Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Social Network Has Already Died

Of course, I'm not talking about Facebook or its ilk. I'm talking about the real thing. Social networks are built on social commerce, and not on mediated interactions. There has to be more than language to bind people, and of course I don't mean the various virtual interactions of sight and sound and sublimated fury.

Social networks incorporate body knowledge, let's call it. Shared ways to cook to walk to drive to think. It has been a bigger problem in China, I think, when the language embodied in the written word lost touch with the physical exercise of writing. Only lately have we begun to recognize that the loss of cursive writing in the West is actually a loss.

The words move away. Spelling is lost. How much worse in China?

I lost my cursive ages ago, mostly due to too much note-taking too rapidly, and so only my secretary could know what I had written, by the time I was a responsible adult. I had to ask her. I'd buried my thoughts in typescript by then, and hadn't realized what had been lost. I thought at least I could be legible. Inheriting one of Dad's Selectrics, I could type really fast.

Now I'm sad that I've lost so much of my Chinese vocabulary. This is quite simply because I no longer write it with a pen. I no longer draw air-strokes when I look up Chinese characters in the dictionary. My language can only be abstracted. And in the abstract, thought is aligned against nature. We aim to supercede nature by the power of rationality.

Those hopeful about the future of the planet - our little outpost of life in the cosmos - seem now to the ones who remain excited about how much we can and shall understand by the means of scientific investigations. These all seem directed toward triumphs over nature, as though we were apart from nature, whatever that word might mean anymore. Whatever it could mean.

I suppose that if we do triumph we will have completed our abstraction each from other and it will be very hard to distinguish annihilation by virtue of hatred from annihilation by virtue of hubris from annihilation by virtue of what we might call some mistake from annihilation by virtue of nature. Nature is that which prevails despite our theatrics. Nature is the real.

I know that these are sophomoric meditations, and I know that the adult practice of scientific investigation will never end. Well, it will never end before the end. The problem being not science or the scientific method, but the economic arrangements which organize it., and everything else. 

How else to characterize our choices of the one among various ways forward. Truth means this. It means a consensus choice, when the consensus includes all of life, and now we - the capitalistic we - are arrayed against the rest of life, thinking that somehow we will create an artificial life. A virtual life. Some combine of personality where the most common attributes are celebrated as the most unique. And I had thought that it was my joining with others which made me. My personality is not an entity by itself. 

So no wonder science as an enterprise is so loathe to release itself from subject/object distinctions. There is no end to what you might accomplish as Lord. There is only end to All.

Were we to allow the conspiracy of all into our contemplations, we might realize that there is nothing more fundamental to discover but that there is also relativity to subject/object distinctions. There has never been any cosmos void of life. Life is the retrospective organization of accident according to the direction of love which is not a perceptual motivated direction, but, rather, a conceptual one. Time is but the direction of life lived. There is no time without life. There is only void. Without love, there is no time. Some of you have learned this from magic mushrooms. I learned it the hard way.

We seek artificiality with our instruments in case there is life elsewhere in our cosmos. Elsewhere means out of time, since we can't go there without bending dimensions beyond those which matter to us, and by doing that we will have become Goddish which will then have to mean that the godhead will have been destroyed and life will not have been.

We refuse, ironically, to be subject to anything or especially to the godhead which is not some detectable force driving anything. We refuse to be subject to love, or as the bumper sticker or was it a larger window decal on the White Supremacist Trump Truck with Rebel and American flags sandwiching Trump flags said, "FUCK YOUR FEELINGS." This is pretty aggressive. Very naughty.

The only thing wrong is that we think we know what other people are thinking and feeling by the colors they wear, the team they belong to, no longer imagining that there might be things in common. Discovering those would require climbing out of our wombs with views, McMansions on polished lawns where life has already been sterilized and news of continued life is highly exaggerated. The detonations have long since taken place. The network is down. 

And yet I still do feel a ping from across the router. Rogue network alert. There was already life elsewhere in the cosmos, and it has always spoken in the body language of life lived.

