Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A New Years Eve Blog Post From Sixteen Years Ago


I got this essay today from a mailing list I'm on called Upper Room Reflections. I think it's a good thought to end the year on.

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THE INFANT'S MESSAGE OF PEACE

IF WE ARE TO BE truly peacemakers, I think we must move beyond the notion of peace as the absence of conflict . ... Peace has to do with the fullness of things, with lion and lamb lying down together, not a world without lions. If we are to have hearts capable of the peace of Christ, which does indeed pass all understanding, we must have hearts capable of embracing the joy and the sorrow, the sacredness and the sin of the world. ...

The infant in the manger at Bethlehem comes with a message of peace, an announcement that all sad divisions, all the irreconcilable pieces of our public and private lives will be brought together in the celebration of "shalom" -- God's blessing, God's peace. This will not, I think, occur when conflict has ceased. For creative conflict is a necessary component of growth. Rather, peace will reign when our forgiveness of self and others is wide and deep enough to create new possibilities and, without the use of violence, to transform our seeming impasses into new freedoms and joys.

-- Wendy M. Wright THE VIGIL

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Monday, December 09, 2019

Heroes Always Rise Up

"All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die." 
John Steinbeck "A Life in Letters

This quote is from a letter John Steinbeck wrote to a friend on January 1, 1941. The war in Europe had been going on since September of 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, but the U.S. wouldn't enter the fighting until the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

There are limited, but not unimportant, lessons from pre-WWII Europe that should help inform us about our current times - but what is the common thread that runs through history when man reverts to being an animal "red of tooth and claw"?

What is the evil thing that doesn't die?

Lies.

Lies we tell ourselves and others allow evil to exist or in some cases promote new forms of evil. Lies that encourage us to hate, hurt or kill our fellow humans.

This isn't breaking news - the old testament story of the Garden of Eden  written by humans about 3,000 years ago is in a narrow sense a metaphor intended to demonstrate the evil that can be unleashed through lies.

The serpent tells Eve lies to convince her to break God's law and encourage Adam to do so as well - leading to their expulsion from Eden. In it's simplest form this is a story telling us that lying leads to bad things. It doesn't really matter if it was a serpent lying to you, you lying to yourself, or you lying to another person - the message is that lies can be devastating to you personally, to those you care about and to society as a whole.

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John Stuart Mill in his essay On Liberty wrote something that reminds me of what Steinbeck wrote in his letter.

Mill writes -
"The real advantage which truth has, consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favourable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it."
What is the truth?

Outside the physical sciences and mathematics there is nothing we can point to as "the truth".  We can approach truth by allowing vigorous debate and the free expression of opinions - no matter how bad, misinformed, hateful, hurtful or just flat wrong those opinions may be. Only by examining as many sides of an argument as we can are we able to say which opinions are consistent with our values.

If we simply accept the opinions of others without examining as many sides of the debate as we can - we (a) either admit we have no values worth considering or (b) we assume that other peoples opinions reflect our values because they belong to a perceived clan or (c) we are like a sponge and absorb whatever value is contained in the opinion as our personal value and regurgitate the appropriate talking points.

The end result of not examining the world around us sufficiently is that we live not as humans searching for meaning but rather as animals reacting to external stimuli we neither understand nor oftentimes even realize exists.

The age of enlightenment beginning in the 17th and 18th century was made possible by human reason, science, and the free exchange of ideas. Grossly oversimplified this was a time when reason began to replace myths promulgated by the monarchy and the church. Defenders of reason, science and the free exchange of ideas associated themselves with what is called liberalism while defenders of myth, the monarchy and the church were associated with conservatism. It's important to note this description is a theoretical construct that ignores the actual complexity of the world and people living in it. In the real world people are complicated and do not hold simplistic views that can be symbolized by words like "liberal", "conservative", "right", "left" etc..

To understand the roots of what is called "liberalism" and how far we have diverted from those roots I highly recommend reading John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty". It's about 90 pages of fairly slow reading because of the depth of thought and long long sentences with lots of punctuation. John Stuart Mill assumed that all individuals have the desire and ability to think, reason and debate ideas.

Adam Gopnik wrote in a 2008 New Yorker article titled "The Passions of John Stuart Mill" and in his book "A Thousand Small Sanities - The Moral Adventure of Liberalism",

"Mill’s theory of freedom does make an unwarranted assumption—that people want a rich life where knowledge increases, new discoveries are made, and new ideas found, where art flourishes and science advances. If you don’t want that kind of society, you don’t want liberty, in Mill’s sense. Part of what makes him as touching as he is great is that it scarcely occurred to him that anyone would not."

Gopnik's book will be of interest to anyone curious what the terms "left", "liberal", "conservative" or "right" may mean in political discussions today and where those terms originated. Anyone who in good faith refers to themselves or someone else using one of these terms would be well served to make some effort to understand what these words mean - aside from being a rhetorical rock to throw at someone you disagree with, or at least assume you disagree with.

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One could argue that every person has the right to live the life they choose provided their choices don't cause harm to others. If one person chooses to be an under-informed bigot that's his or her "life" - which only adds to the rich tapestry of humankind.

The state has no right to tell anyone what to think or how to live their life - provided their choices "neither pick my pocket nor break my leg".

Individuals on the other hand are free to express whatever opinions they may hold - with the understanding that for an opinion to appeal to rational people it must be factual, logical and in accord with any applicable historical precedent.

Individuals who hold opinions that society finds appalling and are therefore subject to scorn can defend their opinion using facts and logic. If they have a rational case to make, eventually society (public opinion) will discover or re-discover a truth.

If a person doesn't have the capability or desire to discern fact from fiction they can neither voice opinions that will appeal to rational people nor judge the validity of opinions held by rational people.

A person unable to discern fact from fiction benefits from a guardian who helps them avoid harming themselves or others, and suffers at the hands of anyone who uses that persons ignorance to further his or her own interests. People unable or unwilling to separate fact from fantasy, unwilling to take even the minimal steps to gain a civics education, should (and will) be governed and treated as children rather than free men and women.

If you like that sort of thing then ignore the fact that things we love require attention. We love freedom, we love democracy, we love our country - but not paying attention, not learning all we can about history and current events - assuming that a government and a society are like a machine that once set in motion continues on the same path indefinitely is both wrong and dangerous.

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I have hope.

Heroes will rise up as they always have.

Every human, in every time and in every moment, has the potential to bring truth, grace, compassion, humor and beauty into this world. 


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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Literacy in the United States

According to this source American adults have a 99% literacy rate. That sounds pretty impressive but it's not a complete picture of adult reading and writing skills in our country.

Looking at literacy in the U.S. in a little more depth we find, according to this article, that 52% of American adults are either "non-literate", or have "below basic" or "basic" reading and writing skills. Those 52% are broken down as follows -

4% of adults are non-literate meaning they can neither read nor write.

14% of adults have "below basic" skills meaning they read and write at a grade 1 to grade 3 level.

34% of adults have "basic" skills meaning they read and write at a grade 4 or grade 5 level.

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One way to interpret those numbers is that 52% of adults do not have the prerequisite skills to analyze complex topics. On the other hand, a lack of reading and writing skills does not preclude any individual from being kind, funny, goodhearted, skilled and wise. The skill with which someone reads and writes really has nothing to do with whether you are a good friend, worker, husband, wife, son or daughter. 

