Saturday, July 14, 2018

Theologian John Haught on Nature’s “Story”

In The New Cosmic Story, theologian John Haught argues that Big History, the genre of history that purports to tell the story of the whole universe, has been flawed because it’s left out the inside story, an account of what exists and of how things seem subjectively, “from the inside.” Instead, driven by scientific reductionism which Haught calls “archaeonomy,” these historians include only physical events in their stories, as seen “from the outside”: the Big Bang led to galaxy formation which led to the formation of planets, and so on. Big History includes the evolution of life, but mainly from an objective standpoint. What isn’t taken seriously in this history is the development of subjectivity that culminates in religious awakenings such as the one that Karl Jaspers dubbed the Axial Age. Judging from standard cosmology, for example, the universe doesn’t contain any such thing as qualia or the property of interior life. At best, consciousness, subjectivity, and what Haught calls the dawning of the sense of “rightness” are explained away as illusions. According to the sense of rightness, of what should be but perhaps isn’t, the universe is incomplete since it fails to live up to our ideals. Science-centered grand history treats unfinished nature as though it were complete, whereas nature includes the subjective capacities to discern that nature isn’t entirely right, in which case materialistic history must likewise be deficient.

Indeed, the notion of “Big History” seems oxymoronic, since a science-centered (value-neutral and reductionistic) account of everything would be something like an explanation in the field of cosmology or physics, not a story. Properly speaking, history pertains only to people, which raises the question whether a “history of rocks” or a “history of the universe” would amount to a series of anthropomorphisms. Haught, though, speaks of the “narrative coherence” of events throughout the universe, since the universe includes a beginning, middle, and end, and so there is indeed supposed to be a story of the universe. To speak of such a universal narrative would seem to beg the question of theism, just as speaking of the intelligent design not just of life but of stars and planets would imply a designer. Given that theism is foolish, what exactly could a nonfictional story be and what would a story of the universe look like?

Suppose a history of rocks, for example, is only a description of how rocks came to be. This description would list the sequence of events that led to the formation of various kinds of rocks. Would this description amount to a story? A mighty boring one, perhaps—and not just because geology may not widely appeal as a subject matter. An objective representation of all the events that developed some phenomenon wouldn’t be much of a story because even a nonfictional story is supposed to have a point, as in a lesson or some other meaning. The primary definition of “story” is “a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader” (my emphasis, from Dictionary.com). Stories aren’t just told by people; people are the intended audience—and this means people in the full sense, not a denuded form of us that conforms to the conceit of hyperrationality. A story’s audience consists of persons who want to be entertained or informed, on the assumption that such pastimes are worthwhile, so that the story can’t be a neutral, impersonal representation of facts that has no practical implications; in other words, a story can’t be exactly like the natural facts. Assuming that’s so, Haught’s thesis that Big History leaves out the sense of rightness is analytic: histories are stories and stories are normative, so of course Big History can’t explain away idealism and morality without nullifying itself as the special kind of description a history is supposed to be.

In any case, we can tell the story of rocks, but this would require that rocks have a purpose so that the story would at least imply a lesson. That purpose would have to be assigned to rocks by some conscious being, since rocks can’t decide what they should be or what they’re supposed to be doing. Yet the notion that rocks have a purpose means that rocks can fail or succeed at achieving it, which is absurd. Even were there such a thing as proto-rocks that evolve into rocks according to some supernatural plan for the universe, the proto-rocks couldn’t be said to fail in so far as they aren’t yet rocks; instead, the designer would have failed to devise a means of creating rocks without the benefit of intermediate stages. At best, a rock can succeed or fail when the natural object is used as a tool, in which case the rock is no longer a rock, but, for instance, a projectile.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Coca-Cola: A Rant by Rashad the Cackler

Rashad, also known as the Cackler, is an old homeless man who has wandered North America for decades and is notorious for his stream of diatribes on a wide range of subjects.

*****

Where to begin when the folly and madness are everywhere?

