Friday, August 18, 2017


The very definition of politics may be: telling others what to do. Political power is the added ability to make them do it. Chew on that as you consider what messages we, our friends and enemies, are bombarded with every single day. Who is telling us what to do, and who can actually make us do it? The “informed consumer” and “rational actor” of economics doesn't stand a chance against batallions of PhDs whose means of making a living is to manipulate us into “soon” parting with our money – and who is it, the butt of the aphorism, who is soon parted from his or her money? Their jobs are to make fools of us.

I don't know about you, but I don't need any help to make a fool of myself. It was even more so, if that's possible, when I used to drink. Consider who else may be employed to make a fool of you. We, no matter our background or education, or our means of making a living, are simply outclassed in some important area of our lives, by others whose means of supporting themselves is to make fools of us. The implications ought to be humbling if not enervating and even depressing. Humans are vain, proud creatures and not easily convinced, on the whole, of our own folly.

There was a psychological study, done in the last decade, that used smartphones to interrupt people throughout their day. The app asked them questions about what they were doing and how they felt. One of the conclusions of this study was that we are unhappy when we let our minds wander. Another was that we are unhappy when we feel as if life is very competitive. Did you know, also, that we are, on the whole, happiest when we are in the act of having sex? When our minds wander, are we seeing the competition and manipulation before turning away in horror?

Make love, not war. We are having less sex. We are told not to have sex with people whose politics are too different from ours; we are told to divorce our Trump-supporting spouse. If the government's laws should be kept out of the bedrooms of consenting adults, why should the politics of paid manipulators be allowed in? Many of us would benefit from outrage breaks – breaks from outrage-porn binging etc – and from unplugging altogether.

In The Lord of the Rings, the Shire is portrayed as a place ignorant of brutality, a place not so much otherworldly as unworldly. It is a land of innocence. With ubiquitous social media and non-stop news, we are welcoming Sauron, the evil political power, into our Shires. Our children don't deserve this. It was not a son's or daughter's idea to stay up all night texting “friends” and frenemies. It was the decision, made, perhaps, only implicitly, of paid manipulators. Manipulators who've convinced us to give them, if not our money, then our attention. They don't deserve it!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Future of a Delusion

There is no happy wrap-up here, so good luck figuring out this snarl; I don't solve the problem, merely pose it.

Camus, in “An Absurd Reasoning,” wrote that the question that is of first importance for philosophy is whether it is worth it to continue to live. Why not suicide? What I intend to get at here is not that it is a delusion to want to continue – Camus thought suicide was a mistake. The delusion has to do with life, but, once suicide is out of the way, the question of first importance after that will come into view.

“Man never thinks so much as when he is suffering,” wrote someone who sounds wise to me. I am not “really” suffering; there will nearly always be someone who will or who will have, or who is suffering, more than any speaker; yet Alain de Botton tells us not to disparage ourselves for what suffering we do endure, nor to disparage our suffering itself as unimportant. Such is most of my suffering: mental, emotional, spiritual, rather than physical. Goethe wrote, “What are the pains of the flesh compared to the agonies of the spirit?”

My “super-ego” is typically an obnoxious drunk sitting next to me at a bar … this imaginary person spouts what passes for wisdom among the parroting thoughtless. This person always has a put-down ready. One has to be humble enough to admit one does suffer from one's problems. Suffering, to my super-ego barfly, is false: it insults their vanity. Unless you are suffering in a narrow way and more than anyone else, the idea that one is suffering is ruled out, in the ternary opposition of this subhumanizing fool. One is either “truly” suffering, which is ruled out; one is close to an unfeeling neutral (one's above having any feelings); or one is in the ecstasies of drugs or sex. Finer gradations simply don't occur or are unworthy of consideration.

My super-ego is an average fool. With a comfortable job, no commitments admitted, he or she inhabits an inane interstitial paradise of low-level intoxication, where dullness turns into supercilious know-it-all-ism. You've likely met, and detested, this person. This imaginary person, “based on actual events,” is suffering, in an insufferable way, from a delusion.

It's not as simple, here, as concluding one's own self-importance, alone, is at issue. Perhaps it is a constellation of signs and symptoms, a syndrome with multiple dimensions. It is a complex in this sense. (While I have used the psychoanalytic term, “super-ego,” I do not intend “complex” in a precise psychoanalytic sense.)

The status quo, for our super-ego companion, is simultaneously unquestionable and held up as obviously inevitable. “Obviously” – the fool will berate me if I disagree, and will treat me as if they think I am stupid. Maybe the delusion has a significant eristic component: the fool will try to “win” the conversation at any cost to reasonable thought. It is as if it is a battle not of wits but for existence. This used to be clearer when I was ten years old. Now there are too many confounding factors, and I quickly become confused in areas like this one.

The companion, stalking through my mind's recesses – popping in to irk me – seems to think I am out to get them. Out to obliterate them. It's either them or me, in a struggle of life and death. It is a Sartrean encounter: the hateful look is used to take away my status as a fellow human being. It is an attempt to destroy my subjectivity, to nullify my existence: my super-ego is trying to kill me.

My experience of this onslaught is protection against the mob. Regardless of the metaphysical status of the mob's “mentality,” there is a characteristic lowering of thought in a towering chimeric giant formed out of individuals. The “shitstorms of the Net” have their basis in mobs of bodies. I have a super-sensitive self-censor, who functions to protect me from having my subjectivity nullfied by fools, by playing the parts of them in my imagination. I am advised to stay indoors!

Where can such self-censorship lead? The “anti-psychiatrist,” R. D. Laing, wrote that we say we are pressured by “society,” but that it is we who apply the pressure upon ourselves. That's what seems to be going on here; but why apply it at all? Society. And we are society. We are part of the miasmic “society,” a popular enough villain, so often invoked whether for praise, or in dismay or outrage.

This sort of self-curbing has led to a society in which children no longer play outside unsupervised. It is better, says the chimeric super-ego, to keep them within reach and indoors. Connected to the neural-drip of the shitstorms of the Net. Safe in body and assailed in mind, in spirit. Turpitude as brain food!

Is the delusion in question the belief, that one can escape the self-censor? Or is it that one cannot (and so the censor must be obeyed)? Is it both: to escape the censor we must obey it? I think Zizek has spoken of this paradoxical trap in some way.

I have no happy ending in mind; rather, my super-ego companions are rattling my cage with their insistence on banal conclusions. And you have already known them all!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Just Those Bare Unnecessaries

What is, is tedious, unremarkable. Only temporary and quickly ameliorated ignorance leads us to be interested in “interesting” things. Yet the facts of our world are so highly critical of us and our misconstruals, as to be dictatorial; but this is (only) one way of looking at things. Another is as worlds, each world having different facts – each of us, in fact, being entitled not only to our own opinions but, as well, to our own facts. Thus it is that the rain of criticisms is greatly multiplied, and the reign of others becomes unbearable, if untenable. Each, who knows no better, attempts to lay waste the worlds of each other. It is nothing but pious fraudulence – spiritual flatulence – to pretend to be doing, ever, anything else (and so do I seek to lay waste to thee).

Facts, as facts, limit us in body and mind. The imagination – disappearing, it is said, with every YouTube video a child sees – is left to explore. The bottom of the sea: nothing but facts. But we base our imaginings on facts, so let's look again: just as a prisoner bases his or her imaginings on facts. Imaginings are the ghostly remains of what were once beyond the realm of human knowledge or of some humans' knowledge. The tracked earth, soared heights, and plumbed depths are each in their turns subjected to domination. The birds, flying about “uncooked,” become facts.