I still wonder why it is that when you hire workmen to fix your sewer, say, they seem always to be Trumpsters. Who even gets their hands dirty anymore. Certainly not Trump. How can these associations hold. Am I the only one whose thinking and being has not been entirely wrecked by the Social Dilemma?


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Ownership Society

So when I recently read about Jessica Krug cancelling herself, and then people piling on to double-cancel her, I was recalled to Adolf Reed demolishing false distinctions between gender and race transitions. He has less of a problem with cultural appropriation than he does with cancel culture. I have to say that I find his argumentation irrefutable. One of my daughters agrees with me, and the other calls Reed out for mansplaining, and me out for racism. 

I don't think that Reed denies structural racism in the least, any more than he would deny sexism and misogyny. His chore is to deny race and gender any distinction on the basis of 'nature.' Neither can be said to be valid natural categories; both are more a part of culture.

In the one case, sex is distinguished from gender, and in the other race is distinguished from any valid metric to determine human qualities. I believe the core of Reed's argument may be that it is as valid for someone to identify with a different culture as it is to identify with a different gender.

There are differences, of course. Everyone is embedded in a culture which includes all genders. Not everyone is embedded in every culture. So out of context, cultural norms may be called cultural appropriation as an illegitimate move. I think, perhaps, no-one would have any issue with a white person who has 'gown up' in black culture identifying black for that reason.

Perhaps the trouble comes along the way to the claims that academics argue. The author's personal history shouldn't matter to any argument, and the fact that it so evidently does and that we're all so easily misled undermines many of the claims that academia makes on our thinking. 

But is the crime committed by the one who takes advantage, or by the way the academic audience reads and judges?

Along the way it hits me pretty hard that what Dubya used to call ownership culture was his naive way to celebrate white supremacy. I don't think Dubya was by any means in the Trumpean category of nasty, but his behaviors did certainly serve the white powers behind structural racism. 

Now in my inchoate way, I'm finding it hard to distinguish between ownership of property and ownership of slaves. Robot help doesn't solve the problem. For a brief while, I thought it might. Moves in the direction of Universal Basic Income kind of thing. The problem is that some of us are always behind the renters' eight ball and some get boosted into the ownership class. 

Now in my case, I have only myself to blame, since I could clearly be an owner. It was a woman - my ex - who screwed me out of my start, but that was more me giving away the store on the basis of masculine guilt. I've never had much enthusiasm for American adversarial culture, whether in sports or politics, nor certainly in law. In law, that setup just tilts settlements in ways to help money win more often.

An identifiable underclass (dark skin does nicely) is essential for the legitimacy of an ownership society, which would otherwise look unjust. So are robots. Or in other words, I don't find much distinction between wage-slavery and the more literal kind on which this nation was founded. 

My sense is that we should rather celebrate anyone who wishes to identify as black, even when they don't have black blood. There is, apparently, much to envy and of course much to appropriate. It just shouldn't be a legit move for academics.

Those of us not in competition for the 'good life' are offered lots of freebies to make life easier. Many of these are in the form of mostly plastic now convenience containers, so that we can keep our hands clean and be assured that consumables are safe and untouched. Most of us can and do afford to "own" cars, as indentured renters. We hardly notice anymore that the costs are built in in ways insidious and destructive. 

Google search is hardly free. Plastic bags have at least started to cost something, and cheap gasoline mainly ensures that we won't have good mass transit any time soon. 

The question I want to ask is about what it would take for us to relinquish all this convenience and revert to wax paper, mass transit and wooden construction preserved by linseed oil based paints, so that the planet as a whole may thrive. Why are we so certain that our life-style would take a hit?

In my very own memory, time was that you could go to a nearby planing mill and get a window made to replace the one that rotted out because you were too lazy to paint it. Just now this is my agony as I try to assemble the tools and skills to rebuild old windows myself with a damp shop in my owner-grade offsprings' damp basement. It makes me sore every day, and mostly in the moral sense for that term.

