Saturday, January 7, 2017

CIA Digs up Dirt on President Trump, forms New Planet

Dateline: WASHINGTON, DC—In response to President-elect Donald Trump’s denigrating the American intelligence community, the CIA dug up a planet of dirt on Trump, altering the Earth’s gravitational field.

The American intelligence community was united in its assessment that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s emails to attempt to give Donald Trump an advantage in his campaign against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

But Donald Trump, apparently unaware of the CIA’s track record, preferred to go to war with his own intelligence services than admit his election was potentially tainted by that foreign interference.

Experts have formulated numerous hypotheses to explain Trump’s bizarre, arguably treacherous relationship with Russia. “Most people would be terrified to insult the CIA,” said psychologist Anne Funnyface. “But if someone were sufficiently narcissistic, the desire to be widely admired could theoretically outweigh that natural fear. Alternatively, Trump could be wholly ignorant of the Star Wars Empire-like nature of the war machine he’s crossed. That ignorance might be due to his infamously low attention span.”

Whatever the cause, Donald Trump praised Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s criticisms of the CIA’s assessment of the DNC hacks, called the American intelligence services politicized, and has forgone receiving the traditional Daily Brief from the Director of National Intelligence.

In retaliation, the CIA tasked a fraction of its sinister forces to undermine Trump’s presidency the way the United States has sabotaged half the planet’s governments over the last seven decades. What the CIA didn’t count on was the colossal extent of embarrassing materials available on Trump’s upbringing, finances, business practices, and marriages. 

The dirt the agents discovered eventually amounted to a planet-sized edifice the size of Mercury.

Said one CIA operative, “We had to work with geologists and then with NASA to handle the mountains upon mountains of dirt that we dug up on that guy. At first we just piled up the black-ops dossiers to blackmail the traitor Trump. But then the dossiers added up to mountains that altered the skyline along the eastern coast. When planes began crashing into the mountains, we turned to NASA to transfer the embarrassing secrets into the stratosphere whereupon they began to orbit the Earth, forming a new moon. We added tidbits to that moon until it became a planet. The juicy secrets just kept coming, so can you blame us?”  

Before the intelligence agencies could knock on President Trump’s door, informing him that they have a hundred trillion ways to blackmail him should he persist in talking nonsense, the weight of Trump’s sins bore down upon the Earth, threatening us all with gravitational waves that pulled millions of buildings, cars, animals, and people into outer space, creating a ring around what became known as Planet Trump.

Two years passed until President Trump chanced to look up and ask whether anyone else noticed there’s a new planet taking up half the sky. But Trump refused to concede that this other world is composed entirely of dirty secrets that could ruin his presidency a trillion times over.

“Why would the CIA want to go to war with me?” he asked at a news conference. “What have I ever done to them and when has the CIA ever taken such petty or aggressive military action against a democratically-elected leader?”

Upon hearing that, the journalists’ heads exploded and Trump cried foul when some of the brain matter stained his Brioni suit. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Paradox of Moral Obligations

What is a person, fundamentally speaking? A person is a creative void facilitating a fractal tripling of natural forms in the symbolic and technological realms. The void in each person is functional, not physical: while we aren’t absolutely empty, we’re defined by our fictions, such as by folk conventions about our identity as supposedly unified, immaterial selves or spirits. In evolutionary terms, animal brains became more sophisticated over a long period until the cerebral cortex developed, becoming a brain within a brain that initiates a spiral of abstraction in mental space. The higher, primate brain is biologically discontinuous from the environment, by way of its isolation within the skull, but the cerebral cortex has autonomous and global, holistic access to the rest of the brain, providing the person the power to veto his or her emotional impulses or instinctive reactions, and to imagine strategic models of the environment. These models are pragmatic idealizations and thus, strictly speaking, fictive; in science, they’re called “ceteris paribus,” meaning that their generalizations pertain to the counterfactual scenario in which certain factors falling outside the model’s purview don’t interfere with the modeled regularity. That is, the model is about only a small part of the world that’s isolated by the imagination, even though in reality that modeled part is entangled with the whole of nature. Despite our having a substantive neurological identity, then, we’re effectively hollow as persons in that as we model ourselves as well, we retreat to evermore rarified reifications, including daydreams and theological speculations. While we seem to ourselves to be the universe’s starring attractions, we’re vacuous in our and existential homelessness and chameleonic flexibility We can survive virtually anywhere because we’re so lacking in a fixed identity and are so detached from nature that we’ve devised an objective stance towards the outer world, which has empowered us with technological applications of our models that have reshaped the environment to our benefit.

