Overweening Generalist

Thursday, January 31, 2013

On (Some) "Educated" Liberals and Their Knee-Jerk Dogma Over "Conspiracy Theories"

I'd much rather be trying to entertain you with my grapplings to understand epigenetics, but this minor story got caught in my craw.

I'd rather take a few weeks and read a mess of stuff on a few topics, take illegible notes, gropingly trying to understand something way over my head and which seems as complicated as giving a good read to Finnegans Wake. I apologize for this entire blogpost-spewage, for it consists, to my mind, entirely of a digression from the endlessly truly interesting topics - interesting to me, at least - out there.

Salon Dot Com Shows Their Liberal Bona Fides
Robert Anton Wilson, still to my mind the greatest thinker about conspiracy theory I've ever read, once said in an interview with Philip H. Farber in 1997, "I am one hundred percent in favor of studying conspiracy theories because, next to quantum mechanics, they represent the best test of how well you can handle ambiguity and uncertainty."

                                    Salon editor Kerry Lauerman, who went to the U.of
                                    Indiana, where he - apparently - found out how to 
                                    know when the 
                                    interpretation of a public event qualifies as a "fringe" 
                                   "conspiracy theory" and 
                                    when good liberals should close their minds to any 
                                    further thinking about those events. 

I don't know if you caught this story or not, but I thought it both revelatory and confirmed for me the quality of university-educated in the Humanities-like hive mind that operates at Salon dot com.

Did you happen to catch Greg Olear's "Not All Truther Movements Are Created Equal" article in the online mag The Weeklings? If you haven't, please have a look now (it's short and well-written) and note that his four-paragraph preface was appended after what happened when Salon, which uses The Weeklings as one of their content-affiliates, picked up his story and then pulled it.

Joe Coscarelli of New York Magazine covers Salon's pulling of Olear's piece. Skip down to the italicized quotes from Salon editor Kerry Lauerman, who apologizes for the "unfortunate lapse," and that they at Salon have a long history of debunking fringe conspiracists, most recently the Sandy Hook ones. (And yet...by covering fairly exhaustively the Sandy Hook "Truthers," weren't they giving them more press than they deserved? This idea seems at least somewhat consistent with pulling Olear's piece. Just wondering.)

Jeremy Stahl of Slate covers this "lapse" by Salon and goes on to suggest they were right to do so, by linking all of his stellar debunking of the nano-thermite and Popular Mechanics experts on how much heat it takes to melt steel beams, etc.

The OG Goes On To Rant:
But to me, the real point was that indeed, Olear's suggestions did seem mild. The idea that all 9/11 conspiracy theories are equal to - in my current opinion, given my present state of ignorance and (mis)understandings - the execrable and baseless theories about Sandy Hook, seems classic "I'm such a well-educated liberal" dipshittery on the part of Salon and its pretentious editors

Stahl at Slate seems like a variant of this. He's far too certain of himself. But Lauerman is classic pretentious liberal asshole. Olear is merely saying there seems a lot of differences between 9/11 and Sandy Hook, and I think it was a valid point. Almost a trivial point. Olear also has doubts about the official story, AKA the 9/11 Commission Report. I think, after reading four and a half feet of books and articles on 9/11, that there seems valid room for doubt. (Olear's attempt to make distinctions between conspiracy theories, whatever your current position on Sandy Hook and 9/11 are, seemed sound to me, and did not deserve to be banished to the fringes in the Region of Thud. In my opinion.)

But Salon only seeks to apologize to their readers (which includes me; I read a lot of Salon's stuff) for fucking up and allowing a - again, I thought fairly benign - piece to sluice through. Their minds are closed about Sandy Hook (some really good reporting by Salon writers on the heinous a-holes fomenting conspiracies that a lot of it was faked so Obama could crack down/take away guns); Salon is also officially closed about 9/11, and I'd just guess also: the JFK/RFK/MLK hits, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, the Reichstag fire, Gulf of Tonkin, that J. Edgar knew about Pearl Harbor before it occurred and FDR may have also, how the CIA tried to kill Castro, Watergate, Nayirah, Operation Northwoods, MK-ULTRA, Project Paperclip, and that the CIA was involved with the Contras and cocaine trafficking.

Such conspiracy theorists and their lowbrow ideation! My word and land o-goshen! Whatever has happened to our educational system! 'Tis a cryin' shame, just a shame!

Meanwhile, I still wonder about odd aspects of the whole 9/11 official narrative. For example, this piece ran in the San Francisco Chronicle just after. All I'm saying is I wonder.

Any one of us who think we should actually entertain ambiguity or uncertainty about real-world events must have gone to a bad community college; ambiguity is best left for reading Licherchoor...

I'd like Lauerman to tell me when a "fringe" "conspiracy theory" becomes that thing, and when does it become...Something Else. And how and when do you justify the changes?

Interestingly, one of the best books I read in 2012 was by David Talbot, Salon's founder. (I am trying to inject Irony here, folks. Please give me a modicum of credit.)

Talbot wrote the text of Devil Dog: The Amazing True Story of the Man Who Saved America, which resembles a graphic novel for kids (immaculately illustrated by Spain Rodriguez), but oh my: this is more for those adults out there who never heard about the most decorated Marine of his time, General Smedley Darlington Butler. And how he exfiltrated (is that even a word?) a fascist group headed by millionaires and Big Biz assholes like Alfred P. Sloan and Pierre Dupont, who sought to overthrow FDR. It's all true! (No foolin': if you want to read some US history that's hard to set down: read Devil Dog. Your head will swim. Why it hasn't been made into a movie by someone like Oliver Stone, I don't know.)

 Even if Butler wasn't approached by fascists who wanted him to lead a military coup near the end of his public career, his story is still almost too much to believe. But his story is well-documented en extremis. Still, it's hard for me to comprehend the things Smedley Butler experienced in his life; 'tis the epitome of marvelous. The attempted fascist coup AKA "The Business Plot"? That's the sort of thing Hollywood comes up with, but it's true!

Or, as Kerry Lauerman might say, "a fringe conspiracy theory." (Because of the conspiracy to brainwash him into thinking that anything not common in his social circle is suspect? I'm just guessing here. What a pretentious dipshit.)

Final: A Head Test
Q: Does all this ranting by this Overweening Generalist dude indicate that he's a 9/11 "Truther"? Explain your answer.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Promiscuous Neurotheologist, Vol. 5 (or so)

I've recently immersed myself in the so-called New Atheism, trying to figure out some of the deeper structures, or at least some interesting tendrils, provocative musings, or pregnant metaphors. It's becoming evermore interesting, but I don't really want to blog about it here, now. I find offshoot hidden threads and want to bring them out in the open. If you're a believer, atheist, agnostic, Mormon, Discordian, Hindu, or a devout adherent of Bobby Henderson's Pastafarian The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whatever, here I will talk of religious not-knowing, which seems underrated.

In the 1300s, an unknown Christian mystic wrote lines such as this, from The Cloud of Unknowing:

"And so I urge you, go after experience rather than knowledge...On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you. Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love rest."

This seems something like zen, or taoism, or some strain of Buddhism. Go after experience.

We can delve into the neuroscience of religious, mystical, or ecstatic experience, and find some relation to activity in the temporal lobe; we may look at dogmatic religious recitations and find other areas that light up on an fMRI. Of course. But what we all want is something like the experience, right? The dogma, the paint-by-numbers phoning-it-in generic "faith"may act as security blanket or allow the illusion you have Fire Insurance or a Free Get Out of Hell Card in your hip pocket, but deep down, don't we all know that's just bullshit?

"Oh yes! I tried to have a religious experience and nothing came, but I have faith that it will come, if I just keep praying and saying the right words." Yep. I hope it works for you eventually, but I won't hold my breath. Experience of something extraordinary and Other takes work, usually.

