Sunday, January 28, 2024

False Oppositions

Oh, how I do wish that my voice were equal to my task. It is late in my life, and my references are disappearing. And yet still I know things. I have experience in certain matters. 

I'm not so sure about what knowledge actually is, but one way to consider it regards the ways in which knowledge might bring us together. I still believe that this is the basic function of the scientific method. Science is a process of truing, and not a search for any truth. It operates in a limited and limiting aspect of our shared reality; it's basically about how things - physical, perceptual things, work.

No matter the efforts of psychologists or sociologists or sexologists or humorists nor certainly artists, those efforts will not further the truing of science. That might mean that these are all the most important pursuits.

Here's what I have watched quite intimately, and never mind the references: The state has transformed from a wobbly flawed people-driven shambles into a mighty administrative empire which can't leave go of militaristic hegemony. As though there were no choice. 

Educational institutions have morphed from teacher owned and driven shambles with a governing board, to the analog of the state, top heavy with highly paid administrators and faculty expected to attend only to their classes, leaving their own destinies and the institutions' destiny to the massive class of governors. 

Where once it was the case that friends and neighbors would repair your car and your house, depending on a mutual sort of trust, there now are systems micro-managed from far above shoving costs an entire solar system away from where they once were; even reputation is managed from afar. There is a cheat sheet to keep you on the up and up.

All local businesses, and here I mean restaurants and hardware and lumber stores and certainly sawmills and planing mills for house-parts, are in the charge of national chains, as are dentists offices and most medical specialties. 

The inducements are inexorable, as what owner can refuse the offers from invisible hedge funders, to be able to retire comfortably in Florida? But all that expertise moves away from local to some cloud of finance. Nursing home deterioration is but the canary in the coal mine. 

My first motorcycle trip through the south was chock full of wonderful local places for breakfast or for barbeque, full of local color with a chef who was the owner. More recently, it's all Popeyes or Chic-fil-a with lines of cars out into the streets, no local knowledge or expertise required. 

What, really, is the difference between those arrangements and the pharmacy giving me a quart-sized jar of opioids for a broken bone? And that was a long time ago. Surely those drug companies understand on some level that they are shooting up the veins of the entire country. Flood it and they will want more.

A small manufacturer once explained to me how "Wall Street" money comes in to set prices on chock-full shelves beneath what any local owner can possibly set. Walmart perfected this predatory process, destroying almost all local stores, where the clerks once could raise their families based on intimate knowledge of their stock and its uses.

By now, we don't even need a product on a shelf. Get mind-share and whatever replaced Wall Street funding will come flooding in. We've ridden a wave of cheap crave food and nearly free movies to the loss of the very soul of the nation.

Which is fine, since the nation was always an invention and not some found reality.

Christianson so-called creative destruction is hardly creative. Technology, so far, is basically a pump up to the finance classes. What we call artificial intelligence is as old as everything above. Put simply, there is no heart to it.

Now yes I do enjoy my ability to watch streaming films, and learn on Youtube how to dismantle my cheap but wonderful little speaker so that I may replug the circuitboard connector ribbon and get it to charge again. I enjoy my aging laptop, which is good enough now to have outlasted any computer I've ever had. Lots of things are getting better and better, and even seem cheaper and cheaper for a while.

Most of all, I enjoy the revelations of science, disseminated farther and wider than ever before. 

But underneath it all is an unnecessary divide. We can untangle ourselves from  all of this mess, if, once again, we find some common ground on which to stand. That might even mean to find some common standard; a goal around which to rally and for direction.

Part of our distress is due to the eradication of local news that's fit for print. Another part is the echo chamber of social media. But it's possible that the the main part of our trouble is simply not knowing what to do with what we do know. 

Like in some sense many of us worry about the end of it all, or the ends of it all, as in we "know" that everything ends according to whatever scale you might choose. Some are distressed that even the earth has a life-span, and so we're desperate to accelerate some process for escape. That tends to lead us in the direction of too much reliance on what we already do know which means, in turn, to discount the far more vast reaches of what we don't know.

Those who don't worry about our ultimate demise, simply because the time scale makes the concept tend toward abstraction, might still be worried about our more proximate demise. That would be the sort that is, strictly speaking, avoidable. The climate change, nuke the planet, eradicate too many species poison ourselves to death kind of non-abstraction.

Overall, we discount the possibility that life is bigger than this life or our life. Yet life may be as large as the cosmos, in ways we're simply not prepared to understand. Making our local lives better might even be at odds with the nature of life on the grand scale. We may be on the verge of discovering just why it is that all the living species of the earth are a part of each of us, and we are not and cannot be apart from them. 

We may even be on the verge of discovering that the evidence of life elsewhere in the cosmos is not and never shall be where we're looking for it, not to mention discoverable by the communications vectors we deploy in the search. 

We need to get it together in the here and now before we can be ready even to think about the hereinafter. The ever after. The coda, the swan song, the end. 

Is war materiel really as necessary as we think it is, or is that the same kind of flim-flam which bought us Walmart and destroyed the meaning of market pricing. What we need is a sort of world democracy which respects difference. My very own son-in-law has a fully referenced outline to make a start.

But he doesn't get how things work. I don't mean in physics sort of way, I mean in an embodied tool-bearing kind of way. Sure, now I can't remember where I read something or who said this or that. I find the gas burner left on at the stove where I cooked my breakfast. We have a new totem word for that: Alzheimer's, like Cancer before, it strikes terror into the heart of a man. It's hard to fall asleep anymore against fantasy fugues of my sore-tooth jawbone rotting away in my head.

