June 16, 2018

The Horror Show

Wafers-

I’ve been thinking recently about how Americans need to be punished for the way of life they have led, encouraged, and sought to spread around the world. The problem is that the punishment is more or less wasted, since Americans are clueless regarding that way of life—defined by “What’s In It For Me?” They haven’t the faintest notion that they may have done something wrong, let alone inhuman.

Here’s a real-life example; you may be able to find the tape of this on YouTube. It was roughly fifteen years ago; I remember the date was July 1st . What was recorded by the security camera in some hospital in Brooklyn, in a small waiting room, were two women sitting on opposite sides of the room. What we see is one of the women sliding off of her chair and onto the floor, unconscious. The other woman dully looks on at this; she has no visible emotional reaction. Occasionally, a nurse or hospital staff member looks in, sees the woman on the floor, does nothing, and moves on. It took the woman thirty minutes to die; literally no one gave a damn. Later, there was some sort of internal investigation into staff negligence; I assume it came to nothing.

I often thought of wanting to interview the other woman in the room, ask her: “What were you thinking, when you saw this woman collapse onto the floor?” I suspect the answer would be “Nothing. Nothing at all.” But here is where the punishment comes in. When this woman herself kicks the bucket, who will be observing her, and also thinking of nothing? If you treat people like zeroes, eventually you’ll be treated like one yourself. This is a pretty good description of social interaction in the US today. Since the American philosophy of life can be captured in phrases such as “Not my problem,” or “There is no free lunch,” a large fraction of the American public is miserable and lonely. The stats of opioid use, alcoholism, TV and cell phone addiction, workaholism, suicide, prescription drug use, obesity—anything to sedate the pain of loneliness, anxiety, and depression—are through the roof. But Americans are not very bright, so they don’t connect the dots. They simply don’t get it, that if you treat others like shit, others will treat you in the same manner, and you’ll feel like shit most of the time, as a result. You think this is coming from the outside? Think again.

James Baldwin once wrote that the problem with nasty people getting their karma is that they don’t really recognize it, so the message is basically wasted on them. Consider, he says, a man who is emotionally dead. His karma is that there is no love in his life; not much of anything, really. But because he is emotionally dead, he can’t be made to see that very fact. So he lives out this awful karma in an ignorant fog. This describes a huge segment of the American population, maybe most.​

I remember once, many years ago, getting a massage, and for some reason saying to the masseuse: “I’ll probably die surrounded by my books.” Horrible fate, and had I stayed in the US, it would have been mine. I had very few real friends in the US, very few people I could really trust or talk to. My situation now is the complete opposite ofthat. Of course, I never expected to float out into the Great Beyond speakingSpanish, but life is funny that way. The more important point is that I’ll be surrounded by close friends, by people who love me, not by a pile of books. And this is the reality for most Mexicans as well, I’m quite sure: it’s the nature of this society. What a horror show the United States is; what an absolute, unconscious, horror show.

-mb

June 05, 2018

The Presidential Blog-Medal of Honor

Wafers-

Over the last few months, this blog has achieved levels of brilliance never before seen in the blogosphere. It occurred to me that there was a Presidential Medal of Honor for a variety of activities, but not for a blog. It also occurred to me that while this blog deserved such a PMH, the likelihood of getting Trumpeta to bestow such an award on us was probably a long shot—even though Wafers have been among his most fervent supporters. What to do? But then I thought: If Trumpoli can pardon himself, which he has hinted he might do, why can’t this blog simply award itself a Presidential Blog-Medal, Trumpi be damned? I am therefore taking the liberty of awarding the blog the First Presidential Blog-Medal of Honor. We have earned it, we deserve it, and if Trumpo doesn’t like it, he can stick it where the sun don’t shine.

Let us devote this particular post to touting our amazing achievements. That we are magnificent is beyond debate, and now is a good time to rave and drool over what we have accomplished. Of course, if anyone wants to continue documenting our descent as a nation into dog excrement, that's OK too.

-mb

May 28, 2018

333

Wafers-

What can I say? It ain't lookin' good. Unless you're a declinist, that is. I suggest we continue archiving the disaster.

-mb

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