Friday, May 25, 2018

Is Infamous YouTube Pessimist “Inmendham” Hero or Villain?

Dateline: NEW JERSEY—The YouTuber known as Gary “Inmendham” has tormented viewers since 2007, by uploading thousands of hostile, deranged videos to that platform, making a bizarre philosophical case against the continuation of life on the basis of what he calls the preciousness of life. 

YouTube is known mostly as a playground for cute, young people to prance and preen, but the website is also part of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web on which cynics and misanthropes proffer their subversive philosophies.

There’s an urban legend that Matthew McConaughey’s character Rust Cohle, from Season One of True Detective was based on the surly, scornful, long-haired Inmendham.

At any rate, Gary argues in over four thousand videos—many of which are well over an hour long—that the evolution of life is a system for torturing animals, including us, and that our excessive suffering is wasted since no good comes from life. Having children only adds victims to this natural system of abuse and exploitation, and thus is wrong.

He calls his philosophy “Efilism” (“Life” spelled backwards), which indicates that his views are more extreme than antinatalism. Antinatalists say that having children is wrong, because the world is harsh and no one consents to being born, but the point of Efilism is that life generally ought to be reversed (like the word) or ended, which is to say destroyed.

Paradoxically, this is supposed to be because the ability to feel pleasure and pain is the most precious thing in the world; in Gary’s words, living things are “precious commodities controlled by crude forces.” Yet in practice, pain always outweighs pleasure, according to Gary, and so the ideal would be for life to be painlessly eradicated, leaving the universe with no more victims to torture.

Instead of pitying all living things or feeling sad about their plight, however, Gary is infamous for his sadistic style of viciously insulting and berating everyone who disagrees with him. Unlike the sorrowful and philosophical Cohle character or a detached and tranquil Buddhist monk, Gary spews invective at everyone from meat-eaters to those who defend the continuation of our species through procreation.

Many YouTubers have attempted to explain the Inmendham phenomenon.

Rust Cohle
One whose nickname is Lazyboy Filosopher and who has suffered Inmendham’s wrath said, “He’s like a bitter, unhinged hippie. His hostility, though, is part of a tough-guy act. When he deigns to argue, as opposed to shouting insults like a psychotic hobo, he always does so with maximum smugness and condescension, accusing those who approve of life of being ‘too insanely stupid’ to understand the brilliant and self-evident revelations from the saintly and wise Inmendham.

“But really Gary’s possibly the world’s biggest pussy. I mean, here’s a guy who honestly believes that because no one should have to suck it up even for two minutes, all life ought to go extinct. Did the little girl drop her lollipop? That alone proves that the world’s unfair and rigged against us in the end, which means for Gary that it’s wrong to accept life under such conditions. Thus, Gary’s living proof that radical left-wingers can be just as insane and belligerent as the far-right fringe.”

Monday, May 21, 2018

CNN Lobbied Oxford Dictionary to Add the Word “Russianoligarch”

Dateline: ATLANTA—CNN has lobbied Oxford Dictionary to add “Russianoligarch” to the English language.

Many viewers of cable news are perplexed that CNN’s analysts and commentators seem incapable of applying the word “oligarch” to any wealthy and influential non-Russian, but insist on speaking as though oligarchs are by definition Russian.

But now CNN has gone a step further in seeking to formalize its misunderstanding by adjusting the Oxford Dictionary to reflect its questionable usage.

According to political pseudoscientist Julio Cabrera, “It could be that CNN is reflexively anti-Russian or pro-American, since by implication, the CNN pundits are united in pretending that the United States isn’t a plutocracy even though America has by far the most billionaires in the world, and the American ones dwarf the wealthiest Russians.”

An alternative explanation is that “CNN’s journalists are lazy and fall into the habit of resorting to memes to avoid having to think much before they speak.”

In the same manner, said Mr. Cabrera, CNN will “chant the clichés” of a “grilling” on Capitol Hill, a “bombshell” report, or a “dumpster fire” or “firestorm” of a problem.

“When you come down to it,” said Christian Science Monitor reporter Lilly Grindstone, “it’s just bad writing. You’re not supposed to speak or write in clichés and memes. George Orwell pointed out decades ago that when you rely on prepackaged phrases, you stop thinking, which leaves you vulnerable to towing some company line.”