It takes a while, but I can learn to change my suppositions and ways of operation to always turn off the burner before I remove the pot, and to check the knobs for position each time I leave the stove. Problem solved.

I brush my teeth so very meticulously, wishing I had realized then what I know now, including even the knowledge that it's far too late to be meticulously preventing the decay of my whole mouth. The workaround costs a lot more money than the cost to keep my stove off. I wonder now, when will I lose my balance to the point that I can't climb up to clean the gutters? I am meticulously careful, taking no risks anymore, but I won't be doing it forever in any case, end or retreat.

Almost none of us recognize what Hannah Arendt fully recognized a while ago; that the concepts of capital and labor were both refined by Marx. And that communism and 'rules-based-world-order' capitalism are two sides of the same coin, in artificial contention. Both ideologies are terminally focused on an end-game, a steady state, an allegory homologous with Christianity or any religious what-you-will. 

The classes delineated are caricatures, like Chairman Mao's Big Character Posters, simplifying everything for Mickey Mouse. The fantasies of a re-enchanted end-time where life will be all honey and roses.

To oppose Marxism to capitalism is to perpetuate a meaningless contention for the sake of those very very few who benefit from it. In either case labor expands to fill the all, but for the administrative class, the owners, the party members. In Arendt's terms, labor is that aspect of life which is necessary for survival. Everyone has to participate, but it's not meant to consume your whole life else what's our humanity for?

There isn't all that much labor to accomplish just for the sake of living. Work is the stuff that makes us human, but it's not what's necessary. Work is what's desirable to make conscious human life worth living. Both Marxism and capitalism expand labor to consume the life of the laborer; both for the sake of bankrupt ideology. When there's no time left for the work you really want to do, you've been denied a life.

By a measure of the low fertility which overtakes prosperous economies as represented in the New York Times, the real danger to the continued viability of our contemporary means for living may be the drastic depopulation of the planet. (why is that an opinion piece, I wonder?) Perhaps that will happen in coordination with the flourishing of the rest of earthly life, or perhaps it will happen in concert with earth's demise. The choice is ours to make.

The choice has to be made by action, which means politically. qua Arendt. Population in the aggregate is not a political choice. It happens organically, based on other choices. Well, except for fictional dystopias. Sometimes dystopia feels very real, however. Like when women are forced to give birth or forced to abort. When lives have to be sacrificed for the lack of shelter. When the labor to live is overwhelmed by the 'creative disruption' of the very essence of our lives.

By definition, the hyper wealthy are those who wish to escape the human condition. This is no definition for merit, except in our particular capitalist dystopia. The rest of us are left with the petty joys of local entertainment; escapist films, professional football, and alcohol, always wanting to be rich enough to really live it up. 

Well enough of that. If you want Cassandra then read poor ol' Indi anymore. He's simplified and whittled it down to race-based good and evil, and those of us who are white might as well just go to hell, because by being stowed in a sack of learned helplessness we don't even know where to start.

We've built infrastructure which can't be repaired because where once road building and later rebuilding and still later the laying of sewers all happened in times when the basics could be afforded because there was not the overlay of sophisticated military-industrial complex finance capitalism on top of it all. 

So that now it would be impossible to dig up the streets to lay a parallel sanitary alongside the decrepit and environmentally dangerous mixed storm and sanitary because there is no bond issue that can be made so big. First it was houses that had to be mortgaged to eternity, now it's college, and soon it will be our infrastructure, since the wealthy separate themselves easily enough from "our" infrastructure, where the we that is us just hate each other to death anymore.

We don't have to look far into the future to see this exponential curve terminate. They can build proper infrastructure in Gaza now, can't they?

The trick is to find a way to live a social and non-toxic life right now, in our present, having the start as we have here in Buffalo, to rectify our sewer and water delivery systems. To know that we are moving in a direction where capital doesn't overwhelm all else. Where we admit that there is no weapon system, no matter the cost, which can or will impose our will on the rest of the world. Anymore. Drones of the shelf can beat us any time.

All that we need to do is to get started, one foot in front of the other, and start with the low-hanging fruit. Healthcare, housing, food, sewer and water how about? True pricing without Walmart economics. When the price without insurance for a blood test is many multiples of the cost with usurious insurance - literal pennies on the dollar - can't we call it obvious that something is out of whack?

There is no technical fix. And for so long as we're made to hate one another because we come to our realizations by different paths, we shall never be able to find the real, social, political fixes. The ones right in front of our faces.

And so I no longer know, on a minute-by-minute basis, what to do. There will always be more books to read, even though I limit myself to those that will energize me. I know enough about the house I live in now to know that its needs will exceed my life. There will be no end to it, but for endless piles of money. And even those will prevent my ever living here, since there is far more disruption from the workers whose work I must follow closely because nobody really knows or cares how to repair and maintain things anymore. We live in a modular modulated economy of terminal panic.

I must follow the work closely not because I mistrust the workers, but because their shrift has narrowed its focus such that painters won't take care of carpentry, or even notify you when bad work is exposed. There are storm drains to clear in concert with the demolitions, and to install in the garden against the pooling, and there is insulation above the attics and my very body rebels against my own suiting up against the filth revealed, from across the years, from a roof removal, from the past.

Oh, how I do want my little travel trailer back, its flaws so contained, my needs so limited, but now the tow car has flaky wiring and is as beyond its useful life as I am. There is repose only in the dying. A life in full well-lived.

My trouble is simple. I already understood what I needed to understand, but have passed that prime when I could tell it. A failure in full am I. And yet I do have some satisfaction in that knowledge, since there are much worse ways of success. 

