Saturday, November 30, 2013

PDF Installments of RWUG

Here are the eBook installments of this blog: 

First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, ThirteenthFourteenth

Note that the first one is really long (about 700 pages).

Here's a special installment: Artificiality and the Aesthetic Dimension.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Backward-Walking Politician has Limited Use of Political Platitudes

Dateline: WASHINGTONDue to a rare neurological disorder, Rupert Farfenoogle can walk only backwards. He can’t face backwards, so he uses a system of rearview mirrors strapped around his upper arms to see where he’s walking.

From a young age, Mr. Farfenoogle dreamed of being a politician. “I just thought of how great it would be,” he said, “to exploit people’s naivety, to tell them lies to make them feel good so they’d give me power which I could use to enrich myself.

“Like all politicians-in-training I attended The Machiavelli School for Rapscallions. There I learned how to subdue my conscience, to see the horrors of the real world ever so clearly, and to keep those revelations a secret so I could smile and nod and shake hands with the best of them. I learned how to be cynical, to hold average people in contempt so that I could ignore how they think society should be run and I could fob off my talking points on them.”

But when it came time to graduate and Mr. Farfenoogle was told the inner secrets of his craft, he became dismayed. “They showed me a list of principles, which they said were the bedrocks of politics. One of them shocked me and I still remember the exact words: ‘When you’ve run out of lies and you’re in danger of letting the public see how hollow you are, just tell them we’ve all got to move forward.’ That was it, you see. ‘Move forward.’ But how could I resort to that vacuous cliché, in my condition? If I literally couldn’t move forward, how could I rely on that stale metaphor to get me out of trouble? Wouldn’t that hackneyed standby line backfire on me? But wouldn’t I be a hopelessly ineffectual politician without it?”

Nevertheless, Mr. Farfenoogle did enter politics and was elected to office. “At first I coasted on my disability, since I could just tell the public sob stories so they’d vote for me out of pity. But then—disaster! I was being interviewed by a pack of reporters and suddenly I realized I’d run out of preapproved talking points. It was like losing your life preserver and being cast adrift at sea. ‘How do you respond to that specific criticism?’ they kept asking me, and I was running on empty. Should I risk an invocation of forward motion? I thought, even though I could move only backward. Shall I still fall back on that platitude? I had no choice since the alternative was to have an actual public conversation. But that would have exposed my sociopathy, which I’d cultivated while training to be a politician.

“So I intoned the magic words: ‘In any case, we must move forward,’ I said, pretending I was being wise and profound. ‘Now’s not the time for looking back.’ Then I warmed to the theme: “No, forward we must go as a people, ever onward…’ I carried on and on like that, wondering if I was making a fool of myself—especially since I’d decided then to make my exit and was forced to physically back away from that crowd. I used the mirrors at my side as I took those backward steps to the hall that led to my office. Glancing forward at the reporters, I tripped over a garbage bin and soiled my suit with the remnants of a Diet Coke can. I’m sure I was blushing, but the mesmerism seemed to work since the reporters just stood there like they couldn’t have been more bored.”

Months went by and Mr. Farfenoogle routinely filled the awkward public silences with calls for everyone to move forward. He would answer substantive criticisms of his policies on immigration or health care or the war on terrorism with the bromide, “Yes, well, surely we can’t move backward.” Despite the fact that Mr. Farfenoogle would sometimes take long backward strides even as he spoke those words, his critics were stymied.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Enlightenment and Suicide

Is there such a thing as a pessimistic, nihilistic, or otherwise melancholy person who’s not also a hypocrite? This question is at the root of a conventional criticism of anyone who subscribes to some dark way of looking at things. The natural suspicion is that believing that life is wretched and hopeless should lead the person to suicide, so if the person chooses instead to keep living, the person's philosophical beliefs must be phony. In fact, the philosophy I’ve been exploring on this blog, which draws from existentialism and cosmicism, among other sources, is pretty grim and iconoclastic, so does it also imply that life isn’t worth living? To anticipate the conclusion, the answer is no.

