There is the idea I originally heard from Alan Watts that whatever you are experiencing now is the same as the experience of total enlightenment. The difference is who you are in that moment, or the way you are interacting with the present moment. I don’t think there is any chance that a person eating babies is enlightened, but later that day he could be having a civil conversation and overlap with his “best self”. You may be talking to a person who is both “worse” and “better” than “you”. Who are the people giving the test? what premises are involved in a self-esteem scale, and who would accept those premises? What kind of person would a test giver be looking for in test-takers? There is the ancient and very troubling idea, mentioned by Feyerabend, that counting and measuring people is a way of endangering them.
“He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
(Ending of 1984)
Of course the white supremacists who violently protested at the Capitol on Jan 6 belong in jail. I am in favor of a separate set of laws that put Nazi’s in jail. There is no need to endanger universal rights when we persecute these people, and there is no need to couch the whole thing in abstracted language like the laws that only apply to black people (which I am against). Just call them Nazi’s and put them in jail because they are Nazi scum.
The “insurrection” was not an insurrection. It was violent, dangerous and scary. There were functional bombs. People died. There was a real risk of losing some government officials. There was no danger of any real overthrow. The bombs and guns they brought are nothing compared to the combined might of the military and airforce available and employed, with partisan agreement, against the will of the people. With that in mind, were the bombs they brought symbolic? They were not exploded, and a functional gun or a functional sword can be symbolic. Nowadays, even though a sword was a feared and deadly weapon, it is now both functional and almost entirely symbolic because there are much more deadly weapons.
What about the use of violence in protest? I guess there are a separate set of laws with racial but abstracted language, that effectively forbid black people from civil peaceful protest. The expectation that you are not endangering yourself when you protest has become a privilege. That means black people fear for their safety when they assemble politically, and perceive a real risk of violence. Do they defend themselves? How much? I realize this is a dangerous line of thought, but this is the mind-and-body game that is already ridiculously over-thought for and against civil protest. It is already violent to the mind and body, and it is politically motivated. Peaceful political protest, except in the case of a dwindling number of privileged people, is a thing of the past.
The mob mentality of the non-insurrection is dangerous, but it is dangerous politically. The only way it poses a threat to the government is the same way any protest threatens the government. To confuse this point and call it a real insurrection is dangerous to our right to free speech and civil protest. It indicates mob mentality coming from both sides. The fear of white supremacists is real and with violent military backing. Acting and thinking from fear is still a mistake, and is mob-thinking. If you want to act in any way, and especially politically, it should be from a place of bravery. That means being able to face violence against you, whether with the intention of accepting it or defending against it. The political actions against Trump are fueled by an irrational fear of a falsely named “insurrection.” It is the result of comfortable people who have been driven to hysterical fear by decades of sensational politics, and not the result of personal bravery.
The fact that the mob mentality has spread to both sides, so that we all suffer from irrational fear and act on it against each other, means the days of sitting on the right or the left and saying comforting party-lines to each other for support are over. Even though Biden promises a return to the good old days, firing verbal missiles from the comfort of our support base is not possible anymore. The sooner we adapt by acting and thinking dangerously, from a place of bravery; the sooner we blend the thought-lines of hate between left and right, the less violence there will be.
When I was young I lived in an all-white little town in New Hampshire. I remember reading about black people and their being discriminated against in my social studies book. (this was after my dad came out to me as gay and we had to defend our 9-year-old selves in school with the word dad taught us: “prejudice”) I was really stupified reading that people actually hated other people just because of their skin color. I remember the feeling in my stomach and how I just couldn’t believe what I was reading, but in the next couple sentences it said the civil rights movement in the 1960s cleared that up. The feeling in my stomach went away and I self-righteously decided the world was an ok place to be in, and thought about how stupid people in the past had been. It is mentionable how clearly I remember this when I remember very little in general. Except certain aspects of mathematics and philosophy most everything else just disappears and can’t be recalled. But I remember this.
When I went to school in New York City I went to a very liberal “writing” school where black people were the majority, then Hispanic. I did not make friends with any black people. I also didn’t pick up on any stigma against black people. I felt sort of excluded, and *some* of the black people there spoke and acted strangely to me, but I was a country boy newly put in New York City and the culture shock from that was so overwhelming I didn’t really notice if it was because I was white.
