Saturday, August 25, 2018

Sex is Ridiculous: A Rant by Rashad the Cackler

[The homeless old man, Rashad the Cackler is back with another rant. Enjoy as he spills his guts to passersby on a big city street corner.]
Politics and business are cesspools, right? But family, that’s our sacred cow. I wonder why, though, we still get married with all the pomp and circumstance when we don’t believe in the religious or romantic myths anymore. Yeah, finding someone who’s attracted to your bullshit is a miracle and an excuse to throw a party and celebrate with friends and family, but that’s not why we still go through the weird rituals of telling public vows and wearing expensive rings, and indulging the priest or rabbi or secular administrator as he issues his magic blessings. What is it about marriage that’s still sacrosanct, that calls for such solemnity?

I’m pretty sure it’s the sex. Marriage is a license to have guilt-free sex. It’s like a driver’s license: only you are legally entitled to drive your car, because you have the special piece of paper, and if someone else drives it without your permission, they’re stealing your car. If someone else has sex with your husband or wife, they’re stealing what’s yours.

They used to think that sex before marriage is sinful because God’s watching, but that’s silly because God’s supposed to be like an uptight Jew, Christian, or Muslim, not a pervert who pays close attention to whom we’re having sex with. The gods of organized religions would avert their eyes while we’re fucking each other, so religion can’t be the reason we still take marriage so seriously.

What’s so dreadful about sex outside of wedlock? How about this for a fancy hypothesis: what’s missing from that sex is freedom from being blackmailed. Hear me out! Even if you’re going steady, without all the symbols and rituals of the wedding ceremony, you still feel at liberty to change your mind and see someone else. And once that happens, you’re free to cheat in the worst way imaginable, not just by having sex with someone else but by spreading rumours about what sex was like with the person you were once supposed to be faithful to. And not just rumours, but photos and videos. And if your partner or ex found out, he or she would of course die of embarrassment.

So why are we so afraid of being cheated on? Why in high school does the cheerleader go into seclusion or slit her wrists because the jock who banged her and then dumped her spreads rumours about how her nipples are cockeyed? Why are we so desperate to keep our partner monogamous that we put our faith in the obsolete marriage ceremony?

It’s because sex is ridiculous.

Sex is shameful not because God’s watching, but because we look pathetic while we’re having sex. That’s why we have to keep our sex acts secret. That’s why we’d be mortified if word got out what perverted things we do with our sex partner-in-crime. And that’s why we fear being blackmailed by our partner if he or she should go rogue. So we put a ring on their finger to make them feel guilty of even thinking of telling their friends that we have our partner pretend they’re Angela Merkel or Donald Trump while we’re screwing them. The vows and the rings don’t guarantee anything, of course, but we love drinking Coca-Cola’s shit water, so what do we know?

I know, I know, monogamy is also about protecting the bloodline and making sure we’re not being cuckolded, but that’s only the animal reason for human families. Ask a biologist what the evolutionary explanation is of adult spanking or Japanese sex robots or any of the thousands of other unnatural human fetishes. You won’t stump the biologist, because the biologist’s imagination is infinite. She can guess at an evolutionary reason for why you prefer one kind of shit water to another. But that’s the point: we can think of everything, but animals can hardly think of anything.

And that’s why sex is so humiliating and traumatic, because it’s what all the animals do. Those are the same animals we’ve slaughtered or conquered, the same ones we own as living machines or livestock; the same ones we keep on leashes as our pets or slaves; the same animals we run over and leave to rot on the side of the road, with no thought of burying them—these are the creatures that are also happy to fuck each other in broad daylight. We’re the arrogant animals who imagine we have the dignity of being something miraculous: we’re people, not just animals. So why are we still so eager to touch each other’s private parts? If you have audiovisual evidence of your partner having sex, you better keep it secret, because if you can prove he or she is an animal, someone might just come along and run your partner over with their car and call it road kill.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Humanists, Technocrats, and a World of Babies

In Oh, the Humanities! NY Times columnist and Christian apologist, Ross Douthat, looks at the triumph of technocrats over humanists in American culture. He writes of “the motley humanists against the efficient technocrats, the aesthetes and poets and philosophers and theologians against the managers and scientists and financiers and bureaucrats,” and of how “neither a Christian humanism nor any other has been able to withstand the spirit of Conant [former president of Harvard], the spirit of technocratic ambition, the spirit of truth-replaced-by-useful-knowledge, that rules today not just in Washington and Silicon Valley but in much of academia as well.”

Humanism and Technocracy

For Douthat, humanism should be preserved as a buffer between the toxic outgrowths of secularism and his cherished religious traditions. These outgrowths would include not just the technocratic mindset, but nihilism, moral relativism, postmodern cynicism and apathy, and the hopelessness resulting from what Nietzsche diagnosed as the death of God, meaning the obsolescence of theological concepts. Much of the humanist outlook is thus a means to an end for Douthat. He’s not interested so much in human nature, since unlike more mystical theists such as those you’ll find in greater abundance in East Asia, he regards human beings as subservient to a transcendent deity. By contrast, many Hindus, Daoists, and Buddhists identify some level of our nature with God. As a conventional Catholic, Douthat must think that while God gifted us with reason and freedom, we’ve abused God’s generosity and are “fallen” creatures. Thus, for him our inherent qualities should be lamented rather than celebrated, since we’re tainted by the original sin precisely of taking pride in ourselves as though we could run our affairs as mature adults without kowtowing to an all-knowing father figure in the sky. In short, religious humanism rests precariously on a slippery slope that passes through secular humanism, which in turn leads to those apparent valleys of technocracy and so-called postmodernity.  

But Douthat’s finding that the humanities are in trouble is corroborated by Thomas Frank’s more comprehensive treatment of the matter. For example, Frank connects student indebtedness and the “de-professionalization of the faculty” with the ballooning of the class of college administrators. As he points out, “teaching college students” has steadily become “an occupation for people with no tenure, no benefits, and no job security. These lumpen-profs, who have spent many years earning advanced degrees but sometimes make less than minimum wage, now account for more than three-quarters of the teaching that is done at our insanely expensive, oh-so-excellent American universities.” Tuition has increased and put students in debt, largely to pay for the salaries of the true “masters of academia.” Following Ginsberg’s 2011 book, The Fall of the Faculty, Frank says that “what has really fueled the student’s ever-growing indebtedness, as anyone with a connection to academia can tell you, is the insane proliferation of university administrators.” Whereas the American university used to be run by professors, today “the business side of the university has been captured by a class of professionals who have nothing to do with the pedagogical enterprise itself.” Today, administrators and staffers may even outnumber the teachers, and so there’s a culture war between those who fulfill the original function of higher education—the educators—and those who fulfill the new one—the pencil pushers. According to Frank, the new function is to earn a profit as a business. Thus, humanism has been defeated by economic forces: American culture has been overtaken by a capitalist ethos that has reshaped not just the country’s education systems, but its democracy, religions, and arts.

As for humanistic values, these go back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Cicero, for example, wrote of humanitas, the love of human potential that thrives with education, as crucial to the ideal orator. Such an orator would have studied literature and poetry to inculcate him (or her) with virtues suitable for public service and a fulfilling private life. Revived by the European Renaissance, the original point of familiarizing the young person with value-laden subject matters derives ultimately from the virtue ethics of Plato and Aristotle—which are similar to those of Confucian philosophy. The assumption was that when we’re young we’re innocent and malleable creatures, but that as individuals and collectives we have the potential to reach a certain ideal stature if our character and behaviour have been properly cultivated. For those Greek philosophers who appealed most to the medieval Church (namely Plato and Aristotle), our ideal development is objectively determined by the teleological fabric of nature. Just as a rock ought to head lower and lower, towards the earth, because that’s the rock’s natural tendency, a person should demonstrate rational self-control because that’s what’s good for creatures with our potential. Christians merely added the myth that natural forms were intelligently designed by God and that they were somehow corrupted. (Notice, again, that the classical concept of humanitas or philanthrĂ´pĂ­a, that is, the assumption that our fundamental goodness is revealed when we fulfill our potential, conflicts with the Pauline contention that Christ had to sacrifice his life for humanity, because our nature is otherwise irredeemable and so we can’t save ourselves from God’s wrath.) In any case, higher education was meant to instill students with virtues that enable them to succeed not just in narrow economic terms, but as civilized people and as free, responsible citizens of a democratic republic.

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 one of those words 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 should dwindle 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?”