Wednesday, September 18, 2019

What Crazy Nonsense will replace Trump on Mainstream News Outlets?

Dateline: WASHINGTON, DC, Year 2025—After President Trump left office in 2024, the mainstream news channels were deprived of their primary source of ratings. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and the other major players compensated for that loss by showcasing the ravings of psychotic individuals, which the news channels broadcast from mental hospitals.

“We lost most of our audience right after Trump left,” said a CNN news producer. “It was tough there for a while. We had to scramble for equivalent footage, since Trump built up an expectation for the highest caliber of insane, clownish rants, of wildly-deluded braggadocio, and of childishly-petty revenge schemes. We had nowhere else to turn for that level of entertainment once Trump left Washington, since all of the remaining politicians naturally are adults who function at normal levels of human cognitive capacity.”

However, the news team realized there’s an untapped supply of Trumpian entertainment to be mined in mental hospitals.

The news producer outlined the new daily news-gathering process: “Instead of waiting for President Trump’s laughable tweets or his spouting of crazy nonsense with all of that helicopter noise in the background, we wire the rooms of the loony bin and pipe the twaddle to the editors at CNN headquarters for broadcast. We take the juiciest bits of wacko pronouncements and use them as platforms for our evening editorials.”

News anchors Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, and Don Lemon used to ridicule President Trump’s embarrassing signs of mental unfitness. Now, with Trump gone, the anchors take on the arduous challenge of critiquing the mouth-frothing madness of a hapless sicko strapped to a gurney in a padded cell. 

“The aliens are here,” cried the patient, named Bradley Mayhew, on CNN. “The aliens live in my teeth and armpits. We’re plotting to rob a Las Vegas casino with straws and empty tissue boxes. Plus, if I flap my arms I can reach Mars by midnight. Watch me fly away and away and away…”

“Intriguing!” cried Don Lemon, analyzing this breaking story on his nightly program. “Once again, can we trust that Mr. Mayhew? Day after day it’s the same thing from him. His craziness belittles his station—on the gurney in that padded cell.

“But don’t take my word for it! Here’s a Harvard physicist to explain why you can’t get to Mars by flapping your arms. Mr. Physicist, take it from here and set the record straight for the listeners, because I’m tired of having to deal with these insane rants. I’m embarrassed for that patient, I really am.”

“Indeed, Don,” said the physicist. “If we fact-check those remarks, it shouldn’t take us long to realize that Mr. Mayhew’s plan of flying to Mars in such a fashion doesn’t hold water. No, I shouldn’t expect him to get far by flapping his arms. Probably not even out of his cell and certainly not beyond the confines of the lunatic asylum.”

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Kleptocrat Playsets (Batteries not Included)

Dateline: NYC—Researchers have solved the mystery of how Donald Trump and Boris Johnson could have simultaneously come to exist.

“The clownish incompetence, the superhuman feats of narcissism, the shameless, pathological lying—Mr. Trump and Mr. Johnson share these traits as populist politicians,” said news analyst Ms. Newsy. “Both demagogued their way to leadership positions in their respective countries, trashing those countries in the process, and they do so at almost exactly the same time.”

That might just be a coincidence, but what astonished political experts and the media is the other telltale trait that the President and the Prime Minister have in common: the baffling mops of blond hair.

“How could Boris have come to power just after Trump?” asked Ms. Newsy. “One literal clown right after the other; both are obvious con artists, both are cartoonish villains that have the deepest contempt for their followers, and both have similar inexplicable hairdos. How do you explain the similar strangeness of even their hair? Something weird is going on.”

Erwin Touchyfeely, a Jungian psychologist, posited that the pair rose to power “by way of a synchronicity, a metaphysically-significant coincidence or clue to the deep structures of human life.”

According to Mr. Touchyfeely, “Boris Johnson was able to become prime minister of Britain at the same moment his counterpart was in office in the US, because larger forces wanted to send the Western world a signal: our vulnerability to hostile nonsense is no accident.”

But a team of intrepid researchers from Embarrass, Minnesota tracked down the more likely source of Misters Trump and Johnson.

