Thursday, March 20, 2014

i'd only ever consider trusting a politician who actively sabotages his political career

Lesser evilists like to argue that Obama is .1%, or whatever, less harmful, than a hypothetical Republican. As in criminal law, one can speak of both the act and the intent regarding the exercize of power. (I use this distinction for argument's sake only, for reasons I hope will become clear later.) The .1% claim deals, in theory, with the largely quantifiable results of actual policies. In other words, the acts and their effects. I'd be the first to accept that, given the non-uniformity of history slices, effects vary from one administration to the next. Maybe Reagan was worse than Clinton. Maybe Bush was worse than Obama. In a set where nothing is of equal value to anything else, some are less bad than others.

I'm fine having the (f)act debate with lesser evilists on the conditions that, if I show that Obama has been worse, they'll stop supporting him as a matter of political strategy whereas if they show Obama has had less bad effects than a hypothetical alternative and that supporting people like him is the best strategy for non-oppression in the short- and/or long-term, I'll change my tune. We can talk about incarceration statistics, deportation statistics, war budget, etc. We can ignore what these actors intended, as it has no bearing on strategy. This is a conversation to be had with Chomsky, for example, who thinks voting Democrat is a good idea in spite of his recognition that Democrats want the same thing as Republicans -- to stay in power by serving power.

On the other hand, there's the question of intent. Whereas Chomsky understands that politicians act on political, not ethical motivations, there is a far more common kind of lesser evilist -- the one who argues that the .1% less evil gap results directly from Obama being a decent guy. The argument, depending on the apologetic context, ranges from "decent guy in comparison to those evil Republicans" to "decent, even heroic, guy, period," though it's essentially the latter. All of this is unconscious and unanalyzed. Upon criticism, the committed apologist uses that post hoc rationalization machine we call consciousness to clean everything up, reinventing his own arguments as coherent, using blurry-eyed vision to plug a dam that's cracked through and through.

"Obama as not just less evil but actually a decent guy" rests on splitting Obama into politician Obama -- the one who does what he has to and yes, makes mistakes (he isn't perfect!) -- and ethical, well-intentioned Obama. Outcomes the Obamapologist likes are attributed to Obama's good intentions, that is, to ethical Obama. Outcomes he doesn't like are pinned on political Obama. (This is also, not at all coincidentally, the way small children cope with tyrannical parental behavior.)

Let me propose as a way to distinguish whether or not your favorite politician is acting on political calculation or on humanitarian intentions. It's a simple test: Did the politician act, non-accidentally, in a way that hurt his political career? This is only the first condition for the possibility of a politician acting as a not-politician. It is a condition I'm unaware of Obama having met. And given what is known about the American political system as currently constituted -- that non-power-accruing "intentions" are punished so consistently and devastatingly at so many junctures in the politicians' rise to a position of federal power that it's impossible for anyone to get away with them at that level -- the default best explanation is always political calculation at the exclusion of any other calculation. If Obama's time in office ends up leading to the end of the drug war or the military industrial complex, that will almost certainly have been a product of Obama the shrewd political actor, and not Obama the guy who actually gives a shit about things like not destroying countless lives (considering that he has established, time and again, with his actions, that he does not give such a shit). This is also why you shouldn't "give credit" to political actors (where of course ethics/good intentions are implied), as some like to do.

It's possible, one might argue, for an act to be both political and ethical. A politician might, for example, use diplomatic means to secure the release of hostages. He might go along with a popular push against legislating sexuality. The politically savvy move can be the ethically decent move. But it's not ethical, intentionally, if it's first political, which, given the context, it always is.

Finally, given that no one knows what their intentions are outside simplistic, distorted representations in consciousness coming from godknowswhere and given that all intentions self-present, finally, as good, the most reliable way to talk about intentions where actions repeat (i.e. non-accidentally) is to assume that the action is the intention or that the actor is insane, or both.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

the price of freedom: infinity times a lot of something?

