Thursday, September 28, 2017

Uglies on the Outskirts scheme to lure Beauties away from Big Cities

Dateline: TORONTO—A team of physically unappealing people based in the outskirts of large cities across North America has hatched a plot to lure the beautiful and handsome elites away from their lairs at the heart of the downtown areas.

Team Quasimodo’s leader, Quasimodo Sanchez, a misshapen short man with wildly asymmetric facial features, staged a press conference to explain his intentions, but offered only the cryptic remark, “We found out about their crystals. Soon the crystals will be ours and the beauties with long legs and shapely breasts will have to journey across the wrong side of the tracks so we can spy on their hotness more often.”

Sanchez had long expressed frustration on his blog that the layout of every major city in North America, with respect to the distribution of the physically attractive and unattractive parts of the populations, conforms to the same quantifiable pattern: the closer you are to approaching the downtown core, the higher the percentage of visually stunning persons, while the outskirts of town are cursed with housing the rump end of the homely masses.

Jinghua Bai, a city planner, offered the standard explanation of why the healthier, more attractive citizens tend to congregate in the most developed parts of the city, such as the banking districts or the areas with the finest hotels and restaurants. According to her, “the hunks and hotties are simply able to follow the money.” By contrast, those who are obese or otherwise visually unappealing are left to languish in the hinterlands.

“If you drive from a suburb or a farmland to the downtown core of a big city like New York, Los Angeles, or Toronto,” said Ms. Bai, “you leave behind the uglies and their backward ways and approach the heavenly dwellings of the most beautiful and healthy people on earth. That’s always the way, because the beauties can leverage their sexually attractive qualities to secure the important jobs which are stationed in the big city where all the action is. And the more money you have, the more you can spend on your appearance, so there’s a snowball effect.”

However, Herman Grosse, a conspiracy researcher at Esoteric Magazine, suspects there’s a deeper reason for the unequal distribution of beauties and uglies. 

“There are rumours,” said Grosse, “of large, ancient alien crystals passed in secret from one generation of hotties to the next, crystals which emit energies that nourish the body and soul. These crystals are said to be jealously guarded and housed in penthouses or bank vaults.”

But the power of these crystals is limited, so as you approach the extent of their range, the number of unlovely or unsightly abominations rises. The result is a clear demarcation between “the geographical regions of health, beauty, and handsomeness, on the one hand, and of the lurching horde of deformities or plain-faced nobodies, on the other.”

Grosse, who lives in a lower-middleclass suburb of Toronto, counts himself among the ranks of uglies, but cautions that Team Quasimodo’s efforts might be premature.

“If Quasimodo has found the crystals,” he said, “and if they can capture them and transport them to the outskirts, presumably there would be a mass exodus of hunks and hotties, like moths following a flame. The downtown cores would become barren wastelands and the uglies in the sticks and boonies would suddenly find themselves with a bounty of eye candy.

“The question, then, would be whether the Plain Janes and Joe Schmoes of the world could control the crystals long enough to rejuvenate their physical form, to bless themselves with exquisite bone structure, taut bellies, or a full head of hair. Otherwise, gentrification would set in and the aesthetically unequal urban zones would reestablish themselves.

“The uglies would once again find themselves on the outs.” 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Why all we do is Art for Sages

What is enlightenment? It’s the transition from being distracted, deluded, or ignorant about the ultimate questions in life, to attaining insight into what is truly happening at each moment. Is such knowledge always beneficial? No, because the existential truth is humiliating and bewildering. The ultimate truth for me intersects with philosophical naturalism, countercultural mysticism (dark pantheism), and existentialism. Those who are fittest to understand the world are thereby hindered from succeeding in conventional terms. Science isn’t enough for that understanding, nor is atheism, nor liberalism, nor pessimism. The ultimate truth as I’ve come to understand it is monstrous and to grasp it is to become a monster. Ultimate knowledge is for sociopathic alphas or for loser omegas whose outsider status gives them objectivity and thus intellectual access to deep patterns, but also the drive to understand the world in the first place, as compensation for their suffering. By contrast, living in contentment is for sheep, for the human mob whose members only barely deserve to be distinguished by their individuality because while their personal development may be illuminating, their inner life is shallow.

