Archive for July, 2020

Once in a while, when discussing current events and their interpretations and implications, a regular interlocutor of mine will impeach me, saying “What do you know, really?” I’m always forced to reply that I know only what I’ve learned through various media sources, faulty though they may be, not through first-hand observation. (Reports of anything I have observed personally tend to differ considerably from my own experience once the news media completes its work.) How, then, can I know, to take a very contemporary instance this final week of July 2020, what’s going on in Portland from my home in Chicago other than what’s reported? Makes no sense to travel there (or much of anywhere) in the middle of a public health crisis just to see a different slice of protesting, lawbreaking, and peacekeeping [sic] activities with my own eyes. Extending the challenge to its logical extremity, everything I think I know collapses into solipsism. The endpoint of that trajectory is rather, well, pointless.

If you read my previous post, there is an argument that can’t be falsified any too handily that what we understand about ourselves and the world we inhabit is actually a constructed reality. To which I reply: is there any other kind? That construction achieves a fair lot of consensus about basics, more than one might even guess, but that still leaves quite a lot of space for idiosyncratic and/or personal interpretations that conflict wildly. In the absence of stabilizing authority and expertise, it has become impossible to tease a coherent story out of the many voices pressing on us with their interpretations of how we ought to think and feel. Twin conspiracies foisted on us by the Deep State and MSM known and RussiaGate and BountyGate attest to this. I’ll have more to say about inability to figure things out when I complete my post called Making Sense and Sensemaking.

In the meantime, the modern world has in effect constructed its own metaphorical Tower of Babel (borrowing from Jonathan Haidt — see below). It’s not different languages we speak so much (though it’s that, too) as the conflicting stories we tell. Democratization of media has given each us of — authorities, cranks, and everyone between — new platforms and vehicles for promulgating pet stories, interpretations, and conspiracies. Most of it is noise, and divining the worthwhile signal portion is a daunting task even for disciplined, earnest folks trying their best to penetrate the cacophony. No wonder so many simply turn away in disgust.

I admit (again) to being bugged by things found on YouTube — a miserable proxy for the marketplace of ideas — many of which are either dumb, wrongheaded, or poorly framed. It’s not my goal to correct every mistake, but sometimes, inane utterances of intellectuals and specialists I might otherwise admire just stick in my craw. It’s hubris on my part to insist on my understandings, considering my utter lack of standing as an acknowledged authority, but I’m not without my own multiple areas of expertise (I assert immodestly).

The initial purpose for this blog was to explore the nature of consciousness. I’ve gotten badly sidetracked writing about collapse, media theory, epistemology, narrative, and cinema, so let me circle back around. This is gonna be long.

German philosopher Oswald Spengler takes a crack at defining consciousness:

Human consciousness is identical with the opposition between the soul and the world. There are gradations in consciousness, varying from a dim perception, sometimes suffused by an inner light, to an extreme sharpness of pure reason that we find in the thought of Kant, for whom soul and world have become subject and object. This elementary structure of consciousness is not capable of further analysis; both factors are always present together and appear as a unity.

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Years ago, I broke with my usual themes and styles to offer a listicle, mostly inanities and hyper-irony, which began as follows:

  • All cats are girls, all dogs are boys. Everyone knows this from childhood. Additional discussion is moot.

I’m not a good writer of aphorisms, so I haven’t returned to that brief experiment until now. For inspiration, I’m quoting numerous examples by Caitlin Johnstone, who is a frequent and fantastic writer of aphorisms under the repeated subtitle “Notes from the Edge of the Narrative Matrix.” The long-running theme we share is that we are all being programmed and propagandized continuously through the shaping of narrative by folks with obvious agendas. Johnstone believes we are collectively waking up — as if from a nightmare — to the dark realization that our minds have been colonized (my term) and that a worldwide transformation of consciousness is currently taking place. I don’t quite see it yet, but I’m sympathetic to the possibility that, as in the famous rant from the 1976 movie Network, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