The Dark Side of Existential Cosmicism

It’s important here to distinguish between having a cause and having a reason to kill yourself. Any cause of suicide must overcome the instincts that drive us to keep going even under dire circumstances. Some people’s instinctive will to live might be stronger or weaker than that of others, so different situations may prove unbearable to different people. In any case, this question of what might cause someone to take her life differs from the question I’ll try to answer here, which is whether a melancholy worldview, and in particular the one I’ve laid out, might provide a good, which is to say, a sufficient, reason for suicide. Notice that you can have such a reason but not the cause, because your will to live may be stronger than your rational side which recognizes the logic of the reason in question. This is the basis of the criticism of melancholy individuals: their reason tells them the proper course, but they lack the courage or the intelligence to follow through, that is, to overcome the pro-life forces both in them and in society.

Now I’ll summarize what seem like the pro-death parts of my philosophy, to see whether they imply a reason for suicide. To begin with, I assume naturalistic metaphysics, according to which science tells us what the fundamental facts are, and I interpret the social relevance of that naturalism in a way influenced by Nietzsche, Thomas Ligotti, Leo Strauss, and others. So of course I assume atheism. There’s no personal God. But with Nietzsche, I assume there’s a good reason the majority of people throughout history have been theists. There are many explanations of the prevalence of theism, but the one that’s most relevant to the existential question at issue, about whether life is worth living, is that we all have an irrational side that makes us want to trust in myths and believe in something sacred. That’s why we conceive of God (and of all manner of other supernatural entities) in the first place, even as children like to play with their invisible friends. The crisis of postmodernity is that we’ve killed the God we created, because of the Enlightenment, so that now we’re left with the threat of nihilism, that is, with the feelings that nothing’s sacred and that life is absurd. This is all just standard Nietzsche. I reject, however, Nietzsche’s solution to this crisis, which is to glorify the natural impulse to cherish life because of the opportunity it gives the strong to overpower the weak. I agree with Nietzsche’s aesthetic take on viable morality, but I don’t think power for itself is a worthy goal, nor do I feel that raw natural processes are sacred.

Granted, I do think naturalism implies a kind of pantheism, according to which natural processes are supremely divine in that they’re ultimately creative. But I don’t commit the naturalistic fallacy of inferring that because something is absolutely X (in this case, creative) as a matter of fact, therefore that thing is highly good because of that fact. That hasty evaluation would leave open the questions of whether creativity ought to be valued at all and whether it should have a positive or a negative value. Perhaps nature is absolutely repulsive because of its supreme creativity, since nature creates new things by destroying old ones. Even if naturalists should worship nature, the question would remain whether they should be tree-hugging hippies or wiccans, on the one hand, or doom-and-gloom Satanists or neo-Lovecraftian cultists, on the other. I’m inclined to think either that all valuations are subjective or that nature’s authentic, most fitting value is beyond our comprehension, so that we can only project onto the universe a value that satisfies us.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Torontonians fear Mayor Rob Ford’s Scandals make their City too Interesting

Dateline: TORONTO—Toronto’s citizens are mortified by the world’s mockery of their Mayor Rob Ford for his many scandals, such as his admitting to having smoked crack cocaine while in office, because they fear Toronto will lose its status as the world’s most boring big city.

“We just want everything to go back the way it was,” said one Torontonian, “when no one cared about Toronto. We want to fly under the world’s radar so we can keep living in quiet desperation. Is that too much to ask? To not have a crazy circus come to town, so I can get on with wasting my life?

“What we need is a robot with no personality, like our Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Now there’s a leader for you: hair like a piece of Lego, never offends anyone, never rocks the boat. We need an empty suit as our leader to reflect our blissful lack of any worthwhile culture.”

Another Torontonian is even more candid. “Rob Ford broke his contract with us. He’s supposed to lie to the people about absolutely everything. That’s what we elect them for, right? But Ford can’t stop speaking his mind. Doesn’t he know that politicians are supposed to be the cream of the crop? Truth-telling children grow up to be adults who lie constantly to themselves and to others, and then they choose the most pathological of the liars among them and elect them to lead the people to disaster. That’s how we go from A to B.

