Monday, November 14, 2011

what is human choice?

A pretty obvious objection I didn't address yesterday: The difference between rocks and people is choice. You can't just call what rocks do "choice" and get rid of the problem.

Ah, that difference. Not easy. I'm saying that the main* processes through which rocks and people act are essentially the same. I mentioned abstraction as the key difference, suggesting this animal ability was better understood as a difference of degree in its departure from inanimacy and such. Rocks don't use concepts. They don't hold a bunch of ideas in front of a mind's eye and compare them. They don't feel cognitive dissonance when two ideas clash; they don't compare, however clearly or confusedly, consciously or unconsciously, the needs/desires of their bodies for survival and displeasure avoidance to their bodies' traumas and resulting desire to avoid displeasure (what Freud meant by superego). There's no short-term versus long-term, etc. There's no calculative function in the mix. 

This is what is usually meant by "choice" in the freedom/determinism context, I think: an agent weighs two or more options, in concept form, and determines which is better based on...well, really, you need some sort of detachment. Rationality? What the hell is that? I mean the whole thing depends on a detached subject, doesn't it? The detached subject is a fantasy along the lines of the God fantasy. It sounds nice to some, depending on their personal histories and needs and whatnot, but it falls apart upon examination. 

So this is really about deconstructing the false dichotomy of detached reason and emotion. I submit a possibly obvious point, that I have to assume has been said somewhere much better than I can put it: every thought that's ever been thunk has been thought with bodily needs, what are often called emotions, as the driving force. The desire to help people is an emotion accompanied by concepts. If you see a starving African on TV and want to help them, for example, your body is telling you that pain is bad and must be avoided. Call it empathy, but it's actually selfishness. (A certain kind of) selfishness is good. When you think you're "choosing," as the term is normally used, you're lucky if you're responding to that most rational-ish emotion called cognitive dissonance. All of which is only bad if you wanted to be a certain type of god. I'm saying, it's ok, you can be a different type of god. Atheism is freedom. Determinism is freedom. 

(OK back to 1st person.) I can use ideas, chosen for emotional reasons, in response to my body, to re-arrange my emotions and make me better, happier, etc. Cognitive dissonance and empathy are my friends. I want to say they guide me but here's the crazy part: they are me. I'm not following them, I am them.

Brain hurts, time to stop.
*I waver on whether to include this qualifier. I'd like to get rid of it but not confident enough.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I'm as free as a rock, and this is good

How does the world reproduce? How does now become a different now and why does it become this rather than that? However else one describes the process, I think it helps to understand it as action, incredibly complex action that takes a lot of doing. A rock from 1990 needed to do a lot to become whatever it has become in 2011. The action that needs doing is existing. Whatever it is that rocks are doing is essentially the same as what humans are doing so that if you say rocks are determined, you're saying humans are determined and if you say rocks are free, humans are free. Which word is better to describe existing, or acts of existence, freedom or determinism? This is a matter of taste.

The real question, after we get past the false dichotomy, is how the manner of existing of humans differs from that of anything else. If there's a difference worth mentioning, it's that our visual abilities have us at a certain distance from world, withdrawn to some limited extent from its gravity, where our relatively isolated brain-ish ecosystem creates freaky colorful frog-birds with an armpit obsessed's weird is what I'm saying. Our brains can reduce the incredible complexity of an apple to the number "1" and put the world together in a peculiarly human way, call it realism, stemming from evolutionary processes. And in this visual world, we have reach and we have power but we've lost a lot. Everything "looks" determined. From another "view," in our bodies, we feel free. Our non- or pre-visual selves are far more connected with world, whereas the human way of seeing is world-historically exceptional and whatever it has to say about freedom/determinism has no effect on the way existence happens, or the way world does. We just are, and we are in the same way as rocks, with only differences of degree, not kind, between us. To the rocks I say, kanpai!

