Postcards:

For all things philosophical.

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d63
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Re: Postcards:

Post by d63 » Sat Jun 17, 2017 7:58 pm

As my ambition and process often finds me, I find myself floundering around in unfamiliar territory (the immersion I am starting on (as concerns Bruce Cannon Gibney’s book: A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America. So I would start with a couple of critiques of the book that seem to capture the very ambivalence (that is with some awe (that I am experiencing with the book.

First:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions ... 0e1bc77981

Then:

http://newsnowleeds.com/2017/03/24/bruc ... he-future/

And I will troll (or, better: dredge (both articles throughout this immersion. But I would start with my own instincts about it. But before I go on, I would also offer an extract from Gibney’s book (I’m just trying to set up a discourse):

“Sociopathy is characterized by self-interested actions unburdened by conscience and unresponsive to consequence, mostly arising from non-genetic, contextual causes. The current professional standard, the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-V), focuses on the following criteria, which our Boomer subjects must display relatively constantly across time and context, including “moderate or greater impairments in personality function” due to:

1. ego-centrism; self-esteem derived from personal gain, power or pleasure; goal-setting based on personal gratification; absence of prosocial internal standards and associated failure to conform to lawful or culturally normative ethical behavior;

2. lack of concern for the feelings, needs or suffering of others… incapacity for mutually intimate relationships, as exploitation is a primary means of relating to others; and,

3. disinhibition [irresponsibility, impulsivity, risk taking] and antagonism [manipulativeness, deceitfulness, callousness, hostility]. “ -Gibney, Bruce Cannon. A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America (pp. xxvi-xxvii). Hachette Books. Kindle Edition.

Now as I offer this to actually pimp Gibney’s book, I would also offer his summary of the points above:

“In other words, sociopaths are selfish, imprudent, remorseless, and relentless. “Me first and damn the consequences” - that’s the sociopathic motto.”

I could hardly disagree with Gibney’s understanding of the sociopathic personality, and how it has affected contemporary political, ecological, and economic policy –that is since I have, more or less, applied the same dynamic to what we face. The main difference is that I tend to refer to the evolutionary model of the competitive as compared to the evolutionary model of the cooperative. I have even referred to the “sociopathic” in terms of our relationship to the symbolic order and the nihilistic perspective, that which recognizes that there is no real solid foundation to any criteria by which to judge action:

The sociopathic response is that, having no real criteria by which to judge action, it can only turn to the one criterion that has a kind of praxis about it: power. It turns to the tautology of:

I have power because I’m right; therefore, I am right because I have power.

And this is where I mainly depart from GIbney: while he focuses sociopathy on the boomers (and he does make compelling arguments for it (he fails to see how sociopathy has always been a part of our makeup. For instance, there are many times when his use of the term “sociopathy” could be easily interchangeable with my term “the competitive evolutionary mode” –once again: as compared to the cooperative evolutionary mode. And what that tells me is that the sociopathic sensibility that Gibney attempts to hang on the Boomers was, by no means, historically exclusive to the boomers.

It just seems to me that what Gibney is describing are perfectly HISTORICAL sociopathic tendencies coming to their fruition.

d63
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Re: Postcards:

Post by d63 » Thu Jun 22, 2017 7:31 pm

The deeper I go into Gibney’s book, A Generation of Sociopaths, the more I find to disagree with. Once again, I think he might have been better off noting the role sociopathy (which has always been inherent in America’s embrace of individualism (seems to be playing in the current political climate while noting the extent to which it seems to have accelerated under boomer dominance. As written, his condemnation of the boomer generation often comes off as one-sided to the point of compromising his otherwise articulate and comprehensive understanding of recent history. For instance, he accurately describes the important advances America made running from the New Deal to the 70’s: advances in social, racial, and economic justice as well as government financed advances in research, science, and technology and a major improvement in infrastructure. And I would also agree that a lot of it did get pissed away under the boomer’s watch.

At the same time, I think Gibney would benefit heavily from a reading of Robert Reich’s book on SuperCapitalism in which he points out that a lot of what occurred from the 80’s on was inevitable due to advances in technology. As Reich compellingly points out, what happened in the golden age that Gibney describes (or the not-so-golden age as Reich calls it: since it was mainly white males who were benefitting (will try to get to this later (was the result of the oligopolies that existed in those days. As anyone near or beyond my age remembers, those were days when most markets were dominated by one, two, at most three corporate entities. Cars, for instance, were dominated by Ford, Chrysler, and GM. TV was dominated by ABC, NBC, and CBS. And communications were dominated by Ma Bell. Under those circumstances, companies had the leeway to act as social ambassadors that could tolerate union demands, progressive taxes, and social safety nets.

But as technologies in transportation and communication advanced, these companies found themselves faced with increasing competition. And the corporation’s main reason to be is the satisfaction of the customer for the sake of its stockholders. There’s no way around that. We simply cannot expect corporations to act as moral agents. That is the job of government.

And given this, we can see that what Gibney attributes to the sociopathy of boomers may actually be the inevitable result of the inherent sociopathy of Capitalism –something Gibney conveniently dances around. And why wouldn’t he? Given his background as a lawyer, hedge fund manager, and venture capitalist?

d63
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Re: Postcards:

Post by d63 » Fri Jun 23, 2017 7:21 pm

“Even if we can no longer study large communities without TV, it is still at least possible to study differences between light and heavy viewers. These tests reveal a similar dynamic, “relatively strong negative correlations between viewing and achievement.” Reading comprehension and math performance all suffer when TV viewing is relatively heavy; children who watch a lot of TV are also more aggressive than light watchers (regardless of whether the programs themselves are especially violent). “ -Gibney, Bruce Cannon. A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America (p. 24). Hachette Books. Kindle Edition.