Why are some non-government humans happy (or at least OK) with government humans spying on them in spite of the absence of evidence of terrorism prevention by such means? Even if the government prevented say, 50 deaths a year (as far as anybody knows, it doesn't!), the return on investment would be miniscule in comparison to the return on other ways of spending money (and freedom!), or not taxing. "TERRORISM!" -- not the thing itself but the word and what it invokes -- is scarier for some than a million traffic accidents covered in spiders, because "1 terrorism" > "1 spider-covered traffic accident". By how much? Infinity, approximately. Math doesn't matter here. There's a term for this: scope neglect. It's only part of the answer, but worth mentioning.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Paul Krugman:
Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party. We’ve gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We’ve even gone beyond selfishness and special interests. At this point we’re talking about a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.
"Inflicting further suffering on the already miserable" is a reference to material conditions, along with the (sound) judgment that it's likely terrible to have to struggle to meet the most basic material needs.

"Takes positive glee" is a reference to intentions, the contents of consciousness as interpreted from external signs like words, fist pumps, and angry red faces.

Both Democrats and Republicans are in the business of inflicting suffering on the already miserable. Whatever they say their intentions are, however they narrate their actions internally or externally, they cause (net) suffering, and if they fail, they lose their job. Causing unnecessary harm is what they do when they go to work. The material effects are the same, and as they act in tandem, as a pain-producing unit, any hypothetical .01% less evil argument for Democrats is beside the point.

What distinguishes Democrats from Republicans, their most reliable selling point because it can always be fudged, is their good intentions. Even when they're in power, doing terrible things, they don't mean anything bad to happen to good people, whoever they may be.

"Somehow, one of our nation’s two great parties has become infected by an almost pathological meanspiritedness."

Yep, I believe he's referencing bad intentions again. Wow. Only one of the parties is mean. Where is your shame, Republicans? Inflicting suffering is one thing, but openly enjoying it is for savages!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

everyone is a compatibilist

I read a handful of philosophy blogs. I used to study philosophy more seriously. At its best, it's amusing, at its worst, devastatingly bleak. Unlike politics, where all it takes to be right is understanding what it means to be an establishment stooge, and not being it (and you don't have to be smarter than them, as they're at a massive disadvantage defending an incoherent web of lies), philosophy is hard. Anyway, here are some (more) thoughts on the freedom versus determinism issue, driven by the recent back and forth between Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett.

immanence versus transcendence
Free will has always been tied up with transcendence in accordance with the usual inside/outside scheme. Free will, human, white, male, nihonjin, straight, etc. invents a category in which it, a priori, i.e., via presupposition and for convenience, is superior. Transcendence is code for "how I/we/inside is special." False dichotomy. Everything is the same, first and foremost. Differentiation comes after. The difference between rocks and humans, causally speaking, is complexity. For humans, there are considerably more forks in the road than there are for rocks. Difference of degree, not kind. Every now is a fork in the road, or a billion, but the vast majority will stay on the main road, i.e., repeat.

teleology versus spontaneity
The most unsettling version of determinism is essentially the claim that everything has already been set in stone. The clockmaker decided on the design (in stone?) at some indeterminate "point" in timespace, presumably, and the details will happen, perfectly, in accordance with prophecy. Determinists don't always say this, mind you. Maybe it's too embarrassing. But maybe it shouldn't be because we all think teleologically. We make plans, and act in accordance with them. We invent the future in a now, and work toward making it real outside the noosphere. We are future-oriented. Our plans unfold shockingly well, when you think about it. They do a magical job. They produce results we can't understand the causes of, even if they're never exactly the results we expected.

I played baseball when I was 6 or 7 and was absolutely terrible. People kept telling me to keep my eye on the ball. It didn't make sense, though. How could I hit the ball just by watching it? I wanted to follow through on the advice, but every time the ball approached, I'd try to watch bat and ball at the same time and bring them together. Lots of terribly painful, emotionally scarring strikeouts followed. I ended up being a solid softball player as an adult, but only after learning to watch just the ball while letting my hands and the bat magically send it into the outfield. It still doesn't make sense to me how it works, it just does. The expectation makes it happen. I don't even know how I brush my teeth. There's so much happening there. Cells in arms and hands and air being displaced and so on. Then there's the internet.

