Friday, August 18, 2017

eFolly

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.