Historians agree that Russia did convert to an oligarchy or a kleptocracy soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, because Russia under former-President Boris Yeltsin leaped in the opposite direction towards crony capitalism, privatizing Russian assets and allowing Russian millionaires to buy up most of the Russian Federation at bargain prices.

But Russia isn’t the only country that’s arguably controlled by a powerful minority—and that’s all the word “oligarchy” means: rule by a few. Indeed, said Mr. Cabrera, “besides the egalitarian Scandinavian democracies, most countries are oligarchies: directly or indirectly, from monarchies to democratic republics, the wealthiest one percent of the population tends to have a disproportionate share of political power.”

A spokesperson for the Oxford Dictionary dismissed CNN’s lobbying efforts as futile. “The dictionary reflects the language’s natural evolution, not some arrogant, misbegotten scheme to dictate how the world should be, from some privileged position. Indeed, CNN seems to have learned such maneuvers from the American oligarchs who control the legislative output of that country’s ‘democracy’ from K Street.” 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Dark Naturalism and Sartrean Freedom

On the basis of his once popular lecture and short book, “Existentialism as a Humanism,” in which he attempted to define “existentialism” as the thesis that our existence precedes our essence, Sartre has been effectively related to Heidegger as A.J. Ayer was to Carnap. Heidegger and Carnap wrote dry, highly technical works in laying out forms of existentialism and logical empiricism, respectively, while Sartre and Ayer popularized the movements by bringing them down to earth with some simpler, introductory texts. But Sartre also wrote Being and Nothingness, a tome that’s as systematic, monumental, and difficult as Heidegger’s Being and Time, so that analogy is imperfect at best.

In any case, I want to consider here where Sartre’s early philosophy stands in relation to cosmicism (dark, unpleasant naturalism), to science-based, philosophical horror. Can and should some of Sartre’s insights be naturalized for the sake of adding to an unflinching philosophy of natural life?

Some Elements of Being and Nothingness

Sartre derives his early ontology, psychology, and ethics from Husserl’s principle that intentionality is central to consciousness. Intentionality is being meaningfully directed towards something else, as in a thought’s being about a chair. Sartre uses the phenomenological method of building his analysis on how things intuitively seem in ordinary experience, but he proceeds from that starting point of intentionality to some very different conclusions than Heidegger’s. Heidegger’s ontotheology of Being relieves the weary, alienated existentialist who yearns for a deeper sense of belonging than what’s available in the “fallen,” instrumental world of our pet projects. As in Gnosticism, Heidegger’s version of transcendent Being, the metaphysical ground of all particular beings gallops in to rescue us from the automatism of materialistic culture, awarding the authentic individual a heroic portion of angst as he or she realizes our true, temporal nature, which should put death at the forefront of our thoughts. The authentic individual is alienated from the illusions of the fallen world which mask our tragic nature, from the conventional world in which we identify with our social roles. But once she grasps the truth that she can identify with Being, with the fundamental whatness of things that distinguishes them from nothingness, her human suffering is dignified by her understanding that its part of a nobler story than the kitsch and propaganda of the Machiavellian, materialistic culture.

By contrast, Sartre’s philosophy is antifoundational: for Sartre, life is absurd and tragic and there’s no hope for salvation. If consciousness is always directed away from itself towards something else, the attempt to consciously know the self is futile, since each conscious state is necessarily about something else. Whereas unconscious things are solid and self-identical, complete and candid, as it were, in revealing themselves, consciousness is translucent, relational, and shifty. The ontological mode of mindless objects like chairs or rocks is that they’re “in-itself,” meaning that they are just what they would appear to be if a conscious observer of them weren’t bound by a partial perspective and could take their entirety in at a glance; even if things which exist in themselves have a hidden dimension, such as at the chemical or quantum levels, they nevertheless exist as what you find at those levels. A conscious being, however, has no such plain, stable nature, but is condemned to search desperately to find itself by creating itself in various life projects. The self, then, lives for itself, since there’s nothing in the self by way of a given nature. Indeed, whereas Heidegger identifies perfected human nature with Being, Sartre says we’re essentially nothing. Hence, the title of his major book: Being and Nothingness.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mueller passes Ongoing Investigation to Granddaughter, years after Trump finished Second Term

Dateline: D.C., Year 2031—Special Counsel Robert Mueller passed away on March 10, 2031, but shortly before he died he handed to his granddaughter the ongoing investigation into former President Trump’s 2016 campaign and financial connections with Russia. At a press conference she vowed to continue the investigation until her death and to carry on her grandfather’s policy of not telling anyone what the investigation has uncovered.