The human herd excels by deferring to conventional wisdom about how life should be lived, by creating a family and by working hard or capitalizing on social connections. The herd is emotionally fulfilled but for the most part cognitively impoverished; at least, the more time is devoted to introverted reflection and intellectual exploration, the harder it is to succeed in the popular sense, to take sex, family, or work seriously. This is because instead of enlightening anyone, exoteric wisdom in postindustrial societies is meant to perpetuate the species and the plutocratic social structures. Specifically, family is obviously needed to protect the members of the next generation in their childhood phase, while productivity maximizes the profit that currently flows almost exclusively to the upper ten percent, and especially to the top one percent of the population, in the United States. The affluent class’s neoliberal emphasis on individual liberty, on taking advantage of your freedom by pursuing hobbies to find yourself is likewise a smokescreen protecting the imperative to consume, which fuels this dishonest way of life. Far from helping to find yourself, collecting possessions and experiences renders you all the more empty by comparison, because that lifestyle prevents you from developing the higher-order thoughts which constitute an autonomous self. As for the late-modern professionals and aristocrats who prey on the herd, they don’t subscribe to social conventions: they have extramarital affairs galore and their wealth enables them to retreat to bubble worlds which operate at their beck and call to complement their godlike self-image. They, too, are social outsiders and so are afforded the chance to understand how the real world works, but their power deprives them of the conscience and empathy needed to use their insights wisely.

Cults and Cultures as Escapes from Reality

Let’s consider, then, two other ways of escaping unenlightened herd life, besides becoming a predatory oligarch or a marginalized loser. One is to flee to a guru’s cult. Indeed, off and on for a few years I’ve lurked on the YouTube channel of a young Canadian woman who went from a Star Seed New Ager to a Christian to a devotee of a guru. She lives with him now in an ashram in Bangalore, India. Have a look at this video in which Millennials from Vancouver, Germany, Russia, East Africa, Malaysia and elsewhere attest to the wonders of life with that guru, at “Inner Awakening.” Many of these recruits credit the internet for presenting them with the opportunity to flee the drudgery of postindustrial life. They seem overjoyed and profess to have been granted magical powers by their swami, whom they worship as a living incarnation of God. The temptation to join such a cult is the same as the one that drew the hippies to their communes, which is also the temptation that compels theists to imagine the effortless pleasures of paradise in the afterlife. This is the temptation to hope that somehow rewards are possible even without labour, which requires the audacity to trust in that which is proverbially too good to be true. In the case of Inner Awakening, the initiates pay several thousand dollars and surrender their personal freedom to participate in the nearly month-long starter program in which they effectively consent to be brainwashed as they bow to the authority of a presumed enlightened master who promises to supply them with all the answers they could hope for. Everyone in their new family loves them unconditionally and their guru stands in for a transcendent deity, so they have their heaven on Earth. The peace of liberating themselves from the burden of maintaining their former status in the capitalistic rat race is evidently worth the prices they pay. These outsiders believe they’re enlightened while the critics and everyone else who is unaware of this form of Hinduism are spiritually asleep.

Another option is to embrace the evil of Scientology. Scientology is the ingenious and triumphant worldwide cult founded in 1954 by the American science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. The moral and empirical cases against this cult are perfectly complete. Dozens upon dozens of high-ranking Scientologists, including the leader’s father, have publicly condemned the so-called Church of Scientology, providing detailed accounts of its criminal or antisocial practices. You can watch their testimonies in the film Going Clear or in Leah Remini’s series on A&E. The hidden wisdom of Scientology, which was supposed to be available only to members who’ve spent the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to attain elite OT status within the organization, have instead been leaked and made available for years on the internet. South Park mocked the sci-fi, theological mashup concocted by Hubbard and involving an alien Xenu and disembodied spirits, passenger planes and a volcano. But Hubbard was in fact ingenious in how he designed his cult to fulfill the late-modern longing for a scientific religion, modernity notwithstanding. Scientology bastardizes old religious ideas but provides them a veneer of coolness and plausibility with its sci-fi scenarios and pseudoscientific treatment of mental health issues. Scientologists want technology not just to amuse them with distracting toys, but to “clear” their minds of sin and suffering. Their “church” replaces Buddhism’s regimen of meditation and asceticism with pseudo-therapeutic E-Meter readings and subservience to a dictator named David Miscavige. Like the Inner Awakening dupes, Scientologists seem happy—until many flee the oppressive cult even at the cost of being barred from seeing their Scientologist family members. The members often grow up in the cult and are then prohibited from learning that their alleged religion is just a business and a con, or else they’ve been brainwashed into rationalizing their decision to keep supporting the “church.” They believe Scientology is a humanitarian enterprise that’s saving the planet, whereas the organization is plainly a fraud from top to bottom.

The exoteric case against these escapes, then, is clear. From the standpoint of secular humanistic norms, these cults are—almost by definition—divorced from reality. In the first case, the radicals are outcasts who don’t want to work for a living, but they escape poverty and homelessness by joining a cult where they find bogus or obscure answers for everything. In the second, they’re suckers who’ve succeeded in secular terms—Scientologists typically have families and access at least to tens of thousands of dollars in credit—but they crave the kind of power and adventure that transhumanists promise, so they’re victimized by a modernist cult. We’re dealing, therefore, with drop-outs who are desperate for a face-saving solution to their lack of belonging in the real world of the global monoculture, or with weirdo seekers who voluntarily marginalize themselves. Either way, their fake spirituality is condemnable on empirical, moral, and legal grounds.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Do Americans deserve Visionary Movies? A Review of Darren Aronofsky’s film "Mother!"