“I mean, sure, Ford lied for a while about smoking crack. He did his best to be a politician there. But he’s constantly gaffing: it’s one thing to have no respect whatsoever for the liberals on the Toronto City Council or for the downtown elitists or even for the institution of Canadian government. But as any kind of executive, surely you’re supposed to keep your grudges a secret so you can more easily backstab your enemies.”

However, Mr. Ford shows no sign of being less forthright with his opinions. “I’m no phony or snob,” the mayor said in an improvised press conference. “I say what I want, just like any average Joe, and if you don’t like it you can go fuck yourself. Especially you, John,” Mr. Ford said, pointing at a CBC reporter. “Right now you’re taking notes so the liberal pundits at CBC can make fun of everything I do. Let me tell you something: the CBC is a bunch of pussies. They have the nerve to call themselves ‘Canada’s number one news network’—even though they wouldn’t survive without the taxpayer subsidies. What a bunch of flaming girly-men and feminazis.

“Now, I’ve got a lot of work to do, lowering taxes so the blue collar folks around here don’t get raped by Toronto’s stuck-up socialists who have their heads up their asses, eating cheese while riding around on their bicycles like it’s the 19th century. Hello! Get yourself a car or get the hell off the road and take your airy-fairy, artsy-fartsy nanny state with you!”

The mayor proceeded to bowl over a bevy of journalists and cameramen, landing especially hard on the CBC reporter, whom he sat on in the confusion.

Mr. Ford’s psychiatrist, Dr. Rudolph Hornswoggler, admits that “People roll their eyes when Ford calls himself an average guy, because he’s—you know—a morbidly obese multimillionaire. But according to my diagnosis, the mayor is an avatar of the Id, like Rabelais’s bawdy character, Gargantua. All of us have embarrassing unconscious desires, but we learn to repress them to get on as civilized adults. Ford’s having none of that. He has gargantuan appetites, because he embodies what we think of as the worst in all of us. Thus, he's an everyman, after all.”

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tribal Antics of Canadian Question Period melt Face off of Skull

Dateline: OTTAWA—A study headed by Dr. Lawrence Dipplerdoo, medical researcher at McGill University, indicates that excessive exposure to Question Period at the Canadian House of Commons can be fatal. In an interview with RWUG Magazine, Dr. Dipplerdoo said that if you watch all 45 minutes of a Question Period, from beginning to end, there’s a statistically significant chance that your face will melt off of your skull and land in your lap.

The period officially called Oral Questions occurs each sitting day in Ottawa and allows the opposing parties to seek information from the Canadian government. Parties pose a limited number of timed questions to ministers, depending on the size of their caucus, and one or another minister rises to respond.

“Theoretically,” said Dr. Dipplerdoo, “a public exchange like that between elected politicians should be benign or even salutary. Transparency in government is widely assumed to be a virtue. But my team has discovered that transparency is beneficial only if what you’re permitted to see isn’t so horrible that the sight of it melts your face off.” Dr. Dipplerdoo therefore recommends either that Question Period be kept from the public “as a sort of lethal secret on par with the true name of God” or that television viewers of the abomination be forewarned that they could be left faceless.  

According to Dr. Dipplerdoo, the risks have gone unreported until now because hardly anyone bothers to watch even a moment of Question Period, let alone the entire daily cacophony, the assumption being that Canadian politics is boring and therefore unworthy of attention or that Question Period is a circus in which nothing is ever resolved amidst all the taunting and sneering. However, Dr. Dipplerdoo noticed that recent cases of human face-melting had a common cause, which was that when the bodies were found, the deceased had been sitting in front of their TVs which were tuned to a station that broadcasts Question Period.

“The petty jeering and juvenile cat-calling, the routine dodging of questions and reciting of mere market-tested talking points, the standard refusal to come clean and level with the public, the hypocritical nitpicking by the opposition that’s never saintly when it’s in charge of Parliament—all of that’s familiar to the minority of Canadians who’ve been brave enough to give even a passing glance at a Question Period,” said Dr. Dipplerdoo. “But what we’ve found is that those corruptions can be concentrated and effectively weaponized.”