The question of randomness, as far as I can tell, is set against this teleological backdrop. Is everything set in stone or not? In other words, has everything already happened? The argument that everything has already happened (again, I think this is mostly hidden) would be a big leap from predictability, which is quite limited to observable repetition yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Predictability versus unpredictability is about human brains evolving in a now and mastering spacetime in their proximity, or failing to. Randomness versus unrandomness is speculation about a divine clockmaker that is modeled on the weirdness of our own godlike powers. Randomness is a failure of predictive power, nothing more. Moving on.

it is what it is -- everyone is a compatibilist
All of this is in reference to The Way Things Actually Are. Like all of us, Dennett and Harris use words produced by never-the-same-for-even-a-moment (moments themselves being freeze-framed abstractions) brains to create truth in a now, with TWTAA at the same time being assumed, whether they or we acknowledge it or not, to exist on its own. If some "revolutionary" new truth is created in the course of this debate -- something that most humans brains will be moved to believe and be affected by in the way brains are affected by beliefs -- its impact will likely be trivially small. People did not stop sleeping, eating, screwing, and killing when they heard about biological evolution. Hell, the majority of atheists are statists who think, like Hitchens and Dawkins, that yeah, maybe "we" should invade and destroy those Muslim societies and teach them the true and good ways that civilized people do things.

But apart from, and far more important than, the question of how much this debate matters is the question of how it matters. The only way incompatibilism, the belief that if humans are clockmaker determined all is fucked, affects you, in short, is if you buy it. It's determinism as apologetics. My body is making me go to the liquor store now. OK, I believe that, and now I'll just go. Determinism, no check that, the belief in determinism, is potentially causal, as an excuse. That's how it matters.

Simply by acting, on the other hand, as humans do, you're a compatibilist. Say you learn that, in accordance with TWTAA, everything is fucked. Well, you continue to act 99.99% the same as before. You're still breathing, yes? That's acting. Are you dead? That's acting too. Body still be worlding when you dead. The only way the debate matters is as yet another cause in this ongoing, ever-fluxing humanness we only understand by referring to something that, as far as anyone knows, only lives in our heads, i.e., TWTAA.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

and that's the goddamn truth

The Way Things Actually Are (TWTAA) is the backdrop for every debate humans have, as well as for every agreement. Everything considered to be true or false, i.e., every belief, is that in relation to TWTAA, whether one is inclined toward phenomenology, transcendental realism, or something else. Whether one calls one's epistemological beliefs foundationalist, coherentist or whatever, TWTAA is what's being discussed. It's assumed to exist, even when we explicitly deny that it does or when we deny that anything about it can be known. Again, I don't mean an opiner has to believe that TWTAA is real. I mean that due to the way the game is set up, TWTAA is presupposed in every opinion they formulate. Language precedes epistemology both historically and structurally. Language is naive realistic and it doesn't seem to me like any amount of meta-whatever can save us from that. Not that we should necessarily want it to. And our belief structures precede phenomenology. What do phenomenologists argue about? TWTAA. This is the common space (OK, I'm mixing metaphors; use whichever works, disregard, etc.) where brains intermingle and influence each other.

No one knows what TWTAA is, or if it is. Agreements are short-lived and nobody knows what those are either, but they always rely on some sort of permanent, static, immortal structure often just below the surface experientially happening in brains. Plato's forms. Numbers. Nouns. Probably all words. God. Justice. Immortal permanent static perfection created in always-at-every-single-juncture (hey, what's a juncture? can I just stop world by declaring it so?) never-still-for-even-a-second (hey, what's a second?) spontaneously evolving matter, i.e., human brains. Brain matter freeze frames, but even photographs and the brain versions of those are always, without fail, fluxing all the hell over spacetime.

Epistemology revolves around what we know and how we know when we know something and other things involving "know." I find the whole discussion a bit awkward since we don't know anything (I know this!). But we do believe things (I know this too! It's written in the stars, which are permanent!) and how we come to believe things is the foundation for what we call knowing, or thinking we know, whatever it is we think or don't think or think we know or don't know about anything.

Have you been affected by the words you just read? Will they affect you next week? That's how beliefs form, in a spontaneously evolving present. It doesn't matter if one calls it "free" or "determined" (though that distinction, rebranded, may be useful in another context). It just is what it is, and whatever that is, it's the way everything else is, with tweaks. Repeating, continuing, evolving, spacetimeing, worlding, existing...this is the crazy part. Humans do what rocks do, with added complexity.

And did I mention that noone knows what TWTAA is? That seems like it would be important if it were true.

Monday, February 10, 2014

reason as accursed

Benjamin Cain says reason is accursed. The formulation I'd been using in my head was something like "intellectual 'progress' is a story about dreary narratives beating the hell out of less dreary ones."