                                         A rendering of Rumi, who would qualify as one
                                         of Max Weber's "religious virtuosi."

The Negative Way, by Jalaluddin Rumi the Sufi
In the presence of the drunken Turk, the minstrel began to sing of the
  Covenant made in eternity between God and the soul.
"I know not whether Thou art a moon or an idol, I know not what
  Thou desirest of me,
I know not what service to do Thee, whether I should keep silence or
  express Thee in words.
'Tis marvelous that Thou art nigh unto me, yet where I am and where 
  Thou, I know not."
In this fashion he opened his lips, only to sing "I know not, I know not."
At last the Turk leaped up in a rage and threatened him with an iron 
"You crazy fool!," he cried. "Tell me something you know, and if you
  don't know, don't talk nonsense."
"Why all this palaver?" said the minstrel, "My meaning is occult."
Until you deny all else, the affirmation of God escapes you: I am deny-
  ing in order that you may find a way to affirm.
I play the tune of negation: when you die death will disclose the mystery ---
Not the death that takes you into the dark grave, but the death whereby
  you are transmuted and enter into the Light.
O Amir, wield the mace against yourself: shatter egoism to pieces!
-Rumi, 1207-1273, translation by R.A. Nicholson

                                                   Uncle Al, a Great Modernist

DIY Scientific Approaches to Religious Experience...
...Seem best developed by The Most Evil Man in the World, according the British press at the time of the Evil Man's flourishing. He died in 1947. His name: Aleister Crowley. I can't go into it here - and many of the readers of OG are probably ahead of me here anyway - but Crowley developed a dizzying array of methods of systematic Faith, then systematic Doubt, with much alteration between the two poles until Something New happened to one's organism: ecstatic experience. However, we must not "lust after results," and always note the findings of any experiment, even if unexciting. Keep a magickal diary. Most scientists toil in agonizing dead-ends, but their work is still valuable: they know what did not work after hypothesis X23 was creatively implemented into a testing procedure. Write up your findings. Note the amount of time put in, the conditions in the room, any unforeseen problems or effects. Note it all, and keep working at it. And my word: how much Crowley will have you work!

These are soldiers and hunchbacks: it seems we use them to get into extraordinary experience.

The thing is, and the reason I'm including Crowley here, after The Cloud of Unknowing and Rumi: Faith and Doubt are fine, but they only get you so far. If you want experience, that is. Use both Faith and Doubt as an means to an end: experience. Crowley sees Doubt as more powerful though, being trained in the Sciences:

I slept with Faith and found a corpse in my arms upon awakening; I drank and danced with Doubt all night and found her a virgin in the morning. -The Book of Lies

The following lines seem also to come very close to the spirit of the modern magickal mode:

We place no reliance
On Virgin or Pigeon
Our Method is Science
Our aim is Religion.

Chemical Means
You already know what to do, but please be careful. And you know what? You really ought to pay attention to the Law of all Pharmacology: your mental set and the setting in which you do your experiments really ought to be considered, deeply, before you go into it. With recent findings on the weirdness of the placebo effect, this Law probably holds even with aspirin. There are some Adepts who say one ought not take anything unless it's been used in a general population for a considerable amount of time; the species-wide knowledge of its effects are a hedge against a Very Bad Time. Other Adepts - often the same ones I just mentioned - urge the use of substances that have not passed through a pharmacy, but are biologically produced by Gaia, straight from Her to your nervous system.

Here I urge you to Know so that you will have an experience of Unknowing.

Non-Chemical Means
You do these all the time, but do your work in tuning into them on a much deeper level: music, breathing, doing math, reading Finnegans Wake, drumming, fancy bathing techniques, learning a new language, not speaking for three days. There are many ways up. I just now thought of our friend Douglas Rushkoff's first book, Stoned Free: How To Get High Without Drugs.

Why Neurotheology?
It seems true that all theology and atheology is better termed "neurotheology" and "neuroatheology." Why? Because we don't "know" for sure about God, Goddess, Gods, etc. Especially the Pope: he does not know. The Dalai Lama seems to know a bit more than the Pope, but who knows? We only know what impinges on our sensoria, and passes through and gets sifted by our nervous systems. Some of you assert you have "faith," which has always seemed to me oh-so appropriately a private affair.

I know, I know: you want to see infinity in a grain of sand. We all do. Let's get better at figuring out how. And share your work!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

History and Perception of Time: Labeling and Control

I use the word "control" in the title but I think in this semantic sense it's human; oh-so human.

Here's What I'll Ramble On About Here:
Noocene Epoch
-"human progress"
- acceleration of data, information
- Anthropocene Epoch
- Holocene Epoch
- a final riff

So: How do you think we're doing so far in the Noocene Epoch? (There oughtta be an umlaut over that second "o" in Noocene.) I copped this Epoch from The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader. There it was defined as something like: how we manage and adapt to the immense amount of knowledge we've created. My answer is: I don't know, but I suspect a lot of us are having birth-pangs of a rather longue duree, if we can use that term on a personal scale.

Mutt: We can't.
Jute: We can.
Mutt: You won't.
Jute: I will.

With something like a logarithmic increase in world population and technological development, including Teilhard's global media/communications vision of a noosphere (the human mind permeating the electromagnetic spectrum), we seem to be going a bit nuts; it may be coming too fast for our biologically-evolved selves. And are we making logarithmic-like gains in empathy, understanding, and a general updating of ethics and manners, a cosmopolitan outlook? My knee-jerk says nay; Steven Pinker wants to argue something like a "yes" to this in his recent doorstop The Better Angels Of Our Nature. And I so want to believe his basic thesis is right.

Human "Progress"
On the other hand, there's a long tradition of denial of "progress" by heavyweight thinkers. I usually read them as necessary correctives to a general cultural mindlessness about "progress." Chris Hedges has a bit of a jeremiad this week: the very technological boom that we've created - it started only a few minutes ago, on the vast homo sapiens sapiens timescale - is the very thing that may be taking us down. For those of us with an atavistic need for Bad Time when there's one to be had, read Hedges's "The Myth of Human Progress."

Acceleration of Info
Robert Anton Wilson thought the general rise of social lunacy and conspiracy theory was related to the information flow-through in society, which, according to statistics he derived from French economist Georges Anderla, was doubling at ever-increasing rates. Bytes, Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom may all "be" different things, indeed, but RAW's (and Kurzweil's for that matter) notions of pegging an idea and a method for counting, then watching the curve rise absurdly quickly, seems an effective rhetoric to get us to think of acceleration of processes, however flawed the methodology may be.

Futurist Juan Enriquez talking about data-doubling for 2 minutes.
Ray Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns (ancient!: from 2001)
Robert Anton Wilson and Terence McKenna on information doubling; 4 minutes

Anthropocene Epoch
According to RAW's Jumping Jesus, we were at 4 Jesus in 1500, then 8 by 1750 and the start of the Industrial Age. I increasingly see the Industrial Age as now being described as the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch. Can we get out of it unscathed? I increasingly doubt it. I don't mean the human experiment on this rocky watery planet will end soon, but I do think we will radically alter what it means to be "human" in the next 30-50 years.

                                                  Cesare Emiliani

Holocene Epoch
The Age of Faith. The call of Being. The Mind of Europe, the Ming Dynasty, the "postmodern," The Sixties...All of these ways of conceptualizing our time here (and any other one you can think of) happened during the Holocene Epoch, which was coined by Cesare Emiliani: he thinks our calendar, which shifts when a Jewish rabbi-carpenter-anarchist was born, is too subjective. The "entirely recent" (AKA "Holocene") is, for Emiliani, anything from 10,000 years ago to today, roughly the Neolithic to now. The last great Ice Age had receded: the human story is told in the last 10,000 years, and so why don't we just add a "1" to whatever year we're in now and think of time that way? So, we're living in 12013 now.