The doctor hastens to add that the mechanism by which Question Period can kill its viewers is unknown, but his team hypothesizes that “the Canadian politicians’ soul-crushing cynicism, which is so evident in the farcical Oral Questions, is impossible to ignore or to misinterpret when a viewer absorbs a full dose of that poison. What can literally kill average Canadians is the shock that a government could be so hollow, that so many elected representatives could so recklessly sabotage the disguises for their nihilism—their conservative haircuts, tailored suits, and the like—by demonstrating their bottomless loathing for each other and for all Canadians.”

The doctor said that the depth of that hatred is evidently contagious and proves lethal in sufficiently high doses—unless the viewers are “immunized by a personal reserve of shamelessness.” “After all,” the doctor continued, “the politicians sit through day after day of the absurd goings-on at Question Period with their faces intact. We theorize, then, that viewers could survive a full dose of the poison from the House of Commons as long as they, too, were so jaded that nothing could appall them.”

Monday, November 18, 2013

Life as Art: Nature’s Strangeness and the Aesthetic Attitude

My last several articles have focused on the relationship between nature-as-wilderness and the artificial worlds we create with language, culture, and technology. This distinction comes up in my responses to Brassier’s nihilism and to Scott Bakker’s eliminativism (his view not just that there’s no meaning or value, but that there’s no personal self), in my discussions of the mythopoeic mindset, the Neolithic Revolution, and the development of the autonomous self. The trick is to see the bumbling exaptations and psychological and social tinkerings that complexify biological processes and produce higher-order worlds (language games, worldviews, cultures, infrastructures, cityscapes), which are regulated by prescriptive (optional) laws and intended functions as opposed to being driven by natural probability, as being stages in the greater decay of undead nature.

Metaphysically, as I’ve said elsewhere, the universe is natural in that mental properties aren’t primary, but nature is made up of matter and energy and these come together with their mindless creativity to foreshadow the mentality that has nevertheless developed. This is the key, mysterious concept: natural (not divine) creativity. The Presocratics called this the field of becoming, the impermanence of beings, which is to say the way all things enter and exit a state of being so that the apparent world is always in flux. There are patterns in those changes, including cycles, regularities, hierarchies, and the excrescence of new orders of being, which is the process of complexification. In fact, natural creativity can be mapped on horizontal and vertical axes, in that there’s change within the temporal dimension and also an increase in the variety of game pieces, as it were, from atoms to molecules, to nebulas, galaxies of stars, solar systems, and organisms, social orders, and artificial substitutes for the wilderness. The point is that in the big, metaphysical picture, there’s continuity in the splitting off of artificial worlds which alienate their inhabitants, but there are also revolutions in nature, new starting points for more complex changes. This is because the norm in nature is creativity, the change from the earlier to the later and from the simple to the complex.

Before I move on to other topics, beginning next week, I want to consider one other implication of this picture of the role of artificiality in the creation of meaning and in the world’s re-enchantment. Specifically, I think this picture tells us why morality can be understood as an aesthetic phenomenon. By “morality” I mean the ideal of the good life which we try to achieve by following rules that govern personal growth (virtues and vices) and social interactions. Now, assuming morality is a human creation, it has much in common with art since art too is our creation. But this isn’t saying much, because not all creations are artworks, at least not in the narrow, conventional sense of “art.” So we should look closer at artistic creations. It turns out that since Marcel Duchamp’s urinal and Andy Warhol’s soup can paintings, which is to say the birth of Dadaism and Postmodernism in art, the definition of “art” has broadened to include virtually anything. This might have spelled the death of art or else the re-enchantment of nature. But this may present us merely with a paradox rather than a choice between opposites, since postmodernists may have disposed of an unduly narrow conception of art and thus revealed the fact that everything becomes art for modern naturalists (atheists).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Embittered Man Opens Shelter for Regretful Advertisers

Dateline: NEW YORK—Hugo “Sellout” Slickster, a recovering ex-advertiser, opened The Center for Alienated and Cynical Advertisers (CACA). Its mission is to provide support for advertisers who are withdrawn and embittered because their job forces them to dehumanize consumers and thus themselves.