Darren Aronofsky’s film mother! is a fascinating and insightful allegory of the relationship between creator and muse, especially as this relationship might exist on the cosmic scale. You wouldn’t know this, though, from some of the movie's negative reviews. The obliviousness or moral cowardice of those critics and the dismal opening-weekend showing at the film's box office prove why American cinema is virtually dead and why most Americans wouldn’t deserve its revival.

Be warned that spoilers for mother! follow.

The negative reviews tend not even to mention, let alone discuss or criticize what the film is about. They attack Aronofsky for making unusual artistic choices and for the movie’s alleged tediousness and obscurity. Of course, if you don’t understand something or you pretend that you don’t understand it to excuse yourself from thinking, you’ll be bored with it. Unfortunately for those reviewers, there’s no excuse for not understanding the essence of mother! Some of the film’s details are mysterious and open to interpretation, but the film's last two minutes reveal the identities of the two unnamed main characters, which clarifies all the major scenes of the movie, if you hadn’t already figured them out. Javier Bardem’s character is God, or more specifically the masculine aspect of divinity associated with Yahweh, while Jennifer Lawrence’s is his co-creating muse, a feminine Gaia-like deity whose eternal love for Bardem’s character allows him to indulge himself in an endless boom-and-bust cycle of cosmic creations. (I’ll call Bardem’s character "the Creator," since he’s unnamed in the film except for when he says at the end “I am I,” which is equivalent to saying “I am that I am,” as Yahweh says in Exodus.) Lawrence’s character, which I’ll name "the Muse," is called his “inspiration” or “muse” five or ten times throughout the movie. At the movie’s end, both of those characters are the sole survivors of a house that burns down all around them. He is unscathed while she is reduced to a blackened and mangled corpse that is somehow still alive. This indicates that the two are supernatural beings. He removes the heart from her chest, which he squeezes to form a large crystal. That crystal is the symbol of her unconditional love for him, and he uses that crystal's power to magically rebuild the house, the house being the symbol of our planet.

So by the movie’s end, it’s perfectly clear we’re dealing with a god and goddess and thus with a religious allegory of some sort. Yet here are just some of the movie critics whose reviews don’t spare a single sentence about the movie’s theological subject matter: Anthony Lane, Rex Reed, Glenn Lovell, Leonard Maltin, Dwight Brown, James Berardinelli. That’s just the entire list of the negative reviews currently on the first page of the film's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes. It’s not just that they ignore what the movie’s about, perhaps so as not to spoil the surprise for the reader; no, these reviews claim that the movie itself is unclear. Lane, for example, explicitly denies that religion is Aronofksy’s subject matter, writing, “Unlike Buñuel, Aronofsky is not making sport of religion. He is plundering it for images of wrath and apocalypse…” (my emphasis). Reed, the ever empty-headed, abusive, error-prone “critic” writes, “This delusional freak show is two hours of pretentious twaddle that tackles religion, paranoia, lust, rebellion, and a thirst for blood in a circus of grotesque debauchery to prove that being a woman requires emotional sacrifice and physical agony at the cost of everything else in life, including life itself. That may or may not be what Aronofsky had in mind, but it comes as close to a logical interpretation as any of the other lunk-headed ideas I’ve read or heard.” And Berardinelli writes, “There are so many bizarre images that the movie becomes a kind-of cinematic Rorschach test – it can be whatever you want it to be.”