The other day I saw this Coke commercial. Ever notice how on TV they’re always drinking Coke out of glass bottles, never out of cheap-looking plastic ones or tin cans—which are the only ones you can find in the real world? When was the last time you saw a glass Coca Cola bottle outside of a commercial? They get those glass bottles from the 1950s with a time machine, from when doctors told kids that smoking cigarettes makes you as healthy as Hercules. Back then the saintly medical doctor advised mothers, “When you pack your kid’s lunch, don’t forget to add the box of smokes right between the apple and the ham sandwich.”

But I’d like to know why the actors that are paid to look orgasmic from drinking sugar water on TV aren’t as celebrated as those that win Academy awards for their movies. Which kind of acting takes more skill, acting ordinary in an Oscar-bait drama or gaslighting the audience into normalizing corporate weirdness?

Coca-Cola is weird as fuck. The soft drink is chemically engineered to fuck us over. It’s “soft” because it’s not as hard as alcohol. Alcohol is hard and sugar is soft, I guess, because alcohol puts you to sleep when you drink too much, so you smack your face on the floor, but sugar makes your ass or belly soft and flabby.

The Coke Company, though, has an army of predatory engineers that look over every aspect of their product, and all they’re asking is whether their witch’s brew is sufficiently diabolical. Besides sugar, Coke is filled with sweeteners like Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Neotame, and other wicked unnatural shit they extracted from the remnants of a comet that visited us from another galaxy. Why add just one sweetener when you can whip up fifty?

In the ads, Coke is served in glass bottles to make the drink look as precious as wine—even though Coke is shit-hued brown; their slogan, “Coke is it” does us the service of reminding us subliminally that Coke is shit. Coke is made from toxic garbage and like the dump you take that wreaks the bathroom for hours, even the Coke ads steer clear of their product.

If Coke is it, what exactly is it? It is anything you want it to be. That’s why the ads sell everything under the sun except the sugar water. Coca Cola itself is just shit, but we’re encouraged to imagine that shit can be happiness or helping your neighbour or peace on Earth. But they never sell the drink itself. How could they? The drink is essentially shit.

Forget smearing lipstick on a pig. What if the Coke salesman had to be honest about what he’s selling us? There’s a knock at your door and 1949’s Willy Loman is standing on your doorstep. He’s stuffed a steaming turd into a glistening glass bottle. He tells you to guzzle the stinking, wretched filth because it’s not shit, after all. The turd is only it—not shit, but Joy and Friendship and Progress and God Almighty. Worship Coke because Coke is everywhere and it’s shit, and shit is what we deserve because God is dead and we killed him.

How did we get addicted to shit? If our brain’s pleasure center can be so easily exploited, how can any of our judgments be trusted? Is it possible we could be wrong about practically everything?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Nietzsche: Godless Prophet

Nietzsche was atheism’s prophet. Other skeptics and atheists before him were subversive, but perhaps none with such power and devotion to telling unpleasant truths. David Hume dismantled the empirical case for theism and revealed the nonrational, pragmatic basis of science, but Hume stood more for the method of skepticism than for the conclusion of atheism. He also avoided questions about the unsettling implications of naturalism, by appealing to a mechanistic theory of morality, which reduced questions of what we should do, to a crude model of how moral “sentiments” or feelings work. The Marquis de Sade was a vigorous and scandalous proponent of atheism, and was more subversive than Nietzsche, opting for a satirical mode of writing to illustrate the horrific liberty that atheism entails—what Dostoevsky called the freedom in which everything is permitted. However, de Sade’s ethical egoism and proto-social Darwinism are fallacious and as crude as Hume’s mechanistic model of the mind. Thus, while his writings are superficially more shocking than Nietzsche’s, they’re also more easily dismissed. The pessimist Schopenhauer drew out some dark consequences of naturalistic atheism, but his writings seem to imply Eastern-inspired pantheism: he says nature has an evil or inhumane will which we should resist by ascetically withdrawing from natural functions, and if by “will” he meant only “energy,” he’d lose the moral force of his pessimism since energy would be amoral.

Nietzsche’s Authentic Atheism

By contrast, Nietzsche dramatized the horror of atheism while forcing the reader to grapple with the meaning of God’s nonexistence. He does this most famously in a passage of Thus Spoke Zarathustra in which Nietzsche tells a parable about an insane atheist trying to convince fellow atheists that God’s absence has dire consequences:
The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. ‘Where is God gone?’ he called out. ‘I mean to tell you! We have killed him, you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction?—for even Gods putrefy! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife—who will wipe away the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves? What lustrums, what sacred games shall we have to devise? Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shall we not ourselves have to become Gods, merely to seem worthy of it? There never was a greater event—and on account of it, all who are born after us belong to a higher history than any history hitherto!’—Here the madman was silent and looked again at his hearers; they also were silent and looked at him in surprise. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, so that it broke in pieces and was extinguished. ‘I come too early,’ he then said, ‘I am not yet at the right time. This prodigious event is still on its way, and is travelling—it has not yet reached men’s ears. Lightning and thunder need time, the light of the stars needs time, deeds need time, even after they are done, to be seen and heard. This deed is as yet further from them than the furthest star—and yet they have done it!
Never has the meaning of atheism been rendered as vividly and as starkly as in those lines. Nietzsche wrote in an oracular and often prophetic style, because he must have felt some kinship with the biblical prophets who stood apart from their society to condemn its follies, since they devoted themselves to what they regarded as the terrible truth of living within sight of an angry and jealous God. As to those messages of the Jewish prophets and of the Christian messiah, Nietzsche denounced them in turn for being insufficiently truthful. Judaism was slightly more naturalistic than Christianity in treating monotheism as an excuse for the brutality wrought by earthly kingdoms. But polytheism is the more naked rationalization and thus the more naturalistic religious fiction. Monotheism makes divinity transcendent, immaterial, and thus unnatural, which cleared the path for Christianity’s otherworldly slave morality. In the real world, as opposed to the imagination of the weak-willed and resentful masses, divinity is found only in the creativity of the most powerful human persons. Divinity is thus mere nobility. But because nature is amoral, it includes the capacities for treachery and dishonour, not just for the inclination to worship human rulers and great artists. Thus, in Christianity, “omega” and “beta” mindsets have their revenge against the “alphas,” but by the unheroic method that’s the formers’ only recourse. Instead of defeating natural winners at their game, demonstrating their courage in the face of reality, Christians bewitch winners into exchanging natural virtues with those of the natural loser, and into imagining a fanciful utopia in which losers are explicitly rewarded while winners are punished for eternity.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Morality and the Enlightened Psychopath

Does philosophical enlightenment make us moral? Does knowing the deepest truth require that we have an ethical character, or does that knowledge foster empathy, compassion, a sense of moral duty? Can a depraved person, instead, perfectly understand the nature of reality?

Plato famously maintained that goodness, truth, justice, and beauty are aspects of the same thing so that they go together, but that’s because his worldview was anthropocentric: he projected human ideals onto what he claimed was an eternal, abstract reality underlying the multitude of material “copies” in ever-changing nature. Plato reified human consciousness, arguing, in effect, that because our ideals unify our inner, mental world, these ideals must be central to beings in general. In the West, this was the paradigmatic philosophical rendition of the religious conceit that because we clever creatures presently rule the earth, the universe must be run by comparable divine beings. The human-centered outlook passed for wisdom for many thousands of years, but is no longer respectable in civilized societies. This is why theism or New Thought sentimentality has to be propped up by right-wing bullying or decline in educational standards, or by liberal democratic sanctification of personal liberties in private spaces or politically correct deference to feminine intuitions. Late-modern enlightenment has nothing to do with God, which again raises the Nietzschean question whether we should expect those with the best understanding to be morally superior to the antiphilosophical masses. Indeed, Nietzsche thought that morality itself is the slave’s invention that’s meant to beguile the amoral rulers who are typically too busy and sophisticated to fall for the delusions needed to sustain egalitarianism, justice, or other such feel-good notions.

