Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Viral Episteme; Epistemology of Stafanik v. Cheney

There is no essential self, of course. What we think of as our essential self, repository of character, is but a narrative construction, where the editing is done prior to consciousness. Prior to choice. So much for Elon's bright light to expand across the expanse.

If you want to know what you think of as your essential self, you'll have to learn to meditate. Trouble is that in touch with cosmos like that, there won't be any opportunity for choice. Choice operates after we're handed the narrative. The narrative itself is then impacted by our choices. Chicken/egg kind of thing. 

Get used to irony. It's how cosmos moves.

It makes a nice conspiracy theory that China released the virus. It would be a very clever thing for them to do to destroy our power, knowing that they had the political discipline to keep the virus in check for themselves. 

In fact and in deed it might be more productive to examine the soup in which humanity now lives. Where all sorts of artifice - bactericidal agents, and plain concentration of effluents, nevermind wet markets - intermixes with unedited nature. The editing happens before anybody can take credit for it, and before the blame can be credited either. Sort of.

Many of us wonder what could possible happen to someone like Elise Stefanik, to lead her to become unhinged from what we conventionally call truth. And unhinged, therefore, from any semblance of integrity. It just seems appalling. 

McConnell and Cheney "valiantly" attempt to retain some semblance of fidelity to truth. Something about plausible deniability whenever they might need it. But what's going on here? Power behind the throne? Dowager-style usurpation?

But really, it's all nothing more than the structure of narrative. Like, just ask yourself, how does fidelity voting Liz Cheney get to be some sort of hero now? This business is about lock-step fidelity to leadership. It's about power, plain and simple. Inside our narrative of democracy is an authoritarian structure which makes Chairman Xi look positively avuncular. Well, he is positively avuncular.

There's no backroom to Trump. His narrative constructs itself on his orange face. Nothing at all happens in meetings with him, except, perhaps, that you learn that he's no threat to power, since there's nothing there. He works way better than Reagan's Howdy Doody ventriloquism ever did. And that's the show, friends. There's nothing more to it when you pull back the curtain in Oz.

Who, in power, wouldn't want that for the front? Overall, they massage their messages as handily as Jeff Bezos does when he gets caught cheating. As if those dudes aren't on the same team, WaPo notwithstanding. I mean, their fidelity to facts notwithstanding (and I honor that, I do) NYT and WaPo are still about owning the collective narrative.

Of course, on one level, Stefanik is not really very hard to understand. Once you tap into a vein of outrage and then hear the screaming affirmation and watch actual money pour in - and especially when you realize you might just be good at that sort of performance art - you probably want to just keep going. It's what Trump does effortlessly. His performance is not even all that mysterious, since we also know within us how these notes might resonate. 

Life is easier when you can identify what's bad and what's good; who's the hero and who's the goat.

I was young once, and thought to be intelligent. Unfortunately for me, I was always urged toward academic pursuits and an academic career. Nobody warned me that this would require a sort of mind which I don't have. The kind that can catalog names and recite reliable attributions while staying attuned to the valence of specific works. 

Narrative truth always overtakes me. Which distinguishes me from almost no one.

The limits of the human mind in that regard is how academic disciplines become defined. Most young people are simply too, well, undisciplined to go far along the path of the hard work required to advance to some position of authority in any field. But some few are sparked by a specific realm of knowledge, and just, apparently, latch on to the field. 

This might be easier to understand in the trades rather than in academia, where you just simply find that you're particularly good at something, get encouraged in that direction, and enjoy the realm, whatever it is. Like being a musician, say, or an artist, but also like being a plumber or carpenter or computer coder. 

Looking back, I should think that it would have been obvious that I was never going to focus my interests. I mean, I should have been a politician. But I was always fascinated by how truth might be determined, and so perhaps that makes me a sort of amateur philosopher. I prefer the Chinese Dao Jia; "master of the Way," which might be Confucian, might be Taoist, might be any old narrative.

