in a field for them! Many spend 30-50 hours a week "on-line". Information is a commodity for them. Truth has no metaphysical value because it's a matter of customer choice. Catholic or athiest? Conservative or Liberal? Regular or Extra-crispy? Paper or plastic? We can all be Marie Antoinette for a day and play at being a shepherdess in an electronic field, and soon a magnetic field.
17. Philip Reiff spoke of spending a month trapped in a sentence. To see the world in a grain of sand! So many more people see the world as a grain of sand! Is there such a thing as "sacred knowledge" any more? And, if not, what in the world are we doing as teachers? Couldn't we be replaced by computers or temps? Isn't that what's happening anyway?
18. The Internet is only a tool- like an axe. Although I suspect that my axe and Lizzy Borden's axe might have some differences.
19. Curiosity provoked the first fall from the Garden of Eden. It brought us into the world. No wonder Augustine had a problem with it! But, it made us human, or at least, it made us aware of our fallen nature as humans. The Internet could have saved us from being-in-the-world. Eve could have googled the "fruit of knowledge". Her actions could have been innocent because utterly meaningless.
20. If kitsch is the absolute denial of shit (pace Kundera), then we have entered the Kingdom of Kitsch. Truth is irrelevant. Metaphysics are an old wive's tale. Culture is vestigial. Thought is tourism. We are surrounded by our own small narrowcast of admirers. Marie Antoinette had nothing on us. But, are the corporeal-world peasants preparing their guillotines?
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
So, I was talking about Hume with a professor and she said that he is sort of the wild card of the Enlightenment. I think that's sort of what threw me for a loop about him. Locke makes a similar argument, but he's pretty much just a sensationalist- he thinks that all of our ideas come from our senses. Hume takes it further, suggesting that what we perceive by our senses is largely infered- in a sense that it is a joint creation of our minds and the external world. Kant will eventually flip the script entirely in the Critique of Pure Reason, and suggest that we have no direct knowledge of things-in-themselves. So that apple you're eating? Well, you have no direct knowledge. Hume just suggests that your knowledge could be totally wrong.
But, Hume is also strange in that he's basically a 'skeptic', and yet, it's not inconcievable that he was an outright athiest. Deism is confusing in a lot of ways. But, Hume's argument that all accounts of miracles should not be believed pretty much cancels out all revelation and the resurrection of Christ. In fact, anything that suggests that Moses and Christ were anything but philosophers would be forgotten. So, there is a Christianity, but it is in no way miraculous. Also, we have no reason to believe in Heaven or Hell. Otherwise, we're fine! This reminds me of Spinoza, who claims to be purifying religious belief, but who entirely empties it of any content.
So, what to do with Hume? The easy answer is to call him a skeptic and leave it at that. But, again like Spinoza, his cheshire cat smile gleams out at us from the darkness, beckoning towards us to ask him more.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Meet the Dikika baby, a three-year old girl who lived 3.3 million years ago in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia, near where the 3.2 mil. year old hominin Lucy was discovered in 1974. Ethiopian scientist Zeresenay Alemseged, and his team from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, slowly removed this fossil from sandstone in the Afar Depression of Africa's Great Rift Valley. She is also a member of the species Australopithecus afarensis, the ancestor of our genus, Homo. The Dikika baby is the most complete ancient infant ever found.
In common with others of her species, the Dikika baby has a small brain size and a jutting ("prognathic") face. Models of her sharply resemble a chimp, and yet she is, like other members of Australopithecus afarensis, bipedal. Hominins can also be identified by their smooth brow and short canine teeth, which led Zeresenay to notice her skull jutting out of the stone. The fossil was in amazing shape, although embedded in sandstone, and took the team five years to excavate, so far.
Impressively, the Dikika baby has an early version of a hyoid bone, a bone which later evolved into the human voice box. She also has a human-like lower torso, including feet that cannot grasp like an ape. Hominins therefore had to depend more on their mothers than baby chimps do, perhaps giving human society its unique family structure. Lastly, she has a brain similar to that of a chimp, which likely would have grown as large as Lucy's. This implies that childhood was becoming a significant stage in life. In fact, the Dikika baby may have been alive during the origins of hominin childhood, a long period of dependency that allows us to grow our large brains, and become uniquely human.
A moment of silence, please.
Union Products of Leominster, Mass. has stopped manufacturing the Pink plastic lawn flamingo.
Trailer parks across the nation will be flying their flags at half-mast today. John Waters will be put on suicide watch. All of Baltimore, in fact, will be drunk tonight, although that's nothing special.
Pink plastic lawn flamingo, we hardly knew ye.
"This much is certain; that a system that is never to be censured, will never be improved: that if nothing is ever to be found fault with, nothing will ever be mended: and that a resolution to justify every thing at any rate, and to disapprove of nothing, is a resolution which, pursued in future, must stand as an effectual bar to all the additional happiness we can ever hope for; pursued hitherto would have robbed us of that share of happiness which we enjoy already."
-Jeremy Bentham, A Fragment on Government
Sunday, October 22, 2006
(Note: Post in Progress)
So, why in the bloody hell am I blogging my notes on this philosophical essay by David Hume?! Well, first off, it should be obvious by now that I'm not tremendously tuned in to the audience in this whole blogging thing! Secondly, I'm up reading and learning this essay, and it's pretty impressive actually. Kant said that Hume's work awoke him from his dogmatic slumber. I don't know about that, but it's certainly made me aware of the limitations of my own perception. And when we realize the limitations of our own perceptions, it's easier to forgive others for their differences of opinion.
This is a simplified reworking of Hume's earlier work A Treatise of Human Nature. This work explains Hume's epistemology in a simpler way than the Treatise, and seems to be sufficient in itself.
I. Of the Different Species of Philosophy
There is natural philosophy and moral philosophy. Moral philosophy considers a man as born for action, and the other as a reasonable rather than an active being. The first is easy and obvious, and the second is abstruse and more nuanced- and hence, less popular than the work of sophists. But, superstition is a good reason to look into human understanding.
II. Of the Origin of Ideas
Our thoughts are either IDEAS or IMPRESSIONS. Impressions are sensations, and ideas are memories, imaginings, etc. However, all of our ideas come from previous impressions. If a man is not able to have the sensations (i.e.- if he is blind) he is not able to have the corresponding ideas. Ideas are faint and obscure, while Impressions are more vivid. Imaginings are created from sensations by: compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing.
III. Of the Association of Ideas
Ideas are connected in the mind by: Resemblance, Contiguity, and Cause & Effect.
IV. Skeptical doubts concerning the operations of the understanding
All of the objects of human reason are either Relations of Ideas (i.e.: Geometrical figures), or Matters of Fact. The second are known by experience. For example, a child learns from experience that fire is hot. So, the nature of all out reasonings concerning matter of fact are founded in the relation of cause and effect. And the foundation of our reasonings about cause and effect is Experience. And what is the foundation of our reasonings concerning experience? Why do we expect certain results? It is not reasoning.
V. Skeptical Solutions of These Doubts
In all reasonings from experience, there is a step taken by the mind which is not supported by any argument or process of the understanding. It is induced by some other principle- Custom or Habit. "This is also, presumably, the "principle" that organizes the connections between ideas." "All belief of matter of fact or real existence is derived merely from some object, present to the senses or memory, and a customary connection between that and some other object." Custom is the principle by which a correspondence has been effected between the course of nature and the succession of our ideas. "Custom, then, is the great guide of human life."