“There’s actually a company in New York, called Travesties R Us, that manufactures demagogues and kleptocrats,” said the lead researcher, Winston Rakmucker. “They clone humans and program the clones to conform to our worst expectations. In other words, they create stock characters—for entertainment purposes, you understand.”

Archibald Stone, CEO of Travesties R Us, confirmed that Donald Trump and Boris Johnson came off his company’s assembly line.

“Someone must have ordered a couple of those Kleptocrat models,” said Mr. Stone, “and then dispersed them and wound them up, and poof: you have two populist revolutions, or ‘Travesties’ as we like to call them—and that’s trademarked.”

The company also carries the complementary social phenomena known as “the Idiotic Masses,” which complete the “Kleptocrat Playset.” 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Paradox of Secular Holiness

Euhemerism, a way of reducing religious references to natural ones, goes back to the ancient Greek skeptics. In the third century BCE, Euhemerus argued that belief in the existence of immortal gods is based on a confusion arising from the passage of time. The gods were originally just powerful humans, especially kings or emperors who were deified out of the subjects’ respect and fear, as in the celebratory process of apotheosis. Over time the memory of such exaltations was forgotten, as was the connection between gods and human rulers, and the divine characters took on their own life in people’s imagination.

For most skeptics, the point of this reductive explanation is to undermine religion. The colossal error of confusing a human king with a creator of the universe must have been the most embarrassing blunder ever to have occurred. The carnage from religious wars and persecutions, the wasted lives in ascetic follies, the oppression of gullible masses in theocratic dominance hierarchies—all of these damages occurred the world over for thousands of years. That could entail that the human form isn’t capable of perpetrating a greater embarrassment than the one responsible for theistic religions.

But there’s another way of looking at the general naturalization of religion. If religions really refer only to familiar natural phenomena, as in the case of the social reality of heaven and hell, the world should be re-enchanted, not deadened by scientific scrutiny and technological manipulation. Instead of just laughing at religious folks for possibly forgetting that gods have only ever been just powerful humans, we might marvel at the reality of those persons, at the natural emergence of creatures that run empires and live as gods in luxury. Moreover, the intrinsic dubiousness of theistic propositions opens up the possibility that the deflationary knowledge is esoteric. That’s to say that religions might become fraudulent, complete with the secret understanding of the insiders, that religious contents are all-too familiar rather than transcendent. To understand what religions are really about, to see past the conventions and appreciate the depth of our foolishness and the brazenness of our schemes might provide an honourable, albeit an ironic religious experience.

Fame, Envy, and Holy Ground

Here, then, is a deflationary analysis of a particular aspect of religions, namely the concept of sacred or holy places and items, in the sense of those felt to have a spiritually pure quality. If you asked a religious person what makes her temple holy, she’d say it’s because God is present in that space. God’s spirit enters the world and inspires the congregants while they worship in that building, or else the temple is indirectly sacred because of its historical connection to the miracles that founded the religion. A classic example of a holy place would be Mount Horeb from Exodus 3:1-5, where Moses climbs the mountain to find God, and God appears as the miracle of the burning bush, and instructs Moses not to investigate the miracle: ‘When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from within the bush, “Moses, Moses!” “Here I am,” he answered. “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” ’ The same explanation would be given for why scriptures are deemed to be opposed to mundane reality and imbued with a spiritually pure quality: God wrote or inspired the writing of the words on those pages.

If we dismiss such theistic explanations as both confused and spectacularly embarrassing for humanity, we should still search for the root of that real experience that some places and objects are so special that they’re worth killing or dying for. The phenomenon of fame should provide us a clue. Secular celebrities are idolized and worshipped as if they were divine beings. Fans stand in line for days just to look at their favourite movie star and when they’re in the celebrity’s presence, the fans often break down, weeping with joy, jumping and carrying on as if possessed. Indeed, the word “fan” is short for “fanatic,” from fanaticus, meaning that which pertains to the temple and is inspired by orgiastic rites. In short, “fanatical” was originally used as a pejorative term for frantic religious behaviour. But the point is that we have an obvious secular version of that phenomenon. So we can imagine the paradox of the secular equivalent of a holy place, such as the celebrity’s home or other private area.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Scripture from the Future: Who Represents Humanity?