To have had full voice and to be heeded would be worse even still than the tragedy of the commons. Whatever I have that counts as knowledge is worthless without it belongs to everyone. It needs not my name.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' father by the same name wrote a poem, with which my literary friend thought I was obsessed:

Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss-shay,

That was built in such a logical way?

It ran a hundred years to a day,

And then, of a sudden, it—ah, but stay,

I'll tell you what happened without delay.

Scaring the parson into fits,

Frightening people out of their wits,—

Have you ever heard of that, I say?

Seventeen hundred and fifty-five.

Georgius Secundus was then alive,—

Snuffy old drone from the German hive!

That was the year when Lisbon-town

Saw the earth open and gulp her down,

And Braddock's army was done so brown,

Left without a scalp to its crown.

It was on the terrible Earthquake-day

That the Deacon finished the one-hoss-shay.

Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,

There is always somewhere a weakest spot,—

In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,

In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,

In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace,—lurking still

Find it somewhere you must and will,—

Above or below, or within or without,—

And that's the reason, beyond a doubt,

A chaise breaks down, but doesn't wear out.

But the Deacon swore (as Deacons do)

With an “I dew vum,” or an “I tell yeou,”

He would build one shay to beat the taown

'n' the keounty 'n' all the keuntry raoun';

It should be so built that it couldn' break daown:

—“Fur,” said the Deacon, “'t's mighty plain

Thut the weakes' place mus' stan' the strain;

'n' the way t' fix it, uz I maintain, is only jest

To make that place uz strong uz the rest.”

So the Deacon inquired of the village folk

Where he could find the strongest oak,

That couldn't be split nor bent nor broke,—

That was for spokes and floor and sills;

He sent for lancewood to make the thills;

The crossbars were ash, from the straightest trees;

The panels of white-wood, that cuts like cheese,

But lasts like iron for things like these;

The hubs of logs from the “Settler's ellum,”

Last of its timber,—they couldn't sell 'em,—

Never an axe had seen their chips,

And the wedges flew from between their lips,

Their blunt ends frizzled like celery-tips;

Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw,

Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too,

Steel of the finest, bright and blue;

Thoroughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;

Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide

Found in the pit when the tanner died.

That was the way he “put her through.”—

“There!” said the Deacon, “naow she'll dew!”

Do! I tell you, I rather guess

She was a wonder, and nothing less!

Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,

Deacon and deaconess dropped away,

Children and grandchildren—where were they?

But there stood the stout old one-hoss-shay

As fresh as on Lisbon-earth-quake-day!

Eighteen hundred;—it came and found

The Deacon's Masterpiece strong and sound.

Eighteen hundred increased by ten;

“Hahnsum kerridge” they called it then.

Eighteen hundred and twenty came:—

Running as usual; much the same.

Thirty and forty at last arrive,

And then came fifty, and fifty-five.

Little of all we value here

Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year

Without both feeling and looking queer.

In fact, there's nothing that keeps its youth,

So far as I know, but a tree and truth.

(This is a moral that runs at large;

Take it.—You're welcome.—No extra charge.)

First of November—the Earthquake-day.—

There are traces of age in the one-hoss-shay,

A general flavor of mild decay,

But nothing local, as one may say.

There couldn't be,—for the Deacon's art

Had made it so like in every part

That there wasn't a chance for one to start.

For the wheels were just as strong as the thills—

And the floor was just as strong as the sills,

And the panels just as strong as the floor,

And the whippletree neither less nor more.

And the back-crossbar as strong as the fore,

And spring and axle and hub encore.

And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt

In another hour it will be worn out!

First of November, 'Fifty-five!

This morning the parson takes a drive.

Now, small boys, get out of the way!

Here comes the wonderful one hoss-shay,

Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.

“Huddup!” said the parson.—Off went they.

The parson was working his Sunday's text,—

Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed

At what the—Moses—was coming next.

All at once the horse stood still,

Close by the meet'n'-house on the hill.

First a shiver, and then a thrill,

Then something decidedly like a spill,—

And the parson was sitting upon a rock,

At half-past nine by the meet'n'-house-clock,—

Just the hour of the Earthquake-shock!

—What do you think the parson found,

When he got up and stared around?

The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,

As if it had been to the mill and ground!

You see, of course, if you're not a dunce,

How it went to pieces all at once,—

All at once, and nothing first,—

Just as bubbles do when they burst.

End of the wonderful one-hoss shay.

Logic is logic. That's all I say.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

The Thrill of Consciousness

Hey, I got an actual comment. A first across many years. It was disruptive of whatever it was that I was about to write about. Still, I'm grateful. I hardly even look to see if there are comments to moderate. There never are.

I remain in the throes of attempting to find out what the real thinkers are thinking about consciousness. All of them seem addled by brain. To me the brain is also important, though not so much as the seat of intelligence, which seems unrelated to consciousness in almost every way. The brain is important because, qua Edelman, with whom Dennett doesn't agree very much, the brain involves as many, or more, interconnections as there are particles in the known cosmos.

That gives the brain the possibility of microcosm, metaphorically akin to the whole hologram as in how chips from a holographic plate contain the entire image, but attenuated according to proportion. Our consciousness is analogous to being the whole plate, which might contain a sort of image of the all. No, not contain, stupid. As a follower of Riccardo Manzotti's thinking, there is no containing. But for sure the mind mediates all sorts of perceptions to form that analog of a holographic plate which requires lazer light to reveal. The brain requires coherent, rectified, perceptual awareness, but it does not contain that awareness. It projects it, even to the self. 