I confess I'm a sucker for romantic intellectuals who are so overweening in their grandiosity of ideation that they think they can change the basic calendar. Do I think Emiliani's idea will ever catch on? Not a chance. But it has caught on with me. I like the psychological sense of a new way to control my perception of time with the Holocene.

Final Riff
To whatever extent human's many problems represent an Existential Risk: climate change, lurking plagues, asteroid collisions, Mutually Assured Destruction, and continued overpopulation (the world had roughly 200 million total when the anarchist rabbi was born; 791 million in 1750; 1.6 billion in 1900; 2.9 billion in 1960; 3.6 in 1970; 4.4 in 1980; 5.2 in 1990; 6.0 in 2000; and we passed 7,000,000,000 around Halloween, 2011); whether there's another Great Dying, or a Robot Apocalypse, or a happy Singularity or Omega Point: we will need to pass through something Ahead that we might later think of as a Bottleneck Epoch.

On another level and despite the many charming cyclical models of Time and History proffered by some of our more ingenious thinkers, the ideas from Hegel, Marx, Heidegger and Derrida lead me to agree with Derrida: there is no lost original language or vocabulary that will restore our sense of being grounded in some sort of Absolute Ultimate. All that is or seems, seems as metaphor, and we must find our way bravely in this present (which we want, at times, to be "timeless"). We post-postmoderns: can we believe in a teleology for our species, within an historical trajectory? Do we take seriously an eschatology? Clearly some do, but they seem in a negligible minority. In the previous paragraph I hazarded a Bottleneck Epoch, my optimism winning out. I, like Buckminster Fuller, am biased: I like the humans and I, as Bucky said, want them "to be a success in universe."

Nonetheless, how do we think about our present eschatoteleological dilemma? (A: mostly, we don't.)

I wrote this entire post in hopes that someone will think me a Heavy Cat.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Erisiana: Kerry Thornley Snippages, Featuring Ayn Rand, Lee Harvey Oswald, Robert Heinlein,and Jim Garrison

I just got done channel surfing and caught Rand Paul, pretty worked up over Obama's gun safety initiatives. I have had a long day and have built up some sleep debt, so I thought of the chaos in the midnight theater in Aurora, the mentally ill student at Virginia Tech, the mentally ill guy who slaughtered a bunch of children recently in Connecticut...And "Rand" Paul, his father, and Ayn Rand, and her cult of "rationality," and Rand and Kerry Thornley, who is quoted in Adam Gorightly's The Prankster and the Conspiracy. It's August, 1960, and Thornley had just been discharged from the Marines and was a pretty hardcore Marxist. Then he accidentally had a look at Atlas Shrugged and was instantly converted to capitalism, Rand-style. Here's a quote from a mid-1964 letter Thornley wrote, in Gorightly's book:

"What had driven me to Marxism was simply that, as a political philosophy it was the only thing I could find without a blatantly mystical base. I had seen enough of U.S. foreign policy to know who was winning the Cold War, and all of Ike's prayers left me no more secure in the face of a system with both coercive methods and moral (altruist) justification as its disposal. So I was about ready to look up a friend in San Francisco who belonged to the Communist Party and ask him what I could do to speed up the revolution, when I picked up Atlas Shrugged as a good, long book to read at sea. Well, by the time I set foot on U.S. soil again I knew I'd happened upon a genius. It took me about two years to work out and adjust to my new philosophy, but I knew it'd be worth it. It is." - on pp. 42-43 of The Prankster and the Conspiracy

This letter was written around the time Thornley's book Oswald was being written. As many of you know, Thornley knew Lee Harvey Oswald before Oswald allegedly shot JFK; they knew each other as Marines. I still find this surreal to think about.

This general train of thought - true yet quite surreal - seems almost too rich for words. Thornley reads The Warren Report, and by 1967 his politics had undergone a radical shift again: to "sex, drugs, and treason." Everything Rand was against, all authority, laughing at the "free market" ideology of Rand. He found liberation in zen, psychedelics, anarchism, and free love. And he, like Robert Anton Wilson, wrote about a psychedelic orgy cult, The Keristans, for the underground press. (RAW's article on a NY chapter of the Keristans in 1965, for Ralph Ginzburg's magazine Fact.)

The Keristans were heavily influenced by Robert Heinlein's 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land. One can easily trace today's polyamorist adherents (movement? sects? citizens?) to the Keristans, although it seems quite possible that, for every polyamorist or ethical non-monogamist you run into, few today would make the connection to the seminal science fiction novel. Perhaps the urge for open sex is universal enough I'm giving Heinlein and the Keristans too much credit for influence? At any rate...

                                     Thornley, from later in his mad life. The "Norton"
                                     he's talking about is San Francisco-based Emperor
                                     Joshua Norton, Lord High Protector of Mexico. 

At any rate, Kerry Thornley and his wife Cara were living in Watts in 1966, a year after the famous riots, when Robert Heinlein received a letter from the LA Keristans offering him $100 to come to LA to speak to them, as they considered him "the 'New Testament'." It is not known if Thornley wrote the letter. The neo-Pagan Church of All Worlds was definitely influenced by Heinlein's novel, for which, if I were Heinlein, I'd be sorta pleased. Charles Manson was heavily influenced by the same novel; Heinlein has about as much responsibility for the Tate-LaBianca murders as Jesus had for the Inquisition.

[Heinlein's novel has had at least the occult power to colonize weirdo minds as Salinger's Catcher In The Rye has. So far...- The Mgt]

At any rate, Heinlein turned the Keristans down, calling them a "far-out cult." (Grumbles From The Grave, ed. Virginia Heinlein, p.236)

Margot Adler (grand-daughter of Alfred Adler, who famously broke with Freud) was a terrific observer of this underground scene. She wrote that Thornley's coverage of the Keristans greatly influenced the neo-Pagan movement: free love communes, Wicca, back-to-nature ideologies, and others who sought an unhindered life of psychedelic experimentation and open expressions of sexuality.

In 1967, DA Jim Garrison, through various bizarre machinations, decided he wanted to indict Kerry for perjury. He issued a press release: "In September of '63, Kerry Thornley was closely associated with Lee Oswald at a number of locations in New Orleans." A witch-hunt? You betcha. Nevertheless...

The underground press, for reasons not totally clear to me, despite plenty of digging, sided with Garrison, despite the fact that Kerry had written for such stellar underground papers as the L.A. Free Press and The Great Speckled Bird. As Gorightly writes, "This irony did not go unnoticed by Robert Anton Wilson, who encountered a media blackout when trying to address Kerry's situation. As Wilson explained during our July 2001 interview:

"'In '67 or '68, most of the underground press was publishing a lot of stuff pro-Garrison, and this included Kerry's role in the assassination. And I had lots of contacts in the underground press, so I started sending out articles defending Kerry, which nobody would print, because the underground press was behind Garrison and the official corporate media was totally anti-Garrison - I was trying to send the message to the wrong place.'" - Gorightly, pp.91-92

Kerry had known Oswald in the Marines. He'd published two books about his connections to Oswald, but the first was a sort of novel about the craziness of military grunt life; it felt sorta "beatnik" to me when I read it...and Oswald was in it...before the JFK hit. (I read The Idle Warriors and it's still unheimlich that Oswald was the focus of a novel before November 1963...maybe it's just me...but read the one reviewer comment at the Amazon link; there's something to CIA and/or military LSD experimentation at the American base in Japan the writer mentions. You can look it up. But let me get on with other weirdness.) Then Kerry published a book on Oswald in 1965. Many people remarked that Oswald and Thornley looked very much alike. And Kerry had been in New Orleans while Oswald was militating for "free play for Cuba." What were the odds?

