On Being Mistaken for a Narrow-Minded Dogmatist

Eric Weinstein once said that two topics of thought and philosophical conversation should always be avoided; God and metaphysical freedom. Since those are my twin obsessions, this rather caught my amused attention. Over a period of years, of looking at certain topics from multiple angles, one ends up seeing the end point of many conceptual and rhetorical “moves.” Analogies can be made with fighting or chess. An expert fighter, according to YouTube videos like those from hard2hurt, knows what moves to expect from novice fighters and also knows how to counter them. Giant swinging punches called “haymakers” are the norm for an angry untutored idiot. They can be seen coming a mile off, giving someone plenty of time to prepare a counter move. Practiced pugilists, so it seems, prefer much straighter, more controlled punches, like a jab, that are harder to avoid and do not open someone up to easy counter attack. One commentator stated that one year of rigorous boxing training would be enough to defeat most other people in a self-defense situation. Unfortunately, that would entail one year of being hit hard in the head with corresponding brain damage that is likely to catch up with someone at some point. Head protectors do not stop your brain hitting the inside of your hard skull. Even Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which has no strikes, can damage necks through the copious use of choke holds. Continue reading

Is it possible to separate politics from philosophy, from any educational pursuit?

1Education cannot occur where equality is taken as the preeminent moral virtue, where the past is rejected as hopelessly morally compromised, and when materialism is adopted as the overriding metaphysical presupposition. To engage in education, therefore, is a rejection of all those things. Since most colleges and most professors, often through intimidation, adopt those positions, they have abandoned education. Education can only occur where overt politicization is avoided. Education, as opposed to indoctrination, will involve a respect for students’ moral integrity, and for the past, and thus a willingness to sometimes consider reform, but never to entertain wholesale rejection and abhorrence of all social structures and reality as we know it. A measured and sane education will accept the existence of mystery, and respect tradition as a repository of answers to questions many of which we have forgotten. The Enlightenment has been described as a rejection of intuition and tradition; as such, it announced its hostility to education aimed at wisdom. Continue reading

Omissions From Steven Pinker’s Vision and Why Movie Studios and Video Game Companies Are Happy To Lose Money

Steven Pinker writes books proclaiming that, thanks to the Enlightenment, everything is getting better and better. Traditionalists will beg to differ, and it does not suit progressives whose plans for the future are based around the idea that everything now and in the past is just terrible, to clear the ground for their planned utopia.

One of Pinker’s claims is that worldwide poverty has gone from 90% suffering from extreme poverty to just 10% – an astonishing reversal that is, of course, dependent on how poverty is defined. He also points out that violence and wars have diminished considerably, with far fewer dying in battles as a percentage of the population as was the case in the past. Missing from his analysis is any spiritual component. Traditionalists will argue that there may have been improvements in material conditions, but architecture is uglier than ever. Medieval cathedrals represented a high point for the love of beauty inspired by love of God and notions of the transcendent. These last two things are sorely diminished and largely replaced by hatred of imagined oppressors who are to be hunted down, excluded from the political process as much as possible, and silenced. The all-powerful oppressors can be conveniently identified by skin color, even if they themselves are dispossessed Appalachian mountain dwellers, or working class folk scraping by. So, Pinker misses an extreme spiritual impoverishment represented by ersatz religions aimed at heaven on earth achieved through scapegoating by a Gnostic elect who have somehow arrived at all the correct moral positions denied to the benighted knuckle-draggers.