Each of us refracts the all, knowing only a small aspect, but now, grace science, each individual mind is able to refract more and ever more. This is a wonderful cosmic happening.

Metaphoric thinking will never be sanctioned as real thinking, alas, but I am an ironist and don't really think real thinking is quite real. I strive to understand, and the measure for my understanding is to achieve such narrative clarity that I might convince the best in the field. But what is the field? Everything?

If I did have a field, I might manage to be convincing, but then I would be limited by that field. That's not how my mind works, and so it wouldn't be very satisfying to me.

We can't leave go our objective materialist science, because it continues to work so very well. That's even after we know for certain that there is no objective unimplicated perfect Archimedean stance from which, finally, to understand.

And anyhow, maybe Steven Pinker thinks that humanity is better off than ever before, as he pals around with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein. I think that our amoral backside is hanging out. I blame it on the workings of money, which is the universal solvent of decency. Along with the quest, individually, to be noticed. Money and recognition rule the world. No matter how much more we might understand, we behave more and more badly, on the whole. I guess I mean that we don't behave at all. We just seek comfort and joy for the nonce.

Once upon a time, knowing the dangers of mob rule, we did stipulate that the electorate is responsible only to choose wise leaders. Now we choose a kind of absolute zero of humanity because he has perfected the art of reflecting back those prejudicial beliefs that we can't leave go of because we don't and can't trust the leaders and the intellectuals. This danger was always present. 

As was the danger that we will deploy our intellect only to escape the conditions for life. We feel so certain that, ultimately, life will burn out according to physical principles that we bend our full effort to eluding that inevitability. Wouldn't it make more sense to recognize the limits of the very possibility to understand everything?

Hannah Arendt, who strikes me as very sane, puts thinking forward as what we lack and what we must have for the sake of right politics. But I think she means mindfulness, where mind is more than intelligence and calculation. She foregrounds politics; the social processes of the unwashed as we conspire together about our goals and directions. 

Politicians, as those who make their entire vocation politics, should be a banned category. We now have politicians where what we want are leaders. Leaders prove themselves in other ways from advertising themselves as leaders.

None of this feels as complex as we make it. We've been doped is all. We think the world runs on automatic, and that there's nothing that we need do, individually, to make it better. Might as well watch another fine movie, play a good game, take a nice trip. The world has a way of taking care of itself.

Go Bills! (That's how we tell each other to have a blessed day around here)

Friday, January 19, 2024

The Atheist Class of the Twenty-first Century

In some sense, everyone knows that the true atheists now are the true believers. The structure of their belief is so absurd that they are indistinguishable from Disneyland fanatics, who own fully perfected and elaborated costumes and props to keep life meaningful, in an animated sort of way. No wonder, Donald Duck.

The named atheists, vaguely followers of the Four Horsemen, enthusiastically toss out the baby Jesus with the bathwater, requiring a materialistic cosmos which remains, in principle, comprehensible on the basis of laws and other types of regularity. 

These folks are willfully obtuse about daily miracles, which forms the same kind of willful blindness that the religionists hew to. Willful blindness is the most general term for evil; the basis for Arendt's 'banality of evil.' She must have been antisemitic, mustn't she have?

To conflate the brain with the mind is to ignore ground for signal, and to suppose that whatever happens happens 'in there.' Which of course it never does. 

I have just passed through yet another grueling and barely survivable holiday season. It's almost as personal as my previous bare survivals - bursting appendix while over the border, PE followed by TIA, both inceptions on Christmas Eve and accompanied by strange coincidence. 

This time it was Mom, and it started before anyone knew that there was anything wrong with her. Well, beyond the normal. For whatever reason, the house I live in, but don't own, became the dumping ground for Mom's belongings, without any consultation with the inhabitant, me. And then Mom had a stroke, and then she died. The uncovering for display had already begun.

I charged myself to cull and sort the mountains of photos and other memorabilia, and make possible their laying out and sorting and cataloging in preparation for the family gathering during an actual snow emergency, which itself followed the warmest and most snow-deprived lead up in the history of Buffalo, to Christmas. 

Mom's unwrapped crèche, in the same browned paper as ever and ever, was missing the baby Jesus, so I put Santa Claus there. There has always been a santa clause as codicil to my missing will. Gifts for me the gift of being relieved of gifting. I've always been happier to be in hospital.

Oh, poor long-suffering me, at least I had my daughters and sister to accompany me to nearby ward and to clear out the work-in-progress ladders and tools and coverings; to communicate, to deal with logistics, to remove the wedding band and ring since there is no morgue which can be trusted that way. I hastily built an occult platform in my overwarmed attic to sequester parts and pieces of rehabilitation. To allow for gathering and viewing and dispersal of jewelry in what had been a work in progress.

To suggest that Mom is some construct in my brain would be more absurd than to claim that godhead is absent from cosmos because there is no there there. Mom has been present in so many dimensions that when one granddaughter sent around the voicemail of Mom, from just before Mom's phone was removed because of the mountain of pledges made to unscrupulous charity outsourced callers, it felt to me a milepost too far. The voice as present as she had been so few days before. 

That was the uncanny valley for me, once constructed of stone markers atop graves where actual remains were buried. Ashes now in the most trafficked part of the old church garden, an honor which still includes the possibility to gather, to reminisce, to mourn at times when the church is not trafficked.

We all know how harmful religion has been. The false prophet basis for misplaced certainty which leads, inevitably, to war. 

I feel the same petty complaints welling up about behaviors about the family. A kind of judgyness about moral, ethical character-unbased behaviors. I think that this sort of thing is ingrown now. Closeness no longer possible, even in a family sort of way. Get out before I have to invite you out.