Then there was Syracuse, where some larger groups of Black people tried to pick fights with me and my friends and stole some things, so did some larger groups of white people. And some black people in school seemed perfectly normal. There was a black social studies teacher that used so many big words I was one of the few who could follow him. I still believed what I read in that social studies book so many years ago though. It was a school textbook after all, and I hadn’t seen anything to force me to believe otherwise.
When I went to undergraduate college I had figured out that there was a lot of reason for black people to be bitter about this past, but I still believed it was mainly in the past. I treated black people the same way I treated white people. I even picked up the phrase “hell yeah, nigga” which I would say without directing at black people and without hate, and innocently in front of plenty of black people, until I was confronted and figured out I couldn’t do that. Apart from playing games with black acquaintances, I did befriend one singularly beautiful young black woman, who I loved as a friend and told me bizarre stories of her adventures growing up in haiti and her sexual escapades. There was a funny moment where she got the idea I was infatuated with her, which I honestly wasnt, I was involved with another brown woman, and started telling me she would never date me. But it was a great friendship.
I really didn’t get it through my thick head until I got my first job out of college. Then I really saw racism. Corporate America grossed me out in general. People were exceedingly proud of their surprisingly simple jobs. There were no black men in any capacity. I befriended two black women who became my best friends there. I saw a white guy who I immediately labeled as a moron get hired. Then he put a picture of Reagan in his cubicle, and was almost immediately promoted. On the other hand my friend who is a very smart woman stayed where she was for years. The racism I saw was a major reason why I quit, which I suppose is white privilege. I’m sure my friends would have quit if they had hoped for something better.
There is a long story about how this decision and how my subsequent criticisms of American culture challenged my sanity, that I will not get into here. I will say though, having seen the inside of mental hospitals, that if I were black I would not be able to speak lucidly at all on any subject. They would have crushed my mind and my soul in there, and one reason they didn’t was the stupid #@$#@ color of my skin.
Now that I have introduced how obtuse I can be on this subject, I have to say I still don’t get it. I mean its clear some black people have a pretty different culture from white people, some act like white people, some act like both depending on the situation. The whole topic feels like one for imbeciles. When I see the level of hate and learn about the systematic oppression in the USA, the amount of thought put to hating people based on their skin color, it makes me realize how low the civilization called the USA really is. This is what we were doing as the richest and most powerful civilization in the history of the world? Its mind-boggling what we could have spent our time doing.
What do we do?
It is hard to figure out how to remove this totally superficial and stupid idea from people with power. The fact that racist ideas have infested the CIA and FBI means that there are powerful people in charge of shaping public consciousness who are themselves shaped by security clearance access to racist ideology. It is very hard to access, criticize, and change these documents. Julian Assange mentions how security clearance turns people into morons, because they think their security clearance entitles them to be exempt from learning from people without that clearance. I think the answer for most other people is education, and not of the young. We need intervention with racists as adult education programs that follow the traditions of feminist consciousness-raising. This is what I think, but as this post shows, the whole problem is so dumb that I can’t wrap my head around it.
Now I am married to a brown woman and have beautiful light-brown children, the joy of my life. I owe my pleasant life in part to the color of my skin and the country that I have disavowed. Unlike the guy who got promoted for being white and praising Reagan, I am not comfortable with that.
Sex relies on many superficial considerations, like focusing on the few and tenuous attractions that usually require a lot of concentration to maintain and to blot out aversions/ignoring the many disgusting features of the body. The basic act is mechanical and uninteresting. The verbal and mental work involved in courtship between minds (the concentration involved in maintaining mental sexual attraction and avoiding aversion) is enormous, and without mental attraction, there isn’t much physical attraction either. And the amount of pleasure it produces, while it can be intense, is short-lived compared to the hours of work involved. I am not talking about love, but sexual love and infatuation are not the same, take more to maintain, and are much less rewarding than real compassion and kindness.