Now they can't afford real craftspeople, who are priced to be available only to those who can essentially afford to own their property outright (meaning simply they have a positive net worth). The craftspeople might well be among the owner classes themselves, just as I was once a yacht owner (with negative net worth, of course). I did my own repairs. I'm pretty sure that wooden boat ownership is out of reach for the likes of me anymore. Especially given the cost of paint. If you can even get oil paint.

Oil paint was phased out to save the planet. Something about VOCs which made their way right back in and worse among the "water based" paints which replaced the poisonous good stuff. Plastics, Benjamin Bratton, plastics. 

Somehow, I think the overall ratios were perversely affected by well-meaning policies once those made their way through the capitalist imperatives on the way to market. All I know for sure is that my daughter has a cosmetics-sensitized debilitating allergy to whatever they put in latex paint to keep bacteria from growing in it. The chemical is banned in Europe, which is apparently somewhat less adversarial in its proclivities than we are. Slavery was never quite popular there.

Anyhow, all these are consciousness-raising matters. The recalcitrant Trumpsters will fight tooth and nail against any and all of them, while those more on the side of the angels have a really hard time connecting the dots to why these are all the same thing; racism, sexism, consumerism, landfill waste, HVAC and especially planes and automobiles.

Tesla lovers are right on a knife edge, but they are loving cars which tips them in the wrong direction. You certainly can't own a BMW and be on the right side of history. Nor a BIG HOUSE. Nor have servants.

I'm a servant to my children, and that's the way, perhaps, it should be, though I'm chafing just now by latent chauvinism from one in particular to whom there's no blood relation. No more could I identify as black, now that my sister tells me that 23 and me nixes any black blood. Yeah, like I should trust them.

A relation is a relation, whether based on blood or genes or just simple love, and it would never rankle without the love when the relation turns bad.

What I have to give to Trumpsters is that they seem to love their things; whether guns or cars or motorcycles or jet skis or speedboats. They seem to care for their things, just as those from whom they seem to be descended claimed to care for their slaves. Even as their slaves were forced to care for them.

I guess we all love different things. I love wooden things, and I once did love to maintain my wooden sailboat. Fiberglass is the same kind of cop out as plastic bags are. Plastic bags, remember, were only created as a way to create an industry which would support better profits for the very lucrative automobile industry for whom the useful stuff was otherwise just too expensive.

The lie that we've been sold is some version of maintenance-free. But no fiberglass boat - ever! - has outlasted a well-maintained wooden boat. And those disintegrated as gracefully as a body might.

That kind of industrial process - please appreciate the freebies that I offer you and please don't notice how they concentrate wealth away from you to the extent that you appreciate them - is identical to systemic racism. They are the same thing. You must deny that you are doing anything wrong to accept something that is offered to you freely, whether white privilege or plastic bags or Google search. If you can ignore the fact that these things are offered freely, then you are, by definition, an owner. You are a slaver. You suck.

So everyone sucks but me and I cancel you and then suck myself up my tuba and be gone. How cool is that?

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Hard Fail; Accident

Pondering Elon Musk's playful idiocy, as he expends the resources only he can have to realize childish SciFi fantasies, I must return to the ground of accident that is the only ground that counts. Just like the electrical ground that I struggle truly to understand before I undertake the tough stuff on This Old House on which I labor. Accident is the only safe constant.

Elon is Trump's twin as he leads us down the road away from accident. Those who suffer accident are, in Trump's terms "losers." He is, of course, quite correct in that. His mistake is to consider himself beyond the reach of accident. As do all of us who remain alive, his evidence is that he hasn't really suffered many. Accidents, that is. Or at least, apparently, he hasn't suffered enough of them. A winner like him can only be the Fool.

The accident ratio, of course, leaves a person far better off if he is white and rich, which is itself demonstrably goad to idiocy; the idiocy of self-congratulation for one's superior merit. Narcissism by any other name.