VI. Of Probability
Again we have custom taking past expriences and using them to predict the future. In the case of chance, we expect an equal possibility of an outcome, say upon the roll of a die. But, if an outcome occurs often, we expect it to be more probable, with a higher degree of subjective expectation. If belief is nothing but a stronger and firmer conception than what attends the fictions of the imagination, then probability is accounted for by Hume's theory.
VII. Of the Idea of Necessary Connection
"Necessary connection" is the power that ties one idea to another. We know causation through custom- objects and events of one kind have always been followed by objects or events of another kind, in our experience, so we infer this will happen again. But, sensible qualities are not necessarily cojoined. Moreover, volitions of the will cannot be inferred to be necessarily linked to the physical actions they produce since we don't directly know the mysterious sense power that produces the effect. This is why there is a mind/body split. We don't know the mysterious power that links our will to pick up a pen with out body's action of picking up the pen. We feel this connection between cause and effect, but we never percieve it by sensation.
VIII. Of liberty and necessity (in two parts).
Here he gets into the free will question. People have debated for years over the conflict between necessity and liberty. Hume believes this is a confusion of terms.
IX. Of Animals
Animals are able to infer the connection between cause and effect through learned expectations. The animal stores up information about heat, cold, depth, stones, and other obvious characteristics of objects. Therefore, animals and humans share this ability to reason through custom, although it is much simpler in animals. And some of their knowledge, which we call Instinct, is given by nature and not through experience or observation.
X. Of Miracles
Our evidence for the truth of the Christian religion is even less than the evidence of our senses, because we base our belief on the testimony of the Apostles, not on the witness of our senses. Testimony is trustworthy in that people are ashamed to tell lies. However, a miracle goes against the laws of nature, and hence all of our experience. Forged miracles are easily spread, as with gossip, because of our sense of wonder. The miracles of every religion seem to cancel each other out. Moreover, we have no miracles that were attested to by a wide group of spectators. And all the peoples who have attested to miracles have been barbarians. Christains, thus, must be moved by faith, in opposition to all reason. (This seems like a half-hearted retreat from his critique, and I'm fairly certain Hume is not the believer in question.)
"Out of caution, David Hume decided to omit his strictures about miracles from his A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40), publishing these only some years later, and he continued to exercise a degree of self-censorship down to the 1750s and beyond." -Jonathan I. Israel, "Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750"
XI. Of a particular providence and future state
Hume relates the argument of a skeptical friend: One argument that people make for a Divine existence is the order of the universe: the intelligent creator argument. Allowing that we can infer a cause from an effect, we can tell nothing beyond this. In other words, the gods could have created the universe, but we are unjustified in giving them powers beyond this. We see the universe as the effect of the gods, but cannot infer another effect- such as an afterlife or heaven or hell.
Q: If you can see a half-finished building, and infer its completion, why not look at the universe, and imagine a more-perfect plan?
A: We can infer what the builder will do because we can understand a human, but not the Diety. We cannot understand the mind of a superior Being so different from us.
XII. Of the Academical or Skeptical Philosophy
What is meant by a sceptic? Cartesian scepticism teaches us to be sceptical of our own perceptions and to trace them back to a prime cause; but this leads to total doubt. "The treatment includes the arguments of atheism, Cartesian skepticism, "light" skepticism, and rationalist critiques of empiricism. Hume shows that even light skepticism leads to crushing doubts about the world which - while ultimately are more philosophically justifiable - may only be combated through the non-philosophical adherence to custom or habit. He ends the section with his own reservations towards Cartesian and Lockean epistemologies." In the second section, he asks what good can be produced by excessive scepticism and finds no good. Finally, he says that some scepticism can be worthwhile. It can temper our pride and dogmatism. Knowing the natural powers and limits of the human mind can guide our researches. Basically, we can only use abstract reasoning concerning numbers and quantity, and experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence.
It's a pretty challenging argument. Hume gives the example of when we look out the window and see it is snowing and infer that the snow will be cold and wet, instead of salty or hot. He also suggests our inference that a fire will burn us if we hold our family in it, as an example. These inferences seem fairly self-evident. But, his argument, if I understand it, is that we make these inferences about cause and effect simply out of a habit of mind.
In a few weeks, it will be time to vote once again: bored and exhausted citizens will be herded into the church down the street to stand in line and push a button. We won't even get a piece of cheese when we do this! In fact, we won't really recieve much of anything. But, we will have done our "civic duty". Well, I suppose I shouldn't use the word "we" here, because I have decided not to vote this year.
I just can't see any reason to pull the lever for any of the candidates on the ballot in New York state. Nothing they say appeals to me in any way, all of their platforms seem to be mainly fear-based, worst of all, I can't see the difference between the Democratic candidates and the Republican candidates. Here in New York, I get to vote for Hillary Clinton, a warmongering pseudo-conservative Stepford Wife whose television ads inform me that she has done much to protect our children from video games. And what if she actually believes this crap? And, if I don't want to vote for her, I get to vote for John Spencer, who calls civil partnerships for gay couples "special rights", calls Hillary the Hawk a "traitor" who "aids our enemies" in the War on Terror, and who has a lousy record in regards to the first amendment. Or, if I feel rakish, I could vote for the Libertarian candidate, and take a stand against state oppression and for employer-employee oppression, or for the Green candidate and go back to walking on all fours. Hooray.
So, I'm not voting. I just don't want any of these people to win, and so I would feel strange making my voice heard as wanting one of them to win. The "lesser of two evils" argument doesn't work for me either- these candidates aren't truly evil, just stupid. A genuinely evil election might be fun- Vote: Darth Vader (R), or Cthulu (D), or third-party candidate Fantomas. This election instead offers the evil of banality.
Besides, the lesser of two evils argument assumes that we accept a situation in which both of our choices are lousy. When you vote for the lesser of two evils, you're also voting for a system that allows you only to vote for one of two shitty candidates. It seems more logical, given this choice between Dumb and Dumber, to sit the whole thing out. If you vote for a candidate that you hate, just to hurt one that you hate more, what do you do if the schmuck that you voted for actually wins? Then you're partially responsible for electing a schmuck! The only way around this is to vote for the Green Party guy, who has no chance of winning, and then you can bitch about the winner, even though were the Green Party guy to have won, we'd basically have voted ourselves back to the stone age.
People argue that "if you don't vote, you can't bitch"; but I like to think that I'm living proof that this argument is wrong! Their argument is that, if you hate the guy in power, and you didn't vote against him, you've done nothing to stop him from being in power. Hence, you can't complain. But, what if you voted for him, and now you hate him? ("Blame me- I voted for Bush!") In that case, you couldn't complain either. It seems to me that hating both candidates is the only situation in which you could be assured to be justified in complaining, and the only way to express that opinion honestly is to vote for neither candidate. Don't blame me- I voted for Nobody. In fact, maybe I get to bitch more than other people.
People say that not voting is "ignoring your civic duty". Perhaps they've never given their words much thought, but I can't see any reason to believe that my civic duty requires me to vote. In order to live in civil society, I am required to accept the rule of whoever wins the election, as an expression of the general will. But, that does not mean that I am required to take part in the election itself. I just have to live with the outcome. I can live with the outcome. But, again, living in civil society only requires you to submit to the general will, and the general will gives me the choice to not vote. So there.