Mind you, because there’s no excuse for not understanding what the movie is primarily about, we must ask why the negative reviewers have pretended not to get it. The answer is just as clear as the movie’s themes: Aronofsky is indeed criticizing conventional Judeo-Christian theology. The main point of the movie is that the Creator betrays his Muse because henot Adam or Evesuccumbs to a temptation, the temptation to be worshipped by his created beings. It’s God who falls from grace, God who is corrupted and who thus creates a fallen world that self-destructs when the Muse has finally had enough of the Creator’s treachery and abuse of her. This is, in short, a Gnostic, “heretical” portrayal of the nature of creation. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Manjaws: 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. He appears in my novel God Decays. This is the first in a series of his collected works of dark prose poetry, which his acolytes across the continent record for posterity.
* * *
The other day I was watching TV through a store window and I saw another female news anchor with manjaws. Do you know what those are? They’re square jaws. Lantern jaws. The kind you would have seen on William Wallace as he sliced off the limbs of the English. Or the kind that were clenched by a marauding Neanderthal, sweaty, hairy and bloodied from carnage on the plains of Africa, way back in the mists of time. Maybe he’d singlehandedly slain a Saber-toothed tiger but then he was magically transported to our era and he decides not to hunt us down but to read us the evening news that there was another stabbing or a car pileup—only, surprise! The macho champion of men whose jawline is so square you’d drop everything just to follow him into battle—because all men with weak jawlines are cowards who would double-cross you at the first opportunity—anyway, surprise: the dude is a chick. You were anticipating the face of the News Corporation to be the quintessence of masculinity, to reassure you that men still rule, so your country is stable and there’s nothing to fear, no confusing realignment of power on the horizon. But they’ve replaced that face with a woman’s, and just to rub it in they’ve picked the one-in-a-million Wonder Woman who boasts the manjaws of Richard the Lionheart or Genghis Khan. They sent out casting calls saying, “We at the TV News Monopoly are looking for a female news reader with a masculine jawline to infuriate our male viewers, to signal to them that yes, the old rules still apply, everyone still associates strength and gravitas with that archetypal symbol of masculinity—only, women can be man-like. If you have such anomalous manjaws, call us right away and we’ll hire you on the spot.” It’s all a sham, though, because women aren’t really taking over and most women can’t be man-like, no matter how hard they try. Almost all the world’s multimillionaires and billionaires are men, and it’s the same with the corporate titans and political leaders. Men still rule the world and do you want to know why? It’s because someone’s got to run the place right into the ground, and it’s certainly not going to be women. You think women are sociopathic enough to make the hard choice of picking our bloodthirsty, barbaric species above all others? Are women going to disgrace themselves like the wealthy douchebags who spend their money on golden toilets and sprawling palaces—which no one has ever worked hard enough in all of human history to have actually earned—and then to look at themselves in the mirror and smile, knowing that a billion people are starving? No, only men can rule, because leaders have to be assholes. Running your corporation, your country, your species into the ground, never taking responsibility, and bringing everyone else down with you—that’s a man’s job! But now it’s fashionable to flatter women that they can be as monstrous as men, because everything has to be equal, right? Well, where are all the female movie villains? Which evil vixen was ever as bad-ass as Darth flipping Vader? Last time I checked, Dracula, the mummy, the werewolf, and Frankenstein and his monster were all men. Which little lady was ever as straight-up demonic as Hitler or Stalin? Get the hell out of here with your right to equality! No one’s as cruel or as clueless as human males. We’ve earned that title and the right to rule after our thousands of years of slaughtering in the names of fictitious gods. We males have done the legwork of enslaving or exterminating almost all the animal species on land—thank you very much! So we don’t need women’s backseat driving on how to let power go to our heads. Least of all do we need them pretending they can do all this dirty work with no disastrous input from men. Let’s just see what happens, shall we? After only a few decades of feminist rulers, I’d wager the ecosystem might even be saved from ruin—and they’d call that “leadership”! So watch Ms. Manjaws sitting there with her porn starlet’s hairdo and her caked-on makeup and those huge honking manly jaws! Just watch her attempt to be as vapid and perfunctory at her job as the male news readers of old. Watch her take down that seven-figure salary for a monkey’s labour, and just see if she can squander it as rapidly as a man would. We should all be curious to learn if she can shamelessly carry around a trophy boy toy in her middle age, like an alpha male would. That’s the problem with late modernity: our symbols no longer mean anything and no one can trust in our myths anymore. She may have the jawline of a killer, but her heart’s not in it. No one’s fooling me! I’d follow her into battle only if I knew for certain she’d lead us right smack into the maw of crushing defeat, albeit with great, sanctimonious speeches, tall tales of derring-do, and bullshit mythic symbols of our noble enterprise. Until women can prove they can destroy the planet with the best of them, the only women I want to see on TV should be content with baby-weak jawlines. Manjaws are for the brutes whose thankless task is to destroy the planet, the brutes women love best. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Is Donald Trump Mentally Ill?

You might have thought that Donald Trump, the current president of the United States, is mentally ill and obviously so. You might even have thought you had the medical name of his affliction handy: “malignant narcissism,” the name of the disorder that combines psychopathy with narcissism. But Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who wrote the definition of “narcissism” in the DSM, the Bible of American psychiatry, wants you to know you’d be wrong. As he writes in his book, Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump, Frances thinks it’s clear that while Trump may be a horrendous person, he doesn’t have any mental illness. This is why Frances says he declined a TV producer’s invitation to provide a psychiatric diagnosis of Trump’s mental condition, during the 2016 presidential campaign. Frances declined because he “saw no evidence that Trump had a mental disorder.” Plus, he was barred from conjecturing in that manner by the “useful ethics policy” of the American Psychiatric Association’s Goldwater rule. Psychiatrists, he says, have “no right to use professional credentials to medicalize their political beef” with a politician.  