This describes the result of one type of view of the world. It is nonetheless the dominant one, if not in number then in fact. It is uninteresting, whatever happened in fact. What didn't happen (but might have instead) dwarfs the fatum brutum, the brute fact, itself little different – whatever it is – from a roll of a die. A sports event ends when the dice stop, and some attach importance to the result. Some lose; some profit. No die roll is different, in essence, in fact, from any other. The facts of the die roll as such are the same between all. Surrounding facts, giving context of importance some might say, are each a die rolling. We link them, imagining as most do, to suss out their meaning. We factify them. And we try our hands at the demolition of others' interpretations. We give our support, in the end, to further this demolition. We take special care the carcass, when demolished, doesn't fall onto us!

I sit in the coffee shop, among many, some of us reading, some playing games with noisy blocks (or dice?), some discussing or extemporizing upon work. There is no place nearby – is there? – free of talk of the facts, of work. Thus, I ask: What point to work is there, but more work, of this work? Many do nothing – or do they? – but work: their rest is recuperation for work to follow; their reading the taking in, blindly, of information to get ahead at work; their recreation is opportunity for networking; their worship will be subversive comparison of others' work.

What is outside work? Is there any point – is there any hope of a world without constant devotion to work? “Take pride in your work.” What is this pride, who is to take (and give) this pride, why ought we take this pride? Take pride in your work, that your heirs may take pride in theirs, and so on. A hand turning a crank, that moves the hand – forever.

The imagination is beyond work. In imagining, we turn from facts – from work – to what is not, some of which may be, once certain works have been done; but here we are back in the world of work! The impossible, then, is that part of the imagination that deals with work, if at all, in a wholly negative way. Whatever can't be done circumscribes work. If there seems to be work that cannot be done, we have made a mistake. We have confused the impossible with what is possible.

We need what is unnecessary. To live in the impossible is to live beyond necessity. It is not so strange. When one imagines, one just might wander into the blessed turmoil of what cannot be, and there to find a why to live.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Nietzsche on the Edge

I have a stuffed Nietzsche vulnerable to being eaten by our dog, Taiko Waza. He surveys and surveils our bedroom. He's a kind of Ozymandian figure: he doesn't look like Nietzsche much, and this indicates the inevitable falling away from an original.

The effigy looks like just anyone. He can sit, but he can't sit up straight. He's bottom heavy, weighted in the rump, under soft plush. The plush of his coat is sickeningly slick, and the color is a vile gray. He is saccharine sweet. Even his mustache is worn cleanlier than the 19th century thinker wore his. He is a softening, rounding off, and generification of one of the most outrageous and controversial dead White European males, bless his polyester heart.

There is a fantastic bust of Nietzsche; and there is also a bland one. The first looks like a hybrid of Chthulu and Nietzsche, and the second looks like a hybrid of a body builder and Nietzsche. In one, the mustache hangs down, grotesquely, like tentacles; in the other, it is as regular and well trimmed as a toothbrush.

To read ten books by Nietzsche is to learn to respect the sculptor who shaped the Chthulu-Nietzsche. Nietzsche lived “dangerously,” and the bust looks dangerous itself. Nietzsche's books are dangerous in that, in the wrong hands, they may be used for evil; Nietzsche's psychological observations often seem to me to be like those of a brilliant psychopath. Psychology for Machiavellian princes.

The stuffed Nietzsche gives no hint about The Antichrist, nor that its author referred to himself as “dynamite” to blast away old values and “idols,” making way for new ones – creative destruction. He is softer than the Nietzsche of his foremost translator, Walter Kaufmann.

Saki, the pseudonymous British author, wrote that, as he contemplated his becoming older, the last thing he wanted a reputation for being was “amiable.” This plush doll is an amiable firebrand. You'd think he wrote chatty trash like Terry Eagleton's Why Marx Was Right. He looks more like a businessman than like Superman's father. He is a commodity. His ass has a label sticking out of it!

To judge a book by its cover is wiser, no matter how mistaken, than to judge a philosopher by his/her popularizations, whether in comics, catch-phrases, or plush decorative dolls. Reading Nietzsche changed my life, which has nothing to do with his anodyne effigy sitting on the edge of our dresser, gazing into the abyss.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Indubious Musings on Dubitability

A doubt without an end is not even a doubt.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty

I read On Certainty two years ago, and I hardly remember any of it. There was a “language game” with slabs, going on with no point, the two workmen engaged eternally in a Sisyphean labor. So I will take the line above, from the book, I found worth writing down on the cover of a writing pad now filled – I will take this line out of context: “Line, I pluck thee out!”

Let's take doubt without an end. “Nothing is absolutely certain,” said a philosophy professor. I'll leave aside the obvious, trite rejoinder: “Well then, smartypants, are you sure?” My reply was, “Aren't some things absolutely certain, like 'I am sitting here'?” The smartypants had a wicked look in his eye as he said, “How do you know you aren't dreaming?” I waited for him to turn back to face the audience, after he'd turned his back on me with disdain.

“I would still be 'sitting here' in my dream,” I said. He didn't answer, and only paced before us, before beginning his lecture.

I say this was satisfactory. I was not a heckler. Perhaps nothing is absolutely certain; perhaps foundationalism is undone – the idea that we begin with something indubitable and reason from there, to less and less certain (perhaps) propositions.

Perhaps not. Even granting objections regarding the question of the nature of “I,” I am still – whatever I am or am not – sitting here (even now). Even if “I” is said not to exist, “sitting here” exists. That is what I would be: not what I'd be doing but what I am. “I am sitting here.”

The phenomenological method has great appeal to me. Granted, I know little: for example, I'm unfamiliar with what may be phenomenology's earliest and strongest competitor, pragmatism. Phenomenology takes seriously my sitting here, in a way I haven't found anywhere, in an attractive way, with interesting language.

For example:
Even the forgetting of something, in which every relationship of Being towards what one formerly knew has seemingly been obliterated, must be conceived as a modification of the primordial Being-in; and this holds for every delusion and for every error. [Heidegger, Being and Time]
This is one way of considering forgetting, in direct contrast with representationalist theories of knowledge. When Heidegger writes – by hand; Being and Time was a (long) handwritten manuscript – of Being-in-the-world as a mode of Being of “Dasein,” he says things unlike those written in most other places, where Cartesian dualism, of subject-object binaries, is taken for granted. Dasein is not “inside” looking at a world “out there,” but is “out there,” “in” the world always already. This is not nonsense. It is a way of seeing human existence as existence.

In some sense, I say, “I am sitting here.” Folks like Heidegger, Husserl, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty, take as a starting point, before physics, biology, anthropology – before positivist-scientific theorizing and experimentation – our simple being “in” a world, “in” a body, “in” a relationship with other human beings. This is a radical change in viewing a person, from the “natural attitude,” heavily influenced, for many of us, by Cartesian dualism.

“Without a doubt,” something is certain. Our existence is absolutely certain. Not that I am feeling sad or lonely – I may be ill-educated in self-knowledge and mistaken about my “inner” perceptions – but that I am “in” a world, doing something that is my current mode of being in that world. Not that we are not in a dream or a computer simulation or a poem, but that we are at all. To doubt this is not even to doubt but to pretend to doubt.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Wearing a Barrel

Where has been the discovery of a means to following a “Moore's Law” of work-leisure ratios? Not “work-life balance” but life outweighing work by an order of magnitude. Members of The Frankfurt School decried stupefying leisure. Where is work, where is leisure, for human beings? For “informed citizens?” There is nearly enough “work” for informed consumers. Wallace Stevens, I've read, was vice president of an insurance company. T. S. Eliot was, James Joyce related, the most “bank-clerky” of the bank clerks on his shift – or was this before such desk work involved shift-work?