For his part, Donald Trump was reelected in 2020 and served the full eight years as president, leaving much of the United States in ruins.

After the Second American Civil War led to the destruction of FBI headquarters shortly after Mr. Trump’s reelection, Mr. Mueller carried on the investigation from his home’s barricaded garage.

In 2020, roughly 204 million Americans signed a petition demanding that Mr. Mueller “hurry the fuck up” with his investigation, but the special council refused to “speed up his legal process.”

The fact that Mr. Mueller persisted with the investigation even after Donald Trump completed his second term and then after the former president died in 2028 led surviving legal experts, political pseudoscientists, and media personalities to speculate as to what the unseemly cause might be of Mr. Mueller’s absurd obsession with secrecy.

“I can understand if an ultra-meticulous lawyer wants to build the perfect case,” said law professor Raymond Legalese. “And if you’re going up against the president, you’ve obviously got to ensure your case satisfies the most rigorous legal standard.

“But there was never any realistic expectation that the legal case against Trump mattered more than the political one. The Republican-led Senate was never going to convict President Trump even were he to have been impeached, and Donald Trump had millions of dollars to spend on delaying any subsequent criminal or civil cases against him, until his death would have made such cases moot. Therefore, all that ever mattered was the court of public opinion, which the shameless demagogue Trump managed far better than the conscientious Democrats ever could.”

The mystery, then, was why under those circumstances Mr. Mueller would not only carry on and take so seriously an impractical investigation, but keep his findings secret long past the point when the investigation had lost even its theoretical significance. Why did Mr. Mueller pass the investigation to his granddaughter who has likewise sworn to keep the findings secret?

According to Mr. Legalese, “the answer can be found in an old book by John Ralston Saul, called Voltaire’s Bastards. Saul argued that in a modern, rationalist, neoliberal society, everyone’s importance depends on his or her place within the system, because the system and its often inhuman rules come to matter more than the citizens who are ruled by them.

“Saul wrote, ‘The measurement of our power is based upon the knowledge which either passes through our position or is produced by it,’ and so ‘the individual can most easily exercise power by retaining the knowledge which is in his hands. Thus, he blocks the flow of paper or of information or of instructions through his intersection to the next’ in the social system.

“Saul concludes that ‘the encouragement of such retention has become a religion of constipation’ in the puritanical West.

“This is the heart of the matter. Mr. Mueller appeared to have suffered from a severe case of spiritual constipation. He kept the investigation going and he kept it secret because he felt that doing so gave him power.

“Even when that power was lost, after the investigation’s legal and political window of opportunity was closed when Mr. Trump served his full two terms, having dragged the country into civil war and wholly discredited the American political and legal systems, Robert Mueller pursued the investigation because he couldn’t let it go; he was constipated.”   

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Incels and the Call for Omega Enlightenment

On April 23, 2018, 25-year old Alek Minassian attacked bystanders by hitting them with a rented van, killing 10 and injuring 16. The attack happened in northern Toronto, ten minutes from where I live. Minassian was apprehended and a bystander recorded his showdown with the police. Perhaps because of Canada’s strict gun laws, Minassian was reduced to attempting to provoke the policeman into shooting him, by pointing his cellphone at him as though it were a gun, because apparently Minassian had no gun.

As to the attack’s motive, the general suspicion is that Minassian identifies as a militant incel, an involuntary celibate who sought revenge against the sexually active for having humiliated him by rejecting him. Shortly before the attack, Minassian posted this message on Facebook: “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161. The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!” Minassian had enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces, but dropped out after 16 days of training. “Chads and Stacys” is incel code for popular, physically attractive and altogether successful, sexually active men and women. Elliot Rodger is a 22-year old incel who in 2014 killed 6 and injured 14 fellow students in Isla Vista, California, by shooting them and hitting them with his car. In the middle of the attack, he uploaded a video to YouTube called “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution,” in which he explained that he wanted to punish women for rejecting him, and punish men for making him envy them. He also uploaded his manifesto, which reads more like an autobiography. After the attack, he killed himself.