Charles Haywood of the The Worthy House in a podcast, also available as a short article, On Battlefield V, addresses the question of how movie studios and video game manufacturers could continue making movies and video games that are detested by their audiences. Battlefield V cost $250 million to make with expected sales of one billion. By pushing a Woke agenda and anachronistically populating WWII battlefields with female soldiers, the giant gaming company Electronic Arts, halved their customers. Contemporary Star Trek and Star Wars movies similarly revile the males who make up the bulk of their past audience. It is now routine for tiny and weak actresses to pretend to beat up jacked men twice their size. A new apogee is being reached with Thor being played by microscopic Natalie Portman. The men who played the part had in the past worked hard to build giant muscles on their impressive physiques. For those of us utterly indifferent to comic book movie nonsense it is irrelevant except as a cultural bellwether. Continue reading

Perception: rewrite

“Perception: Intromission and Extramission” has turned into “Perception: I/Thou.” Thomas F. Bertonneau reminded me of a view that has had appeal to me in the past, that if we were to see properly we would see the world as beautiful. The unalienated stance is one of communion, rather than objectification. A tree, not a commodity. A friend, not a thing. Nature is relatively easy to see as beautiful, usually. Man-made items vary – and people should strive to make things as beautiful as possible so that it does not take a moral hero or mystic to appreciate them. Max Leyf has provided copious comments and quotations for my edification on this topic too. He agrees, I believe, with the idea promoted by Berdyaev that objectified reality is a falling away from originary, divine consciousness. Objective reality, in the sense of being objectified, is not God’s Creation. God’s Creation is a symbol of its divine origins and is thus permeated with the spirit of friendship, and thus love, not alienation.

My apologies to those who might prefer the previous version. I could provide it if requested. The critique of the intromission-only idea remains.

Perception: I/Thou

There are just two kinds of subjects of perception; the natural and the man-made. The natural is God’s Creation, the man-made, man’s creation, employing elements of Creation. The proper relationship between the perceiver and the perceived is one of subject to subject. All of experienced reality is symbolic. It is a symbol of the creative mind of the 9Creator, and/or the creative mind of Man. All conscious creatures participate in meonic Freedom which makes creativity possible. This perspective is indicated by the mystic William Blake; “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”[1] And in Auguries of Innocence, Blake wrote the lines:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour[2]

Max Leyf comments: Plato calls both light and vision “ἡλιοειδῆ,” or “sun-like,” and Plotinus elaborates the analogy by observing that the organ that is to perceive a phenomenon must itself participate the nature of that same phenomenon: “No eye ever saw the sun without becoming sun-like, nor can a soul see beauty without becoming beautiful.” Goethe further develops the connection to disclose a temporal or phylogenetic dimension to the ideal or metaphysical relationship: “Out of indifferent animal organs the light produces an organ to correspond to itself, and so the eye is formed by the light for the light so that the inner light might meet the outer.”

God Himself is intangible and incorporeal. Our true nature; the inner subject, has many of the same properties as God. God comes prior to Being. And then Being points back to its Creator, much as Paley’s Watch, the watch found on an otherwise deserted island indicates that humans were there, without resembling humans in any way.

Berdyaev sometimes writes that God did not create objective reality. (Let us call it “objectified reality.”) We did. Objectified reality is generated by the Fall. And the Fall is a fall of consciousness and aesthetic appreciation. The subject/object dichotomy indicates alienation. The object stands over against the subject as a thing foreign to it. Hegel suggests that beautiful things should be regarded as a person with whom one is trying to communicate. Plato described beauty as a visitor from another realm. Beautiful things pull back the curtain separating heaven and earth and give a glimpse of the divine. All of the natural landscape is beautiful. Many man-made things are not, or at least, are hard to experience as such. They used to be. Even scientific instruments like sextants were formerly engraved and embossed with decorative elements. People in Europe spent centuries constructing gorgeous cathedrals inspired by thoughts and experiences of God. People find strip malls and other ugliness alienating. We find a home in beauty. So, we should aim to make our surroundings as beautiful as possible.

Markel, the older brother of Father Zossima in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov who dies from consumption at the age of seventeen, experiences a religious conversion shortly before he dies and asks forgiveness of nature and the birds for not having properly appreciated their beauty. Berdyaev oftentimes expresses his alienation from a hostile objectified reality, to the degree that he is sometimes accused of being a Gnostic. This just means that he too is fallen, and despite being a mystic, prophet, and philosopher, he had a tendency to experience what seemed like objectified reality: a world of objects that stand against the individual. This is related to Heidegger’s complaint of the instrumental frame of mind that looks at a forest and calculates the number of planks the trees could be made into. This does not describe the world that God created.