Now it’s not like a lot research need be done here. The cause and effect relationship (the correlation (between TV watching and the lack of educational achievement is pretty easy to see: people who spend their time watching TV have less time to read or even think. This gets some shine from the Great Courses audio book I am presently listening to, The Terror of History: Mystics, Heretics, and Witches in the Western Tradition, in which Teofilo F. Ruiz points out that one of the preconditions for achieving the mystical experience is a willingness to not constantly fill one’s mental space with external distractions: TV, music, audio books in my case, etc.. And I think Ruiz’s point puts some shine on to how TV and other media can lead to the sociopathy of Gibney’s thesis –that is regardless of the actual violence of its content. But it gets more critical and timely when Gibney points out:

“It’s not that other generations don’t have their own issues with television, and the effects of newer media like immersive video games, smartphones, and Facebook will not be clear for some time. They are also beside the point for now, because it will be years before younger generations run the country. The unavoidable fact is that the nation is currently run by people who have a deep and unshakable relationship with TV, entranced from their beginnings by a medium with unambiguously negative effects on personality and accomplishment.” -ibid

What we have to note here is the effect of immediate gratification –that which Gibney associates with Boomer sociopathy, and which may well be being passed off onto their/our offspring. I, myself, have often written about my concern with the immediate gratification of instant publication, that which I find myself as seduced by as anyone else. And it seems to me that this can ultimately lead to a kind of narcissism. And how exactly do we distinguish narcissism from the sociopathy that Gibney describes?

Case in point: note the emergence of trolls, and how they evolved, as message boards became more popular –that, once again, which involves the immediate gratification of instant publication. The problem of Trolls, of course, has been greatly reduced by the FaceBook block which is complete as compared to the old message boards. But there still seems to be an element of sociopathy involved in that we are never engaging with the other as a whole, but rather a series of posts: objects that happen to occupy our computer screens.

d63
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Re: Postcards:

Post by d63 » Sat Jun 24, 2017 7:10 pm

“At heart, it was always and really about that license, whatever the official branding. Formally, the Love Pageant Rally of 1966 and subsequent “Human Be-In” had political goals, trying to unite in pursuit of a new age both the antiwar movement (whose elites viewed the hippies as too stoned) and the hippies (who considered the antiwar movement as too uptight and enmeshed in conventional politics). In practice, the culmination of this effort, 1967’ s Summer of Love, ended up less a synthesis of the various strands of Leftist political culture than a straight-up antithesis, standing against middle-class morality on matters of drugs and sex and for very little else.

“In keeping with the hedonic theme, many ostensibly political events were really more about drugs than demos. The Pageant’s date, October 6, 1966, was not the anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the Emancipation Proclamation, women’s suffrage, or anything too goody-goody or consistent with political platform. Rather, 10/ 6/ 66 was the day when LSD became illegal in California, an event to be protested, inevitably, by taking LSD. “ -Gibney, Bruce Cannon. A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America (p. 54). Hachette Books. Kindle Edition.

Fair enough. There was a lot of hedonism at the heart of our protests and resistances in the 60’s and 70’s. Our issues with the war, the establishment, racial, gender, and economic equality, and whatever else we addressed were often used as justifications for our choice to do drugs and screw freely. We did as much with relativism in which we took an ethical issue to an ontological one that eventually resulted in the overreach of Richard Bach’s Illusions. But as we all know (and knew then), even a relativistic hippy knows better than to step in front of a moving bus –that was unless they were on Acid. The thing was: we really didn’t need to go to these extremes since it came down to an issue of engaging in activities that should have been matters of personal choice.

But I think Gibney’s background in law, hedge funds, and venture Capitalism becomes a liability, blind spot, and outright hypocrisy. The main problem is that for all his articulation, he still seems stuck in the tyranny of the functional disseminated for the sake of producer/consumer Capitalism: that which he clearly prospered from. This is why he dismisses the drug culture and sexual revolution with such venom. It is also why he addresses (articulately (the sociopathy inherent in Capitalism while conveniently dancing around the issue of Capitalism itself. Here he comes off like an alcoholic trying to convince themselves that if we engage in the same behavior in different ways, we’ll be able to continue with the vice involved without the consequences. In 12 step programs, they call that denial.

What this results in is Gibney failing to see the mixed package the 60’s and 70’s actually were. He fails, for instance, to see that regardless of what people were “doing it for”, it still managed to produce results. Advances in social justice were made. And they’re still being made (based on the spirit of the 60's (such as the advancement of LGTB rights and the legalization of marihuana –the use of which he condemns. He further fails to mention how many of those boomers, taking drugs in dorm rooms and riding on a government funded education, are now out there fighting the good fight for environmentalism and other causes such as the ACLU –many of which no longer do drugs. This is further why he (out of what feels like pop hipster cynicism (can dismiss Hillary Clinton as he does as an opportunistic ice queen while completely neglecting to note that she did attempt to get us the same healthcare system every other advanced nation has, only to be beat down by the sociopathy Gibney describes.

In fact, one has to wonder if Gibney doesn’t share the same sociopathic resistance to such a non-market healthcare system that might benefit the many at the expense of a certain group of people. Perhaps hedge fund managers and venture Capitalists?

d63
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Re: Postcards:

Post by d63 » Tue Jul 25, 2017 2:04 am

"The conclusion is that while literature is still a category, it is an open category, not definable by fictionality, or by a disregard of propositional truth, or by a predominance of tropes and figures, but simply by what we decide to put into it. And the conclusion to that conclusion is that it is the reader who "makes" literature. This sounds like the rankest subjectivism, but it is qualified almost immediately when the reader is identified not as a free agent, making literature in any old way, but as a member of a community whose assumptions about literature determine the kind of attention he pays and thus the kind of literature "he" makes."