Whereas an animal is like a robot in lacking much hidden, mental depth, a person’s mind is master of the symbolic niche. That mind and niche are physically nowhere, as such, and so we’re the proverbial ghosts in the machine. We’re cognitively detached from stimuli and from our animal side, and so we’re liable to feel alienated and forlorn, oppressed by our understanding that the world that’s given rise to such freaks as us must be godless and out-of-whack. We boast of our spiritual depths, making esoteric religious pronouncements such as that the ultimate material (Brahman) and Self (Atman) are one, that matter and mind are aspects of the same thing, that our personal identities are masks worn by ultimate reality and that each of us, therefore, is fully God. And we war over the contradictions between our religious fictions, not willing to face the truth that was put best and most recently by the so-called existential philosophers and psychologists. At most, matter and mind are one in that what we usually think of as mind is entirely imaginary, and so the former cancels out the latter; the fictitious mind isn’t nothing at all, mind you, but it’s an embarrassing lie, an instrument used by greater forces to marshal our skills for the next round of mass extinctions and evolutionary transcendence. And at best we’re divine in that we’re godlike tools for transducing natural stimuli into symbolic representations and for imposing the products of those idealizations onto nature in the forms of our artifacts. Far from making us worthy of being revered, our divinity is likewise an indignity: our omniscience and omnipotence depend on our ability to form Voltron-like megamachines, that is, social collectives or mass minds which are inevitably oppressive in their hierarchical composition. Thus, our personal capacity for enlightenment is typically shortchanged, as a minority takes command and sets about oppressing and infantilizing the masses; the rulers become especially godlike, corrupting themselves in the process, while the bovine herd idles, numbing itself with bestial diversions.

The Moral Conundrum for the Enlightened Few

If this is our existential reality or if some such account is, at least, the most compelling philosophical story about the meaning of our species, we face an ethical conundrum. The enlightened person must be poised between feeling compassion and disgust for us all. On the one hand, we have every reason to pity ourselves and others, since we’re all trapped as playthings of monstrous (unguided but creative) natural forces and elements, and our vaunted spirituality is ironically a form of profound emptiness (fictitiousness). There is no substantial unifying self, but only a mammalian brain that dreams it’s a god, which fiction ironically brings divinity into functional being, as evidenced by the results of our artistic imagination, scientific objectification, and technological industry. So we’re each more or less deluded and lost. Shouldn’t we therefore help each other find ourselves? Wouldn’t nobility consist in the humility needed to recognize that since we’re all victims of the same existential grievances, we all need help, and vanity must be due just to a crass sort of narrow-mindedness? The ethical task would seem obvious: to elevate each other however we can, not putting ourselves before others, but recognizing the universality of our struggles. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

President Trump Confined to White House, Refuses to take Revolving Door

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C.—After much legal wrangling, President-elect Donald Trump and his children, Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr. divested themselves of their holdings in Trump's dozens of companies so that they could carry out their duties as president and as top advisors without the taint of blatant conflicts of interest. But after their term in office, they found it impossible to physically leave the White House, because they refused to use any of the hundreds of revolving doors back to the private sector, these being the only doors leading out of the building.

After the formation of the military-industrial complex in the aftermath of WWII, the White House was outfitted with a plethora of revolving doors, with at least one in every room in the complex. Each of those doors returns the public official to a lucrative position in a think tank, lobby firm, or bank where the former politician can legally sell his or her political connections for private gain. Once the political favours are cashed in, the private citizen returns to the public sector via one of the many revolving doors, to procure a new round of connections.

Political analysts have speculated that because Trump and his family lacked political experience prior to Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, they were unaware that selling their holdings in their corporation was futile as a means of avoiding conflicts of interest, unless they planned to remain in the White House indefinitely.

“There’s no other way out,” complained Donald Trump, weeks after his term as president ended. “That’s what they don’t tell you. To leave you have to take one of the revolving doors or you’re stuck here forever.”

Donald Trump has been stuck in a White House broom closet for two months and three days. To his immediate left is a revolving door to the Fox News Corporation, which has offered him a leadership role in its television business, but Trump has refused to leave in that fashion for fear of having a conflict of interest.

“Did I act as president, knowing I’d have all these business opportunities afterward to enrich myself beyond my wildest dreams?” asked Trump, rhetorically. “Did I give Fox News special access while I was president, under the unstated assumption that they’d return the favour after I left office? Isn’t that the way to skirt the law and make a sham of our democratic republic? Well, not Trump! I’m the most ethical person who ever lived. So I’m staying in the White House until they figure out a way to install a door here that doesn’t revolve round and round between the government and a quid pro quo in some private enterprise.”

The head of the American Institute of Architects has weighed in on the matter, saying “There’s just no way to install such a door. If you tried to put a nonrevolving door in the White House, the thing would collapse under the White House’s gravitational pull. There’s just way too much power there for any such door to withstand the pressure to revolve round and round like a perpetual motion machine.”

Ivanka Trump attempted to limbo her way beneath a half-closed window, but injured her back in the process and has been confined to a White House medical facility for weeks after her term as advisor to President Trump ended.