But the Trumpsters are onto something. They embrace accident, especially the sorts of accident most likely to emerge from the barrel of a gun or the carbureted or electronically fuel-injected barrel of an internal combustion explosion-containment chamber. 

Now Ol' Elon champions the electrical kind of motive power, just as he seems to imagine that the brain is a complexly wired container for our selfie-self. Perish the notion! The ground for all of us is accident, and the future is precisely that which we can neither project nor imagine because it always overtake us by surprise.

As we work to protect our selfie-selves, or to deny reality - take your pick - during this pandemic, our selfish genes are surely doing their own thing by managing to persist. The choices are among cucarachas, viruses, and perhaps still for just a moment longer whatever it is that could be meant by 'human.' 

If Trump suffers - heaven forfend - some unfortunate debilitating accident (prior to his ultimate demise, which can surprise nobody who hasn't internalized some fiction of immortality here on earth), that will cause no permanent harm to his ilk. Trump-alikes are apparently as numerous as Republicans now. They are the efficient causes - the 'engines' if you will - of our continued evolution. I suppose we should celebrate them for that. Pardon me while I puke out my guts.

The ground, remember, is accident. Life is an accidental direction away from entropy. It simply cannot be directed. No matter how much intelligence gets mustered, accident will prevail, and life will move the way that life has done for eons, which is, of course, in the direction of love. That's what love means. 

Intelligence is fine when it gets used properly in service to the comfort of our fellow humans. So often it gets used to engineer warfare and the death of those we deem to be on some 'other' team. As Dawkins so reliably demonstrates, those contests are at best only metaphorically related to what happens at the level of life's evolution. To treat them as contests between life and death is to make a categorical error. Genes are always grounded. Contests at any higher level can only cause sparks. Sparks are not alive, though heaven knows they may instigate life from time to time.

Intelligence cannot express love. Intelligence cannot channel love. Intelligence cannot in and of itself provide any basis for merit. Intelligence can only serve love, which it must do on the basis of exquisite balance. Our way of life demonstrates that beauty is the more reliable token for merit. Just ask Trump. 

We have surely crossed a tipping point in service to an excess of wealth that is more grotesque than whatever the First Emperor of the Chin Dynasty arrogated in attempt to obviate his mortality. Now there's a loser's game! 

Well over half of my stored energy for retirement is held on my behalf in hazardous bets - they call them equities - about the future of our economy as presently construed. Now that interest rates have descended to near zero, cash is a fool's reserve, though I can only try to enjoy the sport of my future being whipsawed by the stock market. 

Still, it's only half. Right? None of us is more than half right. But the amounts that evaporate in any given instant are stunningly beyond what I might need to live on during any given day. And I'm talking a mere multiple of three of my life-time's highest annual salary, which is right about at the median of income where I live, which is no place you'd aspire to. You do the math. I'm in the 50 percent, though - mostly by virtue of whiteness - I am immersed in the social capital of the one percenters.

I try really hardly to share my wealth in ways that don't lead to my being a burden on my progeny. For some reason, I just hate to work for the man, but I also have to admit that I hate that a little less than I would hate to be the man. It's a tough balance lots of the time. 

So, I give away my labor freely, now that I'm too old to work. Ironically enough, the labor I give away is precisely the sort that underlies the presumption of the need for a retirement battery. My donations are mostly physical, aided by tools. The logic is not linguistic logic. I make bad mistakes if and when my 'mind' is clouded by emotional charge. I have to love and to focus on the object that I'm fashioning. Mostly by hand. Without distraction.

How very ironic that labor with and by means of my body feels less painful than laboring with and by and through language! Both sorts deteriorate badly, though in some sense I am doing my very best work now. I am more motivated, apparently, to handle the more literal tools. My mind and my body have become one. Thanks God for that! I have some sense that I once did lack. I hope.