Unfortunately for a representative democracy when it comes to interpreting the fog of current events and politics, the ability to read and analyze complex issues is paramount. A majority of people (52%) do not have the reading and writing tools to analyze complex information - to separate fact from fiction. Because of this, we don't form governments and elect politicians by asking individuals to analyze facts and data to reach conclusions individually, but rather by moving and shaping public opinion in the aggregate. 

Given the sometimes lucrative nature of politics, and a human will to power, we have a vast array of people and institutions attempting to shape public opinion.

Where do you get the most bang for your buck in this endeavor to shape public opinion? 

Consider tele-marketers, tele-evangelists, pyramid marketing schemes, snake oil salesman, and made for TV informercial creators. They provide a message in a seemingly sincere manner, using purported experts operating in good faith, and provide messages at a 3rd or 4th grade level. Given the proliferation of these types of schemes it's obviously a profitable endeavor.

An effective way for a politician, political party, corporation or the ultra-wealthy, to sway public opinion - to gain power, is to write and talk in a way a 3rd or 4th grader comprehends. If those who shape public opinion are aligned with the interests of the majority of citizens then we have a representative democracy of sorts - not government by the people but government by the people's opinion. In other words - government by the elites who shape that opinion - not necessarily a bad thing and in some practical sense probably necessary. 

The age-old challenge is that public opinion is shaped to a great extent by those with the most money and power. This was exacerbated when the Supreme Court told us money is speech and corporations are people.

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Walter Lippmann wrote about what he felt was the necessity of an elite group to help shape public opinion. This might sound scary and certainly would be in some cases. If however the elites were concerned for the welfare of all people (rather than the .1%) it would essentially be the type of government we think we have. We trust our party or representative to represent our interests. 

Instead we end up with some media, corporations, political parties, think tanks and political action committees attempting to shape public opinion with the goal of holding on to their power and obscene amounts of wealth. 

If you zoom out a bit on this picture you will begin to see why public education, liberal arts education, and higher education are a perennial target for attack and bad faith criticism by "conservatives" or "the right". 

A skeptic would say an educated and literate populace requires more sophisticated and widespread (expensive) forms of propaganda to shape their opinions. A less educated and less literate population is more pliable and can be swayed by less sophisticated and less expensive forms of propaganda. You don't have to buy a top tier outlet like the Washington Post or New York Times to spread your propaganda when you have an audience that is perfectly happy to get their news from bottom tier  propaganda outlets like the Daily Caller, Daily Signal, Breitbart, RT, or Sputnik News. Fox News is in this bottom tier and often aligns with these outlets to build "trending" news - Fox differs only in the amount of capital expended in their propaganda efforts. Rupert Murdoch has lots of capital to pretty-up Fox and make it look like real man, real patriotic - real American fare.

A less skeptical proponent of public education would say that better educated and more literate people serve the interests of democracy. And therein lies the rub - a tiny minority of rich and powerful (and their true-believers) have no interest in a democracy because they are afraid of sharing or losing power. True-believers who have neither money nor power are kept afraid and angry by those who shape public opinion (the .1% if you will) so these true-believers can be manipulated by emotion rather than facts and data.

I understand that without context whatever I'm trying to say may be confusing, conspiratorial or just wrong. When I criticize the rich and powerful it's because I feel like I'm part of a team - the team of U.S. citizens - and I want my team to excel. When I read this United Nations report on extreme poverty and human rights in the USA and see how we lag every other economically developed nation in the world I think whatever we've been doing isn't working for a majority of Americans.

Rather than discussing the issues in that U.N. report the .1% who control much of media and government, attack - the U.N., welfare queens, lazy people, socialists, democrats, elites, coastal elites, college students, libs, pro-choicers, immigrants, people of color, people who want to take your guns, people who want to take away your religion and anyone else they can to obfuscate the facts of the matter and promote a friend/enemy sense of tribal belonging that transcends rational thought.

We have pressing issues to address in our country - housing, medical care, drug prices, child care,  wage stagnation, wealth inequality, public education, health, addiction, suicide, gun violence, climate change and the environment. If the .1% and their media empires allowed for a good faith dialogue on these topics we'd be on a start to finding solutions. 

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Monday, October 14, 2019

Goal of the Day

My goal of the day is something I heard the late philosopher Rick Roderick say,

"To have strongly held beliefs but to recognize that my beliefs may be wrong."

I can articulate a fairly coherent explanation for how the United States came to be in it's current state. In essence those with power used that power to consolidate and increase their power.

As a believer in a mixed-economy, sometimes called embedded liberalism, I would propose that consolidation of political power in the hands of a wealthy few is detrimental to the average citizen and a precursor to a totalitarian, possibly fascistic, state. I may very well be wrong either about particulars or in my general thesis.

If you are a subscriber to voodoo economics, trickle down theory or the Laffer curve - consolidating money and power in the hands of a few is a good thing. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher promoted an ideology that led the United States (and parts of Western Europe) to where we find ourselves today.

If you are curious, and have a few hours, these three videos on NeoLiberalism and one on Facism are a good history lesson for what lead us to where we are in 2019. From what I can tell it took the young person who made those videos two years to complete them so he's done us quite favor.

By all means exercise your God-given right to think for yourself. Consult as many sources as you can - make up your own mind on what to believe. I think you will find that the world is incredibly complex and a non-thinking faith in a party or ideology will create more problems than it will solve.

Harold Bloom had a humorous take on being skeptical when he wrote,
"I am your true Marxist critic, following Groucho rather than Karl, and take as my motto Groucho’s grand admonition, ‘Whatever it is, I’m against it.’"
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I've been thinking about where our "faith" in dysfunctional government policies and parties originates.  I think it may trace back a couple of thousand years to the origins of Buddhism and Christianity - or what I'd call a general Eastern vs. Western way of thinking.

The Dalai Lhama says Buddhism is a pragmatic religion that utilizes logic and the scientific method. If some precept of Buddhism doesn't work for you or for society there is no reason to follow that precept.

Christianity in it's myriad forms has one central claim - the one and only truth. Even though the various Christian sects hold what are sometimes antithetical beliefs they each have faith that theirs is the one and only truth. If those truths happen to be detrimental to you as an individual or society as a whole - that's the way God intended it. A similar argument could be made for other patriarchal religions.

Our Judeo-Christian country incorporated that religious need to believe, to have faith, even when all evidence points to the contrary - into our politics. As mainstream religions lose adherents we see people who take all the energy that used to go into religious fervor and apply it to the political realm. We end up with "strict constructionists" who tell us the constitution - prevents us from addressing the gun death epidemic or the takeover of government by the ultra-wealthy via dark money. We end up with "conservatives" who tell us the bible makes it a requirement that women give up control of their own bodies and subjugate themselves to men; that we allow the state to kill and that humans with different sexual orientation are sinners (who we may profess to love but who will suffer eternal damnation for their sin).

Predictions are hard especially when it comes to the future. It seems to me that we have a battle between searching for truth, or having blind faith in a party, person or ideology. Searching for truth is hard as are all worthwhile things. Having blind faith in a party, person or ideology is easy but ultimately devastating to the individual. People willing to give up their individuality make up some of the most damaging mass movements in history. Generally there is some sort of precipitating factor that energizes the movement to action.

