Monday, August 14, 2017

The Art of Narrating Ourselves into Being

In the Western religious myths, God spoke the world into being. There is no god, of course, and nature is a horrifically undead phenomenon that defies complete explanation, let alone an anthropomorphic one that downplays the world’s fundamental impersonality. No, it’s not nature in general that has a literary origin, but only the human world since that world begins with us as persons. As human animals we evolved by natural selection and by other such mechanisms, but as autonomous, encultured selves, we are indeed spoken into being—not by any extraterrestrial intelligence, but by our thoughts which comprise an inner voice that weaves itself into a grand fiction featuring characters that embody our ideals, with whom we’re free to identify to begin to salvage some meaning and dignity from the otherwise absurd flow of events in the wilderness.

We are just Characters in our Life’s Story

A self is not an immaterial thing, a ghost, and to think that what distinguishes people from animals or objects is that we have some such spiritual body is to reify and to fall victim to a cognitive illusion. A self is really a way of organizing thoughts. In so far as we identify with our bodies, we’re biological entities like the other animals, but in so far as our nature is defined by our thinking, we become morally-significant persons. What, though, is a thought? A thought is a generalization which simplifies for some purpose, which is to say a thought is a map or a model which manages the chaotic flux of experience by representing those parts of the world that interest us. The main purpose of our representations of the outer world is to predict what will happen so we can control the environment rather than be helpless to the indifferent forces and cycles and accidents of nature. We predict by generalizing across instances, inducing patterns by transducing and neurally binding sensory inputs, slotting experiences into conceptual boxes for memory recall so we can implement our plans for future projections of our identity. This allows us to respond with greater intelligence and autonomy than could those animal species that rely on preprogrammed, as opposed to learned, responses.

We also model the inner world, which is to say ourselves. Through introspection, however, we have no knowledge of our brain that organizes our experience. So although we now know of the brain’s importance to ourselves, we have difficulty personally identifying with that squishy mass. On the contrary, even the notion of the brain seems alien and revolting. Instead, in our daily life we who have a personal level of identity prefer to think of ourselves as the character that figures in the lifelong narrative we tell to ourselves. This narrative is the overall model that organizes our private data, which are the otherwise confusing signals produced by the body that we sense through introspection, proprioception, memory, and other interior channels. Roughly, our reflexes, feelings, emotions, judgments, notions, ideas, guesses, and so forth are organized by a personalizing story we tell.

The story is what the philosopher Marya Schachtman calls a form of diachronic unity, meaning that like a sonata or a song, a story is a holistic structure that provides meaning to the sequential parts of which it’s made. A fragment of a song is meaningless without the temporal structure, which is the plan for the song that stretches across time, including the introduction, the verses, chorus, bridge and the end. That structure is defined partly by the genre and indeed by the lyrics which likewise tell a story, giving the song a personality. In the same way, from the raw bits of experience we assemble a narrative that connects our memories with our hopes and intentions, to form a satisfying, meaningful whole. The whole of that story amounts to our personal (as opposed to our biological) identity. A self is something like an entire movie or play with defined characters who take the stage at different times depending on which part of the story is presently being “read” or called for, by the rest of the world. Thus, we may occupy different perspectives or personas, according not just to what’s happening in the outer world, but to how we make sense of the environment with our inner narrative. The narrative assigns roles to enable us to socialize, to retain our dignity under trying circumstances, or to perform other functions.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Horror or Snark? The Millennial’s Dilemma

Millennials, the young adults born in a developed country between the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, are frequently scolded for acting like perpetual adolescents, for failing to face up to their adult responsibilities, for being overprotected by their parents who themselves—like everyone else—understand less and less how to prosper in the postindustrial world. There are various factors that could account for that generation’s failure. The high-speed internet and the ubiquity of smart phones, along with the loss of manufacturing jobs in developed countries after globalization have created so-called gig economies. The increasing reliance on industrial automation and the collapse of the American liberal class (as explained well by Chris Hedges and Thomas Frank) have disenfranchised most Americans, as the majority of the economic gains since the 1980s has gone to the richest one percent. The children of the internet age have thus been left to hustle for diminished economic opportunities: their jobs are often in the service sector, they’re typically short-term or unsteady and they don’t pay the bills, and so Millennials are often still financially dependent on their parents.