Saturday, November 12, 2011


I went to a restaurant. There were some dirty looking brown people with diamond necklaces outside, looking weak and hungry, maybe a bit angry. Nothing but concrete everywhere. Hmm, I must be dreaming, I thought. I walked in. There were a bunch of fancy suits eating lobster, steak, I don't know, what do rich people eat? I couldn't actually see their plates. There were some tough-looking dudes in the corner, who looked like they belonged. I sat down, ordered a cheeseburger. It was crazy cheap, I guess; I mean a cow was raised for years, fed regularly, slaughtered, packed up and shipped, prepared by a cook, all for 15 minutes' pay, though I used to be able to get bigger cheeseburgers for less, I recall. I saw a truck pull up outside and unload a bunch of food, brilliant food I assume. A nerdy guy handed him some rubies or something, they looked like, uh, natural resources. The truck drove away. Then I saw the tough guys head outside, heard some screams, saw them come back in with a bunch of diamond necklaces. "What the hell was that?," I asked them. They just smiled good-ol' boyishly from a distance as a slick-haired man told another slick-haired man to tell me, "some evil bastards who hate this fine establishment were trying to come in and rob the place. You should be grateful they took care of everything for you." "Yeah, wow, I am," I said. The tough guys gave the necklaces to the rich guys who pocketed most and gave the rest to slick-haired guys, tough guys, and nerdy guys. Another truck pulled up, another nerdy guy got up and went outside with diamond necklaces. An announcement came over a loudspeaker, "The good people will now rise and thank our tough guys for protecting and serving us."  Heartfelt applause, very loud; OK, it was a roar, or some other big sound that animals make in response to specific triggers.  

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thoughts on Sheep Testicles

We took the kids to a ranch last weekend. We saw a bunch of sheep. Sheep have enormous testicles. I had been unaware of that. At first I thought it was ironic, considering how sheep are known for lacking courage while balls are associated with having it. Then I realized that "irony" doesn't begin to capture the sort of linguistic deception at work here.

Of course, idioms aside, balls are quite vulnerable, the sorts of things one would smartly do anything to protect. For example, desperate German shepherd fang avoidance. Off a cliff? Sure, just don't bite my balls.* The balls will control a sheep, or better, they will let a sheep be controlled. To be had by the balls seems a quite accurate idiom, with all it implies.

To have balls, then, is to be easily manipulated into supporting and/or doing things you don't actually want to do, like risking death to fight deeply hued people in the Middle East or working OT without pay;** to submit to leaders who'll have you running all over the fucking place because you're afraid of what they'll do if you stop running; to be always looking over your shoulder, behind, not ahead; to be enslaved, not free. To have balls is to be a...pussy? Sort of.

*I don't know how sheep would actually react to such a choice.
**I understand that sometimes the wolf is literally right on top of you and you gotta do what you gotta do...survival first, no shame in that...but that supports the point. John Steinbeck made this brilliantly clear in The Grapes of Wrath.

For That Friendly Old Woman, One Among Very Many, Bewildered by Sean's Japanese Fluency

from lips framed in blonde
the familiar sounds so strange
the language you speak
comes not from your race, my friend
it's just what you swam in then

Portrait of a Fat Spider on a Sunny Day in Late October

taught silk spans stone path
like a plucked string, the web sings,

Sunday, October 23, 2011

the Heraclitean flux capacitor

So, I'm trying to blow up the distinction between stasis and dynamism. There is no stasis, I'd say, echoing Heraclitus. This means there are no individual objects.

I learned in high school at some point that perfect circles don't exist in the real world. This is true. Numbers can't be found either. If I want to say there are two apples, I need to show that they're exactly the same. Identity is a useful tool. I'm inclined to a call it a fiction, though I'm certainly not arguing against it. The human ability to take two parts of the world and consider them the same thing, so that they may be counted, or to use any abstractions and consider their relations is a product of evolution.