The incoming president has expressed annoyance that Donald Trump and his family of advisors have refused to leave. “It’s time for them to go,” said the newly-elected president. “I’ve got work to do rebuilding the country after the apocalypse Trump dumped on us. They should take the cushy jobs they’re being offered as unofficial rewards for their ‘service’ in this Kafkaesque, Huxleyan nightmare we call a nation, and go.”

Sunday, December 25, 2016

American Hypocrisy Fuels Interdimensional Starship

Dateline: WATERLOO, ON—A team of scientists and engineers at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario has invented a technique for converting American leaders’ hypocrisy into fuel to power an interdimensional starship.

Thorsten Dillydally, leader of the team of researchers, was led to his hypothesis after sitting through press coverage of the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails, which tilted the election towards a Trump victory of the presidency in 2016.

“I noticed something strange about the coverage,” said Professor Dillydally. “The hypocrisy was off the charts. I mean literally, I pointed my chutzpah meter at the television and the meter blew up in my face. It dawned on me that effrontery of that magnitude is scarily powerful. The trick was to harness it for some greater good.”

The professor theorized that “ordinary hypocrisy occurs when someone pretends, say, to have never smoked even though they’ve actually smoked maybe a few times in their life. But what if someone has the gall to declare she’s never, ever smoked even though she’s smoked literally a trillion times, has cloned herself and forced the clones to smoke at all hours of the day, has in fact twelve cigarettes dangling from her mouth at the very moment she says she’s never smoked, and on top of all that she's the very inventor of the modern cigarette and owner of all cigarette companies?

“When the ratio between what’s said and what’s factually so is 1:1,000,000,000,000, the energy levels are potent indeed, meaning they’re cosmically significant. That is, when you say you’ve never done something, but you’ve actually done it at least a trillion times, there must be some untold form of energy that could support such an awesome display. Or so we hypothesized.”

In the case of Russian meddling in the American election, the professor set about reading something he called “books,” to confirm his suspicion that important information was being left out of the corporate media reports of the event.

“It turns out,” said the professor, “that while both Democratic and Republican politicians as well as the pundits and Washington press corps were busy playing the victims of Putin’s assault on their democracy, the United States is the world champion in subverting elections. For decades, the CIA and American Special Forces have spread disinformation and orchestrated coups or assassinations in almost every country on Earth. From the stage-managing of foreign elections in client states, the bribery of foreign leaders, or the orchestrating of coups in the Philippines, Italy, Lebanon, Indonesia, Vietnam, Guyana, Japan, Nepal, Laos, Brazil, Guatemala, Bolivia, Chile, Portugal, Jamaica, Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti, Bulgaria, Albania, Russia, Mongolia, Bosnia, Iran, the Congo, Ecuador, Greece, and most other parts of the world; to Washington law firms’ support for dictators in oppressing their people and marginalizing their opponents; to using the NSA to spy on the EU, UN, World Bank, and IMF; to vitiating America's own elections by gerrymandering, voter suppression, and demagoguery, no country’s meager resume of covert activities comes close to the digest of America’s accomplishments on the subject of subverting democracies.”

Indeed, researchers at the Perimeter Institute learned that the American government wasn’t content with picking winners and losers just in our present timeline, but funded a project for building a time machine so that CIA operatives could travel to the distant past and to alternative realities to spy on foreign human and alien leaders and to meddle with their countries’ elections.

Confirming that the Chutzpah Ratio of one-to-a-trillion held in the case of the American political class’s response to the Russian hacking, Professor Dillydally still lacked a technique for harnessing the awesome energies he assumed could only have been responsible for such lopsided hypocrisy. While watching the news coverage, the professor “noticed that the American officials who feigned to be aghast that any country would stoop to such an unholy feat of diabolism, to tamper with another country’s election, invariably cried as they did so.”

Posing as janitors, the researchers collected samples of those tears at press conferences, analyzed them under an electron microscope and made their breakthrough discovery: swimming and thrashing amongst the water, lipid, and other molecules were tens of billions of miniature crocodiles.

“These ‘crocodile tears,’ as we’ve come to call them were the key,” said the professor. “They’re like the singularity in a black hole, great masses compressed to a tiny size, thus containing enormous potential energy which we tapped to create our interdimensional fuel.”

The team’s starship is set to launch to realms unknown on April Fools’ Day, 2020. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Irrelevance of Scientific Determinism

Freewill is a conundrum. We feel free, as though we can control ourselves and decide what to do rather than being forced along a certain path like a leaf blowing in the wind. But we can’t understand how we could be free, because understanding involves positing causes on top of causes and analyzing one thing in terms of something else. A fallen leaf moves along a certain path, because the leaf is blown by the wind. And why does the wind blow? That’s because of differences in atmospheric pressure. But why does wind blow this way rather than that? Well, that’s because the wind encounters objects in its path, including the curled-up shape of the leaf, which create pockets of turbulence and eddies. And why is the fallen leaf curled up so that it spins as it blows? That, in turn is because the leaf is dead, and so water and minerals no longer flow through its veins, preserving its former structure. And so on and so on until the process of understanding one event encompasses the history of life on Earth and the causes of our planet’s formation in the story of the whole universe. The one event of the leaf’s swirling in the breeze pales next to the immensity of what you have to know to understand why that event happened as it did.