“I took creative writing in college,” Slickster told the crowd of reporters soon after he’d cut the ceremonial ribbon in front of the New York facility. “Then I realized there’s no money in that for most writers, so I went into advertising. As impractical as it is, I wish I’d stayed in creative writing.”

He recalled the first day of his studies in the field of advertising. “At first, I was taken aback by the focus of the introductory textbook. I thought it would cover the tricks of the trade, maybe how to put an optimistic spin on an imperfect product—that sort of thing. But the first chapter’s title was ‘Why you must Deaden your Heart and Learn to Loathe every Consumer.’ I asked the instructor if this was some sort of joke. She told me that advertising isn’t for bleeding hearts. ‘If you love your fellow man,’ she told me, ‘start a charity. But if you want to go into business, know that you’re in a war. And you can’t destroy your enemies unless you hate them.’ ‘But if you hate and destroy consumers as your enemies,’ I asked her, ‘who will buy the products?’ I’ll never forget what she said next: ‘Consumers are like cockroaches. You can never destroy them all.’

“For weeks I puzzled over what she'd told me and what I read in that textbook. I learned how to build up your contempt for consumers by objectifying them, by thinking of them as market-researched statistics and targeted demographics, as biased bundles of instincts and emotions that are driven by a primitive unconscious which can be enslaved and branded with code words and cognitive framing techniques. I learned how to ‘destroy’ consumers by making suckers out of them, perpetrating bait-and-switch operations by holding out abstract goods like happiness or a satisfying sex life and sticking the buyers only with loosely-associated, low-quality products manufactured by low-wage labourers in the Far East.

"Eventually everything clicked: consumers are loathsome materialists and so they deserve the crap that businesses feed them. Consumers demand this crap! They lap up the frozen foods, the designer underwear, and the mindless television programs as if they were cups of life-sustaining water. So they’re abominable and we advertisers were entitled to abuse them however we wished. In fact, our honour required that we lie to them in a thousand ways, to pay them back for their sinful demands.”

Only years later, after landing a string of advertising jobs, did Slickster realize he was trapped. “It dawned on me that I didn’t live in a cave. I too was a consumer, so as an advertiser I’d been trained to hate myself. That was the trap. It’s one thing to be cynical about your enemies if you can distinguish us from them. But what if there’s no such difference? Does knowing you’re a selfish, self-destructive materialist make you any better than the deluded herd that merely consumes without seeing the whole disgusting process for what it is? No, it only makes you doubly cursed.”

And so for every half-truth Slickster wrote in his advertising copy, for every phony, manipulative situation he conjured in his video or internet propaganda for soulless corporations, he felt he was wounding himself. 

“It was like going into battle with a sword, but every time you stab someone, the sword turns around and slices you too. I had no doubt consumers are pathetic creatures. I’d seen it first-hand; I’d seen the dirty tricks work, seen the masses gobble up the new line of crap in the false, irresponsible hope that those poisonous doodads would give them what they really want out of life, namely something to believe in, something sacred. The hipster secularists thought they were so sophisticated, leaving their church and buying into the hedonistic myths. They forsake their spiritual leaders, the priests and rabbis and imams—who are ignoramuses, of course, but at least they care about people instead of passionately hating them all. And the secularists pledge themselves to the Corporations. They beg hollow parasites like us for salvation, they demand that we make their lives worth living—we who condescend to them so brazenly, with a panoply of professional techniques; we who are forced to demonize them so we can conduct our evil business and feed the cattle a diet of lies.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Personalizing Ourselves: Science, Liberalism, and the Reality of Illusions

At the end of one of our discussions, Scott Bakker concludes, “To say there is no meaning in nature is just to say there is no meaning in us. The death of God is the death of Man. There is no objective subject or subjective object.” I’d like to analyze this conclusion, especially the second of those three sentences, and explore what it means to speak of the difference between natural reality and the illusions of purpose, normativity, and the personal self.