[The year is 2240 and a dark new religion has arisen, drawing inspiration from the writings of a legendary twenty-first century occult philosopher and cult leader, Jurgen Schulze. Only fragments of his literary output remain and these form that religion’s scriptures, known to worshippers as The Cosmic Horrors. What follows is the third chapter of that sacred work.]
***
A voice thundered from the starry heavens, which the world as one heard: “Humans of the earth, four chances I give you to choose your representative. One of you must stand for the rest, embodying what you all have been, are, and will always be. Should none of those proxies prove true, I shall send a cleansing fire to incinerate your kind for your failure to know yourselves.”

The nations deliberated and voted, and their first choice to represent them was the president of a leading democracy, an educated, wealthy, young politician, handsome and popular.

“Voice from the stars,” said the president, fearless in his tailored business suit, “I have come to stand for all men, women, and children. In me they have their champion, for my record proves I can lead my people to a bright and shining future. Forward, ever forward we must go as one, for we were favoured by God to rule this earth.”

Once more the voice from above boomed across the entire planet, ranging from the largest metropolis to the most isolated hut: “You have chosen a cheery mask worn by a child playing dress-up; a smooth persona to throw the wolf off your scent; a voice like candy, sweet and poisonous, signifying nothing; a smug predator gulling you with platitudes and empty promises; an idol you cling to for fear of seeing what you really are. Choose again!”

For the second time the nations drew together, tearing out their hair and racking their brains, for their first choice had been soundly rejected. After weeks of contemplation they called upon a great saint to stand for them, a kindly old woman whose hands were gnarled from years of feeding the poor and healing the sick.

Dressed in a modest frock, the saint addressed the alien terror: “Though I’m unworthy, I offer my services, meager as they are, to help however I can, even if it’s to clean your floors or toilet, O great and terrible voice from the stars, if only you’ll spare my species. Take me if you must, burn me to ashes, but leave the rest be.”

“Now you’ve established what you fervently wish you were,” answered the voice, “a selfless wretch who tends to the injured after your rampages and debauches, a wisp of a creature who couldn’t even lift your swords or rifles and who would sooner starve to death than dominate the planet as you’ve done. Choose again!”

The nations pondered for months and nominated their most honoured wise man, a scientist who was widely read in philosophy, history, and religion.

“Show yourself,” said the wise man to the voice from the heavens, “so that we can rationally discuss this conflict. Lay forth your arguments against us so that we can learn from them and change our ways if change we must.”

“A lonely owl you’ve picked,” answered the voice, “an observer, hiding behind his books; a copyist, spinning tales of the world as it passes by and is rationally directed by no one. Wise apes you may be, and your reason gives you power, but no argument drives you to rise above the animals and be masters of your fate. Choose again and for the last time.”

A year passed before the nations decided to elect a drunken, stinking, homeless man, maddened from loneliness and abuse, and accustomed to telling rambling tall tales to hapless bystanders.

The vagrant hiccupped, tripped, dropped his cheap bottle of wine, and said, “I ain’t no hero, that’s for sure. But if it’s alright with the pretty folks, I’ll wager I could silence that there angry voice in the sky with this story of mine. I was a ship’s captain once in my young’un years. Sailed the seas, I did, catching fish. One day, I tell you, a mighty storm brewed, and in the wind and the rain the cargo holds broke open and I lost a week’s haul of fish. Back into the sea they went, though now as dead as doornails. I lashed myself to the wheel to stay aboard as the ship rocked this way and that in the tempest. The storm passed, my ship was a wreck, and a school of flying fish passed by, jumping in and out of the sea. One landed right on the deck and smacked its head, I reckon, ‘cause it skipped around awhile and bounced off the mast some before I caught the sucker and threw it back in the deep. How does that grab you, big ol’ voice from nowhere?”

