Overweening Generalist

Loading...

Monday, September 19, 2016

Decoding Chomsky, by Chris Knight

Noam Chomsky has often discussed "Plato's Problem," which he obviously finds fascinating. The problem is this: how can people know so much given a relative poverty of stimuli? Just today you found yourself talking to someone and the words just flowed out of you; you didn't have to think about them beforehand. You probably never uttered some of those sentences before, in the exact way. We all take this for granted, easily. Plato wondered about it and surmised that the reason we are able to know so much is because we already knew it in a previous life! You just talk to each other and knowledge sorta miraculously emerges via a quasi midwifery. Or rather: our forebears knew things and passed this ability to know (best example: apprehending our native language so easily) on to us. In a sense, we already "know" everything, but we need it drawn out by some...process. Today, people talk about genes. Chomsky takes Plato's "soul" and changes it to something like "biological language acquisition device," but you already knew that. (<----see what I did there?)

But this Plato Problem still seems iffy to me.

Chomsky has often written about "Orwell's Problem" too: how can people not know so many things that truly impact their lives, when the information is basically right in front of them? Noam has offered a solution to why this problem exists in books such as his famous one from 1988 (co-written with Edward Herman), Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Very sophisticated propaganda tools have been developed during the 20th century, suffice to write, for now.

                                     Chris Knight, radical British anthropologist, studied
                                        Chomsky's works for over two decades

In the 1970s an intellectual proposed there's a "Chomsky Problem," which is this: how can one man write a massive body of work on linguistics, while never mentioning the social world or politics in those books, while at the same time issuing scads of books critical of his own country's foreign and domestic policies? In Chomsky's political books the mention of science, much less linguistics is basically zero. The writer who (as far as I know) coined the "Chomsky Problem" thought Noam's linguistic work was brilliant; his political writings were, IIRC, "naive." 

For at least 20 years I've wondered about the Chomsky Problem, but as I read more and more I came to the opposite conclusion: I thought Chomsky's linguistics were preposterous, while his criticism of the official lies of the State Department (and much much much more) were astonishingly acute.

I read books from the Right about Chomsky that were mostly ad hominem character assassinations. I've read far too many books by academics on his linguistics that see his grammar models as genius. Of course, the worldwide Left love his political books. There are at least five intellectuals who seem to have made their careers out of explaining, collecting, and championing Chomsky's oeuvre. 

George Lakoff is one cognitive neurolinguist whose work makes a hell of a lot of sense to me, and he seems to despise Chomsky. Chomsky seems to despise Lakoff. (See Randy Allen Harris's The Linguistics Wars on this, and I understand Harris has an update in the works!) Chomsky answers Lakoff's barbs by saying Lakoff doesn't "understand" his work. But Lakoff was one of the early bright followers of Chomsky's linguistics models, only to break with him - radically - when it became apparent Chomsky's linguistics would never be able to account for semantics (by which I mean meaning in language). And Lakoff (who has amassed quite a large body of scholarship himself) has barely had anything to say about Noam's politics. Lakoff is definitely a liberal of some sort...
------------------------------------------------------------
So: Social Anthropologist Chris Knight (Wiki) has, almost miraculously, solved the Chomsky Problem. I've been trying to solve it for 20 years; I now feel the euphoria that one of us has solved it. My many blogspews here as the "Overweening Generalist" on my own attempts to solve the Chomsky Problem now seem horribly unsophisticated. And so it goes...

 Decoding Chomsky: Science and Revolutionary Politics, recently released, is an astonishingly well-written and researched volume that will probably be the most important work in the history of ideas, post World War II, that you'll read for quite some time, and I say this if only out of Chomsky's massive influence. Knight has made a stellar contribution to the sociology of knowledge, the sociology of intellectuals 1945-now, and has explicated lucidly a new and dynamite version of how the "cognitive revolution" arose. 

Knight has apparently spent the past 20 years researching this book and has managed to boil it all down to 240 pages, plus endnotes, a massive bibliography, and index. In an interview he mentioned that he'd finished a work in his field of Anthropology and hadn't really covered the origin of language in humans, because he felt he didn't know enough about the subject. Knowing Chomsky was Mr. Linguistics (having virtually single-handedly made it into a science and moving Linguistics from the Anthropology Department into the new Cognitive Science labs at your nearby Big University), he read Chomsky's linguistics in order to understand. And he ran into what I ran into: it's a cold, abstract to a painful degree, literally meaningless, an unworkable series of models that, - get this - by definition, has nothing to do with humans communicating with each other

Chris Knight says he admires Chomsky's political work, and there's no reason not to believe him; he clearly admires Chomsky's scholarship and courage in this regard. As do I. At times Knight's said there are a lot of conscientious academics and intellectuals who have criticized the US as imperial power, but no one really even comes close to Chomsky. That said...

                                    Noam Chomsky, whose linguistic models are 
                                   (finally!) seeming to be exposed as going nowhere

Anyone who has tried to follow Chomsky's many models of "Cartesian Linguistics" (AKA masochists) and thought to themselves, "Either I'm an idiot or this is a put-on, or possibly massive fraud" - that was me at one point - will know what I'm referring to: "Phrase Structure Rules," "Transformational Rules," "Grammar," "Deep Structure," the nature of the "language organ," "The Minimalist Program," "Universal Grammar," and "Merge"? All scientistic, all going nowhere, basically. (Knight runs all these down, pp. 173-179)

So, wait a minute: What? How can Noam write about lies and propaganda - which are by definition language and signs and symbols and social work among human beings - while his linguistics work has nothing to do with our social being? Because of an admitted "schizophrenic" life Chomsky admits he must lead, because, since the 1950s, he's worked in the very place that the Pentagon has funneled enormous sums of research money into: MIT. Perhaps because his quasi-kabbalistic linguistics allowed him that Ivory Tower opiate he needed to deal with the cognitive dissonance? If so, if this is anywheres near a close view of Chomsky, then it's dramatic and strange to the nth degree, no?

Chomsky once wrote an article on the fall of Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War. He greatly admired the anarchists. He had just turned 10 years old. He decided he'd rejected Trotskyism by age 12. This is an interesting fellow, eh? 

Noam had friends help him land the job at MIT, where he was able to work on the Pentagon's new idea: that computers and cybernetics and information theory would help make the world safe for capitalism after WWII. The idea that there's a language acquisition device - a very sophisticated computer - inside every human being's head? Very appealing to Pentagon folk. This was a computer whose source code must be cracked! And Chomsky's work looked like it was moving in exactly the direction they wanted. Maybe we can develop a computer that can translate any language into English; that should help in the Cold War effort against the Godless Commies. Let's let Chomsky lead a disembodied cognitive revolution. And he did. But: Noam didn't want to do any intellectual work that would help kill people in the name of Omnicorp.

Here's where adept conspiracy theorists can take this book and run with it: did Chomsky hijack linguistics and purposefully make it useless? Neither Knight nor I believe this to be true: Chomsky seems to genuinely have ideas - which seem bizarre and fruitless to me - about a sort of purity of work in "science." There's one of William James's lectures on pragmatism from the early 20th century, in which James talks about two vastly different temperaments among thinkers: the "tough-minded" and the "tender-minded." Somehow, Chomsky is the apex of "tough-minded" when doing his political work, while his Linguistics is the very apogee of the "tender-minded."

His persona as a man of conscience and political integrity seems to have been a perfect match for the Pentagon: see? The top man in Cognitive Science is free to write his books, give talks criticizing the Pentagon all over the world. Because we're a free society! 

But how does Chomsky manage this cognitive dissonance? Does he feel it? What have been the unintended consequences of Chomsky's total oeuvre? Knight answers these questions to my satisfaction. To those of you who've heard or read that Chomsky defended a Holocaust Denier named Robert Faurisson, was/is friends with former CIA director John Deutsch, and went against virtually the entire faculty and student body at MIT in defending Walt Rostow in getting his job back at MIT, even though Rostow has been nailed overwhelmingly in Chomsky's books on Vietnam? Knight satisfactorily answers these queries, too. 

As an Anthropologist, Knight treats the heavily-funded-by-Pentagon cognitive scientists as a "tribe." Why did this particular form of nonsense catch on so wildly in postwar Unistat? Knight gives a fascinating answer. If the only other superpower seemed to run on ideas based in matter (Dialectical Materialism), then what if we do away with matter? And, to a large extent, they did. Information/data is weightless, travels at the speed of light: matter is secondary. So is the Body...

Along the way, you'll learn about the deep roots of Sociobiology (and a form of scientific feminism that needs to come back from being beaten down by anti-science Leftists in academia), how a Russian Futurist/surrealist from the first two decades of the 20th century influenced Chomsky without Chomsky seeming to know about it, and much more.

If you had to ask me, what was the overall value of Chomsky's linguistic work at MIT? I'd say it was  "Don't study language using this approach! Language is and has no doubt always been a deeply social thing!"

If you're interested in politics, philosophy, and the idea of "science" being an open and public - and possibly ultimately unified thing?: Decoding Chomsky is for you. If you're already a seasoned reader of Chomsky, I feel safe to say you'll learn a few new things from this book. For me, the book spoke to my interests in the origin of language (of which Chomsky's work is literally laughable) and the fallout from the new and wonderfully interdisciplinary "cognitive sciences." Knight let me on to some reasons I hadn't even considered about why my valuation of being a "generalist" has taken such a beating since the 1950s. Not long ago I wrote a piece about why I thought Alfred Korzybski's work had waned, and Knight fills in a lot of gaps there, too. I'm interested in the history of Structuralism, the academy, "PR", mass stupidity, intellectuals, embodied knowledge, Descartes, Plato, Newton, Galileo and Bertrand Russell, the possible synthesizing of all knowledge, why many people have the idea that "science" isn't for them, the idea of theory and practice going hand in hand, and the timeless notion that ideas have consequences and one clue to this is looking at the time and place and social situation in which ideas blast off and catch on. 

So, I loved this book. My intellectual friends have already heard WAY too much about my problems with Chomsky, and I'm only so lathered up over Noam because I love him, although I know it doesn't seem like it. Ya just hafta take my word. - OG

Chris Knight's website for further ideas about Chomsky and MIT

Here's an interview with Chris Knight in the journal Radical Anthropology from five or so years ago that gives a lot of the gist and pith of Decoding Chomsky. It was this interview, sent to me by Sue Howard, that felt like a revelation: "Here's a guy who seems to have maybe solved the Chomsky Problem!" 

If you have been taken by Chomsky's ideas about language and want to remediate, some suggestions:

-The Major Transitions of Evolution, by John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary
-Adam's Tongue, by Derek Bickerton
-Cultural Origins of Human Cognition, by Michael Tomasello
-Philosophy In The Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson
-From Molecule to Metaphor, by Jerome Feldman
-Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding, by Sarah Hrdy
-The Way We Think, by Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier

Here's something many of us are looking forward to: 7000 Universes: How the Languages We Speak Shape the Way We Think, by the stellar Lera Boroditsky. Gotta wait till 2018, though...

If you're way too busy and don't think you can get to reading Decoding Chomsky soon, HERE is a pretty damned good podcast interview of Chris Knight about Chomsky, by the thoughtful and erudite publisher and science fiction writer Douglas Lain.

Post scriptum: After writing about the Two Chomskys in light of William James's ideas of the "tough-minded" and "tender-minded" I remembered I blogged on it four years ago.

                                         Psychedelische Grafik von Bob Campbell

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Surveillance in Unistat Pre-Snowden, File #23a

"Life is either a great adventure or it is nothing." (see below)
--------------------------------------------------------
"A case can be made...that secrecy is for losers. For people who don't know how important information really is. The Soviet Union realized this too late. Openness is now a singular, and singularly American, advantage. We put it in peril by poking along in an age now past. It is time to dismantle government secrecy, this most pervasive of all Cold War regulations. It is time to begin building the supports for the era of openness that is already upon us."
-Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his 1998 book Secrecy: The American Experience, p.227

Moynihan the intellectual in the Senate. Published 10 books before going to Congress, vacillated from NeoLiberal to NeoCon. You figure it out.
----------------------------------------------------------
Meanwhile, after the Berlin Wall came down, the intellectuals I was reading (kicked out of academia or were never part of it), or Noam Chomsky (as special case), were (mostly) predicting "Islamic Terrorism" as what the Pentagon would need in order to keep their rotten Show on the road. None of these writers I was reading were allowed on TV, so for most Unistatians, this idea didn't exist.
----------------------------------------------------------
                                                Kathryn Olmsted, History professor at
                                                 University of California-Davis, who writes
                                                books on spies and national security issues

Earlier this year I read U.C. Davis History professor Kathryn Olmsted's book Right Out of California, which has the thesis that the Unistatian Right as it's now constituted started in the farmland of California in the Depression, because FDR's labor people realized he needed the South, so there were no protections for labor organizers of the farmworkers in California. I found it fairly persuasive, and I'm a fan of Olmsted's books now.

In this book I happened upon the story of a US General named Ralph Deman, who had accumulated a massive file on anyone he thought might harbor thoughts he might deem "dangerous," that is: anything that didn't toe the corporate state line. And he shared his files with right wing groups and the cops. (See Right Out of California, pp.151-157)

And some of us at one time thought J. Edgar Hoover was the only one. I thought so in my 20s.

*-regarding Ralph Deman, one of Olmsted's grad students responded to an email query about information sources on him. Obviously you can Duck Duck Go Deman, but Scott Pittman cited books titled Policing America's Empire and Negative Intelligence.
-------------------------------------------------------------
Esquire magazine decided to send William S. Burroughs, Terry Southern, and Jean Genet to cover the 1968 Democratic Convention in "Czechago." Genet had a line: "The danger for America is not Mao's Thoughts; it is the proliferation of cameras." (see Smiling Through the Apocalypse: Esquire's History of the Sixties, p.98)

Poet as Distant Early Warning system?
---------------------------------------------------------------
While Patty Hearst's trial was ongoing, it came out that her mother - Catherine - gave or lent $60,000 to $70,000 to a company called Research West back in 1969. What was "Research West"? It was "a private right-wing spy organization that maintained files supplied by confessed burglar Jerome Ducote." (Patty Hearst and the Twinkie Murders, Paul Krassner, p.35) There had been journalistic investigations of this, but Hearst-owned newspaper reporters were told to stop investigating, for obvious reasons. A Santa Cruz paper - the Sundaz, not owned by the Hearsts, did investigate, and found that, before Mrs. Hearst bought it, it was supported by "contributions" averaging $1000 and, well, I'll quote Krassner here on who was "contributing":

Pacific Telephone, Pacific Gas and Electric, railroads, steamship lines, banks, and [Hearst's own] The Examiner. In return, the files were available to those companies, as well as to local police and sheriff departments, the FBI, the CIA and the IRS. The Examiner paid $1500 a year through 1975 to retain the services of Research West. (p.35, Krassner)

It gets deeper and more (of course!) nefarious, but I'd like you to read Krassner's book to see how much we've missed from the Official Story.

                                        Investigative satirist and national treasure
                                         Paul Krassner

The good folks at Open Culture are currently (as of the date I'm writing this) featuring an animated 1958 Aldous Huxley predicting our world. "Dystopian threats to freedom." How alarmist! And yet...
Aldous immediately presented a threat to assholes like J. Edgar Hoover (who denied the Mafia existed, because they knew he was gay and could crush him, and furthermore, he protected and was friends with a major mobster, Frank Costello, see The Secret Histories: An Anthology, ed. by John S. Friedman, article "Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover," by Anthony Summers, 1993, pp. 192-200), and other protectors of the 1%. Huxley arrived in Unistat in 1938, and author Herbert Mitgang obtained Huxley's FBI files. "Of the 130 pages, 111 were released to me, many heavily censored. The net of them: he and his daring and original writings were watched." - Dangerous Dossiers: Exposing the Secret War Against America's Greatest Authors, pp.192-194

Mitgang surmises the FBI tried to understand Huxley's famous book Brave New World, but apparently couldn't. Most bright 10th graders I know understand it. This has always been what we're dealing with, folks: losers. Cops who profess to love the Constitution, but in reality hate every bit of it. They (not all of them, of course) seem to be carriers of what Wilhelm Reich called "the emotional plague." 

Mitgang notes from Aldous's file that Hoover and his loser cop-pals thought Huxley was a threat, largely due to his overt pacifism. Think about that for awhile. Furthermore, the FBI subjected Brave New World to "cryptographic examination," and Mitgang observes, "but nothing subversive was discovered."

[NB: A bit of divagation: The British philosopher Peter Strawson would read my judgments on Hoover and his minions (as "assholes," etc) and assert that my judgments, which merely imply that they should be held accountable, reflect attitudes which derive from my own participation in personal relationships: forgiveness, resentment, gratitude, indignation, etc. I find this a very plausible idea.- OG]
-----------------------------------------------------------------
I'm a subscriber to Muckrock, which specializes in obtaining and making public government information via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Not long ago I wondered about Robert Anton Wilson's file, so I made a request and got nowhere. Then I realized Michael Morisy of Muckrock had already tried to get RAW's FBI file, and posted THIS. Note the FBI were "unable to identify main file records responsive to FOIA." ("Main file records"? What others might there be?)

Then, as we read "Congress excluded three discrete categories of law enforcement and national security records from the requirements of the FOIA." You and I wonder what this means. We can't know. We're given some bureaucratic numbers and symbols to prove that what Congress did is true. Okay. Obama ran promising the "most transparent" administration ever, and yet 'tis more Orwell: he's probably been the least transparent. What do these assholes think "Freedom of Information" means?

Stupidly, I then realized my blogging friend Tom Jackson had already covered this in 2013. (Note the one comment was from Bruce Kodish, who has self-published a wonderful fat biography on Alfred Korzybski. If you're as interested in Korzybski as I am, you must get hold of this; it's a gem and divulges scads of info on its subject, info that seems to have only been privy to Korzybski's closest colleagues.)

If you've been involved in trying to get info under FOIA, you may have acquired government files that are so redacted that what's left is meaningless. So, we go from Orwell to Kafka. If you're not convinced, look at what the FBI sent Morisy on RAW: they say records for the request might exist. Or they might not. They won't tell us.

But we can be practically certain RAW has a fairly substantial file, somewhere in the Belly of the Beast.

From RAW's introduction to Donald Holmes's book The Illuminati Conspiracy: The Sapiens System:

During my last year of employment as Associate Editor of Playboy, a certain executive came into my office one day and closed the door behind him. He told me that my home phone was tapped and that I was under surveillance by the Red Squad of the Chicago Police Force. 

I was stunned, and asked how he knew this. 

He replied that certain people in the Playboy empire had made an arrangement with a Chicago police official. The official received regular money through some circuitous route that was not explained to me; in return he notified his Playboy contacts whenever an executive of the firm was under police investigation. 

That was when I first realized how often there are spies spying on spies.
-p.9

RAW finds that, because he was involved in the anti-war movement and had talked to some Black Panthers, some spook for some agency dreamed up that RAW was running guns to the Black Panthers. RAW guesses some low-level spy wanted to beef up his reports to justify his work. Later RAW found out that there were "over 5000 government agents assigned to infiltrate peace groups in Chicago alone" (p.8), and that this was all part of COINTELPRO, which was meant to make everyone in a peace group paranoid that one of another of their fellows were spies for the government, and in effect reduce the efficacy of the peace movement...because we're a "free country" and our "way of life" is so superior to the Rooskies.

RAW says no one at Playboy thought he was dangerous, and offered to support him legally if anything happened.

Then RAW became an intimate of Dr. Leary, so that file must be very thick. Or one would think. But we don't know how to ask/guess the right questions in order to obtain why they thought Robert Anton Wilson was worth surveilling/wiretapping, etc.

Through most of his time as counterculture writer and activist, RAW knew he was being spied on, but decided to be amused by it, quoting Helen Keller: "Life is either a great adventure or it is nothing."

I know all of this seems comparatively ultra-innocent in light of what we know now that we're in the Snowden Era; I just want y'all to be aware of how the Official Story about "who we are, as a nation" clashes so radically with "reality."

                                                  grafikai Bob Campbell
                                             

Friday, September 9, 2016

On Compulsive Diarists, of Which I Seem To Be One

As of yesterday, I've been "keeping" a journal for 27 years now. I've probably missed writing something for a given day maybe 20 times, probably less. It is compulsive, and obviously a habit.

I've filled cheap spiral-bound lined notebooks - the cheapest I can find at a stationery store or supermarket - both sides of the page, with lots of lists of things in the top margin of the page, little bits of arithmetic.

I'll fill one up over 11 to 16 months, find a swatch of cheap masking tape and write the beginning and ending dates on it, then plaster the tape onto the cover of the notebook, then stash it away in a closet with the others.

Sounds kinda sick? Maybe. Sounds like something Prozac might help? Maybe. After a couple of years of doing it, I went on a kick of reading all of Gore Vidal: his historical novels, his quasi-surrealist "outrageous" novels (like Myra Breckinridge, but there are others), but - and Gore would've hated to see this - I think he was a better essayist than novelist. Even though I often vehemently disagree with Vidal - especially on the value of certain writers over others - I'm always impressed with his quite great ability as an essayist.

                            Gore Vidal, who half-jokingly asserted that diarists were dangerous.
                            When he was in his early twenties he lived with Anais Nin.

And one day I was reading an essay when the topic of diarists came up. Vidal thought - perhaps this was part arch-humor - that diarists were suspect. He linked assassins (like Arthur Bremer, for example) to their diaries. People who wrote only for themselves were suspect. It hurt, a little. But I kept on.

What the hell do I write? Well, the first few years I'd write a lot, every day. Because my life seemed exciting, and I wanted to remember it. Many years later I sat down and read the things I wrote in my early twenties...and it seems like I'm reading someone else's life. Frankly, I sound like a precocious 14 year old girl. "I fixed my bike!" Exclamation points. I'd like to think I'd been putting off re-packing the ball bearings, but I probably just fixed a flat and...was glad I was able to ride again. (!)

Now, I'll often note the mundane. I'll cover four days on one page. Whether I did yoga or not, stuff I ate, people I exchanged emails with. A particular interaction with a guitar student from the day. Oh-so quotidian, and I know you'd be bored to read it.

A reader may note I used the term "diarists" in the title of this blogspew, but when I talk to my friends, I say "journal." Because I've read many famous published diaries (Anais Nin, Samuel Pepys, Anne Frank, the usual suspects) and they seem like "literature" to me. We know Nin thought there would be readers of her diaries. Having an audience in mind greatly changes the content and tone, to put it mildly. Certainly there are entries among my logorrhea that seem fit to be read by others, but when I think about it, I'm one of those compulsive jotters who's really okay with them not being read after my death. What the hell? Page through them for a day or two, have a laff, learn something new and lurid about beastly-dead Michael, then fer crissakes: burn the things for warmth. Or light.

Or just to buy space in a closet.

Okay, some of you actually liked finding great-grandma-ma's diary from the late 19th century. I get it. Do I see myself as great grandma-ma? No. But perhaps I should...

Another reason I don't call myself a "diarist" is that I used to think it gendered: women keep diaries; men write in journals. I don't believe that anymore, but I'm okay with being stuck in my ways. Also: there's a sense in which the bulk of my dull recordings of my days seems almost more like a "log" and don't even deserve the same term as what Anne Frank did.

To return to Gore Vidal's riff - which he repeated a few times - I think he has a point. When Jodi Arias was arrested she wrote a memoir (apparently) in prison, "in case I become famous." Ted Kaczynski, rather famously, had a manifesto. Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik, who killed 77 and left over 300 injured, gifted us with a 1500 page Facebook document in which he railed against immigrants, multiculturalism, how Western culture is dead, how he felt close to his "Viking" heritage, etc. He also dropped some of his charm onto YouTube, which I haven't seen. Breivik plagiarized from Kaczynski too. The unkindest cut.

Jared Lee Loughner, who shot Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others, was found a paranoid schizophrenic concerned with the English language, alternative currencies, and a fear of mind control. He bequeathed something for us all on YouTube before heading down to the rally to shoot. (Understanding and representation of Loughner in my neural circuits are adjacent to Robert De Niro's character in Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle and secret service guys, and in a private moment, "Are you talkin' to me? And no wonder: Screenwriter Paul Schrader had Arthur Bremer in mind.)

The Virginia Tech killer, Seung-Hui Choi, sent an 1800 page statement to NBC, with a cache of personal videos and photos. He was inspired by Columbine. LAPD cop Chris Dorner, who was fired from the Ramparts division, left an 11 page manifesto about why he had to kill (it was a "necessary evil"), and he was pissed about the Rodney King incident and how he was treated by fellow cops. So he lost it. I remember watching that manhunt live on TV in Los Angeles. The cops looked about as ready to take Dorner alive as they were ready to take the SLA alive, once they were sure Patty Hearst wasn't in that safe-house in Los Angeles.

I could go on. And on and on. And you may say, "Yea, but you're talking about manifestoes and YouTube videos and Facebook rants." And I say, yea: I think social media has made a lot of people into diarists of a sort.

But really: the Vidal riff is too arch by half. Most of us do it for therapy or simply to ward off "real life" when it becomes a bit too intense. When I read a greatly abridged version of Pepys's diary a few years ago, I was struck by how often he went to the theatre and saw Shakespeare. He notes which play, and I think, "Gee, he saw Taming of the Shrew just a few months ago." But I'm like that with film noir. Read my...errr...journal and note how often I re-watched Double Indemnity or Out of the Past or The Killers or even Armored Car Robbery (saw this again two nights ago: lots of 1950 location shots near places in LA I used to live, and Charles McGraw may be the most hard-boiled actor in all of noir)...

The writer Sarah Manguso published a 93 page book about her 20+ years of compulsive diarizing, and I found this interview with Julie Beck interesting. I think Manguso's sickness (rare autoimmune disease that she wrote a book about) and middle class upbringing must have something to do with writing 800,000 words and counting. I have never counted words, not really caring. Manguso resonates with me about when she started: things in her life seemed momentous, and so much had happened to her, to her own mind. And she wanted to remember it. It is a way of dealing with mortality and memory, no doubt. She thinks keeping a diary will serve as a prevention against "living thoughtlessly." I can see that. But I'm too close to it all to be know to what extent it worked. It does provide solace amid anxiety. The word "graphomania" comes up.

For Manguso, pregnancy and its hormonal cataclysm changed her view of her compulsive diarizing: ordinary "reality" became as important as those "momentous" events, which usually, in hindsight were not so momentous. My favorite line from the interview:

Every exchange that I had with another person, everything I observed, every little throwaway moment I had on the subway observing this and that, the denseness of the experience just seemed unmanageable without writing it down.

For me, this is redolent of a Borges piece, or maybe something from Oliver Sacks.

Here's a huge difference between Manguso and me: I tend to want to "manage" my excitement over ideas I've read in books. Rarely have little impersonal moments with strangers made it into my log/journal/diary, unless they were exceptionally funny or wonderfully weird. I have witnessed verbal tiffs between friends and acquaintances and wrote what I could remember when I got home, in case anyone asks later. What did we do last Christmas? Hold on, I'll go look it up.

In the Beck interview Manguso comments on her diary book, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary, but also her other books. She says narrative, whether in reading or writing, doesn't come easy to her, hence her style. Then she adds, "and I don't need to read or re-read an entire book or re-watch an entire movie." But I love to re-read my favorite books. With each re-reading I'm able to see more and go deeper into that world. Same with films. But: I am not enamored with narrative either; I return to my books and films for mood, style, effects, form. Last night I saw Truffaut's Jules and Jim for maybe the eighth time. And still, it's only as the film nears the climax, that I'm reminded of the ending, which I remember being shocked by the first time. It's quite a climax...so why do I seem to only remember it hazily? I think because I watch it for the friendship of Jules and Jim, the depiction of countryside in France and Germany 1900-1930, French manners, the simmering mental illness of Catherine, the way they negotiate the menage, the accepted insanity of WWI and Jules and Jim being terrified they might kill each other, the interspersed file footage, the cuts and freeze frames and sheer beauty of Jeanne Moreau. The voice-over. Last night I noted that the first five minutes seem "new" to me (they're not, of course: my brain is blitzed by the romantic mood of the opening), and that the denouement seems to barely register for me.

I guess some relatively compartmentalized area of my self sees the climax, remembers the shock from my first viewing, sort of shrugs it off as "Of course you had to end a film like this that way for it to have the emotionally logical effect of such a plot, its syntax, the chaotic madness of the femme etc..." Then I quickly go back to being bathed in the incredible pathos of the film. (In truth I love Truffaut's 400 Blows even more.)

What actually happens to the characters at the end of Jules and Jim seems trivial to my emotional needs, apparently. I once worked with a librarian who could give a detailed chronological synopsis of what happens in a work of fiction, and I thought her simply marvelous for this display, so different was her mind from mine.

This apprehension of how individual nervous systems abstract signals from our environment and concentrate them: this otherness of other peoples' minds is what makes me love them. Because, somehow, perhaps my diarizing helped me in this appreciation, via personal feedback?

Finally, I put forth the idea that "social media" has made many of us diarizers. This may be part of why I don't "do" social media. I've yet to Tweet. I was on Facebook for one day. I've heard of "Snapchat" but I don't really know what it is, nor do I care.

However, I started blogging in order to see what I think about ideas, and maybe entertain certain strange minds that resonate with mine. If blogging of the OG sort can be considered social media, so be it: I do social media. But no doubt that rare handful of posts that are mostly about "me" must qualify as social media. And this post seems the most self-indulgent one I've done. I'll try to wait a long time before I write in such a personal way again. Some aspect of my nervous system seems to be pushing itself to the fore and saying "This wasn't an OG post!"

Oh, well.

Some Sources Read Just Before Writing This
"Poor Historians: Some Notes on the Medical Memoir," by Suzanne Koven
"The Pleasure of Keeping - and Re-reading - Diaries," by Elisa Segrave
"Personal Manifestos: Never A Good Sign"
Jia Tolentino's insightful review of Manguso's book about her diary


                                         ont bob campbell faire oeuvre graphique pour 
votre blog en demandant ici!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Occultists, Mystics, Artists, and Asthma

Recently, in the group reading of Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger Vol 1 over at RAWIllumination.net (see this entry), there is a brief discussion about ceremonial magicians and their problems with asthma. MacGregor Mathers, Allan Bennett, Aleister Crowley, and Israel Regardie are mentioned as occultists who had varyingly lengthy bouts with asthma.

In Regardie's book on Crowley, The Eye In The Triangle: An Interpretation of Aleister Crowley, there is a passage about when Allan Bennett moved in with Crowley and taught him a lot about magick:

Bennett must have also taught him the art of skrying in the spirit vision, traveling clairvoyance, investigating symbols, their meanings known or not, so that their true significance could be divined. He must have given Crowley a good training in Qabalistic processes too. There is an essay or two of his remaining which indicates profundity and depth of insight. It was an invaluable training for Crowley -- one too that is at the bottom of the very real skill he came to have in practical occultism. 

However, there was something else that must have had a far-reaching effect on him. And that was bronchial asthma. I imagine the damp, wretched English climate did nothing to alleviate this condition.
-p.113

                                           Allan Bennett: taught Crowley a lot, severe 
                                           asthmatic, Buddhist, died in 1923.

Regardie mentions (this period with Bennett was around 1898-1900) that the drugs prescribed for asthma then were opium, morphine, chloroform and cocaine. These worked for a while, but then "narcosis" brought an end to a drug's efficacy. In Lawrence Sutin's biography of Crowley, Do What Thou Wilt, Sutin writes that Bennett's asthma was worse than Crowley's and we get this picture of Bennett from Uncle Al:

Allan Bennett was tall, but his sickness had already produced a stoop. His head, crowned with a shock of wild black hair, was intensely noble; the brows, both wide and lofty, overhung indomitable piercing eyes. 

Crowley believed that due to Bennett's asthma, Bennett, "regarded the pleasures of living (and, above all, those of physical love) as diabolical illusions devised by the enemy of mankind in order to trick souls into accepting the curse of existence." -p.66

Yea, I can see how asthma might contribute to such a worldview. Especially when whatever drugs you were using stopped working. Or made things worse.

Crowley's asthma got worse and worse through the first 15 years of the 20th century, and by 1919, when he came back to England after spending time in Unistat during World War I, a doctor prescribed heroin. He remained hooked for the rest of his life, one of the horrible ironies of Crowley's life, which was overwhelmingly about using the powers of the human Will to overcome anything.

In Wilson's book, asthma is discussed as a "chest disease" which some people catch and some are eventually cured. Because of my lifelong "moderate-severe" asthma, which has long been under good control by allopathic medicine, I dispute this picture of asthma, but acknowledge the wheezy sufferings of others quite readily. For example, Crowley smoked, according to Regardie (who for a while was Aleister's personal secretary), "dark perique tobacco by the continuous pipeful, which could only aggravate the already grossly irritated condition of his bronchi." (Regardie, p.114)

Regardie links asthma to stress, and I think he's probably right, but stress seems to make a flare-up of my own asthma less likely. This is one reason why I subscribe to the psycho-biological idea around asthma as a syndrome. Any asthmatic can tell you of conversations with other asthmatics in which a discussion of what your "triggers" are vary wildly. For instance, Regardie assumes the "wretched English climate" made Bennett's asthma worse, but I do really well during cold, damp rainy weeks. When growing up in the San Gabriel Valley part of Los Angeles, the hot, dry Santa Ana winds were menacing and treacherous to me. (ER at 3AM).

So certain climates, pollens, foods, exercises, pets, etc: there's quite a variance among asthmatics. It does appear to be an autoimmune disease, but read the best, most up-to-date technical literature on what happens with with the immune system and you'll quickly realize it's a pretty complex cascade of events. For some "reason" your body thinks it's being invaded by something dangerous, and over-reacts.



I assume this has something to do with epigenetic effects, early exposure to smoke or smog, the individual's microbiome, and the Hygiene Hypothesis probably has something to do with it too.

Regardie, after getting into a tiff with Crowley and splitting with him in 1932, developed asthma, and relates the time he spent with occultist Dion Fortune and her physician-husband, and Regardie's asthma attack, and how they took care of him. Regardie returned to New York and kept a correspondence with an asthmatic English writer interested in the occult, and this was where Regardie learned of the idea "that somehow asthma is an occupational disease of occultists and mystics!"-p.116

By the mid-1930s ephedrine and epinephrine inhalers were available, and these work better than anything else for asthma attacks, but they stimulate the heart too much. Regardie thought he had a heart attack at one point, eventually received Reichian therapy, pronounced himself "cured" and had little problem with asthma after that. Makes me wonder...

Occultist/magician Andrew D. Chumbley died in 2004. Seems like his asthma was as bad as Bennett's.

Robert Anton Wilson (who got polio at age 4, in 1936, and was "cured" by Sister Kenny's method, pronounced as "quack" medicine by the AMA) gave a long interview with Michael Taft in the final decade of his life. I find this section germane:

Taft: Do you think the early experience of polio had much effect on you?

RAW: Yea, I think it underlines the tone of anxiety and paranoia that you find in all of my novels. Basically, all the characters in my novels come to a point where they're convinced the universe has been organized just to destroy them!

This makes a lungful of sense to me. Not that I think asthma is anywheres near the catastrophe of polio, mind you. I do think being a young person, holed up at home sick, becoming fiendishly bookish and spending a lot of time alone with your own imagination? It can have lifelong effects. And there will be drugs...

[Asthma seems to accompany pronounced problems with anxiety, for reasons to be easily guessed at. And we all desire a feeling of agency, but I suspect childhood-into-adulthood debilitations such as autoimmune diseases (and polio) enlarge and distort this desire, possibly leading to a life of mysticism, art, or magick. A third desire that seems to bubble out of this for sombunall asthmatics: a yearn to escape. Okay, okay Dear Reader, you say you've always been perfectly healthy - if "anxious" -  and yet you desire these same "things"? You're in the club with us! Even when we're not suffering miserably, we love company. Mostbunall?]

Regardie says Crowley's "association with Allan (Bennett-OG) had another very important sequel. I have already indicated that he used drugs to assuage his sufferings from asthma. In doing so, he must have discovered that some of them had a distinct effect on the mind. They expanded consciousness, and produced a simulacrum of the mystical or religious experience." -p. 117

In the 1950s-early 1960s, Asthmador could be bought over-the-counter at drug stores. It had datura in it. It had datura's nightshade cousin, belladonna, in it. These, in sufficient doses, were truly hallucinatory. HERE's a trip report. RAW discusses Asthmador, and other nightshade hallucinogenics, in Sex, Drugs and Magick, pp.84-104.

RAW - one of the great scholars of the occult/mystical/hermetic tradition, said that modern occultism had three main roots: Madame Blavatsky, Crowley, and Gerald Gardner, who revived pagan Wicca, which thrives today. Gardner too had asthma.

I've not seen evidence that Blavatsky was asthmatic.

When I was a kid, I looked for lists of famous athletes who were asthmatic. As I got older, I pay attention when I find out certain people had it: Beethoven (coffee was probably the best remedy he had); Vivaldi, Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Leonard Bernstein; Ambrose Bierce; Orson Welles; Jean Gebser. Etc. There are a LOT of us. Proust...

The best writing I've seen on the nightshade/tropane alkaloids is in Dale Pendell's Pharmako/Gnosis, pp.243-264

Tomatoes, potatoes, and hot peppers are also part of the nightshade family. Kinda makes me wonder.
-------------------------------------------------------------
The best history of asthma I've read was Asthma: The Biography, by Mark Jackson
The best book of a modern personal account of living a life with asthma that I've seen is easily Catching My Breath: An Asthmatic Explores His Illness, by Tim Brookes
-------------------------------------------------------------
Cannabis is a well-known bronchodilator. It works in a pinch, and because of Reagan's War on Pot, our best gardeners went underground, fiddled with the genetics of cannabis indicas and sativas, and now it's so good you hardly have to inhale much vegetable matter...which in the long run can't possibly be good for the bronchii, can it? At any rate, less is more with the Green Goddess.

                                                arte psicodélica por Bob Campbell

Monday, August 22, 2016

Food/Sex/Death: Edition Beth

Shake and shake
The catsup bottle,
None will come,
And then a lot'll.
-Richard Armour

Food: Tomatoes and other Fruits and Veggies and Tom Robbins
As a kid my mom served up a lot of sliced tomatoes on our sandwiches. I remember she diced tomatoes for the bean tacos that were mostly refried beans and Crisco-based tiny corn tortillas that were prone to disintegration upon first touch.

At least I thought those were tomatoes mom bought from the big corporate grocer. One day, just out of high school, I got a day gig painting a guy's parents' house. As I remember, the guy who hired me seemed to put out an "I'm a low-level mobster" vibe. His parents were very Italian and his father - who I will call "Mario" - didn't speak English, except for the word "fuck." He liked to say "A fuckeen..." a fuckeen something; I could never quite make out the rest. He'd then look at me and laff, like we were two guys sharing a guy moment with him swearing. He could have had no idea about the sort of language my fellow musicians and I were using in the evening.

Anyway, this guy grew his own tomatoes, and his wife - a little firecracker who was always cooking killer-ass italian food and spoke English fluently and was about 4'6" - gave me a big bag of Mario's tomatoes each day before I went home. That first day was a revelation, and you saw it coming with my foreshadowing: it was the first time I ate REAL tomatoes, and crikey! they were ridiculously tasty-good, and constituted a minor variety of religious experience. I had friends over and held out a tomato:

"Here, check this out. Eat this thing."
"Uhh...looks like a very red red tomato to me, what's the catch?"

I said, just walk over to the sink there and eat it plain; if you want to put a little salt on it it's next to the sink. And in moments they knew too: we'd all been had: tomatoes were not the watery vaguely tomato-ish things we'd been led to believe. I now think those fake tomatoes were merely meant for texture. 

And now at farmer's markets all over Unistat you can get these goddess-sent delicious things, if you don't already grow them yourself. What a simple, life-giving, unadulterated joy to eat REAL tomatoes! The "little things in life" can loom large at times.

After that, anytime I went to the corporate grocer and saw the tomatoes all piled up I had to stifle the urge to corner the manager and personally indict him for conspiracy to foist faux tomatoes on the unsuspecting public.

Now, as I said, you can find flavorful tomatoes all over Unistat. It almost cancels out that whole Iran-Contra Scandal, in my spacial hemisphere's moon-logic...

One of our greatest poetic prose writers, Tom Robbins, has been riffing on fruits and vegetables in a psychedelic way throughout his career. Here he is in a slightly more sober mood, commenting on our topic:

"Without apparent guilt or shame, supermarkets from coast to coast regularly post signs reading VINE RIPENED TOMATOES atop produce bins piled high with tomatoes that have never ever experienced the joys of ripening; that, in fact, are hard, usually more pink than red, often streaked with yellow, orange, or even green; and when cut open will reveal pectin deposits of ghostly white. Back when one of those babies last saw a vine, it might have passed for the viridescent apple of Granny Smith's eye. Merchants who through ignorance, indifference, or outright chicanery untruthfully promise 'vine-ripened tomatoes' could and should be prosecuted under truth-in-advertising laws."
-pp.69-70, "Holy Tomato" from Tibetan Peach Pie

Robbins tried LSD in 1963 and soon after quit his day job by "calling in well." He moved to Manhattan looking for the Others, and attended a talk by Timothy Leary at Cooper Union. Afterward Robbins found himself at the same vegetable stand as Leary. Uncle Tim asked Tom Robbins (then a totally unknown writer) "how to tell which brussels sprouts were good." Robbins told Leary to choose the ones that "were smiling."
p.244, Aquarius Revisited, Peter O. Whitmer

Here's Robbins riffing on the ubiquitous blackberry brambles found all over the Pacific Northwest, and even down into my San Francisco Bay Area:

"And the fruit, mustn't forget the fruit. It would nourish the hungry, stabilize the poor. The more enterprising winos could distill their own spirits. Seattle could become the Blackberry Brandy Capital of the World. Tourists would spend millions annually on Seattle blackberry jam. The chefs at the French restaurants would dish up duck in purplish sauces, fill once rained-on noses with the baking aromas of gateau mure de ronce. The whores might become known, affectionately, as blackberry tarts. The Teamsters could try to organize the berry pickers. And in late summer, when the brambles were proliferating madly, growing faster than the human eye can see, the energy of their furious growth could be hooked up to generators that, spinning with blackberry power, could supply electrical current for the entire metropolis. A vegetative utopia, that's what it would be. Seattle, Berry Town, encapsulated, self-sufficient, thriving under a living ceiling, blossoms in its hair, juice on its chin, more blackberries - and more! - in its future. Consider the protection offered. What enemy paratroopers could get through the briars?"
-Still Life With Woodpecker, p.130

It would be easy to index a gaggle of vegetative riffs in the Robbins oeuvre, but I'll leave us with this one:

"Of our nine planets, Saturn is the one that looks like fun. Of our trees, the palm is obviously the stand-up comedian. Among fowl, the jester's cap is worn by the duck. Of our fruits and vegetables, the tomato could play Falstaff, the banana a more slapstick role. As Hamlet- or Macbeth - the beet is cast. In largely vegetarian India, the beet is rarely eaten because its color is suggestive of blood. Out, damned mangel-wurzel."
-Jitterbug Perfume, p.76

Bonus Track: Here's sociologist Lisa Wade on the history of tomatoes being thought of as "vegetables" and not what they "really are" according to botanists: fruit. I like this short article because we're reminded of the longstanding scientific dipshittery of the Unistat Supreme Court, that fruits are like "ovaries," and that social constructionism may be the most important part of what people now seem to dismiss (stupidly) as "postmodernism." My labeling of dipshittery was hasty: the unanimous SCOTUS in the late 19th c were merely basing their opinion on their preferred social construction; scientific classification seems also largely a social invention.

                                     an erotic money-shot from the vegetable world

"Of all sexual aberrations, chastity is the strangest." - Anatole France

Sex: Gender 
Speaking of social construction...

A few months ago I was re-reading an old Robert Benchley book, The Early Worm, from 1927. In one comic essay he begins joking off something he'd read by a German biologist named Max Hartmann (<----curiously paltry Wiki, eh?). Benchley had read that Hartmann's sexual determination studies revealed that no one was purely 100% male or female. The Wiki here says Hartmann was later critical of the Nazis, but some source I neglected to mention in my notes revealed that Hartmann had continued to do research in Germany under the Nazi regime. Anyway, Benchley had a fine time with this idea - Hartmann (as filtered through Benchley) thought that if 60% of your cells were male, then you were "male." And so on. Benchley wondered how this might pertain to the Broadway stage:

Roger: Ever since that night I met you at the dance, my male percentage has been increasing. I used to register 65%. Yesterday in Liggetts I took a test and it was eighty-one.

Mary: You had your heavier overcoat on.

Roger: Please, dear, this is no time for joking. I never was more serious in all my life. And that means only one thing. Haven't you - aren't you - do you register the same as you did?

Mary (looking at her finger-nails): No. I have gone up seven points. But I thought it was because I had cut down on my starches.

...Benchley goes on for a couple of pages here. What a different time. Now, in 2016, if you're a transgender person you are subject to being followed into public restrooms and outed...but that's North Carolina, and I'm sure their battle with sexual fascism will turn out okay.

I do think parts of Unistat are horribly behind. Not just North Carolina, either. The Swedes have been talking about abolishing gender for at least five years now. In Australia you can declare yourself male, female, or "nonspecific," which seems like a start to me. As of early 2013 in Nepal they added a third gender, if only for "ease of legal documents." Indonesia has had a non-binary conception of gender for hundreds of years. Here's a link to a documentary (Two Spirits) about a Navajo "boy" who was also a "girl" and was murdered. The Native American/First Nations had, for probably a thousand years at least, not constructed a gender binary.

Here's an article by a person named Cory Silverberg that discusses how the concepts of "sex" and "gender" are different.

Lately, my own cis-male problem with gender has been with book clubs: for some reason - which, the more I delve into it, seems darker and darker in its implications - men don't "do" book clubs in Unistat. Which I find depressing. I've had my problems in this female-gendered world of book clubs, and it's really touchy; I don't know how to address it. I've been forced out of book clubs in which I was the only male, and I was convinced that nothing I'd done was sexist, obnoxious, or unpleasant in any way. Right now I'm in one, and it's in a very progressive community, and the group is fairly large, and there are often two or three other guys at the monthly meetings, and the women seem accepting of us. So far. I'm sorta paranoid. But what's so overwhelmingly female about reading books and discussing them? I found a short piece by Jesse Singal - a male - who nailed it pretty well for me, and I sent it to the group email for my current book club, saying "this is sorta 'meta' but Singal speaks for me here," and wrote that I was open to hearing the opinions of anyone who cared to chime in. So far one female answered and was as open-minded and sweet about males expressing themselves emotionally without having to fear being labeled as gay or whatever. I assume other guys in the group identify as gay, but I don't know and I honestly don't care: I'm just glad they're there. I like reading books as a group and discussing them; it's very pleasurable. I ask open questions, I listen, I give opinions, I try to get a laff or two. The Man Book Club referred/linked to in Singal's article is something I do not want to join: too toxic in its Unistat social construction of male-ness, cis-male gendered. I get that already, everywhere.

This seems like a huge problem to me, but I don't think it will capture much attention space for a long while, as we seem much more taken by our relatively new (and felicitous, to me) acceptance of homosexuality, and we're now grappling with transgendered people.

What a utopia if people could just openly be as they feel they "are" and not be subject to violence or discrimination! I know I've had my mind expanded by my personal experiences with gay males, lesbians, the professed and apparently bisexual, and a couple of times I have experienced the mild and bracing shock that I'm currently talking to someone who has transitioned from one sex to another...or wanted me to think they had.

It has always been like this. We're making progress, but it's too slow.

"If I could drop dead right now, I'd be the happiest man alive!" - Samuel Goldwyn

Death
I was recently reading in Clifford Pickover's delightful Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen, about the some of the more bizarre ideas of the great utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Get a load of this:

"Bentham had a peculiar interest in the rituals of death. For example, to Bentham, cemeteries and burials were a waste of money. Instead, he suggested that embalmed corpses be mounted upright along stately drives and busy thoroughfares. I can just imagine his pleasure at seeing corpses planted like palm trees along Santa Monica Boulevard or affixed to lampposts along New York's Fifth Avenue, for as far as his eye could see."

Pickover reminds us we can all go visit University College in London and see Bentham's lifelike corpse and mummified head, but warns us that his artificial eyes "stare at you like Linda Blair's in The Exorcist." 
-Strange Brains, Pickover, p.103

Hey, you out there: don't go gently into that good night. Good night!
----------------------------------------------------------------------
PS: I had forgotten I'd planned to do 22 of these Food/Sex/Death thingies. I hardly ever look at the stats for this blog, but the other day, stoned out of my wig, I checked to see who was reading me at that moment. It appeared someone in Japan (really?) was reading the sole Food/Sex/Death spew I did way back in December 2013. So I tried another. Hey, better late than never to spew again, no? Wot?

                                 まばゆいばかりのボビー・キャンベルによっ て当

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Intellectuals in the (late?) Anthropocene

Why "late?": Global warming, antibiotic resistance, global terror, income inequality, acceleration of AI, rapidly ephemeralized synthetic biological techniques, nuke proliferation. I'm not all that worried about an errant asteroid. I'm worried about sociopaths in power, and a species-wide inequality in knowledge and empathy towards The Other...

Three articles caught my eye in the past week. I'll link to them, give my idio-precis and comments. Why? Because I care about both of us.

1. ) L.D. Burnett in Chronicle of Higher Education: "Holding On To What Makes Us Human," an Adjunct who writes books about academia; Burnett implores us to defend the Humanities in the face of runaway "transferrable skills" and the cost/benefit reality of universities now. Screw "critical thinking" (although that's valuable, of course): we must find a way of articulating why knowledge of literature/history/philosophy etc is inherently valuable, despite all that's transpired in the epoch of NeoLiberalism. She wants arguments that set aside money and jobs issues. And I say: good luck with that, although I'm with you in spirit, Ms. Burnett.

Her keynote (fair warning: I do not have perfect pitch) seems to be that we must resist perishing, but if we must perish, we should go down resisting. At first I thought she meant "we" adjuncts. Then I realized she seemed a tad more cosmopolitan: we humans. I bet you're on board with her here with me, no?

If I sound like a dick here, I apologize. I'm just as caught up in the morass of being a Knower and struggling to pay the bills as she is, probably more so. I know Adjunct jobs suck ass as far as pay goes (usually), but I don't even get to do that. I'm a freelancer. There's a really heavy downside to that, apart from making your own hours and staying up all night taking notes in your books. Weed helps. It certainly helps.
-----------------------------------------------------------------

2.) Michael Lind, a prolific and fairly heavyweight intellectual who notes he's been "accused" of being a "public intellectual," claims that his own in-group of intellectuals are "freaks." Lind is not doing the Chomsky thing of calling out his fellow intellectuals for facilitating and sucking up to State power. He's merely saying he and his kind: academics, think tank experts, opinion journalists, and downwardly-mobile free-spirited bohemians? They really are "freaks" and out of touch with ordinary values. This last sub-class of Bohemians constitute a group who are living off (largely) inherited bourgeois-begotten capital in order to be revolutionaries, avant-garde writers, or artists.

Lind asserts that "populists" who've always argued intellectuals are out of touch are basically correct. He notes that non-intellectuals are/were wrong about the gold standard, the single tax and "other issues" (I wish he'd have gone into much greater detail here, as I think it's very many other issues, but that's just me), but populists are right: intellectuals are freaks and weirdoes who are out of touch with mainstream values.

Intellectuals live in large cities and their judgment is distorted by their borderlessness (because scholarship is inherently borderless). Proles finish high school and go into manual labor in what's now the "service sector." They work within 18 miles of where their mothers live and depend on family networks for economic support and child care. Intellectuals often defer marriage and children in order to further their career goals, and they move all over the place, as academia is found throughout the continent. Their notions about a borderless world as a moral and political ideal are, says Lind, "stupid and lazy" because there's no world-wide infrastructure to keep a welfare state equitably distributed throughout the world. (I see this as a worthy utopian goal, but Lind keeps mum about this: "stupid and lazy.") Their childlessness and deferred marriages make them "unusually individualistic"...Lind would like to see that studied more and so would I.

Talk about unrestricted immigration feeds nationalist and neo-fascist and right-wing populist political movements, and we're seeing that as I type, in many places. Also, it feeds the well-entrenched meme among the unwashed that the UN is taking over their lives, incipient fears of "lost sovereignty" (a classic divide-and-conquer/misdirection move by the Ruling Class), not to mention the Bilderbergers-bugaboo. (Enough food and clean water for Burundi? Tyranny!)

Here's another major problem with intellectuals: they see the problem of inequality and their solution is...be more like me!: More and better education is the mantra. (As long as Obama has been Prez he's repeated this old workhorse. And I'm embarrassed to admit that on more than one occasion I've yelled at him through the teevee screen, "For what?")

Lind says this idea of more education is natural, but "stupid and lazy." He's a conscience for his own class of freaks! How come "more education" isn't a good idea? Automation and the service sector job market is really all there is. He doesn't mention Adjuncts, and it's easy to conjure reasons why. Janitors with Master's degrees? Sad. He does say unionization might be a good idea for service-sector workers. A restriction of low-wage immigration (I don't see this happening). A higher minimum-wage is mentioned.

I read Lind's short piece three times and I still can't discern the level of wryness in it. If you read the piece he exempts those intellectuals in the "hard sciences." Gee, I wonder why?

A final idea: it's often floated out that one or two years of national service could be  a moral and social balancer. Lind says: stupid idea, because the proles already have it hard enough without doing two years of unpaid work. But then he gets off his best riff: But: "it might not hurt" for professional intellectuals to face "a year or two working in a shopping mall, hotel, hospital, or warehouse."

My Wry-o-Meter was sparking and giving off noxious fumes on that last bit. That Michael Lind!

As a general comment on Lind, some dialectical sparks from Alvin Gouldner, who is writing about the history and alienation of intellectuals, first from the Old Regime of inherited landed aristocracy, and then the bourgeoisie, this latter group being at first allied with the intellectuals against the Old Regime and helped by their cultural capital...until the bourgeoisie came into ascendancy. Gouldner refers to both the technical intelligentsia and humanistic intellectuals as The New Class:

The New Class believes its high culture represents the greatest achievement of the human race, the deepest ancient wisdom and the most advanced modern scientific knowledge. It believes that these contribute to the welfare and wealth of the race, and that they should receive correspondingly greater rewards. The New Class believes that the world should be governed by those possessing superior competence, wisdom and science - that is, themselves. The Platonic Complex, the dream of the philosopher king with which Western philosophy begins, is the deepest wish-fulfillment fantasy of the New Class. But they look around and see that the men who employ them do not begin to understand the simplest aspects of their technical specialties, and the politicians who rule them are, in Edmund Wilson's words, "unique in having managed to be corrupt, uncultivated, and incompetent all at once."
-p.65, The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class (1979), Alvin Gouldner, PhD
---------------------------------------------------------------
3.) "Power, Powerlessness, Thinking and Future," by French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, from about 10 months ago. Stiegler notes that intellectuals have been steeped in the analysis of power relations since M. Foucault, but that thinking about this should also highlight powerlessness too, and maybe more now than ever, since intellectuals seem to not understand that techne has accelerated faster than they could conceptualize, and they are now proles themselves. He attacks those intellectuals who claim the term "right wing intellectual" is an impossibility or oxymoron, because, well, Freud, Heidegger, Niklas Luhmann, Maurice Blanchot, and many others. And deeper: there was thinking before the French Revolution and "Left" vs. "Right" and we now need to reconceptualize what it means to think, now that almost all of us are proles.