The actual memorial service was scheduled for the zero point of Buffalo's most recent snow emergency. We still carried on, with a group far more intimate for being small and composed of those willing to make the actual struggle and take the actual risk to make it to the church on time. Afterward back to "my" house, where Mom was hosting in absentia with her usual aplomb.

As the flowers and leftover food was being subjected to attempts to sweep it all away by howling wind and dashing snow,  my sister and I wondered aloud, "Mom, what are you trying to tell us?"

Ah well, my religion is not your religion, nor any religion at all. But that hardly makes me an atheist. Atheists are idiots, by definition. Reclused from public space, as I am. And yet I do know God.

The notion of a soul, rather like Descartes' discarded and good riddance notion that the mind infuses body in the self-same way, feels indelible. As in, that there is some totality centered on some self and composed of acts large and small and some in speech and some in handling, and that that self persists since, in any case, it is and was absent to those who loved it for most of its livelong days.

No wonder that some still see, and shall not be disabused of that illusion, the soul depart from body. And yet there shall never be any there there to look for it, the soul. It can't inhabit, for it isn't alive, any more than Descartes' mechanical sub-human creatures had any there there, to him yet not to me.

Alive in our hearts, we might say, though I say alive in what it is that we do and in artifacts and even by the gravesite. We who are so loathe to leave physical correlates behind yet wonder have they yet been organized by powers beyond the grave. Graven images of Jesus, arisen beyond the fall. 

We must have some object for our desires. Barren when guided by men for a kind of gory glory here on earth. There is no irony where there is no God. Set it to linen and flatten the shroud. The body of Christ. Amen.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Interesting Happenings in the Ivy League

When I was unconscionably young, I was named headmaster of a small school for gifted children. The school was founded by an order of Hungarian priests, who'd gotten out just as Sputnik was launching a national defense motivated push for better education of intellectual elites. Scientists mostly. The school thrived for a while, as American hegemony continued to grow.

The school had been running lazily on the inadequately thought-out presumption that IQ testing was valid, and that such testing could cut through social prejudice against racial, gender, and religious demarcations. Fair enough, as far as it went.

There was also, at the same time, the fair observation that the tester, who was the founder of the school, would tip the scale according to his personal preferences, and even the need of the school for money. That tended to undermine credibility among our private school compatriots. 

I, personally, had a kind of ingrown skepticism about both intelligence testing and, especially, about the testing industry which was then in command of university and college admissions. I didn't think it was healthy for children to think of themselves according to some stigmatizing scale. I was reasonably well-read on the topic, and handed to myself the effort to reform our own admissions policies and procedures. Wasn't there something, after all, which distinguished students appropriate to our school which was not quite measurable by psychometric testing? Aren't there many types of intelligence, even when restricted to academic settings? History seems to prove that so.

Along with my maneuvers to become less alienated from the private school community in Buffalo and in New York state, we developed a more rounded admissions process based on committee review of both affinity for our rigorous curriculum, indications of chafing in the available public schools, and, of course, reserving psychometric testing as a check on our own observations, though using an outside certified tester. 

Alas, I had no real chance to see the changes flourish, since the school was in too much accumulated financial trouble. And, also unconscionably, I arrogated to myself two summer trips during critical moments in the school's evolution. That was pure selfishness, possibly combined with exhaustion and a need to get away.

The first was a previously planned trip to China, organized while I was still a teacher of Chinese. Oh how I did enjoy printing out a pile of name cards in Beijing, using my title as headmaster. In China, this title was incomprehensible when considering my youth. Vanity vanity.

The next summer I accepted an invitation to Buffalo's sister city in Russia, as the delegate of hizzoner the mayor, Jimmy Six-Pack, who I later sued on constitutional grounds for the right to use a public park to commemorate the Tiananmen massacre. That was also facilitated by political friends of the school and of free speech, and the fact that I had offered the school as dressing rooms for the nearby Shakespeare in Delaware Park season whose traditional dressing space had been removed by repurposing. I had friends in the right places, and got electricity access for the commemoration with the police and Shakespeare on my side. The police weren't so fond of the anti-union mayor themselves.

It was my goal to make the school both more relevant and more visible to the community. The very public lawsuit caused the event to be extremely well-attended, and the school's name to become better known. But, in addition to a recent history of flubbed management was the evident fact that gifted education had become vaguely incorrect, politically. 

Of course, all children are gifted. But not all in the same way. The kids we taught were disabled by disposition from taking instruction from disrespectful or authoritarian teachers whose own understanding of whatever field they taught seemed less than reliable. Our teachers were required to discuss a challenging written article each week alongside Upper School students, where the field for discussion was levelled outside what each teacher taught. This was our weekly "colloquium."

I did also endure, on my way toward approximate adulthood as a young headmaster, the required transition of the Ivy Leagues from wealth as the criterion for the chance at enlightened leadership, to the far more vague criterion of "merit." 

Now finally, after dumping some ways for using SAT-type testing as a heavyweight in admissions, in part because of complications of access to testing during Covid, there may be some change afoot. Covid may also have been a convenient excuse to dump the inherently anti-diversity results of such testing,  

Once test-prep companies successfully sued the College Board, which had kept a veil of proprietary secrecy over their tests, upon the claim that their "objectivity" would be compromised by test-prep regimes, the whole regime of testing itself became yet another proxy for wealth. I mean WTF (Who, not What) can afford to prep their gifted kids for admission to the Ivies, whose criteria ought properly to be a plain lottery, once basic competency for the curriculum has been established. God knows that the current de-facto lottery destroys character and self-confidence among would-be students.