The barrel of a gun, and the grave. These are the “parameters” that describe our perimeters. Rand was right for all she was wrong: money is handled by the well armed. “Economics,” whose “laws” are not strong enough to enforce themselves, is enforced at gunpoint. Just try stealing or dodging taxes, and a barrel will be pointed at you by “the laws of economics.” There are no longer jails of economics as such – debtors' prisons. This is immaterial. (Debt is still enforced by a gun barrel.)

To look down the barrel of the gun that is the postmodern Western-American capitalist's relational database collection; this is now exhilarating, now terrifying. For lack of other words, we are lost; the men who run the country, and their wives who run them or are left by them – whether they are addicted to cocaine or social justice advocacy, dying of cancer or fad diets – will not ask directions. Who are offering directions? Charlatans and geniuses – and how are they to be told apart?

The distinguishing characteristic of fools is unwarranted epistemic confidence used as a crowbar or bludgeon. Who batter their way through crowds of each other, the rest of us interspersed, to collect their due, the brass ring, on their way into the earth; who are the cause of dreams of Heaven, an existence without assholes and evils. But what do I know? Who overcomes Dunning-Kruger; who but an expert can choose the experts; how are we even to recognize expertise? If D and K are experts.

The dream – an American Dream – is the rarest, or the most boring (because of its impossibility, its realization in an illusion), manifestation of the data in these relational databases. Numbers live; the numbers are created by us to co-create us; the computer boot(straps), a quasi-hermeneutic-circle without logical violation. Voilá! We have our freedom. That is the nineteen-thousandth table column in the database, connected to an index for faster querying. This number must(!) be minimized, and this is done, partly, by making much of it. Fireworks! Celebrations! Our “princess is in another castle” – and who will look for directions, even admit we are lost?

I did not ask to be born into the common era. I am required, in order to help to raise a child who will pick up my pick-ax when I have fallen over, dead; to know more about human life than does an empty cola can; in the interest of mercy; to keep others, likewise, working; I must it seems, work for one third of my day, including time for basic biological, psychological, and spiritual necessities, during my “working life,” five days a week – or, as the late William F. Buckley, Jr, quipped when speaking of understanding “the hippie movement,” I must “die painfully.”

The most salient fact gleaned throughout K-12 education, understood perhaps not then but years or decades later, is that the people who make up the masses of humanity do not care to become educated at all but to be trained in ways conducive to “earning” money, status, etc, the trappings of princes and queens and kings, their homes their “castles,” their lawns protective moats: wealth without wisdom.

For all that is said of wisdom having nothing to do with wealth, imagining their combination is so delicious it must be taboo – to attempt to acquire them both. The existence of wise rich/rich wise people would drive many who were neither, to burn, lynch, and pillage. Some of the super-rich “Masters of the Universe” say this themselves. I've read one of them, and where there's smoke there's fire; but wise, rich humans would be super-men, and assassinated whenever possible. It would be too much to bear, to have the opportunity to view oneself in such a degree of inferiority; they would be a living pantheon.

Do we have a choice? Is there “no clear alternative,” as Žižek has said there is not? In Heaven there would be no need for the firearms. In Heaven, “we're all dead.” And much better for it.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Do You Even Tune In?

It seems likely to me that a lot of the content on the Web is nearly identical: blog posts often say similar things to other blog posts on the same topic. These blog posts are written, often not by the blog's owner, to collect advertising revenue. What does that tell us about the content?

With so many blog posts being so similar, that is, saying the same things about the same things, we can imagine them as songs played on a radio. The Internet Surfer is fed or otherwise comes across these postings, and so “hears the song.” With a blog post, it's unlikely the person will reread the post the way so many people like to hear certain songs again and again. Blog posts are disposable; we consume the post and never read it again.

Memory for news, events, memes, blog posts, can be expected to decrease as exposure to these media items increases; being able to remember only so much, more text, sounds, and images leads to a lower absolute number of these items being remembered. Our Surfer may remember an exemplar of a type of media item. A particularly popular Star Wars meme, or a blog post that said something just so, may function as the memory handle on a whole slough of similar and possibly inferior items.

Each type of media item is like the song on the radio: you've seen one of the type, and you've seen them all. Seeing one of a type is hearing the song again. As we scan the Web, “turning the dial,” we hear the same song many times. Songs come into and fall out of favor rapidly, and we may forget we've even heard the song.

I use the radio analogy not only because it struck me first; the radio is entertainment used to collect advertising revenue. The Web is entirely entertainment: news, activism, shopping, Internet radio and streaming video – all are entertainment. “What about online education! What about moocs?” I am impatient at having to say it again: the entire Web is entertainment. What is not entertainment is not the Web; it is something else for which I have no name.

A final note: when thinking of blog posts as songs, we formed a schema of the song from the different, similar blog posts. Future radio may be used (to collect advertising revenue) to broadcast or to stream songs that have been altered by a computer, in such a way that no two plays are identical. In the first case, “out of many, one”; in the second, from one, many.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

One-Dimensional Places: An attempt at a phenomenology of the rest-stop affordances of the roadside attraction, generalizing from an example

Let's say I was sitting on some rocks beside the rock staircase leading to an overlook, reading Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation, and I overheard a man speak; I'm not saying a man with his wife said the following, as they began their way up the stair:
“Why don't you just use the rest room, walk up the stairs, and leave, like everybody else? Bring your extra pillow, make yourself comfortable; reservations close at five o'clock.”
I am saying he might have, and so now we are in the realm of philosophy!

The empty picnic table, the well worn but unoccupied trails, the rocks beside the staircase, are decoration to most. "This is not a park"; this is another rest-stop on a drive across a state. Use of these amenities is, socially, implicitly forbidden. The disappointment of the one who sees the picnic table occupied by a single human form: “We don't actually want to stop here at the table, though you are preventing our possible use, and so you must go.”

The single human form is anathema to most, in a circumstance such as this one. “Truth begins with two,” Nietzsche wrote. Leaving aside that “I am legion,” I am carrying Baudrillard's book; I am not alone though I am a single (“embookened”) human form. The single human form: the image of the crazed serial killer. The book (and not this book only): subversion incarnate.

What sights, sounds, scents, coruscations of touch would this brave gentleman have foregone, to have been able to speak of a single human form reading a book in a somewhat natural setting, this way? In his mind, who knows what catastrophe he averted by making clear that he was unhappy at the prospect of sharing oxygen and vicinity with a “strange” human form? Fear; pacification of existence. One removes the other, and the other the one.

I got up and left; we two were not slated to be friends. What catastrophe I have averted in my imagination! I did not get into a conflict with another human being. I know that single human form better than he; surviving attempted murder was never anything I'd planned on, and it was that single human form I did not heed, that made the five scars in my body (“defensive wounds.”) It is that single human form that, as far as I know, as far as I can know, is still haunting entrances to parks.

Look at what has just happened: objective ambiguity. Marcuse, in One-Dimensional Man, gave a few examples of this. Assessing from two points of view neutralizes all objections. Yet this is still an irrational rationality. What do any of you dialectical thinkers have to say? 