"Once the subject-object dichotomy was eliminated as the only framework within which critical debate could occur, problems that had once seemed so troublesome did not seem to be problems at all." -both from the intro to Stanley Fish's Is There a Text In This Class......

Here we see how the more esoteric theory of Deleuze and Guatarri (their rhizomatic model of machinic production (as well as the postmodern "death of the subject" (has managed to bleed into (or trickle down even (the more practical affair of literary criticism or even Rorty's pragmatic emphasis on discourse. I would start with the second point:

"Once the subject-object dichotomy was eliminated as the only framework within which critical debate could occur, problems that had once seemed so troublesome did not seem to be problems at all."

The problem Fish sees for the subject-object dichotomy is that it lies at the heart of more classicist approaches to interpretation that put too much emphasis on the text as a fixed object. This, consequently, leads to an assumption that the text has a fixed meaning that can be extracted if one has “the right tools”: tools, of course, that can only be had if one finds the “right expert”. And it isn’t hard to extract the meaning from the text of this particular argument: that understanding is vertical and hierarchal in nature. And we can see the overlap here with the general concerns of postmodern philosophy (within which I include poststructuralist theory). The subject-object dichotomy assumes some hierarchal subject that stands above the objects of the world with full authority to pass judgment upon them. The catch, however, is that we (as bodies (are all basically objects occupying space. This is the new sensibility’s primary grudge with such neo-classicist sensibilities such as scientism or the analytic. Their tendency to smugly dismiss more continental approaches only exacerbates the situation.

And one of the ways that the neo-classicists tend to dismiss more continental approaches is by pointing to subjectivism. But Fish sidesteps this by pointing to the role the interpretive community plays in it. He basically creates a model (that is if I am reading him right (in which there is a kind of de-centered feedback loop between the fixed nature of the text itself, the writer behind it, the reader (with all their psychological baggage), and the community within which they reach their conclusions or extract their meanings. This is why most of the meaning we extract from a work of art (much like our dreams (comes from the discourse that goes on around it. It’s why we, as readers, must see ourselves as nodes in a system of exchange very much like D & G’s rhizomatic matrix of machinic production and exchanges of energy (as well as Rorty’s pragmatic emphasis on unfettered discourse): it allows for a free flowing and creative exchange (in our finite capacity (with the infinite.

d63
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Re: Postcards:

Post by d63 » Sun Jul 30, 2017 6:44 pm

TJ? Greg? Still buzzing like a molecule in hot water here. Excellent stuff, guys! (And may the soul of Mark Twain rest in its grave over me engaging in the act of (my use of the exclamation mark (“laughing at my own joke”.) But that would seem to be imperative given that we are dealing with a complex issue based on a mixed package that has, of late, taken on a lot of political relevance. Greg gets at this in:

“It IS a high wire act we are engaged in and I suppose I am only suggesting we not get carried away in either direction and reminding that thought is meant to DO something in the world.
So when Truth is attacked as the product of a self satisfied and increasingly static 'representational' epistemology I nod in agreement. But when the 'truth' of our best evidentially supported accounts are attacked (the Holocaust, climate change etc.) then I have a problem.”

And as far as I’m concerned, it will require a discourse just like this to not so much resolve the issue as get as close to resolving it as we can. And as Greg rightly points out, it is a high wire act. Plus that, I must confess that I am considering this issue for a future PN submission. So yeah, I am using you guys. Sue me when and if the article (for which I won’t get paid (gets published. That confessed, I want to start with a point made by T.J.:

“I want to defend enlightened empiricism while applying the right amount of postmodernism to keep it in check. I'm up on a high wire having a postmod panic attack. : ) Actually, I thought that Fish article we've been discussing does a pretty good job of showing the way to a proper balance.”

Not just Fish, but pragmatism in general –especially that of Rorty. Especially important here (the very cornerstone of it (is the role pragmatism played in James L. Christian’s philosophy textbook: The Art of Wondering. In it, he offers a dialectic between the truth test of correspondence (the equivalent of induction (and cohesion (the equivalent of deduction (and, finally, the synthesis of the pragmatic truth test: that which utilizes the advantage of both and more. In other words, whether we are using induction or deduction to prop up our arguments, it ultimately comes down to an argument that works –that seems sufficiently justified.

But the plot thickens. It’s not just a matter of what works. It is also a matter of who it is working for and why. And we see the import of it in Greg’s (or our shared (concern with holocaust and climate change denial.

And much as we see in Rorty’s pragmatism, I agree with TJ’s assertion:

“Actually, I thought that Fish article we've been discussing does a pretty good job of showing the way to a proper balance.”

Once again, I have yet to read the article. But my reading of Is There a Text in This Class certainly seems to prop up TJ’s understanding. In the book, Fish basically attempts to undermine Affective Fallacy argument which points to a tendency for the reader confuse the affect of the text with the text itself. This, basically, was an attempt on the part of neo-classicists to establish that the meaning of a text was somehow fixed, that it took an EXPERT to extract that meaning that we were obligated to accept. But Fish brings the reader back into it (democratizes it (by arguing that the text only creates meaning through its relationship with the reader. And William Carlos Williams props this up with his argument that a poem is basically a machine with words: a machine that basically produces an effect on the reader.