In any case, around the canonical age of 27 or 28, I felt that I did discover something incredibly important. At the same time, I realized that I had no proper discipline within whose bounds to convey it. I discovered that it would be extremely unlikely that I would ever encounter anyone who shared a similar vocabulary to mine. And I don't mean to say that I have a complex vocabulary. I don't.

Crazy is as crazy does, and I just simply can't seem to find a narrative that reads well to anybody else.

And so I mostly put those thoughts away and carried on with the business of life. I've done a passably good job of dealing with making money, raising kids and keeping some time for myself. I have no real complaints. I'm good with my hands, and can do a great range of practical labor either to save money for myself by fixing up whatever I drive and wherever I live, or doing the same for stopgap income on behalf of others. When I'm not otherwise gainfully employed on anyone else's books, which has been much of the time.

The age I reference - 27 or 28 - seems to conform to when great discoverers made their great discoveries. If you haven't made them by then, you will be dug in too deeply in some received discipline; too dug in ever to be able to make connections outside it. Those are essential to discovery of any sort. Those connections might come from exercising the disparate range of skills required for fieldwork. Or for teaching. Or whatever.

But when I think back to my relative youth, I'm always astounded at my ignorance. A certain amount of ignorance is doubtless required for discovery, but I'm talking about ignorance relative to life skills and the positions one holds, however temporarily. I've been as battered by the trial balloons of false narratives as much as anyone else.

Anyhow, I suspect that Elise Stefanik's thralldom now is not unlike what happens to a young tech entrepreneur when they realize that whatever gizmo or work that they've created has gone viral. I would think that you mostly jettison any misgivings and go for it, putting off until later any rationalizations about whether or not it's actually good for anyone.

If later does come, any rationalizations will be made too late, because by then, whatever it was that went viral will have become institutionalized. And yet those junior techies, no matter how evil the upshot of their ill-begotten power, weren't in thrall to someone else's evil. Theirs the antithesis of the team sport of Republican politics. You've got to give Cheney some credit for going it alone.

Just think about what happened to YouTube, for one example, when they could no longer let go of the money pump of algorithms which sent you, the viewer, wherever your enthusiasms went, no matter how unhinged what they sent you might have been. The YouTubers you might watch would be doing precisely what Elise Stefanik has now done to bring herself her thrills of power. 

Well, no, she hasn't done anything. She's just imitating the art of Trump, imitating life. Life imitating art, or something like that.

Even those of us who don't spend too much time on YouTube recognize the schtick, the one perfected by Trump, but pioneered by Rush Limbaugh on radio, Howard Stern, and now Hannity and Tucker Carlson. These are the definition for what goes viral in pinning down political "truisms."

But what is a virus? Is it the same as whatever Elise Stefanik caught. Or is it what the people who cheer her on have caught? More likely, it's just a vicious cycle. Fanned by somewhat reasonable dissent from truth. See, our trouble on the left is that we also seek to make stark oppositions in our narratives. As if there were no truth at all to what the oppo says. Negating any and all conversation, which is to say negating all forward-moving narrative.

Narrative is what gives shape to our universe. There is no direction to time without it. Consciousness is the upshot and not the triggering force for cosmos. 

Perhaps, in some Foucauldian sense, the virus is the episteme of our age. Not cancer, which might be the better metaphor for capitalistic metastasis to destroy the planet. Not the chain reaction of nuclear power which keeps us temporarily, perhaps, from ever escalating carnage in war-scale death and destruction like the late World Wars demonstrated.

A virus proliferates - multiplies itself - in a mindless way by latching onto the schematics which allow life to persist. Those schematics, which must be otherwise tied to reliable truths and the achievement of homeostasis, are now hijacked in the service of a blind amoral replication, which happens just simply because it can. 

Viruses are also a part of human and other evolution. They are as built into our genetic code as what we might consider the good stuff. The death and destruction they cause seems as often the result of a healthy bodily response as it is the result of the actual damage committed by the virus. Evolution might even be impossible without them.

And thus, I suppose, we don't quite dare to force vaccines upon the population, or silence critics, even when they veer very close to shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. Perhaps someone like Stefanik tells herself that if she is ever to do any good she must first amass power. Perhaps the entire Republican Party is telling itself that right now.