Neither Plato nor Nietzsche was entirely correct about the relation between knowledge and morality, in my view. Enlightenment for us late-modernists is the availability of a form of neutrality that foreshadows what presumably will be the standard outlook of the transhumanists who surpass us. If the apparent dearth of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe doesn’t signify that intelligent species typically destroy themselves, post-humans will have godlike knowledge and power from their technoscientific mastery. To be enlightened now, after science’s undermining of all traditional forms of anthropocentrism, is to understand that the most profound truth is bound to be horrific—not beautiful, just, or good. Moreover, those who have more than a mere philosophical hint of this cosmicist sensibility, who will scrutinize the shocking truth as they use technology to control nature at all levels, will of course be corrupted by that power. To put it that way, however, is to presuppose a moral framework, whereas the point now is that morality needn’t be ontologically fundamental. Posthumans will be in touch with ground-level reality; they will be technologically unified with nature, whereas the masses had wished to be one with a divine parent. To be fully awakened is thus to grow past the need for childish defenses or preferences for clichéd fictions, or else it’s to be pushed by capitalistic forces to embrace doom by way of conversion to a posthuman state of apparent amorality.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Researchers discover why Republicans are Evil and Democrats are Cowards

Dateline: MIT—With the election of Donald Trump as president, Republicans have chosen to wear their evil on their sleeves, although the GOP’s social Darwinism, warmongering, and shameless, hypocritical idolatry have been palpable since Ronald Reagan created a bizarre coalition of libertarians and evangelical Christians.

Meanwhile, Democrats have been soft-hearted, socialistic and relatively pacifistic since Jimmy Carter became known as a symbol of weak and ineffectual leadership after the Iran hostage crisis, the 1979 oil crisis, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and his landslide loss to Ronald Reagan.

Moreover, Democrats have been unable to dent Mr. Trump’s base of support despite the manifest evil of the entire Republican Party.

“If you can’t win with a message against evil, you’re pathetically weak,” said a political pseudoscientist, “and if you can’t even run with that obvious message against such an egregious political partyif you're afraid of the word 'evil'you’re a coward.”

This widespread sentiment, that the two major political parties in the United States represent a contest between nothing short of evil and cowardice prompted a team of researchers at MIT to investigate the source of the cultural difference.

“Normally, we’re hip-deep in computer parts and exotic math here at our lab at MIT,” said lead researcher Arthur Whatanerd. “But we thought we could use our rigorous powers of reasoning to solve this political mystery. And solve it we did.”

According to Mr. Whatanerd, the team noticed “in less than a second” that Republican politicians are almost all white men while Democrats have a sizeable number of women in their ranks.

“And there’s your answer,” said Mr. Whatanerd. “In 2017, for example, there were 105 women in Congress, which was less than 20 percent of the 535 members. Still, 78 of those women were Democrats while only 27 were Republicans, and Republicans had the numerical majorities in both the House and the Senate.

“This means that women have a significant direct impact on the Democratic Party, but not on the GOP, and that the character of Republican politicians is almost entirely that of white men.”

The researchers concluded that, on average, Republicans are evil because they’re mostly white men and men are more easily corrupted by power than are women. By contrast, Democrats are cowards because their party is run either by women or by the “beta males” who are eager to let women take charge.

“It’s not exactly that women are cowards,” Mr. Whatanerd explained. “Women can be plenty courageous if they’re put in a position of having to defend their children, for example. But femininity is bound to be perceived as feeble compared to the vainglory of the psychotic alpha males who have continued to dominate the Republican Party even long after the cultural revolutions of the 1960s.   

“So we call that ‘Mystery Solved,’” said Mr. Whatanerd. “And I didn’t even have to break out my slide ruler.”

Monday, June 11, 2018

Kierkegaard and the True Self's Alienation

Kierkegaard is the first of the full-fledged existential philosophers and perhaps also the greatest of them in that although his writings aren’t nearly as exhaustive as the later existentialists’, his claims seem the most essential to the movement. It’s not a coincidence that his philosophy took the form of a theological critique of modern Christianity. Kierkegaard set out the meaning of an authentic human life in opposition to what he called “Christendom,” to what in his case was the established Christianity of nineteenth century Copenhagen; we, though, can identify the broader culprit with the established Church in general, that is, with the grotesque religion that betrayed Jesus’ plain radicalism by allying itself with secular empires, beginning with Rome itself which had crucified Jesus. Kierkegaard was Christ-like in his taking philosophy and theology all-too seriously to leave him with a reasonable chance at earthly contentment, and so he despised the myriad phony Christians whom Jesus—the figure in the New Testament that needn’t be historical to be relevant as a symbol—called “hypocrites.”

The Existential Irrelevance of Objectivity

Hegel
But Kierkegaard found in academic philosophy and especially in Hegelianism an equivalent form of treachery against the human potential. Hegel was arguably the most systematic of early-modern philosophers, meaning not only that he assumed his particular philosophical perspective sufficed to make sense of everything that exists, but that his system was meant to subsume the human individual. Hegel does this by positing a logical process of evolution and self-discovery, culminating in self-consciousness which explicitly is supposed to reconcile all apparent conflicts and contradictions in the progress of its ways of thinking. At one crucial stage in Hegel’s analysis, in his abstract bildungsroman, Phenomenology of Spirit, the individual recognizes that no individual stands alone, that society is a precondition of individuality and so Hegel proceeds from a reflection on how a solipsistic mind attempts to interpret its world, to a consideration of what Hegel called “spirit” (Geist), by which he meant something like culture, the pattern of social conventions that’s due to the mutual recognition between subjects. The key point for Kierkegaard is that Hegel posits a progressive, purposive logic or Logos that unfolds from one necessary stage to the next throughout nature and consciousness, the ultimate end being what Hegel called the science of absolute knowing which has been interpreted either as God or as a positivistic, hyper-rational outlook that takes nothing for granted and demands rational justifications for every event, including every judgment.

Kierkegaard contends that like conventional Christianity, Hegelian philosophy utterly misses the point—of life and of philosophy. Conventional Christians and academic philosophers like Hegel are after certainty and they present their creeds or their abstract arguments as though they were comprehensive. But Christian dogmas and Hegelian dialectics are at best objectively adequate, meaning only that their concepts might conceivably work as representations of certain phenomena. That’s saying less than you might think, since with enough creativity we’re free to imagine virtually any set of concepts as sufficing to make sense of our experience. Indeed, the plethora of religions and philosophies, models and theories that have been proposed throughout history testify to that freedom. Hegel and the phony Christian insist that there’s progress in that history, that some worldviews are better than others, but if the goal is only objective truth, that progress is illusory on account of its arbitrariness. Pure objective truth would have to do only with a representation’s fitness to its object, regardless of any subjective considerations. According to the correspondence theory of truth, for example, an adequate statement somehow agrees with a state of affairs, by being meaningfully and accurately about the facts that make up that situation. If we ignore all values and purposes, the most that can be said about the objective relationship between sign and its referent is that, all things being equal (that is, in a sterile situation such as an experiment in which someone is asked to identify, say, the images presented in a picture book), the one follows causally from the other. Needless to say, this is a thin notion of truth, especially since in practice we’re free to use symbols creatively in ways that violate that causal relation, as when we think in metaphorical terms or reflect on matters independent of stimuli. Not even the pragmatic point about what symbols accomplish (as opposed to what causes their instantiation) helps much with the notion of objective truth, since we use symbols according to our interests which are subjective.

So focusing on alleged objective truth misses the point of living and of philosophizing. Scientific theories, we all believe, are as objectively true as anything can be, but what this really means is that these theories are immensely useful, which returns us to the domain of subjectivity. Beyond the natural meaning of the information contained in symbols and statements, “objective truth” is a bloodless way of talking about the role of knowledge in empowering us to manage our environment. This instrumental context is necessarily subjective, since knowledge is thus used according to a vision of some valued end point. For example, we study natural processes to control them or we apply science to make money in a capitalistic economy, by producing goods that please consumers. Kierkegaard’s point, then, is that Christendom and academic philosophy are empty and worthless if they don’t grapple with the problems of subjectivity. What matters isn’t the alleged fitness of concept and object, since concepts themselves are tools that serve evolutionary functions or other purposes. What’s all-important is the subject’s freedom (her independence from the rest of the world) which traps her in inwardness, in an endless spiral of self-reflections and in a futile search for a foundational purpose.  