Stiegler thinks it's unfortunate that the term "intellectual" was ever used as a noun, when it's an adjective. Further, the term activates neurological opposition between "manual workers" and the types Gouldner is talking about, above. And yet throughout the article you notice Stiegler uses "intellectuals" as a term for their class. That's because it's ensconced in culture. And Michael Lind's presuppositions about his own class seem to hold sway, eh?

Here's where it gets interesting for me: Stiegler claims, based on Marx and Engels, that "proletarianism" now effects not only most of us, but all forms of knowledge. Futhermore, it's a "widespread generalization of entropic behavior" since the Anthropocene commenced and we began to time-bind like mad. Proletarianization destructs knowledge: how to live, do and conceptualize. And intellectuals seem oblivious that this is what has happened to them. They are now much closer to Lind's janitors than any sort of Gouldner's Platonic philosopher kings, no doubt.

Stiegler wants to clarify: Marx and Engels thought that proletarians denote not a state of poverty so much as a loss of knowledge...knowledge about how to harness negentropy to conceptualize our way out of this mess. Rather than doing this, they "adopt attitudes and poses." A culture of knowledge construction and new ideas has been run out of town by consumer capitalism, based on "behavioral prescriptions produced by marketing." In the weakest part of his fascinating article, Stiegler uses Alan Greenspan's testimony about why he didn't see the 2008 crash coming. It seems there were a few hundred better examples, but perhaps this one suffices...

So, let's stop with labeling "left"and "right" thinking and replace it with thinking, which he seems to align with negentropy, the notion that, though entropy is The Law, its negative reciprocal is creating novel order and structure amidst chaos. (What Korzybski called "time-binding'.) The acceleration of technology has lapped our social systems of law, education, political organizations and forms of knowledge. We will always be late, it seems. Our only hope is realizing we're all proles now, begin thinking from within casino economies and marketing and short-term R&D "disruptions." We need not become Luddites and reject technology, and Stiegler cites Evgeny Morozov's article (presumably HERE although Stiegler merely claims this "evokes") as a way into a new politics, in which it's essential to re-think "value."

Morozov seems like a start to me, too, but I'd also cite John Dewey's 1920 book Reconstruction in Philosophy as a text that argued the Platonic ideal of the "spectatorial view" of knowledge had it backwards: no intellectual need fool herself into believing that just because she doesn't get her hands dirty that she truly knows, and that those who do things with their hands (mechanics, plumbers, craftspeople of every stripe) don't "know" anything. Workers know quite a lot, and so the fuck what if it's not Hegel or organic chemistry: it's knowledge that produces immediate material results in the sensory/sensual world. Dewey's book disabused me of these notions about the primacy of spectatorial/armchair views of knowledge long ago, and this text seems woefully underrated to me.

Earlier, Marx had expressed a dislike for the opposition of Techne and Logos. Bernard Stiegler reminds us here that, "Knowledge is always constituted by technics, which in so doing always constitutes a social relation." (italics in original)

Also, and more practically, look at contemporaries like Douglas Rushkoff and his marvelous recent book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, and Martin Ford's Rise of the Robots. Here are thinkers who can get us started thinking ourselves...out of our proletarian situation. There are many, many more...

Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred 71 years ago this past week or so. Soon after that Dark Moment, a very smart individual noted that everything had changed...save for our "way of thinking."

                                             Tueuses graphiques par Bobby Campbell

Thursday, July 28, 2016

On Cruelty

One of my favorite academic philosophers is Richard Rorty, who died in 2007. As I read him, he's a sort of radical small "d" democrat who seemed a lot like some of my favorite anarchist characters of personal acquaintance, but Rorty called himself a "bourgeois liberal." His essay on Orwell in Contingency, Irony and Solidarity was marvelous in fleshing out what he thought was the number one value among liberals: cruelty is the worst thing we can do. He was heavily influenced by Judith Shklar in this.

                                                        philosopher Judith Shklar

I recently re-read a bunch of Rorty (and the Shklar essay I linked to above, which I highly recommend) and, while I think we make up our own hierarchy of values and they are not dictated to us from some transcendent being, I subscribe to Shklar's idea. (I wonder about more esoteric readings of Machiavelli, but that's for some other blogspew.) I've been thinking and worrying this topic of treating others cruelly quite a lot lately, for reasons most of you may guess.

In delving into the library of the history of cruelty, I can't help but be cheered by some substantial gains over the centuries. Then again, I'm reminded we have a long way to go. Just today I read THIS.

The human running on the Republican ticket looks at this information and thinks - I'm guessing - "I can be more cruel than that." I have good reason to think the human on the Democratic side knows about this stuff, pretends to not know, and would privately give her assent to its continual practice.

In reading on the history of cruelty: my gawd! There's just so goddamned much, and I have (presumably) finite minutes left before I shuffle off my mortal coil so why don't I do something - anything - less depressing? I guess I get obsessed by certain ideas, even if some of them activate neural circuitry that seems to take a metaphorical machete to anything close to "euphoria."

Montaigne's (d.1592) essay, "Of Cruelty" shows him at his most proto-Modern Humanist. Get a load of this passage:

I do not lament the dead, and should envy them rather; but I very much lament the dying. The savages do not so much offend me, in roasting and eating the bodies of the dead, as they do who torment and persecute the living. Nay, I cannot look so much as upon the ordinary executions of justice, how reasonable soever, with a steady eye. Some one having to give testimony of Julius Caesar's clemency: "he was," says he, "mild in his revenges. Having compelled the pirates to yield by whom he had before been taken prisoner and put to ransom; forasmuch as he had threatened them with the cross, he indeed condemned them to it, but it was after they had first been strangled. He punished his secretary Philemon, who had attempted to poison him, with no greater severity than mere death." Without naming that Latin author, [I tracked it to Suetonius, in my Robert Graves translation of The Twelve Caesars, chapter on Julius, section 74. - OG] who thus dares to allege as a a testimony of mercy the killing only of those by whom we have been offended, it is easy to guess that he was struck with the horrid and inhuman examples of cruelty practices by the Roman tyrants.

I'll say it's "easy to guess," aye. Yea, ya gotta wonder about Suetonius ("mild in his revenges"?), but then I guess he'd seen quite enough. And, you know, something very much on the cruelty level as strangling pirates before nailing 'em to a cross as "merciful" has probably happened somewhere on our planet in the last year, but who knows? CIA torturers? Some Third World dictator (backed by the CIA?); who knows whiskey tango foxtrot goes on in No. Korea...Vladimir Putin, like his presumed ally and/or dupe Trump, merely has journalists killed. It's safe to say Suetonius would consider it almost "right neighborly" to kill a journalist by bashing his head in with a hammer, using contract killers, etc.

                                        Russia's Anna Politkovskaya, human rights activist
                                                      likened to Unistat's
                                        investigative journalist Seymour Hersh

It may not be about making Russia or Unistat "great again" but you can be damned sure a lot of journalists will not look too closely at what might bring on bodily troubles for themselves, or - as Ari Fleischer said after 9/11 in response to a quote from comedian Bill Maher - that it's "a reminder to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do...." (See 98% of the way down on that transcript.)

As far as I know, Maher has not been strangled or nailed to a cross: Now that's progress!

(So far...)

Russian Journalist Murdered: Is Russia's Press Freedom Dead?

                                           искусство Бобом Кемпбелл