Of course, the argument against this would be that Fish opens us to the outright relativism (if not outright nihilism (of allowing every individual to have their own interpretation of the text. But that argument would be wrong. Fish makes a chess-like move in checking this argument by pointing to the feedback-loop between the fact of the text, the writer who wrote it, the reader, and the interpretive community within which it all exists. He basically resorts to the same pragmatic fallback as every other PoMo warrior: intersubjectivity.

d63
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Re: Postcards:

Post by d63 » Sat Aug 05, 2017 7:43 pm

It's always gotten a bad rap, Nihilism. Throughout the later part of our cultural history, it's been pinned. with almost religious fervor, like a scarlet letter on any ideological system that seemed less than classical, less than a rigid attempt to establish absolute and universal principles. And in this sense, it has become a secular version of witchcraft: that which is condemned (whether one is practicing it or not) at a public level for a supposed higher principle, but ultimately about undermining anything that threatens the status quo. And those who have been accused of it only reinforce this sense of it by defending themselves against its practice with the same fervor as their accusers. And those who explicitly embrace it (punk rockers, goths, those who outright claim to be nihilists) do little to redeem it. All we get from them is doom and gloom that never smiles and ends every assertion with a long sigh that trails into silence and seems to say "Not that it matters anyway." If not that, we get thin and pasty, with fists clenched at the side, and contracted and trembling (as if electrified) into a forward arch as the refrain bolts from their mouths: DesTRoy iT ALL!!!!!!!!! And let us not forget the Neo-Nietzscheian gospel of the fearlessly fanciful: the basement overmen who sit in environmentally controlled spaces, faces blazing in the glow of computer screens, and proclaim themselves "ready for action" in some Mad Max-like post-apocalyptic future. What doesn't kill me makes me strong. Right?

And one can hardly blame them. Even the word, Nihilism, seems to have that dark Germanic crunch about it. It just feels destructive. Plus, whatever side you take, you’re always part of an in-crowd of a popularly accepted understanding of Nihilism. Webster’s Dictionary describes it as “total rejection of established laws and institutions” as well as “anarchy, terrorism, or other revolutionary activity”. We’re almost relieved when it describes it as “the belief that all existence is senseless and that there is no possibility of an objective basis for truth” and “nothingness or nonexistence”. It finishes with a 19th century Russian political philosophy that pretty much rides on the former destructive aspect of it. But why all the negativity? Especially when you consider Simon Blackburn’s definition of it in The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy?

“A theory promoting the state of believing in NOTHING [my emphasis], or of having no allegiances and no purposes. The term is INCORRECTLY [once again: my emphasis] used to characterize all persons not sharing some particular faith or particular set of absolute values.”

Clearly, the plot thickens. In other words (if you dive deeper), things grow more complex and subtle. And by those terms, it thickens even more when you consider a key component of the term: Nihil. And as most Philosophy Now readers likely know, this simply means nothing or, to break the term down even further, nil. Contrary to the above described abuses of the term, real Nihilism is about tapping into the underlying nothingness of our experience. And I include the qualifier “of our experience” because nothingness, by its very nature, cannot be empirically approached. The best we can do is infer it from the fact that things are but could not be. As Sartre points out: a pure nothingness would nihilate itself. This is why he finally defined it as that which lies curled in the heart of Being like a worm. And we should follow Sartre in recognizing the elusive, ineffable, and evanescent nature of nothingness (whether it actually exists or not) and see it as something that cannot be confronted directly, but something that can, at best, glance the corner of the eye. We have to put aside the term , Nihilism, and think in terms of a Nihilistic Perspective in order to really appreciate the implications of it.

d63
Posts: 547
Joined: Sat Apr 05, 2014 4:55 pm

Re: Postcards:

Post by d63 » Sun Aug 13, 2017 7:10 pm

In Defense of Nihilism and the Nihilistic Perspective

It's always gotten a bad rap, Nihilism. Throughout the later part of our cultural history, it's been pinned, like a scarlet letter, to any ideological system that seems less than classical, less than a rigid attempt to establish absolute and universal principles. A secular equivalent to witchcraft, it's condemned (whether one is practicing it or not) for the sake of a supposed higher principle, while, in reality, being persecuted for threatening the status quo, or more accurately, the hierarchies propped up by it. And the accused, too often, only reinforce this by defending themselves against the practice with the same fervor as their accusers. Those who embrace it explicitly (punk rockers, Goths, the self -proclaimed nihilists) do little to redeem it. All we get from them is doom and gloom that never smiles and ends every assertion with a long sigh. It's as if to say "Not that it matters anyway." If not that, we get thin and pasty, with clenched fists, contracted (as if electrified) into a trembling arch as the refrain bolts from their mouths: DesTRoy iT ALL!!! And let's not forget the Neo-Nietzschean gospel of the fearlessly fanciful (think Tallis’s ‘darwinitus’ here): basement overmen who sit in environmentally controlled spaces, faces blazing in the glow of computer screens, raise their fists, and proclaim their selves cocked, loaded, and "ready for action" in some Mad Maxian post-apocalyptic future. What doesn't kill us makes us strong. Right?


In their defense, even the word, Nihilism, seems to have that dark Germanic crunch. It just feels destructive. Plus that, whatever approach you take, you’re always part of an in-crowd with a popularly accepted understanding, one validated by Webster’s Dictionary which describes it as “total rejection of established laws and institutions” as well as “anarchy, terrorism, or other revolutionary activity”. At best, it’s “the belief that all existence is senseless and that there is no possibility of an objective basis for truth” and “nothingness or nonexistence”. It finishes with a 19th century Russian political philosophy that pretty much rides on the former destructive aspect. Furthermore, we can, at a deeper level (thanks to Husserl and early 20th century Phenomenology), found this aversion via the concept of Intentionality. Consciousness is always consciousness of something. In other words, for a thing to exist as consciousness, it has to, at bottom, perceive that it exists. Without that, there is only the underlying nothingness that Sartre arrived at. So it stands to reason that Nihilism might have the same negative connotations as death.

Still, why all the negativity? Especially when you consider Simon Blackburn’s definition in The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy:


“A theory promoting the state of believing in NOTHING [my emphasis], or of having no allegiances and no purposes. The term is INCORRECTLY [once again: my emphasis] used to characterize all persons not sharing some particular faith or particular set of absolute values.”