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The great recession of 2008 worked out fine for the banks and financial institutions but around 10 million Americans lost their homes. Combine this with the gentrification of some cities and the crumbling of others and it's not hard to see why there are so many homeless people. Given the stagnation of wages, loss of manufacturing jobs, decline of schools, out of control costs of health care, dying planet and rampart addiction it's not hard to see why there are a significant number of Americans who are afraid, hurt and angry. Only a complete failure of imagination could possibly allow one to not see this.

People who are afraid, hurting and angry are prime targets for a demagogue willing to tell them what they want to hear irrespective of reality. Some would argue that keeping people afraid, hurting and angry is part of the plan by the powerful to retain and grow power. The rhetoric and propaganda pushed by Fox and Friends, Hannity, Limbaugh, Ingraham, Savage etal. makes this clear when viewed from a non-ideological non-true-believer frame of reference.

In order to understand my concern a person needs to understand the  context in which I write this. If you are too busy or not interested in following the radical right shouters on TV or radio then you have no clue what I'm trying to say. Listen to or watch the ones I've mentioned and if your head doesn't explode from the misinformation, disinformation, hatred and "othering" of libs, Dems, Socialists, feminists, coastal elites, women, immigrants, people of color and academics you will begin to realize something quite dangerous is being done to persuade people, to change public opinion, to set up an enemy/friend scenario - all in order to retain and grow power for the powerful. It's hard. but you have to listen or watch for awhile to get the full effect - it's quite disorienting, depressing, and maddening as you start to see what billionaires are paying millionaires to say about your fellow citizens, in order to maintain and grow the wealthy elites power.

One thing I can guarantee you is that if you do listen to the shouters you will never hear them say, "I have strongly held beliefs but I realize my beliefs may be wrong." It's all binary for the shouters - good/bad, enemy/friend, lib/conservative are all groups of perfectly homogeneous people sharing the same all good or all bad set of beliefs. Completely ridiculous but enthralling if you are looking for someone to blame for dissatisfaction with your own life and or failure of our government to serve the people.

Given we have a demagogue in office currently it becomes a guessing game to see what path this particular mass movement will take.

I'm (as always) betting on the good guys (and gals).

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Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Dear Diary

Melania Trump has a page on the whitehouse.gov site called BE BEST that features this quote,
"It remains our generation’s moral imperative to take responsibility and help our children manage the many issues they are facing today, including encouraging positive social, emotional, and physical habits." 
Melania Trump First Lady of the United States
It's hard to know what to make of this quote. Someone has a moral imperative to encourage positive social, emotional and physical habits in our children. Someone should strive to BE BEST.

Okay...

We try our best to be our best and fail over and over. We try to be kind and end up being cruel. We try to be honest and end up being dishonest. We try to be brave and end up being cowardly. We want to be polite and end up being rude. We want to be smart and end up doing stupid things etc. etc. etc. I know this to be true from personal experience and would propose that anyone with a tiny bit of self awareness also knows this to be true for themselves. We try to be good and do good and end up being bad and doing bad (hurtful, selfish, thoughtless) things.

I fall short. We fall short.

As long as we are aware of our failing and strive to do better there is no shame in imperfection. Human individuals are messy, crazy, wild, mixed-up, cowardly, brave, honest, dishonest, kind, cruel, smart, stupid, wise, foolish - the whole catastrophe. There is no way around this. You can be a better human but you can't be a perfect human.

Anyone who outwardly seems perfect should be viewed with a degree of skepticism. The perfect wife, father, husband, child, - exists only in fairy tales. Even a saint can approach perfection in some role and fail miserably in other roles. No human is beyond redemption. Part of redemption is to admit fault and ask for forgiveness. Humans unable or unwilling to admit their flaws are therefore sadly irredeemable.

Any thing made by man is flawed. Some things approach a greater degree of perfection but no man made thing can be perfect. If you think your religion, country, party are perfect - think some more.

The key to achieving greater perfection is examining your own life and being self-aware enough to realize where one falls short and can improve. Being imperfect we can all improve. If you think you are perfect or can reach perfection - think some more.

We're all sinners and paradoxically, beautifully, in our own messy human way - we are all saints.

That is the crux of the issue - accepting the beautiful imperfections of being human and balancing that acceptance with the desire to be and do better.

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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Ripple in Still Water

Robert Hunter who wrote the lyrics to many Grateful Dead songs passed away on September 23, 2019. Robert Hunter wrote these lyrics for the song "Ripple" -
If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music?
Would you hold it near as it were your own?
It's a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken
Perhaps they're better left unsung.
I don't know, don't really care
Let there be songs to fill the air.
Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.
Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.
There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.
Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.
You, who choose to lead, must follow
But if you fall you fall alone.
If you should stand then who's to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.
Lyrics by Robert Hunter
Music by Jerry Garcia
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Saturday, September 28, 2019

Freedom

Leo Tolstoy's 1894 book "The Kingdom of God is Within You" subtitled "Christianity not as a mystic religion but as a new theory of life" is one of the most amazing books I've read. Lest you think I'm a bible thumping holier than thou type, please be aware this book is a scathing attack on what many call Christianity.

It's hard to imagine what impact there would be to society if this book were taught in schools, preached from the pulpits and discussed in cafes. An adolescent exposed to Tolstoy's thinking would be a poor fit for the roles that our churches, schools and government prepare them to fill. We wouldn't have soldiers, or policeman, or executioners, or judges...there'd be no political leaders, political parties or in fact any government at all.

Yes yes all very utopian...and scary particularly if you believe that humans are somehow quite different from one another and that you should fear, subjugate and exploit, rather than love, other humans. An adult exposed to Tolstoy's thinking would at least be spurred to ask if some of their most important, and generally unexamined, truths may be fictions.

Tolstoy wrote beautifully, clearly and logically - I can only wonder how much better the nuances of his writing would be in the original Russian. The passage where Tolstoy writes about considering, "your real positions in eternity as a creature who at the will of Someone has been called out of unconsciousness after an eternity of non-existence to which you may return at any moment at his will" seems quite beautiful to me.

Tolstoy tells us that freedom without truth is an impossibility. Individuals unable or unwilling to search for truth are not and will never be - free. He proposes the gospel of Jesus Christ and the scientific method as useful paths for those searching for truth.

I hesitate to excerpt portions of the book because it's message comes through building upon ideas rather than catchy aphorisms. Nevertheless the following are some excerpts from the book that might allow you to see if it's the sort of thing that interests you. Tolstoy's ideas were of interest to Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi if that helps pique your interest any.

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The following quotes are from Leo Tolstoy's book "The Kingdom of God is Within You". 

"There is one thing, and only one thing, in which it is granted to you to be free in life, all else being beyond your power: that is to recognize and profess the truth."

"Share all that you have with others, do not heap up riches, do not steal, do not cause suffering, do not kill, do not unto others what you would not they should do unto you, all that has been said not eighteen hundred, but five thousand years ago, and there could be no doubt of the truth of this law if it were not for hypocrisy. Except for hypocrisy men could not have failed, if not to put the law in practice, at least to recognize it, and admit that it is wrong not to put it in practice."

"The liberty of man does not consist in the power of acting independently of the progress of life and the influences arising from it, but in the capacity for recognizing and acknowledging the truth revealed to him, and becoming the free and joyful participator in the eternal and infinite work of God, the life of the world; or on the other hand for refusing to recognize the truth, and so being a miserable and reluctant slave dragged whither he has no desire to go."

"Thieves, robbers, murderers, and cheats, who commit crimes recognized by themselves and everyone else as evil, serve as an example of what ought not to be done, and deter others from similar crimes. But those who commit the same thefts, robberies, murders, and other crimes, disguising them under all kinds of religious or scientific or humanitarian justifications, as all landowners, merchants, manufacturers, and government officials do, provoke others to imitation, and so do harm not only to those who are directly the victims of their crimes, but to thousands and millions of men whom they corrupt by obliterating their sense of the distinction between right and wrong."

"A single fortune gained by trading in goods necessary to the people or in goods pernicious in their effects, or by financial speculations, or by acquiring land at a low price the value of which is increased by the needs of the population, or by an industry ruinous to the health and life of those employed in it, or by military or civil service of the state, or by any employment which trades on men's evil instincts—a single fortune acquired in any of these ways, not only with the sanction, but even with the approbation of the leading men in society, and masked with an ostentation of philanthropy, corrupts men incomparably more than millions of thefts and robberies committed against the recognized forms of law and punishable as crimes."

"Whatever names we dignify ourselves with, whatever uniforms we wear, whatever priests we anoint ourselves before, however many millions we possess, however many guards are stationed along our road, however many policemen guard our wealth, however many so-called criminals, revolutionists, and anarchists we punish, whatever exploits we have performed, whatever states we may have founded, fortresses and towers we may have erected—from Babel to the Eiffel Tower—there are two inevitable conditions of life, confronting all of us, which destroy its whole meaning; (1) death, which may at any moment pounce upon each of us; and (2) the transitoriness of all our works, which so soon pass away and leave no trace. Whatever we may do—found companies, build palaces and monuments, write songs and poems—it is all not for long time. Soon it passes away, leaving no trace. And therefore, however we may conceal it from ourselves, we cannot help seeing that the significance of our life cannot lie in our personal fleshly existence, the prey of incurable suffering and inevitable death, nor in any social institution or organization."

"Whoever you may be who are reading these lines, think of your position and of your duties—not of your position as landowner, merchant, judge, emperor, president, minister, priest, soldier, which has been temporarily allotted you by men, and not of the imaginary duties laid on you by those positions, but of your real positions in eternity as a creature who at the will of Someone has been called out of unconsciousness after an eternity of non-existence to which you may return at any moment at his will. Think of your duties—not your supposed duties as a landowner to your estate, as a merchant to your business, as emperor, minister, or official to the state, but of your real duties, the duties that follow from your real position as a being called into life and endowed with reason and love."

"Are you doing what he demands of you who has sent you into the world, and to whom you will soon return? Are you doing what he wills? Are you doing his will, when as landowner or manufacturer you rob the poor of the fruits of their toil, basing your life on this plunder of the workers, or when, as judge or governor, you ill treat men, sentence them to execution, or when as soldiers you prepare for war, kill and plunder?"


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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Jacques Derrida and Deconstruction

More thoughts on non-trending topics of the day.

Have you ever wondered what Steve Bannon might have been talking about when he used the phrase "deconstruction of the administrative state"?

Perhaps you've heard Jordan Peterson talk about "deconstruction" and "Derrida" and wondered what those things are and why anyone would care about them?

After going down a fair number of dead ends I found a lecture online from someone named Wes Cecil who knows a lot about "deconstruction" and "Derrida". Wes Cecil describes himself as someone, "interested in literature, philosophy, history and gardening." He lives in the beautiful town of Port Angeles Washington. He has a PhD in English and wrote his doctoral dissertation on Derrida. The fact that he's studied many different languages and comes from the English studies part of academia makes him a good candidate to interpret Derrida.

I had a suspicion from my reading and research that some philosophy professors and others who mention his name, don't understand Derrida - but are upset with Derrida. You'll understand why after listening to Wes Cecil's lecture.

This discomfort with Derrida's way of thinking may boil down to the futile effort of analytic philosophers and others (after 2500 years or so) to come up with the one true and final answer to the -

"Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything"

Francis Fukuyama thought western style liberalism provided such an answer, as he outlined in his 1992 book called The End of History.

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I don't think anyone "understands" Derrida and that's the way he wanted it. That's not to say he didn't have some super interesting and at times what seem to be profound ideas.

In this lecture the professor says Derrida wrote over 50 books and that none of them are readable. He talks about the sort of cultish admiration of Derrida that caused large numbers of students, who didn't understand French, to sit through talks that Jacques gave in French. He says Derrida wanted high schools to teach philosophy (two thumbs up to that) and that Derrida wanted everyone to read (re-read) the canon of great philosophical thinkers. He talks about how upset many people (mostly in academia) were with Derrida.

Here's my boneheaded interpretation of why Derrida gets so many people upset -

Derrida asks us to question how much we really know about anything. Derrida asks us to particularly question things we think we know - for example what it means when we categorize a person, or group of people as "black". Absolute certainty that we have the only right answer to something can cause (and has caused) all sorts of problems for humanity.

When I think, say, or write, that some one or some group is "Republican" or "conservative" or "liberal" or "illegal" or "Evangelical" or "Christian" or "Catholic" or "Muslim" I'm thinking, talking or writing about some "thing" that doesn't exist; but that non-existence wouldn't necessarily prevent me from hating other people or groups and possibly going to war to defend my (and my tribes) singular interpretation.

Derrida was asking us to show a little humility, lighten up and enjoy the ride.

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In my quest for understanding I watched a "documentary" of Derrida and thought....that guy seems (a) like a bit of a trickster or joker (b) to have a sort of strange aversion to cameras and (c) like a nice guy.

After listening to Wes Cecil's lecture I think my hunches were fairly accurate.

Anyway if you are at all interested in this stuff his lecture is the best thing I've found.

The lecture gets more and more interesting as you go along - I found it fascinating and hope that you may as well.



Wes Cecil has over eighty lectures on his Humane Arts YouTube channel. They are also on Soundcloud and Apple podcasts. A lot of them look really interesting. Perhaps a nice break from the trending topics of the day...

Monday, August 19, 2019

Solitude

The prose poem Desiderata  was written by Max Ehrlmann in the 1920's.

The word desiderata is defined as "things wanted or needed."


It was quite popular to have a posterized copy of the poem on your wall back in the 60's and 70's. You may also have had a poster of a solitary figure on top of mountain, or fishing in a beautiful river, with "alone but not lonely" imprinted on it. Maybe a poster of Steve McQueen jumping a motorcycle over a fence...but I digress.

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The opening sentence of the Desiderata talks about a form of solitude,
"Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence."
That sounds good but how might you do that?

First lets define what we mean by "solitude". Websters online says a definition of solitude is "the quality or state of being alone or remote from society."

Therefore you can find solitude by being physically alone or by by being remote from society.

Since you probably can't be physically alone all the time, and wouldn't want to if you could, we will choose being remote from society as our path to solitude - so that we might occasionally "go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence."

Being remote from society...probably requires turning off the TV, getting off our computers and putting down our cell phones for awhile. I say probably because if you are using your TV, computer or cell phone to access something "that is remote from society" then it doesn't break your cone of solitude.

If you are using your TV, computer or cell phone to access some non-trending things - like history, educational programs, philosophy, literature, theology or art you are safely removed from the destructive effects that society and popular culture have on the ability of an  individual to continue to construct a "self" by increasing their knowledge of themselves and the world they live in. In order to do that you will need some solitude.

The good news here is that you don't need to go into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights eating locusts and wild honey, or build a small cabin beside Walden Pond, in order to find solitude.