The alien terror answered, “Homeless and alienated you’ve been and will always be, cast out, alive and awake in the wilderness; crazed and vain and wretched you are for knowing too much and for dreaming up more goals than you could possibly achieve; sad and pitiful, immersed in your fictions and your robotic refuges, knowing the earth will one day swallow them and their godlike denizens. With this fourth choice you’ve finally found the heart of you.”

The voice from beyond was heard no more, and the vagrant was celebrated and awarded with riches for saving humankind.

One month only it took for the homeless saviour to squander his prize and find himself back on the street, alone, forgotten, and raving.

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Trojan Horse of George Will’s Conservatism

Foolish painting by John McNaughton
Philosophy, the obsession with discovering the general truth even to the point of sacrificing your happiness is inherently revolutionary in that this obsession is a defining feature of our species, which revolts from the animal kingdom. To be sure, many of us aren’t personally so philosophical, but all of us collectively defer to the conventional wisdom which has accumulated from the cogitations of the great philosophers from history. All people, therefore, are more philosophical than animals, of course, since the human brain naturally reflects on or at least understands matters not directly related to our narrow life cycle. That meta-knowledge is progressive in that it liberated us from the biological order, opening up the psychological and the moral and existential (spiritual) niches; in other words, the type of knowledge which only people have in abundance is largely that which distinguishes us from animals. But this knowledge is also transgressive or accursed (figuratively speaking), since much of the natural truth—of our certain death, of the relative smallness of all our concerns, of the world’s godlessness, pointlessness, and accidental development—spoils our creaturely innocence, preventing us from being at peace with natural conditions.

In so far as we’re wise apes in that respect, then, the notion of “conservative philosophy” ends up being oxymoronic. Liberalism, the opposite of conservatism, is equivalent to humanism, to the celebration of those cognitive and behavioural capacities that make possible that progressive/transgressive knowledge. Conservatism becomes the regression to animalism, the favouring of social arrangements in which philosophy has no place, and an apology for the dominance hierarchies that reestablish nature’s hold over us. Such is the key to seeing past the partisan obfuscations that can make it seem as though there were two great opposing political philosophies. Instead, there’s just humanism, broadly speaking, and the antihumanistic (animalist) con.

American Conservatism as Classical Liberalism

George Will
You can tell how barren is the prospect of a conservative philosophy, from the sad pretenses of George Will’s tome, The Conservative Sensibility. (Due to possible confusion caused by his surname’s being also a word, I’ll refer to that author as GW.) GW himself concedes in his introduction that his project is only to lay bare the philosophy of American conservatism, rejecting the European variety and identifying American conservatism with classical liberalism, with the Lockean political philosophy that guided the founders of the American republic. That so-called conservatism is better known today as libertarianism. To GW’s credit, he’s clear about the potential for linguistic confusion on this point:
My effort is to explain three things: the Founders’ philosophy, the philosophy that the progressives formulated explicitly as a refutation of the Founders, and the superiority of the former…Although it distresses some American conservatives to be told this, American conservatism has little in common with European conservatism, which is descended from, and often is still tainted by, throne-and-altar, blood-and-soil nostalgia, irrationality, and tribalism. American conservatism has a clear mission: It is to conserve, by articulating and demonstrating the continuing pertinence of, the Founders’ thinking. The price of accuracy might be confusion, but this point must be made: American conservatives are the custodians of the classical liberal tradition. (my emphasis)
You know there’s not actually any such thing as conservatism, no such thing as a conservative ideology when, according to a conservative intellectual, the only defensible kind of “conservatism” —the “throne-and-altar, blood-and-soil” propaganda for monarchies notwithstanding—is instead a classical expression of liberalism! As Roger Scruton says in The Meaning of Conservatism,
the concept of freedom—and in particular, such constitutionally derived freedoms as the freedoms of speech, assembly, and ‘conscience’—this concept has until recently been the only one that has been presented by contemporary Conservatism as a contribution to the ideological battle which it has assumed to be raging. While freedom meant ‘freedom from communist oppression’ conservatives could advocate freedom and know that they were more or less in line with what they had always believed. But with the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the emergence of a left-liberal consensus, the old battle-cry does nothing to distinguish conservatism from its rivals. (my emphasis)
American conservatism is thus to conservatism what American “football” is to real football. How do you know what football really is? When watching the sport, take careful note of whether only the players’ feet are permitted to touch the ball. If you’re allowed to carry the ball in your hands, that’s not football by definition. But the United States tried to rebrand the global sport of football (known in North America as “soccer”), by applying the same name to an altogether different, American-created sport that’s popular only in the United States. In the same way, the Catholic Church coopted rival religious holidays and doctrines by merging them with Christian ones. And that’s also how GW proceeds, by carving out an American variety of “conservatism” from the heart of liberalism, of all things, and by casting “progressivism,” socialism, or trust in government—a mere development of liberalism—as the true foe of conservatism.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Meaning of Christianity