I learn from the New York Times that at least a few professors at Yale would like to see Yale "return" to its proper mission to develop new knowledge. Imagine that! All universities declare that their mission, in one way or another, and yet students attend them mostly to get ahead. I'm guessing the profs are plain sick of that, and want to teach real students.

For a place like Yale, it must be a hard stretch to go from wealth as the qualification for elite learning through merit (a purely mystical concept, relating only to our peculiar and particular economic arrangements) to something more like affinity for an academic, intellectual, scientific, philosophical, musical, artistic life.

OK so sure, the ivies have the great professors because they can afford them. But those profs also come for good students and colleagues. Many of the rest of the universities have to be some variant on what my professor of comparative education used to call, and probably still does, the "service university." Meaning, really and broadly, that the knowledge has to be applicable to the economy and/or to the powers that be. 

I do remember my dismay - I was in graduate school - when Yale announced that it would open a school of management. Would this newly reinvigorated old mission of knowledge creation entail the dismantling of the business school? What about Engineering, where I got my start? Forestry? Law?

I'd say, not necessarily. Even a business school could be engaged in something like an historical comparative study of business. Heck, Yale still doesn't have a school of education, which it seems to regard as vaguely beneath them. This while almost all other schools of education have dropped Comparative Education (which has no practical application to getting ahead in the field of education, unless as a professor at a university which still offers a course or two). 

Anyhow, turning the ivies and their ilk into more genuine universities would put to good use their fine endowments. Who knows, maybe even the post-industrial titans of digital whatever would see fit to further the endowments for the sake of humanity. Hey, it could happen!

I'm guessing that this actually will happen, along the way of our back-to-the-future dismantling of so much of what had barely gotten started. We never did get very far with our experiment in democracy. As the Trumpers know, we've taken away the dignity of working life, replacing it with get-rich quick soulless digi-life. So many of the unskilled jobs are so regimented that the worker has become the robot even beyond Charlie Chaplin's parodies. 

There is true intelligence to be cultivated in the devolution of ownership back to the local and away from the hedgemonsters. There are better things to do with a life than shill yourself as an influencer. Not everyone needs a university to lead a meaningful and exciting life. I thank goodness on a daily basis for all those talented and experienced Trumper tradespeople and contractors who keep my life going. Sad to say that they are harder and harder to find, though that also means that their pay is getting better and better. Things will change.

Back to reading Hanna Arendt, for goodness sake. It is her wisdom to point out that capitalism and Marxism are united in the denigration of man as social and political actor. Marx confuses labor with politics and opens the way for Stalin (and Mussolini and Hitler) to use man as raw material, just as capitalists do. Robbed of labor, we have never been liberated for [creative and individuating] work.

Trumpers, but hardly Trump, know that something is wrong and they want the dignity of labor back, so that they can get to actual work. All of us should celebrate that. In this regard, Clinton(s), for instance, are as misguided as Trump is. Both live in a world where it's the economy, stupid, and where winners are celebrated beyond the democratic reach. The dynamic duo of Marxism and capitalism both exploit labor to end history, by ending work, and denying politics as collective action. 

As I have said time and time again, technology is mostly a pump for money, away from workers and to the top. No self-respecting university should be a party to this. Technology should be a tool to get work done. The result of work might be entertainment, but technology is replacing people in that work. Art has become posture, and the tech is internalized as robotic behaviors. Blech.

I'd say it's no wonder that Arendt doesn't get credit as a political theorist. I suspect it's because, first, she's a free thinking woman, and second and most because she disrupts the false dichotomy of capitalism vs. Marxism. Each of them is the mirror of the other in the reduction of man to labor without margin. When labor is all that you do, man becomes the raw material for the work of tyrants who use man as their raw material; their palette. 

As mom used to say before she reformed my father, 'I'm nothing but a slave.' Arendt points out that labor derives from the organic and collective need to survive. More individualistic work is the cream on top of being human. And language introduces the possibility for collective, which means political, action. Our neoliberal rules-based order encodes a work-free life, where politics is reduced to whatever keeps the growth economy humming. 

Trump embodies the inchoate complaints of living humans who don't wish to be cogs in that machine. We should listen to him and how he speaks, not because he knows an f-ing thing - he doesn't - but because he is a channel into a collective angst which is important. You don't have to know all the details to know you're being screwed. All the fast talk of the digi-titans boils down to anti-humanism against the whole.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Dennett

Since my Mom just died, and I'm thinking a lot about her, assembling memorabilia, and remembering things, I remember way back when I was bombing out from academic physics - really from anything academic - and there was a shallow pool of water in her sink and some machine or other was jiggling it, there was produced a squarish noded pattern on the water, and I pointed to it to say that this is how the cosmos is organized.

She gushed her amazement, which has always left me cringing and disappointed. I've always preferred a challenge to praise, and still tend to hide out rather than to expose myself to social disgraces. I blame Mom.

Anyhow, Dennett just seems trapped in brain as entity and its various possibilities for reproduction, representation, origination and creativity. Now I, along with Plato (I guess) don't consider ideas to be something which can originate in mind. They are, rather, a sort of eternal which only mind can apprehend. Creatives (I hate the term. It denigrates so) seem to believe, some of them, that their creations begin with an idea, which, of course they can't and don't. Creativity and all thinking have to originate from outside the self, which is in interaction with all that the physical embodiment of the mind is working with.

If there were a limit to God, which of course there isn't, then conscious humans might be other from God and in a kind of interaction which machines can't do. I think that's all why Jesus had to be invented, once you're stuck with a God concept. Machines, rather, become a kind of context for our own minds' informing, and are no different from musical instruments in that way. That's one of the nicer observations which Dennett makes.

He's very astute with his distinguishing virtual from real, in that with real there are always impingements which have to be gotten out of the way or dealt with, and which inform us in ways that virtual reality can't and doesn't. Virtual reality requires the creation of those impingements.

There's no mystery to the apparent beauty of computer generated music, or more recently of computer generated imagery. So what' the difference from the real? Well, maybe not much, except that our minds are now so extravagantly informed by the proliferation of machine assisted creative beauty, to stay limited by what machines might do without us is to abdicate our human obligation to work with it, the machine's creation, instead of to be amazed by it. 

A paint brush is a primitive machine as such, and I don't think any painter really wants to watch a machine deploy the brush except, perhaps, to discover possibilities not apparent otherwise. 

I am suggesting that the human being, the conscious mind, is never severable from the real environment of its inception. There is no mind without its perceptual context, and without lots of other like minds. Together, we all form the same kind of lively matrix I witnessed in the kitchen sink with Mom. 

To remain obsessed with particles when they are better seen as nodes within the context of the all, whatever that is, is just a mind stopper. We know that there is no ether, in the primitive meaning of the term as something which might provide drag or pin down absolute zero motion. But now we also know that there is no perfect vacuum, and that these metaphorical "particles" pop in and out of reality all over the place. It's all interactive. 

I might even grant to machine simulations of life the same kind of emotion which I believe actually does pervade the cosmos. That emotion depends from conceptual arrangements when the shape of concepts forcelessly transform. Emotion-free physical motion depends on forces. And these forces are never by themselves, just as our metaphorical particles aren't conceivable as isolated items.

Upon the medium of the mind then, ideas must participate in a kind of evolution. No idea originates with you alone, but also, whatever ideas you might have will be different from those of an earlier or later generation. But they'll never be yours, though you might be the first to apprehend one.

I just finished reading the entire written corpus of Joseph Mitchell during his time at the New Yorker, conveniently compiled into a single quite massive book before he expired. He stopped writing after he awakened to his mirror in Joe Gould. His salary was never suspended, though he never wrote another word. So many poetic types - creatives - were "friends" of Joe Gould. Not only do we invent our projections onto others, we invent ourselves, and Mitchell must have felt a fraud of sorts. Others know better than I could.

But Joseph Mitchell channels the language of his down and dirty livers of life in all the grimy quarters of his environs of pre-digital New York. You sort of know, by the remove of time at least, when styles have shifted, that his own voice overpowers the voices he so faithfully reproduces. The result in any case does feel like real life, and the reader - I - is grateful to know life, well, before. Before it was so belittled by, oh I don't know, the oil-powered explosion of humanity. Life seems closer in Joe Mitchell's recitations. Death too, of course.

I won't have the chance to interact with Dennett while he's still alive. I shall remain intensely grateful to him and to each of the other four horsemen (well, I don't really know Sam Harris, though my daughter had her picture taken with Ben Stiller. once).

I have nowhere been brought more closely to God than in reading Dawkins. It is such a shame that his mind has become right-wing retrograde on social issues regarding gender. Ditto Dennett whose very efforts to disabuse the rest of us from God only cements for me the wonder of existence. I remain radically uncertain as to how those who did finally forsake a clockwork determinate cosmos which could eventually be figured out, went right ahead and replaced it an only subtly different kind of materialism, which won't admit that the unlikelihood for our complexity is the very wonder stuff which Dennett bans from all their models. And anyhow, didn't even Christopher Hitchens go all right wing in the end? God forsaken?

There is indeed nothing very special about humanity, as Dennett's alter ego Stephen Jay (not Joe) urged us so eloquently to understand. Of course Gould would have been a better scientist if he had only let go of his religion. It tends to make a person cheat. Intellectually. As Dennett points our so severely. 

Well, who knows? Not me, that's for sure. I do know that digital reality, which generally means virtual reality, is cut off from cosmos, which is the meaning of on/off zero/one. It's a lousy way to model consciousness, which is far more subtly connected to the all. That doesn't mean that digital hasn't and won't continue to change us, no matter what our beliefs are. 

Monday, January 1, 2024

A Resolution for a New Year

I have this old car, which isn't old enough to lack the universal connector which throws the codes which tells the mechanic which is the part which likely needs replacing. The part was replaced, but the light show now goes on and off, and I despair that there will ever be any definitive resolution which doesn't implicate rats eating the wiring harness. 

I have a new porch with a new light which has two bulbs. Each bulb is the minimum brightness that an outdoor LED light may have, or so they told me at the electric wholesaler. The light is more pleasant when only one of the bulbs is lit, but now randomly the second goes on. Is it even worth the trip up the ladder with head bent back to troubleshoot? This was installed by an extremely competent, experienced, professional but old electrician. Like me, he may not have enough experience with the on/off workings of digital replacement reality. 

At night my bed is a little bit cold for comfort. I could turn up the heat, but I bought a heated mattress pad instead. The documentation in this case is sufficient to the usage, and I am well pleased. I still don't understand why natural gas costs nearly half of what it did last year, given the war in Ukraine, and then there is the mildness of the weather. I need not be so concerned.

I am urged to purchase a new car, since I've poured so much money into this one. But it would be a betrayal of my soul to drive an automatic.

Our Earth now is blanketed in electronic debris in outer space, and I manically binge For All Mankind wondering, has it really come to this? Which this?

