May 15, 2018

The Descent into Madness

Nemesis: "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad."

So word has it that master torturer Gina Haspel is going to be confirmed as head of the CIA. This is absolutely breathtaking, but it does say to the world who we are, and is undoubtedly another nail in our coffin. Perhaps a stretch, but it's a little like Ilse Koch, the "Witch of Buchenwald," getting appointed mayor of Berlin after the War (this did *not* happen; the Germans did not wish to destroy themselves twice). I said it long ago: Trump's historical mission is to dismantle the country, and he couldn't be doing a better job. John Kiriakou is worried about the state of the American soul (see his essay, cited in the previous post), as though the jury was out on that one. In fact, it can be summarized in a single word: rotten. As he notes, 67% of the American public approves of torture, and Trump's approval rating continues to rise.

It's all over but the shouting.

-mb

May 02, 2018

Doubling Down

I can’t remember where I read this, but there have been a number of studies that demonstrate that “when myth meets fact, myth wins.” In other words, if you present someone with a list of facts that seriously undermine his or her belief system, the last reaction you can expect is acknowledgement of the error of their beliefs. Instead, they will just “double down”: vehemently insist, without being able to refute your facts, that what they have asserted is correct. What they will not due is engage you on a rational level.

I have seen this repeatedly on this blog. For twelve years now, when this type of confrontation comes up (dozens of times, in fact), there has been only one case in which the other person conceded that s/he was wrong, and that s/he would have to rethink his or her beliefs on the subject. The rest just double down—this usually involves a lot of rage on their parts—or simply disappear from the discussion.

Many years ago I wrote an essay on this theme called “Tribal Consciousness and Enlightenment Tradition” (included in the collection A Question of Values), in which I pointed out how feeble the Enlightenment tradition was; almost as if that period of European history had never even occurred. Arguments are marshaled on each side of a dispute not based on facts or reason, but on the side one is on; on who one is, basically. As a thought experiment, I suggested that if all Palestinians were suddenly turned into Israelis, and vice versa, you would find the “new” Israelis coming up with the very arguments about the disputed territory that they had previously rejected, and the “new” Palestinians doing the same thing from the opposite side of the stage. Truth, or objective discourse, is hardly an issue here. What is at stake is psychological, or religious, or ethnic, survival.

How many times have white cops killed a black unarmed male, who was posing no threat to them whatsoever, and then, after an internal investigation, been acquitted? One can reasonably guess that acquittal was the point of this “investigation,” rather than honestly getting to the bottom of the story.

These examples point up an obvious condition of our current situation: there is very real dialogue any more, and we have dissolved into a collection of warring tribes.

This dichotomy of myth vs. fact, tribalism vs. Enlightenment reason, is the focus of an essay I posted here a short while ago by Alan Jacobs, called “Wokeness and Myth on Campus”:

https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/wokeness-and-myth-on-campus

Jacobs uses a different terminology than I do, but the problematic is the same. There is the world of critical thinking, science and philosophy, and instrumental and discursive reason. On the other side of the ledger we have the world of myth—the “nonempirical unconditioned reality” of our experience, not amenable to either verification or disconfirmation. Some of you may recall an earlier discussion on this blog about layers of mind, following the work of Merlin Donald: Mimetic, Mythic, and Theoretic. The Mythic layer is about narratives, belief systems, allegories, and is very old—hard wired, as we like to say. The Theoretic is a relative newcomer on the scene, going back only to the first millennium B.C., and (says Donald) its hold on our consciousness is rather tenuous. In a word, folks like the Hebrew prophets, or Socrates, or Confucius, or the Buddha, were not all that popular. The “crowd,” so to speak, was much more interested in the Golden Calf than the Ten Commandments. (For more on this see Neurotic Beauty, Appendix III. The shift from mythos to logos was the focus of Robert Pirsig’s seminal work, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.) As I argue in “Transference, Ideology, and the Nature of Obsession” (included in the collection Are We There Yet?), it may come down to a question of degree of zeal. We will never do away with narrative thought, nor should we; but what are the outer limits? Rajneesh? Jonestown? When we debate the nature of the Jordan Peterson phenomenon, for example, it is really this issue that we are debating. As Jacobs says (quoting Leszek Kolakowski), “One can participate in mythical experience only with the fullness of one’s personality.” Presenting facts, or logos, to someone caught up in mythos (any mythos), is spectacularly useless.

Jacobs uses current student protest as an example of this fruitless collision of the two worlds. When the protesters’ interpretation of events is challenged on a logical basis, the reaction is typically rage. What they are really saying, according to Jacobs, is “You are denying my very identity”—a response that makes sense only from within the mythical mode. Analytically questioning a religion, ideology, or complex mythical framework won’t work, because for the student protesters, for example, it really is an assault on who they are (at least, that's how they see it). Disagreement, honest questioning, or alternative points of view is for them “defilement,” something that has to be “cleansed.” Chants and curses, shouting down a speaker and refusing to let him/her present his/her argument—these things, says Jacobs, don’t arise from any type of discursive rationality, but “from the symbolic order of the mythical core,” and are a response to seeing that core disturbed. There is no point in talking to these groups about “critical thinking” and “the free exchange of ideas,” and phrases like these are simply not adequate to the cultural clash between the two modes of being. His final question: “Is the university the sort of institution that can accept and incorporate people who are operating largely from within the mythical core?” Perhaps, in the long run, no.

Of course, it’s not just the university that is at stake here. All of the above can be applied to the political world at large, whether we are talking about Palestine or white police forces. What the thinkers of the first millennium B.C. offered—Socrates, the Buddha, etc.—was distance, sometimes known as reflexivity: the ability to stand back from your particular narrative, your own mythology, and see it as a narrative, as a mythology. “Above all,” said Talleyrand after the Terror of the French Revolution, “no zeal.” Of course, one might argue that too much distance can lead to inaction, or apathy (think of Hamlet, poor shmuck); but given the current state of the human psyche, drowning as it is in narrative, I don’t think we need to worry excessively about that danger.

Here’s the flip side, in any case. Many years ago, I had a Native American girlfriend for whom passion was pretty much a way of life. We were both in our twenties; we talked a lot about life and love. I remember I said to her at one point, “I'm just concerned that passion has a dangerous side.” “Don’t worry, Maury,” she replied; “it’ll never be a problem for you.”

Ouch!

©Morris Berman, 2018

April 24, 2018

330

Wafers-

I guess it's back to numbers. I was thinking of "Turkeys Rushing Toward the Abyss," but I'm getting a bit tired of turkeys, both in print and real life. Anyway, we've had some very enlightened postings in recent days, so I suggest we continue the trend. Keep in mind that I am the Great Seer of the Western Hemisphere; I shall have no other blogs before me. Also, try to avoid adultery. On that note...

-mb

April 12, 2018

Twelve Years On

Wafers-

I don't recall the exact date, but it was in April 2006 that this blog was launched. Since that time, we have established Waferdom as a powerful force in American politics. The number of hits received is now in excess of 3.33 million, and the monthly count is in excess of 40,000. Our place as the highest form of spiritual consciousness on the planet (actually, universe) is completely assured. As 327 million Americans limp along in emptiness, bitterness, outright stupidity, anger, political correctness, Trumpism, Boltism, pussy hats, and clueless illusion, 170 Wafers stand up to them, speaking truth to powerlessness. It's quite a show.

Add to that, we have thoroughly vanquished the trollfoons. They occasionally do a hit-and-run thing on the blog, but 3 words into their fart-laden posts, I simply hit the Delete button. After all, why bother? And indeed, most of them have figured out that they are wasting their (extremely valuable) time, and have migrated to other places. But it was fun, over the years, crushing them like roaches. When you step on the shell of a roach, you hear a crack. Similarly, when you step on a trollfoon, you hear the crack of their egos breaking into pieces. It's a wonderful sound.

Every day validates the predictions I made in the Twilight book, and the analyses I offered in DAA and WAF. Jesus, folks, just look at the United States! What a fucking mess. A lunatic president who makes decisions based on impulse. Advisers and cabinet members who actually represent the opposite of the policies of their particular offices. A woman nominated as head of the CIA, who was in charge of torture during our destruction of Iraq (will American women be proud, I wonder, if a woman attains this post? Things have actually gotten that twisted.). You look at the gov't and the words "Zoo Parade" come to mind.

As above, so below, wrote Wm Blake. Turkeys in the gov't/turkeys in the street. Americans are busy flailing around, insisting on an American Dream that died years ago, strangling or knifing their children, gunning each other down like dogs, rioting at McDonald's and Wal-Mart, stuffing themselves with opioids and alcohol and cell fones and prescription drugs and--well, anything to keep the pain of this absurd way of life at bay. Most of them die lonely and miserable, wondering what the hell their lives were about, haunted by the suspicion that they weren't about anything at all. Not quite what any of them signed up for.

Meanwhile, Wafers keep on Wafering. It's an important question: why do 327 million people wake up feeling empty and miserable, and 170 people wake up with a smile, ready to take on the day? Not rocket science: unlike the 327 million, Wafers live in reality; and even if that reality is occasionally difficult or arduous or a pain in the ass, at least--it's real! This is how you get to feel that your life is worthwhile.

I suppose I should say a few words about what I'm up to these days. As most of you know, I am largely senile and decrepit, but I've been counteracting this with yoga, pilates, acupuncture, workouts in the gym, massage, decent diet, physical therapy (torn rotator cuff), hanging out with terrific friends (of which I had precious few in the US), and all of that sort of thing. I've also been slowly working on a possible book on Italian culture, which has been very absorbing...I may even write it! And would you believe it? Some of my books--lately, CTOS and AWTY--have been flying off the shelves. Maybe that villa in Toscana is finally within reach (ha ha). Last night, I went with two friends to a play here in Mexico City, and thanks to all the slang I understood about 10% of it. (I went because another friend of mine was acting in it.) We then repaired to a bar, knocked back a few Bohemias, and they explained the play to me in 'normal' Spanish. Quite honestly: Does life get any better than this? (Well, OK, a gorgeous woman in her 30s or 40s with a ravenous sexual appetite would not be unwelcome, but I'm not holding my breath.)

Anyway, let me close this bloviating exercise in self-adulation by wishing all Wafers everywhere fabulous days and nights, large doses of reality, and 12 more years of glorious bloggery and Waferdom. We rock, man!

abrazos,
mb

March 30, 2018

Turkeys out of Control!

Wafers-

The turkeys continue to march, but as time goes on they are increasingly out of control. I thought this set of pictures might inspire you guys to ever-more exciting posts. Check it out:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5106989/Hilarious-pictures-Thanksgiving-kitchen-nightmares.html

Our national collapse needs detailed documentation, and this blog is the only one providing the much-needed data. Let us continue on our mission, Wafers!

-mb

March 22, 2018

Turkeys on the March!

Hola Waferinos-

Turkeys seem to be all I can think about these days:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsnZxfkkoKQ

Go, turkeys!

mb