Christianity is perhaps the world’s most misunderstood religion, because its Western form has systematically covered up its deepest message. To see how this has happened and to understand the implications of Christianity’s central story, consider that anyone interested in this religion has to answer a fundamental question: Do you identify more with Jesus Christ or with the other people in the gospel narrative, that is, with the Pharisees or Romans, with Jesus’s human family members or followers, or with a contemporary version of some such group?

The Deeper Meaning of Christian Literalism

Catholic and Protestant Christians are forced to answer that we’re more like the other humans in the story than like Jesus. This is because of how Western Christianity developed from an early stage of its history, namely from the challenge presented by Gnostics, Marcionites, and Docetists, some of whom believed Jesus’s human form was an illusion. Specifically, what would become official Christianity literalized and historicized the story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. The mainstream Church affirms as dogma that God really did come to earth and incarnate in a particular mortal body at a certain time and place, now two millennia removed from us. Just as the calendar splits up history into the periods before and after Jesus’s supposed birth, the Church says there’s Jesus, the one and only begotten god-man, and then there’s everyone else. The literalization of this story is simultaneously the distancing of Jesus from the rest of us. Precisely because God-as-Jesus actually lived as a particular person in time, according to the Church, that figure must obviously be spatiotemporally separate from all other human individuals. This is just to apply the principle of haecceity, or thisness, to the people in question, just as we might say that if a leaf existed in first century Palestine, with various other individuating properties, that leaf must be something other than every single other leaf.

With that straightforward differentiation in mind, reflect on the premise of the Christian narrative. God came to earth to live with the creatures he created, and what happened? Those creatures were so far from living up to God’s standards, so blinded by mundane and sinful matters that they rejected Jesus—and thus God—in all possible ways. His family rejected him, thinking him mad; his fellow Jews saw him as a blasphemer and conspired to have him arrested by the Romans; the Romans tortured and executed Jesus as a trouble-maker; and Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand his message and abandoned him, fleeing to avoid similar reprisals from the Jews and Romans. The crucial assumption in Christianity is that God’s creatures couldn’t recognize God even when God was right in their midst. And the narrative clearly means to universalize that point, since it’s not as if people in any other part of the world in any historical period have been especially righteous such that if the equivalent of Jesus appeared to them they would have recognized the miracle and celebrated God. No, the New Testament assumes that all people are equally depraved in comparison to Jesus.

Now what might be inferred just from that information? If God’s creatures are so hostile to him that they would eagerly abandon him and even slaughter their creator at the first opportunity, this suggests that something somewhere has gone badly wrong. As the Gnostics were to interpret the message, the created world is distant from God because God isn’t the creator. We’re spiritually blind and lost to sin, because we’re slaves to the will of an unholy creator, of the abomination of an incompetent, vain, and tyrannical demiurge or intermediary between us and the Supreme Being. Laying aside the Gnostic speculations, we can infer from the above Christian assumption that nature is at least an antispiritual domain, which means that any spiritual visitor of nature would become an outcast. The literalizing of the Christian myth concentrates sacredness into a particular entity, leaving the rest of the universe profane by comparison. To be spiritual or godly on the disenchanted earth is to be antinatural, to go against the flow of creation-by-natural-becoming. If Jesus was one such spiritual being, he was naturally spurned as a hostile invader from another realm, threatening the natural order. And if we attempt to wed the assumption in question with theistic premises, we end up with some incoherent theodicy familiar to philosophers of religion. What would be so great about God if God allowed the demiurge to create such a flawed domain? Or how could such a God be more directly responsible for creating a world that would nail God to a cross?