“I am human and nothing human is foreign to me,” comes from a play by Terence and the character uttering these words is using them to justify malicious gossiping about his neighbors. But, people have found it to express a beautiful and true sentiment. So, perhaps when we see artificial things that we normally regard as ugly, we should look at them as things created by our brothers. Even an ugly building on an uninhabited foreign planet would indicate that intelligent life had been there, though perhaps morally stunted in some way, like the rest of us. Despite its apparent ugliness, we would regard it with wonder and excitement.

Creation should be regarded as a friend with whom one communes, subject to subject. Again, this is relatively easy with regard to nature and can be harder with regard to the man-made. Perhaps, the ugly and man-made can be redeemed through achieving the right state of mind. Better, however, that man-made reality be easy to regard as beautiful, rather than taking the efforts of a moral hero. We should be taught to appreciate beauty and beauty should be a common topic in the school curriculum with outstanding items of beauty being held up for contemplation, whether literary, artistic, musical, or architectural.

Perception is inherently connected to beauty. Or, at least it ought to be. Traditionally, beauty, truth, and goodness have been regarded as three aspects of the same thing. A beautiful world is a good world. And, the true world is also the beautiful and good one. Sometimes, weakness of the organism; a lack of sleep or energy, a physical pain, a passing bad mood with perhaps bodily origins, stop us from appreciating beauty and produce in perception an alienated and objectified reality. Real objective reality is one with the subject. It is one where a friendly attitude is taken to the world. The world is a symbol of the internal life of spirit expressed outwardly through nature or artificial products.

Aristotle writes that light is a precondition for visual perception. Plato’s Socrates in the Theatetus, speaks of whiteness11 being generated by the seeing eye and the object. But, this kind of description of perception is an abstraction – taking “whiteness” in isolation – and takes a proto-scientific attitude to the topic. It is reminiscent of scientistic theologians who are determined to discover of what things are made. Is the true substrate from which things are constructed physical, or actually spiritual? Some of them then claim that quantum mechanics proves they are spiritual. But, it does not matter from what substrate your friend is made – whether that friend is nature, man-made items, or another person. What matters is how he is experienced and with what frame of mind he is approached. Subject to subject is the realm of truth, goodness, and beauty. Socrates describes the experience of an object of perception as involving an agent and patient. The appropriate phrase that should be used in that context is an “object of perception.” The object is described by Socrates as being a patient, not a friend. And not a visitor from another divine realm. It is not a symbol of the divine inner life of God or man. Socrates gets closer to a more satisfactory viewpoint when he emphasizes that perception should primarily be thought of as a product of mind. We see through the eyes, with the eyes being a mere instrument of perception. We see with our minds. Experience is part of the mystery of consciousness. And our minds can look at a red Jazzmaster guitar and a Fender Twin Reverb amplifier and see or feel the mind of its designer and maker.

It was Kepler who introduced an intromission only theory of perception. Instead of communion, there is a one-way stream of “information.” Light comes in through our eyes, creates an inverted image on our retinas, and sight is generated. Except, he was entirely silent about how these upside down images on our retinas – two of them – are converted into vision in the mind. In effect, mind was banished from the description, just as behaviorists did in the twentieth century. Galileo then divided the world into primary and secondary qualities. Locke described the primary qualities as solidity, figure, motion, extension, and number. Only these were regarded as real because measurable. Secondary qualities are derived from the senses and include color, sound, feeling, smell, and touch. These are all regarded as nonexistent since they exist only in minds, it was claimed, not in the objects themselves. This banishes minds from that which is thought to exist, which happens to be a usefully instrumental pretense in scientific endeavors. Ignore the subjective and the subject, and focus on objects – those things alienated from the subject-to-subject paradigm. There can be no remotely satisfactory scientific theory of perception because perception exists in the mind which is inaccessible to science.