  • The essential character relationship of the 1% to the rest of us is predator/prey or strong/weak. Strong predators behave precisely as one would expect.
  • Trying to restore peace using the same violent police force whose violence disrupted the peace in the first place is a bit like trying to put out a fire using lighter fluid. The same lighter fluid that was used to start it. (Johnstone)
  • Rioting and looting are not constructive responses to society’s ills, but then, neither have various nonviolent forms of protest and dissent been effective at petitioning government for redress of grievance. Packing up and going home merely cedes the field of play to bad actors already stuffing everyone down.
  • Believing cold war is no big deal because nuclear war hasn’t happened yet is the same as believing your game of Russian roulette is safe because the gun hasn’t gone off yet. (Johnstone)
  • According to the movies, realizing one’s potential is achieved by developing punching/fighting/domination skills sufficient to force your will upon others, which is true for criminals, saints (good guys), men, and women alike.
  • Ecocide will be a problem as long as ecocide remains profitable. War will be a problem as long as war remains profitable. Politicians will cater to profit-seeking sociopaths as long as profit determines what drives human behavior. (Johnstone)
  • The most influential news outlets in the western world uncritically parrot whatever they’re told to say by the most powerful and depraved intelligence agencies on the planet, then tell you that Russia and China are bad because they have state media. (Johnstone)
  • Wanting Biden because he’s not Trump is the same as wanting cancer because it’s not heart disease. (Johnstone)
  • Capitalism will let you starve to death while sitting meters away from food. (Johnstone)

I wish more of them were my own, but the opportunity to choose some of Johnstone’s best was too good to pass up.

News aggregators such as Yahoo! are known to publish videos seeking help identifying perpetrators of crime caught on camera. There is no one canonical example, but those that pop for me usually depict some young dude mugging and robbing an old woman, presumably for whatever the contents of her purse might be. It’s disheartening to witness (at some remove) common street crime perpetrated so casually. Right, wrong, and one’s position in relation to those categories can’t be so difficult that criminals don’t know the difference. Yet they commit crime anyway. Then it struck me, “why, of course! We’re predators.” More than that, we’re apex predators. Let me explain.

Everything alive eats (and poops). Food for animals is mostly other living things, both plants and other animals. Accordingly, the basic relationship of animals to each another, even the noncarnivorous ones, is predator and prey. Predatory behavior usually occurs across species boundaries for social species but sometimes within. Besides crime videos, one can go online to watch vicariously as predators dispatch their prey. I recall being astounded to see golden eagles snatch goats off the sides of mountains or ravines only to release them from a height sufficient to result in impact death. They aren’t called birds of prey for nothing. If goats in this instance die quickly albeit painfully, the same can’t be said for victims of bears, which are known to pin down their prey and just start eating before the victim is even dead. Not all predators use size advantage, either. Some swarm their victims, others use disproportionate strength or immobilizing poison, and others sting and extract (without killing directly) or burrow and bore into their victims and consume them from inside. Sometimes, as in the insect world, a host organism is used as an incubator for a brood of offspring. Nature evolved a multiplicity of mechanisms and strategies for eating, for survival. Many are absolutely horrific to contemplate, but in a state of nature, they occur without implied moral weight.

It’s different (but then not so different) for humans, who no longer live in a strict state of nature but are instead members of civilized societies. We evolved and developed mechanisms, strategies, and tools to dominate all of nature and have essentially taken over the planet as the most successful of all apex predators — at least temporarily. It’s in our nature to do so, just as a big cat or alligator clamps its jaws on its prey. Billions of fowl, swine, and beef farmed for food production in frankly appalling conditions (thus the need for Ag Gag laws) attest to our callous treatment of other species. But humans have moral, ethical, and legal restraints when it comes to intraspecies predation. Some observe those restraints, others do not. Muggers and purse snatchers occupy middle ground, since killing isn’t necessary to secure food (or money) to survive. Writ large, exploitation of labor by the ownership class is arguably part of that middle ground, too. The main difference is that survival for corporate entities such as Walmart and Amazon (or their multibillionaire owners) is far less precarious than for a coyote stealing chickens out of backyards for its next meal.