Science Undermines Liberalism

Scott’s provocative comparison of the death of God with the death of the human person should be especially troubling to liberal atheists. The theist, after all, denies that either of those individuals is dead, but the liberal atheist is in danger of inconsistency rather than just of being uninformed. This atheist believes that theologies are fairytales which beguiled our ancient ancestors but which no longer make sense, that when Europeans woke up in the modern age, they lost faith in their monotheistic traditions in just the way that when a child grows up, the adult is no longer interested in children’s stories. Thus, the fictional character called God died in our imagination and that’s all God ever was: a fantasy that captivated most people who ever lived, but that no longer serves as part of a powerful story for those who understand the importance of modern science. And yet, as John Gray argues in Black Mass, liberalism borrows its morality from monotheism. Liberals assume that each person has moral worth, because he or she is an end rather than a means, an independent individual or agent rather than another link in a causal chain, and thus a conscious, autonomous, and rational person rather than merely a machine or an animal.

Liberal institutions like capitalism and democracy assume as much. Capitalism depends on the assumption not that we’re just narrow-minded animals seeking our advantage over others, but that we’re rational in seeking that advantage, which is why capitalism is supposed to leave us not with the anarchic and chaotic state of nature, but with a merited distribution of goods. As rational creatures, we plan how best to use our skills to compete and so we implicitly sign a social contract in which we agree to live by certain rules that permit private ownership, and so on. Those who most cleverly play by the rules and put their talents to work earn the most rewards in this system, assuming the economy lives up to the ideals set out in capitalistic theory. Thus, the concept of rational self-interest is crucial to this sort of economy, but what if there are no such things as selves or rationality as they’re commonly understood? Again, democracy requires that citizens be worthy of self-governance, by being informed about their representatives and about how economies and political systems work, so that their votes make sense, and by being free to pursue happiness so that the voters leave the dreary business of politics to the professionals. But what if no one’s free and happiness isn’t ideal, after all, because nothing in nature is really good or bad?

What’s radical, then, about Scott’s attribution of the folk notions of selfhood to the brain’s native blindness to its inner workings isn’t just that Scott sets himself in opposition merely to some compromises in academic philosophy, to a discipline which doesn’t greatly interest most people. No, Scott’s interpretation of cognitive science conflicts also with the foundations of liberal, which is to say modern society. If academic philosophy went up in smoke, there would be no apocalypse, but if liberalism were widely viewed as bankrupt, there would be no bulwark against right-wing craziness, including religious fundamentalism, the backlash against science and rationality themselves. If rightwing or so-called conservative ideologues were to have the whole floor on which Western societies stand, I believe those ideologues would bring down modern civilization and we’d be faced with a neo-feudal Dark Age.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Toy Mandibles Empower Weak-Jawed Masses

Dateline: LOS ANGELES—There’s a hot new product that’s flying off the shelves. It’s called Gravitas Jaws and it consists of a crude plastic mandible bone that’s worn over your lower jaw like a beard, except that this piece of plastic has the power to force everyone to take you seriously for no good reason. Donna Kerplunker, CEO of Upstart Entertainment, which manufactures Gravitas Jaws, says her R&D department was inspired by female and male TV news anchors alike who typically have chiseled, square jaws, which studies show cast a magic spell on the television audience, forcing the viewers to take the anchors seriously even though the anchors are empty-headed egomaniacs that read from teleprompters and are neck-deep in the dehumanizing business of infotainment.

“We’ve come up with something very special here,” Ms. Kerplunker said in an exclusive interview with RWUG Magazine. “Why let the phonies on TV have all the power and all the fun? Take the power back! Mesmerize your neighbours! It’s a riot what a fake lower jawbone can do.”

Ms. Kerplunker demonstrated the power of her product, by trying on the Gravitas Jaws. She turned to a group of average Americans and told them some extravagant falsehoods, such as “The sky is green. Two plus two equals five. And American cable news improves society by helping to ensure that the public is made up of skeptical, well-informed citizens who deserve to govern themselves.” Surprisingly, none of the viewers scoffed at any of that balderdash and all of them spontaneously declared that were Ms. Kerplunker to lead them into battle, they’d gladly die to preserve her honour.

Linda Lobsterapple, a sociologist at Perdue University, has published widely on the correlation between bony, protruding jaws and gravitas. She explains gravitas as a person’s perceived authority which intimidates others and compels them to defer to the authority figure. “Gravitas itself is best thought of as a force that acts through certain embodiments or symbols of it. Two of the most powerful such symbols are the archetypal hero’s lantern jaws and prominent chin. Traditionally, only manly men with those facial features were admired. But now, after the feminist revolutions, women too can become famous if they possess those traits. Think of the actresses Olivia Wilde, Reese Witherspoon, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Jodie Foster, Rosario Dawson, Jennifer Garner, Rachel McAdams, or Angelina Jolie. Or the female news anchors Ashleigh Banfield, Amy Robach, Megyn Kelly, Melissa Theuriau, or Susan Hendricks.”

Dr. Lobsterapple says this symbol of gravitas is a sign of strength and part of the innate, stereotypical image of the heroic leader which is embedded in our subconscious. “The symbol works on an unconscious level, so there’s little we can do to resist it. I’m not surprised to learn about the Gravitas Jaws. A colleague of mine has a weak jawline, but whenever he displeases his wife he remedies the situation by donning a Halloween mask of Arnold Schwarzenegger and intoning in a deep voice, ‘Forget whatever I did. Now go and fix me a sandwich!’ Usually, she protests that he’s being ridiculous—even as she complies with his demand! The power of this symbol is staggering.”

Promise for Baldness Cure Causes Social Rifts

Dateline: NEW YORK—A team of doctors from the Columbia Medical Center succeeded in generating new human hair growth, which promises a cure for baldness. “We’re within sight of the cure,” said one of the lead scientists. “Of course, you have to be a hawk to see it; certainly, no one within our lifetime or that of our children’s children will see the cure, since the clinical trial period to test the results from every conceivable angle will take approximately five centuries.”

Bald men responded to the news by rioting in droves, breaking into scientific labs and demanding that “the beady-eyed scientists produce the cure immediately already,” because bald men “are sick of being pariahs,” as one of them put it in the midst of a hostage situation. Holding a gun to a medical researcher’s head, which happened also to be bald, the irate bald man exclaimed to no one in particular, “Think of what I could do with a full head of hair! Think of how much time I’ve lost being a bald nobody.” Whereupon the kneeling researcher replied, “I’m bald too, you asshole!”

In fact, the scientific community is divided about whether to go through its usual shenanigans of taking centuries before the scientists fulfill their Hippocratic Oath and disseminate the cure, as opposed to artificially driving up demand, jockeying to improve their careers, and obliging the labyrinthine bureaucracies that oversee the clinical trials. Most scientists aren’t just males; they’re bald and nerdy ones, many of whom join the bald nonscientists, their “bald brothers in arms,” as a balding scientist said, in clamoring for the new treatment.

But the corporate elites that own the drug and treatment companies and that pay the scientists’ salaries are rarely bald. Partly, this is because they can afford the current state-of-the-art treatments for hair loss, but it’s also because they’re gifted with the precious bloodlines that account both for their preternatural health and for their sociopathic drive to succeed regardless of the cost to others.

Don Bangsalot, CEO of Hoarding Enterprises, which is currently beginning clinical trials for the new baldness treatment, confessed in a candid interview with Suckup Magazine that he’s in favour of “the epic waiting time for baldies.” Granted,” he said, “we stand to make billions of dollars with this cure, since the demand is incalculable. But that’s the point: there are hundreds of millions of bald men out there, so do I want that many more competitors for the attention of hot women? No, the plight of bald undesirables benefits me, because those losers are taken out of the running for the superior females. The relatively few men who are born with the more desirable genes or who can afford to keep our bodies in tip-top shape have the field to ourselves and we’d prefer to keep it that way.”

Women, too, are torn about the prospect for a cure for baldness. “I’d love for my balding husband to have his head of hair restored,” said one woman. “I still remember when we were young and I used to run my hand through his wavy locks. But aren’t women supposed to be the phonies when it comes to outward appearances? I mean, we’re the ones who put up a false front with makeup, hair extensions, breast implants, and misleading garments. We’ve been fooling men for hundreds of years, hiding our bodies' imperfections. Even Cleopatra wore makeup! Now bald men are going to try to kid a kidder and be feminized phonies as well? They’re going to buy their hair from squirrelly chemists in lab coats? Sometimes I think feminists have gone too far in fighting for equality between the sexes.”

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Decadence, Enlightenment, and the Great Story

Decadence is a curious concept. The word derives from the French decadere, which means “to fall away.” In English, the word means the falling into an inferior condition, as in deterioration or decay, moral degeneration or unrestrained self-indulgence. When you think of decadence, you likely think of an aristocrat like Marie Antoinette who lived in luxury while the masses starved. In a broader context, however, there’s an unexpected connection between decadence and enlightenment, between immorality and existential authenticity or spiritual perfection.

The Freedom to Play

To see this, consider some ancient history. Tens of thousands of years before the invention of writing, humans were hunter-gatherers, living off of wild plants and animals and thus having to move constantly as the seasons changed or as the herds migrated. Then came the Neolithic, Agricultural Revolution, about 12,000 years ago, after which most people lived off of domesticated animals, which allowed the Neolithic people to form denser populations and to settle into sedentary communities. In mythical terms, that revolution marked our banishment from Eden. Early hunter-gatherers were one with nature; regardless of their cleverness or durability, they lacked the culture and the artificial environment to train them to think in stylized, abstract ways, to become what we think of as people as opposed to animals. Psychologically and socially, early foragers were protohumans, members merely of another species of predator hunting along with falcons, alligators, saber-toothed cats and the like. When they struck upon agriculture, our ancient ancestors became much more self-sustaining and thus resistant to many pressures of life in the wild. They produced surpluses of food, which gave them free time, which in turn allowed them to play without any pressing evolutionary motive. That is, in many species of mammal, both the young and the adults entertain themselves either to practice their survival skills or to form social bonds, but agriculture introduced true idleness, the luxury of freedom that comes with a sedentary lifestyle. That freedom was both a blessing and a curse.

You can think of freedom as independence, as the power to do what you want, or you can think of it as alienation, as being untethered from life-sustaining processes. In fact, our liberation from many of our animalistic burdens has both that advantage and that disadvantage. When our Neolithic ancestors learned how to master the land and pliable species, they acquired greater safety in numbers and the larger groups developed more elaborate cultures and fortifications which acted as artificial worlds, sealing off the newly-minted people from the wilderness and encouraging the myths that would develop, of our supernatural status as children of gods destined ourselves to be deified. In short, Neolithic people became very powerful and instead of having to direct all their energies to accomplishing the primitive tasks needed to survive in the wild, the sedentary folk could use their power in arbitrary, unrealistic pursuits that made sense only to cultural insiders. For example, they could spend decades constructing gigantic pyramids as tombs to transport spirits into the afterlife or they could build elaborate temples and sacrifice virgins on the altar to please deities in the sky. Animals know of no such follies, because they’re too busy working hard to withstand the pressures of the wilderness that buffet them from one moment to the next; animals lack the freedom to stop and think about what’s really happening around them. The Neolithic people thus became both outsiders and insiders. Eden was barred to them, as they used technology—language, myths, social infrastructure, architecture—to personify themselves, transforming themselves from animalistic protohumans into godlike humans. But they became insiders with respect to their newly-regulated societies and to the fantasy-worlds they imagined and saw all around them as meaningful overlays that were anchored to their art, jewelry, buildings, stories, and other such symbols.