Friday, September 19, 2003

What if a god, instead of creating the universe, merely found it? And then, what if he lost it?

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

some recent thoughts:

1. was the past better or worse than the present? recent discussions with friends uncover a consensual belief that all valorization of the past over against the present are delusional and regressive fantasies. Two hundred years ago, the population of Europe was roughly 11% literate, the majority of people were peasants (soon to become industrial laborers), and cities stank running with filth in the streets (since plumbing in the modern sense did not exist). While I have tended to agree that worship of the past was generally motivated by politically conservative interests and relied on a purely constructed version of "what was," I've now decided that it all depends on your perspective. In this regard, I've been primarily influenced by Mike Davis' "Victorian Holocausts" book in which he demonstrates how colonial policies and practices turned drought conditions from Brazil to China into humanitarian catastrophes of biblical proportions, thus creating a long-lasting divergence between the conditions of the poor in the 1st World (Europe and North America) and the poor in the 3rd World. In the case of the latter, it cannot be asserted that the present is better than the past since, as Davis shows, imperial policies in china, as well as practices of the moghuls in India, were geared to prevent exactly the kinds of disasters that the colonial policies produced. Of course that may beg the question of the present present vs. the past past - that is, for example, are the inhabitants of modern day China, or India for that matter, "better off" than their ancestors. Conditions are better, certainly, than they were 100 years ago, but are they better than they were 200 years ago? 10,000 years ago?

2. liberalism and America. Lieberman claims that a "swing to the left" - whatever that would mean in America - would mean certain defeat for the Democratic party. I would instead wager that a further commitment to centrism would further the party's demise. Americans are extremists by nature, not moderates, and appreciate high contrasts. The larger problem for the Democrats is actually producing a worldview that is as simplistic and stark as that propogated by the Republicans, a worldview with a clear division between the good and the evil, and easy to understand solutions to the problems currently facing America (unemployment, "terrorism," etc.) This would involve a reclamation of the concept of America itself. The Republicans, while actually serving the interests of a small minority of extremely wealthy Americans, have successfully marketed themselves as the embodiment of America. They are the flag wavers. They are the patriots. Etc. Their idea of America, however, is Christian, conservative, and plutocratic. Because they mobilize fundamentalism in all its forms on their behalf, they have successfully projected the message that any opposition to this concept of America is opposition to America itself (as one conservative put it, "Life is a living hell for liberals because they hate America but don't hate it enough to leave"). America should mean, is supposed to mean, was intended to mean: FREEDOM, LIBERTY, EQUALITY, DEMOCRACY. If the image of Republican community par excellence is the Christian fundamentalist revival meeting - which is about submission to an absolute authority, then the image of Democratic community par excellence is the old-style Dead show/Woodstock/ Lollapalooza-type rock festival - which is about the celebration of freedom, enjoyment, and self-expression.

3. But it's not just about the battle of worldviews - on the one hand, the monolith of Republican fundamentalism, on the other, a polyglot bazaar of Democratic pluralism - it is about power: the power to tax, the power to legislate, the power to mobilize, etc. The Republicans are all about power, taking power, and using power to benefit specific special interests. They do not want to change the world or social system. They want to control the government to fulfill certain personal and business interests. They do not say this. Instead, they say they want to protect America, keep the streets safe, etc. The democrats, on the other hand, at their best, would like to create a better, different world on behalf of a generalized human interest involving the right to education, healthcare, income, welfare, shelter, security, etc. Because they do not serve specific financial interests, and instead want to promote a diffuse interest inherited from and invented by the humanist enlightenment, they have a harder time of it. In a sense, they have no center of power, no specific interest unified enough and identifiable enough to mobilize and direct the actions of the party. This results from their celebration of diversity, in part.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

I gave a talk at harvard the other day at a conference on terrorism (specifically, that of the Red Army Faction - they didn't call themselves "terrorists" of course, though, as one participant asserted, "the society saw them that way." - now why would that be?). I talked about consciousness. Any organism that uses a mental picture to interact with and manipulate the world would require that this mental picture have two characteristics: it must be relatively stable, otherwise action over time and remembering where you left your food would become difficult, and it must be essentially fluid, otherwise it would be incapable of adapting to the shifting form of reality itself. Fundamentalism is rooted in the stable aspect of consciousness, and liberalism, understood as a relativistic formalism, is rooted in the other. Come to think of it, liberalism combines both aspects, in the formalism of law's rule, and in the tolerance and freedom of thought that it encourages and protects. Truth, I claimed, resided in the fluid adaptability of consciousness, in the movement from one stable state to another, and not in any particular stable state that consciousness adopts in order to negotiate a particular configuration of the real. Pedagogy should encourage this transversal movement, should teach it as the form of truth, rather than teach a specific or particular proposition. In doing so, pedagogy fulfills the Enlightenment's vision of a free humanity, a humanity made free by the truth. This is, however, the devil's pedagogy - for the devil, in the gnostic schema, frees humans by revealing to them the truth of this world's imprisoning deception. The devil, who only exists for fundamentalists after all, is not evil because he does bad things, but because he is a relativist, and thus attacks fundamentalism at an ontological level, at its foundation, just as the chaotic flux of reality itself does.

Monday, March 10, 2003

something else to say about the war: IT HASN'T HAPPENED. everyone's freaking out about it and our minds are getting pumped full of details about how devestating, horrible, atrocious, brutal, it will inevitably be, but it is still just a possibility (however probable). it's important to hold on to its not-yet-ness - there's still time, still hope ["for what?" you might ask - max c. sez: "no hope=no fear" - trungpa rinpoche stresses the "hopelessness" of enlightenment, etc.]. feel like Ginsberg declaring the Vietnam War over in "Wichita Vortex Sutra." but there is that utopian moment before something has happened, the utopia of "still not yet."

for what it's worth, doesn't the fact that we are willing to send troops into Iraq imply that we (notice the "we" - written like a true American - "our troops" "our president" "our country" - who were "we" again?) believe Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction? If they did, wouldn't they be using them?
the media coverage makes the whole buildup seem slow motion. we've been talking and thinking about this for months. the slow motion makes it all appear scripted. what will happen next? has the end been composed already? what if there's a surprise ending? what if the whole thing isn't about Iraq after all, but about, say, the UN? What if Bush is just building up to the US leaving the UN or asking them to move shop to Brussels? the war seems so real and pending to so many - what if it were neither?

and is this imperialism? the war on Iraq seems like imperialism in the traditional, Schumpeter sense - forcible extension of sovereignty over another national territory, and not just the plain old leninist capitalism=imperialism. that is, no longer a metaphor of indirect control but a real, physical control of another country.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Whatever is physically occurring now, exists. Anything that does not belong to the realm of currently transpiring physical reality does not exist. But this reality itself does not persist as a stable entity from one moment to the next - it is this instability itself, this transpiring (what's that tumbling over the event horizon?). However, we have access to things which do not exist through memory, fantasies, and dreams, which themselves are with specific physical events occuring with(in) the consciousness through which we experience and perceive. There are physical realities that we do not, in fact, in principal can not, perceive. The question for us is: Does it make sense to speak of "non-physical" reality? For example: meaning. How does the meaning of a word exist? More pointedly: Where does it exist? If something exists, we assume that it is localizable in space. If something is "nowhere," how can it be anything? Etc. God is nowhere.

Monday, January 20, 2003

Many have mentioned it before, but I'm still surprised and disturbed by the juxtapositions of data we encounter daily in the news media. Sometimes they are as appalling as, "The perpetrator of this brutal rape is still at large. Up next, the cutest doggy you ever saw!" In this morning's New York Times email, I found this:

"We believe that a persuasive case will be there at the end
of the month that Iraq is not cooperating."


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So, while the administration plans for war, those with disposable income plan their vacations.