Indeed, biologists and neuroscientists already have sufficient knowledge of how the body works, to render nonsensical our feeling that we have freewill. Yuval Harari summarizes some of the relevant findings in Homo Deus. Brain processes, he points out, are either deterministic or random. A neuron will fire either in response to stimuli or spontaneously due to the intrinsic uncertainty of the chemical factors involved such as the timing of the release of neurotransmitters. Virtually never-ending causal chains and randomness don’t leave room for personal autonomy. Moreover, although an action may be uncoerced, we don’t choose our desires. What we want is caused either by our genetic programming, by the formative environment in which we learned how to behave as children, or by the accumulation of our experiences. Desires have unconscious causes, as is shown by the fact that scientists observing brain activity can predict what a subject will do before the subject is consciously aware of her decision.

Also, with respect to what scientists can empirically confirm, there is no such thing as the single, essential self, let alone an immaterial spirit; instead, the brain is divided into regions that have different, sometimes conflicting functions. As Harari puts it, there’s the experiencing self, the part of the brain that processes moment-by-moment stimuli, and then there’s the narrating self, the part that gives meaning to experience by telling us what to think or feel and by ignoring most of the information processed by the experiencing self. We identify with our inner monologue because it adds meaning to our life. “It doesn’t matter that the plot is full of lies and lacunas,” writes Harari, “and that it is rewritten again and again, so that today’s story flatly contradicts yesterday’s; the important thing is that we always retain the feeling that we have a single unchanging identity from birth to death” (299). Finally, says Harari, we cling to the fiction of a soul, of a single self that bears ultimate responsibility for our actions, because we can’t bear the alternative that everything we do is in vain. “Paradoxically, the more sacrifices we make for an imaginary story, the stronger the story becomes, because we desperately want to give meaning to these sacrifices and to the suffering we have caused” (300).  

Instead of challenging the scientific deconstruction of the self, I want to consider two meta-questions. First, is the notion of a scientific theory of freewill even coherent or is instead personal freedom naturally impossible from a scientific point of view? Second, what would a free creature look like in nature, speaking hypothetically? How would this creature’s internal components have to be arranged to liberate it from the rest of the world so that we could reasonably think of it as being both free and real? 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Clash of Worldviews: The Meaning of Trumpism

MODERATOR: Good evening and welcome back to Clash of Worldviews, the show in which we try to get to the bottom of big issues. You may have heard that President-Elect Donald Trump is a charlatan and an ogre, and that Hillary Clinton is crooked and phony. But Trump’s election has cast doubt on so much of our conventional wisdom that we’re still wondering—as though lost in a wasteland—just what the true meaning of Trump’s election might be. To help answer that question, we’ve asked Adam Garnett, famed liberal humanist and Hillary Clinton supporter, and Fred Fogarty, a Donald Trump supporter and self-described member of the alt-right to be with us to discuss the matter. Gentlemen, who would like to begin? What is Trumpism all about? 

ADAM: In a word, Trump is about himself, while his supporters are about having a laugh at the country’s expense. They’re not downtrodden, these older white working class folks; they’re just venting because they’ve fared badly under globalization, they know the days of exclusive white power or imperialism are over, and they mean to take the country down with them. If they can’t rule any longer like they used to in the first half of the last century, they’re going to pollute the discourse with their vulgarity and send a bull into the china shop.

FRED: So “they’re not downtrodden,” but they’ve also “fared badly under globalization”? Which is it, I wonder? You see how the elites can’t even think straight? No wonder they were ripe for being humiliated by Trump and by the rise of the alt-right!

ADAM: I meant that these Trumpists have benefited from governmental support. They’re part of the middle class, but they’d like to blow up the social system, thus committing collective suicide by voting against their economic interest. Trump, in other words, isn’t an expression of revolt against the powers that be. Instead, he’s a rogue power, an agent of anarchy.

FRED: Keep telling yourself that, Adam! Keep patting yourself on the back. You’re one of the good guys, right? Not some useful idiot to plutocrats.

ADAM: And who are you, Freddy? What vile hate speech will you treat us to this evening? I can hardly wait to plug my ears.