I'm not trying to say abstractions are baseless, that it's all a dream. They're one way the world relates to itself: the eyes and brain relate to the apple. But see there I'm using the concepts "eyes," "brain" and "apple." What exactly can I capture about them that adds to their ridiculously complex non-conceptual relation, which I would suggest includes far more than brains and apples as we know them?

It's emotionally satisfying to understand, it's emotionally satisfying to form and achieve goals. There are ego benefits, there's relief from cognitive dissonance. It's an aid in survival, up to a point anyway (the humans being at risk of self-destruction), to use abstractions. You can say the same about sex.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Temporality, Ontology, 3

Matter is not dead. Not even rocks are dead. Everything that is, right now, is acting. Even the rock is self-replicating and diversifying, throwing itself into another now. This is amazing. What kind of effort does that take? What makes you do it, rock?

Temporality, Ontology, 2

The past is fake. The future is fake. Have you ever seen them? No, of course not. You've only seen now. That's all there is. Believing in the past and future is like believing in unicorns. Well, OK, you saw...what? No, you didn't. You "saw" now. You're now experiencing a simplification, conceptually, and an effect, viscerally.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Temporality, Ontology

It has come to my attention that there are no dimensions. I used to think of space as a three dimensional cube and time as a fourth dimension. Not because it made sense but because it was taught to me this way. Time happens on a line, past on the left, present on a dot, future on the right. Spatial. The question that got to bugging me was how the past crossed over the present to become the future. Past and future seemed simple; present presented problems.

This may not be original, but I've figured out that there is no past and there is no future. All that exists, and has ever existed, is now. The past is a concept in our minds, an unreal, simplified remnant. It is also in the body, in altered form. It does not exist, as such. The future is only a concept, the past re-imagined, visualized, conceptualized. The past in abstract, simplified and projected forward on a spatialized time line. If the past doesn't exist, the future really doesn't exist.

Now is not a passage from past to future. Past and future -- visualized, simplified -- are fictions. Only a human could come up with this stuff.  Now is self-replication and diversification.

I took a walk. I looked at a cinder block wall. I realized that it was self-replicating, partially (imperfectly?) at that very moment. Its changes were too minor to notice. Time is self-replication and diversification. Time, or the world, which are the same thing,  manifests itself in space.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

In support of hierarchy?

Two proposals:

1. Hierarchy does not exist in the world. It's what Galileo would have called a secondary quality. An asteroid collides with a planet, its plans of indeterminate straightlineishness, if you'll allow me some Newtonianism, smashed like a fish into a rock, or something. I do not object to the actions of these players. @planet: do what you will to those asteroids. Je n'oppose pas.

2. Alternatively, but with the same basic results, the planet totally owns the asteroid. I project my humanness onto these events. Hierarchy is everywhere. Objects act with force on other objects. I call it hierarchy. I still don't oppose these hierarchies. I oppose a specific type of hierarchy among human agents.

So let me talk about human hierarchies. The world acts with force on my body, a persistent flow, in and out. It changes me and I it. This is unavoidable. I'll even call it good, since it makes me exist. I don't oppose this. A baby hits her head, changes her behavior to avoid future injury. The world shapes her body and its brain. Damn you world!? No. It just is.

I come across an article on the internet, the words change my brain, which then changes the world as I act on those ideas. In and out, or just flux and porosity... Some ideas appear better to me than others. Better, as in hierarchy. Again, I do not oppose hierarchy, per se. Every choice I make, every action involves hierarchy. Accepting one thing while rejecting another is an establishment of hierarchy. I will not reject this part of me. I will not reject my agency. I am not fundamentally a paradox, not on this count anyway.

Some ideas cause more harm than good. I support these ideas, insofaras I can identify them. Evolution is good. Evolution is hierarchy. May the best ideas win. Long live hierarchy. Reject those ideas of mine you disagree with, I implore you. Or improve upon them.

(Now all of this is idealistic. If you praise me, I will like you more. If you criticize me, I might just cry.)

At the same time, I oppose hierarchies imposed by agents via force. By definition, this includes all institutional hierarchies, though I also oppose the use of brute force by agents in the vast majority of cases. Because these hierarchies cause more harm than good, in sum, because this harm is felt by entities that feel pain and I empathize with their pain, and because hierarchy is fake, as Montag might say, and as I (briefly) argued in proposal #1 above.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

real people

So all these teevee people are blathering toward the good people and away from the bad people, nine-eleven, we're good because we are and so forth, but well, I say, thy blather be directed toward the ratings and away from the grieving and toward the money and away from the humanity and toward the senseless destruction of REAL people to make right the senseless destruction of OUR?, no, no, REAL people...beware the opportunists.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Some people find a lot of arguments convincing. I can explain how if the USG is acting abroad (think spring 2011 Libya), it's necessarily in the perceived best interests of the USG's relevant actors, which they concede is convincing. Then here comes Krauthammer or Obamagressive to counter the obvious and my friend sees a quandary. But it all seems so true!! What you're saying seems true (that's me), what they're saying seems true (USG defenders). A lot of confusion.

This looks like a problem of cognition at first glance but it's not. On the one side is cognitive dissonance--the emotional recognition of contradiction as repulsive. I'm exposing contradictions and creating discomfort. My deal brings the downside of being alone in the world and your parents having been un-heroes, among other things. On the other side is repetition, the comfort of a parental protector, the satisfaction that we're doing good, the embarassment of annexing a position outside of what is accepted by the own group. This is an emotional struggle. That the USG is the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" is as intellectually obvious as a pre-Algebra equation.

Monday, June 6, 2011

from the heart

Jazz is improvization, from the heart, as they say on Treme. In that moment of creation, is there some referencing of theory? Does the artist rifle through her cool sound combo index (CSCI) to find the good shit? Whatever it is that creates beauty is the same that feels beauty. So if you take your felt beauty and try to apply some analysis...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Three cups of respectful shootings and bribery

Joshua Foust, former Army Afghanistan analyst on the repercussions of alleged "Three Cups of Tea" fraud:
“I think it would be a shame to abandon the idea of trying to respect the people you’re trying to reform with guns and money just because one of the people promoting the concept is shown to be a fraud.”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

silly Arab League

Me, at Wendy's: "I'll take a super healthy burger prepared with love by well-compensated cooks."

Arab League: "We'll take some western intervention, please. Hold the civilian killings."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

attack bad dictators with steel, good dictators with rhetoric

I've seen worse NYT articles than this kindly Kristoff piece, but this:

"Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton rightly deplored the violence in Bahrain, and the administration as a whole should speak out forcefully." rendered ludicrous by this:
"In October the Department of Defense, which administers sales to foreign countries, finally announced an arms package worth some $60 billion, including 70 Apache attack helicopters, also made by Boeing, and the fleet of F-15s [to Saudi Arabia]."

You know, instead of speaking out forcefully -- gettin all up in their grill and shit -- how about telling the Saudi/Bahrain bosses "if you beat down protesters, we won't sell you arms"? But that would assume a different political reality in which the Peacemonger-in-Chief and his ilk are significantly motivated by humanitarian concerns.

Most Americans, meanwhile, are unaware that Washington actively pushes these arms on preferred tyrants. Differences between the worthy victims of Libya and the semi-worthy victims of Bahrain are conjured up to justify official policy on humanitarian grounds. For starters: "All this is tragic because the ruling al-Khalifa family can be justly proud of what it has built in Bahrain..."

On the one hand, the establishment justification for using lethal force in Libya is that it's ruled by a tyrant who crushes dissent. On the other, establishment little-guy protectors like Kristof at most urge speaking out forcefully against Saudi Arabia/Bahrain because they're also ruled by tyrants who crush dissent with the world's finest dissent-crushing machines, sold to them by the...U.S.A!! U.S.A.!! Exporting freedom for over two centuries, baby.