I do now actually prefer an electric bicycle. Go figure! I hope never to drive a Tesla, praying for streetcars in their place. Apple's so-called AI battery management really sucks. The batteries in my little mobile house are dying as we speak. I'm winding down myself. 

I labor for love, despite the evident fact that my motive undermines any and all appreciation for what it is that I provide. That is an unfortunate accidental side-effect of the sort of rampant unregulated capitalism that we still practice in these United States. Troglodytes!

What sort of fool am I? I am a fool for love. So is Trump, but his definition for love has a very low denominator. I think Biden may be my kind of fool. There are plenty of people whose work I admire that I can't really much agree with much of the time. That's OK. I love them anyhow. 

At my age, I'm less afraid to fail, and I guess that's how it should be. I must nurture my genes which are now contained in my progeny, right? They are my betters, though I wish they'd take more of my advice about what would be good for the planet. Electric better. Trolleys better. Cars bad. Diversity better. Race bad. Winning is not possible in love. Only losing. Love must be tested to be true. Intelligence is no foil. Alone and bitter in touch with truthiness and an audience of one. Time to get to work!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Hard Irony

I've been declaring for a while now that 'my religion is irony, or something to that effect. I've felt hugely tentative about my usage of the term, especially as nobody seems able to help me out. I've tried David Foster Wallace, I've tried the dictionary, of course, and I've posted about my pet theory that irony exists only in Goddist cultures. 

To broaden that, I'd say that irony exists in cultures descended from Platonic philosophies. You have to inherit some kind of belief in absolute, sort-of preordained universal truthiness in order to spin off that into irony. Otherwise, irony is no different from Yin/Yang, say, and certainly nothing very funny about it. 

Well, my supremely well-read son-in-law wondered if I was referring to Richard Rorty's usage of irony. Now, I'm no troglodyte, and I have read Rorty, but if I could do attributions perhaps I'd be a scholar like my son-in-law is. My mind doesn't seem to work that way. Call it a cataloguing weakness. Or call it a failure in belief that anything even close to universal can be trued. If I believe in anything, I believe in (non-Goddist!) love. Love cannot be trued, but it sure can be tested. Stop testing and it disappears.

So, I Wikipediaed Rorty and finally feel comfortable with my usage, which is pretty much identical to his. Of course that gives me no particular credibility, especially as I don't have any way really to know where Rorty stands in the pantheon of philosophers.

But from my own history I draw a chain of analogs and feel confident in my deduction that there is no more chauvinistic stance than the one which might be built upon theories of general intelligence. These, of course, descend from definitions for humanity, which Rorty calls out as the bedrock for denigration of "others" (of whatever stripe). 

Just now, at this moment in our history, we are in the mindless thrall of a definition for intelligence as a kind of logical acuity, which really means that the most perfect mind would be a machine, on the cybernetic model of a computer. For me, nothing could be more silly. But perhaps we've always construed something like 'intelligence' as the defining feature of humanity. Or at least we make attempts to generalize what it is we value most; only lately calling it intelligence.

Cybernetics (I doubt that I'm using the correct term here) reverses the human-as-evolution's-apotheosis trope to reduce us to being but the product of our own projections. My image is from the yellow submarine where the tuba player sucks himself into oblivion. (I can't find that image now, so maybe I'm inventing it, though I swear I remember it through a cannabinoid fog)

As you know, gentle reader, I've recently re-read Dawkins on the selfish gene. I find sparks of divinity there, ironically enough. While he demolishes genetic pressure at the social level, he does seem to rehabilitate the notion of humanity as apex critter; ideal vehicle for selfish gene survival. That's because we're such generalists, and can use something like intelligence to get past most any environmental challenge, given world enough and time. We make clothes, we make houses, we make tools.

But it's precisely at the social level that we're killing not just ourselves, but the entire planet. Well, but for the cucarachas, right Wall-E? Our selfish genes must be jumping right out of our skin!