And so the daughter of Dick 'Darth Vader' Cheney is ousted for a single episode of sanity amid a track record of near perfect fidelity to Republican positions. Almost literally, she will be destroyed as the child who pointed out that the emperor was wearing no clothes. 

Meanwhile we are all ravaged by this literal virus. And we may never be rid of it given the absurd numbers of deniers. 

Now I'm not a big fan myself of the scientific method overstepping its bounds. I'm not sure what I think of editing genes in advance to provide a greater percentage of our future fellow citizens with more of whatever it is that we value now. In advance of the brave new world to come. It will come on its own, in any case.

But I am pretty sure that to deny succor those those already living based on some virally spread nonsense whose noise drowns out good science, is an immoral position. People who refuse vaccines are quite literally harming their neighbors. It's not their choice to make. 

By themselves, viruses are neither good nor bad. The virus that powered Google to world domination or Apple by way of iPhones might be considered good by some. Who knows, maybe there are even some who would say that any virus which thins our ranks and keeps us isolated from each other is a good thing. A cure to xenophobia, maybe, by way of burning all the bridges. Even as it only seems to fan the flames.

I'm trying just a little bit to deflect opposition anger away from the likes of Stefanik. Along the lines of she can't help it. She knows not what she does. But also because becoming enraged with her seems only to fan the flames of the rage which she is feeding on. There has to be a calmer and less unsettling path to truth. Unfortunately, as our institutions are being destroyed or when confidence in them is being undermined, that path is getting harder and harder to follow.

We do have an example on the planet of a nation seemingly immune to this and every other virus. I refer, of course, to China. They have rehabilitated, at least in part, a long history of deference to older and wiser heads. They stop dangerous informational viral infections at the outset and at their firewalled border. There is no hesitancy about enforcing behavior which is seen as good for the whole.

They are also, of course, a racially defined nation. Chinese feel Chinese even when they may never have been to China, so long as they retain something of a cultural tie. And, somewhat gratingly for me, I have no possibility at all to become Chinese, just simply because I don't have the right blood, no matter how culturally adept (if not assimilated) I may actually be.

It seems to be in my own blood to value American democracy and freedom. I quite literally live and thrive on being able to speak my mind openly on any topic just about anywhere. But, or at least so I do believe, I also try to retain a certain decorum and respect, even when I adamantly and sometimes almost violently disagree with someone else's position. 

I also feel that I am respectful of differing cultural approaches to collective living, even as I can easily identify my own latent or sometimes more overt racism and xenophobia. It's not all that easy to navigate the cultural boundaries which are bound up with race, just simply because it's hard to gain enough experience doing so.

I've set my sights on China, and persist in my belief that we have much to learn from one another; America and China. We really can't afford to be permanent adversaries. (That has been an addictive process for us, rather than a viral infestation. We are probably as responsible for Putin as the Russian people are, with our shock doctrine of cultural and political overthrow) China is pretty much proof against us. And now we play to the caricatures they have made of us, and that we have now so literally become. 

How strange when George W. Bush and Mitch McConnell come to seem relatively human. They seem, or seemed, as the case may be, so in thrall to power. Now even power seems slightly less than evil, even when its pursuit is naked, than to be caught - in the thrall of - a viral process. The virus would seem to turn its victim into something quite other from human. Trustworthy only as a zombie might be trustworthy. You know what it wants and what it will do to get it, and still you must take care about provoking it.

Well, there's an old marketing maxim that bad news travels faster and farther and is more persistent, by far, than good news. I guess that's why, back in the Seventies or so they named the new translation the "Good News" Bible. But they left in the con that you'll be damned if you don't believe it. That's the con that all charlatans use. I mean, no wonder that the evangelicals are aligned with Trump. They're running the same con on the nation. 

Likes attract likes, and if you know for certainty what truth is you become a truthaphobe (on the model of homophobe) knowing that you really might not believe it yourself if you look too hard inward. 


No comments: