Sunday, August 12, 2018

Eldritch Revelations: Why Truth is Never Personal

[In his published monograph, Eldritch Revelations, the psychiatrist of the infamous thinker Jurgen Schulz wrote that only short fragments of Schulz’s philosophical journal survived his escape from Borsa Castle. But following the psychiatrist’s mysterious death shortly after publication, longer fragments were discovered in his office, locked in a drawer. Here is another of those longer fragments, which the publisher has recently had translated.]
***
When I’m me, I can only think I know the truth. When I’m me, my thoughts are swaddled in background assumptions and feelings. The rising tide of those meta-thoughts lends associative meaning to the thoughts that occupy my full attention. When I wonder whether some notion is really true, my reflections are motivated by the notion’s weightiness that’s sustained by its connotations, by the relevance of the lessons I draw from my memories. That background knowledge, in turn, amounts to my personal identity. Thus, when I identify with the contents of my mind, when I take for granted the importance of “my” thoughts and feelings which I don’t exactly possess, but which I can nevertheless distance “myself” from in a way that’s yet to be determined, the truth of any of my ideas is largely a matter of the idea’s coherence within my worldview. The idea will seem true if it fits into the world picture I’ve been building, which picture is the mental home I bring with me wherever I go. Imagine a crab stripped of its shell, rendered naked in the ocean’s oppressive vastness. My mind is my true home, furnished as I like it, with my comforting interpretations of everything I’ve ever thought or done that I can recall, and it’s furnished to protect me from feeling cognitive dissonance, embarrassment, or any other discomfort. I feel good about myself, because the self I live with is the mind that shelters me from the storm of alien reality.

The truth of my thoughts, therefore, is largely subjective: the thoughts are true for me in that they’re dependent on my background conceptions which are included in the full content of whatever I’m thinking or intending, which content no one else can share because everyone’s mental home is unique to their experience. That subjective kind of truth isn’t really truth at all; it’s fitness, coherence, or comfort level; it’s the degree of probability that’s just the thought’s familiarity to my way of conceiving of things. When I’m me, when I’m at home in the mental repository that my life built, when I’m ensconced in my mind, I can only think my thoughts are true or false, because to that extent they can be true only for me or, more generally, for the society of which I’m a part.

In addition to coherence, subjective pseudo-truth is effectiveness. My thoughts enable me to act efficiently in the world, because my thoughts and plans have some degree of inductive strength, based as they are on my past successes and failures. Thus, you might say if you believe it’s nighttime and the hour for you to go to sleep, your belief is true because your belief increases your chance of succeeding: if you act on that belief about the time of day, you’ll go to bed at the right time rather than staying up all night and being tired during the workday. But effectiveness isn’t the same as truth. Truth depends on the meaning of our symbols, so you might still question your belief about nighttime, by asking what you mean by “nighttime” and “sleep.” Are your conceptions of those things narrow-minded? Do the concepts of which your belief consists express only your individual experience or the collective experience of your cultural or biological kind, and if so, why think that those concepts are adequate to the ultimate reality of nighttime or sleep? Our mental powers may enable us to succeed in our interactions with the world, according to the conventional understanding—but to succeed at doing what exactly? At “going to sleep”? And what is it really to go to sleep, in the long view of the geological or galactic timescale in which our personal experience and the entire history of our species are insignificant? That long view escapes us in so far as we’re persons beholden to our mental safety nets. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Savior and his Diabolical Master

[The following is a long-lost Gnostic gospel or apocryphon discovered in 2013 in a corner of the Vatican library and translated by Mildred Wilmington, Professor of Antiquities at Miskatonic University.]
****
Chapter One

Our Savior Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

And the devil answered him in turn, “Were you half asleep when you read that passage of Deuteronomy? Did you fail to notice that one word you just told me, ‘alone’? Man shall not live on bread alone, it says. So you concede that even a higher animal that walks the earth requires food. Why not, then, as I said, command the stones to feed you? You’re exhausted and famished from your sojourn in the wilderness, and it’s for that reason I’ll let such intellectual weakness pass and won’t abandon you here on the spot, depriving you of the honour of my demonic challenge. But do try to refrain from wasting my time with further specious reasoning. My patience isn’t infinite. Remember, when they call me the father of lies, that’s the foolish sheep talking. What they should say is that I tell the Truth that God prefers to be kept hidden from his enthralled worshippers.”

“Get behind me, Satan! I don’t transform the stones because I’m not so hungry at present.”

“So you mean to admit that you have the power to reshape the earth, but you choose not to use it? Is God’s power so finite that it must be kept under wraps lest it dwindles to nothing and the world shall go without moral guidance?”

“I care more about others than myself. I’d gladly die for God’s chosen creatures. I’d sooner feed them than me.”

“Then why not command the stones to turn to bread to feed the hungry who aren’t as selfless as you? Or why not perform a miracle of feeding a multitude with only five loaves and two small fishes?”

“That would be a cavalier display of power.”

“So you’re saying God doesn’t want to be praised for being almighty? Haven’t you noticed your fellow Jews groveling before the jealous Lord whom they say made all the heavens and the earth?—and in only six days and nights! If power means nothing to God, why do your Jewish scriptures boast over and over that God isn’t the master merely of your small tribe or of this or that force of nature, but of the whole universe? Or why does the Lord silence Job by treating him like a worm that doesn’t deserve even to complain about his unjust suffering, because the Lord’s greater power makes him right?” 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Philosophy in the Wasteland

The later, more systematic existentialists often began their analysis with some form of metaphysical dualism, since they wanted to say that people have a special obligation in life, and so people must be fundamentally different from everything else. They spoke, then, of the crucial difference between, on the one hand, being mindless things devoid of purpose or freedom (being “in-itself” or “present-to-hand”), and on the other, being an autonomous creature, a source of value, or a tool caught up in that creature’s field of interests (being “for-itself” or “ready-to-hand”). Existentialism should, however, give way to cosmicism, which raises the question of philosophy’s worth.

From Existentialism to Cosmicism

Existential dualisms are oversimplifications since they ignore the strangeness of matter. A semi-facetious but still better starting point for existentialist purposes would be to posit mindless things, or things in so far as they’re scientifically objectified and explained as beings neither-here-nor-there, or neither this-nor-that, meaning things that occupy a baffling twilight in which they’re neither fully dead nor fully alive. The neither-here-nor-there is a being that acts as though it had some creative purpose, since it has energy or inertia and participates in vast cycles of complexification and evolution, but that does so with no capacity for intention or reason. Most of the universe is neither-here-nor-there in that sense.

Note that the idiom, “That’s neither here nor there” denotes the thing’s irrelevance, its being “beside the point,” where the point is determined by the speaker’s interests. To say, then, that the universe generally is neither here nor there is to say, on one level, that the universe is irrelevant to us, since we prefer the artificial world we create that supplants the wilderness and answers directly to our interests. The existential point is that this idiom is easily flipped, since if the universe is irrelevant to us from our parochial perspectives, so too must we be irrelevant to the universe from the objective, existential perspective which sides with the universe, as it were, having become detached from our personal concerns.  

In any case, what the humanistic dualisms of Heidegger and Sartre, for example, miss is nature’s impersonal but still energetic component. Thus, nature’s metaphysical status isn’t just that it’s like a dumb lump of matter; instead, while most of nature isn’t alive, self-conscious, or rational, nature also isn’t generally inert, uncreative, or chaotic. This strange twilight is what compelled us throughout history to invest nature with personhood, to shut out the more enlightened dualism. We explained natural order and creativity by deifying natural processes. Our naivety was only to be so liberal with the category we’re most familiar with, to assume that since people are alive, self-conscious, and rational, and yet everything else in the world is creative like we are, the rest of the world must be human-like in those other respects. Thus, we imagined that the universe is full of spirits or minds responsible for all the physical activity we experience. Nevertheless, what wasn’t naïve was the experience of nature as an enchanted place. Along with the Romantic critics of the Enlightenment, the sociologist Max Weber spoke of scientific objectification as ridding nature of its magic, in that the more impersonal our stance towards the world, the more we’re able to discard animism or theism in exchange for an instrumental outlook that enables us to dominate natural processes. This has the unintended consequence of depriving life generally of its meaning, because we who idolize science and lust after the benefits of capitalism and technology are liable to objectify each other and ourselves too. Ennui, apathy, and nihilism are the results, which spur the existentialist renewal. 

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Clash of Worldviews: Is Trump’s Presidency Good for the World?

MODERATOR: Welcome to another episode of Clash of Worldviews, the show that features hard-hitting philosophical dialogues. This evening we have with us self-described postmodern pessimist and cynic, Heather Fogarty, and radical alt right blogger Fred Gulpa. And they’re here to discuss whether Donald Trump’s presidency is proving to be good or bad for the world. Heather, would you like to get us started? I take it you’re not a fan of Trump.

HEATHER: A “fan” of Trump? No, I’m not one of his suicidal cultists. Trump has the distinction of being a foreign agent twice over. He was a Siberian candidate, as is now obvious from Trump’s attacks on America’s closest allies, such as Canada, Germany, and Britain, combined with his servility towards Putin. But in the fictions, the foreign agent isn’t supposed to win the presidency, since that’s unthinkable from a conventional standpoint. So the evil conspiracy of installing a rival country’s intelligence asset in the seat of American power is supposed to stop at the candidacy. The dupe is thus known idiomatically only as a “candidate,” as in “the Manchurian candidate,” since the presumption is that the scheme would be foiled in the world’s leading nation. But Russia’s useful idiot went on to become the American president! This return of the Cold War ought to be more traumatic to Americans than the 911 terrorist attacks.

Yet the unthinkable doesn’t end there with Trump. Trump is a bona fide foreign agent—albeit an untrained and incompetent one—in the guise of a democratically elected president, but he’s also obviously a wealthy paleoconservative. The American oligarchs used to run the GOP from a distance to sustain the façade of the party’s national legitimacy. The wealthy social Darwinians—otherwise known as sociopaths—controlled Republican politicians through lobbying and the flawed electoral system, but not so transparently as to run directly for president while flaunting their aristocratic values. Trump lacks upper-class manners, of course, but he’s realigning the GOP towards the oldest and perhaps purist conservative ideal: what should be protected, according to Trump and the monarchs of old isn’t classic liberalism or any other modern ideology or institution, but just the social distribution that arises from prehuman, animal dynamics. Nature is the arbiter of justice and so might makes right. What this means is that once the alphas triumph in a rigged competition—that being the only kind of competition that mindless nature can produce—the winners ought to dominate the losers by conning and bullying them, holding onto power like the autocrats Trump reveres. In short, Trump is cutting out the neoliberal middlemen and returning American conservatism to monarchical pseudo-elitism. Needless to say, Trump is thereby profoundly un-American. Whether Trump’s presidency is good for the world depends, though, on whether, for example, you think liberalism is progressive.

FRED: I actually agree with much of that. Trump is part of a global backlash against liberalism. He may indeed be compromised by Russia, since we know that American banks stopped lending him money after his multiple bankruptcies, and Russia looks for useful idiots and bailed him out of his business ventures over the last couple of decades. That shocking conspiracy is indeed only a detail, however, since Trump acts on behalf not just of Russia but of the principles of autocracy. I agree also that this is a paleoconservative revolution against the liberal aspects of globalization and thus against democracy and free trade capitalism in general. Trump’s aid and comfort to Russia is almost incidental since he’s interested mainly in recreating power structures in the West that protect those he considers natural winners, such as sociopathic plutocrats and white, male gung-ho Anglo-Americans as opposed to women, foreigners, or feminized liberals. The problem with the liberal notion of equality is that it threatens to erase cultural differences, to rob nations of their sovereignty and to drown them in the sappy bromides of a feel-good monoculture.

HEATHER: The irony here is appalling, of course. Globalization was the principle mechanism of America’s strategy for maintaining its hegemony as the lone superpower after the Cold War. The liberalization of economies meant in practice that foreign markets would have to open themselves to exploitation by American corporations. Liberalism always operated on the presupposition of a double standard, since America was militarily the indispensible nation and liberals couldn’t conceive of the scenario in which the United States would lose in fair economic competition with foreign powers. Still less did liberals contemplate the possibility that women and dark-skinned immigrants could be educated and could take middleclass jobs from whites in the United States, with the whites being reduced to tranquilizing themselves with opioids and trolling the world with the Trump fiascos, to avoid having to admit that they weren’t good enough, that they failed because they felt entitled and didn’t work hard to better themselves, because their cultures was built on Christian and early-modern lies. This is indeed the problem with aristocratic values: absolute, unchallenged power inevitably corrupts the elites and so they lose their right to rule. They either take their enterprises down with them or there’s an ugly revolt, as in the American or French Revolution.   

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 might 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 a proto-rock that evolves into rocks according to some supernatural plan for the universe, the proto-rock couldn’t be said to fail in so far as it isn't yet a rock; 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.