Clearly, the plot thickens. Consider a key component of the term: Nihil. This, as most readers know, simply means nothing or, to break the term down even further, nil. Contrary to the above abuses, real Nihilism is about tapping into the underlying nothingness of our experience. And I include the qualifier “of our experience” because nothingness, by its very nature, cannot be empirically approached. It is only sensed. The best we can do is infer it from the fact that things are but could not be. Sartre complicates things even more by pointing out that a pure nothingness would nihilate itself. Hence his declaration that nothingness lies curled in the heart of Being like a worm. And we should follow him in recognizing the elusive, ineffable, and evanescent nature of nothingness (whether it exists or not) and see it as something that cannot be confronted directly, but something that, at best, glances the corner of the eye.

Nor can we think of it as some belief system one can simply take on. If I am doing my job right, you will not read this article and think "D. has a good idea; think I'll become a nihilist." This approach is exactly what leads to the kind of misunderstandings, poses, and abuses described above. And I'm not even sure one can even claim to be a nihilist. To do so would require one to do what Nihilism never would: justify itself. Why would it? It’s just there. In fact, this article is, by definition, a failed project since any attempt to articulate it misses the point completely. It makes nothing something. The best I can do is point you towards it. We might even do better to think of it as a nihilistic perspective or sensibility, and recognize it as something not just adopted, but rather arrived at through an ongoing deconstructive process in which all attempts at finding a solid foundation are frustrated. It is a sensibility that must, by its very nature, turn on itself.
*
To sum it up, nihilism does nothing. Always has. From the moment Socrates claimed to know to nothing to Romanticism's break from the sterile hierarchy of classicism, throughout Enlightenment (our break from religious dogma), as well as Nietzsche’s bridge from the romantic to the existential, and on through the despair of Modernism looking into the void to Postmodern play, it was always there, waiting.... doing nothing. “Nothing nothings”, as Heidegger said. This is why it is wrong to assume that Nihilism is inherently destructive and negative. Despite appearances, it doesn't seek to undermine traditions and dogma. Rather, traditions and dogmas collapse on it, as well as their own nothingness. And given the nature of this void, how could there be any fixed trajectory (negative or positive) projecting from it?

Furthermore, while there is no solid foundation for any belief we might hold, there is equally no solid foundation for not holding it. This goes for religion as well. Even if some God-like voice came out of the sky, there would be no solid foundation holding a religious belief – that is since assumptions about empiricism also float on thin air. But there is equally no solid foundation for not making a Kierkegaardian leap of faith -even if we could show, beyond a shadow of doubt, that God did not exist. Once again, empiricism, and its assumptions, floats on thin air. (And if you think about it, one of the ultimate nihilists may have been Jesus in that what got him killed was belonging to everyone while belonging to no one: of having, as Blackburn described it, no allegiances.) And we can root this ethical/epistemological etherealness in a metaphysical experience of groundlessness, what Heidegger referred to as anguish.

Consider two movies: Christopher Nolan's Memento and Disney Pixar's Finding Dory. Both share an overlapping theme in short term memory loss and a common root in the nihilistic perspective. In both, the affliction of not being able to retain memories is presented as a kind of groundlessness, a kind of accelerated forward flight that has no foundation other than the few habits they manage to retain. They are always, it seems, floating on thin air. But the two expressions could not be more different. On one hand, we have Nolan's dark view in Memento with little redeeming value -that is outside of how the movie resonates with and seduces us. On the other, we have the more upbeat take in Dory. Granted, Finding Dory does seek foundations in things like love, friendship, and family. But those attempts seem more like attachments to Dory’s groundless state -even after she finds her family. Plus that, like Memento, it resonates and seduces. It makes us feel good. And what about nothingness makes it imperative to be miserable?

This groundless state can also expose the gaps in the Skeptic’s paradox as applied, critically, to both Skepticism and Nihilism. Say you were to approach a skeptic and the nihilistic perspective and try to be clever:

“You cannot argue that there are no absolutes since to do so would be to try to establish an absolute.”

The skeptic would do what they’re wired to, scrutinize, come to the conclusion that it is one thing to say we live in a world in which there are no absolutes and quite another to actually live in one, then just stroll away and go right on doing what they had always done. The nihilistic perspective, on the other hand, would glare at you, impatiently, cross its arms, and snort:

“Right! Nothing is engraved in stone; not even that nothing is engraved in stone. What’s your f-ing point?”

Unlike Skepticism, the Nihilistic Perspective does not deflect the paradox; it embraces it. It has no problem with turning on itself. This is because it recognizes that this ongoing deconstruction is the very essence of Nihilism. And isn’t paradox, as some Continental thinkers (such as Gille Deleuze) and Omid Panahi, in his Philosophy Now article, "Could There Be a Solution to the Trolley Problem" (issue 121) suggest, philosophy’s primary domain? In fact, it can hardly be thought of as an ideology at all. Once again, ideologies must justify their selves. One can even see elements of it in Eastern Philosophies such as Taoism: that “letting go” described by Alan Watts. We can even imagine a kind of Zen Nihilism in which, the minute you start to articulate it, you lose it completely. It must therefore hide in the background and haunt other ideologies. Skepticism, for instance, is the nihilistic perspective applied. Existentialism is little more than Nihilism with an excuse. And Postmodernism is basically the nihilistic perspective having a play-day.
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Some readers, of course, will argue that I have rendered Nihilism and the nihilistic perspective so frivolous as to make it hardly worth thinking about. But that is just the point: you don’t think about it as it as much as it expresses itself through the way you think. It’s not just something that the intellectually and creatively curious toss around; it’s something that haunts our culture as a whole –that is via the underlying nothingness of consciousness. And by recognizing this, we get at some practical applications, especially as concerns ethics.