Sure, I can 'make my voice heard' by voting, but the ballot doesn't allow me to say what I want to, which would be something like "I would like to vote for Senator Lux Interior". It gives me a choice that amounts to no choice. Vote for Candidate A or B, and you vote for the drug war, you vote for the endless War on the Boogeyman, you vote for throwing billions of dollars down a hole to prove that we really hate Mexicans, you vote for fear and loathing. And you vote against that old idea of America as a beacon of hope and optimism, which is apparently "pre-9/11 thinking".
Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, meanwhile, has chartered the "Vote or Die" campaign. As much as I hate to ignore the shrewd political advice of the author of "It's All About the Benjamins", I find it hard to take this air-ball attempt at irony: "Vote or Die" too seriously. If P. Diddy intends to convince us that voting is critically important, poking fun at how voting campaigns tend to really overdo it in arguing that voting is critically important, seems to be a bad idea. "Get it? We don't really think you're going to die! I just have to do these stupid ads for my probation!" Okay, thanks Puffy. When I get to vote on whether or not you make another album, then you'll hear from me. So long now.
I complain too much about politics, and I really am trying to quit. But, it's hard when I feel so out of tune with this time and place. The Republicans are the lowest of the low, and the Democrats are their mimics. Do I vote for creeping tyranny from the Republicans, or sexual McCarthyism from the Democrats? Do I vote for Christian superstition from the Republicans, or race-baiting from the Democrats? Do I vote to protect someone else's kids from Darwin or Eminem?
I feel like I'm at a multiplex, and there are only two movies playing: Ernest Goes to Camp, and Biodome, and even though I know that both of them are way too fucking stupid for me, I feel compelled to buy a ticket for one so that one day they might make more intelligent movies. But, they won't. The conspiracy of the stupid has won. A Harvard educated woman is actually telling us that she will protect us from video games. Gabba-gabba! We accept you! One of us! One of us! Get in line. It's time for the mandatory lobotomy.
I think I'm going to skip the movies and go for a walk.
Friday, October 20, 2006
laWhen I first saw this, I thought: "Oh, no! Annie Leibovitz died!" But, apparently she's not dead; it's just a retrospective of her work that is taking place in New York City. Whew! "Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life 1990-2006" is at the Brooklyn Museum, and will be a book from Random House. Remembering some of the shots she has done for Vanity Fair in the last decade, I'm guessing that it should be fairly impressive. So, if you're in New York...
Thursday, October 19, 2006
I think we need to stop the abuse of our language. We need to try to be clear, and use words in accurate ways. Here, David Thomspson argues against the abuse of the term 'Phobia'.
One example of this that bugs me is the term 'Homophobia', which is constantly misused. A homophobe is a person, usually male, who is so terrified by homosexuality, and usually their own homosexual feelings, that they violently attack, and even kill homosexuals. Think Jeffrey Dahlmer. Therefore, your average barroom gay basher might not like homosexuals, but this doesn't make them a homophobe. All too often, people use the term 'homophobe' to describe loudmouths who would be better described by the more accurate term 'asshole'.
Now, as for 'Islamophobes', which is Thompson's topic, there certainly are people whose 'analysis of Islam' has lost all touch with reality. I've seen various websites by people who seem to understand Muslims as being roughly identical to the aliens in Invasion of the Body Snatchers- they might look 'just like us', but secretly, they're planning to kill us all. These internet savants aside, the term "Islamophobe" really should not be used as synonymous with "critical of Islam".
More importantly, Thompson notes that your beliefs should not be treated as your essential identity. It's bigotry to think ill of blacks, but why should it be bigotry to think ill of theism? Why shouldn't we be able to question other people's beliefs? Especially as monotheistic religious beliefs can be as stupid as believing in an all-loving God who's inexplicably angry and paranoid about gays and uppity women, and the great dangers they pose to the rest of us, but who apparently has no problem at all with hurricanes and volcanoes wiping thousands of innocent people out at one pop. Why shouldn't we be able to say: "Yeah, believe in your God if you want, but I don't buy that"? Why should that be treated as hate speech?
We reduce belief to identity, and then we cannot criticize people's beliefs without attacking them personally. But, some beliefs are wrong, misguided, or just stupid. This isn't phobia- it's critical thinking, and it's dangerous to cancel out the one by calling it the other.
I'm going to add this to the links I think, but for now, let me note that Cambridge has recently made history by putting the Charles Darwin's entire body of work online, including all of his original manuscripts. It's pretty exciting, if you ask me. Now you can spend hours on end with one of the greatest minds of human history. And then, you can go back to watching cats fall off of beds on You Tube, if you want.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Here's Dan Savage's great advice for a girl whose new boyfriend is getting sulky when she talks to other men: "Break. Up. With. Him. Now."
Jealousy is such a confusing thing for me. I was jealous in exactly one relationship I had, and there I was the classic jealous guy- sulky, accusatory, annoying. After that relationship ended, I just wasn't jealous anymore. I've had essentially open relationships, a threesome, and various monogamous matings, but never again was I the least-bit concerned about the things that consumed my 19-year old jealous self. Never again did I even worry when I was in a relationship. Even when I knew they were sure to end, I just let it roll off my back. It was like the jealousy I had at 19 was a tumor that was removed and never returned.
I guess maybe part of it was just realizing that being jealous makes no difference- the relationship will go south if it's going to go south, and jealousy won't change that. It just makes you look like a jerk. Jealousy is the quickest way to lose a woman, aside from hitting her.
With Claire, there's nothing she could do that could make me jealous, and I think it's because I have no doubt at all that her heart is mine. If that changed, maybe I would change. But, I think that jealousy comes from insecurity primarily, and I think that comes from one of three main sources:
1) The relationship is pretty lousy anyway, and you sense that it's not going to last,
2) Pressure from peers and family to have some stupid ideal patriarchal relationship,
3) A personal sense that they could do a lot better than you. (low self-esteem)
I think, with me, it was #1. Although I've had other lousy relationships, this was the only one in which I really wanted it to be better, and it just wasn't. And I do think that there are some men who are just controlling assholes. For them, I think it's a matter of #2- they were raised to believe in some ideal fantasy world version of a relationship. But, in general, I think that all jealousy-infused relationships are pretty much doomed. So, yeah, I'd agree with Dan.
All I can say is: It's about freakin' time! Here is a shot from Zibahkhana, the first ever Pakistani Muslim zombie movie. Directed by Omar Ali Khan, who owns an ice-cream chain in the area, and available from Mondo Macabro, who also released the great and/or totally bizarre Lady Terminator. I seriously cannot wait.
What did I say? I think that getting the FBI to investigate Senators to discover if they're gay or not is pretty creepy. Sort of a slow-burning witch hunt. And I don't care if it makes some lefties feel good to expose Conservative politicians as gay to the social conservatives, because you know what? Doing so suggests that you agree with the social conservatives that there's something wrong with being gay, which is just stupid. Leave the closeted gays alone. Stop persecuting them! They'll come out in their own due time, okay? (You hear that Lilly Tomlin? No rush!)
But, I see exactly where this is going. First the FBI investigates a few Senators, and then some "Democrat" blogger dick starts "outing" Senators, and then the Republicans and Democrats have to start fighting to prove to Americans that they can be less tolerant of gays than each other. And then we have three main issues in this next election:
1) Proving that we can really stick it to those damn illegal aliens,
2) Proving that we can really stick it to those damn gays,
3) Proving that we can really stick it to those damn 'suspected terrorists'.