So many people observe that we are like Wile-E-Coyote, having crossed the point of no return, legs still churning in the comic gap between over the edge and the realization of gravity.

Meaning simply that we inhabit a seventeenth century world and lack the instruction manual to live in the twenty-first. Since we have never been modern, we can never be post-modern. All that we can do is to accept irony as our final stance. Both/and is not the same as on/off.

Our world is so much better now, and yet the oppressed remain oppressed. The wealthy are, effectively, more wealthy than ever in earth's history. They own all of our enthusiasms, which is plenty to keep us down.

I make the modest proposal that our resolution is social, and hardly technical. We already know better than to imagine that we can, as a species, triumph over whatever mysterious evolutionary processes brought us to this point. And yet we already know that our failure is certain if we continue to allow our lowest common denominator to prevail. Call it the artificial intelligence of money. Where greed replaces love as the prime mover.

Yes, of course, we continue to evolve. We trick ourselves into thinking that our evolution is continuous with all that came before. That ours is the natural elaboration of those processes and that our injection of intention to the quick is right and proper. 

Which would be so, truly, if our thinking had ever progressed from Newton's. Who dissected dogs while they still lived, so certain was he that they weren't sentient. Whose object was still God and not the Truth. Who is credited with triggering all of this accelerating development, which is geologically explosive in its form. 

And yet across this particular New Year - the first that I remember which I transgressed without remarking it, even internally. Having been preoccupied with other things. Like picking photos for the slide show for Mom's funeral, some of which turn sideways by the undocumented internal workings of the cheap projection system on which I watched the Bills win, excitingly, nail-bitingly, and barely,  yesterday afternoon. My excitement was enhanced by the fact that my little portable but great-sounding battery powered speaker system, which works on boat, in trailer,  and even in the rain and was very cheap, like me, was either no longer charging or the charge indicator light went out. 

Black box.

Which is likely also why spell-check no longer works. I supposed Google has gone all AI, because that's the overall trend, and they are now so clever than I can no longer click to repair, but have to type around their over-sophisticated suggestions. My mattress pad delivered on New Year's Eve, late, after the game. Could we even have imagined this world when I was but a child?


And yet there is nothing unfamiliar about it, though there should be. 

Not even a heated mattress pad provisions my night for sleep, though I was asleep before I heard the midnight noise too close nearby. Which hardly awakened me. It's not commotion which keeps me awake.

This morning, on New Year's Day, the New Yawk Times offers a week's worth of fine and tested resolutions of the energy loss from sleep deprivation issues that each of us now, apparently, faces. I have zero hope that any of these will work for me, but hey, I'm game! I slept so easily and naturally until my frequent flying to and from China. I still blame the dietary rather than time-zone upset.

I shall likely not be able to let the attendees at Mom's funeral know quite how much I loved her. It was never with my Dad that I could discuss all that was on my mind. She was always my champion, no matter how negligent I was and remain about what I did was doing to her. Dad made all the decisions, and was uptight for that. Not someone you might talk with until we took a sailing trip blind across the Big Lake in his old age. In an old-style wooden boat. 

Which might have been a death pact of mutual trust. We "landed" by dead reckoning, which is all we had, within the plot where we found ourselves marked out on the charts as "restricted" by reason of ordnance testing, from which we laughingly hightailed out. We could espy the shore by then, and knew right were we were. 

And so, sure, my dead reckoning does espy the resolution to our contemporary madness. It's rather post-modern, if you can stand that. I'm a mid-century modern man myself, contaminated now by Mom's decorating effluence, which tended colonial as does, well, this post-colonial house.

We shall never populate Mars, but not for lack of cleverness. Our trouble is that we've definitively cut ourselves off from cosmos, which is the deeper meaning for digital. The conflagration on whose tail end we live is identical in form to the instant Trinity test by which Oppenheimer's success was meted out and then away. I am no big fan of Christopher Nolan's scientistic fantasies, but he nailed this one. Has he grown a literary heart? Doubtful, but hey!

Each of us has outsourced by now the better angels of our nature to the good graces of ambitious people. And what's wrong with ambition? Daniel Dennett has it in spades, as do those Mars rovers for all mankind.

What choice do we have? Who among us would arrogate the resolution of important matters to ourself? Who among us would consider themselves to have that expertise? If I can code, you might still pay me very well, but you'd be paying me for the blinders I wear about the bigger picture. Which is identical to C-level corporate compensation. Watch only the bottom line, and learn to speak to the boardroom the way that Steve Jobs spoke to the world. Coders are paid well to have no ambition beyond the code. C-level requires Ivy-grade networks. A death-pact of mutual trust.

Reconnecting with cosmos requires humility. And the realization that we've never been apart. Most of our human brainpower is "meant" to be social and not intellectual. Mom was never allowed to make the big decisions, though she had the real intelligence in the family.

I still can't find the baby Jesus for Mom's stylish Christmas crèche. No worries. It's someone in one of the boxes, I'm sure. Someday I'll have the energy to open the rest of them,

The brain is neither isomorphic nor coterminous with the mind. The mind is spread, though perhaps the brain acts, metaphorically, as a kind of microcosm for the all. Not a receiver of cosmic emanations, though that metaphor might get you pretty far. But an ironically social and intellectual nexus in a kind of living thinking swamp of humanity. The irony is that while we have never been more individually named and free and potentially heroic, we have never been so subsumed in and by the human All. 

The novel I would write, if I could write, would be the last novel. The hero disappears. I have the whole thing in plates. Never to be finished. The protagonist . . .