I do not believe in “neutral” or “indifferent” worlds. Once something exists, it has an essential orientation, even if it exists only as possibility or impossibility. The pencil does not balance on its point. It was not intended to; that is not the design intent of a pencil. Perhaps some skilled pencil-balancer is out there; then, it would be that single human form's essential orientation, and so on. There is no zero-point, all is flux; or, zero is never reached without being left, once more, immediately or nearly so. The world is not digital, though this picnic table is a simulation.

I came back, circling around, to the picnic table, and returned to where I began, knowing it for the first time. And I've left out of fear of – the police and the madhouse!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Gatsby's Tragic Failure

Gatsby was "great," and he was tragic. It isn't clear to me what made Gatsby “great.” He had money (lots and lots and lots of it); he was not a hypocrite like his antagonist, the man who had married Daisy, the woman Gatsby loved; he had class. What did Gatsby know besides how to get rich? He knew he loved Daisy, but he thought he knew more than he did: he thought he could overcome absolutely any obstacle with his love of Daisy, and hers of him.

He fought in WWI. Certainly the trenches were not where the life was free. It seems Gatsby had more than one thing in common with the Austrian-born philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was a decorated war hero!

Wittgenstein was born into wealth; Gatsby achieved it. Wittgenstein gave his huge fortune away. Gatsby lost his only when he died. Wittgenstein wrote a key philosophical tract in the cataract of mustard gas and machine-gun barrages. Gatsby wrote one of the most famous love letters in US history under the same circumstances.

Wittgenstein died of prostate cancer; Gatsby died with a bullet through his heart, both literal and metaphorical. Cupid was not a sympathetic character in Ovid's “Metamorphoses.”

A life with Daisy was still a possibility at the moment of Gatsby's death, as far as we know; and Wittgenstein probably would have known the modal logic of it. Maybe Gatsby ran up against the laws of the world: the fates will intervene to prevent time travel, to prevent bringing the future back, into the past, and the past into the future, the way Gatsby wanted to do.

In the midst of avarice, hypocrisy, sin and riches, he remained a good man; but what made him great? It was not his hope; I can't see how hope is in and of itself great. His sources of wealth may have been questionable; the bootlegging certainly showed the hypocrisy of his nemesis, Buchanan, Daisy's husband and “the polo player.” Gatsby “went to Oxford” the way I “went to” two well-known universities; and neither of us claims to be “a Such-and-such man,” implying we are the products of a full education there. When pressed, he admitted this about himself. He was forced into honesty. He lost his temper, nearly punching Buchanan in the face; but would Buchanan have pushed Daisy out of the window, beside which she and Gatsby were standing, if she had said she'd never loved him?

What was the importance of her saying she never loved him, anyway? It was required, by Gatsby, so their five-year separation would not be tainted by time's passage. Nothing happened during those five years: that was something Gatsby needed to know to believe one could relive the past. Gatsby insisted it be done; everything must go according to his plan, or it would not be perfect, and so would be nothing. It was not enough for the present to be what it was: the past must have been the present and vice versa.

Gatsby's last word was: “Daisy!” Wittgenstein's were, "Tell them I've had a wonderful life." Which had the greater achievement: Gatsby, who loved Daisy but perhaps perfection more; or Wittgenstein, who loved philosophy but perhaps perfection more? I see Wittgenstein's achievements through a glass darkly, and in the end it seems his life and love of philosophical perfection were enough for him. I see Gatsby's hope outrunning the possible as quixotic desperation, not altogether a bad thing.

Near the end of hope, and in the midst of catastrophe, with Daisy's automobiling encounter with Buchanan's mistress having just occurred, Gatsby flexes his plan, and is willing to run away with Daisy. If he had just run away with her when she told him she wished they could do it – but Gatsby's obsessiveness led to his rigidity, and if it wasn't perfect, it was not acceptable to him; he insisted on his own way, even to his and Daisy's ultimate detriment. It was his tragic flaw, his seeking of perfection and of the world's going according to his plan up to the last and smallest detail. At one point he makes a gesture with a finger, of a straight, diagonally ascending line in the air. "My life must be like this," he says. He didn't know about "what [success] really looks like." 

The relentless drive and single-mindedness that allowed him to become “The Great” Gatsby was his undoing. He and Daisy could have run away a number of times. But love wasn't enough for Gatsby.

Friday, May 19, 2017

“The Rules Are Too Complicated”: Thoughts on commun(icat)ion

“Everyone” was playing Dominion, a strategy board game. The rules are too complicated for me. The group inviting me to play seemed puzzled by my refusal: “I don't have fun playing those [strategy] games. The rules are too complicated.”

Maybe the purpose of rules is to break them; hang in there with me! This platitude is a saying (in a Heideggerian sense I mean) that deserves consideration, and the answer, “rules hinder efficiency because they are not perfect” is emphatically not what I'm going to get at.

Breaking a rule is not just an act of freedom, it is an act that opens up freedom for others. When one cannot follow the rules, whether because one doesn't know them, believes them to be unfair or nonsensical – or because they are impossible to follow – one has no choice but to become open to the possibility of performing as one would like to: to express preference, to engage in questioning and/or critique, to seek out help or clarification. I'm reading Karl Jaspers' chapter on communication, in his Philosophy, which led me to wonder.

At a pharmacy, there may be a sign that has words written on it, like, “Go no farther toward the counter until called.” The sign is a command without justification – and without expressed consequences; it is a command to obey “or else.” Or else what? The freedom of the pharmacist, and of the patient, become possible, once an impatient or curious patient goes beyond the sign without permission, in a way they are not if the patient obeys the command with little besides the ubiquitous “or else” attached to it; new possibilities of expression, human relation, and shared understanding open up for both.

Try it! It doesn't have to be a pharmacy. Establish rapport with someone behind the counter, obey the sign the first time, when dropping off a prescription, an order. When picking it up – and it may not be advisable to do what I'm recommending in this paragraph – you can step beyond the sign, enough to have disobeyed it. Someone will admonish you for breaking the rules, almost certainly, verbally or some other way. Society becomes commerce – “or else.”

Without rules, we might not be able to exist as the “advanced” society (relatively advanced, technologically) we make up, in a mid-sized or small US city. I expect this post to be relevant to most people in the US. No god made these rules. In systems of rules, we often encounter the boundary line demarcating the transition from human rationality to human communication in the existential sense Jaspers discusses. It is up to all involved to decide what to do next.

What was I saying in “The rules are too complicated?” Any number of things. When a board game has complex rules, are we pushed toward each other more than in games with simpler rules? Was I expecting disappointment at the prospect of what I thought would happen were we to run up against my breaking the rules of the game? There are many ways to play games, not all of them conducive to genuine human relation.

Rules are (sometimes) meant to be broken in order to push us toward each other as human beings and then to relate to each other in a space of free communion. This did not happen for me at the pharmacy; and it did. The man behind the counter, with whom I'd established rapport, treated me well; the pharmacist or technician behind glass did not.

I encountered a person who chose what actions and what form of human relation would fill in that unspoken, ubiquitous “or else.” I did not discover the game players' “or else.” What might it have been? What do we avoid when we accept the commands without asking, in effect, “or else what?”

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Writing and Plato's “Phaedrus”: "Book learning" and "life experience" as two sides of the same false coinage

Writing gets a beating from Plato's “Socrates.” Not only is it said to impair memory – the words written on a human “soul” are far better remembered – and not only can the written word not reply – the written oration or rhetorical piece cannot reply – but what comes from reading is only the image of knowledge and wisdom.

It seems fitting that three subjects are brought together in Plato's dialogue, “Phaedrus”: love, persuasion, and writing. These combine in love-letters and in love-poetry; and also in love of wisdom, philosophy.

Perhaps “Socrates” was mistaken as far as we are concerned in the age of the tweet and blog: these forms of writing allow the piece of writing – the author – to reply. Clarification can be asked for, of the author; the author can acknowledge or can repudiate criticisms. Arguments among “texts” can flourish. Even in Socrates' day this would have been possible for the lettered among Athenians. A messenger bearing a letter would have provided quick communication across the polis. Even when the author of a text has died, those who spoke with him or her – either out of love or out of fear, out of hate or out of indifference – might carry the words written by the author on their souls. Writing would be, among other things, advertisement for a person, for a soul, for philosophy, poetry, or, as Plato writes of laws here, for them as well. The written word becomes the speaker's “shingle” like that of a doctor of old. “Like my writing? Come and talk with me!”

The letter and the email, text message, social media post, or telephone call are at issue for us twenty-first century Americans. “Socrates” would probably have condemned the telephone as well! What do all these forms of communication have in common? They are forms of mediated communication. While they can involve the interactivity “Socrates” says he sees missing from the written text, they involve distance, lack of co-presence of an immediate, physical kind.

A previous post, the first, probably, if I haven't removed it, deals, casually, with what I will call “information grubbing.” This seems to be precisely the kind of thing “Socrates” warned of, that readers of information – most of the written word that is not pure fiction – will acquire the semblance of wisdom only. Information, as knowledge, has its uses; wisdom is to know these uses; not all “information” is to be used – not everything written is to be believed. Acquiring information; reading “other people's recipes,” as a character in the 1993 film starring Will Smith, Six Degrees of Separation, confessed he'd done before passing them off as his own; learning the nomenclatures and vocabularies of disciplines, can give the appearance of knowledge, and with it the semblance of wisdom.

The absence of a philosophical approach, combined with information grubbing, will lead, I say, directly to the kind of “book learning” that so many decry; but those I hear decry it are guilty of the same sort of thing, the naive taking-as-given of one's first impressions without subjecting them to criticism. It is the absence of the will for “an attack on one's convictions,” which are “more dangerous enemies of truth than lies” (wrote Nietzsche, over 130 years ago), which leads to each “side” criticizing the “semblance of wisdom” of the other. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Homo Ludens at Work and Play

 Art can allow the city dweller to escape the “world of production,” the term Richard Schechner uses in Performance Theory, to denote the world that is not the world of playful performance and ritual. The worlds of sport, art, play, ritual, exist alongside the mundane world of production. These worlds of performance are not “window dressing” but are necessary for the survival of a culture. Performance can as what seems to be a poignant question at times: “Why can't all be play?” Why does it seem the world of production must be different from this other, parallel world? Different and, as common sense seems to have it, less fun?

Let us grant Schechner's claim, that this world of play or play-acting, existing along a continuum of dead seriousness and plain pretending, is as necessary for a culture's survival as are the activities of production: growing food, building and maintaining lodgings etc. Collingwood and Danto argue that art is something other than entertainment, and is something other than decoration and embellishment. I have read an art work shows what it is like to believe something. We will leave aside detailed consideration of the interdependence of the play and work worlds, while allowing that each may make the other possible. It is as if a culture's members cannot simultaneously work in the world of production and consider this production from an artistic, playful, play-acting, or ritualistic point of view, and art in the "showing" sense is necessary to provide this view of the world of production, in a shareable form, to give solace to the workers; they may not be able to escape the world of production as often as or as much as they would like, and it soothes them, gives comfort to them, and is reassuring to know that their experience of the world of work has an articulate voice. “Misery loves company,” and the miserableness of the requirement of a culture, that some of its members work, is mitigated by the company of the comparatively “sacred” world of the artist.

For many, “art” as experienced is likely to be limited to – beyond museum trips – to such activities as watching television, listening to pop music, and advertising “art works” such as logos and jingles. Television provides, during prime time, some artist-entertainers' views of the profane world of work, and that assumption is a large one; the television is not always done in earnest, authentically. The worker, seated before a sixty-inch-diagonal flat-screen television-computer with 5.1 surround sound, streams into his or her “leisure” world the laugh tracks of 1950s middle-America and the acting-school-honed voices of – as Edward Abbey noted were brought even into the wilderness, decades ago, by vacationers – Los Angeles. The miseries of the world of production are ameliorated because someone else appears to have seen a vision like the worker's own, of this misery. Once the worker has “rested” before the television – whether this is supposed to happen in a living room or a trailer towed to a campground – equilibrium returns to him or her, and the world of work will always welcome a fresh start from a “refreshed” service vendor, barista, doctor, pharmacist, motorcycle mechanic, IT manager, or new college graduate on the “job hunt.”

Hobbies are recommended often, it seems, as a fix for the mental dis-ease of the post-/modern worker. Growing tomatoes, it is believed by some, will alleviate the suffering of a business analyst who is sometimes tormented by her boss. The showing what it is like to believe something, of Collingwood, allows the sharing of unfairness, injustice, hope, and grief among people who have never and may never meet. The world of art, play, play-acting, and ritual, would seem to be the sick-bay of the human spirit; the world of production requires the other world, to keep its workers in suitable psychic shape to work indefinitely.

At the same time, the players, play-actors, artists, and ritualizers, need the support of the world of production; without its fruits, both literal and figurative, they would starve to death within days. Each world depends upon the other, and one person can move between them, now planting tomatoes for a hobby garden, now compiling business reports on the tastes in music and clothing of college students.
The world of work, like spilled water, seems to spread and infiltrate as much as, and into as much of everything, as is possible in early 21st-century United States salaried positions. “Work-life balance” and checking email on weekends, and working through “vacations,” as well as eating lunch at one's desk, are said to be common, for example. The smartphone or vanishing Blackberry-branded handheld device makes the salaried worker instantly available, “on call,” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Ernest Dimnet pointed to the encroachment of the business world's language into the private world of personal-letter exchanges. Nietzsche, before him, opined that the language of business in Germany was corrupting his fellow Germans' use of the German language.

Citing Johann Huizinga's Homo Ludens, Schechner points out the suggestion of paradox in the simultaneous “non-serious” nature of play, and the player's being absorbed in the play activity “intensely and utterly.” We can see this same apparent paradox expressed by Friedrich Schiller, as: “[M]an only plays when he is a man in the full meaning of the word, and he is only completely a man when he plays,” and perhaps more famously, “[M]an is never so serious as when he plays.” “From the standpoint of productive work, it is silly to put so much energy into the 'control of the ball' or the 'defense of 10 yards of territory' " (p. 11, Performance Theory, Schechner). It is an interesting question, why we take play activities so seriously at times – one partial answer to which may be: “For the fun of it.” Play may have intrinsic value; the world of production has extrinsic value.

“Flow” is a term popularized by Mihalyi Csiksentmihalyi to describe a state similar to or identical to that of the absorbed player. Flow appears to be a way to transform work into play. Employers appear to be attempting to intrude into the world of playful performance by bringing “play” into the world of production, tying it down, and convincing the worker that he or she is free and is engaging in free play. Can this be the case, and if it can be, is there any permanent, insurmountable difference between the two worlds discussed here as Schechner's “world of production” and the world of playful performance? Does all work involve performance? Does performance involve work?

A key element in – if not they key element in – “optimal experience,” Csikszentmihalyi says, is the achievement of or attainment of this flow state. Flow would seem to unify the dual worlds of production and of performance. To the world of production and its workers, the linking of optimal performance with optimal experience signals “dollar signs.” “I can get paid to play!” exclaims the worker. “I can convince my workers they are playing and not working! I can pay them less, and if they don't agree with the new plan, and don't feel as if they're playing – “Motivation 2.0,” intrinsic motivation, the “borrowing” of the style of open-source software developers and Wikipedia denizens – I can get rid of them and find someone I can convince, someone who is more autotelic in my service,” says the worker's bosses.

Maybe the worker participates in the world of production as much because it will “put food on the table” as because it will “buy” “free time,” during which the worker can leave the world of work to become the player, and experience flow. Whatever benefits a workplace has, in which “play” and flow are valued, there would seem to remain the catastrophic danger of a total conflation of work and play, and with it the emergence of a whole society as a (dystopian) “total institution” like a prison or a mental hospital. The most important thing to recognize about play is that it is not “for” the “recovery” of the worker; it is not justified by its existing – as if it were a luxury – “for” the world of production to appropriate or even for it to benefit from. Play is self-justifying activity and requires no further justification. The world of production cannot justly lay claim to it or to any part of it.

On Heidegger's Essay, “The Question Concerning Technology”

Hold my mouse and watch this: Surfer Interview, which figures into the conclusion of this lecture

Near the middle of the twentieth century, German philosopher Martin Heidegger, one of the twentieth century's most widely known and influential philosophers, both generally and as a philosopher writing about technology, wrote an essay, “The Question Concerning Technology,” that is of importance for the philosophy of technology. This essay has been dealt with in depth by the American philosopher of technology, Don Ihde, in his book, Heidegger's Technologies: Postphenomenological Perspectives. I don't understand yet what “postphenomenological” means for Ihde, beyond its being his attempt at a synthesis of phenomenology and pragmatism, two opposing approaches in philosophy; but the book is written in English...he seems to take it for granted that the reader already knows what postphenomenological perspectives are going to be, and how to relate them to Ihde's previous, phenomenological writings on technology – in, for example, his book, Existential Technics. Heidegger wrote a lot of phenomenology, which will not in itself be important to understand for our purposes here. Common sense and, mostly, “plain English” – not “Heideggerese,” where we have “the thingliness of the things that are thinging” and so on – will suffice.

Mention must be made here about Heidegger's involvement with the Nazi Party during WWII; we will also not delve into Heidegger's life, which would involve what stance to take regarding his membership in the Nazi Party during WWII, and his subsequent expulsion from his career as professor after the war. Let's do as phenomenologists might do, and “bracket” this personal history, so we can look not at the man but at one of his philosophical works, before asking the question, on our own time and in our own time, what relation his Party membership may have to his philosophy, specifically to his views on technology.

What is this “question concerning technology” Heidegger is talking about? Well, let's start with: "What is technology?” Is technology applied science? What leads us, having never yet read Heidegger's essay, to say, “Yes”? We may reason that, of course, Yes, because science, we say, precedes technology, that is, science is historically prior to technology – and here Heidegger is looking not at the invention of the wheel, for example, but “modern,” “industrial” technology, which brings into being such things as hydroelectric power stations and coal-fired electric plants – and, notably, as Heidegger was writing near the middle of the twentieth century, the atomic and hydrogen bombs. Today, we can point to solar panels, wind turbines, and computers, and I'm not sure how Heidegger would view these things as they exist and are used today. I'll leave that for us all to think about after we're finished here today.

Heidegger agrees with this; such artifacts came after scientific discoveries that made their construction possible. Heidegger also disagrees. Technology, in its essence, is not a “making” but a “revealing,” that is, technology is a mode of truth, but it is not the whole truth, it is not, Heidegger says, the only mode of truth. It is not “merely” applied science; it is a relationship human beings create, a relationship with and orientation toward the entire world, human beings possibly included, he says. Technology is not the products of science, and it is not technological objects; it is a stance human beings take, and, with echoes of Heidegger's notion of “thrownness,” – we find ourselves in a world “always already,” and we did not choose this prior to out existence in it – the technological approach to truth-finding is a stance many of us in this room have probably taken already. This stance, the essence of technology, is ontologically prior to science, Heidegger says; it is a logical procondition for science. Furthermore, Heidegger points out that modern physical science is dependent upon modern technology; the two feed each other. The most salient example today would be the Large Hadron Collider, perhaps, a technological feat upon which parts of modern physical science are dependent for their moving forward.

Heidegger also says technology is not morally neutral; let's look at that. Heidegger disagrees with a common notion of technology's relation to science and with a common notion of its relation to ethics. Technology ipso facto has ethical implications. Technology is not a thing but an act. We, many of us, protest that technology and science are morally neutral in themselves. It is how science and technology are used, we may argue, that has ethical implications; it is the use of technological capabilities that is important, not the capabilities themselves. This apparently was the common wisdom in the mid-twentieth century, and, having held this view myself, after having acquired it when I was a child, I think it is the common wisdom today.

Heidegger warns against this. Yes, that is the operative word, “warns.” Heidegger writes in this essay:
Technology is not equivalent to the essence of technology. When we are seeking the essence of “tree,” we have to become aware that what pervades every tree, as tree, is not itself a tree that can be encountered among all the other trees. 
Likewise, the essence of technology is by no means anything technological. Thus we shall never experience our relationship to the essence of technology so long as we merely represent and pursue the technological, put up with it, or evade it. Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which we particularly like to pay homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology. [pp.311-12, Basic Writings]

[Play part of Tom Lehrer song about Werner von Braun. ]
It seems to be saying that “von Braun” of the song was defending his role, in creating the V-2 rockets with which Germany bombarded England during WWII, by appealing to this common wisdom about technology's neutrality. The creation of a V-2 rocket, “von Braun” of the song was saying, was itself not a morally reprehensible act; rather it was other Germans who were responsible, not he, for the use of the rocket and ensuing human casualties and physical and emotional devastation its use caused. The choice in how to use the “morally neutral” weapon – or even the choice before that, of how to use von Braun's scientific knowledge, to make a functional V-2 rocket – was where the ethical responsibility lay. Lehrer appears to have disagreed – he lambastes Von Braun – and his popularity suggests many others were in agreement with him.

Heidegger sees “the decisive question” as: “Of what essence is modern technology that it happens to think of putting exact science to use?” Leaving aside any further development of the concept, “essence,” which is often used in a technical (philosophical) sense, let's assume we know what Heidegger means by it; let's talk in “plain English.” We'll say: “The essence of something is what it 'really is'.” The essence of technology, for Heidegger, is a stance humans take, toward the world, in which we view the world and everything it as “standing-reserve”; I think we can safely say “resource.” We, when engaged with technology as its users or its creators, no longer see a tree as a tree in itself and for itself; we see wood, shade for new residential or recreational areas, paper, fuel to use for warmth or electricity, or to power a locomotive. We see a resource to be used for our own ends. This “enframing” (Gestell) of the world as standing-reserve may extend, Heidegger worries, to our enframing even ourselves and each other in the same way. Here are a few terms now in common use:
  • Department of Human Resources
  • manpower
  • man hour
  • man month, as in The Mythical Man Month
  • wetware, that is, human beings considered as cognitive resources
  • brain drain
In all of these, it can be argued that the term is “correct,” that is, the term is true as far as it goes, and it should be obvious also that the term is not the whole truth. It seems that Heidegger's worry was prescient, or he may have been behind the times; he himself mentions human resources. “Scientific management” techniques may have already led to some humans “enframing” themselves and others as “resources,” as standing-reserve, though Heidegger argues that humans escape being merely standing-reserve. Given some of the absolutely deplorable actions of his fellow Germans during WWII, this should have been obviously false, and it seems incredible that he failed to see this, and he published the text in 1954, long after WWII. Such examples serve to demonstrate what the enframing of human beings can lead to; but does it necessarily lead to such enormities?

In the technological approach, we don't see the world as “world” but as resources that are ready-to-hand for our purposes. We view them as having no purpose, Heidegger says, but to be put to our use. This view was exhibited by Oscar Wilde when he said something like, “Nature is a magical place, where birds fly about un-cooked.” With enframing as a viewing of nature as nothing but a resource for human use, it is not clear that viewing human beings ourselves, as standing-reserve, as mere means, is a morally neutral act. It goes against Immanuel Kant's dictum: that such a use of human beings as mere means to an end is morally wrong. Its wrongness may be argued, but it is not clearly a neutral act. It would appear to be the essence of what it is to dehumanize human beings, and would therefore be inhumane, a term with moral implications. It is not a new idea with Heidegger, that having a certain attitude is morally wrong. The attitudes of jealousy, envy, pride, arrogance, vanity, narcissism, prejudice, bigotry, even “mere” intolerance, have all been widely condemned at various points in human history. It is the psychopath who views other humans as mere means for his own ends; it is not, ideally, the view of the beatified saint. Enframing goes against the ideas of humans and nature as having intrinsic value.

Technology, or, as comedian Sascha Baron-Cohen's character “Ali G” says,“tech-MOLOGY” – “is it good? Is it whack?”... Much in the way that the essence of comedy is not the sum of all jokes, technology, the essence of technology, goes beyond things. Comedy and technology are stances humans take with respect to the world and to each other, even to ourselves. They are views onto the world, ways of being in the world. There is a TED talk in which a woman tells of her experience of having a stroke, which temporarily changed her perception of the world, which in turn changed her longer term perception of the world and of herself and others. The issue arises – often, it seems to me, this is brought about by some change in our experiencing of the world, my favorite vehicle being art, about which Heidegger has written an essay – how should we or how would we like to experience the world, ourselves, and each other? The same question concerns modern technology. What do we want our relationship with the world, ourselves, and each other, to be in essence? We are able to choose our way of being in the world. Heidegger wants us to choose not blithely but deliberately and with wisdom.

I encourage each of you to read this essay. We are already, most of us at least, relatively familiar with a scientific, technological approach to the world. Each of us has a unique relationship to the world, ourselves, and each other; I leave you to consider the possible relationship to the world, himself, and to others, that the surfer (in the video I showed several minutes ago) might have, in light of Heidegger's terms “enframing” and “standing-reserve.”

What kind of similar thing might be happening with the surfer, who seems to be so immersed in the world of surfing that he is unwilling or unable to translate his experience of surfing waves, into academic English, but sputters in slang, much to the amusement of a television audience and Web denizens? What differences might there be between the “enframings” of: the surfer; an engineer attempting to construct a system for electricity generation from wave motion; a fisher on the shore attempting to cast a line past the breakers; a plein-air painter; and, finally, a shell-seeker walking the beach in search of intact, unblemished sand dollars?

I'd like to conclude with a passage from Heidegger's essay, “The Question Concerning Technology”:
Techne is a mode of aletheuein. It reveals whatever does not bring itself forth and does not yet lie here before us, whatever can look and turn out now one way and now another.Thus what is decisive in techne does not lie at all in making and manipulating nor in the use of means, but rather in the revealing mentioned before. It is as revealing, and not as manufacturing, that techne is a bringing forth... Technology is therefore no mere means. Technology is a way of revealing.

Aletheia is a Greek word for “truth,” which Heidegger sees, with etymological justification, in his phenomenological writings, as “a revealing.” Technology is not just a means to an end, it is a way of approaching and mapping the world. Philosopher Don Ihde comments on this passage:
Technology as a mode of truth assumes the overall shape of Heidegger's truth theory. “Technology is a mode of revealing. Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where aletheia, truth, happens.”

Open in new window:

Truth for Heidegger is more complicated than a statement's “mere” correctness. Technology shows part of the truth by being “correct”; but, Heidegger warns us, to mistake this correctness for truth would be, in an analogy drawn by Don Ihde, like mistaking a part for the whole. Consider how the ontologies of the surfer, engineer, fisher, and beachcomber might overlap and where they might not. What differences in their individual experiences of the waves might these overlappings and non-overlappings lead to? That is something to consider as we make our ways through the world and encounter the “worlds” of others. The predominance of a technological view, a single way of getting at only partial truths, by way of mere correctness, should strike us – ironically, in light of the attempts by technologists to optimize – as a sub-optimal situation. Seeing is always a seeing-as, so it makes sense to see a thing as all the things it is that we can, and not only one aspect of it, if we are to be human beings in the fullest sense.

10 Steps, 10 Reasons to Blow Your Goddam Mind with Philosophy

Let's say you like learning about interesting or unusual things, and your favorite use of the printed word (or typed word) is to “gain information” (uh-oh). You're lost if you think more information will benefit you in some marvelous, interesting, and unusual way. Information is cheaper than water, easier to find, and yet rarely as clean. Read philosophy, and you'll really have something that others don't. It will help you to think better: not only will you learn more facts the further you go – including history, science, art, art history, computer science, linguistics, neuroscience, psychology – you will learn the structures of thought and “work out” your mind; you'll be able to re-/claim your mind and learn that an “intellectual conscience” is indispensable when dealing with information. You may have lost your mind and not know it, and I mean this in no clinical sense but in the sense that you may have already stopped thinking much of the time, though you may think you think.
Philosophy and poetry, poetry and love, love and awe, escape all explanation in terms of information; they are ways of being. If you can change your way of being, become philosophical, your information will be solidly grounded – yet is likely to seem more precarious than before! Better to be aware of this dangerous position than not to know it. I have been a fool and am still an amateur; yet I've learned this. If I can, you can too. Going from what I criticize – and, to some extent, what I exemplify here merely by writing on the Web – toward the frozen heights: this is information gathering, this is learning, creative destruction, power, progress.
When you read for information, you are almost certainly engaging in an incredible act of hubris and confirmation bias (see the Dunning-Kruger effect and an article by David Dunning). You are probably relying on authorities you can't properly evaluate the credibility of, to reinforce your belief – in what you already believe. That's not optimal! What's really smart is what Nietzsche admonished us to do: “A very popular error: having the courage of one's convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one's convictions,” and, “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.”
When you want to “assault” your convictions – let's say you've already decided you want to do this – you go like the sappers of old, under the infrastructure. You dig tunnels under the castle walls, supporting the existing edifice with wooden supports; you set up your ideological infrastructure for failure by giving it only tentative support – then burn the supports and allow it to collapse.
At least, that's what you do if you really want difficulty. Some smart guy, named Neurath, supposedly (information...), said philosophy is like rebuilding a ship at sea. By this the smart guy meant something like: “Philosophy is necessary for flotation.” The Ancient Greeks actually, literally, used philosophical presuppositions to build their ships, which led to all kinds of problems, curable only by Socratic irony; but philosophies are always being rethought, ships being maintained. To sail the high seas in an ancient wooden boat, you've got to replace the devil, plug leaks, rip up rotten planks, refit masts, do sailing jigs this author has never heard of. Just assume there's tons of stuff that needs fixing. So you don't sink, you've got to be careful.
“Merely” pick up a book by a famous, “controversial” philosopher, someone you think you know something about from hearing jokes and absorbing memes. Any well-known thinker, about whom you think you know things from sources like those, is ripe for the picking: because, if you've never read a philosopher but have only heard slander or praise of him or her – or, nearly as bad, have only read bits of them, or read about them in school or in popular books – you probably “know” a lot of things that aren't true; you don't know anything about them – if you're lucky. And you want to know. You're curious. You're smart. You want information. Yet it'll be “what you know that just ain't so” that's holding you back.
Read that Nazi bastard Heidegger's essay, “The Question Concerning Technology.” Read it and weep. As standing-reserve-coming-to-know-itself-in-the-world, it may seem as if you live in a dehumanizing prison of production, where you're only “valued” as a “resource,” and few people (if any) care whether you live or die beyond the resulting “loss of productivity.” That's probably true. This incursion of philosophy into your mind should send you reeling. For example, the “cost” and “loss of productivity” due to the severe mental illness schizophrenia was estimated to be over $155,000,000,000 per year in the US alone for 2013. Even if this is accurate, the toll exceeds that by mountains of money bags and human suffering. What is the interest, compounded, on the portion of the forgone $155,000,000,000 that might have been saved and invested? With a figure like this, it is within the error bars. What is the toll, in terms of human flourishing, due to the considerably increased prevalence of suicide among people suffering from the illness, 5% of whom die by their own hands? A “human resource” providing “man hours” does not “die” because it does not live; there is no such thing. Human beings exist, the very things eliminated, in Heidegger's view, by the dominant, technological stance. This is just a taste of how philosophy can change your life and your view of the world.
  1. Maybe for you “staying afloat” means being able to convince yourself that you're out-arguing strangers on the Internet – and anyone on the Internet whom you don't know “IRL” (in real life) is a frickin' stranger. If so, philosophy can help you; reading philosophy may just convince you that what you're really doing there is wasting your precious life. Every argument changes you, no matter how well you seem to be changing other people's minds. Reading philosophy is likely to repair some of the damage of arguing on the Internet; you'll be standing on a mountain top, when what you'd been doing was “rolling in the deep,” in the sewer.
  2. By reading ten of Nietzsche's books (The Gay Science three times), I got to know him about as well as, or better than, you've known anyone you've ever argued with on the Web without having met IRL [citation needed.] He could write. And he was the bomb – “I am dynamite,” he wrote. By reading Nietzsche, and learning about the pronunciation of his name, you'll come to find that you can't swing a hammer without knocking into someone who knows all about him and is completely wrong. This should aid in your argumentation; you'll be less likely to argue with strangers – in such an argument, everyone involved becomes a fool because we tend to stand up on our hind legs, or double down, and think we know something when we don't.
  3. If you're more of a passive Web-wanderer, intent on sucking up to information – oh, I mean “sucking up information” – then philosophy is for you. Of course, you may be the exception, the person who is a natural philosopher, like the young woman who goggled and held my book up to her head, implying she already knew everything in it; or who is a natural philosopher (read “scientist”) for whom philosophy is indicative of Very Bad Things such as inefficiency, imprecision, woo-woo, and worse. You may be neither of these. Philosophy gets a bad name, it seems, in the exact proportion that poetry gets a good name, though the people doing the evaluating are typically neither educated in, readers of, or practitioners of either poetry or philosophy. Every businessman is the “slave to some defunct economist,” and every factoid is embedded in some (defunct?) philosopher's thoughts. Better to realize it than not.
  4. Next, find a copy of Kockelman's Heidegger on Art and Art Works, and read about phenomenology and the hermeneutic circle in impenetrable prose complete with “Heideggerese” and alliteration, thrown in as if only to make it more dizzying. The Kindle edition of the book sells for about $200. This should help you realize you don't know diddly-beans, and, spoiler alert, that is probably the entire point of reading philosophy.
  5. After returning Kockelmans to the library, you can pick up Don Ihde's Heidegger's Technologies: Postphenomenological Perspectives. It's an analysis of Heidegger's essay “The Question Concerning Technology,” in the context of his earlier work, Being and Time, in rather ordinary language. You won't discover what is meant by “postphenomenological” in this book, so you'll have to figure out how to get that information (pro tip: it's in his Peking University lectures.) You'll realize, if you don't know already, reading secondary sources, even those by legit folk such as Kockelmans and Ihde – without having read the primary source – is a good way to miss out on lots of the fun; you get “information” without getting philosophy.
  6. Another thing you may pick up along the way, while reading translations of those 19th and 20th century Germans, is you may just learn how to read. Yes, you probably can't read well yet. Point your face at some Nietzsche, for example, Human, All Too Human. If you can understand it right off, you're pretty good at reading; but it may be you can't understand it even then, and are just fooling yourself. There are reasons for book after book being written on Nietzsche, and paper after paper, long after his death. Read tons of his stuff. Soon you'll get used to his writing style, which predates list-style Web postings by a few years.
  7. You will, if you persevere – and you take the boat-rebuilding course in fixing your view of the world, instead of taking the sapper's approach – realize that information is theory- and value-laden, and that, as a philosophically naive mental structuring of it is disastrous, the world is run, largely, by and for ignorant fools! Congratulations for finding this out. I'll give you a pat on the back here, in case you're too stunned to give yourself one. Or maybe you think politicians are among the more honest of human beings.... The overconfidence of those around, and of yourself, will – if it didn't already – astound you, once you understand something of your own. Arrogant ignorance abounds; the philosopher abides. Or doesn't. Philosophers take action, too. For example, Heidegger was politically conscious, which is supposed to be a Very Good Thing.
  8. If you want to take the sapper's approach, I would recommend some Nietzsche (anything except Zarathustra to start with!), then Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation, a piece of technoscientific-dystopian poetry you may know from its cameo in the 1999 film The Matrix. You may wonder whether Baudrillard was Nietzsche's protege. I did. His stuff is blistering, insane. Then, or first, read that little book by “The Invisible Committee,” The Coming Insurrection, while realizing that it is “shock-the-dullard-cows” writing, completely extravagant in its way, and not something to be used as a literal basis for action. They take a few gripes and want to end the world. Your vision may become blurry, the world uncanny – and that's what you wanted. For the sapper, philosophy books are limit experiences. The approaches of the sapper and the boat-fixer can be hybridized to taste.
  9. The primary benefit of philosophy is that it takes you out of the information blast- furnace, prevents you, while you're reading, from arguing on the Internet (no, you're probably not “having a discussion” – as if even a sizable minority of Netizens know how to do that; and they're whom you'd be talking to), and just might be the gateway practice to reading poetry, the power of which is at least as great as that of philosophy; the two may be, at times, nearly identical.
  10. “If you're not outraged” – you just might be a thoughtful person who realizes that memes and bumper stickers are lossy compressions of bad ideas. If you're not “outraged,” that is, if you aren't into reading “the news” to reaffirm your reasons for being upset, you might just be a philosopher. If you're outraged, it's probably because you're a human being living in a world run by human beings; “the world” is a mess, always has been, and isn't going to get much better anytime soon; philosophy is the way to “think globally, act locally.” It is the ultra-local action dais, where everything that happens for you, happens, and the place where everything can be changed. It is the control panel for the world.

Get off the Web. Read books. Stop arguing on fora and social media. Read philosophy: change your entire world. Now go and look at Heidegger's Country Path Conversations. “Information” helps you blow your competition away in terms of avarice and vanity, is good for cocktail parties and barroom belligerence; philosophy like Country Path Conversations blows your goddam mind.