12Kepler’s and Galileo’s innovations have an additionally horrifying consequence. As well as denuding the world of things like color and sound, and equating color merely with frequencies of light – a mere precondition for color – they introduced a kind of solipsism; a prison of the mind. The intromission only theory is of a piece with the representational theory of perception. The intromission only theory of perception involves a gross redundancy. The intromission only theory of perception claims that when we look at the world outside us, we see nothing. There is absolutely nothing there. The world outside us is a completely unknowable enigma that we never ever experience. You think your wife is sitting there on your porch, eating and drinking with you, in a very pleasant Oswego, New York, summer. But, she is not. She is a little doll. And she lives in your head. Only you can see her. She is trapped in there. As far as you are concerned, she has never left the confines of your skull. You have never actually seen her, and she has yet to meet you. Not only is she trapped in there, but all the world that you are aware of is too. Your brain is so all powerful, that it has recreated brick by brick your entire reality and constructed it to live inside you. You have never seen anything at all. At least, not any real objects or people. Instead of looking at your wife, or husband, you make a little model in your head and look at that. That is the representational theory of perception. The world presents itself to you and then you re-present it. When your loved one gazes into your eyes, she is actually looking at the little model of you trapped in her skull, never to get out, perhaps scared of the dark. She only looks inward. She would not recognize you if she saw the real you. She has never seen the real you. Only her model. She is, in effect, blind. Or perhaps, mad; living in a phantom world.

According to the intromission only theory of perception, when you look at the sky, you are not looking at the sky. You are looking at a representation of the sky inside your brain which is inside your skull. When you see star light coming from the other side of the universe – perhaps with a telescope – from far back in time, that light is not in fact coming from the other side of the universe. Not the light you are looking at. You are looking at a little replica of that star light. On the other side of the sky – the sky that extends up, up, up in endless blue, fading into black where the SR-71 Blackbird flew – is your own skull.[3] But, you have never actually seen your own skull or the top of your own head. What you think is your skull, is actually an image inside your skull. You have not seen it. No one will ever see it. Because no one has ever seen anything that actually exists out there in the world.

The intromission theory of perception is the Matrix. The alternative is that people, plants, man-made items, are just where you think they are. Your wife or husband is sitting there eating, drinking, smiling, and you are looking at them and listening to them. You are not looking at a model or representation of them. You are looking at them and they look back. If you are concerned that there is some illusion, reach out and touch them to reassure yourself.

Our brains are energy hungry entities. They consume 20% of all our calories despite being maybe 2% of our body weight. Why would it bother to recreate all of reality when all of reality is sitting right there? The recreation is redundant and unnecessary.  I do not need to go away and make a replica of my wife; a little doll of her. I can just look at her. I look at stars too and perhaps they look back. The sun is far more complicated than a mere brain. It is fun to imagine that it might be conscious.[4] The electro-magnetic aspects of the brain exist within the electro-magnetic field of the sun. Perhaps it knows what you are thinking.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Thomas F. Bertonneau and Max Leyf for their correspondence and suggestions on this topic. Tom reminded me of the connection between beauty and perception that I have liked in the past, but had forgotten about in this context.

[1] The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

[2] In a letter addressed to John Trusler, dated August 23, 1799, Blake wrote: And I know that this world is a world of imagination and vision. I see every thing I paint in this world, but everybody does not see alike. To the eyes of a miser a guinea is far more beautiful than the Sun, and a bag worn with the use of money has more beautiful proportions than a vine filled with grapes. The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity, and by these I shall not regulate my proportions; and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. As a man is, so he sees.

[3] Stephen Lehar points this out. The trouble is, he believes it.

[4] The topic of intromission has been adapted from a chapter called “Are Minds in Brains?” in Rupert Sheldrake’s book: Science Set Free.

Long Spoons: a Misguided Allegory

7In hell, people sit around a pot of food. They are chained in place. They sit three feet from the pot, but their spoons are six feet long and they are unable to get the food in their mouths, so they are all starving and miserable.

In heaven, people sit around a pot of food. They are chained in place. They sit three feet from the pot, and their spoons are six feet long. Each person is feeding the person next to him and all are content.

There is nothing selfless about the heaven scenario. Each person gets an immediate benefit from his actions. The allegory relies on the goodness of reciprocity as a moral assumption. No one has no spoon. In that world, the rule would seem to be “feed he who has a spoon and though shalt be fed.” It is true that there can be a benefit from helping those who cannot help you in return; but the allegory emphasizes mutuality and cooperation.

The parable highlights a key misguided aspect of the liberal mindset. Namely, a total neglect of self-sustaining independence. In real life, this would be coupled with an emphasis on extractive state policies providing all needs to which everyone has a “right.” The liberal is likely to look askance at charity. Being voluntary, charity does not provide full-fledged security and a guarantee of food and housing. The government can remedy the vagaries of this, and forcibly take money and property from the successful and give it to others, regardless of how those others ended up in a state of total dependence. Never mind the fact that this diminishes the incentive to be successful in the first place and provides no penalty for sheer laziness. Continue reading

Kill Ill: Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit

1Friedrich Dürrenmatt, wrote The Visit[1] (Der Besuch der alten Dame) in 1956.  Dürrenmatt is a twentieth century Swiss playwright (1921-1990) who gets mentioned alongside Beckett, Camus, Sartre, and Brecht. Like them, he is interested in examining moral dilemmas with wider social import, bearing a tendency toward the nihilistic, and a “you just can’t win” attitude, such as can be seen in Sartre’s Men Without Shadows (Morts sans Sépultures), No Exit (Huis Clos), and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The Visit is overtly “philosophical” in the manner of existentialism: a despairing morality play.[2]

In The Visit, Claire Zachanassian has been wronged by the town of Guellen (Liquid manure town) located “somewhere in Central Europe,” and Alfred Ill, and she has returned forty-five years later to exact her revenge.[3] Claire and Ill were lovers. Claire became pregnant but Ill wanted to marry someone else who had a shop and money. He bribed two witnesses to say that they had also slept with Claire. Claire’s paternity suit is thrown out and the town sniggers as she is forced to leave town for the life of a prostitute. In this capacity, she meets and marries a billionaire and a succession of other husbands until she is the richest woman in the world. In her capacity as such, she represents an all-powerful monster capable of bending the world to her wishes. A grotesque figure, two of her limbs have been replaced by protheses; an ivory arm and a leg. At one point Ill asks, “Claire, is everything about you artificial?” She uses a lorgnette. These spectacles with a handle held away from the face, suggests she has her own very particular outlook on things and creates a distance between her and the people she observes. Claire has returned to Guellen with a macabre retinue who include the false witnesses whom she has castrated and blinded, the judge who presided over her case and who is now her butler, a black panther, two bodyguards, her husband number VII, and a coffin. Continue reading

Pederasty in the Classical Greek Context

12Students are usually surprised at the discussion of what we would now call homosexual pederasty in Plato. Two of the greatest dialogues, the Phaedrus, and the Symposium, take it as normal. The dynamic described between “lover” and the “beloved” in the Phaedrus mirrors exactly the male and female romantic dynamic that most of us will be more familiar with, although what is being described is a much older man besotted with a teenager.

This kind of pederasty was fashionable among the Classical Greek élite. It was not necessarily popular prior to this time, although Achilles’ reaction to Patroclus’ death in The Iliad suggests the two might have had more than a “Platonic” relationship. Cultures where women are rigorously sequestered from men and go about in public only when chaperoned tend to indirectly promote homosexual sex because women are simply not widely available – much as at boarding schools or prison. The Greek prohibition on educating women also means that romantic love between the two sexes will be inhibited. In romantic attraction (not merely sexual) we first see an appealing surface. The next step is to actually talk to someone to find out whether we actually like the person or not. If yes, then we may come to respect, admire, and trust the person. In other words, come to love her. If you are a member of a literate, educated elite, then full romantic heterosexual love would perhaps be rare, since women’s minds would be undeveloped, and literacy and broad reading are prerequisites for being interesting to talk to. Being admired by someone you do not respect is not enjoyable or flattering. Hoi polloi would have much lower standards of intellectual attainment, being less mentally accomplished themselves, and likewise did not embrace single-sex pederasty. Plato, tall, handsome, smart, educated, aristocratic, and thus most definitely élite, acknowledges that women can definitely be physically beautiful and attractive, but such a brilliant mind as his would be looking for a beautiful psyche too. Continue reading

Ghettoside: High Homicide Environments

7Jill Leovy wrote her 2015 book Ghettoside after spending years embedded in the homicide division of a police department in LA and observing the detectives working in areas of LA with the highest murder rates. She comments that male black Americans make up only 6% of the population, but are 40% of the murder victims.[1] In nearly all cases, the murderer is another black man. In LA County, the conviction rate for black murders is 36%.[2] This means too few black killers are convicted and imprisoned.  Leovy comments that black residents complain of police mistreatment but also want more policing to protect them from other black people. A Swedish social scientist, Gunnar Myrdal, studied the black South in the 1940s and recorded that the same complaints were made then.[3]  Many activists and journalists claim that black Americans do not really commit more crime, they just get prosecuted more. The dead bodies of the murdered, and the damaged bodies of the maimed, however, are rather hard to attribute to over-zealous prosecution.[4] For each murder victim, many more are maimed, four to five per murder,[5] who, for instance, end up in wheelchairs for life. Blacks are murdered between two and four times as much as Hispanics in LA, even when they live in the same neighborhoods.[6] Activists tend to want to minimize black on black crime because they are embarrassed by it and presumably because it is not politically expedient. Najee Ali, a prominent activist, compared it to the shame of incest.[7] Some even want to ban the phrase “black on black” crime, as though not talking about it would help anyone. A coroner in LA, inundated with black murder victims, commented that he is disturbed less by the dead bodies than by the grief of the survivors. One mother vomited.  Another shook her little boy’s dead body trying to wake him up.[8] Continue reading

The Oedipus Casebook, edited by Mark R. Anspach

1Offering a new translation of Oedipus Rex, and a collection of interpretative essays, The Oedipus Casebook, Reading Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, is an excellent book, attractively bound. The Greek tragedians should not be underestimated. The recent trend to want to school our literary forebears should be vehemently avoided – especially those who have lasted centuries, or millennia, traversing changes in fashions and political systems. We still read Sophocles. How many of his critics will be read in two thousand five hundred years? There is a rule of thumb that however long something has existed, it can be expected to last a similarly long amount of time. On that basis, Sophocles can expect to be read for at least another 2,500 years.

The Greek tragedians often take previously existing myths, as Marlowe and Goethe did with Faust, and turn them into plays. We know from René Girard, and others, that myths are inherently sacrificial. The Greek tragedians, are sophisticates, capable of producing literary masterpieces, and do not simply reproduce sacrificial scenarios. But neither are they in the business of exegetical analysis. Ambiguity and richness of possible interpretation is inherent to great works of art. Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides, are playwrights, not polemicists. Euripides’ The Bacchae rivals and possibly even exceeds Oedipus Rex in complexity and in its awareness of sacrifice. Dionysus is presented as horrific and implacable. Pentheus, suspicious and skeptical of the foreign god, wants nothing to do with him, but in trying to exile Dionysus, in the manner of the scapegoat, simply reproduces the phenomenon he is attempting to expunge. Dionysus is the god who is killed, only to be reborn. His mother, Semele, is burnt to a crisp, but Dionysus has an unnatural second birth in the thigh of Zeus. Euripides seemed to want nothing to do with the violence associated with Dionysus and his bacchants. Continue reading