One of the ways we arrive at the nihilistic perspective is by recognizing that any argument we can make ultimately breaks down to assumptions, and that bottom-line assumptions float on thin air. In other words, we reach a point at which the very root of our argument can no longer be propped up by another proposition. Take the debate over abortion. It breaks down to assumptions about which point human life begins. For the pro-lifer, it begins at conception –that which is based on the issue of fate: in other words, what “God decrees”. For the pro-choice crowd, it’s always a little more complex. But recognizing the complexity of an issue, or the stench of the Symbolic Order, the human construct and arbitrary demarcation at work in the pro-life assumption, equally implies assumptions that cannot be justified beyond their selves. We end up at an impasse of assumptions and reduce the argument to a playground scuffle.

“Life begins at conception.”

“Does not!”

“Does so!”

And so on and so on. Beyond that, all we can turn to are Wittgenstein’s language games, try to make our assumptions seem a little more resonant and seductive. And just like Finding Dory, all arguments we attach to our position (all moves in that language game), are peripheral (not foundational) to our core assumptions.


Another manifestation of it works in relation to what Jacque Lacan refers to as the Symbolic Order. Now keep in mind that it is likely more complex and subtle than my simplified, blue-collarized version. But for our purposes, it is simply the semiotic systems by which we work at the various levels of social organization: our language, our shared culture, values, and beliefs, as well as our laws, policies, and protocols. And given the complexity and heterogeneity of these systems, and diverse interests involved, it is easy to see how many might question the restraints and arrive at the conclusion that all aspects of The Symbolic Order are human constructs. They basically are. And it is in the face of this that we, once again, find our assumptions floating on thin air. We find ourselves in a world in which there are no fixed criteria by which to judge action. This is not to say, mind you, that there are not consequences. But, too often (and in most cases), those consequences are either too remote or contingent to hold any weight in the day to day ethical and moral decisions the individual makes.

At the same time, while it is the precarious nature of the Symbolic Order that drives us towards the Nihilistic Perspective, it is the groundlessness, anxiety, destabilization, and uncertainty of the Nihilistic Perspective that drives us back to the Symbolic Order. It gives us an anchor –albeit an arbitrary one. This creates a push/pull relation between the two. And as I like to joke: while the nihilistic perspective is a nice place to visit, only a psychotic or sociopath would want to live here. And I say this in a semi-facetious spirit. In a more serious, metaphorical sense, we can see in the psychotic and sociopathic two perfectly observable MOs or expressions of Nihilism in relation to the Symbolic Order.

The psychotic mode is a strategy of retreat. The individual, having no real criteria by which to judge action, recedes into their own semiotic bubble with its own vocabulary and systemic constructs –think the rules of grammar here. At its most extreme, it degenerates to the extent that the Symbolic Order is incapable of interacting with it while it is incapable of interacting with the Symbolic Order. The most obvious example, of course, is the schizophrenic walking down the street engaged in their own discourse, either with their self or some imaginary other. But it also takes on more watered down and socially understandable (if not acceptable) forms. Drug addicts and alcoholics, for instance, also recede into their own bubbles with their own systems of meaning (vocabulary) and rules of interaction (rules of construct). They too create their own semiotic systems that seem alien to the general Symbolic Order. We also see this at work in the more socially acceptable and productive form of the avant garde: that which addresses various power discourses and seeks to change flaws and injustices in the Symbolic Order.

The sociopathic, on the other hand, is aggressive in nature and, having no criteria by which to judge action, turns to the one thing that seems to have a kind of praxis or natural push about it: power. It turns to a circular and malignant reasoning:

"I have power because I am right. Therefore, I am right because I have power."

In its purest form, this would be expressed in the serial killer as well as a serial rapist or thief. But it takes on more acceptable and non-prosecutable forms with cut-throat Wall Street types, CEOs, and players -as anyone knows who has fallen in love with one. It is, after all, the MO of the ambitious. At the same time, how safe would any of us be without the sociopathy of an elite soldier? Think Black Op or Special Forces. Or any effective military man or woman in combat for that matter? And doesn't it take a certain amount of sociopathy to work in a packing house? That which frees us of the experience of looking Bambi in her big, brown eyes and putting a slug between them?

As we have seen, the nihilistic perspective is a mixed package. It must be by its inherent nature. And I would also note how the psychotic/sociopathic dynamic adds a new dimension to the recent criticism that expressions of the nihilistic perspective (skepticism, modernism, relativism, and postmodernism) is to blame for recent fascist movements in America and other industrialized nations as well as climate change denial. We can now see that it is a matter of sociopathic agendas hijacking psychotic tactics for the sake of self-serving agendas and the status quo: that which gives them power. But that is an issue for another article.

The main thing to get is that ideologies, as well as belief systems, do nothing; people, on the other hand, do. We simply cannot blame Nihilism, or the nihilistic perspective, for the acts of those who happen to embrace them for negative ends. They use it for selfish and base of the brain agendas. But the nihilistic perspective cares little about self-interest. Once again, Nihilism does nothing. All it can really offer is the thin air upon which all assumptions float, including those held by those who embrace it. All it can offer is nothing. And nothing is all it offers.

d63
Posts: 547
Joined: Sat Apr 05, 2014 4:55 pm

Re: Postcards:

Post by d63 » Sun Sep 10, 2017 6:52 pm

"Levi-Strauss, like most neuro-biologists, rejects the mind/body dualism (inherited from Descartes) that has dominated so much of Western thought. He sees mind and body as functioning together as a single "eco-system". - from Introducing Levi-Strauss and Structural Anthropology, a graphic guide (and you can quit that snickering now, snob!)