This is how we're defining ourselves- a race to become the most mean-spirited and paranoid people we can be. And the worst part is, Americans aren't like this. Not the ones I know. Not the people I deal with on a daily basis. They're actually warm-hearted and accepting of each other. But, the party faithful are becoming these demogogue wackos. What is this madness?
According to Stanford researchers, a heck of a lot of Americans are hopelessly addicted to the Internet. As much I hate the language of addiction, which always seems to miss the real point, reading this article was sort of a relief! Not only because my hour or so a day isn't as bad as the 30 hours a week some people are up to (!), but because I've been watching for some time as my generation turns into Net Zombies. The computer labs at Mall University are always packed, and the libraries are usually empty, except for their computer stations! And has anyone noticed that it used to be a hell of a lot easier to get people together for potlucks, meetings, clubs and other sorts of real-life participation?
I don't want to draw any conclusions here, but has anyone also noticed that this study comes after a series of 2006 studies telling us that my generation can't read very well, can't do basic math, doesn't take any part in civic life, and can hardly be bothered to vote or date? It's all coincidence, right? Just like when people in the 1950s warned that TV would cause literacy rates to decline. We all know that was a bunch of nonsense, right?
But, seriously, have their been any real cultural benefits to having an Internet generation yet?
Monday, October 16, 2006
So, this semester I've gotten to be much more relaxed about teaching. It could be the Prozac, or maybe just the fact that I'm a lot more comfortable with the material, but I've opened up and expressed my joy for said material- my joy for history- without feeling uncomfortable. And, I've been making a lot more jokes. Overall, I feel much better being there. The only problem is that now many of my students are convinced that I "party".
I've never really seen anyone address this issue, and I read a number of nerdy academic blogs. I'm not even sure where to begin with it. The problem is that I have one recitation that contains a lot of students who are, um, quite obviously experimenting with drugs. I could be wrong there, but they don't exactly keep it secret. Not only have I entered to hear them discussing the finer points of marijuana dealing, but a number of them actually wear tee-shirts that say things like "Stoned" on a regular basis. The funny thing is, they're probably my best group of students.
It could be because I make a lot of jokes in class, or because I respond to walking in on their conversations about selling pot by chuckling, ignoring them, and starting the lecture, but for whatever reason, an ongoing joke in the recitation has been that I seem like the type who "likes to party". Clearly, this is a layed-back recitation, because they make jokes about me, and I make jokes about them, and we clearly like each other. But, I never know how to respond to this. I usually go with something like: "I don't know what you're talking about", which basically just makes them laugh. Then I change the subject back to the material. "Well, one person who did not like to party was Saint Augustine..." It's admittedly a pretty lame tactic, and not one that works very well.
I can easily keep the subject matter away from marijuana for the rest of the semester, and I still seem to have control of the classroom. But, I'm a bit worried that some student is going to write: "He seems really cool! I bet he likes to get baked!" on their course evaluation. Also, I really think it's a good thing for an instructor to come across as uptight and nerdy. Teenagers are supposed to hate their instructors, for crying out loud. Hopefully, they won't expect that I'm going to be 'cool' with the grading!
I mean, it could be worse, but it's also hard to be the dishonest adult. I'd really like to say this:
"Look, kids, I don't smoke pot. I used to smoke pot when I was your age, and I'll still smoke it every once in a great while. But, honestly, whey you're my age, your idea of a good time is watching DVDs and eating ice-cream with your wife. When you're 19, it's totally normal to get a thrill out of drinking shitty beer or smoking skunk bud. But, after a while, you grow out of it, okay? If you're my age, and still smoke pot every day, you've got a problem. The same is true if you get drunk every day. So, enjoy it while you're young. Be safe. Don't drive any cars when you're high or drunk. Wear a condom. And stay away from the hard stuff."
Camille Paglia recently stated, in a clear and sparkling way, the same point that I made recently, in a crude and fumbling way (in a post which shall heretofore be known as "the blow-job post"). Here's her take on bisexuality:
"For years Paglia, a self-confessed ‘idolator of Elizabeth Taylor, pagan Goddess’ since the age of 13, has called for a model of bisexuality whereby people can feel free to explore sexual experiences and identities without being forced to take on a label such as ‘gay’, especially at a young age. ‘My experience has been bisexual but my love life has been entirely lesbian – that is, I’ve never fallen in love with a man, but I am equally attracted to men and women, always have been,’ she says. ‘We need to promote a model where it’s free to move back and forth between borderlines.’"
Prodigality: Excessive wastefulness, lavishness. Antonym of Parsimony.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
I should preface this with saying that I'm not the kind of "reader" that rufus is which surprises some people. So, don't be surprised. Also, I don't just give one book, I'm a social worker and we never have just one answer.
1. One book that changed your life: Life After God, Douglas Coupland; Faith, Sharon Salzberg
2. One Book That You've Read More Than Once: the above, and also the Avalon series by Marion Zimmer Bradley (pretty much all of my books really are on steady rotation)
3. One Book That You'd Want On A Desert Island: Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs; Mary Stewart's Crystal Cave series.
4. One Book That Made You Laugh: Naked, David Sedaris
5. One Book That Made You Cry: Oh god, when Dumbledore died in Harry Potter. I wept like a child. I weep every_single_time.
6. One Book That You Wish You Had Written: A brilliant madness, Kay Redfield Jamison
7. One Book You Wish Had Never Been Written: I felt The Nanny Diaries would have been a huge waste of time if I hadn't been on a transcontinental flight.
8. One Book That You Are Reading Right Now: hm. I just started two: The PMDD phenomenon, and The Progress of Love, by Alice Munro.
9. One Book That You Have Been Meaning To Read: A Suitable Boy, by Rohinton Mistry
10. Tag five others that you would like to do this meme: I have no blogger friends, so it stops here.
Scarlett Johansson has said that she doesn't believe that humans are naturally monogamous. Now, she's in a relationship with Josh Hartnett, and so has some 'splaining to do.
"Josh is very sweet," the 21-year-old actress says in an interview in Allure magazine's November issue, on newsstands Oct. 24. "He's a good boy. A great person. I'm very lucky and I'm very happy. Contrary to popular belief, I'm not promiscuous."
I didn't know that was a popular belief. I'd disagree with the popular belief that she's an actress, but I guess I'm sort of weird in thinking that, in this day and age, well-known adult women shouldn't be required to reassure the public that they're not promiscuous.
"I do think on some basic level we are animals, and by instinct we kind of breed accordingly," she says. "But as much as I believe that, I work really hard when I'm in a relationship to make it work in a monogamous way."
So, don't worry people, she's as afraid of her own desires as you are!
The writing on Feministing is usually really good, but I don't quite get why they're arguing that "Salman Rushdie can be really stupid sometimes." Maybe in regards to appearing with Bono during his Joker phase, but is he really "stupid" for saying that he believes the veil worn in Muslim countries is "a way of taking power away from women", and therefore that it "sucks"? I don't know... I just expect feminists to see the argument that a culturally-imposed veiling of women so as to limit their contact with men who aren't their husbands is, in fact, rather repressive as something other than "really stupid". Of course, a free society should allow its citizens to choose practices that are restrictive. But, why aren't people justified in criticizing said practices? The writer argues: "Agree with it or not, it is not really yo biness."
But, where would feminism be today if feminists had decided that culturally-mandated practices that restrict the freedom of women, and only of women, shouldn't be criticized because, after all, it's not our business? Maybe I'm wrong, but this seems really weak.
How quickly we've moved down this road... Things that I was warning about as future possibilities a few weeks ago are already much more likely than they were then.
Meet Mohammad Munaf, a United States citizen who is facing the death penalty in Iraq. Munaf was working as the guide and translator for three Romanian journalists in Baghdad last year, when they were kidnapped and held for 55 days. Munaf was held for three days, and eventually all were released. So, the US military and Romanian government believe that he was involved in the kidnappings, and a US military official apparently demanded that he be found guilty and executed. And maybe he is guilty, but here's the rub:
He has never seen the evidence against him, nor has he been allowed to presentPretty scary, eh? It gets worse. Scott Horton, who has spoken to the lawyers involved in the case, relates this story. Read this closely:
any evidence in his defense. Nevertheless, he has been convicted and sentenced
"Yesterday afternoon I spoke with one of Munaf's American lawyers, and in the evening I discussed the case with one of the Iraqi lawyers who handled it. The judge, he said, had at a prior hearing informed defense counsel that he had reviewed the entire file and had reached a decision to dismiss the charges. "There is no material evidence against your client," he was quoted as stating. When two US officers appeared at the trial date with the prisoner, they reacted with anger when told of the Court's decision – and made clear it was "unacceptable." One of these US officers purported to speak on behalf of the Romanian Embassy, which, he said "demanded the death penalty." (The Government of Romania has since stated both that it had no authorized representative at the hearing and that it did not demand the death penalty). They then insisted upon and got an ex parte meeting with the judge - from which the defendant and his lawyers were excluded. Afterwards an ashen-faced judge emerged, returned to his court and proceeded to sentence the American to death. No evidence was taken; no trial was conducted. The sentence was entered on the basis of a demand by the two American officers that their fellow countryman be put to death."
So, um, not to sound alarmist or anything, but HOLY FUCKING SHIT!! Do you remember those naive salad days a few weeks ago, when I asked why conservatives weren't more alarmed by the possibility that one day the military might be able to have US citizens tried without being able to even see the evidence against them, or respond to it, and maybe even have them put to death. I thought that was pretty unlikely, but worth considering. I'm hoping it's still unlikely, and I'm hoping this story is just a load of nonsense, because the road to military tyranny just keeps getting shorter and shorter.
(Note: You've also got to love that Horton posts the story in his well-respected Balkanization blog, and within minutes, an aparatchik signs on to post the party-line: If the US can't do whatever it wants to, terrorists will kill Americans!!! Just keep repeating that, okay?)
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Chad Vader - Day Shift Manager (episode 1)
Hard not to enjoy this short film. Hopefully, Lucas feels the same way!
(Note: Be warned: This one's pretty graphic. But, sometimes, life is that way.)
In recent years, the African-American media has focused quite a bit of attention on the phenomenon of "brothers who are on the down low". "Men on the DL" are in heterosexual relationships, but secretly engage in sex with other men. The media frenzy, which focused on the black community, but which was not limited to black-owned media, tended to blame "men on the DL" for skyrocketing HIV rates amongst African-Americans. Soon there were 'experts' on the phenomenon offering to help worried women tell what their mates were up to.
J.L. King offers lectures like "The Five Personality Types of DL Men" for up to $10,000 a pop. Inevitably, Oprah did a program on the down-low, and scores of books have come out, looking to help women who fret that their boyfriends or husbands spend a lot of time with thier male friends. On the one hand, the term DL, as Jason King has noted, is a way for black and latino working-class men to identify themselves without having to opt for terms like "gay" or "bisexual" that might make them uncomfortable. "Oh, yeah, it's all good. I mean, it's not like I'm gay or anything, bro. I'm just on the low, know what I mean? I have a girl back home, but I'm just out doing me on the D.L. I'm just trying to live." On the other hand, it's hard to listen to our local hip-hop radio station's discussions of the phenomenon without feeling uncomfortable about a sort of hysteria lurking behind this need to get men to 'fess up'. I think we need to radically rethink the entire phenomenon.
The whole thing reminds me of the "tearoom trade", Laud Humphreys's classic sociological study of married men who engaged in "impersonal sex in public places". The study is controversial, and rightfully so, because Humphreys basically "observed" men who would meet in public restrooms for sexual encounters, and researched their backgrounds. Half were Roman Catholic, all were married, and one in six was black.
I think the problem with writing about the "down low" or the "tearoom trade" is that it tends to focus on this as a phenomenon of the closet- these are supposedly gay, or perhaps bisexual men who can't own up to who they 'really are'. So, it's up to their wives to find them out. The problem isn't seen as cheating, which is definitely a problem, it's that these men aren't honest with themselves. But, what if they are being honest, and their desires don't make sense to anyone else? This is my radical rethinking about it:
What if they're just straight men who want to give other men blowjobs?
That sounds ludicrous at first, but I think it's a sign of our rigid sexual socialization that it sounds ludicrous. The good thing about the last decade or so of gay liberation is that people have felt more comfortable opening up about their sexual interests. But, the bad part has been a sort of sexual authoritarianism in which people feel that they have to get with one team or the other, or maybe that third one that most people think doesn't exist anyway. So, the fluidity of sexual desire and behavior gets shoved into narrow little boxes labelled 'sexual identity'.
Ideally, I think men on the DL should be honest with their partners about their desires, and the couples should even be open to finding ways to satisfy those desires. Of course this goal is light-years beyond the realm of current possibility, but it has the distinct advantage of being honest. It's clear why a male who wants to suck dick isn't going to tell his wife- especially if she's fallen prey to the "DL" hysteria. But, why does this mean that their marriage should end? These men clearly aren't looking for love, and I'm not convinced that too many of them are gay. So, why is male desire for other men so much more threatening than female desire for other women, which we're always told is 'every husband's fantasy'.
And, since I'm encouraging honesty, I'll say that I'd feel pretty cheated if I went through my entire life without ever giving another man a blow-job. Am I gay? Nope, not at all. Am I bisexual? Maybe, but it's really hard to call myself that for the simple reason that I've never had romantic feelings for a male, and I don't really think I ever could. I've had plenty of crushes on women, and plenty of relationships with them, and I'm madly in love with my wife. But, I've never had the slightest emotional crush on a male. And I think I'm pretty open to it.
In a sense, I'd say I'm spiritually bisexual. I'm open to beauty wherever it lies. Therefore, a beautiful man is as attractive to me as a beautiful woman. My soul honors masculinity as much as it honors femininity. I worship males as I worship females, and I can't imagine a better way to worship them than to suck them off. It's direct and sexual. When you have sex with someone, you can zone out and let your body take over. But, when your face is buried in their lap, it's impossible to zone out- this is sex. I love giving women head for this reason- it's like a baptism in the female. So, don't get me wrong- it is a sexual thing. It's not some S&M humiliation fantasy- I'm way too into myself for that. I don't want to be humiliated or sissified- I want to feel what it's like to make another man have an orgasm.
But, is this my identity? I mean, to be blunt, I see it in the same way as I see my desire to travel to India before I die. It's a fun experience that I hope to have someday. Sure, it's a sexual experience, but it's not emotional at all. Besides, I'm a devoted wife-sexual- I adore my wife. There's just no chance of emotional attachment here. I just want to suck cock.
I know it's a bizarre question, but why can't we engage in whatever sexual activities we want to without it altering our sexual identity? Why can't a straight man have sex with other men without having to wrestle with the question of 'Who am I?' Who cares! Why do relationships, which are the best parts of life, have to be used as these instruments to preserve the social, sexual and economic order? Why do people have to keep their desires on the down low, or risk being ostracized by their families? Still! Why can't we do away with these concepts of gay and straight that don't seem to match anyone in the world after a few drinks? Why can't we just fuck?
It took me a while, but here it is.
1. One book that changed your life - hardest question first.
A lot of this is a matter of timing. When Sexual Personae came out, it woke up me up about how much learning I had to do and how valuable it could be to do it. Paglia hasn't lived up to the promise of this first book, but it would probably be hard to. I don't yet write at this level, but whenever I read it, I still think: "Better get back to the library."
2. One Book That You've Read More Than Once.
Well, quite a few really. Looking at the shelf, the first one I see is The Illiad.
3. One Book That You'd Want On A Desert Island.
In Search of Lost Time, but if I have to pick a volume, then "III: The Guermante's Way".
4. One Book That Made You Laugh.
Without Feathers by Woody Allen. His way with a one-liner is the stufff of legend.
5. One Book That Made You Cry.
Leave None to Tell the Story. Actually, you can read the whole book via that link.
6. One Book That You Wish You Had Written.
Tropic of Cancer- not so much for the prose as to have lived it.
7. One Book You Wish Had Never Been Written.
Perhaps The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But, I can't really say that any I wish any book had never been written. At least the Protocols publishes the sort of nonsense that anti-Semites are thinking is reality.
8. One Book That You Are Reading Right Now.
Today it's The Wealth of Nations.
9. One Book That You Have Been Meaning To Read.
The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun
10. Tag five others that you would like to do this meme.
I can't think of five. Definitely Claire and Hiromi.
Cognitive dissonance is "the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time". The mind has to either cancel out one belief, or modify its previously held beliefs in the light of new knowledge. I've noted yesterday that the scientific spirit is to constantly modify our beliefs in the light of new knowledge in order to gain an ever-improved picture of the world. Whereas blind faith involves denying any counter-information. So, we've got all that?
Okay, so apparently there is something interesting about all of this "Whose gay in Congress?" nonsense, if only to watch how people deal with the cognitive dissonance of acknowledging these two facts:
1) Republican politicians often claim that homosexuality is threatening to destroy America,
2) Apparently, a number of Republicans are gay, or are very tolerant of gays in their life.
Andrew Sullivan has been talking quite a bit about this, and I've heard any number of people try to hold these two contradictory beliefs. To me, the second fact makes sense. I just can't see someone living in Washington DC in 2006 and not being able to accept gays. What's supposed to happen here? Does the noble Puritan Republican politician accidentally wander into Dupont Circle and have a heart attack?
No. I think Republicans are probably a lot more tolerant than their legislation would seem to indicate. Somehow, this is a relief, although they may well be playing the shocked Puritan to secure the Idiot Vote. But, I think, as society gradually grows up, they can come out of the closet as tolerant people. And this can only be for the good.
Cliff Kinkaid has a totally different way of reconciling the two facts:
"If you are getting the idea that gay Republicans may be closeted Democrats, then you are beginning to understand how the Mark Foley scandal could have been a Democratic Party dirty trick."
Yep. They're secretly Democrats. Go ahead and read his column (humorously enough, his group is called Accuracy in Media), and learn how Democrats have pretended for years to be Republicans in order to corrupt Congress with a gay sex ring. Remember, of course, that no one has even come out as having had actual gay sex in the real world. But, we have to get to the bottom of this according to him.
To be honest, his column is one of the stupidest things I've ever read. There's no other way of putting that. Not only is it hysterically homophobic; it's just downright idiotic. And there's a part of me that feels guilty about pointing people towards such a load of crap only to tell them: "Hey! Look at how stupid this guy is!" I mean, that doesn't exactly add anything to the conversation!
But, on the other hand, it seems to me that there's some vague benefit to understanding how people's minds work, if only to understand how we got to this point in our history in which it seems to no longer matter how well-reasoned an argument is; only that it's made in a very passionate way. Part of me wants to dissect the Counter-Enlightenment we're living in if only to know how to get through it. Because I don't think it's any particular group of people that is acting ridiculous. But, I fear that we're just not able to reason any longer- and that makes us all fertile ground for demogogues and fanatics to take root in.
Update: Of course, the classic example of this on the left is in the treatment of Bill Clinton- lest we forget the man who, in his private life was a sexist creep, but in his public life was supposedly a staunch defender of women's rights. Quite a lot of cognitive dissonance there. Or the weird tendency people have these days to treat him like the Dalai Lama, in spite of the fact that his handling of the Rwandan genocide could be called a crime against humanity. So, yeah, to paraphrase the Sex Pistols, I think political loyalty makes "you a moron, a potential H-Bomb."
Friday, October 13, 2006
So, I was in Buffalo yesterday meeting with one of the professors on my exam committee at his house, and yes, as you may have heard, the weather was pretty freakish. Actually, it started snowing about a half hour before I left the library for his house, and was pretty much a white-out by the time I was on the road. A white-out is exactly what it sounds like; you can see for about four car lengths in front of you and that's it. So, you drive very slowly to get places.
When I got to the professors' street, the branches had started coming down. The trees haven't lost their leaves yet, and so the branches became very heavy with the snow and started crashing down. All the way down the street, they were falling. You could hear:
CRACK!... CRACK!.... CRACK!... Every five seconds or so another one would come crashing down. From the news:
"I thought it was kind of pretty but eerie," said Ann Goff, who walked to her job at a Buffalo supermarket in the middle of the night. "It was scary listening to the cracking of the branches."
She's right. They were really loud and you had to drive very carefully to avoid them. When I got to the Iggers' house, I asked them if I could park in their driveway because it wasn't under any trees! By that point, they had lost power and the phone line was down. Actually, I saw a tree in their backyard take out one of the wires running to their house.
So, we sat around candles and talked about Karl Marx and Adam Smith. They're a lovely couple. After 50 years of marriage, she still jokes with him. "I have no television, and no radio," she said at one point, "so in desperation, I have to listen to you talk." They're nice people to wait out a storm with.
The drive out of Buffalo was about ten miles and took me two and a half hours. Once I got into Canada, the roads were dry. It's always a little better on the other side of the lake. But, I've never seen anything like this. It was coming down so fast in Buffalo that I would sit there in traffic, and within five minutes have a one-inch layer of snow covering the driver's side window! People might think: "But isn't Buffalo used to this sort of weather?" Well, yeah, but not on October 12th! This was a record-making storm apparently.
Also from My Way News:
"Our street looked like it was hit by a hurricane. It looks like the apocalypse. It's unreal," said Matthew Colken.
Indeed it was.
An interesting thing about racism is that it's not usually a case in which "one bad apple spoils the bunch", as much as "one bad apple spoils every apple on earth for time and eternity!" Because racism involves a mental framework, or what Robert Anton Wilson called a "reality tunnel", the slightest slight from a member of the suspect ethnicity becomes evidence of the tendencies of the whole 'community'.