FRED: Yeah, because you’re a feminized liberal who can’t stomach the naked truth. You think Trump’s supporters are all morons and only liberals have reason on their side. That’s where you’re wrong. Many of Trump’s voters aren’t highly uneducated, but that doesn’t make them stupid. Just look at what foolishness was wrought by Clinton’s neoliberal class of professionals: they’re the Ivy Leaguers but they got it all wrong. Their polls, their history lessons, their self-serving analyses were so many paper tigers squashed by the juggernaut Trump. You think Hillary Clinton deserved to win, because she was the more rational and responsible candidate. That’s what that euphemism was about: Trump supposedly lacked “the demeanor to be president.” But you know what Hillary Clinton lacked? An honest bone in her body. She couldn’t speak the unpopular truth to the public and she lost because hardly anyone trusted that she would change the United States for the better.

ADAM: And what will Trump do? Wave his magic wand and make American great again? Is that supposed to be some profound truth he told?

FRED: Trump doesn’t speak in fancy academic double-talk. I’ll grant you that. His language is seldom precise, but the essence of his diagnosis was highly negative and thus accurate. Trump’s view of America’s standing in the world is apocalyptic, as even the Democrats pointed out. Maybe Trump exaggerates for rhetorical effect, but his main point is that the United States isn’t doing well on the whole. That’s the truth that Hillary Clinton couldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, because she had to own Obama’s legacy. The public no longer respects the system, they were disappointed by Obama who ran falsely as a change candidate, and they wanted a leader from outside the corrupt establishment who would at least have a fighting chance of effecting radical change.

ADAM: Who is supposed to benefit from Trump’s administration? Surely you don’t mean the older blue collar whites who have been misled by Republicans for decades. Surely you’re aware that the Republicans have used social wedge issues to stir up animosities and compel these folks to vote against their economic interest. Surely you understand that trickle-down economics just further enriches the top one percent while everyone else falls further behind, that a smaller government with fewer taxes gets out of the way only of giant corporations which are already as powerful as some entire countries, but that the little guy may need government support if he’s going to survive globalization.

FRED: But he’s not going to survive globalization. Again, that’s the sort of dark truth you don’t want to hear. The system that maintains the economic status quo is rigged against him. That’s the system that Obama and Hillary defend as the technocratic managers they are. That’s the system we want Trump to destroy. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Newscasters Normalize their Relations with Our Alien Overlord Tromp

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C.Major media personalities strive to retain their credibility after being forced to appear naked on television by our alien overlord Tromp.

Tromp, mastermind of the invasion from Pluto, created mass panic when he landed in the United States in November, 2016 in a fleet of golden skyscraper-shaped spacecraft. But the corporate media calmed the public by normalizing Tromp’s incursions into what had hitherto been a conventional state of affairs.

“It began innocently enough,” said Don Lime, host of a CNN news hour. “Tromp’s ship landed on top of the White House, crushing it. Even I screamed like a little girl when that happened—and I was live on air! Then my producer shouted into my earpiece: ‘Where’s your gravitas, your savvy, your objectivity?’

“So it occurred to me I had to be brave for the viewers. I locked away my true self and began coldly narrating what transpired. I was like a robot, just observing and describing in the most neutral terms I could think of what was perhaps the greatest disaster to have befallen our nation as if it was barely even newsworthy.

“When Tromp kicked a baby’s head off, I admit I struggled. How to help prevent a human uprising that could cost millions of lives? How to do my job with dignity and avoid alienating Tromp in case he should decide he’d like to come on my show, perhaps be a regular guest or even a co-host. My producers drew up the contract and everything, so that was in the back of my mind: I had to play it cool with Tromp, because as hideous and inhuman as he was, he was now in charge.”

But then Tromp and his minions decreed that all media personalities, including pundits, analysts, and hosts, would have to perform their on-air television duties nude and uncensored.

“I was taken aback when I heard that one,” said Megyn Sally, journalist and commentator at Fox News. “I thought maybe I wouldn’t be able to go through with it. But when the projected ratings came in, I said to myself, ‘You’ll still have your journalistic integrity as long as you can pretend that nothing unusual is happening. The viewers won’t know the difference, because they’re just zoning out in front of the TV.’

“At first it was strange. I was sitting naked on set behind the desk, the cameramen leering at me and millions of people no doubt staring at my breasts on their television screens. But I reminded myself that I’m an insider, a power elite who’s making millions of dollars a year, and the schlubs sitting on their couches probably don’t even know our planet’s been conquered by an alien power; they live in their little bubble worlds on Facebook and as with the rest of the news, they’ll forget everything they’ve seen and heard minutes after they’ve turned off their TV. So I gutted it out.”

“Megyn Sally has fine knockers,” averred Joe Nobody, a Fox News viewer, “but I’ve seen better on Pornhub.”

When Tromp did consent to be interviewed on CNN, he sat across from stark naked Brianna Keeley and slid his frog-like tongue down her throat, forcing her to improvise.

“I remember thinking, ‘This is most unfortunate,’” said Keeley. “Here’s this tremendous opportunity to interview our alien master, to find out what makes him tick. I mean, what are his plans for us? Will he slaughter half our population or perhaps exterminate us in toto? Inquiring minds wanted to know.

“I’d assumed Tromp might try to use to his advantage the fact that he could decree that I be constantly naked in his presence. But it hadn’t occurred to me he might jam his slimy, two feet long reptilian tongue down my throat and just keep it there for the duration of the interview. My challenge then was to pose my carefully-crafted questions to Tromp without them sounding all garbled.

“At first, I just choked and vomited in my mouth, because I could feel his revolting tongue slithering down my throat. Then it occurred to me that while Tromp’s three hands were occupied with my breasts and other private parts, he’d neglected to control my wrists. So I began furiously writing down my questions with a thick black marker, and I held the paper up to Tromp’s bloated face. I watched as his eyeballs turned to look at my questions, and you know what? He released one of my breasts and scribbled his answers in the space I’d provided him. So it was question and answer, and normality was restored.”  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Ogre-Clown of Trumpland

Liberals stayed home on voting day
Smug and well off, they took no stand
Sailing by the castaway
To the far-away isle of Trumpland

Suits and pollsters of the chattering class
Stared into their cracked old crystal ball
Gave their new Gilded Age a pass
Hid their rotting nation beneath a pall

Lady Liberty cast her shadow
Crawling out from its depths the trolls
Stormed the stage of the TV show
Roaring over the din of polls

March up and down the streets if you like
Stick your pinkie in the breach in the dike
Sell your soul or you’ll surely drown
In the sewer of the Ogre Clown

Were the god we deserve to show himself at last, would we shed tears of joy or claw out our eyes to spare us from having to see our essence made manifest? How many people truly know themselves and understand that our high-tech wonderland is a veneer over a wilderness that’s the source of all our nightmares? When the lights go out and our savage neighbours throw off their ill-fitting trappings of civility, storm the battlements, and conjure their ogre king, the duped, happy-talking professionals of the establishment are shocked and appalled. “America is divided,” they say. “A civil war is coming.” But they don’t understand, because they don’t accept the barbarity spread out before them as their shadow. Only outcasts who don’t prop up the American system could be blameless for the coming of America’s best representative, for the ogre Donald Trump. They’ve played no part in turning the United States into a laughingstock which every nation is at its core for being a herd of beasts and sheep that pretend to be angels. American liberals think they’re innocent because they protect gays and Muslims and women’s choice to abort their fetuses. Meanwhile, these same liberal professionals pass their time as worker bees and consumers in a new Gilded Age and preside over the US-led destruction of the biosphere.

For comedians and philosophers, the 2016 US presidential election is an intellectual feast. Trump captured the dreaded zeitgeist of American decline and humiliated the neoliberal establishment. Contrary to Trump’s clumsy epithet for her, Hillary Clinton wasn’t especially crooked; instead, she was clueless—like the entire class of power elites, the pundits and pollsters and politicians, and the complacent beta herds of doctors, lawyers, and teachers who think they’re on the right side of history whereas the horde of Trumpian savages is un-American. Not even Sherlock Holmes could show Democrats the clues that hide in plain sight. Bernie Sanders tried and was marginalized as a “socialist” and a misanthropic dreamer. Democrats have been too busy fussing as technocratic custodians of the social systems to realize that America is a myth. Their true home has been Trump’s sewer all along—only, some have been wailing and drudging naked through the filth because they couldn’t afford blinders and boots, while the professionals, whom Thomas Frank showed have made up the base of the Democratic Party for decades, mistook the spectacle of infantilized and shell-shocked consumers, scurrying in their corner of the global village, for a land of the free and a home of the brave.  

How smug were the writers of the Saturday Night Live sketches which depicted Trump as a troll and Clinton as a shoe-in for the presidency and “the most qualified candidate ever to run for high office”! The latter mantra was a euphemism for “competent technocrat,” for “manager of the system and maintainer of the status quo,” whereas the right-wing backlashes in Europe, the Sanders campaign and the nomination of Trump signaled that the millions who have been left behind by the system have finally insisted on searching for alternatives. A neoliberal can afford to say that masses of have-knots can be expected in a free market, if that neoliberal happens to be part of the establishment. If he himself is a loser in conventional terms, he wouldn’t be thankful for the second coming of Clinton, because he’d have been radicalized by years of resentfully watching the glitzy American success stories on TV. He’d be desperate enough to want to tear down the whole system and to take revenge on the top one percent of power elites who have flourished almost beyond comprehension while the majority’s wages in the US have been stagnant for decades. Trump exploited this blowback from globalism, using his skills as a reality TV star to demagogue his way to victory, to inflict the world with the fallout of his megalomania.