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Rather than just going cold turkey on the whole "shut out the outside world thing" we have to prepare ourselves to be able to live with our self. Who knows - it might be a bad thing, or an impossible thing, to shut out the outside world and just be with your self?

You have to prepare yourself for solitude.

Buddhist meditative practices where we concentrate on our breathing to quiet our monkey mind is one path. If you are curious about Buddhism,  the PBS film The Buddha by David Grubin narrated by Richard Gere is one of my favorites.

Contemplative Prayer sometimes called Centering Prayer is another discipline preparing a person to be able to sit doing, and at times thinking, nothing.

The idea of either of these practices is similar - quieting your mind in order to prepare for some form of higher consciousness.

In the Buddhist case by recognizing the beauty in transitory things, seeing that their transitory nature makes them all the more precious and working toward a state of being that allows one to live a life of joy in that tension.

In the Christian case by experiencing God (the unknowable) in that quiet place and realizing the concept of the trinity in Christian belief tells us that we are part of God and God is part of us - when we are filled (or touched a bit) by the holy spirit.

Both these practices teach us to focus on the here and now - the moment, rather than worrying about what happened in the past or what may happen in the future.

The end goal of either practice being to reach a state of equanimity.

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We are all children of the universe - having originated from stardust we will return to that state when the star we call the sun explodes in 6 billion years (give or take a billion or so). If the big crunch theory is right the universe will eventually contract and the show will start all over again with a big bang. In the meantime be sure and hug all your favorite pieces of stardust.

I realize that sounds kind of new-agey and woo woo but it doesn't sound any more strange to me than to say God put the first man on earth and made the first woman out of that man's rib.

I have to rely on what science can tell us, but I don't have to think science can tell us everything. It takes an enormous amount of foolish pride to think otherwise.

Having utter faith in science and reason - leads to the disenchantment  of our world; and on a purely practical level has, and is, leading to all sorts of surprises from Mother Nature.

On the plus side there is an Enchanted Village south of here ;-)

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BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time has a podcast on the Philosophy of Solitude if any of this piques your interest. The description of the podcast on the BBC website says,
"Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophy of solitude. The state of being alone can arise for many different reasons: imprisonment, exile or personal choice. It can be prompted by religious belief, personal necessity or a philosophical need for solitary contemplation. Many thinkers have dealt with the subject, from Plato and Aristotle to Hannah Arendt. It's a philosophical tradition that takes in medieval religious mystics, the work of Montaigne and Adam Smith, and the great American poets of solitude Thoreau and Emerson."
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I have a Centering Prayer app on my phone that allows you to select from a variety of opening texts. This one is from a book called "We The Ordinary People of the Streets" written by Madeleine Delbrel and talks a little about solitude.

The basic revelation of the Gospel is the overwhelming, penetrating presence of God. 
It is a call to encounter God, and God allows himself to be encountered only in solitude. 
It would seem that this solitude is something that those who live among the people of the world would have to forego. But this would be to believe we precede God in solitude, while, on the contrary, it is he who waits there for us; to find God is to find solitude, because true solitude is spirit, and all of our efforts at human solitude are merely relative approaches toward the perfect solitude that is faith. 
True solitude is not the absence of people, but the presence of God. 
To place our lives before the face of God, to surrender our lives to the movements of God, is to roam free in a space in which we have been given solitude. 
If the eruption of God's presence in us occurs in silence and solitude, it allows us to remain thrown among, mixed up with, radically joined to all of the people who are made of the same clay as we are.

She said clay - I say stardust..same difference and in any event it's a miracle to be here now.

May we all someday live in peace.


Sunday, August 18, 2019

God's Work Our Hands

This year's “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday, is Sunday, September 8, 2019.




I've been reading a few interesting articles in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics which is described on it's website as, "a free, monthly, ecclesial online publication living out the Lutheran tradition of addressing social issues theologically, using the resources of historical, theological, and ethical tradition, biblical interpretation, and social sciences."
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If you are looking for a way to live an ethical and moral life, and aren't interested in reading a boatload of philosophical or theological works The Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5-7 might contain all you need to know.

I just started reading The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy. I think Tolstoy is making the case that Jesus was a man, not a supernatural being, who's teachings could form a moral and ethical way of living in the world. He poses this question in the book,
"Did Christ really demand from his disciples that they should carry out what he taught them in the Sermon on the Mount?"
Mahatma Gandhi corresponded with Leo Tolstoy through the last year of Tolstoy's life. This correspondence led Mahatma Gandhi to follow Leo Tolstoy as his teacher.

Martin Luther King pointed to the works of Leo Tolstoy as a primary source of his inspiration.


Saturday, August 17, 2019

What Do You Mean?

I watched a video of Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris discussing something before a large audience. In case you don't know who those people are Jordan Peterson is a popular author and speaker who appeals to pre-fascists and lost boys. Sam Harris is a popular self-described liberal.

In the video Jordan Peterson says something, not particularly intelligible to the non-indoctrinated, and gets a big round of applause.

Sam Harris replies with something close to, "I have to do some work to figure out what point your audience thinks you made." which draws a big laugh. This conversation starts at 1:00:00 if you want to check it.
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The word philosophy comes from from Greek φιλοσοφία, philosophia, literally "love of wisdom"

In order to gain wisdom you need some way to communicate. Speech and writing are two common ways we communicate. When we speak or write we use words.

That sounds really simple minded or obvious but it really isn't. Try this thought experiment involving speech -

Assume one of your coworkers comes into the office and says to her fellow coworkers, "I ran into a tree on my way to work this morning." 

One person may think, "she was jogging to work and ran into a tree". 

Another may think, "she was driving to work and ran into a tree".

A third may think, "she says she ran in to (inside) a tree on her way to work, and I see she's holding a cup of takeout coffee, - cool there's a new coffee shop in town that's inside a tree".



Words have a meaning right?

In the case above if you could see into the minds of the three people envisioning the "tree" the woman ran into - what would you see? A pine tree, oak tree, a big tree, small tree..etc.

The indeterminate meaning of the word tree, doesn't really matter for the first two listeners. The speaker can communicate the essence of her meaning without describing the type and size of the tree. The listeners kind of know what she's talking about - she was driving, or jogging, and collided with a tree.

However for the third listener the indeterminacy of speech leads to a complete misrepresentation of the meaning the speaker was trying to communicate.

If you find this sort of discussion interesting the BBC Radio 4 Philosophy podcast has an episode discussing Ludwig Wittgenstein and other philosophers who considered the difficulty humans sometimes (often, always?) have in communicating using words.

These sorts of "failures to communicate" happen all the time but it's most observable in areas where people have some emotional attachment to the topic. Some parents (mine) recommended not discussing religion or politics in polite settings - because it almost inevitably leads to misunderstanding, hurt feeling and sometimes anger. We all know this, which is why we don't show up at a random gathering and ask people for their thoughts about Jesus or leftists or the so called alt-right. The internet changed all that of course.

Here's one more example from politics. Lets say I tell you I'm a conservative. What does that mean? Without context it means nothing. I might be someone attracted to the 18th century thinker Edmund Burke or I might be a devoted follower of the co-president of the United States Sean Hannity.

In common discourse, words or phrases like conservative, liberal, left, right, far left, far right are mostly just an attempt by some humans to figure out who's part of their tribe. For those unencumbered by the thought process, words like these are rocks they carry in their pocket to throw at the enemy.

Here's the thing though...