If this material is new to you and it seems like I'm making it up...I often feel like I'm making it up, but it's true. And it gets far, far weirder.

Garrison did charge Thornley with perjury, and Kerry wrote to his Principia Discordia co-writer and boyhood friend Greg Hill that he was afraid he'd do 20 years for being "up to my ass in a spy novel." He wrote to Hill that the reasons he might go to prison were, "1.) having gone to USC at the same time [alleged spy] Gordon Novel did; 2.) having written a novel based on Oswald which re-inforced his apparent Marxist cover; 3) having been from that point out the victim of either the most fantastic chain of incriminating co-incidences or the most satanically evil plot in history..."(Gorightly, p.97)

Well, Kerry got out of it, but he really just sunk deeper into a darker well. The story of Thornley seems underappreciated, and I highly recommend Gorightly's book for rousing good read about his life, which, if you wrote it as a novel, it might seem too fantastic. The subtitle is "The Story of Kerry Thornley and How He Met Oswald and Inspired the Counterculture."

Meanwhile, Eris reigns. And so does Discordianism. As Margot Adler writes, quoting Robert Anton Wilson on Eris in 1976, "Whichever Eris you choose, she always seems to take the form of paradox, and an Erisian notice printed in Green Egg said that the Erisian path generally appealed to those who have 'an affinity toward taoism, anarchy and clowning; who can feel comfortable in a Neo-Pagan context, and who probably have a tendency toward iconoclasm.'" - Drawing Down The Moon, 1997 revised and expanded edition, p.333
An article by Gorightly on Thornley, "Prankster or Manchurian Candidate?"

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Neomedievalism as Metaphor, and a Plethora of Our Discontents

For anyone who's paying attention, Obama's conducting of the "global war on terror" seems Pentagon-run, and coterminous with the Bush-Cheney years of utter barbarity and horror. The war in Afghanistan, if it already seemed endless to you (it certainly does me), in truth, will be going on at least another ten years, no matter what happy-talk you hear in the mainstream electronic media or the corporate newspapers. The Obama Administration? Forget it. Here are some of the moves Obama's made that make him no different from the Neoconservatives that got us into this mess:

  • Patriot Act extended: no reforms have been made from the Bush/Cheney era
  • Warrantless wiretapping? Obama just signed an extension for five more years
  • increased secrecy, repression and restriction of releases from Gitmo, let alone that it hasn't been shut down
  • a new scheme for indefinite detention on Unistat soil
  • a new theory of Presidential assassination powers, even of Unistat citizens
  • Miranda rules diluted
I could go on and on, but I'll tell you the truth: I'm weak of heart when it comes to such things, and I just get depressed. Why do you think the OG usually writes about seemingly everything but this shit?

"The voice of history of often little more than the organ of hatred or flattery." - Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

You may have heard that Unistat is getting out of Afghanistan at the end of next year. Last month the Pentagon's top lawyer said we should see the Afghan war as "finite" but clearly, that was for the consumption of dupes and starry-eyed wishers. There's every reason to believe Unistat will be in Afghanistan for 10 more years, possibly forever. We are not "exiting" at the end of 2014. If you believe that, I know a Nigerian Prince who has some money he wants to share with you. The devil is in the semantics of the thing. And O! what semantics. You want semantics? I'll give you semantics.

"This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile." - George W. Bush, on 9/16/01, to the press, South Lawn of the White House

                                                        Hedley Bull

Medievalism/Neomedievalism and Neoconservatism
In 1977, British political theorist Hedley Bull published The Anarchical Society: A Study of World Order in Politics. Considered a "realist" thinker in International Relations, Bull was concerned with the rise of non-state and post-state actors in a field of thought that was governed by Cold War nation and state-based approaches. Bull's book has since become a classic in the field, and apparently every textbook in foreign relations now includes sections on neomedievalism.

Here's some of what Hedley Bull was onto in 1977. He had the foresight to see non-state and post-state actors on the world scene as playing a big enough role that we must begin to think in new ways. But first: who or what are "non-state actors"? Some would be: international terrorists, corporations and their own paramilitary squads, drug cartels, NGOs, and, even though he didn't mention them - because they didn't exist then, but he probably would have included them - computer hackers.

Some alternative paths, or solutions for world order with the rise of non-state actors, for Bull:

  • world government 
  • "solidarity of states" (probably a strengthening of the UN)
  • a disarmed world
  • ideological homogeneity among existing states
  • a modern medieval model
There are other alternative paths; I have only skimmed Bull and have been greatly aided in this intellectual area by texts that comment on Bull, the best being a slim title, Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror, by Bruce Holsinger a prof. of English (specializing in the medieval era) and Music at the U. of Virginia. Holsinger points out that Bull devoted a scant few pages to  a neomedieval path to a new world order, but it looks like the NeoCons took that section of the book very seriously indeed...or so I infer from reading Holsinger reading Bull...

                                              Bruce Holsinger, defending the good 
                                             name of Medieval Studies, defending well

Holsinger, whose field of Medieval Studies covers roughly the 5th-15th centuries, includes the rise of Islam, the fall of the Roman Empire, the Crusades, Charlemagne, Mohammed, the Koran, courtly love, the Book of Kells, the English kings Shakespeare would immortalize in plays such as Richard III  and Henry IV, Marco Polo, Petrarch, St. Francis of Assisi, the Aztec Empire, Dante, Chaucer, feudalism, the Jin dynasty, Hildegard of Bingen, and Genghis Khan; Holsinger objects to the appropriation and semantic use of "medieval" by the post-9/11 Unistat political regimes. In one place he admits it's now so pervasive that the word "medieval" may not recover from its new meaning, but that his Medieval Studies colleague, Carolyn Dinshaw of NYU, tongue in cheek, proposed starting a group Concerned Medievalists For Peace, in the wake of 9/11.

The Holsinger book is - to me - the most interesting work on the deeper political workings of the Pentagon, neoconservatives, and the utter disasters of Unistat foreign policy since I read Nicholas Xenos's slim book, Cloaked In Virtue, on the cult of neocons that emanated with Leo Strauss, and how he taught a secret inner "true" reading of philosophers like Hobbes, to his initiates. The great irony, since I became aware of the Neo Cons (after Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind came out), was that Strauss was one of the many great Jewish intellectuals imported from Europe during the rise of Hitler.

(short article, not by Xenos: "Leo Strauss's Philosophy of Deception")

"History is the only laboratory we have in which to test the consequences of ideas." - Etienne Gilson

What Holsinger does is show how the rhetoric of "medievalism" has been applied by NeoCons to get us into this mess. The infamous "torture memos," for instance. I've read some maddening things on how the lawyers inside Bush's White House twisted semantics in order to override the Geneva Convention III (the POW issue) to redefine prisoners of war as "enemy combatants" which overrides Geneva, all International Law, and even human rights. Obama has gone along with this.

                                            Glenn Greenwald: if you want to know more 
                                            about the truth - as I see it - of Unistat foreign
                                            and domestic policy: read him!

Because the terrorists were stateless, or from "failed states" they aren't recognized under law. They are separated from us not only by religion and region, but by time: they are medieval. Therefore, modern ideas about law don't apply to them. Let us write the laws for them.

Holsinger goes on to show, in remarkable detail for such a short book, how the semantics of "medieval" has been used to circumvent...any semblance of sanity or humanity. In the name of "security."