Even now after the scales have fallen from their eyes, American liberals rally to oppose Republicans who now control all branches of their government. They don’t understand that these armies of Republican troglodytes are only symptoms of a deeper, more persistent inhumanity. As Yuval Harari points out in Homo Deus, the rancor of First World blue collar workers who have lost their jobs to Third World slaves is destined to be followed by the bewilderment of white collar elites who will in turn lose their jobs to computers. As robots and slaves of authoritarian states are replacing middle-class labourers, computers will occupy upper-class positions in the knowledge economy; that’s the logic of “free market” capitalism. We “liberate” inhuman natural forces from the creativity we’re capable of imposing when we act in a dignified, transcendent fashion, and when we recognize we’re all at war with a godless universe and must create a virtually supernatural world that doesn’t run on such heartless evolutionary principles; otherwise, we suffer and die as hapless quasi-animals. Just as Obama is leading the transition team that’s ushering in the Trump regime to the White House, which regime will be dedicated to erasing any sign that the abomination of a neoliberal African-American once sat in the Oval Office, we’re all programming the machines that will replace our whole species of deluded primates. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Eldritch Revelations: Restoring God through Deified Humanity

The social philosophy that follows from Schulz’s reflections on religion combines Gnostic elitism, transhumanism, and existential despair about our ultimate fate. Along with Hindus and Buddhists and even Western monotheists, Schulz admires spiritual elites who shun the vulgar pursuits that define mass culture, because the spiritualists’ enlightenment has opened up a higher calling for everyone. But Schulz differs with them as to the nature of that calling. The purpose of Eastern religions is moksha, liberation from the natural cycles that imprison us by clouding our judgment. That liberation requires cognitive training and ascetic renunciation. Christianity and Islam emphasize instead the need for a personal relationship with an almighty Creator, which requires that we submit to this infinitely-greater being and understand the grace of God’s interventions in the natural course which redound to our benefit. God has revealed a path out of the thickets, and we must merely follow his commandments and trust in the deity’s greatness despite God’s unsettling hiddenness after the loss of our animistic innocence, that is, after the advent of settled civilizations in the Neolithic Revolutions (around 10,000 BCE) and certainly after what has been called the Axial Age, around the fifth century BCE.

As discussed in the last chapter, Schulz doesn’t take Western theology at face value, but reinterprets it as a system of coded, typically-unconscious references to the dynamics at play between divided human classes. God is indeed hidden because God is literally dead. Prehistoric animists didn’t realize this because they weren’t beholden to dehumanizing forms of objectivity and instrumentality; instead, animists anthropomorphized their surroundings, extending parochial human social functions to the natural world, and misinterpreting the fact that life is abundant on this planet, as a sign that life is metaphysically primary. As we now know by way of what we like to call the modern, scientific outlook, life is an aberration in the natural universe that extends far beyond not just our planet but our mundane concerns. So Christianity’s fixation on an outcast messiah is meant to revolutionize ethics—even though Church history serves the higher god of Irony; thus, the Church canceled Jesus’ revolution in the Orwellian fashion, with doubletalk to excuse Church leaders’ infamous compromises with secular authorities. And according to Schulz, the Islamic call for submission to God is hopelessly wrongheaded in light of God’s evident suicide. God’s gift to us isn’t to offer a path that leads to a place by his side; rather, it’s to free us from the burden of having to serve such a madman for all eternity. God accomplished that primordial act of salvation, by creating the universe of natural beings which replaced God’s supernatural realm. The personal God is no more, but Irony reigns in his stead and so Islamic submission translates to servitude to terrestrial caliphs, mullahs, and dictators—once again in line with mere bestial mammalian regularities. When animal dominance hierarchies are re-established by so-called wise apes, and these primitive social arrangements are rationalized by highfalutin theistic rhetoric, we have the makings of a sick joke.

Whereas the practice of Western religions has thus been farcical, on Schulz’s view, owing to the misguided, literal reading of monotheistic scriptures, Eastern religions avoid farce with their insights into the meaninglessness of the natural course of events. On the whole, liberation from the world of suffering and illusions occurs as an act of extinction, mediated by an ascetic victory over natural forces. Instead of the everlasting preservation of our personality, according to the Eastern outlook we’re freed from the anguish and indignity of having to be reborn in a cycle of absurd, sometimes horrific events. “Victory through spiritual death” is the essence of Eastern wisdom. For Schulz, though, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains offer a misleading interpretation of life’s evolution. Life isn’t entirely pointless and so a final death isn’t our ultimate purpose. Our active deity in nature is Irony, the clash between facts and intuitions. Therefore, our task is to maximize irony, to appreciate the irrelevance of our animal preoccupations so that, as in Zoroastrianism, we can take a stand against our true enemy. But while Zoroaster speaks of a final reconciliation after the apocalyptic end of natural time, Schulz is more stoical than sanguine about our fate. Even if there can be no absolute triumph of higher values, assuming the universe is metaphysically tainted by its origin in the fall of divine being, we can partially redeem nature with the fruits of our struggle against it.

