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.

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