Moreover, as the art of selling products has become nearly a science for large corporations, all enthusiastic consumers have been infantilized to some extent, including Millennials. We watch television or play on our smart phones more than we read books and so our attention span has shortened, and instead of instilling in its younger users a universal perspective so that they think of themselves as part of a global collective, the internet has created echo chambers that foster self-absorption. Finally, dating apps and other dehumanizing areas of online culture have arguably made Millennials antisocial in that these young adults prefer to communicate on chat forums or on Facebook and Twitter or with emojis rather than to converse in person. To take an extreme example, Japan’s Millennials are often wholly uninterested in sex or dating, a problem known as “celibacy syndrome.”

Suppose there are these structural reasons why those who are currently in their twenties or thirties have gotten stuck in an adolescent phase of emotional and cognitive development. Suppose that technologies and economic forces have created a social environment that prevents the younger generation—one that’s still mentally flexible—from settling into a stable work or family life, into a routine that promotes virtues traditionally associated with mature adulthood. Are Millennials condemned, then, to be a deadweight generation, an albatross around the neck of humanity?

Consider that if Millennials are locked into an adolescent mentality, they’ll stand apart from society. They’ll be outsiders or even outcasts, just as modern teens have usually occupied a twilight period between childhood and mature adulthood, between phases driven mostly by play and work, respectively. Teens are no longer the center of attention as they were when they were adorable babies, but they lack the authority and responsibility of adults. Yet teens have the intellectual capacity to understand their forlornness, which makes them infamous for their angst. Teens often lash out in frustration or from boredom, revolting against the world that doesn’t live up to their ideals. They can afford to do this because they’re not yet part of the wider world: they’re social outsiders who are compelled to look at society objectively, albeit often with a lack of sufficient information, because they’re not yet committed to a daily grind outside the ivory tower. Teens have the spare time to philosophize, but are typically unable to apply their insights because they’re powerless and so they stage futile, mini rebellions. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Liberals accused of Insensitivity for mocking Mentally-Disordered President Trump

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C.—Martha Mollycoddle, the mother of a man diagnosed as a psychopath and currently undergoing treatment in a hospital for the criminally insane, has begun a campaign to shame liberals and Democrats for mocking President Trump as a result of his similar mental disorder.

“For all his chaos and irrationality and amorality, the real shame isn’t Trump,” she said. “It’s the Democrats who pretend to be warriors for social justice, who rail against cyber bullies and cut a man’s testicles off if he brushes up against a woman in the workplace. But then as soon as they think they’re free and clear to attack a severely mentally ill individual, they burry him beneath a thousand avalanches of insults and put-downs, and bitter cartoons and parodies at his expense.

“And all merely because Trump is destroying the country!

“Well, if a fellow in a wheelchair had the power to crush all Americans beneath his wheels, would the proper course be not to take away his wheelchair, but just to stand there and ridicule his handicap until the end of time?

“It’s the same with Trump: taking away his presidency would be one thing—but just to make fun of his hair and his face and his voice and his idiocy and his narcissism and his hypocrisy and his mendacity and his vulgarity and his ignorance and his racism and his sexism and his corruption and his treachery? That would amount to spitting on Franklin Roosevelt because he sometimes needed to move around in a wheelchair.

Donald Trump, she pointed out, “is ridiculed on the talk shows and the cable news channels and in newspapers and blogs and wherever else liberals congregate, day after day and hour after hour. They’re taunting a man for his antisocial personality disorders, for his malignant narcissism and his psychopathy. For shame!”

Mollycoddle knows firsthand the frustration and resentment of having that sort of insult added to injury. Her son was arrested for attempting to rape three women simultaneously, while he was wearing a costume to look like ET, the alien from Spielberg’s classic movie.

“My son is finally getting the medical treatment he needs,” she said, “but not before the journalists and the policemen mocked him for the strangeness of his behaviour. Two psychiatrists found that his mind doesn’t work like most people’s. So what’s the point of making fun of someone for something he can’t help?

“Trying to hold down three women while wearing an ET costume may amuse some, but the mental illness has serious consequences and you can be sure those three women weren’t laughing. Likewise, the prospect of Donald Trump trying to run a powerful country may seem like the makings of a comedy goldmine. But what’s less classy, Trump acting like the psychopath he is? Or making a gazillion nasty and smug remarks about Trump, whose mind is evidently malfunctioning?”

Mollycoddle pointed to what she called Hillary Clinton’s “understatements” that Donald Trump’s behaviour is “unprecedented” and that he “lacks the temperament to be president.” According to Mollycoddle, Clinton had to be vague during the general campaign, without specifying the gravity of Trump’s mental imbalance, because had she “laid the cards on the table” and called him a literal and full-blown sociopath, Clinton would have “pulled the rug out from under the comedians who fuelled her campaign.”

Hillary’s Clinton’s “lazy and overly cautious strategy” was “to throw shade against Trump, not to stand on her own inspiring policy platform. But had she followed through and charged Trump with being manifestly unwell in the head, her base might have found it unseemly to mock Trump at every turn, instead of just feeling sorry for him.”

Hillary’s “bloodless, calculated, and thus ineffectual rhetoric” notwithstanding, President Trump’s psychopathy is evident to many professionals, including Brandy Lee, who leads a coalition of 800 medical professionals that seeks to warn the public about the danger of Trump’s medical condition, and John Gartner who wrote a petition saying Trump should be removed from office, as required by the 25th amendment to the Constitution. Trump has slightly more psychopathic traits than Adolph Hitler, according to an Oxford study by Kevin Dutton.

The danger is so significant that some of these professionals voiced their concerns despite the so-called Goldwater rule of the American Psychiatry Association, which says that psychiatrists shouldn’t speak out against a public figure unless they’ve personally examined that person.  

“The rule is bogus,” said Mollycoddle, “and is only meant to protect psychiatrists from lawsuits for slander. In Trump’s case, there’s no reasonable dispute about whether he’s mentally healthy or ill. You don’t need a fancy degree to know he’s deranged, just like you don’t need to be a mathematician to know that two and two are four. Just read through the characteristics of a psychopath, derived from Hare’s checklist, and see for yourself if they apply to Trump. It’s all there in black and white.”

Mollycoddle has protested outside the offices of comedians Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers, and Bill Maher, and has published articles against their “bullying humour.” “Mocking Trump,” she wrote, “is as disgraceful as laughing at a disabled person who collapses after dropping her crutches. Despite their presumed moral high ground and conceit of being masters of political correctness, liberals are highly insensitive to the grievous nature of psychopathy.”

Moreover, she contended, “Republicans should be praised for their optimism,” since “they’ve given a flagrant psychopath the chance to hold the highest office in the land. Instead of tearing down Trump with mockery and derision, they lift him up with a can-do attitude and with an onslaught of gaslighting and spin to keep Trump from learning the unsettling truth about his mental condition, which would only prevent Trump from making-believe he can do anything.

“Do you tell the child diagnosed with terminal cancer that he shouldn’t dress up like Spiderman and pretend to solve crimes, if that’s what his heart desires? No, you indulge that fantasy in such a terminal case. Likewise, if there’s no cure for someone like Trump, who’s had the luxury to indulge his antisocial personality disorders for many decades, the least we can do is humour his last hurrah—even if it destroys the country. That’s just the price of political correctness.” 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

God praised for outfitting Donald Trump with Self-Destruct Button

Dateline: LOS ANGELES—Thousands of Americans, who resist Donald Trump’s presidency on the grounds that he is literally a psychopath, have formed a religious group calling for praise of God for supplying the psychopath Donald Trump with a self-destruct button.

The group is called Small Mercies and was founded in Los Angeles, by Joey Garbanzo. Members of the group call themselves The Thankful, thus fulfilling the phrase, being “thankful for small mercies.”  

According to Garbanzo, “President Trump’s grotesque antics were on full display while he was campaigning for the presidency and they only got worse after he took office. But viewers should be twice astonished by Trump’s lunacy, as we The Thankful are.”

First, American viewers should be “grief-stricken to learn that a country with an alleged manifest destiny could award such a psycho clown with control of the White House. Was it our God-given destiny to be mocked all over the world for the travesty of Trump’s presidency?”

The second shock, however, “should be in noticing that every time Trump acts so bizarrely, he pushes a red button on his palm that’s clearly labeled ‘Self-Destruct.’”

Reporters also noticed the red button and attempted to normalize it, comparing it to a red-button that was allegedly located on Bill Clinton’s hip, which Clinton pushed during his intimate relations with Monica Lewinski; to the red button allegedly found above Barack Obama’s left ankle, which Obama pushed while picking his neoliberal cabinet members and advisors; and to the red button allegedly hidden behind George W. Bush’s right ear, which Bush pressed every time he opened his mouth in public.

“All modern American presidents have self-destruct buttons attached to their persons,” said one news anchor. “There’s nothing untoward about that.”

But Trump’s red button is located on his right palm, which is, of course, readily seen by viewers and which is a frequently-used part of the body. This has led The Thankful to theorize that Trump is compelled to push his self-destruct button more often than past presidents pushed theirs. The more frantically the button is pushed, the greater the psychopathy that must be crying out for escape.

Chief psychologist of Small Mercies, Laura Littlebitty, explains that psychopaths are “evil robots cleverly disguised as people,” and as such, each is outfitted with a self-destruct button. “I mean, would you want to be an evil robot, getting into all sorts of waywardness and utterly unable to learn from your mistakes or to fit into normal society and be happy? No, of course not, and neither would the psycho robot.”

The psychopath therefore invariably sabotages his “sham of a life,” to escape “his private hell built on glibness, high intelligence, inability to learn from experience, pathological self-centeredness, incapacity to love, callousness, shamelessness, impulsivity, recklessness, grandiose sense of self-worth, manipulation, juvenile delinquency, and pathological lying.”   
The “small mercy” of President Trump’s “big, honking red self-destruct button right there on his palm where he can’t avoid pushing it is that the existence of this button is perhaps the greatest proof that God loves us after all,” said Garbanzo.

“Yes, God cursed us with the psychopaths in the first place. But the Creator was evidently careful to install a self-destruct button on each and every otherwise-unbearable monster he sent our way. That’s why as loathsome as a psychopath like Donald Trump is, we’re blessed with the saving grace of getting to watch him flame out like the Hindenburg.

“It might look merely like Trump is doing this to himself, because he knows he’s in way over his head, he can’t stand being so abominable, and he’s unconsciously looking to get caught for his atrocious sins, like the serial killer who keeps writing the cops letters bearing cryptic clues to his whereabouts. However, we The Thankful see the hand of Providence in the fact that Trump can’t help but spoil his inhuman schemes, by being the way-over-the-top psycho that he is.”

Critics question why Trump’s presidency hasn’t yet ended in ignominious failure if Trump has been so repeatedly trying to destroy himself.

“Sure, it’s obvious Trump has a flaming-red self-destruct button attached to his hand,” said one Trump supporter. “And sure, he couldn’t help but push that button over and over again, just by going about his daily activities. But what if the wiring were cut or the mechanism were otherwise disabled? In that case, Trump could keep acting like the monster we on the alt right want him to be, and nothing could stop him.”

Others blame the mass media for inadvertently propping up the dead weight of Trump’s presidency, by showering him with the kind of titillating news coverage that only adds to his infamy, making him an exception to ordinary rules of conduct. In return, Trump supplies the infotainment industry with an enormous ratings boost.

Small Mercies maintains that there’s a mathematical relationship between the number of button-pushes needed to bring down the monstrosity in question, and the scale of that psychopathy. “The more hideous the psychopathy, that is, the older and more settled in his grievous outlook is the psychopath, the more times he must tap his self-destruct button for that outlet for his despair to have any effect.”