Consider the Apple building controversy. Apple is building a glass cube in Manhattan to advertise their products. When covered in black wood, it looked like the ka'ba, and so a Muslim was offended by this and said so on some message board. Seriously, this is the extent of the controversy. What happened is that the group MEMSI, which is a mess anyway, reported the very important news that a Muslim was offended on a message board, and very soon the Internet and various news sources lit up with reports that "The Muslim Community" is outraged over the Apple building, and perhaps over all cubes. I'm guessing that Apple is loving the publicity.
So, happily, a lot of Muslims have come out to say "Hey, leave us alone! We're not offended!" But, it's fascinating how the slightest comment from an anonymous Muslim internet user is blown up to "Well, there they go again! Billions of Muslims up in arms over nothing!" On one hand, yes, we know that Internet users can be painfully stupid. But, I think it's also the case that the news media runs almost entirely on a soap opera model now- anything even slightly dramatic is reported, with little to no contact to reality.
Even the idea of a Muslim Community is fantasy. Unlike the Catholic Church, there is no organized Muslim Community. There are no central authorities, or Mosque hierarchies, or even a core organization. So, expecting that the community will function in a cohesive way is unrealistic- us imposing a Christendom form on the chaos of a different reality. And, if even one Muslim nutter somehow taints the billion others, than Muslims will have nothing to do with their lives aside from trying to police every Muslim on earth. So, cut them some slack, huh?
And, I feel a bit guilty here, because you know, there were no Muslims who complained about that Opera in Berlin that had to be closed over "muslim outrage". Not one. So my comments there weren't in relation to reality either. The reality tunnel is not reality. This is the scientific mindset- constantly re-jiggering your perception of the world to match the world. The opposite mindset would be constantly ignoring larger chunks of the world to preserve your perception of the world. So, excuse me while I readjust my perception.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
LSD to treat alcoholism? Ayahuasca to treat drug addiction? Sounds pretty trippy! But, if you've actually done them (and not just heard urban legends about people jumping out of windows or whatever), you know that it isn't that far-fetched. I can imagine that LSD doesn't cure alcoholism, so much as put people in the frame of mind to comprehend the disease and a positive path to take out of it. But, unlike Timothy Leary, I definitely don't think drugs are for everyone. But, I'd like to see something like the MacArthur grant to give LSD to people who have created works of genius in their particular fields. Maybe call it "The McArthur Park Grant"! Also, I'd like to know the effects of LSD on clinical depression. The assumption that a depressed person would necessarily have a bad trip hasn't been true in my experience, which admittedly was probably a decade or so ago.
Okay, enough gloom!
Here's something good- the Islamic Society of Nevada recently had an "I am Spartacus!" moment in this very powerful letter. The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq has issued an order to kill Americans. Okay, they say, then "kill us too".
I've seen quite a few statements like this, and I'm still wondering why they don't make the news. Not as dramatic for the home-viewers I guess as the rantings of hatemongers. But, this letter is surprisingly eloquent, and reminded me of some of the best humanist writings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Click and read the whole thing, okay? This part made me a bit teary-eyed. (You know, I'm pretty emotional in the Fall)
There is nothing common between you and us.
We stand for life, you want to destroy it.
We accept the divine scheme of diversity in the world and you want to impose conformity.
We respect every human being simply because he or she is a creation of the divine, and you hate people based on their religion and ethnicity.
We support freedom and liberty and justice, and you promote bigotry, murder and strangulation.
You will never be able to find a sympathetic voice amidst us. Our differences with others will never lead us to do things that are fundamentally wrong in our faith, i. e. taking the lives of innocent people and killing others because they are different.
So on Sept. 11, when you will be hiding in your caves, we will be out in the streets paying tribute to those who you killed because you failed to see the beauty of life.
The beauty of life! Indeed!
Today I was thinking about what it is that always seems to be missing at Mall University. Because I always feel like there's something that's not there, which I'm still looking for. And when the answer came to me, I liked it because it's elegant, but a bit counter-intuitive.
There's nothing arrogant about Mall University.
I've been to four universities now, and this is the only one that doesn't have arrogant pseudo-intellectuals. Actually, universities have 19-30 year olds, so it's not really fair to call them pseudo-intellectuals- more like intellectuals in a state of becoming. Those kids who've just discovered that they really like 'nerdy' things in and of themselves, and sort of lord it over everyone else. "Obviously, you know nothing about Plato's Golden Mean!' Sure, they're damned annoying, but at least, they see the value in ideas and in having a curiosity about the world. We don't have any people like that. Or, at least, none that I've met.
We have students, and more than a few professors, who are here to get 'er done- to get through the daily slog. Oh, they'll read this pretentious crap if they have to, but don't get any ideas that they like it. It's just what you've got to do. We don't have arrogance- we have disdain. People walk the halls with a look of dull disdain. Like they're in reform school! It's a bit off-putting in the freshmen- but they just got here from that anti-intellectual mecca- the American High School, so it's very understandable. It's really shocking in the grad students. They really resent being bothered. Everything is either 'irrelevant', or 'makes no sense', or 'just totally boring'. From the greatest books to the latest books- every last one of them is a waste of their time. The last bitch session I listened to was a group of MA students complaining that they have to learn about Marxism in a Modern Intellectual History seminar. "Dude, it's not like there's going to be a worker's revolution any time soon." Yes, they indeed were complaining about having to learn in a graduate history course about something that is in the past.
The snobby intellectuals-to-be at William & Mary used to bother me. But, at least, they saw something valuable in that world outside of day-to-day existence that they were interested in hanging on to. Life wasn't just about the visible and the obvious. They sensed that there are mysteries to existence. The people that I'm around now simply have no time for that. They're the blue-collar grunts of the academic world. I feel like I'm on the wrong planet.
This is the time of year that I usually get depressed. I wake up and have to drag myself to the shower, and generally want to sleep all day.
It wasn't always this way. I think it has something to do with the weather up here. It's a bit colder- about ten degrees than Virginia, where I grew up- and the winter lasts a little longer. Fall is gorgeous in New England, and Canada, but it's also dark a lot of the time, and lack of sunlight can be oppressive after a while. Usually by March I'm wishing that the skies weren't so grey.
This semester I hope not to experience any of the grinding depression I did last year or the year before. Two years ago, it was because my Grandmother had just died. Last year, I think I was adjusting to the TA grind. This year, I'm hoping to remain as detached as possible.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Well, as a horror movie fan, I'm pretty sick of all the remakes they're doing of 70s horror flicks. But... this trailer for the Sisters remake looks really cool. I'm kind of excited anyway because it's directed by Douglas Buck who did a trilogy of brilliant short films in upstate New York. Also, I'm a big Brian De Palma fan and the original Sisters is great, and this one has Chloe Sevigny. So, how can it go wrong? I ask you.
According to a recent poll, 59% of Americans are planning to vote Democrat, and 56% of them think the war in Iraq was a mistake. I don't really think that polls are very reliable. But, before someone else makes this dumb joke I'll ask: why does 59% of America hate America?
Monday, October 09, 2006
Dinde: Turkey. I like this one because it's easy to remember. Just understand that the French named the turkey when it Europeans first encountered them in North America, which they still thought was India. So, the name is just D'Inde (from India).
Is Hannah Arendt's analysis of totalitarianism applicable to 'Islamism'? Benjamin Balint thinks so, at least to some extent. I've actually just read Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism, so I have a pretty good idea what he's talking about here. And it seems like everyone is calling Islamists 'totalitarians' these days. So, are they really?
Let's say, "not in reality, but in spirit".
