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.