Saturday, June 9, 2018

G7 Leaders remind President Trump how American Economic Imperialism works

Dateline: CHARLEVOIX, QUEBEC—President Trump’s imposing of tariffs against America’s allies, Canada, Mexico, and the EU, has put these allies in the awkward position of having to remind Mr. Trump that the international system of economic regulations was put in place by America to establish that country as the global hegemon.

Mr. Trump declared at the 2018 G7 meeting in Quebec that this economic system is unfair because it allows America’s allies to have a trade deficit with the United States, which has sent many American manufacturing jobs overseas.

In response, according to aides who witnessed a conversation between some of the G7 leaders, Prime Minister Trudeau, President Macron, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe explained to Mr. Trump that the US has lost many of these jobs because of the strength of the American dollar, which in turn is due to the fact that the dollar is the global reserve currency. The dollar is used all over the world, which increases that currency’s value, and this makes it more expensive to operate a business in the United States.

However, they went on to explain that the global role of the US dollar has been instrumental to US economic imperialism since the creation of the neoliberal world order, the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank. Since the early 1970s, when President Nixon cancelled the convertibility of US dollars into gold, most oil could be purchased only in American dollars and so other countries have had to trade in dollars to be able to buy oil.

The global use of the dollar has enabled the US to create inflation, manipulate the exchange rates, and dominate the international monetary system. Although American workers have largely been losers under the rise of this system of global finance, American bankers, the American oil and gas sector, and American buyers of foreign resources can largely credit this system with their having acquired wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, as President Macron put it. He added that this was all by design.

“You and your base of white cultists rail against what they call ‘globalists,’” said Mr. Macron to Mr.Trump, “but who is it that established the economic system of globalization? America. And which country has operated as the world’s only superpower for decades under this system? America.”

Mr. Trudeau added, “The lower middle-class whites who voted for you, Mr. Trump, think they’re entitled to benefit from globalization just because they have the same gender and skin collar as America’s billionaires. So they want to tear down the new world order, because of this order’s costs to American manufacturing. They don’t understand that social class means nothing to the new super-rich, that global finance is built on massive frauds perpetrated by psychopaths like you who care only about themselves.”

“Indeed,” chimed in Mr. Abe, “only those who are individually weak prefer to think of themselves as members of a group so they can feel strong. This is the basis of their slave morality. American economic imperialism is designed to separate the wheat from the chaff, the richest ten percent from everyone else. White identity politics is for losers. The few winners created by this system don’t care about gender, skin colour, or sexual orientation. They care only about money.

“That’s why you, Mr. Trump, prefer to work with fellow billionaires or celebrities, and it’s why you dismiss the concerns of minorities. It’s not so much because you’re racist, but because you see the minorities as losers on account of their relative poverty. Psychopaths love to dominate, and in the new world order created by the United States, they do that best with money power.”

Mr. Trudeau demonstrated the power of the American dollar by placing an American five dollar bill on top of a Canadian one and chanting the magic words, “USA! USA! USA!” This naturally caused the Canadian bill to disappear.

“You see?” Mr. Trudeau said to Mr. Trump. “That’s the power of the American dollar, which is the source of America’s global hegemony. The trade deficit you speak of is nothing compared to the inequality that’s intrinsic to the global financial system: the US supplies the world with American dollars, while the other countries supply Americans with cheap things to buy with those dollars. The dirty manufacturing jobs go to poorer countries with weak currencies, while ten percent of Americans get to live like aristocrats. That’s the sociopathic tradeoff Americans have effectively voted for over the last half century.”

According to the eye witnesses, Mr. Trump only smiled and reminded the other leaders that he already knew all of that.

“You think I don’t know I’m a psychopath? Or that I don’t understand how fellow psychopaths operate?” said Mr. Trump. “I’m out to embarrass or to destroy the American-led global economic order because doing that benefits me personally, because it’s what Vladimir Putin wants and I’m in debt up to my ears to Russian oligarchs. If I don’t do what Russia demands, I’m toast. The Russian mob will kill me and my whole family. So my new allies will be the likes of Russia, China, and North Korea, not the more ‘civilized’ countries that have bowed to the United States, like Canada, France, and Japan.”  

The world leaders proceeded to shake hands and smile creepily for the cameras.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Republicans Exploit Demonic Microphones used by Hutus in Rwandan Massacre

Dateline: NYC—A researcher has discovered that American conservative talk radio broadcasts with the same demon-possessed microphones that Hutus to demonize the Tutsis, which drove much of the Rwandan genocide in 1993.

The microphones that exacerbate the human weakness for tribalism were created by American-led satanic rituals to further the Allied psychological operations during WWII.

After the defeat of the Axis powers, America deployed the microphones against the Soviets in the Voice of America program. In addition, Hollywood infused many of its movie cameras and screens with demonic spirits, extending the tribal propaganda from radio to television and film.

In 1993, America offered to sell this technology to the Hutus, but the African ethnic group couldn’t afford the movie equipment and so they opted only for the demon-possessed microphones. Those microphones allowed them to form Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, which explicitly called on Hutus to kill every Tutsi.

In the 1980s, the Cold War radio technology was used inside the US by Evangelical Christians who formed the so-called Moral Majority movement, helping to elect Ronald Reagan by demonizing secular liberals as phony Americans.

That meme proliferated especially in rural America until Fox News and American conservative talk-radio stations managed so thoroughly to divide Americans that Republicans under President Trump came to hate Democrats more than Russians.

According to investigative journalist Marvin Muckraker, who has written a book on the technology of demonization, the intensification of American tribalism under President Obama was only partly racist.

“Republicans came to hate Obama and the Democrats—even though Obama bent over backward to please Republicans—because of the demonic propaganda. Having dark skin won’t by itself provoke hatred. You come to hate the dark-skinned individual only if you’re tricked into believing that dark skin signals evil intent. For that, you need to believe effectively that a demon lives in that person.”

This line of argument led Mr. Muckracker to uncover the history of the demon-possessed broadcasting equipment.

“This equipment works like a charm,” said Mr. Muckraker. “How else could you expect to demonize segments of society without the help of demons?”

According to Christian theologian, Willie Charlatan, the demons are invited into the broadcasting device and are then instructed by the propaganda to infest the victim population, which provides the pretext for abusing or even for eliminating the demonized group.

“It used to be called witchcraft,” said Mr. Charlatan, “but if Evangelicals can give their blessing to capitalism and to Machiavellian politicians, they can certainly learn to be comfortable working with full-fledged demons.”

Progressive talk radio struggles in the United States compared to the conservative variety, and industry insiders suspect the chief reason is that progressives lack the demonic microphones.

“We hate Republicans with the best of them,” said progressive radio host Mindy Lilyliver, “but I have no idea how to cast a spell to get a demon to live in my microphone, and the Republicans obviously aren’t going to share that technology with us. So even when Republicans are about as evil as can be, our attempts at demonizing them tend to fall short.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Karl Jaspers and the Horror of our Cognitive Limits

Karl Jaspers’ existential philosophy is similar to Sartre’s, the main differences being their starting points and styles of writing. The early Sartre presupposed a literary version of phenomenology as a way of doing metaphysics, whereas Jaspers starts from science (psychology) and Kantian philosophy. Both end up with existential conclusions about the need to persevere despite the ultimate futility of thinking or living, but Jaspers’ psychology background gave objectivity a more prominent role in his philosophy, which in turn lends even more readily to a cosmicist interpretation of Jaspers.

Jaspers’ Existential Take on Transcendent Knowledge

Karl Jaspers
Whereas ancient and medieval philosophers in the West naively engaged in metaphysical speculation, early-modern philosophers realized there’s a problem about rational skepticism: how can we rationally justify such far-flung generalizations about the nature of reality, when the Scientific Revolution demonstrated that even the ordinary empirical claims we took for granted, such as that the Earth is at the center of the universe or that stones fall faster than feathers were bogus? Skeptical scientists or “natural philosophers” debunked many dogmas, so philosophers (as distinct from scientists) were tasked with distancing their discipline from theology, that is, from the main rationalization of our intuitions.

Descartes attempted to reestablish the foundation of philosophy on the bedrock of self-consciousness, but instead of venturing down the intensely personal, existentialist path—which had to wait until Kierkegaard (although Saint Augustine’s Confessions anticipated that development)—he compromised with dogmas, resorting to the gambit of validating personal experience by appealing to dubious proofs of God’s existence. David Hume brought the problem of unchained skepticism back into the philosophical mix, showing that we can’t be sure even about something as commonsensical as our concept of causality. This prompted Kant to concede that although metaphysical generalizations are groundless, we can investigate the transcendental space, as it were, of how our minds would have to be structured to generate the human form of experience. Analogously, biologists would later theorize that although the evolution of life is largely accidental, there is what Daniel Dennett called the “design space” which natural selection “discovers” and which accounts for convergence in the evolution of certain traits across species. Physics and chemistry constrain the workable solutions of evolutionary problems, by providing the possible niches that species can exploit. For example, there may be a niche for highly intelligent species, in which case if our mammalian ancestors hadn’t evolved intelligence or self-consciousness, perhaps a reptile, bird, or mollusk might have done so and there would have been octopus high-tech cityscapes instead of human ones. There may, then, be meta-laws about the body-types that will tend to evolve, due to the niches made possible by lower-level natural regularities.

Kant thus effectively redefined foundational philosophy as an analysis of the conditions of possible experience. He argued that there are “transcendental” conditions not of body-types but of forms of experience. For example, the concepts of space and of time are supposedly fundamental to our ways of sensing the world, and so while we shouldn’t be confident in generalizations about the nature of external reality, we can be certain about what Kant called “synthetic a priori” knowledge, meaning broad knowledge about ourselves—but specifically about how the human mind must be structured to generate the universal features of human experience. Kant thus posited certain categories that determine how we generally process sensory input, and he maintained that necessary truths that aren’t mere tautologies or word games apply only to that proto-psychological level of analysis. We do seek to transcend those limits, such as when we devise speculative ontologies about God, the immortal soul or the nature of being, but these ideas mislead us if we think we have direct access to such subject matters. Our knowledge necessarily passes through our most general modes of understanding and thus we inevitably project the image of human mentality, as it were, onto any subject of our inquiry.

Now whereas Kant’s writings were highly technical and abstract, Jaspers the psychologist-turned-philosopher saw that Kant’s transcendentalism could be given a more human face or brought further down to Earth, by delving into what it’s like actually to attempt to transcend the limits of human experience. While Kant denied that it makes sense even to speak about the noumenon (the mind-independent source of sensations, or the things in-themselves), as opposed to things in so far as they’re processed by a type of mind, Jaspers argued that our insatiable curiosity and our yearning to see our way past apparent limits give us an experience of transcendence, if not rigorous knowledge of any such thing. For example, Jaspers mapped out the steps in neo-Hegelian progress from an empiricist/objective/scientific approach to the world, to an existentialist/subjective/self-reflective one, to a religious/metaphysical/mystical outlook. At each stage, we’re confronted with the limits of that approach, which compels us to raise questions that push us towards the next stage. The empiricist is faced with the radical doubts voiced classically by such philosophers as Descartes, Berkeley, Hume, and Nietzsche. We’re forced to look within ourselves for answers as to how we can trust what we think we know about the external world. That interior line of inquiry leads us to what would later be called the postmodern malaise, to relativism, nihilism, or to the self-destructive solipsism of hyper-consumption—unless we jump yet again to a more encompassing conceptual framework.

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.’