As I write, ol' Elon Musk is showing off his brain-reading technology, as though that might make human life better or more satisfying, and as if that is less terrifying than the Artificial Intelligence that Elon is so terrified of. Somehow this brain-reading tech is more human??? Is it only about keeping us in charge? I don't hardly ever like those who are in charge . . .

Well, you also know that I've discovered Riccardo Manzotti's theory of the Spread Mind, which pretty much blows any notion that the brain contains us right out of the water. So reading minds, I have to confess, looks to me like a fools' game if ever there were one. You'd end up by ignoring the person you actually do know in favor of a meter reading, even from within what you think of as the self you know.

Let's face it, bro, none of us knows ourselves as well as those who love us do. If they really love us, they'll tell us where to get off.

Or in other words, there's no escaping life, and life is about evolution which is about replicators (genes) finding ways to replicate themselves reliably, which is all about adapting to environments, which is what we are setting about destroying.

That won't matter a whole lot, will it? I mean we do live as though we were the lowest rather than the highest creatures, where struggling means for a bigger flatscreen in a bigger house as far from our burgeoning landfills and poor, dangerous, neighborhoods as possible. That doesn't really feel like life at all. Neither does watching commuters ram out of town in cars, from the perch of my new e-bike.

Still and all, if evolution must truly be located at the level of the "selfish" gene and no higher than that, it does seem that society as analog to the multi-tenanted (human, say) body must make a difference to the chances for those apex genes. That's "apex" even though many of them go right on back to the cucarachas and beyond the very beginning.

At the level of society, one would hope and even imagine that a viral insult on the scale of Trump would inure the body politic to his dangers and evolve itself into something that's better proof against the disease germ's destructive powers. I guess that even viral DNA is built into us. So build in Trump in antibody form.

What seems to stop us is that our addictive selves are still having too much raw fun treating politics as a spectator team sport. We get to belong easily to people we get along with, part of which seems to involve vilifying some 'other.' The degree of sell-out among Republicans now does not bode well for the future of the US's experiment with democracy. But adapting or adopting team Blue just deepens the trouble. It's not like they're (we're?) clean.

Now my brilliant son-in-law writes about 'cosmopolitan constitutionalism,' which as I understand it purports to begin the narrative of a post-national form of governance which avoids the problem of othering difference. The trouble is that said son-in-law behaves as though he is the exemplar of tippy top general intelligence, and that his deeply learned methods for philosophical inquiry can deal with any and all manner of truthiness. My exhibit "A" is always something like practical car mechanics, which is far beyond the pale of philosophy to learn.

Irony resonates for me when someone crosses over to the imperialism of white UN Land Rovers coming to fix some backward culture. I end up preferring the absence of irony now on display in Africa by the highly culturally chauvinistic Chinese. I shouldn't, but I do. I just like too many Chinese. Just now I dislike my own type. I'm sure I'll get over it.

So, if you're not going to denigrate and belittle people who don't quite think and write the way that you do by purporting to lift them up by your brilliance, what's a thinker, or a doer even, to do? So many Trumpsters seem perfectly kind to me, and likeable. I don't want to psychoanalyze what's wrong with their thinking any more than I want to psychoanalyze my son-in-law for why he must mistrust my judgement as his patron, laboring on this very very old house that they wanted my help with. But it's really hard not to.

My conclusion is that it just won't help. Trumpsters 'believe in' their world view, I suppose because it gets reinforced by their buddies. They don't trust their pretentious "betters" among the political elite, and really why should they? Do you? How, really, does any politician stay 'true' during the process of sausage-making?

How does one avoid condescension? The one you're looking down upon will feel it immediately, unless you've already enslaved them to your evident whitewashed brilliance. So the answer is that you have to like them. You have to learn to like them. You have to give a shit enough to live among those you would help. Ah, but the trappings of wealth are so attractive. There's the rub.

Well, I'd better get back to work. I'm slaving for love of my children who live so much better than I do, or ever could, which somehow gives the right to denigrate my form of knowledge, as though I didn't have their best interests at heart. There truly is no justice! There is only evolution, ironically enough.