The Cult of Involuntary Celibacy

Incel cultists describe themselves as going their own way and as having downed “the black pill,” which alludes to The Matrix movie but more specifically to the “red pill” of pickup culture. That culture combs through evolutionary psychology for techniques to exploit women’s biological weaknesses, effectively hoping to con them into having sex with them. But when the techniques fail and the would-be seducer is revealed as “having no game,” he may opt to swallow the black pill, as it were, meaning that he exchanges evolutionary psychology for a more pessimistic worldview. Wikipedia notes that “A 2001 Georgia State University study found that people who self-identified as incels tended to feel frustrated, depressed, and angry regardless of why they felt they were involuntarily celibate. These researchers found that involuntary celibacy was often correlated with depression, neuroticism, anxiety, and autistic disorders.”

Another researcher, Debrah Soh, argues that the militant incels who advocate or fantasize about raping or murdering sexually-satisfied people suffer from more than just toxic masculinity, the latter being a set of repressed masculine traits that eventually explode in disastrous ways, as in Fight Club. Instead, she writes, “these crimes are instances of antisociality manifesting as hatred toward women.” In other words, Rodger, Minassian, and the worst of the goons on 4Chan or incel discussion boards are sociopaths who happen to be involuntarily celibate. The key point is that “Even if those in the incel community were sexually active, they would still harbour resentment toward women.” Moreover, ‘Most men do not behave like this, including men who are sexually frustrated. Those blaming “toxic masculinity” and “rape culture” are missing the mark—this isn’t an issue about gender and it shouldn’t be made into one.’ 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Cosmicism and Heideggerian Authenticity

Academic philosophers typically regard existential philosophy as an outdated fad. The major texts of existentialism aren’t rigorous enough, according to analytic philosophical standards. In turn, though, continental philosophers and nonphilosophers (nearly all educated persons outside the academy who know something about philosophy) think that analytic philosophy departments and journals are redundant since they’re quasiscientific institutions and add little to actual science, and that the science-centered or naturalistic “philosophers” ignore the real, perennial philosophical issues. These issues have to do with the meaning—as opposed to the empirical truth—of being alive as a person, and as such they touch on the stuff of daily experience which isn’t dictated by reason. The experience of freedom, creativity, purpose, morality, power, anxiety, alienation, and absurdity require intuition and faith to help make sense of them, and those two nonrational elements of cognition, in turn, are welcomed by the arts, not so much by logic, analysis, or experimentation. Existential philosophy ventures more into artistic, literary territory than analytic philosophers are comfortable with and even than some of the great existentialists (such as Heidegger) would be willing to admit. Others, such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre recognized the need for literary provocations to address the deep nonrational problems of human experience.

Still, to what extent can existential ideas be naturalized, that is, applied to a naturalistic worldview that begins not with a neo-Cartesian, phenomenological interpretation of conscious experience, but with the physical world that science explains? Can some bridges be built between existentialism and naturalistic philosophy? This is the first in a series of articles on where some major existential concepts fit into the cosmicist upshot of a science-friendly worldview. By “cosmicism,” I mean not just H.P. Lovecraft’s insight that science is a preeminent source of horror, but the pessimistic philosophy that follows from science’s disenchantment of the world, from its thwarting of our myths and intuitive preferences. Pessimistic philosophy from Schopenhauer to Lovecraft and beyond is, in fact, already a bridge, and to appreciate the relevance of existentialism, we need sometimes only to relax the dogmatic attachment to the phenomenological method or language that obscures the insights. This is the case with Heidegger’s concept of personal authenticity, and so here I’ll try to explain his early philosophy without relying on his jargon.

Heidegger’s Existential Ontology

One way into Heidegger’s thesis in Being and Time is his interest in defending a form of First Philosophy, a privileging of philosophy at the expense of science and naturalistic conceptions of life. Indeed, Heidegger wants to show that almost the entire of history of Western philosophy has been counterproductive in reaching for superficially-rational or objective ways of understanding things, instead of emphasizing the need for an existential foundation. This foundation, says Heidegger, is an appreciation of Being in general, the fundamental whatness of things or how things differ not from each other in their particularities, but from nothingness. Instead of appealing to empirical evidence to support his philosophy, then, Heidegger turns to the method of phenomenological analysis, which he applies not just to the structure of consciousness, but throughout metaphysics. So while Kant defined philosophy as meta-epistemology, or as the search for the transcendental conditions of knowledge, Heidegger practices philosophy as a hyper-formal version of ontology, one rooted, though, in an analysis of human life, which is what makes his philosophy existentialist.