What a terrific little book Holsinger has written. I just have one basic difference with him. On pp.15-16, Holsinger writes that Plato's Gorgias has "one of the great critiques of the rhetoric of anti-intellectualism in the Western tradition [...] In the words of Socrates to Gorgias, a professional rhetor, 'the rhetorician need not know the truth about things; he has only to discover some way of persuading the people that he has more knowledge than those who know."

This has always been true and always will be true. It's up to the citizens (or post- or non-state actor) to educate themselves so rhetors (in this case, anyone from the Unistat State Dept) will not believe them, and seek better ways to live on the planet with "medieval" people. I'm impressed with Holsinger, but I don't believe he knows "the truth." And I don't believe Socrates or Plato knew "the truth," either. I think Gorgias was pointing out something that Plato didn't like (and I would guess, Socrates didn't like it either, but what about his schtick: The classic "I don't know anything; I'm just askin' you" routine?) and preferred to not think was "the truth": that no one has a privileged fulcrum point from which to see The Truth, with no occlusions having to do with historical accident, class interest, personal interest, psychological disposition, etc.

(These "medieval" people are people who happened to use a money-transfer scheme - hawala - that eluded all of our ultra-sophisticated computer-tracking efforts, because they knew about our computer systems. Yea: they're "medieval." They used cell phones and shredders and FAX machines. They just want us OUT OF THEIR PART OF THE WORLD. Is that so difficult to understand? Also they're pissed we support Israel so one-sidedly; they despise us, not for "our freedoms" - you have to be a total imbecile to believe that! - but because we propped up vicious tyrannies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Also they know we backed Iraq in the seven year Iran-Iraq war, that the CIA got rid of Iran's democratically-elected Mossadegh in 1953 and installed the brutal Shah and trained his secret police-killers, SAVAK. I could go on. They hate us for our policies. Some of these medieval people subscribe to a strain of radicalism that led to 9/11. But by no means all. All of this is "the truth" as I see it.)

Meanwhile, Unistat grows more and more medieval, in debt, the Robocop to the world, having lost its moral standing in the rest of the "free world," and seems intent on carrying out a neomedievalist foreign  (and, in some ways, domestic) policy that looks more and more like the Catholic Church trying to run the globe, circa 500-1450. And thus we drift ever closer to catastrophe.

Glenn Greenwald, from a week or so ago, in The Guardian. Germane to this rant.
Wolfowitz Doctrine
Late 2010 interview with the co-author of The Death of Neoconservatism
Five Ways Obama is Just Like George W. Bush
Monopolizing War: It's what we do best
Americans Are The Most Spied-On People In World History (Even the East Germans under the Stasi!)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Birchers, The Illuminati, and Unistat Political "Reality"

It was the beginning of World War III.

Let me back up a bit.

There was an American Christian missionary to China who became an intelligence officer for the US Air Force. He knew China was dangerous, because they were Commies, but said God had called him to duty. Dying his hair black, dressing in traditional Chinese garb and immersing himself in Chinese language and culture, he slipped behind Japanese lines during WWII, and aided the return of American bombers who had firebombed Tokyo. His name was John Morrison Birch. About two weeks after the Nagasaki bombing, Birch was shot and killed by Chinese guerrillas. Thirteen years later, a far right wing nutjob named Robert Welch would found the John Birch Society and claim that Birch's death was the beginning of World War III.

Birch Paranoid Theology/Mystagoguery/Worldview: A Thumbnail
The world is run by wealthy communists and capitalists who are in cahoots, only pretending to be at odds with each other. They've pulled the wool over almost everyone's eyes...except the members of the JBS, who took the classic narrative of the One-World Secret Evil Government run by a shadowy and terrible and unfathomably rich group called The Illuminati...and grafted it onto their own theology/conspiriology, or whatever you want to call it. The Evil Rulers are not the Illuminati, they are The Insiders, and the US hasn't been a Constitutionally ruled democracy or republic since...well, maybe 1895 or so. Maybe earlier. Maybe later. They - The Insiders - were probably organized by Cecil Rhodes, in the the late 19th century.

Birchers hate the U.N. It's evil by definition, and evidence of the will to enslave the population of the world, right in front of our noses. Birchers think their own interpretation of the Judeo-Christian sex code is the only interpretation. Anyone deviating from that code - a code which tends to engender willful stupidity and an emotional plague in general - is evil and should be dealt with. The Birchers think The Insiders control the media (AKA Jews), and The Jews have so much money their propaganda can straddle the globe and control minds. The Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, any of the Elite "Round Table" groups of intellectuals and politicians, is Insider stuff. The Bilderbergers? What do YOU think?

It seems The Insiders have morphed into The Illuminati over the past ten years, but it's hard for me to get a read on this stuff. What do the Birchers want to do? "Restore" the good old ways. The way things oughtta be. Before Things went wrong. (The way they never were, really. Racist, fearful, uneducated nostalgia looks like an ugly brew to me.)

So okay: The US has been commie-controlled since the 1950s. How do I know? Well, their founder, Robert Welch, a candy-man business-owner, said so. He said General Eisenhower, then-President of the US, original CIA head Allen Dulles, and Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren were all commies. Furthermore (and this is my favorite wingnut-riff from this period), Eisenhower's brother Milton was even "higher-up" in the commie pyramid than Dwight David himself. This led William F. Buckley, once a friend of Welch's, to try to purge him from the group, calling the charges "paranoid and idiotic libels." This pissed off Welch, who made a move to take over the YAFfers, or Buckley's Young Americans For Freedom. Oh yea: Truman and FDR were commie tools too, according to Welch.

                                                Robert Welch, founding Bircher

Have you heard about fluoride in the US water supply? They say it helps fight cavities. But Welch and his followers knew the real truth: it was Soviet mind-control stuff. Hey, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice," as Bircher-backed Barry Goldwater said when he ran for Prez in 1964.

"Free market" everything, government is bad and can't do anything right, taxes are evil, universal health care is a horrific spectre haunting every real red-blooded American, "prosperity" is good, so are the real American "values," the 2nd Amendment is much sexier than the 1st, we need the Bible in schools, being anti-union (which is so obvious a commie plot) is a no-brainer, anti-anyone from any other country, anti-looking too brown or Asian, anti-the-rest-of-the-world, who are all a bunch of weirdos. And the flag is just grand. So how did they stay afloat? (I will guess: right wing billionaires think it's a good idea to keep the rabble as dumb as possible, but you are free to guess for yourselves.)

This stuff gets crazier and crazier. And often it gets cross-pollinated with KKK-like groups, militias,
Aryan Brotherhood garbage, and now a rather large portion of the Republican Party,  etc. You know: patriots.

Wiki history of the JBS

Wither the Birchers?
Well, we can relax. I read the entry under "John Birch Society" in Michael Newton's compendious 2006 book The Encyclopedia of Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories, which ends with, "The group remains active today, continuing its 'educational' efforts in print and on the Internet, but the society is a shadow of its former self with the glory days of the 1960s (hopefully) lost beyond recall." (p.192)

That's heartening. Then 3 1/2 years ago I ran across this glib Gawker piece; more reason to relax, right?

But then, a scant eight years ago, in the Youngstown (Ohio) News: JBS making a comeback? That can't be right, can it?

Well, most of you were on to me 15 paragraphs ago: this stuff never went away; it's a major part of the fabric of thought in Unistat. Anti-intellectualism goes back to the 17th century here. And the Koch Brothers are the latest financiers of this Bircher thing, under other names: The Tea Party, Americans For Prosperity, etc.

Some liberal-progressives have been sounding the alarm. A few days ago I read in the Daily Kos, "Birch Society Republicans: America Now Has Three Major Political Parties,"with "Business Republicans" numbering 84 of the 435 in Congress, "Democrats" numbering 201, and Bircher Republicans amounting to 150 of the 435. And so it goes.