The fact that the entire world can be described in terms of sex is not profound. Any pair of opposites can do the same job. Hot and cold (a la Aristotle), form and formless(substance, also Aristotle), limited and unlimited (Pythagoras), continuous and discrete (atomists, Parmenides), wet and dry (Aristotle), same and different (Plato), Being and not-being (many), there is even a famous philosophy book called the Raw and the Cooked which does just fine.
Sex is technically mystical, both in act and thought. It involves the joining of opposites (in this case male and female). Sex is therefore not merely philosophical. However, there are more profound things to join than male and female, such as control and freedom, order and chaos. There is more to be gained from joining control and freedom. You learn how to be act and think freely, and maintain control. That is a better and more lasting gain than a sexual orgasm. I feel that people who spend their intellectual lives cultivating the flow of secretions in their nether regions are a loss to society, much like those who spend their time playing Nintendo. I mean sure, play Nintendo, have sex, compete in sports or business, but at least recognize there are higher callings in life that we should aspire toward sometimes.
“For every ill in the world,
There is a cure or there is none.
If there is one
Seek until you find it,
If there is none
Nevermind it.” —Mother Goose
I was in a class where the general agreement arrived at mourning over every death that happened every day. I finally had to point out that doing such a thing was impossible and trying would very quickly make you unhappy beyond help. Still, there is the question: when should we not care? When should we care?
For want of a nail the horseshoe was lost
For want of a horseshoe the horse was lost
For want of a horse the soldier was lost
For want of a soldier the kingdom was lost
All for the want of a horseshoe nail.
That this poem is famous tells me we have a misunderstanding about what to care about. To a certain degree you should care about horseshoe nails, or the number of matches in the matchbox, but where exactly the point of not caring is, is a matter of vagueness. The problem of vagueness has a classical characterization that applies to language: if we take one grain of sand away from a heap of sand, we still can call it a heap, but if we keep doing that, we will end up with something we are unsure about, without knowing exactly when we have become unsure! Here the problem of vagueness is not merely linguistic, but ethical. If we don’t take care of little things, at some point those little things will pile up until you find you are a generally uncaring person, and there is no telling when that will happen. What do we do?
This problem calls for strategy. What I tell my daughter is, you care about your bodyweight, or the spots on your face, as long as caring is helping to clear out your mind. Once this caring is no longer helping to ease the mind, you stop. Further, we should care about every little detail *inside our own minds* “How can I improve my intentions, attitude towards this present person, situation, life?” “When I act (because you have to do something about your intentions and attitude) what is the quality of my intention and attitude in the act?” “What tiny fault is there in my own goodness, my own understanding?” These are things you can handle. It is still a very hard and ambitious thing to train yourself to care about, but you can not handle all the deaths in the world.
I think sex, coming from any side is about domination and power. Yes, that makes it related to freedom, but that is about as uninsightful and pessimistic as the phrase “knowledge is power.” Knowledge is almost entirely not power, and sex is almost entirely not about freedom. That makes the relationship sex has to freedom special, but not very helpful for gaining freedom.
Why is sex not so much about freedom? You can gain power with sex, power over your children, power over your partner, power over the opposite sex in general, or the same sex. Sex is often sold in many ways, but there are forces of domination at play in the intellectual circles talking about sex-as-power (often disguised as sex-as-freedom, which is double-talk), and derivative circles, that will probably rob you of any power you might gain from thinking about sex (including gender) or enacting sex.
In the same way that focusing on the individual instead of corporations is a way of controlling people financially, politically, and psychologically, focusing on sexual identity is no different. The main effect of focusing on sex is it limits people’s ability to understand everything else. Just like if you only focus on yourself your ability for compassion and understanding others decreases (though not entirely). People forget more important things like happiness, peace, and an entire spectrum of wonderful human things that, yes are related to sex, but not determined or defined by sex. The secondary effect is groups like male and female and so many others jostle for power and in that setting power-players can play people against each other and keep control. Because sex is primarily concerned with power, powerful people (editors, etc) are able to control the dialogue. Other topics like happiness are not like this.
So if you decide to allow yourself to be pushed into thinking this is the central issue, you are feeding yourself into a patriotic power structure. Shifting to a matriotic power structure is hardly revolutionary to powers that push sex, it is like voting democran or republicrat to fight capitalism.