I’ll return to the Goldwater rule at the end. Why, though, does Frances think Trump has no mental illness? Here’s his answer:
Trump’s amateur diagnosticians have all made the same fundamental error. They correctly note that the disorder’s defining features [of narcissism] fit him like a glove…But they fail to recognize that being a world-class narcissist doesn’t make Trump mentally ill. Crucial to the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the requirement that the behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment. Otherwise, many, if not most, politicians (and almost all celebrities) might qualify. Trump is a man who causes great distress in others but shows no signs himself of experiencing great distress. His behaviors, however outrageous and objectionable, consistently reap him fame, fortune, women, and now political power—he has been generously rewarded for his Trumpism, not impaired by it.
That answer should astonish you. Nearly every line of it must be dissected to grasp the extent of Frances’ audacity.

Allen Frances
It’s true that a mental condition should negatively impact the prospective patient before it can be called a disorder. Doctors still take something like the Hippocratic Oath to heart; they want to first do no harm to the patient. Thus, if a person shows no signs of distress, the doctor has no overriding reason to intervene, since doing so might cause more harm than good. Only if the patient is clearly suffering can the doctor feel assured that even if the treatment should fail or cause some additional discomfort, as it frequently does, the risk is worth it to have the chance of relieving the initial suffering. Moreover, impairment is considered a precondition of having a mental disorder, because psychiatry is scientistic and so the psychiatrist would prefer not to descend to the free-for-all level of dabbling in normative reflections on what should count as mental health, that being a mere philosophical question. Thus, the psychiatrist borrows her professional values from society at large and so she defines “disorder” in terms of dysfunction. A disorder causes impairment which prevents the individual from functioning normally in society. That’s what society cares about—the extent to which members fit in and don’t interfere with its norms—and so that’s how the psychiatrist skirts the philosophical questions about the ideals of human excellence.

Note that both of these factors have to do with the profession of psychiatry, not with the potential patient’s inherent mental condition. The psychiatrist sees herself as heroic and her profession as scientific, and that’s why she thinks of mental disorders partly in consequentialist terms. Frances concedes that Trump’s mental condition appears to be narcissistic. That is, Trump has all the disorder’s inherent defining features; moreover, it’s obvious that he has them, because his is a severe, putrefied case. But those features have the wrong effects, says Frances. This means merely that there’s no cause for medical alarm in Trump’s case. Trump is flourishing, so medically intervening in his life would violate the doctor’s oath to do no harm, and Trump functions well in society, so society wouldn’t take the brunt of the normative assessment, given that the psychiatrist sees herself as dealing only with hardnosed, quantitative matters.

Granting all of this, then, it’s still misleading to say, with Frances, that Trump hasn’t any mental disorder, when what Frances really means is that Trump’s palpable narcissism has anomalous results which don’t happen to call for medical remedy. To say that Trump isn’t mentally disordered, for the above reasons, is to speak about psychiatry not Trump. As soon as we turn to what’s intrinsic to Trump, to a study of how his mind operates, regardless of how society happens to receive him, we’re led to conclude that Trump walks and quacks like a duck. If having all the internal components of malignant narcissism doesn’t make for a mental disorder, because psychiatry refuses to get involved if there’s no distress or impairment, and mental disorders go only where psychiatrists have no fear to tread, that amounts to a mere semantic difference. Just say that Trump has a grotesque mental condition, equivalent to the set of all the intrinsic features of malignant narcissism, but not that he has a mental disorder (because psychiatrists don’t want to get involved in Trump’s particular case).

Monday, September 11, 2017

Evil Industries Imitates Scientology at Trial over Fraud

Dateline: NEW YORK CITY—Unveiling his legal team’s strategy at NY State Supreme Court, Lance Hyrdgun, lead defense lawyer for the retail firm Evil Industries, which is being sued by the Justice Department for fraud, said that the defendant “operates well within the boundaries established in the name of evil by Scientology, a malevolent cult which is evidently just fine and dandy in America.” 

“Nothing in this nation is currently more evil than Scientology,” said Mr. Hyrdgun in his opening statement. “Just as some comedians push the envelope for free speech, Scientology shows all profit-maximizing businesspeople how to scam the public and get away scot-free. So watch us do the same.”

According to the defense team, Evil Industries has imitated Scientology’s corporate structure and brand, which allow Scientology to get away with murder.

“Scientologists are allowed to rampage across the face of the earth like a pack of demons straight out of hell,” said Evil Industries VP Brenda Heartless on the witness stand. “This is because that corporation calls itself a religion. They thus pay no taxes and hide behind both the modern deference to science and America’s lame taboo against criticizing religion. It’s brilliant what that heinous organization has done.”

Ms. Heartless added, “Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard ripped off Sumerian astrotheology, Gnosticism, and the Jain interpretation of karma, put a sci-fi spin on them and pretended his plain-as-day cult of personality is actually a science to rival psychiatry, complete with technology that can solve all your personal problems and even give you superpowers.

“Meanwhile, you’ve given over the cult hundreds of thousands of your dollars, had your access to the internet removed, and been physically abused at the Sea Org or denied access to your parents and siblings because the cult has condemned them as heretics. Maybe you even end up killing yourself when you realize you’ve wasted decades of your life on Scientologist nonsense. But it’s all perfectly legal, thanks to the genius of that con.”

The defense team contends that Evil Industries likewise operates as a religion: the religion of Business.

“If Scientology can make a religion out of using bogus technology to make you happy,” said Mr. Hyrdgun, “Evil Industries can make one out of selling schlock to satisfy ignorant consumers’ weakness for impulse purchases. The blueprint laid out by Scientology is ingenious: you just pick your wide-as-can-be aspect of human life and make a religion that corners the market on it, by inventing some nonsensical jargon, pseudo-theological balderdash, and creepy religious branding. Then you’re legally entitled in the freedom-loving USA to set up a tyrannical business empire that funnels millions of dollars from the desperate and exploited masses to the grossly-cynical managers.”

Roderick Moustache-Twiddler, CEO of Evil Industries and Chairman of the Board of the Evil Business Center, took the witness stand to counter the prosecutor’s case for fraud, saying, “The government has no case. Does the Justice Department think fraud is always illegal? It isn’t, not if it’s done in the name of a religion. Sure, we at Evil Industries sell insect goo as fancy cheese, and goat piss as white wine. So what?

“In 1993 the IRS bowed to pressure, saving Scientology from bankruptcy by allowing that malevolent organization to call itself a religion. Any old business now can follow suit just by dressing up its nefarious activities in the trappings of a church. Again, fraud is okay in the USA if it’s done in the guise of a religion! But religions are a dime a dozen now, so you all can kiss my Texan ass!”

Asked why his organization is called “Evil Industries,” Mr. Moustache-Twiddler said, “We call ourselves evil, because that’s what’s at the heart of capitalism. We’re as selfish as can be to make a quick buck. We don’t exchange goods that are equally valuable, as in bartering. No, we maximize profit, which is possible only by lying and conning, by committing fraud. So fraud is essential to sales and thus to capitalism, but it’s illegal in business because of feel-good foolishness about how if everyone’s as selfish and ruthless as possible, an invisible hand will make everything alright in the end. Competition will make everyone happy even as the wickedness that’s unleashed destroys the planet.

“We admit we’re evil, but we follow the lead of the demons over at the Church of Scientology, so we’re all good.”

At a press conference, the American president commented on the trial. “Businesses don’t have to be evil and religions don’t have to be villainous cults,” said the president.

When asked why Scientology is allowed to operate within the United States, without being leveled to the ground by a hydrogen bomb blast, the president said, “We can’t be expected to annihilate every form of evil that takes root. You take the good with the bad.”  

Legal insiders expect Evil Industries to prevail at trial.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Creature of American Democracy Battered and Hunted under President Trump

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C.—American democracy has been badly injured and is in hiding as a result of Donald Trump’s being elected president of the United States.

There have since been scattered sightings of Democracy across the country. At midnight in Pasadena, an elderly woman reported seeing a battered, hunched figure with a mangled face, crawling in the alley behind her small house. The creature claimed to be none other than Democracy itself, the very creature that had formerly appeared angelic to the nation.

The humanoid begged for water and to be sung the national anthem, “to keep my spirits up,” as it croaked, but instead of obliging, the woman kicked Democracy in the groin and spat on its blistered head.

“You’re American Democracy and you have the gall to show your face in public, even in a filthy back alley like this?” she said. “When you’re responsible for inflicting us with Trump? Trump?! You were supposed to be meritocratic!”

Democracy slinked away, avoiding further blows, but not before the woman had her daughter take a picture of the creature. The photograph made headlines when she sent it to the local newspaper.

The creature was sighted next by a father and his young son, in New York City. “It was just lying on its back on the side of the road,” said the man. “It looked like a cross between a big lizard and some sort of demon, with twisted, ragged bat wings, a bulbous head and a hunched back. Its scaly hide was bruised all over and blood was flowing from its ears and its gaping maw.”

The boy ran up to Democracy and offered it a sip from his juice box, but his father pulled him aside and said, “Not so fast, son. That there’s Democracy—not a functioning government’s version, mind you, but the made-in-the-US kind. It’s dead to us now.”

“But why can’t we help the poor monster?” asked his son. “It’s bleeding and gasping for air. It should be on life support in the hospital.”

“This is what it deserves for lying to us for centuries! We were supposed to have the best political system in the world, devised by the genius framers of our Constitution. Some geniuses they were! The Electoral College was designed to prevent a demagogic buffoon from becoming president, but it did just the opposite, denying the moderate Hillary Clinton victory even though she won the popular vote by millions.

“No, steer clear of the traitorous freak, son. We’ll have nothing more to do with American-style democracy. But you can kick its belly if you want.”

Some months later, in Youngstown, Ohio, a trio of middle-aged white men who supported Mr. Trump came upon the hobbling and wheezing figure of Democracy.

Clapping the creature on the back, one of the men said, “See, you’re just wounded now, but don’t worry: Trump and the alt right will finish you off for good before his first term’s up. Serves you right for all your related platitudes about the glories of free trade and globalization! Trump proved the centrist, neoliberal pundits and pollsters and your other guardians knew nothing and were phonies all along—just like the dream of American democracy itself, since our government is effectively a plutocracy that serves only the richest ten percent.

“No more lies out of you, infernal beast!” The man slammed Democracy against a brick wall, shouting, “You’ve shown us your true, hideous form. We can’t wait for patriotic fascists to take American power from the bureaucrats and bankers and give it back to hard-working real Americans, like how Putin saved Russia from the outbreak of liberty and the rise of corrupt oligarchs under Yeltsin.”

Briella Lamonte, lecturer at the Machiavelli Institute, in Lick Skillet, Tennessee, isn’t surprised that Democracy is on the run. “The myth of Democracy needs to be fed like the gods of old,” she said. “A myth dies when it has few if any to worship what it stands for. For decades, America has had the lowest voter turnout among developed nations. We have gerrymandering, voter suppression, and a revolving door between the public and private sectors, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into the political system and only two measly, pro-establishment parties that ever have a chance of winning.

“And despite what the myth promised, that maximum personal freedom would benefit the majority, few Americans believe it anymore because they’ve seen their towns crumble and their wages stagnate, even while the military tried to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq, of all places, or while Obama gave the Wall Street bankers a green light to keep holding the economy hostage.

“American democracy isn’t what we thought it was,” she added. “It’s actually a terrifying disgrace and the public have a right to shun it. They don’t vote anymore, or if they do they hold their nose or send the power elites a self-destructive protest in the form of a psychopathic ignoramus like Donald Trump. So yeah, maybe we’ll catch sight of Democracy now and again, like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. But I don’t think American freedom can survive much longer, not after it’s spoiled the illusion by giving us the Bush and Trump fiascos.” 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics

If you’ve participated in the so-called Great Debate in the West, wading through chat rooms and discussion forums hosting smug, sanctimonious Christians, on the one hand, and smug, chauvinistic new atheists on the other, you may have encountered the Christian ploy of arguing that Christianity, or at least theism, is the only viable worldview, all others being incoherent. Reason and morality presuppose God, and science, naturalism, and the secular way of life endure only by borrowing principles from the Christian’s worldview. This transcendental argument for Christian theism, called presuppositionalism, is comically misplaced. But it can spur the secularist to realize that the popular, exoteric formulation of the naturalist’s worldview, called liberal secular humanism, is indeed incoherent. If Christianity were to fall, it would likely take optimistic, progressive humanism down with it. The hunt should be on, then, for the content of the enlightened humanist’s esoteric beliefs.

The Paper Tiger of Presuppositionalism

Presuppositional apologetics is a totalitarian defense of Christianity which denies that there’s a neutral starting point of inquiry which could allow for Christians and non-Christians to build their opposing cases from the same pool of evidence and to evaluate their arguments without decisive bias. According to an evidentialist, by contrast, Christians and atheists can both turn with sufficient neutrality to the same world for evidence to support their respective positions, and the winning argument can be decided on empirical grounds. The rules of inference and evidence would be settled prior to evaluating the first-order arguments, so that Christians and atheistic naturalists will have agreed on what counts epistemically as a superior argument. But according to the presuppositionalist, we’re all locked within our presuppositions and so we can’t reason empathically or philosophically, by imagining an alternative viewpoint or improving your opponent’s counterargument in a cooperative effort to discover the truth in good-faith dialogue. Instead, according to Cornelius Van Til, the founder of this ruse, the Christian presupposes the Bible as a set of axioms, whereas the non-Christian presupposes some other grounds for first-order beliefs, such as scientific theories and the laws of logic, and the only question is which self-contained belief system is more coherent. Of course, Van Til says that Christianity is the only coherent belief system, and all others fall apart. The presuppositionalist, therefore, deconstructs, say, philosophical naturalism, showing its presuppositions are no threat to Christianity because those presuppositions serve as no preconditions for any coherent non-Christian belief system. Christianity triumphs by default, because there is no coherent alternative. As Van Til said, “the only proof for the existence of God is that without God you couldn't prove anything.” The non-Christian only appears to have an alternative, because she borrows principles from Christianity.

I call presuppositionalism “totalitarian” because it projects onto the non-Christian the Christian’s cultist mindset, according to which Christianity is effectively a self-reinforcing delusion. Van Til goes as far as to remind the flock of the alleged “noetic effects of sin,” which are that the non-Christian is in no position to recognize the truth, because she’s blinded by satanic pride. Thus, the Christian’s duty isn’t to persuade non-Christians of the truth, but only to prove Christianity in a way that will likely satisfy only Christians, because Christians alone have been liberated and mentally reconfigured by their faith in Christ. Psychologically, non-Christians are supposed to be lost in a fog of arrogance and ignorance, as though a sovereign God, whose control over his creation is absolute, would allow for even a speck of godless life, that is, for life that could proceed without divine sustenance at every level, including the epistemic one. Thus, the Christian god’s absolute control over every particle in the universe transfers to the presuppositional Christian’s smugness in presuming, in effect, that if the Christian is forced, by secular progress in the Age of Reason, to think like a terrified cultist, locked in her self-reinforcing delusion, so must everyone else. That is, God reigns over Creation and since we’re supposedly made in God’s image, we reign over our belief systems. But since God reigns over us too (instead of supplying us with freewill), God ensures that the only viable belief system is Christian theism, the self-sustainability of all others being illusory.

I say that presuppositional Christianity amounts to a ruse and a presumption rather than a respectable defense of the religion, because it’s a howler and an embarrassing excuse for the underlying cultist thought-mechanisms needed to protect what is now the stark anachronism of Christianity. To begin with, notice that the presuppositionalist is forced to turn to Christian scripture as her starting point, to avoid the familiar parody of her defense, which would allow members of other religions to reason in the same fashion, in which case presuppositionalism would entail theism, at best, or else would implode from the contradictions of entailing dozens of religions, all of which would be incompatible with each other. Far from being a shining advantage, though, the Bible is an albatross around the presuppositionalist’s neck. The Bible was written and edited by many human authors over a period of centuries, and each of those individuals had different interests to suit his peculiar historical circumstances. Thus, the Bible naturally contains hundreds of contradictions. (See McKinsey’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy.) Therefore, the Christian should be the last one to appeal to a coherence theory of truth. Any belief system built on the Bible, taken as an axiom set, will obviously be incoherent if the Bible itself is rife with contradictions. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Taking Fictions Seriously: Why the Late-Modern Show Goes On

The suspension of disbelief in fictions has become paradoxical. We find we must ignore our doubts to entertain ourselves not just when we’re reading novels or watching movies, but when we engage with ideology or adhere to the narrative we’re constantly telling ourselves to dignify our life with purpose. In prehistoric times, there was no need to suspend disbelief in the telling of myths, because facts weren’t divorced from values and so there was no such thing generally as the kind of hyper-rational skepticism that can spoil a narrative. For the opposite reason, in what we call the modern Age of Reason, taking fiction seriously is likewise almost impossible: the science-centered doubts become overbearing, we become cynical and nihilistic, and yet most of us choose to act as though the myths still matter.

Fact, Value, and the Mythopoeic Dreamworld

The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase “willing suspension of disbelief,” when he defended his reference to supernatural elements in his poetry even in the nineteenth century at which time educated readers were taken with the science-centered, naturalistic view of the world. Coleridge said that not only could an author “transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith,” but the reverse could be achieved, “to give the charm of novelty to things of every day, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind's attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us” (Biographia Literaria). In other words, if a reader can be led to identify with the story’s characters and offered enough verisimilitude in the details, the reader could overlook the story’s unreality for the sake of enjoying the experience of reading the narrative. Moreover, in the case of Romanticism, magical realism or some such genre, a reader can be shown that the so-called mundane, material reality of everyday objects belies a strangeness which we’re no longer predisposed to perceive. For Coleridge and Wordsworth, who co-wrote the poems that prompted Coleridge’s coining of the phrase, poetry thus could address science’s disenchantment of the world, that is, the rise of skepticism and objectivity which had severed fact from value in our understanding of our experience. Either the supernatural could be portrayed as normal and realistic or nature could be presented as bizarre and magical. Either way, poetry and art in general could rejoin fact and value.

The quality of life for humans in the Paleolithic Age was likely mythopoeic, meaning that the prehistoric hunter-gatherers didn’t perceive facts as being separable from values. This isn’t to say they had no accurate beliefs, since they could hardly have survived a day in the teeming wilderness if none of their concepts had been practical or attuned to nature. Indeed, if they personified natural processes in their animistic dramatizations, that supernaturalism may itself have been crucial to their survival. An objective understanding of nature’s impersonality had better wait for an epoch in which the population has the technoscientific control to reassure itself with luxuries, just as an adult’s jadedness isn’t fit for a child. Had the hunter-gatherers been forced to conceive of nature as having no redemptive purpose or moral value, the savagery and carnage all around them in the wild would likely have overwhelmed them and driven them to suicide or madness. Only a society that’s equipped itself with a buffer of protective artificiality could indulge in skeptical meditations on the world’s godlessness and on its ultimate indifference to all creatures. Without cities and civilizations, and supported only by small bands of kith and kin who stood against predators, diseases, and natural disasters, Paleolithic humans could at least fall back on their mental armor, as it were, on their naïve, comforting humanization of alien reality, that is, on their projecting of social categories onto inhuman forces and mechanisms.