Here again, we find ourselves in the overlap of postmodern/poststructuralist thought: that which helps us better understand Deleuze (that goddamn Frenchman (w/ and w/out Guatarri (which is the result of the French having perfected the art of dissent –having had the long history of doing so. And we can see its influence in the Anglo-American form of Rorty and the pragmatic approach: that is via discourse.

The main revelation at work is the materialism that I will qualify below as conditional. The cool thing for me, however, is how that materialism undermines the guru complex, that which my process is pretty much committed to doing. The humbleness and humility I am looking for is all too obvious in the words of Levi-Strauss:

"I don't have the feeling that I write my books. I have the feeling that my books get written through me and that once they have got across me I feel empty and nothing is left... I never had, and still do not have, the perception of feeling my personal identity. I appear to myself as the place where something is going on, but there is no "I", no "me". Each of us is a kind of crossroads where things happen. The crossroads is purely passive; something happens there. A different thing, equally valid, happens elsewhere. There is no choice, it is just a matter of chance." -Claude Levi-Strauss from a Canadian Broadcasting Company interview (1977)

Here we abandon the old notion of the lone genius (the guru (and see ourselves (as the intellectually and creatively curious: the ambitious (as nodes in a system. At the same time, I would argue that the embrace of materialism (for me at least (is conditional in that there is still room in this system for not so much Free Will as participation.

It seems to me that much of this comes out of our evolutionary process which has involved a non-linear feedback loop between the body, the brain, and the environment it is always negotiating. And in this feedback loop, we can see a possibility for participation in that which lies at some ineffable point between the determined and the random.

d63
Posts: 547
Joined: Sat Apr 05, 2014 4:55 pm

Re: Postcards:

Post by d63 » Thu Oct 05, 2017 8:06 pm

In this particular input immersion (which will likely be disrupted by vacation (almost two weeks for which I will likely be worthless here (vacate being the key aspect at work (I felt obligated to read the book Philosophy Now gave me for my answer to the question of the month: Ivan Segré’s Spinoza: the Ethics of an Outlaw. And given the ethnic angle at work here (it’s mainly about Spinoza’s relationship to his Jewish heritage (I’m a little out of my element.

Still, I am getting something I can use in Spinoza’s desire to make the term ‘Jew’ disappear for the sake of eliminating hate in his Theoretical-Political Treatise. And keep in mind here that I am working at the edge of what I know or am comfortable with. And I hope I don’t offend anyone in the process. First of all, it’s no wonder he pissed his own community off like he did. At the same time, his main concern was the liberty of man. What he was pointing to was the fact that Jewishness (that is as a clearly defined social circle (was primarily perpetuated by the persecution of Jews. As he saw it, Jews that were accepted into the system and given the same privileges as anyone else would generally tend to forget the distinction of being Jewish.

The reason this resonates with me is because I see a similar situation in America in which our rednecks only perpetuate the problem through hate of the other. They hate Mexicans. They hate Muslims. They even hate Afro-AMERICANS. But what they fail to see is that until they let go of their hate, Mexicans, Muslims, and Afro-Americans will always be the other: a clearly defined group of people. They will always define their selves in opposition to us.

I mean just let go. 50 years down the line, such distinctions won’t matter. We’ll all be mutts: a mix of white, Hispanic, and Afro-American. And until we do let go, we will never find peace or the liberty of man.

d63
Posts: 547
Joined: Sat Apr 05, 2014 4:55 pm

Re: Postcards:

Post by d63 » Thu Feb 15, 2018 9:59 pm

We Know Where You Are:

You should have seen it everywhere: the diligent scan of security cams on every street lording over the herds flowing smoothly down their chosen but fixed paths, a miracle of modern public planning; that health monitor strapped to your wrist; the GPS in your car; the web cam on every computer, every TV: that watching you while you watch it; the smart this, smart that. Did you think they were ever off? That The Market was ever not watching? You should have known better. You should have known that always, everywhere and at all times, we know where you are.

You had to know we'd see it: your dabbling in philosophy; the arts; to point of utter disregard for basic entertainment and information, the creature comforts, the "petty and mundane" as you put it on message boards. And did you think we wouldn’t see when you broke from the beaten path? Did you think you were above the common herd? Or were you merely lured by the slow hum of CO² scrubbers that deck the glistening sea? Now don't get me wrong; I get it. I too have stopped for contemplation to that slow hum. But as a true believer, my position affords me such pleasures. For me it is a small and guilty pleasure: a sniff of whiskey for the truly temperate and righteous. At worse a cute indulgence that makes me human, a sideways wink. But you? What would be next? Excess drinking? Drugs? Rebellion perhaps? Or even worse, downshifting? A refusal to get and spend in defiance of The Market? And yes, I have read Wordsworth; but I kept it in perspective. You, on the other hand, took it literally.

So here we are. We’ve strapped you to this gurney and wheeled you in. We’ve wired you up. But first a little history so you know why we’re here. You’re clearly smart, so I'm sure you'll appreciate it. Some time ago, faith in The Market, despite its many miracles, began to crumble. While Wall Street roared and true believers flourished, there were always the disbelievers. There were always the intellectuals, the artists and philosophers, as well as the poor, Democrats who would have seen the light had they just followed the path laid out for them, if only they would have believed. The people like you with your minions of the lazy and envious, the ones you tell exactly what they want to hear: it's not your fault, it's the system. You/they were the saboteurs, the evil and the sickness of envy at work when the markets failed. If only they, if only you would have believed and worked harder for the dream. But it was your rejection of the kingdom of success, of those of courage and vision, that would have stolen it all away had we not intervened. It was you, yes you, who stood in the way with the blasphemous notions that it was The Market itself that was the problem.

And my God! Was it not The Market that brought the oppressed into the fold? Was it not images of minorities and those of alternative sexual orientations as perfectly viable producers and consumers that led to their acceptance? Was it not images of otherwise functional people smoking pot that led to its legalization? Was it not The Market that brought underground creative movements into general acceptance? And was it not The Market has brought you and everyone else into the fold? Still, you dissent. Has the market not brought you everything? Have we not kept you entertained?

But after the Great Boycott that nearly destroyed our economy, we recognized that The Market could not achieve its full potential without full license. And the only way to achieve that was by creating a fully complacent citizenship: that which felt free while being fully compliant and unquestioning. Of course, the Orwellian model wouldn’t work. While such automatons might make stellar producers, they would be less than idea consumers. Like ascetic monks, they would be in little need of excess. And excess, of course, is the driving force and blessing of The Market. So it was left to us, those of courage and vision, to create a kind of consumer bot working under a facsimile of freedom if you will. And it wasn’t hard. Media and marketers had already laid the groundwork. Through TV ads, and entertainment in general, a Platonic realm of ideal forms had been created. Everyone knew what the ideal producer/consumer was. And, through reality TV, they knew the consequences of not being one. They rejoiced and cheered as the dysfunctional, the criminals, leeches, and free riders got their just deserts. This is the beauty of The Market: it gives you choice and freedom while directing you from trouble. It tells you what you could and should be and what happens if you don’t. And most people want to be more than they are. So it wasn’t hard to make wearing that health monitor on YOUR wrist a requirement for your insurance and, as would naturally follow, your employer: the first step in an incremental process. They generally saw it as an opportunity to improve them selves... Dr. Phil and all that, something I'm sure would make you cringe.

In fact, most never needed modification at all. Without knowing it, they were already true believers and consumer bots. They produced and consumed and made all the right moves. They followed all the cues while marketers, with their armies of psychologists behind them, filled in the rest. The only problem, as we saw it, were those like you, the enemies of the Market. When you could have been using your resources to yours and the Market's benefit, you had to question everything. When you could have taken part in the miracle, you had to be different. You willfully made yourself a sickness, a cancer even, by working against the body. You of all people, Facebook fan.

Which brings us to where we are: the treatment. At first, it was more philosophical methods, as impractical as they are (they have never created an I-Phone), that offered the first step to a practical solution. It was always and obviously an issue of free will. But the philosophical method, along with the discoveries of neuroscience (yet again, one of The Market’s many miracles), also led us to the recognition that it was not so much a matter of free will as participation: that which defines the very you that lies before me now, the you I am talking to. But it was the miracle of neuroscience that brought it to fruition. Look here on the monitor. Right there. You see that little red spot. That is the node in the brain inhabited by the very you that defies the market. I, of course, can see it in your trembling and narrowed eyes. But that, that right there, tells all. We call it the participation node.

So here’s what’s going to happen. As we have found through a number of studies, most people, when asked questions about their economic life, tend to register a nice blue on the participation node. There were even times when it registered like a thin wash on black. It was as if they were surrendering their selves to their bodily impulses: their various needs and desires. The enemies of the market, on the other hand, tended to register a bright red. It was then that we realized that there was a large part of the population that tended to go with the wind, a population that would generally go with what we, those of courage and vision, offered while being vulnerable to what those like you offered when the economy went through one its perfectly natural aberrations. It was simply a matter of systems. And the only system we needed to alter was those like you, the way you, as a system, with your various sub-systems, interacted with other systems.

So here's how it works. These electrodes are there to deliver a low voltage shock from one ear to the other. Not enough to do any permanent damage. This is not a punishment. Think of it, rather, as kind a treatment: a sort of modification of what can only be a genetic flaw. And do not worry; it will only last for thirty seconds. In between, you will have two minutes to... well, adjust your attitude as it were. Now key to the therapy is not what happens during the shock. We already know it will turn a bright red. What is important is what you do in between. Then it will be up to you to move that red to yellow which will, in proportionate degrees, lower the intensity of the shock, until you get it down to blue which will deliver no shock at all. And you will see for yourself how, as you lower your attachment to the participation node, and it gets more yellow, the shock period goes from bright red to just red. Then as you go to green (an even lower intensity shock), the shock period will express itself in yellow. And so on and so on until, you having achieved blue, there will be no more shocks at all. It’s all up to you.

You could, of course, look at it as a kind of brutal shock therapy, or Shock Doctrine as one of your books told you. You probably do, given how red that is. On the other, you could look at it as a kind bio-feedback exercise or Buddhist meditation in which you surrender yourself to what is and must always be: The Market. You manipulate the brain; you manipulate the mind. Also, no matter how much progress we make today, this will only last as long as any other therapy session. Let me assure you that after an hour you will be released. I mean there is always tomorrow. Baby steps and spaced practices and all that; right?. The Market, being forever, has all the time in the world. You, on the other hand, have only three seconds.

And there it is. You feel it? That hum in the brain becoming a sharp ring at the core of you? The very you that is the source of the problem? Of course, you do. Silly question on my part. Half a minute and it will stop. Then you’ll have two minutes to make that red a little more yellow. And if you don’t, it will only be your fault. But eventually you will. And you will eventually get and spend, produce and consume. You will go to work, mow the lawn, eat, and sleep. Make love to a beautiful woman even. You will watch TV, perhaps even reality TV (even Dr. Phil), and engage in water cooler talk. And even if you don’t, your stand against it will sound like a thousand other stands against it: the one our marketers have provided you. You will define yourself by what The Market offers you. You will make all the right moves. You will be you, but not so much you that you question anything. It will all be much easier that way. And you will return for treatment, even come to appreciate it. You will take pride in your progress. You will have no choice. The marketers, and those of courage and vision, will take care of the rest. Remember (and you will always remember), we know where you are.
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