Once I was in an education class where the teacher was telling us when you teach you are wiring the students brain. I asked him: isn’t learning also losing a connection in the brain? Say you want to learn to stop drinking. You have to lose the pathways that lead you you drink. So he said “yes” and I got a lot of “ahas” from the other students. But the teacher wasn’t going to mention that part.
For me, teaching and learning is asking a question, and then answering it. Yes, that is everything, its almost boring to say that. Maybe you like the learning stages “learning is synthesis and analysis” but actually, that is just as boring and unhelpful. I think the question answer model can be helpful. Education is coming up with a problem you see or that you want to shed light on; or seeing an opportunity for how you want to help with problems in the world. The next part is having the capacity, the energy, and the resources to answer the question or shed light on the problem. All human development comes from that process.
So we are told from on high that education happens in the brain. Well, if learning is wiring and unwiring the brain, both, it might as well be neither. Whats the difference? Learning could have nothing to do with the brain. At all. And all the arguments about learning-as-brain come down to the same basic problem that you know things that aren’t wires or connections or brain pathways. There are non-connections that are not just good, but necessary for a good life, like learning not to go down negative rumination pathways.
Just give your self a moment, where you ask a question. A free moment. And you are free to answer with your energy, capacity and resources, and you can see that learning is not the brain.
There is a lot of ugliness in America. I’ll admit that I have personally seen and been the victim of some terrible, horrible, no-good-very-bad ugliness, and watched people close to me basically consent to it. Trump is a symptom of the illnesses of America, not the cause. Biden is closer to the people who caused our illnesses. So we have a choice between the symptom or the cause. If this were a disease, I’d say inflicting more of the cause, just to alleviate symptoms for a short while, is the opposite of a cure. In the case where democracy is close to death; should we choose the symptoms over the cause? Well, the election isn’t a disease, and I don’t know what the cure is. What about culling people and hating based on whether you vote/speak for the symptom, or the cause? Is that behavior of someone who is ill? Bernie expected a surge of young voters to carry him through the primary, but as Chomsky mentions, young people don’t believe voting does anything (except rob them of energy and brain cells). And weren’t they disenfranchised in the last primary when Bernie was winning? As proved by the journalism wikileaks did? Its a perfectly reasonable thing for a young person to think voting is worse than useless. Are we going to hate them for it? What happens after Biden wins? More, potentially worse symptoms than Trump? There is no bottom to the scum that can be dredged up to the top office if we pick the cause over the symptom. I ask these questions to show that the decisions Americans face in this election, and in general, are not black and white. Even if we do decide on one person to vote on, it is a necessity to taste the bitter nuances of such a decision.
When I was doing my dissertation proposal defense my teachers were trying to tease out what makes me tick; what I am working for, and for what purpose. They eventually figured out, and I with them, that what I was really after was freedom of thought for students, and in general. I was not interested in breaking or debunking mathematical structures for no reason. I am specifically interested in improving the quality of discussion by allowing patterns of thought other than mathematical. So much that was not mathematical has become mathematical. Probability was opposed to mathematics by Aristotle and for millennia in the West. Now probability is considered a part of mathematics, and with it “social sciences” now have a shiny veneer of mathematical structures governing what gets published and what research is “significant”. Even poetry, as Borges comments, is better if it is filled with “fire and algebra.” Mathematizing things has the effect of making people feel they really know something is good or bad.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a decision that was either pure good or depraved evil? If Trump were the devil, or the savior, we could all go to heaven with a simple, if inconvenient, political act of voting. Trump wont end the world; he could have already started a war. Will Biden keep us from war? Trump is a dumb brute that has served his purpose of scaring us into voting Hillary’s camp back in. Is that what it is to vote? Is voting an untrammeled good, even under the bullying we’re experiencing? Will Biden be finished punishing us when he wins, or will his camp still be vengeful?
Biden’s victory is not a victory. We voted Trump in to vote Biden’s camp out, then we bled for that decision. There will be much more pain too keep Biden in line, more than there was while Trump was president. The working class know that, and the backlash from Biden will be worse than Trump if we do not take those pains. This election shows that we have not given up the fight for the soul of America, that is all.