Thoughtful people of good faith care deeply about words, writing, speech because they care about meaning. Not meaning in the sense of what does this or that word mean but meaning in a broader sense - wisdom and knowledge that we can communicate and retain as human beings, now and in the future.

The New York Times article Paging Big Brother: In Amazon's Bookstore, Orwell Gets a Rewrite is one example of how this kind of dilution of knowledge is happening.

Unless we all want to live in the idiocracy we need to hold on to meaning.           

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Is Fascism Right or Left?


There's a video at Prager U., an online university possibly associated with the now defunct Trump U, called "Is Fascism Right or Left?".

Early in the video the speaker says, "the true source of Fascism has been erased by the left."

Many people, once they heard someone say some silly conspiratorial thing like that would move on, but the video has been viewed by over 1.5 million people and shows up near the top of Google video searches for anyone entering the  words "Is Fascism Right or Left".

It's "revealed" in the video that the source of Fascism is an Italian named Giovanni Gentile.

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Benito Mussolini co-wrote a paper with Giovanni Gentile titled "The Doctrine of Fascism" in 1932. The paper is available on the web or you can listen to a reading on YouTube. In the front matter of the paper it states "this article co-written by Giovanni Gentile is considered the most complete articulation of Mussolini's political views."

It's not a long document at 32 pages but I thought it might be useful to snip out some sections from it to see how one might answer the question "Is Fascism from the Right or the Left?" simply by reading what the paper says.

The following italicized text is from "The Doctrine of Fascism - Benito Mussolini (1932)"

"Indeed, it was during those years that Fascist thought armed, refined itself, and proceeded ahead with its organization. The problems of the individual and the State; the problems of authority and liberty; political, social, and more especially national problems were discussed; the conflict with liberal, democratic, socialistic, Masonic doctrines and with those of the Partito Popolare, was carried on at the same time as the punitive expeditions."

"Fascism will have nothing to do with universal embraces; as a member of the community of nations it looks other peoples straight in the eyes; it is vigilant and on its guard; it follows others in all their manifestations and notes any changes in their interests; and it does not allow itself to be deceived by mutable and fallacious appearances."


"Fascism also denies the immutable and irreparable character of the class struggle which is the natural outcome of this economic conception of history; above all it denies that the class struggle is the preponderating agent in social transformations. Having thus struck a blow at socialism in the two main points of its doctrine, all that remains of it is the sentimental aspiration-old as humanity itself-toward social relations in which the sufferings and sorrows of the humbler folk will be alleviated."


"After socialism, Fascism trains its guns on the whole block of democratic ideologies, and rejects both their premises and their practical applications and implements. Fascism denies that numbers, as such, can be the determining factor in human society; it denies the right of numbers to govern by means of periodical consultations; it asserts the irremediable and fertile and beneficent inequality of men who cannot be leveled by any such mechanical and extrinsic device as universal suffrage. Democratic regimes may be described as those under which the people are, from time to time, deluded into the belief that they exercise sovereignty, while all the time real sovereignty resides in and is exercised by other and sometimes irresponsible and secret forces. Democracy is a kingless regime infested by many kings who are sometimes more exclusive, tyrannical, and destructive than one, even if he be a tyrant."


"It is much to be feared that the last word of democracy thus understood (and let me hasten to add that it is susceptible of a different interpretation) would be a form of society in which a degenerate mass would have no thought beyond that of enjoying the ignoble pleasures of the vulgar ".


"In rejecting democracy Fascism rejects the absurd conventional lie of political equalitarianism, the habit of collective irresponsibility, the myth of felicity and indefinite progress. But if democracy be understood as meaning a regime in which the masses are not driven back to the margin of the State, and then the writer of these pages has already defined Fascism as an organized, centralized, authoritarian democracy."


→"Fascism is definitely and absolutely opposed to the doctrines of liberalism, both in the political and the economic sphere."←


"Germany attained her national unity outside liberalism and in opposition to liberalism, a doctrine which seems foreign to the German temperament, essentially monarchical, whereas liberalism is the historic and logical anteroom to anarchy."


"The Fascist negation of socialism, democracy, liberalism, should not, however, be interpreted as implying a desire to drive the world backwards to positions occupied prior to 1789, a year commonly referred to as that which opened the demo-liberal century. History does not travel backwards. The Fascist doctrine has not taken De Maistre as its prophet."


"Granted that the XIXth century was the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy, this does not mean that the XXth century must also be the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy. Political doctrines pass; nations remain. We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the " right ", a Fascist century."


"If liberalism spells individualism, Fascism spells government."


"The Fascist State organizes the nation, but it leaves the individual adequate elbow room. It has curtailed useless or harmful liberties while preserving those which are essential. In such matters the individual cannot be the judge, but the State only."


"The Fascist State is not indifferent to religious phenomena in general nor does it maintain an attitude of indifference to Roman Catholicism, the special, positive religion of Italians."


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If you want to read about a strange and dark pre-fascist thinker check out Isaiah Berlin's lectures on Joseph De Maistre. You may have noticed that De Maistre is mentioned in the paper by Benito Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile, where it's stated, "The Fascist doctrine has not taken De Maistre as its prophet."

In his lectures Isaiah Berlin states that he considered Joseph De Maistre to be a proto-fascist. De Maistre's thinking was a harbinger of the Fascist states to come led by Mussolini and Hitler.

In his lecture Isaiah Berlin says De Maistre was an aristocrat of sorts who as part of his responsibilities attended executions as a young man. It must have made an impression on De Maistre since his writing is filled with bloody, violent images.

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In attempting to trace the origins of Fascist thought it's important to note this statement in Mussolini's paper, "The Fascist State is not indifferent to religious phenomena in general nor does it maintain an attitude of indifference to Roman Catholicism, the special, positive religion of the Italians."

The hard right wing of Catholicism has a special affinity for fascists. I'd say had a special affinity but if you search for De Maistre you'll find articles like this in some sort of online Catholic publication.

In that article the author is reviewing a book titled "Contra Mundum: Joseph de Maistre and The Birth of Tradition" written by Thomas Isham. The article states, "One result of his (De Maistre) intemperate style is that even so judicious and scholarly a person as Isaiah Berlin considered him a prototypical fascist and totalitarian. The truth is otherwise, as Mr. Isham shows."

One of the three reviewers of the book on Amazon said, "this book was so bad it wasn't even worth giving away." I don't think I'll be purchasing it anytime soon.

Here's another quote from Isaiah Berlin's lectures -
"The Catholic Church maintained, and Maistre with it, that the true cause of the failure of the French Revolution was the rupture with the past, the departure from the word of God, heresy, the fact that there was a particular kind of life which had been enshrined in tradition and in the teachings of the Catholic Church, and by breaking this, by mutinying and rebelling against it, man had put himself beyond the pale, had become an outlaw, and had been duly punished by God with such scourges as Robespierre and Napoleon."
This article on Medium called Remember When Fascism Was a Catholic Problem? is interesting and educational.

In the video "Hitler Fascism and the Catholic Church" Christopher Hitchens says,
"Fascism, the original 20th century totalitarian movement, is really, historically, another name for the political activity of the Catholic right wing. There is no other name for it: Francoism, Salazarism, what happened in Croatia, in Austria, in Bavaria, and so on. The church keeps trying to apologize for it, but can’t apologize for it enough. It’s the Catholic Right."
The popular misinformation spreader; professor Jordan Peterson stated that, "religion in general provides a philosophical alternative to fascism and Marxism, and said that the Catholic Church has operated in history as a bulwark against extremism."

As a baptized Catholic and a former dedicated altar boy I don't feel any qualms about criticizing some of the Church's history or criticizing people who use the guise of Catholicism to somehow legitimate fascist ideology.

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The italicized text below is from Isaiah Berlin's lecture on De Maistre to give you a taste (the original doesn't have much punctuation sorry) -

"The general notion is that he (De Maistre) is out of date, that he is the last defender of a completely outworn order, a man tragically concentrated upon a partly imaginary but no longer restorable past."

"This I believe to be a false account. Maistre is far more a harbinger, alas, of the future than a reconstructer of the past."


"The hysteria of his writings, the dwelling on blood, the view of man as possessed by irrational instincts, the darkness, the proposition that it is fundamentally the irrational and the uncontrollable which are in charge of men; the view that the analysis of the Encyclopaedists is shallow because they do not take account for self-immolation, of the human desire for destruction, of the whole bundle of irrational impulses of which man is to a large extent composed, and the proposition that only by exploiting these, by taking notice of them but also by directing them, by canalising them, by disciplining them, by making use of them, but above all by looking them in the face, can human society survive; the extreme contempt for liberals and democrats, the view that human beings are totally unfit to govern themselves, and must always be governed by small oligarchical élites, which must be groups of self-sacrificing men trying to tie up this terrible tiger with the most utmost effort, which gives them no pleasure at all, any more than the executioner takes pleasure in his executions; the notion that human society can only persist if a few self-sacrificing men are just able to rein in this monstrous beast, and must do so by appealing not to his rational self, which is weak, but to his irrational self, which is dominant, and must direct it towards ends not intelligible to him but intelligible to those who direct him – this view, which is the view of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, does not appear to me to be an eighteenth century view at all – neither progressive nor reactionary, nor liberal, nor conservative, very remote from Burke, by whom he was supposed to have been inspired, and totally unrelated to Thomism or the official Catholic political philosophy of that or of any other time. 


In this respect, I think, he is a proto-Fascist. It seems to me reasonable to say that his stress upon the seamy side, upon the black side, of human nature does qualify him to be so described. That, in effect, is his vision."


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Sorry for the lengthy quotes in this but I didn't want to try and interpret. If you are interested I'd recommend reading the source material to come up with your own analysis.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Love Says They Will




This song makes me cry. 

Of all of life's gifts a loving and committed relationship has to be one of the most precious. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Most Dangerous Man in America?

Is it possible that the most dangerous man in America is a Canadian college professor?

Please allow me to try and explain why that is a question worth asking.

In "Theses on Feuerbach" (1845), Karl Marx wrote, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it."

As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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Before I get to the Canadian, who seems to be a philosopher very interested in changing the world, I need to provide some background.

The potentially most dangerous man in America, likes to talk about Marxism and something he calls cultural-marxism, if he has the right audience.

Cultural marxism, as near as I can tell is a pointer to something evil.  It seems to identify some one, some group, or some idea that non-cultural marxists don't like, maybe hate and are definitely afraid of. Based on my spins around the internet I'd say "cultural marxism" is a phrase used in a lot of speech intended to "other" some group of human beings.

Marx was an important philosopher who was reacting to the changes happening to society as a result of industrialization. Based on my limited reading of his works I'd say he had some insightful things to say about industrialized society and capitalism. The BBC special Masters of Money provides a high-level overview of Marx's thinking. The Essential Writings of Karl Marx edited by David Caute is a concise look at Marx and Engles major ideas that I found educational.

Reading "The Communist Manifesto" isn't a good place to start learning about Marx. The manifesto is deliberately written as a short polemic and doesn't have nearly the nuance, insight and depth of other writings of Marx and Engles.

I'd guess very few people have read the three volumes of Marx and Engles foundational work "Das Kapital" given that each volume is over 1000 pages of challenging material. Even though most people have never read any of Marx and Engles works, many people use the words marxism, socialism, communism with little or no understanding of the philosophy underpinning them.

Taking the name of some thing and saying the name is the thing is a fools errand. Here's what I mean - saying North Korea is a democracy because it's named "The Democratic Peoples Republic of North Korea" doesn't make it so. Saying Communist China is Communism (the political theory derived from Marx) makes about as much sense. How much Marx's ideas, and how much inherent human evil, greed and a will to power contributed to the terrible things that happened in China or the USSR - is complicated.

In the United States with a democratic form of government we saw genocide of native people and enslavement of hundreds of thousands of human beings but we don't say that happened because of democracy. It's complicated.

When the working class is ready to take over the means of production here in the USA you'll know socialism has arrived. I expect that to happen - never, but maybe I'm wrong.

I think it's not impossible that we will slide into some sort of totalitarian fascist state. When the economy tanks or some localized Antifa vs. Proud Boys or other violence escalates - we could be in for a bit of tight spot.

As dire as the prediction may sound I'm not worried. We are a strong people who've been though a lot and I am 100% confident that whatever comes along we'll ride it out. We all are able to choose our own response to whatever comes our way - so have fun, hug your friends and family and make the most of your one singular beautiful life.

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Which brings me to Jordan Peterson, a super smart guy and philosopher (or something) who seems to be popular on the internet. I haven't looked at everything he has on the web (there's a lot) but I've looked at enough to say he's found something. The video that made me think he may be inciting people to violence, perhaps unwittingly, has been viewed by over 2 million people.

What he's found is a group of people unsatisfied with their lives and looking for answers, or at least someone or some group to blame.

What he's found is not completely unlike the "something" Donald Trump found that propelled him to the presidency.

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Before considering my concern with Jordan Peterson please watch this short video discussing identity politics. Olly the young philosophy teacher in the video isn't talking about what some in the popular media, and professors like Jordan Peterson, refer to as "identity politics" so you might learn something you didn't know.

I'd also suggest viewing Olly's video discussing the only true fan of Jordan Peterson in the entire world. Spoiler alert - it involves what appear to be live snakes crawling on Olly's semi-naked body ;-)

Listening to Jordan Peterson preach about philosophers and philosophical ideas I wondered where he was getting his ideas from, because many of them seem misguided. It appeared that he had not read the works of many of the philosophers he characterizes. Cuck Philosophy has a video explaining the book that Jordan Peterson recommends his disciples read to understand some thing he calls post-modernism. You'll understand why Jordan and his devotees are so confused about some things after watching the video.

I was musing if it might be worthwhile to request that Jordan submit a paper for peer review outlining his theory of "post-modernism" or "cultural-marxists" or Derrida or Foucalt's ideas. I suppose not since in the radical right view - academia is corrupted. The idea that higher education is corrupt, going to hell in a hand basket or being taken over by radical feminists, social justice warriors or leftists isn't a new one in the United States. William F. Buckley was making noises like that back in the 1950's. The aristocrats fear that providing an education to the common man would make him ungovernable, goes back much further than the 1950's.

Another video that is a good corrective to some of Jordan Peterson's philosophical confusion is Derrida - The Father of Deconstruction. It's an interview with Paul Patton a professor of philosophy at the University of New South Wales from the Australian Broadcasting Company. I listened to him explain deconstruction about five times and couldn't make it out but it's an interesting video nonetheless.

Rick Roderick talks about deconstruction here in a lecture about Heidegger. He says that Heidegger introduced the term "the deconstruction of philosophy." Roderick equates deconstruction to - clearing away a pile of junk, to get to what might be called it's archaeological roots, to see if there's anything there that will help us in this project of understanding what it means to be in the world.

Wesley Cecil  has a lecture on Derrida here. Early on in his lecture he says, Derrida wrote over 50 books in his lifetime - none of which are readable.

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To understand why I think Jordan Peterson is dangerous you'll need to look closely at the video of a talk he gave to a group of young people in Vancouver B.C. The video has a nice clickbaity and rather nonsensical title "Identity Politics and the Marxist Lie of White Privilege". It's over 2 1/2 hours long, but you only have to look at a couple of spots where young men are asking questions to understand what I'm getting at.

Jordan Peterson has an aura of authority and legitimacy because he is a professor. Many people assume he knows what he's talking about because of his status and because what he says sounds credible. He has some advice for young people that I agree with but the value of what he's saying doesn't in any way make up for the violence he may incite in impressionable people.

The thing that makes him most dangerous may be that he's identifying things in our society that many people see as problematic. He's got some points, but he's mixing it all up in a toxic stew which seems to incite rather than calm the passions of impressionable students and others. He has a trait you see in some politicians where what he is doing is precisely the bad thing he accuses "them" of doing. He preaches a gospel opposed to identity politics while practicing the most extreme forms of identity politics himself.

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He rails on a lot about "post-modernism", "cultural marxism", Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucalt. The fact that neither he nor most regular people have the slightest clue what the phrases "post-modernism" or "cultural marxism", might mean in an intellectual sense, if they mean anything at all, never really enters into the picture. Those terms do seem to have an emotional meaning that resonates with some people. 

A similar situation exists when he refers to the French philosophers Foucalt and Derrida. At least they were real people, but who knows what they were talking about? People a lot smarter than I am will tell you that the writing of Derrida and Foucalt is difficult, sometimes deliberately obscure, at times enlightening, and very challenging to understand. That's why some philosophers and thinkers like reading and discussing their works.

Jordan Peterson preaches about "post-modernism", "cultural marxism", "Derrida" and "Foucalt". He can interpret these concepts and thinkers, because most likely you won't have any frame of reference with which to judge the accuracy of what he's saying. His spiel basically boils down to - you should be angry at, and afraid of, a group of people....in fact so afraid that you might think they are going to kill you as you will see in the video.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
LEWIS CARROLL (Charles L. Dodgson), Through the Looking-Glass, chapter 6, p. 205 (1934). First published in 1872.

The first part of the video that is concerning is at 2:06:37 where the young man asks a question about ideologies that students may be attracted to that "in the end will get them killed will get them hurt." Jordan Peterson gives an answer about the horrors of the Soviet Union.

The problem is, if you listened to the 2 plus hours of his talk up to that point he had been conflating the horrors of the Soviet Union, Communist China and Nazi Germany with some group of people in the United States and Canada. The group is a bit hard to define but seems to include college professors, "leftists", "cultural marxists", maybe "liberals" and "post-modernists?"

The conclusion the student can draw is that since these ideologies may get "them" killed, may get them hurt, then whatever means he chooses to resist "them" are justified by the ends (saving lives).

Jordan Peterson has some valid points but he (at least in this video) mixes those valid points up with rhetoric appealing to desires and prejudices like any demagogue.

What he says sounds like a rational argument mixed in at times with emotional pleading which I imagine is quite appealing to some young (and not so young) people.

What young person doesn't want to save the world? Here's a guy who's telling you the leftists and cultural marxists want to ruin the world - better do something and whatever you do it will be justified...since you are saving the world.

The second part of the video that is concerning is at 2:20:08. The student says "the left has pushed for total control of our society for twenty years...", "the mass red pilling of the conservative movement", "this is the answer to defeat the leftist stranglehold on our society"..etc.

At this point Jordan Peterson seems to realize that something is dangerous about how the student interpreted what he has been preaching for the previous 2 1/2 hours. He gives an answer calling for non-violence and suggests not thinking one side has to "win".

We can only hope his followers will listen.

Saying there's no need to "win" seems sort of disingenuous considering he'd been preaching that there are groups of people afoot wanting to take away all you hold dear in this world...again not unlike Trump.

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Miscellaneous critiques..

Being somewhat interested in theology I was confused by Professor Peterson's interpretation of the old testament story of Cain and Abel starting at 38:36. Jordan tells us that God tells us in that myth that, "sin  crouches at your door like a sexually aroused cat...that's basically the metaphor God uses." An unusual interpretation and somewhat bizarre statement but myths can have many meanings.

He goes on to preach that Cain killed Abel because Cain was resentful (like the "cultural marxists" etc. are resentful today). It's a strange and potentially dangerous sermon Jordan is preaching. If I wanted advice on how to interpret the story of Cain and Abel I'd consult a Jewish scholar, a priest or a minister; not a psychology professor.

Jordan Peterson makes a mistake I make all the time. He thinks because he's smart, and knows a lot about something, he knows a lot about everything. I don't really have a problem with that provided it's localized, but when you have a pretty big pulpit and people think you know what you are talking about - it becomes problematic.

Jordan Peterson preaches against making straw man arguments while creating a city of straw men to battle. A good example of this is when he says something like postmodernists or Derrida or some one holds the belief that "any idea is as good as any other."

As one actual professor of Philosophy said, not only did Derrida never make such a claim, but "no one ever said this."

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One of the challenges of understanding if Jordan Peterson is stoking a dangerous level of polarization is that it depends on which of his videos you watch. I watched most of three long videos of him and Sam Harris (a liberal of some sort) talking and it was like a different guy showed up - he didn't say anything about cultural marxists, post-modernists, college professors, or liberals.

Finally I'm going to make a supposition about what I think drives the freak out you get from "conservative" or the "right" figureheads when they talk about post-modernism, Derrida or Foucalt. It's the concept of "deconstruction" which may be a way of saying lets look closely at the text to trace where a particular idea, norm or "fact" originated. Once you start asking those sorts of questions you are quite threatening to some people who have power. It's in a way, an argument of whether to accept authority of those with power to define acceptable ideas, or to question that authority.

Not all authority is bad and not all hierarchies are bad - it's hard to see how humans could accomplish much without them in some form. The flip side to that is that unquestioned obedience to those in power has led to some very bad things in the history of humanity.

The preacher Jordan Peterson is, to use a phrase from the late West Texan philosophy professor Rick Roderick, the Pharaoh's enabler whether he realizes it or not. Hopefully he has the insight, self-awareness and a moral compass that will allow him to see that although some of what he is doing may be valuable, some of what he is doing is morally reprehensible and potentially dangerous.

Eric Hoffer wrote about mass movements. He tells us that in any mass movement the intellectuals play a key role in inciting the true believers. Intellectuals cannot move their ideology into the world directly. Implementing the ideology is done by men of action - through local mob violence and eventually by the iron boot of the state. Unlike Donald Trump who has lots of visible warts - Peterson is smooth, sounds credible and is charged with emotion. He's also a chameleon who changes his color depending on his surroundings. He's admired by the alt-right proto fascists and that is a bit worrisome.

Disclaimer: To be honest I don't really care about any of this other than in an abstract sort of way. I like to think and make notes to myself. It's not my reality. I'm happy, healthy and thankful for the life I have. I have truly been blessed with my life, my family and friends. I hope whatever reality you live in is equally as good.