Friday, August 16, 2019

Julius Evola and the Sham of Conservative Philosophy

You may have heard whisperings of the existence of something called a “conservative idea” or a “conservative philosophy.” These strange suggestions aren’t attributable just to the journalist’s performance of objectivity, to her pretense that there are two sides to every story and that her job as reporter is only to present both sides without prejudgment and to let the reader determine which is factual and which is flagrant disinformation, spin, propaganda, myth, and the like. Were the journalist’s role indeed to be so neutral, we could expect to bid farewell to every journalist in short order, since the internet allows all sides on an issue to present their versions of the story, without the need of an intermediary. But I digress.

The talk of “conservative ideas” is comparable to the Catholic Church’s insistence, when first confronted with ancient Greek and modern rationalist challenges to its dogmas, that philosophy and science can just as easily vindicate the Christian creed as these rationalist disciplines can disprove it. Thus was born systematic or “Scholastic” theology, the flaunting of logic in defense of magical thinking, ignorance, and fear-based prejudice. Likewise, “political science” arose as a rationalist discipline, as the humanities in general had to compete with the sciences for respectability. Liberals and conservatives thus had to justify their attitudes by appealing to philosophical and scientific methods.

In the United States, there were, then, the neoconservatives who rose to power under George W. Bush and who set to work disguising their warmongering as a respectable case for “regime change” in Iraq. Their ruse was exposed when their predictions of a prosperous and democratic Iraq were quickly falsified by the opposite reality (Iraq is now largely controlled by Iran), and when their “case” turned out to be a cynical pretext and an application of shock capitalism. Presently under Trump, there’s the more egregious spectacle of a wildly anti-intellectual mob of white supremacist trolls, anarchists, and fake Christians rushing to justify their cult of enslavement to a pure demagogue and conman. No longer known as “neoconservative,” this cult calls itself the “alt right” or part of the “intellectual dark web.” In the mainstream media’s simplified telling, Karl Rove served as “Bush’s brain,” while Trump supposedly has Steve Bannon to thank for the illusion of order in his official activities. But whether they know it or not, the alt right rationalize their fear and bigotry by summoning some stylings of the Traditionalist School, such as the “ideas” of Rene Guenon and Julius Evola. The Charlottesville white supremacists’ chant of “Blood and soil!” and their fear of being replaced by foreigners, for example, can be given an elaborate pseudo-justification in those terms.

Evola’s Spiritual Aristocracy

Julius Evola
Let’s focus on Evola’s defense of “Tradition” to see how this charade works. Conservatives generally look to a mythical past to justify their authoritarian character, just as progressives and socialists hold out the prospect of a utopian future as the end that justifies their weak-willed compromises with the powers that be. Evola spices up his appeal to tradition with an assortment of esoteric references in his texts. He condemns all aspects of modernity—individualism, egalitarianism, democracy, secularism, naturalism, neoliberalism (free market ideology), and even the wrong kind of dictatorship—as so many failures to abide by a more principled and spiritual social order. Genuine authority, he says, is service to a transcendent idea or principle which inspires a population to respect quality over quantity and to divide itself into a social hierarchy of castes or races.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Entheogen: the Source, Substance, and Bane of Religions

Art by Alex Grey
The strangest thing about the major religions isn’t that their practitioners are adults that have childlike beliefs about invisible persons, miracles, and life after death. No, what’s most puzzling about religions is that they aren’t upfront about the fact that the entheogen or psychotropic substance is their source and essence. We know from ancient religious art and from scattered references in religions such as Hinduism and the Eleusinian Mysteries that their practitioners employed hallucinogenic drugs. We know also that shamanism is likely the oldest religion, associated as it was with Paleolithic animism, and that shamans used these drugs and other techniques to achieve altered states of consciousness.

There are at least three possible reasons for the religions’ coyness about their psychedelic basis.

First, assuming that the drug produces only hallucinations or perceptual illusions, the extent to which a religion is based on such experiences could easily be the extent to which the religion is a fraud, in which case this origin of theological content could be kept hidden out of embarrassment or denial.

Second, there’s the social need for the esoteric/exoteric divide, since the knowledge or experience nevertheless obtained from the use of entheogens is potentially harmful both to the individual’s mental integrity and to social organizations. This means that religious myths may refer obliquely to their true source and substance, as a test of the readiness of the audience to absorb the shocking truth. As Jesus says about his use of parables, “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those on the outside, everything is expressed in parables, so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven’” (Mark 4:11-12). Here Jesus quotes Isaiah 6, where the prophet receives his commission from an angry Yahweh who condemns the people of Judah for their faithlessness in the face of the Assyrian invaders. The message is that most people aren’t fit for spiritual wisdom and so the ultimate truths have to be protected with secrecy.

Third, the secrecy empowers some at the expense of others. The point needn’t be that those who have religious power are familiar with the psychedelic basis of religion, and that they mean to retain their advantages by guarding the source of their knowledge; on the contrary, the exploitation of others is a sign that the dominator has only a mundane mentality. (Even the psychopath who’s abandoned social norms and who is thus in some ways freer than the benighted followers typically reverts to a standpoint of genetic egoism.) The third possibility, rather, is that those with religious power over others mean to eliminate the substance of religion, such as by helping to ban entheogens, and to distract the masses with cheap and shallow substitutes, to ignore existential questions and indulge in profane games.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Pragmatism, Naturalized Platonism, and Freewill: A Conversation

[The following is an email conversation I had with Sybok, a reader of this blog. The conversation began in the comment section of my dialogue on the moral argument for God. We wanted to debate the issue of freewill, but realized that we should first consider our different metaphysical and epistemological assumptions, since otherwise those would crop up and divert us. So that’s what we did. Without further ado, here’s our dialogue.]

***

SYBOK: You ask what happens when we know something is true. Since there's no God, truth can't be a case of mere correspondence where our opinion about something matches God's. But it can't be a simple matter of coherence either, since plenty of coherent statements are pure fiction (The Buffyverse is coherent). Clearly, neither coherence nor correspondence is a sufficient condition for truth. For something to be 'true', it must be coherent, but it must also correspond to... what?

Plato had the answer in his theory of forms. Plato believed that everything, from a triangle to a horse, had an archetypal form that persisted outside time and space. Today we know that horses evolved from non-horse ancestors with many intermediate species that gradually approximated the modern horse; hence there can be no eternal horse-form. But Plato's error wasn't his theory, but its over-application. Horses are synthetic in that they are composed of cells, molecules, atoms, etc. The forms aren't synthetic, but irreducible preconditions for the existence of any synthetic entity. Forms don't change, but their relationships do. Forms have no extension in space-time, but they underpin it. We all know some forms, though not through our senses; and when we know a form, we know it's true.

The forms are numbers, logical relationships and normative principles like Aristotle's law of Identity. Without these, nothing could exist. This doesn't make synthetic things 'untrue' in the sense of nonexistent. Horses are real; but for something to be real it must be compossible; if compossible it must be possible; if possible it must be rational. Hegel erred when he said that all that is rational is real. A rational thing is possible, but unless it's compossible with everything else, it will never be real (unicorns are possible, but aren't real).

To summarize: Something's 'true' when it corresponds to a rational form and something's 'real' if it's compossible.

***

BENJAMIN: Plato thought that material things are copies of immaterial, more perfect originals. The intuition there would be the picture theory of meaning. So a painting of a horse is about a horse because the two are similar. But similarity theories of meaning have proven quite problematic. An accidental arrangement of clouds might resemble a train, but we wouldn’t say the one is intentionally directed towards the other. So similarity doesn’t seem like a sufficient condition of meaning. In any case, it’s hard to see how immaterial “things” could resemble material ones, so there wouldn’t even be much similarity between the worlds to speak of. Likewise, words don’t resemble their objects (linguistic symbols are digital, not analogue), so there resemblance seems irrelevant to meaning.

I think a Platonist should think of knowledge and truth as having to do with mystical insight and experience. In this fallen domain, there’s only illusion and ugliness, not real beauty, truth, or goodness. The Cave analogy says it all. So Platonism joins up with Gnosticism and the Indian religions. In nature we have faint ideas of what we should be doing and of what should have been. There should be goodness, beauty, and truth, but in contemplating those wishes we’re only vaguely remembering our prior life, in so far as we were one with the Good or with the unified source of multiplicity. When we talk about natural knowledge, then, we’re fooling ourselves just like the captives in the cave fool themselves into thinking they’re dealing with something other than flickers of shadows on the wall.

When we acquire philosophical habits of mind, however, and we focus on rational and ethical absolutes, we encounter ideals and learn to forsake the material copies as we get lost in philosophical explorations. Knowledge, then, really would be akin to falling in love—but with abstract ideas rather than with people or with material objects. We know something, for a Platonist, when we’re possessed with an abstraction and when we’re awestruck by such evidence that there’s a better world beyond nature. Truth and error would be something like the continuum between virtue and vice, a falling short or an approximation, not so much having to do with similarity but with the moral or aesthetic inferiority of the copies to the originals. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Democrat employs Strange Tactic in Defeating President Trump

Dateline: WASHINGTON, DC, year 2020—The Democratic nominee has won the presidency, beating Donald Trump in a landslide, and has also had bizarre good luck, by employing an unusual political tactic.

“I decided to go against my handlers and pollsters,” said President-elect Ernest Mann. “They wanted me to play it safe and follow what was superficially-popular to say. Instead, since the Republicans were trying to cast Democrats as "socialists," meaning communists, I decided to shape public opinion and to tell the obvious, blunt truth and rub everyone’s face in it.”

Mr. Mann spent months during the nomination process and the campaign answering every question he received from the media by saying, “Donald Trump is a fascist pig,” “The Republicans are totalitarians,” or something along those lines. His speeches likewise consisted solely of such exclamations.

For example, in a televised debate with the other Democratic nominees, Mr. Mann was pressed on his plan for medical coverage. Instead of answering directly, he held up and pointed at a picture of President Trump, and shouted repeatedly, “Fascist! Fascist! Fascist!” To emphasize his point, Mr. Mann proceeded to light his hair on fire.

Winning the nomination, Mr. Mann went on to debate President Trump and he deployed the same technique, varying his choice of words only so as not to bore the audience.

Twelve times in that debate, Mr. Mann interrupted the president by pointing at Mr. Trump and shouting some combination of the following: “Fascist dictator! Trump’s an evil totalitarian menace! 1984! 1984! Fascist pig! Con man! Con man! Demagoguing fascist! Evil clownish man-child! Psychotic lying fascist scum! Nazi white supremacist filth! Nazi! Fucking Nazi! He’s a wannabe fucking Nazi!!”

When a moderator pointed out that he wasn’t answering any of the questions directly, Ernest Mann stuck to his guns, pointing at his Republican opponent, jumping onto his podium and shouting at the top of his lungs, “Trump’s an American fascist! Danger! Danger! A totalitarian menace is standing right over there. American Nazi! American Nazi! Wannabe fucking Nazi! Putin-lover! Kim-lover! Saddam-lover! Fascist scoundrel! Evil, psychopathic subhuman clown!”

A miracle seemed to be afoot, because in the election Mr. Mann won every state in the American union, including the so-called red states.

But Mr. Mann’s good fortune didn’t end with that astonishing victory.

Shortly before the election he won three billion dollars in a lottery, all of which he gave to charities. Two days later, he won four billion dollars in another lottery.

A unicorn appeared out of nowhere and the president-elect rode the mythical beast to his swearing-in ceremony on Capitol Hill. As he held up his hand and took the Oath of office, a dove flew by and landed on his shoulder.

Political analysts have struggled to explain these strange outcomes. For his part, by way of explanation, Mr. Mann ventured, “The truth will set you free.”