                                     Koch Bros flow-ish chart: talk about tentacles!

CODA: An Early Satirist of The Illuminati
It's Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, November, 1789. Scottish Professor John Robison's Proofs of a Conspiracy had made it to the US shores and caused quite a stir: are the same Illuminati that fomented the French Revolution - as Robison "proved" - here on our shores, plotting evil? Then word arrived that French Catholic Abbe Augustin Barruel's anti-Illuminati Memoirs of Jacobinism had been translated into English and we'd get to read all three volumes! (or was it four?) Anyway.

Someone writing into the Massachusetts Mercury, calling himself "A Friend to Truth," suggested that we all wait to read Barruel before passing judgement, and that we might want to consider that Robison may be a bit daft, and probably wrong about the nature of Freemasonry and its influence on the Illuminati; comparing Barruel to Robison might prove quite enlightening indeed.

Others wrote in to disparage the disparagement of Robison. Enter an Erisian writer named "Trepidus."

Trepidus wrote in to express his amazement and wonder at Professor Robison's discoveries of how influential the Illuminati had already been in America. What the Illuminati had already achieved dwarfed the achievements of the Gunpowder Plotters, the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, and the Sicilian Vespers!

What Trepidus wished to do was urgent, and on November 30, 1789, in the Massachusetts Mercury, he sought to urge Americans to take notice of a secret cabal in their midst now, one so like the Illuminati it's amazing we all didn't see it before! Who were these plotters? The Quakers! Yep. Some "Friends"! Here's Trepidus:

"The Illuminati esteem all ecclesiastical establishments profane, irreligious, and tyrannical; so do the Quakers. They hold also the obligations of brotherly love and universal benevolence. The Quakers  not only profess these Atheistic principles, but actually reduce them to practice. The Illuminati hold the enormous doctrine of the Equality of mankind. So do these Quakers. They, like the Illuminati, have a general correspondence through all their meetings, delegates constantly moving, and one day, at every quarterly meeting, set apart for private business; and I engage to prove at the bar of any tribunal in the United States, that these Friends, these men so horribly distinguished for benevolence and philanthropy,  (Ah! philanthropy!) have held, and do still hold a constant correspondence with their nefarious accomplices in Europe...Awake, arise, or be forever fallen!"
-The Bavarian Illuminati in America: The New England Conspiracy Scare, 1789, by Vernon Stauffer, pp.261-263, orig. published in 1918, my copy published by Dover Publications in 2006

So: Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea have an antecedent of remarkably old vintage, eh? Meanwhile, we brainwashed dupes of The Insiders/Illuminati continue to endure World War III...without even knowing it! (NB: Tinfoil Hats Actually Amplify Mind Control Beams!)

ficken Sie die Koch-Sauger!

Kids In the Hall's Dave Foley, performing a satirical prophecy, pre-Glenn Beck. As Allen Ginsberg said, the poets are the antennae of the race:

Monday, January 7, 2013

Neologizing Ad Infinitum: Words, Memes, Religion, Humor, "Reality"

Social Phenomenon of Language
Picking up from the Robert Anton Wilson riffs from The Widow's Son, here's Peter L. Berger, the great phenomenological sociologist, in his book on the sociology of religion, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. He's talking about how an individual grows up within an environment and society, and how the local social world's roles, institutions, and identities are actively appropriated by a person; no one is an inert being being solely molded by outside forces. At an early age, a person derives a subjective and objective identity (how we see ourselves and how others see us). As a person living in constant interplay with the given world we're born into, we are part of the ongoing "conversation" in that society, and participate in its active, ongoing construction. A profound mediating aspect of this construction is the language we use. Here's Berger on this:

"The relationship of the individual to language may, once more, be taken as paradigmatic of the dialectic of socialization. Language confronts the individual as an objective facticity. He subjectively appropriates it by engaging in linguistic interaction with others. In the course of this interaction, however, he inevitably modifies the language, even if (say, as a formalistic grammarian) he should deny the validity of these modifications. Furthermore, his continuing participation in the language is part of the human activity that is the only ontological base for the language in question. The language exists because he, along with others, continues to employ it. In other words, both with regard to language and to the socially objectivated world as a whole, it may be said that the individual keeps 'talking back' to the world that formed him and thereby continues to maintain the latter as reality." (18-19)

My two favorite ideas here are the inevitable modifications of language we make, which subtly change the reality, the ontological basis of the very language being spoken. Yes, the world is "objectivated," but there's a feedback loop - which Berger and other phenomenological sociologists often refer to as "seen but not noted" - between the "world"and the language used to describe it. The second idea I like is that talk itself maintains the world.

It seems probable that this is the basis for why we say "Hi how ya doin'?" and "Fine, how're you?" and hundreds of other little things. They're a way of saying, "I'm here acknowledging your existence. Will you please acknowledge me back?" It's mammalian.

Altered states of consciousness, states that make us "more aware" or aware of the everyday in some new way, will go a long way to shedding light on this. Maybe this is why cultural creatives will neologize much more than others: they spend more time alone, in solitude, doing their thing. New words or the idea that there might be a "need" for a new word or phrase or metaphor will tend to come to them, they will share it with their fellow creative friends, and then the word or phrase might jump out of the local creative community and "go viral" which seems like a neologism that has piggybacked on Richard Dawkins's "meme."

                                   Dawkins, never one to back away from controversy

Dawkins Coins "Meme"
In his discussion of DNA and genes and how maybe they are in the driver's seat, making us think we're in control when they really are - they're so wily! - Dawkins said that the "god" idea, while we don't know how it arose in the meme pool, probably arose very many independent times via memetic mutation and is a very old idea indeed. It replicated itself via spoken word (see Berger, above), great music, great art. It survives in the meme pool, says Dawkins, "From its great psychological appeal. It provides a superficially plausible answer to deep and troubling questions about existence. It suggests that injustices in this world may be rectified in the next." (The Selfish Gene, 192-193 in 2nd [1989] edition)

But how did Dawkins coin "meme," a word which has become an incredibly powerful meme itself? He tells it with a thrilling High Drama I find very appealing. He says that besides the DNA-RNA-gene replication processes, there is another replication process, and we don't have to go to "distant worlds" to find it. "It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting, far behind." It is "Staring us in the face."

This new soup is human culture, and we needed a name for the transmission of human culture, something like the word imitation. "'Mimeme' comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like 'gene.' I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme."(192, ibid)

"Meme" must be one of the most effective neologisms deliberately concocted by one man. Bravo!, Dawkins.

Neologisms as Mildly Psychoactive Non-Substances
Because they get into your brain and nudge between the circuitry of words/concepts/phrases that are already instantiated in groups of neurons that "know"how to express some feeling in your own language, I heartily recommend reading books that collect words from other languages that express something we don't have in English. When I was a young teen, some columnist for the Los Angeles Times wrote about these words, and the French term le esprit l'escalier stuck with me: it's the feeling that you're just a tad too late in coming up with the appropriate thing to say; you missed your chance. It translates to "the spirit of the stairs," as if you had had a heated talk and someone got the better of you because, while you felt you knew what you needed to say, nevertheless the words didn't come to you in time. A few minutes later - when it was too late and you were ascending the stairs on the way out? - the words arrived in your brain.

Prof. George Carlin noted that we had a word for "yesterday" but are still waiting on one for "the day before yesterday." We can see how neologizing can possibly takes us down a rabbit hole towards utter ridiculousness, but than again also: humor? (See Lee Camp video, below)

Howard Rheingold wrote an entire book on these - words from all over the world - that express some idea or notion or feeling that we probably need in English, but we don't quite have it yet. See his They Have A Word For It. Here's a blog-like piece by a guy who admires the book, and includes a small sample of the words. If you read pp.3-7 of Rheingold he's knowingly in the Whorf camp, and this book came out when the Chomskyans had made Whorf persona non grata in the groves of academe.