Every narrative appeals to self-interest somehow or no one would believe it. (I'm using the term as it relates to claims meant to be about the way things actually are, Platonic forms, Kant's noumena, as opposed to fictional worlds.) If you ask "what's in it for the person who believes it?," you can always find something in there and this something is the best answer to the question "why do people believe it?" Reason finds the reason you believe it, and it's not what you thought, and this kills the narrative. If everything is narrative, reason kills everything. Well, but not all narrative need be truth claims so you've still got art and whatever truth claims you haven't let reason attack. Art is possibly off limits, if you can talk yourself into that, because you can't take truth away from it. It wasn't even claiming that so it has nothing to lose.

All narratives are selfish. Progressivism offers a shiny future where the unpleasantness of past and present are airbrushed out, conservatism offers a shiny future that will return the believer to a past that never happened. Alex Jones offers a group of evil masterminds plotting to destroy you just because they want to (the easiest villain type to hate), us against them unity (read: tribalism), hope, non-complicity. Chomsky types offer the tribalist good feelings of class war, at least a little hope, and with only a dash of complicity. Even antinatalism, the philosophy that life is a cycle of suffering and that therefore you shouldn't bring new life into the world gives the antinatalist the satisfaction of feeling ethically right. Further still, the position that we're suffering driftwood and should accept our fate makes accepting one's driftwoodiness the right thing to do and the satisfaction that comes with that acceptance selfish.

Reason offers an ultimatum. Either selfishness (perhaps a re-branded version) is good somehow or...kill yourself (or at least don't have kids). Reason always offers ultimatums whether you're explicitly talking about "selfishness" or not. You're just an animal, you're just a bunch of molecules (those being dead, valueless things), you're just this and that thing you had gotten high on not being. Reason is an abusive (expletive) that feeds on foiling expectations.

Narrative can't kill itself because it is narrative. Narrative is selfish, anti-narrative is narrative, and selfish. There is no anti-narrative that can engage with narrative without being swept up by it. I recently commented somewhere: "Saying people should stop complaining and be more positive is itself complaint. Stop being so negative, anti-complaint complainers!" Someone said maybe they're just giving advice. I said "advice to  NOT complain, i.e., anti-complaint. You're just shifting the subject to that murky area called intentions, where complaints + good intentions = advice, which is good." Once you complain about complainers, you've lost. This also reminds me of atheists claiming that their belief in no God is a non-belief. No, you engaged. Now you revolve around it.

Reason is anti-"narrative about the way things are." It's a reaction and feeds off the narrative it claims to oppose. It rightly reveals that no one knows what "the way things are" is, which effectively means that there is no "way things are." One way around it is to stop believing that there is a way things are. Which there is not. But it's still hard to do because we're rigged to think there is.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

narrative is mortal, nihilism is denial

Human experience is narrative, it's popular and accurate to point out, and humans created narrative. (Not agents. Humans.) To analyze narrative is to find its humanness. Having evolved in humans, in a manner they don't understand, via principles inaccessible to them over the course of millions of years, narrative cowers before its own mortality.

Descartes, one of the most brilliant humans of all time, committed himself to constructing an analysis-proof (immortal) narrative. He couldn't come up with a single narrative fragment that remains intact today. Science faces the same problem.

Nihilism may seem to be about the death of narrative, but it's not that, simply. It's the death of a certain kind of narrative, one that evolved on punishment-reward (by authority) principles. Meaning and purpose are given from outside. Meet the goals and be rewarded. Fail and be punished. Powerful chemicals, those. That the death of a particular kind of narrative leads to feelings we describe with words like "pain" and "loss" and "emptiness" and sends our brain wheels spinning to recover is evidence enough that narrative doesn't die along with grand-purposive-transcendent-adult-in-the-sky-rewarding-me-with-approval-and-thereby-sweet-brain-chemicals narrative.

Humans are narrative creating machines and the problem is finding one that can deliver the right chemicals. Never getting addicted in the first place is probably the best answer, and that's a matter of childrearing. Using philosophy narrative to recover is likely futile at best. Nietzsche was as good as there has ever been and died miserable (please see Alice Miller's account). If you're trying to defeat narrative with anti-narrative (itself narrative), like Nietzsche was, you've probably already lost. Instead, get some exercise. Stop philosophizing. Hug a kid, a friend, a dog. (These are notes to self, as well.)

(This post is a supplement to this one.)