The major differences between Islamism and Totalitarianism are organizational. The totalitarian organization tends to center power totally in the Leader. Hitler or Stalin were not only the supreme authority, as in tyranny, but actually had the only real power in their states. Arendt recognized that offices in totalitarian states tend to be multiplied, so that none can gain any real strength. Ultimately, all decisions come from the Leader alone. So, paradoxically, totalitarian states are over-organized, but power is so diffused between various offices as to be meaningless. Even the secret police, a locus of power, have no real authority because they are no longer investigating crimes- they are waiting to be told by the Leader who to arrest.
It is hard to see any similarity in the organization of most terrorist groups. Osama bin Laden might be the leader, but there is little to suggest that he rules al-Quaida by fear and intimidation. Also, while he commands a certain amount of loyalty, it is far less than what is commanded by various religious figures, including of course, God himself. The Totalitarian Leader cannot allow for God to exist in fact or possibility as anything but a tool. On the other hand, it could be said that most millenarian groups hope to establish God as a supreme Leader, in a totalitarian model, on Earth, a hope that might drive their actions.
The most important difference then is that Islamists don't control the apparatus of a state. This seems slight, but otherwise it's like calling them 'monarchalists'- they might be, but this means little without a monarchical state. Saddam Hussein could be considered a totalitarian leader, and actually modelled himself after Stalin. But, he was also a secular leader, for exactly the reason noted above. The people cannot even have the hope of God under totalitarianism.
Balint notes that although there is "an underlying identity of state tyranny and nonstate terrorism, it is also true that al-Quaida terrorists, for instance, do not control a state apparatus- despite their aspiration to form a global sharia-based caliphate."
Balint notes that 'totalitarian tendencies' have survived, and this is what I call totalitarianism in spirit. It might be safe to call Islamism, and in fact all religious fundamentalisms, as totalitarian ideologies. Similarly, totalitarian political ideolodies, such as Nazism or Communism, tended to sharply resemble religious belief.
At the heart of every totalitarian ideology is a single belief that cannot be questioned. The power of this single belief, really just an idea, is that it seems to explain a great deal about existence. So, for the Nazis, the race idea explains everything to do with human societies and civilizations. In state communism, dialectical materialism does the same; everything else is superstructure. In both cases, the idea explains what has happened and what will happen in the future. In both cases, it describes processes that are not visible to the senses.
The case of religious eschatology is actually identical to this simply because Nazism and Communism were secular eschatologies. Again we have an idea, God, that explains everything that has happened and that will happen. Again we have an idealized future which seems to justify anything that brings said future about. Instead of "the end of history" or "the death of the inferior races" we have, essentially, the Rapture. Again, the idea makes concern for one's fellow beings seem rather trite.
The idea seems to explain everything, and soon finds that it has to oppose anything that it cannot explain. The totalitarian ideology is itself totalizing- claiming to explain everything, it cannot tolerate counter-information. Instead of a belief, it becomes a belief system. When the Islamist theorist Sayid Qutb wrote that "this struggle is... an eternal state, because truth and falsehood cannot coexist on this earth,"he echoes the totalitarian idea that nothing can exist which is against The Single Truth- be it the dialectic, or the 'survival of the fittest'. This is also why jihadists seek essentially to destroy cultures that they come in contact with- not to convert them. For the same reason as Nazism had to destroy the Jews, and would have had to destroy various other groups, and Communism had to build the gulags- the march of the 'forces' behind history cannot be slowed down by humans. As Marx wrote, the bourgeois has sewn the seeds of his own destruction- he has put himself against the march of history.
What both Nazism and Communism got from Hegel was this idea of history as the embodiment of subjective ideas and as the march of inexorable forces.But, Hegel gets this from Christian theology, and hence it replicates the idea of the fall of man and his ultimate redemption in the End Times. Religious fanatics think the same way because they got there first basically.
This inexorable march gave Nazism and Communism their unreal nature- they spent a fortune on corpse-factories, for example. Often, they were not pragmatic. This also gives Islamism an unreal character. It is not pragmatic at all. Arendt writes that totalitarian ideologies have a "supreme disregard for immediate consequences,... disregard of national interests, contempt for utilitarian motives, and unwavering faith in an ideological fictitious world." (417) One can hardly imagine a better description of the mindset behind suicide bombings. The point isn't to establish the caliphate, so much as to prove one's devotion to the ideology.
Therefore, most totalitarian beliefs are not well-made for state rule. They rely on constant movement, and stagnate as they become the "establishment'- they are inherently radical. The avant garde cannot become the old guard. This is why both Communism and Nazism treated their home country as a sort of base for world conquest. Hitler treated Germany like a stepping stone- what was important was whatever was good for Nazism. Notice that the point of jihad seems to be in the jihad itself- in other words, it is war waged not to conquer so much as simply to continue waging the war.
The appeal therefore of totalitarianisms is that they allow bored and atomized people in modern society an opportunity to become part of a forward-moving wrecking machine. However, without a state apparatus, it's not clear that Islamism will, or can, endure. These beliefs tend to lead to deep cynicism, especially the further they are from reality. The caliphate will not return, and the people who are fighting for it have proven by dying only that they are mortal- not the direction of history.
Moreover, it makes no sense to fight 'Islamism' in the same way that the cold war was fought- as a war against states. The reason that the War on Terror is failing is because it fundamentally understands the mindset of its opponents, but not their conditions, nor how to fight non-state totalitarians. The hawks want to fight the Cold War against guerrillas.
Arendt felt that totalitarianism could well return, and had ideas on how to fight it. She suggested fighting against social alienation and atomization- incorporating people into the community so that they would want to preserve it. Interestingly, and I'm disappointed that Balint doesn't mention this, she warned strongly against replacing Natural Law theory with the idea that rights are state-given, and hence 'stateless people' are only given rights by an act of benificence on the part of a state. In other words, the idea that the Geneva Conventions, habaes corpus, and the right to a fair trial don't apply to 'non-state actors' is itself a dangerous idea because it separates certain people from humanity regardless of their actions- refugees for instance, or 'illegal aliens' lose any innate 'human rights'. She warned that this can necessitate a second legal system, outside of the normal legal system, and a system of camps. When certain people can be defined as not having any innate rights, they can eventually be removed from the world of the living, even while alive. They can be lost down memory holes of total control.
Certainly, Balint is right that the Islamists pose more of a totalitarian threat than the people fighting them. Even if they have more state resources, The Warriors Against Terror (TWAT) are authoritarians- not totalitarians, and not fascists. Nevertheless, it's worth preserving the institutions of a free state, simply because fighting for the inherent dignity of all men and women is, at its core, a fight against all totalitarian ideologies.
Also, it's worth remembering that Nazism and Communism were infinitely more destructive than Islamism ever will be because they controlled states. Islamism has yet to conquer a state. The "Islamic" nations are simple tyrannies, and again, Hussein's totalitarian state was not Islamic. The believers in the ideology seem to be rolling towards such a goal, and all predict forthcoming global Islamic rule, but in fact, they're simply rolling onwards, and will never reach the end of history, or the rapture, or any other happy ending.
Lastly, it's worth remembering that Arendt saw humor, joy, spontaneity, and human freedom as the direct antidote to totalitarianism, and that we should fight against any and all groups (foreign or domestic) that seek to limit these things. The answer to totalitarianism is not authoritarianism- it's liberalism.