However, Schulz’s writings are frustratingly short on details of the nature of this redemption, and indeed this is the chief mystery not just in Schulz’s philosophy but in the exploits of his cult. Schulz shares with some Eastern currents of thought the view that thinking itself is the primary evil. But whereas Zen Buddhists, for example, contend that so-called rational thinking is cognitively inferior in that it produces the illusion of egoism, and that a deeper experience of oneness is possible, Schulz maintains that reason is baneful precisely because of its cognitive supremeness. Reason presents the horror of fundamental truth, the fact that being in general is absurd and that God is probably literally dead, but our use of reason also restores divinity and so this cognitive expertise sets us on a course to God’s madness. Reason undercuts itself by delivering rational creatures the unwanted grand truth that a precondition of our happiness is the set of vices that comprises the vulgar personality: above all, happiness depends on ignorance, in that the more you know, the harder it is to sustain the short-sightedness needed to be comfortable under any circumstance. Reason demonstrates that we have no proper place in the universe and that our salvation can proceed only by our schemes that all seem harebrained in historical hindsight.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Republicans Praised for Reducing Stigma for Psychopaths

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C.—The National Institute of Mental Health congratulated the Republican Party for helping to accustom Americans to those with mental illness, by elevating obvious psychopaths to positions of high office.

Doctor Fernando Lamas, chairman of the institute, said at a press conference that Republican voters have done the United States “a great service, showing more so-called progressive Americans that those with antisocial disorderswho are typically demonized in popular horror filmscan be entrusted with political power as long as we shirk our civic duties and learn to keep lowering our standards for acceptable public behaviour.”

According to Dr. Lamas, the Republican Party began this initiative in the 1980s when Republicans found that they could concoct excuses for Ronald Reagan’s declining health, which he suffered due to an onset of Alzheimer’s. Prior to that, Republicans were embarrassed when President Nixon’s megalomania was unveiled by the Watergate scandal.

“But their reverence for the mentally ill really ramped up,” said Dr. Lamas, “when Republicans managed to keep a straight face as they elected George W. Bush as president. Perhaps inadvertently at first, but surely with a charitable intention thereafter, Republicans worked tirelessly to teach mentally healthy citizens not to ignore the deranged, as George Bush Jr.’s cornucopia of follies left the whole world dumbfounded.”

By excusing Bush’s daily embarrassments and epic fiascos, Republicans brought mental disorder out of the shadows. Dr. Lamas compared this Republican initiative to gay rights advocacy: “both Republicans and homosexuals flaunt their peculiarities, whether on the national political stage or in Gay Pride parades, forcing everyone else to become inured to that which they might once have loathed.  

"After Bush there was Sarah Palin, John McCain’s vice presidential nominee. With her bizarre turns of phrase, her unabashed ignorance on all relevant matters, her clueless mix of Christianity, family values, and sociopathic Republican boilerplate, she took hysterical mean-spiritedness to a higher level.

“But it’s that party’s fearlessness in spotlighting such palpably-malignant personalities,” continued Dr. Lamas, “as though they could be entrusted with vast political power, that’s done wonders in removing the stigma from mental illness.” Republicans have been particularly generous with sociopaths, not just by thrusting them into mainstream discourse, but by “coaching them to be evermore lax in disguising their inhuman lack of empathy.”

“Sociopathy, an extreme form of Antisocial Personality Disorder, is a mainstay of the political world,” said Gwendolyn Bianca, political scientist at Fancypants University, who also spoke at the press conference. Bianca argued that since it’s axiomatic that power eventually corrupts even the most moral of individuals, we can expect that a disproportionate number of politicians (as well as businesspeople and other wealthy or powerful persons) lack the capacity to feel complex emotions.

“Conscience is a luxury they can’t afford,” said Bianca, “because a politician’s duty demands that he or she sacrifice others for the greater good, a burden that would be intolerable to anyone with some moral sense.”

Dr. Lamas said that because Donald Trump, the 2016 Republican presidential nominee, has “given the game away, displaying no trace of shame or compassion, all Americans owe the Republican Party a debt of gratitude for its service to the mentally ill.”

Bianca added that “whereas Democratic leaders have opted for the traditional approach of hiding their elitist contempt for humanity behind feel-good messages and empty socialist promises, psychopathic Republicans have refused to sit at the back of the bus. Unlike Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton, whose antisocial personalities were formed when they were indoctrinated into the neoliberal technocracy and who thus mistake loss of conscience for exceptional rationality, Republican lunatics have shown no deference to the public’s prejudice against human predators.

“Republican elites wear their insanity on their sleeve, whereas Democratic politicians pretend to care about the little people. And bless the American voters for their bottomless tolerance for the absurd! Thanks to that recklessness, mental health issues have come to the fore, which has flooded the clinics across the nation with much-needed donations.”