Pei-Ying Lin, on emotions we have but don't have a word for them. Serendipitously discovered today by me.

This is subjective, but I find it wonderfully weird to know that there are all sorts of spaces in our language. It allows me a sense of freedom, of possibility. To be a free play with language, to twist metaphors, appreciate a good simile yet more than ever. To neologize and pun. All of these terms seem as first cousins, and as we learn more from the cognitive neurolinguists: afford more of a psychedelic ("mind-manifesting") appreciation of language and our often unconscious rhetorical ploys and how they make "reality" far more than we may have ever guessed.

Lee Camp's neologizing like a madman recently here. He seems to owe Lewis Black an ounce of weed with the theatrical anger bit, but I like this guy. He's snotty and smart; a terrific punk comedian. My favorite one so far is calling the Democratic party "limpotent." It's even better than what I usually call them: "invertebrate." Here he is, for 4 minutes or so:

Splatter-Riffs on Neologisms, Linguistic Relativity, ETC

The Case of the Missing Sex Words
The biologist and public intellectual David Barash wrote in his book The Myth of Monogamy (co-written with his wife, Judith Lipton!), that we have a sex-as-defined-within-marriage frame: premarital sex, marital sex, and extramarital sex. But notice we have no words for post-divorce sex, or widow or widower's sex. And let's imagine the case of a 45 year old confirmed bachelor's sex life. Surely we aren't willing to call that sex "premarital," right? What does this sort of stuff tell us about the semantic unconscious in our society?

                                                   Barash and Lipton

Peter Lyman
A U.C. Berkeley professor named Peter Lyman died in late June/early July of 2007. He had written a book called How Much Information? In the book he expressed concerns about terms like "virtual community" and "information superhighway" and "digital library." He thought those metaphors/neologisms could block thinking about real problems. Did he have a point? Jaron Lanier, in his discourses with Joel Garreau in the book Radical Evolution, seemed to think so, although Lyman's ideas weren't directly addressed.

Metaphors and Public Policy
Which reminds me of Lera Boroditsky. Today I ran across a paper she co-published with Paul H. Thibodeau, on how metaphors very subtly influenced how people reasoned about issues of crime, the environment, and the economy. I've only given it a cursory read so far, but it seems to strongly buttress the arguments about metaphor and political and social thought put forth in books by George Lakoff. If anyone's interested, it's HERE. (For progressives: frame the crime problem as a "virus"plaguing the commons, and not as a "beast" that needs to be captured and locked up. Thibodeau and Boroditsky give some reasons why.)

Roots of Neologisms?
What might be the ultimate goal of a neologism? How do they arise?

Glad you asked. One answer I like was given poetically by one of the great novelists of ideas in the 20th c, Robert Anton Wilson. Very late in his novel The Widow's Son, there's a long epistolary passage from the young hero to his mentor/uncle, the novel being set in the late 18th century. The young initiate is discussing at length his evolving understanding of occult ideas such as the "vegetative soul" "animal soul" "human soul" and something called the "fourth soul," which "perceives the invisible web of connections between all things; but it is no more infallible than the rest of the brain, or the gut, or the liver, or the gonads." (italics in original) With the "fourth soul," meaning seems to flow into us, but we forget we are making the meaning. We forget we did a lot of mental work, and then suddenly meaning comes to us, seemingly unbidden, as some sort of "revelation." What's most interesting is that we don't take responsibility for these sudden "meanings." We don't know how to exercise some sort of wisdom about these meanings, and this is why we have so many "holy fools."

But to the meat of the neologism thingy: the initiate says this meaning-making is equivalent to creativity and is the god-faculty in us. We get a meaning-making revelation and take the "word" with absolute literalness. Here's perhaps the salient passage:

"When beauty was created by a godly mind, beauty existed, as surely as the paintings of Botticelli or the concerti of Vivaldi exist. When mercy was created, mercy existed. When guilt was created, guilt existed. Out of a meaningless and pointless existence, we have made meaning and purpose; but since this creative act happens only when we relax after great strain, we feel it as 'pouring into us' from elsewhere. Thus we do not know our own godhood and we are perpetually swindled by those who assure us that it is indeed elsewhere, but they can give us access to it, for a reasonable fee. And when we as a species were ignorant enough to be duped in that way, the swindlers went one step further, invented original sin and other horrors of that sort, and made us even more 'dependent' upon them." (pp.386-387 in my old paperback version)

So: with Wilson, there seems to be some sort of continuum of invention of words: here they flow into us, as if by revelation. But because we have decided to entertain this idea of where language comes from, and how it works in our lives, many of us have suffered needlessly, because we think language came from some other realm. We made the "meaning" of the words that (much earlier) were made, probably via some Vichian utterances and grunts, and gesturing, singing, and poetic intoning. Gradually words become reified, and the ruling classes and their priests began shaping what the words "really" meant.

This passage also seems to imply that it's imperative that we not only figure out how we're "swindled" by language, but to own the god-power in ourselves (the only place "god" really exists?) and use language creatively, actively, to take back the power of language and to use it to better our lives.

Six Faves

  1. Sturch: This hasn't seemed to have caught on. It's a word that implies the State and Church have mutual interests of control in mind. According to a 1961 article by Robert Anton Wilson in Paul Krassner's The Realist, Philip Jose Farmer, the wild science fiction writer, coined it.
  2. Santorum: Dan Savage gets credit for the coining of this one, but he canvassed his readers first. A good example of purposeful, mindful and creative use of neologizing capacity to attempt to discredit a political foe. What is it? For our non-Unistatian readers, it's "the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the product of anal sex."And also the last name of a prominent anti-sex, very conservative Senator.
  3. Shordurpersav: Coined by the Church of the Subgenius, who acknowledge that our belief in deities can be temporary, if we want it, and it's a short way of saying a god or goddess or some other entity is one's own "short duration personal savior." 
  4. Sardonicide: Possibly minted by Hakim Bey, it means to laugh something to death, or something that was laughed to death. 
  5. Privateering: I was going to make all six start with "S" but I liked this one too much, at least recently. I'm not sure who coined it; it may be very old indeed. But George Lakoff suggests that those of us who object to the privatization of the public sphere -  by billionaires and others who do not have the idea of the common good in mind - should use this word for what they do. 
  6. Modeltheism: I got this from Robert Anton Wilson. It describes intellectuals, academics, or any one of us who stumbled onto one model of looking at the world, forgot it was only a model and not the Absolute Truth, and now seem to worship this model as if it was heaven-sent. When we do this, we block out millions of other signals; we make ourselves stupid this way. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Neologisms and the Neo Soft (?) Whorfian Revolution

My Idiohistory With Linguistic Relativity
I had begun trying to understand Chomsky's linguistics around 1990. One thing that spilled out rather quickly was I was apparently wrong about the idea that the structure of the particular language you speak shapes the way you think about phenomena. This idea was fairly taken-for-granted until around 1970. Then a few studies were done on how people from different tribes used language for things like color, and Chomsky's idea of universal grammar seemed to hold sway, according to these studies. Or so I read. On one level, I still thought this had to be wrong, because whenever I made some cursory study of a new language I noticed how strange I felt; there was always some aspect of the way the new language made me think that was novel. Also: as a crazy fierce autodidact, I found one quick entry into some new territory of knowledge was to get hold of a standard fat textbook for the field, go directly to the glossary, and study the words and their definitions. The specialized jargon allowed me to think about things I never would have before. But this, I knew did not mean that, "underneath" it all, people weren't still "really" thinking about the phenomena in the same way, despite the way they seemed to conceptualize differently, based on their different language. The Chomskyans virtually wiped this idea of linguistic relativity off the map of "serious ideas" roughly from the period 1975-2000 or so.