This distinction between naturalistic and ontological methods of inquiry takes us to a fundamental divide in his analysis, between ordinary, inauthentic life and the existentially-elevated kind. The former is debased by preoccupation with the world of material objects and their utilities. Drawing from Christianity, Heidegger calls this the fallen state of human affairs, but contrary to the biblical notion of the fall from Eden, Heidegger’s point isn’t that we regress from a prior state of perfection. We tend to fall into our involvement with our personal projects, but this involvement with objects that are thus “ready-to-hand” and are treated as utensils or as things with familiar uses, is the primary human experience. Scientific descriptions of things that are “present-to-hand” or that have independent objective reality as explained from a scientific standpoint build on that primitive, intuitive experience. Heidegger’s distinction here is similar to Wilfrid Sellars’s between the manifest and the scientific images of the self in the world. The manifest image is how things seem to commonsense: we interpret things as good or bad from a self-interested, normative position, and we act on the basis of our assumption that we have meaningful beliefs and desires as we try to make sense of things and to find some happiness for ourselves. Sellars’s main point was that because the manifest image is inherently normative or value-laden, it can’t be reduced to the scientific world picture even though that latter picture is primary. Heidegger reverses the order of primacy since he rejects naturalism, and he offers a much deeper view of the commonsense experience.

Monday, April 30, 2018

God condemns Conservative Bullies for Opining on Comedy

Dateline: D.C.—Conservatives condemned Michelle Wolf’s comedic speech at the 2018 White House Press correspondents’ dinner, until God reminded them they have no sense of humour because they’re bullies.

“The hand of God descended from the sky,” said one observer. “The arm was clad in a glowing white robe, and the hand carved the Ten Commandments into the side of a mountain near Boulder, Colorado. But then the hand added an eleventh commandment. Can you believe it? An eleventh, after all this time.”

The eleventh commandment reads, “Conservatives shalt not opine on comedic matters, for their heartless soul hath no sense of humour.”

At first Americans were mystified, but comedians were quick to explain God’s message. “Comedy is for underdogs,” said comedian Tobias Laffaminute. “It’s always been that way. That’s why Jews are known for their comedy, because history has given them the perspective of underdogs and outsiders.”

By contrast, bullies aren’t funny, because they stand for the oppressive status quo that comedians are supposed to mock as an underhanded way of getting even on behalf of the downtrodden.

“It’s a little like Nietzsche’s point about slave morality,” said historian of comedy, Camilla Vanderwhatsit, “except that instead of vindicating their weakness with moral fictions, the funny representatives of losers fight back by getting the dominators to laugh at themselves.”

According to culture critic, Emilio Highfalutin, the new divine revelation explains why Ann Coulter’s comedy faces not one but two nearly insurmountable hurdles: she’s a woman and she’s a conservative bully.

“She tries to be funny,” said Mr. Highfalutin, “but while it’s possible for women to have a sense of humour, they have a much harder time of it because it isn’t as easy for them to fail in life as it is for men to do so. Only 30 percent or less of American homeless are women, for example. So women tend not to identify with losers and underdogs.”

“But more importantly, Coulter’s persona is that of a sadistic tyrant. And when the strong beat up the weak, it’s just not remotely funny. That’s why Germans are infamous for their solemnity, because they carry the baggage of Nazi tyranny, and because their hard work and efficiency make them so powerful that they have a hard time sympathizing with losers.”

The key is humility, added Mr. Highfalutin. “A comedian should be humble, not self-righteous, unless the comedian’s playing an ironic character, like Andrew Dice Clay or perhaps President Trump.”

Michelle Wolf’s speech was mostly funny and powerfully satirical, according to comedy insiders, because Wolf’s frizzy hair and off-putting voice lend her the loser’s viewpoint. Similarly, Jon Stewart has at least two strengths of the loser: Judaism and shortness. Bill Maher is half Jewish. Celebrated African-American comedians such as Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and numerous others have as much right to the underdog viewpoint as Jews, because of the legacy of slavery.

After the correspondents’ dinner, CNN’s Jake Tapper noted that token African-American conservative pundit Paris Dennard didn’t crack a smile the entire time Michelle Wolf spoke. Mr. Dennard responded by calling her speech as offensive and unfunny.

But after God pointed out that asking a conservative to assess something’s comedic merit is like asking Donald Trump for advice on how to tell the truth, Mr. Tapper apologized for having wasted the viewer’s time by allowing “a heartless and clueless conservative to pretend to know the first thing about comedy.” Whether the conservative defers to the power of the state, added Mr. Tapper, or to the amoral market logic that creates plutocrats, the conservative becomes authoritarian.

For his part, Rabbi Mazel Tov interpreted the eleventh commandment as “the Lord’s way of apologizing for his evident lack of humour.” Life generally is absurd enough, he said, but “the dreariness of most of the Bible indicates that God may not get the joke.”

Friday, April 27, 2018

CNN replaces Serious Commentary on Trump’s Presidency, with Constant Laughter

Dateline: ATLANTA—CNN has dramatically altered its strategy in covering the Donald Trump White House, having first milked Mr. Trump’s scandals for ratings in the 2016 campaign and then attempted to provide serious, fact-based analysis of the first two years of his presidency.

“We realized that we were the true traitors,” said Toby Cynic, the CEO of CNN. “It’s a little embarrassing to admit that as a news organization we haven’t had the moral high ground for decades, since we’re very critical of Trump and he calls us ‘fake news.’”

Mr. Cynic now admits that CNN helped to elect Donald Trump, by shutting Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton out of most of its news cycle. “Trump took up all the oxygen and we couldn’t help but give him most of our airtime because we’re a business and we have to make money. We supplied what people demanded.”

Realizing that the American free press has a constitutional duty not to defer to market logic, but to educate the citizenry to prevent the American democracy from falling to pieces, Mr. Cynic made sure to hold Donald Trump accountable, once he was elected.

“Ever since he was elected, we left no stone unturned when it came to raising fair criticisms of this presidency. We offered fair, fact-based coverage of the reality of what Mr. Trump has done in office.”

But critics pointed out that CNN’s dedication to providing sober, reality-based commentary has had the unintended consequence of normalizing Mr. Trump’s bizarre, chaotic regime.

Granted, Don Lemon routinely stressed on his nightly CNN news program that it would be wrong consider Donald Trump a normal president. Mr. Lemon castigated his guests for pretending that Mr. Trump has been functioning well in high office, as though Mr. Trump’s scandals were in the same league even as George W. Bush’s.

“The problem,” said Mr. Cynic, “is that calling Trump abnormal—or even psychotic and authoritarian—doesn’t matter if you’re pointing that out in a professional CNN broadcast. By sitting around with a dozen pundits, soberly picking this president apart, you can’t help but leave the impression that despite all those criticisms, Mr. Trump must be the new normal, because you’re still generally treating him the way you treated all the other presidents. You’re still just sitting around a table and talking seriously about the daily news. After all, the medium is the message.”

Two years into Mr. Trump’s presidency, Mr. Cynic took CNN in a radically different direction by barring his employees from engaging in serious analysis of the news from the White House. CNN’s reports are now issued only by the news ticker at the bottom of the screen, the essential facts of which are read aloud by a synthesized voice. The sole job of CNN’s human anchors, reporters, and analysts is to laugh a lot in response to those reports.

“We switched from comparing our savvy zingers, to comparing each other’s fits of laughter,” said Mr. Cynic. “For example, after Trump ranted for thirty minutes on Fox and Friends, the robotic voice we programmed at CNN read the bare-bone facts of that news report at the top of the hour, which took a minute or so. Then the news anchor and his or her guests laughed hysterically for fifteen minutes straight until it was time for the next segment, and the process was repeated to cover the next bit of Trump news.”

“We take turns laughing,” said CNN news anchor John King. “I’ll laugh for a while, then one of our analysts will bust a gut laughing, and we’ll go round and round in that fashion. Sometimes we interrupt each other with a little cross-laughter, but we try to let each other’s laughter speak for itself.”

Mr. King reportedly balked at the new policy at CNN, because “he likes to hear himself speak,” according to one of his colleagues at CNN. But Mr. King saw the wisdom of the transition when he learned that CNN had been doing more harm than good by attempting to offer serious-minded commentary on the Trump White House. Much as CNN bolstered George W. Bush’s fraudulent case for the Iraq War, from 2001 to 2003, “the most trusted name in news” had been unwittingly giving credit to President Trump just by relaying the disturbing facts of what Mr. Trump is and what he’s been doing.

“It’s like reporting on a stark, raving mad person, someone who’s lost all touch with reality,” said Mr. King. “Do you just keep announcing one shocking instance of lunacy after another, saying that this person is flinging his feces out the window and now he’s drawing on everyone’s shirt with a red magic marker and now he’s shouting and dancing in the streets or acting as though he were Napoleon Bonaparte? At some point, it’s no longer news and you’re just wallowing in something tragic or ghoulishly preying on the viewers’ weaknesses. At some point, you’ve got to stop pretending the naked boy emperor is wearing any clothes.” 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Do We Really Want to be Free?

What is freewill, socially and historically speaking? As I explain in The Irrelevance of Scientific Determinism, many of the perennial philosophical questions about freewill are beside the point, much as the abstract, idealistic legal questions and economic models and principles are meant to be counterfactual. Lawyers-in-training and economists ponder unrealistic scenarios, devoid of real-world context, to test their understanding of certain principles. The danger is that these professionals might begin to mistake their maps for the territory, the rigor of their learning process with some scientific status of their discipline. This mistake can happen in either case when these professionals forget the normative dimension of society, and pretend to be technocratically neutral about how people should live.

Likewise, the philosophical question of whether we’re free persons or puppets of prior causes asks too much and abstracts from what would have to be the preconditions of producing a real creature with freedom. To dismiss the independent identity of something, by reducing its contribution to some prior influence is to commit the genetic fallacy and to render all distinctions erroneous. The only legitimate subject matter for this severe reductionist would be something like the Big Bang singularity or whatever else amounts to the First Cause, all subsequent objects and events being nothing but byproducts. Needless to say, the kind of independence or freedom that could violate all possible natural ancestries, that is, that could ignore its birthright, as it were, in so far as this free being is part of the natural order, would be supernatural, absolute, and thus unreal as far as anyone could tell.

So the freedom at issue must be limited to have arisen in the natural order. Instead of being sufficiently independent of nature to be capable of resisting all possible influences, to have always been able to do otherwise than would be predicted from an understanding of the total set of circumstances, a free creature must be only partially able to resist some features of its environment. This is to say the creature would be natural and real, not a ghost, an angel, or a god. The free creature would approximate those absolutes, and its autonomy would play out as a coordination of anti-natural intentions and capacities. This freedom would thus require what we call a mind and a body, a self that sees things its way as often defined against the broader flow of natural events, and an organic interior or sub-world, separated from the broader world not just by a barrier or membrane but by the anomalousness of all its internal processes, which both contribute to the creature’s limited freedom.   

Taking all this as read, this still addresses only some of freedom’s preconditions. A remaining question is how the degrees of freedom affect our anti-natural agenda, thus shaping the history of freewill. Another question is whether freedom ends up being a worthy ideal. All species have some degree of freedom, but there’s a meaningful distinction between animals and people, albeit one that explains without justifying the mass extinctions we’re perpetrating. Animals are slaves to their biological life cycle, because their minds aren’t liberated by language or by higher-order thinking. Their behaviour is almost entirely evolutionary, which means their genes keep their host’s neural control center on a short leash, as the psychologist Keith Stanovich puts it in The Robot’s Rebellion. The word “animal” thus has similar connotations to “robot”: both entail subservience in the sense of forced labour. The first robots or “robota” were peasants in the European feudal systems, and the writer Karel Čapek speculated in 1920 that mindless humanoid bodies could be produced, so that “robot” came to be applied to at least the idea of artificial labourers. The idea was to replace sentient with mechanical slaves, out of respect for moral principles. The Cartesian contention that animals are machines with no rationality or consciousness has exactly the same implications. The humanist wants to say that animals or robots should perform our labour to free the lower class of people from having to degrade themselves and to behave as though they were mere animals or robots themselves.

Again, the truth here is mixed. Many animal species do have some degree of rationality, consciousness, and freedom, and these attributes fall into a continuum. Nevertheless, our species is far removed from all the others on this planet with respect not just to our liberated mentality but to the flexibility of our phenotype which enables us to apply the virtual miracle of our godlike perspective. Perceiving the ugly truth that the natural order enslaves us all in so far as we’re animals (forced labourers serving the duopoly of genes and the environment) isn’t the same as being able to do anything about it. It’s obviously possible to be imprisoned without having the power to break out of the prison cell. Most likely, animals either don’t comprehend the absurdity of their situation or don’t care about it. Even intelligent animals such as apes, octopi, or dolphins are likely interested only in narrow applications of their mental maps. Thus, they don’t waste their life as though they were locked in a prison cell, knowing that the world treats them as robots and yet lacking the equivalent of an opposable thumb to begin to externalize their anti-natural will with technological transformations of their pristine habitat.