A little later, in the early 1990s, I fell in love with the works of Robert Anton Wilson. In the first book I ever read by him, Right Where You Are Sitting Now, which was assembled as a collage and utilized techniques derived from Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs and their "cut-up" method. I turned a page late in the book and found a page with a "smaller" piece of paper made to look as if it was hovering over the page, at a slightly Dutch angle. The paper - or rectangular block? - had a shadow beneath it, a sort of "Kilroy Was Here" guy looking over the top of the paper, but with +/- signs for eyes and ears. Inside the block were three quotes, one from RAW himself: "Verbal chains guide us through our daily reality-labyrinth." Another was from Joyce's Ulysses, where Leopold Bloom, reflecting on the repetition used in the Catholic mass, and his own occupation, advertising, thinks to himself, "Mass seems to be over. Could hear them all at it. Pray for us. And pray for us. And pray for us. Good idea the repetition. Same thing with ads. Buy from us. And buy from us."

                                                      Benjamin Lee Whorf

A third quote was from Benjamin Lee Whorf: "A change in language can transform our appreciation of the cosmos." But this went against Chomsky. And it was published in 1982, when linguistic relativity was supposedly dead. Nevertheless, I decided to obtain Whorf's Language, Thought and Reality. I haven't bought the universal grammar line since.

The only problem I found in Whorf (whose teacher was the great first-generation cultural Anthropologist Edward Sapir, who studied under Franz Boas), was that Whorf seemed to think the language we are born into prevents us from thinking in new ways; we get boxed in. This was later dubbed "hard Whorfianism" by some, in contrast to the idea that our language tends to shape how we perceive reality, often labeled as "soft Whorfianism." Whorf, who died in 1941 and was largely self-taught, never saw any of what we would call empirical testing of his ideas. But there are empirical tests galore now, and this is why I call it "Neo Soft Whorfian" in the headline for this blogspew.

Lera Boroditsky
I forget where I read it, but Boroditsky - perhaps the figurehead in the renaissance in linguistic relativity - wrote about a study about how time is perceived differently among Mandarin speakers, compared with English speakers. In English we think of time like we think of our sentences, as running from right to left. We say "The best years of our lives are still ahead of us." Or "All your troubles are behind you now." Boroditsky showed that the Chinese thought of time in the way they wrote language, famously: vertically. How mind-blowing! Yep: next month is "down." It's the down month, or "February" to me. Last month - December - would be thought of as the "up month." Of course, in English I can say, "Looking down my calendar, I'm busy through March. How about April we go to Hawaii?" Similarly, apparently Mandarin speakers use a horizontal metaphor for time every now and then, like we English speakers do. But they clearly use vertical metaphors for time far more often, while we English speakers use horizontal ones far more often.

                                                 Lera Boroditsky, grew up in Minsk

So Boroditsky and colleagues decided to see if they could determine  if Mandarin speakers think about time differently than we do...which is a different idea than looking at how the language is structured. When Chomsky's ideas about linguistic relativity held sway, it was thought that all sorts of other things could influence the way people speak about the world in different ways. What was important was that we are all using a basic universal grammar at the core, despite how wildly different our surface language speaking may be.

By the way, here is a statement by Boroditsky about Chomsky's linguistics, and how the Whorfian ideas have now been demonstrated empirically:

"The question of whether language shape the way we think goes back centuries; Charlemagne proclaimed that 'To have a second language is to have a second soul.' But the idea went out of favor with scientists when Noam Chomsky's theories of language gained popularity in the 1960s and '70s. Dr. Chomsky proposed that there is a universal grammar for all human languages --- essentially, that languages don't really differ from one another in significant ways...

"The search for linguistic universals yielded interesting data on languages, but after decades of work, not a single proposed universal has withstood scrutiny. Instead, as linguists probed deeper into the world's languages (7000 or so, only a fraction of them analyzed), innumerable, unpredictable differences emerged...

"Languages, of course, are human creations, tools we invent to hone and suit our needs. Simply showing that speakers of different languages think differently doesn't tell us whether it's language that shapes thought or the other way around. To demonstrate the causal role of language, what's needed are studies that directly manipulate language and look for effects in cognition...

"One of the key advances in recent years has been the demonstration precisely of this causal link."
-quotes gleaned from "Does Language Influence Culture?"

Back to the Mandarin/English dealio:

Try this with your friends, and if you have a native-born Mandarin speaking friend, all the better:

Stand next to your friend and point to a spot in the air directly in front of your friend and say, "That spot represents today." Then ask where they would put "yesterday." And where "tomorrow"? Most English speakers, overwhelmingly, pointed to a sport horizontal to the spot that represents "today." Mandarin speakers pointed to spots vertically, about eight times more often than English speakers did.

These are literally "new words." How do they come about? It's complex. Often they're portmanteau-ishly derived: two pre-existing words smashed together. Because many of us can't afford to go anywhere when we have time off, we now take a "staycation." The examples are endless. Also, the old adage that those who control the language control the future and the past seems true enough, and one way they do is via manipulation of language, and one of those ways is via neologisms. When a wealthy person died, there was an estate tax paid. Out of right wing think tanks, we got a term that sought to replace this: "death tax." Despite it being in the best interests of most citizens to keep the estate tax paid,  research on human nervous system response to certain words led them to keep rich families richer than they would have been, and "death tax" just sounds unfair, doesn't it? It's the same thing, different words. And the thing is: people buy it. I think Chomsky has some small (ironic!) part to play in this, but mostly, people are not taught how language really works in our society, and it's a travesty, in my opinion.

Of course, specialized fields of study will necessarily invent words to describe many of their new findings, and sometimes the new words float out into the common atmosphere. Other times - most interestingly to me - poets and novelists will mint a new word that allows us to think - or describe - something we used to have to use many words for, often accompanied by copious hand-waving.

But what about those of us who are Ironists will seek a vocabulary unique to ourselves, if only because, as Richard Rorty wrote, we do not want to find ourselves on our death bed, self-describing ourselves using someone else's vocabulary. We might not use neologisms, but old language in new ways, via subtle turns of metaphor.

I am not sure if neologisms work in the same sense that cognitive neuro-linguists who study linguistic relativity - scholars like Lera Boroditsky - say that the structure of the local language shapes perception and thought. But I suspect these two ideas are interrelated.

Rorty wrote in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, that "A sense of human history as the history of successive metaphors would let us see the poet, in the generic sense of the maker of new words, the shaper of new languages, as the vanguard of the species." (p.20) Furthermore, "Ironists specialize in redescribing ranges of objects or events in partially neologistic jargon, in the hope of exciting people to adapt and extend that jargon." (p.78)

"Every gloss becomes a potential meta-gloss..." - Robert Anton Wilson, Wilhelm Reich In Hell (p.40) This meta-gloss might have to be named. usw.

                                            William Gibson, influenced by Burroughs,
                                            Pynchon, and Borges, extremely influential
                                              himself, and rightly so!

Because I've carried on far too long, as usual, I'll end with a quote from a poet, the science fiction-ish William Gibson, who coined "cyberspace," which you might think is the "space" you're inhabiting right where you are sitting now:

"The essential art of pop poetics is the art of neologism. Cyberspace was my contribution, a term which was hollow, senseless, waiting to receive meaning. I don't care what people pile on top of it." - in an interview with Bruce Sterling and Steve Beard, found in the latter's Logic Bomb (p.63).

Lera Boroditsky's papers

I don't get how this dude's head seems to float atop his body, but he's talking about the ideas above: