Ruptured Rhapsody

A different kind of "blog," consisting of selections from my scribblings over many years. The date of each post is the date I originally wrote that piece. So, the top post is usually not the latest post, because I continually add writings from different years to the blog. If you have visited here before, you are likely to find new posts anywhere on the page. I'll continue to add "new" posts as my time allows.

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Location: Toronto, Canada

13 July 2008

To expect nature to adapt to our destructive ways is to say that whatever does not conform to the needs of the current socioeconomic system is unnatural and should be allowed to die a quiet death. It is to conflate social Darwinism and biological Darwinism. It is to prescribe the sacrifice of the 4,000,000,000 years of evolution to the 200 years of industrial capitalism. Nature will always be with us, whether we deign to call ourselves a part of it or not. The same cannot be said about capitalism and the urge to maximize profit at all cost. Staggering power and profit for the very few, along with powerlessness and degradation for the many and for the environment, are fairly new phenomena. The powerlessness that is implied in succumbing to the needs of profit making is in fact the powerlessness caused by capitalist relations between capital owners and those who work for them. That state is neither natural nor eternal.

1 July 2008

Bush, Cheney, and the rest of the so-called neo-cons are not aberrations. They are expressions of the essential character of the American imperial project that has been going on for over two hundred years. That project began with the genocide of the native population of the continent. Once all the land to the Pacific Ocean had been taken from the natives and Mexico through massacre and war, the imperial project expanded to other countries and continents. It has been based on the unquestioned assumption that whatever is done in the name of the United States is the essence of righteousness. And, what is more, the project will continue, no matter who occupies the White House.

15 January 2006

I am back from Cuba, more sad than wise.  Sad, because I saw firsthand how the Cuban Revolution’s wondrous experiment in human emancipation is being crushed by capitalism and the Empire.  A little wiser too, because I now realize that we, the so-called progressives, cannot begin to understand human emancipation until we try to rid ourselves of our deeply-ingrained class prejudices.

15 July 2000

Kicking someone when they are down does not necessarily arise from evil or selfish intentions.  In fact, it may arise from very good, nay altruistic, intentions.  Normally people are so full of themselves that it is next to impossible to arouse them out of their dogmatic slumber by a well-intentioned kick, that is, criticism of even the most constructive kind, the kind that tries to help the other person help themselves.  If, on the other hand, the person is already down from having received a kick from someone else, this may be the best time to state or reiterate the constructive criticism, because the person is “prone” to accept, at such a juncture, that he or she is less than perfect.  If, for instance, someone has been chastised at some public forum, this may be the best time to get through to the person with oft-reiterated criticism, and to have a realistic hope that the person would agree to fundamental reforms that would have been considered out of the question before.

15 June 2000

The fact that by choice or necessity people sometimes give up their citizenship does not mean that they give up their nationality.  This is why a multicultural society like Canada can really only survive if it is willing to implement a quite radical form of multiculturalism.  Especially for a first-generation immigrant, the culture of the old country, its poetry, literature, and generally its ways of being are integral elements of his or her identity.  To ask this person to give all this up is akin to asking someone to not be who he or she is.  Of course, the supposedly insurmountable objection that is always made is that a country can only have one culture, one way of being, and one nationality.  In other words, encouraging different cultures to express these differences will only increase the alienation and segregation of different cultural and ethnic groups in the country.  The reality, however, is that this alienation is an existing fact, and not something that multiculturalism has created.  Canadians reject “foreigners,” whether or not these “foreigners” adopt Canadian ways.  So things cannot get worse than they already are.  Multiculturalism has not created the problem.  It can, however, be a step towards its solution.  Education is the solution.  It should aim to increase people’s appreciation of different cultures, of multi-cultures, and ways of being.  This can be a solution both for the social problem, as well as for the individual problem of the immigrant individual who is forced by the current circumstances to suppress his or her identity.

15 May 2000

What the experience of first-generation immigrants is most similar to is the experience of early Canadians and some of the pioneers.  What?  How can there be much similarity between the experience of those hardy self-reliant individuals and that of the supposedly soft, subsidy-dependent immigrant?  Immigrants, when they first arrive, mostly have to put up with apartment-living for many years, even if, as is mostly the case, they are from a middle class and relatively well-to-do background.  This is similar to the pioneer building a primitive shack that serves to keep out (some of) the elements, until many years later, when he can perhaps build himself something better.  Like the immigrant who, many years later, and at the expense of much risk and sacrifice, builds or buys himself a home.  The pioneer’s life consists of a constant battle against a hostile environment that has no place in it for him.  The first-generation immigrant’s life much the same.

15 April 2000

There is a perception that children are more violent than they used to be.  One way in which this is expressed is that children are not really the innocent little creatures they used to be.  This notion, however, is not a new one.  Its older form was the idea that to realize that children are not really innocent is to look at their cruelty to each other.  But all this is a case of category error.  When we say children are innocent, we are not making an ethical statement, or a moral statement about their having good or evil actions in their past.  We are merely saying that they have very little experience of the world and its ways.  Of course the problem is connected with the superimposition of the labels or concepts of good and evil onto our actions.  Instead of calling actions what they are, for example, antisocial, etc., and dealing with the question of how to improve or encourage them, we abdicate our own responsibility to deal with them, by abandoning them to labels such as blessed or villainous.

15 March 2000


There is a sense of eternity about books, works of art, and generally all human achievements.  Or perhaps a consolation.  One tells oneself: surely if human beings can create such works, their lives must mean something?  Surely it can’t be the case that they just live a few decades and turn into nothing and that’s that?  Perhaps this is more of a consolation than a fact.  The consolation is that even if we are in fact highly ephemeral beings, we at least have the power to expand and extend the width of our live indefinitely.  The obverse interpretation perhaps takes two forms: Camus’ defiance of meaninglessness, and Dylan Thomas’s “Rage against the dying of the light!”  Think of Proust, dying at 51…

15 February 2000

Looking at old buildings in the Rococo style, one sometimes get the feeling that their ornamentation is somehow inauthentic, that it has been put there to give the eye something to play with.  One purpose of 20th century architects may have been to introduce more honesty into architecture.  A wall becomes just the wall.  A window becomes just a window.  But don’t we need the deception?  Don’t we need an architect that makes a building disguise its function, and pretend to be a work of art?

15 January 2000

Windex has a new product that has a “potpourri” smell.  It used to be that Windex smelled of what it is, that is an NH3, and potpourri smell of what it is, that is, pleasant flowers and plants.  Windex smelled of something inherently undesirable and unpleasant, which is what it is; we use it because its evil nature has the accidental characteristic of producing some good – cleansing.  Potpourri smelled of something inherently pleasant, which is what it is.  But now something inherently evil has a pleasant smell!

11 April 1994

The good is rational

Banks generously give billions of dollars to Ted Rogers for a merger that will destroy thousands of jobs, but are stingy with small and medium-sized businesses -- which are the biggest job creators.

Our fear was what it would be like in a world where decisions were made by computers; also we feared the marginalization of ordinary, non-elite, people -- we would become totally dispensable and dispensed with.

The fear was that computers will replace people.  But in a rationally computerized society, run on a basis other than greed, computers can serve and enhance people's lives by allocating resources in a rational manner.

At some point in the future, the logic of the machine may radically contradict the logic of the socioeconomic system.  At that time, company presidents and executives better watch out, because they may be the ones who will be judged obsolete, and dispensed with.

From the point of view of workers' interests, computerization may be the best thing that ever happened.  In the computer, the rational animal may finally meet himself, and rejoice in the reunion.

4 January 1994

To the real conservatives out there

Let's call him Don (not his real name). 

We had run into each other almost daily for months, but he had never spoken to me.  The other day he finally addressed me: "So, what is your nationality?"  having overheard his conversations with my non-visible-minority colleagues, I had some idea of his Reform-Party-oriented mindset, so I just said: "Canadian."  This not being the kind of answer he wanted, he said: "Yes, you're a Canadian now, but what is your real nationality?"  I just repeated my original answer.  Given the chance, though, I would have told him:

Yes, Don, I do have a dual nationality.  But I want you to get to know me as a person first, and then as an immigrant.  Don't you, Don, want people to know you as a person first?  Don't you want to be judged according to the values you uphold, rather than the place you happened to be born?

Don, you are worried that immigration is diluting what you think of as Canadian values.  I know you love this country, and you are concerned about its future.  So I dearly wish you will try to understand what I'm trying to tell you.  That's because I think you, as a conservative, can contribute to saving the real Canadian values.

The real Canadian values, it seems to me, are centered around the idea of peace.  And peacefulness goes hand-in-hand with tolerance.  There are few nations more tolerant of differences than Canadians.  The Canadian people's willingness, and even eagerness, to listen to people with opinions different from their own is a precious quality.

An enlightening way of looking at Canadian values is to compare them with American ones: the rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.  Canadian values are all of these and more, but in each case tempered with tolerance and equity.  Unhampered individualism is un-Canadian.  Communal peace and social equity define Canada.

So you see, Don, I think a concern with equity is just as much a part of being Canadian as a concern with social peace and harmony.  If you are worried about the deterioration of communal peace and harmony in Canada, you should realize that the deterioration of the other half of the equation, social equity, is partly to blame.  Some powers-that-be are even trying to take away medicare and unemployment insurance.  They want to discourage average working people from immigrating to Canada.  I think you, as a conservative, should try to do something about it.

By pushing people like me away from you, Don, you are serving neither peace nor equity.  If you join the rest of us and embrace peace and equity, you would in fact be confirming Canada.  Canada has been receptive to immigrants and refugees because it is Canada.  A Canada that rejects them would no longer be the Canada that you know and love.

3 January 1994

If one our of every four or five people is either unemployed or underemployed, and far more people than ever depend on welfare and food banks to survive, is it possible for the economy to be doing well?  Twenty or thirty years ago, low unemployment and poverty levels indicated economic prosperity.  Today, we mostly hear about the deficit and inflation.  What has changed in the meantime is that economic priorities are now controlled by the "contented" class.  They include not only the wealthy, but also a much enlarged segment of the middle class.  They are generally happy with the way things are, or at least fearful of change.  Government policy in North America reflects their priorities.  Their basic concern is their earnings.  They are opposed to taxes that support social programs, and to inflation that erodes the value of their earnings.  Social programs have been trimmed "to fight the deficit," that is, to reduce the need to tax the contented.  A monetarist policy of high interest rates has discouraged spending, lowering inflation.  The alternative policies of fiscal management of spending and taxation have been rejected.  The choice was a political one.  Economic theory itself has been manipulated through the ages to serve controlling interests, which calls for sensitivity to the political essence of economics.

Even "liberal" observers of the scene have deep roots in the culture of contentment.  They know it from first-hand experience.  At the same time, their own contentment makes it impossible for them to recognize its deeper nature, and the actual cure for it.  After all, a physician contented with a disease is not the best person to diagnose or prescribe for it.

As even various disaster scenarios are unlikely to jolt the contented our of their complacency, faith in the workings of the "modern industrial economy" is not justified.  It is a myth that with just the right kind of government intervention, and by the grace of the contented giving up many of their privileges, we will be save by the flexibility of the modern industrial economy.  The same groups who are blind to portents of disaster will not suddenly agree to the implementation of progressive policies.

It is necessary not only to acknowledge the existence of class struggle, as far example in discussions of the "underclass," but also to admit class struggle as an actor in the drama.  Contentment is a tranquilized state brought about by fear of change.  Contentment is a negative reaction to class struggle.  A symptom of this is the contented's need to feel morally justified in their desire for wealth and their denial of responsibility for the poor.

It is not enough to utter platitudes about the need for economic aspiration, with the usual lessons-to-be-learned-from-the-Japanese-and-the-Germans.  The true opposite and remedy for contentment is the desire for radical social change.  This is the underlying issue that is avoided at everyone's peril.

It is fine to try to understand the economic and political forces and actors that have created the economic mess in North America.  Yet the very obsession with forces and actors precludes attention to systemic causes and remedies.

31 December 1993

Introverts are constantly encourage to become extroverts.  But what exactly is an extrovert?  An extrovert is someone who is constantly performing roles for other people.  And he knows how to play those roles well, and now enjoys playing them.  The introvert, on the other hand, generally performs no roles.  He simply does whatever he does for himself.  to the extent that the introvert has freed himself, through involuntarily, from performing for an audience, his action is more authentic than the extrovert's.  But as his action does not have an external object, it is not authentic or real action.  There is no need, though, for the introvert to become like the extrovert.  All he needs do in order to achieve authenticity is to add an external dimension to his action.  He should do for others as he used to do fro himself.  Exteriorizing the authenticity of introverted action is the path to authenticity.  The person thus makes a quantum jump beyond taking.  He realizes that giving is what makes taking authentic.  He takes only in order to give.

Introvertness is a reflection of extrovertness that gains a level of authenticity over extrovertness, because it is authentic action with an authentic object.  But action can achieve full authenticity only in a Kantian universalization.  It is not, then, merely conformism in order to survive.  Rather, it is an expression of what action really is.  It may not receive the same plaudits as extrovert action.  But there are other kinds of plaudits.

30 December 1993

Money is not capital -- it is just a part of capital.  Capitalism is a system of (unjust) privilege based on economic, political, cultural, etc., resources.  The political and economic systems are not independent of each other.  The "political" system is a part of the "economic" system, and the "economic" system is a part of the "political" system.

29 December 1993

Embracing oneself -- and comforting oneself -- as one used to be -- perhaps vulnerable, etc. -- and as one will be -- old.  Bridging the gap between the baby and the elder.

28 December 1993

Kant and Socialism

Acting purely as the sentient (finite, mortal) being, there are no right or wrong actions, only good or bad ones.  Our immortality is not an empirical reality.  Whatever we do, we do as beings whose every action is merely an empirical phenomenon.  Our actions are all of this world.  Therefore, the only rightness or wrongness they can have is within the context of empirical phenomena -- the Manifold.  The individual being, mortal and finite, cannot be the basis of right and wrong -- there is no private morality.  Acting as a human being, one acts within the larger context of society (as opposed acting as a mere sentient being).  There is a sense in which a person can say: "Because I am a finite and mortal being, my actions must make sense to me, because this is the only life I have."  But this contention reflects back on itself and becomes: Because I am a finite being, and this is the only life I have, the only meaning it can have has to be outside itself."  If then happiness is good, and creating happiness is right, then it cannot be just my happiness that we are talking about.  And when what is right, I am doing what is right for me to do as a social being.

27 December 1993

"National identity" is the identity of elites, no matter what their race or origin.  The privileged among immigrants worry about getting their proper share of the pie, while the rest of us, immigrant or not, worry about the next month's rent -- about the crumbs we assumed we were assured of, but which are now threatened.  Those who have the privilege of worrying about making their proper contribution to Canadian heritage, already belong to the privileged, whether they know it or not.  Yes, it is true that much talent is wasted.  But that is because of the injustice of the system.  The system systematically destroys talent and potential, where of immigrants or others.  It balances everything in the scales of profit, rather than the good of society.  So the "underprivileged" are, by definition, excluded from making a contribution to "national identity."  The working class has no country.

26 December 1993

Notwithstanding all the differences of background, attitude, and so on, that divide me from a certain co-worker, the fact remains -- and it is perhaps the most tangible and real factor -- that he and I, for the foreseeable future and during a relatively long past -- are stuck with each other.  We are, in other words, in an identical situation.  Therefore, after all is said and done, and even after disagreements and disputes are considered, the most rational and course of behavior is tolerance.

A similar argument can perhaps be constructed for the case of the various groups that make up Canada.  For better or worse, we are all here now.  Therefore, the most rational course and behaviour may be simple tolerance and active bond-forming.

25 December 1993

The Gift (an atheist's religious moment)

The recent arguments over the political correctness of Christmas celebrations have again made political correctness itself an issue.  Though many people would wish political correctness away, the reality is that it has always been with us in one form or another, sometimes with a name, and sometimes without.  For example, at some point during the 1960s, people in North America stopped calling Afro-Americans “Negroes,” and started calling them “Blacks,” though no-one thought of the switch as “politically-correct” – it just seemed the right thing to do.

So it may be more productive to try to understand how and why ideas and concepts become politically incorrect, because the process is usually a symptom of an underlying problem – a problem that the battles over political correctness frequently prevent a solution of, and simply mask by creating new names and concepts.  For example, the real problem with the word “Negro” was that it categorized a section of the population in a negative way – that is, the word did not add any positive information to one’s ideas about a particular person.  It simply signified that the person was not “White” – which, in reality, means nothing.  Americans, rather than dealing with the word’s negative stereotyping, simply replaced it with another word – Black – that had the exact same problem – although one would not have dreamed of saying so in the ‘70s, for fear of being labelled a racist.  In other words, objecting to the board “Black” on the grounds that it was a label that arbitrarily put a wall of exclusion around a large section of the population – this objection would have made one an exclusionary racist!

On similar grounds, one would quite reluctantly propose that the labels “Afro-American,” Afro Canadian,” and so on have very little positive content, and primarily save to exclude.  The point is so obvious that did resists getting pinned down.  An Afro-Canadian, an Italian-Canadian, a Chinese-Canadian, and so on, is doubtless the beneficiary of a rich cultural heritage.  But as soon as each of those individuals is labeled in the customary way, their positive cultural heritage becomes a wall that separates them from the rest of society.  An Afro-Canadian, etc., is much more than just an individual who has been influenced by two cultures.

So, as hinted before, it may be more productive to try to understand how concepts become politically correct, rather than trying to invent concepts that are completely correct –not to speak of the fact that such concepts may be so neutral as to be meaningless.

A concept’s job is to unify a number of individual items into a totality.  For instance, as soon as an object is called a tree, it becomes a member of the established community of trees.  It is no longer just an object with a wooden trunk and green leaves.  It is now an object that share the characteristic of “treeness,” and everything that implies, with a large number of other objects of various sorts.  The name, however, forces our attention to certain aspects of the object, at the expense of other aspects.  For instance, we now tend to pay less attention to the fact that a tree is also a living being, a part of the same evolutionary chain we ourselves are a part of, an integral part of the biosphere oh, and so on.  Names begin by embracing, and end up rejecting and excluding.  The problem is that names begin by making a thing more than what it was, but then make it less than what it was.

Another example is the word “civilization.”  It originally signified an improvement on the state of nature, and a concept that unified the diversity of human achievements, imbuing them with singular significance.  But the very same process of making the human “a better nature” made the human something other than and opposed to nature.  Hence “civilization” became merely that which is not nature.  The rise was also a fall.

Social phenomenon turn from being acceptable into being unacceptable and politically-incorrect as they change from being something positive and affirming into something negative and excluding.  For example, discrimination against gay people and gay families became politically incorrect, not because some “wicked liberals” pushed for it, but because heterosexuality, from an affirmation of the love between a man and a woman, turned into a means of excluding and stigmatizing a large part of the population.

It is true that every affirmation and inclusion is also a negation and exclusion.  This is the essence of the human tragedy.  Yet the other side of the coin is that every negation and exclusion prepares the groundwork for a higher affirmation and inclusion.  A concept, at one point being of current significance and relevance, later becomes anachronistic and irrelevant, because it no longer tends to affirm and include.  The concepts Mrs and Miss at one point conferred a certain status on women.  Later, they served only to exclude women from the circle of independent human persons.  But the very concepts Mrs. And Miss served to focus attention on the dark side of the issue, and to prepare the groundwork for the next step.  Now, the positive concept Ms, as it serves to focus attention on the fact of human persons are merely divided by the excluding labels Mrs. And Ms., may serve as groundwork for a higher synthesis.
Another good example is Christmas, that is, its concept and what it means and used to mean.  From a time of sharing with the whole community and affirming one’s unbreakable ties to it, it became a time of rejecting those bonds through an affirmation of the self and of those directly bound to the self – that is, family and friends.  So it became a time of affirming the self, rather than affirming the Gift.  Long before it became politically incorrect, Christmas was a celebration of something received as a gift –with no money paid.  Christmas, from the exact opposite and negation of commercialism, has metamorphosed into the opposite.  It now divides and excludes – by ranking people into those who can afford expensive “gifts” and those who cannot, those who “care” and those who do not – turning love and caring themselves into commodities.  After all, those who  love the least, will care the least, are the ones most deserving of the Gift.

10 December 1993

The diremption between finance and economics

The capitalist ruling class looks at the world from a perspective of dollars and cents, whereas the real world runs according to a different logic.  While they run around trying to calculate how much everything is worth, the real values of thing slip through their fingers.  This is not just in a subjective, say, “artistic” or “moral,” sense, but rather it is the case that the diremption is at the same time objectifying itself as the apparent contradiction between a prospering financial system and a receding economy.

9 December 1993

The Hypocrites [a group in very early Islam]were considered to be condemned to eternal damnation not because they pretended to believe what they didn’t  truly believe.  Rather, it was because they used religion to gain worldly advantage.  They were “nice” not because they believed that brotherly love was the only road to true salvation, but because being nice meant that they would be at the top of the list when good jobs opened up, so to speak.  There are therefore no outward signs of true religiosity; there are no particular characteristics, such as “niceness,” that can be associated with religiosity.  If society happens to associate certain characteristics with saintliness, the truly saintly will make sure they do not exhibit such characteristics.  Anything that leads worldly advantages is of the Devil.

3 August 1993

[This was on the occasion of a dispute between June Callwood and a group of immigrant women]  Justice is a feeling.  June Callwood’s idea of feelings is a Western one.  Her opponents don’t say “You are an oppressor if you don’t agree with us.”  They say “You are an oppressor if you refuse to understand our point of view,” that is, “if you refuse to admit that your categories are not the only possible ones.”  Problems are not centered around poverty and so on.  They are centered around hierarchical structure and dichotomous thinking.  Logic is fine as long as it is not used to perpetuate and justify oppression.  The struggle against repression in all its forms as primary.  Her opponents are not “post- modernists.” By classifying them as such, she only proves her own ethnocentrism.  These are Western categories.  Postmodernists are a group of highly-privileged, mainly European, intellectuals, who can afford to debase logic.  The oppressed can’t.

2 August 1993

On the subway I saw someone reading a letter in a foreign language.  It reminded me of what it used to be like to read a letter from home (the reader’s seriousness was especially striking and nostalgic).  With a letter in front of me and in my hands, the lost world used to be present – actually there in tangible form.  But gradually the letter became a piece of a world far away and lost.  The letter taunted me.  It said it came from there, but that I couldn’t go there.  Eventually, it became a dead object that meant nothing at all.

1 July 1993

The old paradigm: all providing for all, because each existed in all, and all have to provide for each, as an intrinsically valuable part of the whole.  “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need;” not according to his work or contribution.

The new paradigm: The contribution of each to all creates an obligation of the part of all to help each.  Each contributes to all with the sole motive of creating that obligation.  And all helps each only because of the contribution of each – each has no intrinsic value – in fact, each is not a part of all – because, for one thing, there is no all.

31 May 1993

Justice vs Efficiency

Bob Rae said a while back that he was trying to reconcile social justice with economic efficiency.  But that is a false dichotomy.  The issue is not social justice vs. economic efficiency, because that is like saying the issue is social justice vs. social injustice, i.e., which is better.  “Economic efficiency” means profitability.  It does not mean an optimal way of doing things, where by optimal is meant the way that takes all costs and benefits into account, and therefore seeks to have the maximum productivity with the minimum possible costs and the maximum possible benefits.  Therefore, the most costly and destructive way of doing things may in fact be the way that is most “economically efficient.”  Social justice has never been, and will never be, reconcilable that “economic efficiency.”  The best proof that the advocates of economic efficiency have social justice as the furthest thing on their minds is that they can “rationally” ask whether social injustice is economically efficient.

30 May 1993

Abortion

Abortion, according to progressives, is a kinship issue that does not belong in the sphere of public policy.  One problem with this position is that it is ahistorical.  For abortion to really be a kinship issue, the kinship sphere would need to exist.  But in the current society, the universal sphere of kinship is in every direction invaded by the mass culture of alienation and exploitation.

29 May 1993

Real Empowerment

Empowerment has been misunderstood as taking control.  Interpreted strictly, this is wrong, as it presupposes a hierarchical way of thinking.  Empowerment must necessarily be understood as collective.  In other words, collectivity is essential, rather than accidental, to empowerment.  A community is empowered to the extent that it is a community.  A feminist analysis is essential to an understanding of empowerment.  The corollary is that to the extent that there is “control” as “power over,” a community is disempowered.  We must neutralize the effects of Gramsci’s thinking on the analysis of social action.

12 April 1993

The label "Equal Opportunity Employer" is no credit to a company if it happens to be an "employer of last resort" -- security, janitorial services, and so on.   Companies should in fact be discouraged from trying to present "equal opportunity employment" statistics as a credit to themselves.  A reverse-reverse-discrimination is in order -- such employers should be expected to have a proportional (to total population) percentage of non-visible minorities, that is, of "white" people.

11 April 1993

Absolute commodity: commodity that is valued not only for the function it can perform, but also in itself as a thing -- as a manufactured object existing outside the self and yet subject to position by the self. Hence the relationship is not only one of use, but also, significantly, of ownership.  This is a primitive stage of commodity society, such as used to exist in the "advanced" countries, and still exists in pseudo-capitalist third-world countries.  In the "advanced" countries, however, this stage has more or less been transcended.  The commodity, of course, still exists, yet its nature has undergone essential changes.  The commodity is valued for its use, as well as for its contribution towards a "higher," more "enlightened," or more aesthetic life.  So the facts of possession, and correspondingly, the cherishing of the object as an object have become far less important.

Now as has been pointed out by some, the pre-capitalist, capitalist and post-revolutionary societies represent a continuing progression, and not a circle closing back on itself.  Therefore, the revolution does not lead to a society of craftsmanship and pre-capitalist values and norms, but rather to a society of higher values and norms than earlier ones -- a more "spiritual" society, if you will.  The Western attitude towards commodities noted above, may be seen as part of a movement in this direction.  So, what may have been seen, from a different point of view, as a greater attachment to objects, and hence a more "materialistic" attitude, appears entirely differently as seen from another point of view.  The point again is that the post-revolutionary spirituality is very different from the relatively primitive, pre-capitalist spirituality.  Hence it is an error to expect the current attitudes to be moving back to those of a previous epoch.  In other words, when we see a movement in a direction even farther away from what we are used to think as spirituality, we shouldn not automatically assume that the movement is towards a degradation of spirituality.  To state the dialectical obvious then, "spirituality" itself is subject to development and transformation.

7 May 1992

Thoughts on the destructive power of ideology

-Wasting our energies through a cycle of anger, hope, and dejection.

-Both the "elect" (leftist activists/intellectuals) and the "politically naïve" could use a boost in morale.  (Why do we think of them as naïve?)  It is not true that increasing oppression will eventually lead to revolution. There is nothing dialectical about this position.

-Revolutions are not made of bitterness and guilt; they are made of hope and confidence in a better future.

-Weber is not necessarily an enemy.  Perhaps we need to look at him a little differently and try to appropriate and use his thinking, rather than going into an automatic attack mode every time someone sounds like him.

-Interpersonal conflict and other things that people make themselves (unnecessarily?) unhappy about, tend to keep them from seeing the social solutions to the underlying causes of their difficulties.  Hence, anything that helps reduce personal unhappiness may have long-term social advantages.

-The us-vs.-them mentality is perhaps suitable only for collective bargaining situations.  Not because there is no class conflict; there definitely is.  But because a "progressive" is not something that a person is, but rather something that a person aspires to be.  A progressive is a person who, through his or her life activity, tries to bring his or her community closer to the ideal of a happier better world.  A leftist is not something that you become by some ceremony of conversion or initiation; there are no "card carrying leftists."  Being a progressive does not mean confessing to a certain creed or statement of belief.  The issue is not separating people into believers and nonbelievers, and trying to convert the latter; the material issue is to try to increase the amount and the potential for positive action in the world.

-Elitist theoris and university degrees are worth very little in the day-to-day struggle of the poor, the oppressed, and working people.  A little happiness and hope, however, can go a long way.

-Leftist objections to Weber (and now to the self-esteem movement) have been based on the notion that these ideologies try to tell people they can think or feel their problems away.  But perhaps this is a misunderstanding.  Perhaps these ideologies say the exact opposite, namely that problems must be correctly understood in their exact material nature, rather than getting bogged down by ideologies.

6 May 1992

Love of the root of all evil

I don't even watch the popular TV program called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, so how is it that I have almost become obsessed with the difference between the way they live, and the way the rest of us live? Like Alex, the character in the sitcom called Family Ties, I imagin them laughing in their palatial "homes." One can almost say they truly live, while the rest of us die a hundred deaths every day.

The trouble is I always considered Alex's ideology (of getting rich at any cost) completely abhorrent and alien. A life spent in pursuit of wealth and possessions seemed like no life at all. Pursuit of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good seemed essential to a full life.

I found myself becoming discouraged in my pursuit of truth and knowledge. Accepted "knowledge" I found a pack of lies. I found that whenever someone, despite discouragement and frustrations, had discovered a portion of the truth, the entire weight of society had come down upon him (perhaps in the form of economic deprivation or social isolation) to prevent him from sharing his discovery with others. As for beauty and love, a deprived life is hardly the right soil for such delicate flowers. Most of us have enough to do just managing to survive from one day to the next. And as for goodness and justice, it seems all power in the world is aimed at increasing evil and injustice.

Imagined Utopias have been one answer to the horribleness of the real. After all, if what exists is far from right, then why not try to imagine what would be right, and perhaps also what would take us from here to there.

But even Utopias don't seem satisfying anymore! What is so true, beautiful, or good about a world where everyone lives at close to a bare subsistence level? Such would be a realistic Utopia.

12 December 1991

Two aphorisms

The ability to ridicule oneself is probably a sign of great self-confidence, but the boundary line between self-riducule and self-pity is not very clear, and self-pity seems not to stem from self-confidence but rather from a lack of it.

The egoistic or ego-centered thoughts that most people seem to have at one time or another (that the whole world and whatever is in it exist for one's self) are actually a misconception or a reflection of the fact that each person is unique.

11 December 1991

Truth versus Dissemblance

One difference between a book by a respectable political scientist and Hitler's book Mein Kampf is that the scholar tries to make arguments that make sense, while Hitler tries to make arguments that seem to make sense. One does not learn any rational arguments from reading Hitr's book. What one does learn is a fascist's method for distorting truth to fit his or her own purposes. This in itself can be quiet elightening, as it makes one more conscious of an author's motives. One right-wing propaganda tactic is to use different words to describe the same phenomenon, depending on whose interests is being served. Thus the U.S. "librates" Grenada, wh the Soviet union "invads" Afghanistan. Another right-wing tactic is to make their opponts seem to be saying something other than what the opponents are actually saying. Another right-wing tactic is to pretend to be humanitarian, in order to appal to the audience on an emotional level. Another tactic related to the one above is the right wing's pretension to be speaking from some moral high ground.

20 March 1989

Truth versus Wisdom

The war between the tendency towards search for truth versus that towards search for wisdom. The Pre-Socratics searching for truth, and then Socrates coming along and searching for wisdom through searching for truth. Plato and Aristotle searching for truth, and then the Post-Aristotelians searching for wisdom. The Medieval Philosophers searching for truth, and Montaigne searching for wisdom. There seems to come into being: first, a sense of mystery (Hesiod and those previous to him), and then a rationalization of that into boredom. The mysteries seems to force itself upon the attention of philosophers after it has been rationalized away.

19 March 1989

Television as a new religion

Television was promoted in order to fill the place vacated by Christianity. TV promotes the same values as Christianity. More importantly, they both prevent the possibility of communal ideas and feelings taking hold. (As Gabriel Marcel may put it, they prevent the mass from becoming a universal.) During the declining years of the Roman Empire, among the confusion of tongues and religions in the empire, the possibility arose that the various communities would begin to see their salvation in the universal. Hence mass salvation was imposed on them.

18 March 1989

Mother Teresa's real mission

The "Sisters of Mercy" somehow always go to places where organized resistance to capitalist compression is forming -- by the very poorest.

4 February 1988

Faith, nationalism, and racism

Racist and nationalist thinking are the same type of thinking as religious thinking. Fideism is a mystical philosophical doctrine derived from the idea that the highest truth and goodness are beyond human comprehension. This doctrine has given rise to expressions such as "leap of faith": as the human mind is taken to be unable to reach absolutely certain truths and values, they can only be reached by means of a leap of faith. Although fideism as a doctrine is not popularly known, it has been widely used to justify belief in irrational religious ideas. In fact, as explained below, faith is outside the realm of rationality; therefore faith is inseparable from fideism.

Although fideism was formulated into a philosophical doctrine by highly respected writers and philosophers, such as Montaigne, Pascal, and Kierkegaard, it has become associated with fanaticism and intellectual laziness -- and for good reason. Notwithstanding the significant contributions of fideist writers, fideism is essentially an abdication of the will to know, and inevitably leads to fanaticism. As the object of faith is defined as irrational, the highest and purest form of faith would presumably consist of belief in the greatest absurdities conceivable. Hence the dialectic of faith itself leads to belief in not just absurd ideas, but the belief in the greatest possible absurdities.

One way to understand this process is to think of the historical dialectic of religious faith versus knowledge. As knowledge pushed back the boundaries of ignorance about the world, religion was gradually forced out of this universe, and into a supernatural one. In other words, as more and more natural processes were (more or less) understood, the primitive nature religions, based as they were on absurd ideas about nature, were replaced by religions based on abstract and sophisticated absurdities.

As Tertulian, a third-century Christian theologian, put it: "I believe it because it is incredible." And the more incredible the "object" of belief, the more the likelihood of fanaticism. An irrational idea can have only an emotional hold on a person as the mind reject such an idea. Thus the more irrational and far from known reality one's beliefs are, the more would be the need for strong emotional attachment to the beliefs. In other words, an irrational belief can give rise to fanaticism.

Religion does not, however, have a monopoly on irrational beliefs. The object of faith may be any idea based on unquestionable premises, rather than on evidence. "Race" and "nation" are two such ideas.

The two concepts of "race" and "nation" or as absurd and internally incoherent as any religious idea. The two concepts were invented by the same people, namely the nineteenth-century colonial powers, strictly as tools of domestic and colonial domination.

The concept of race has no content whatsoever, surprising as such a claim may be. It is usually assumed, without question, that there are three or four "main" racial groups, and several subgroups within these. The main groups are supposed to include the Caucasian, the black, and the oriental races. Each of these is supposed to consist of the native inhabitants of a particular continent or part of one.

The real world, however, is not nearly so simple and neat. No two neighboring groups of native inhabitants look radically different from each other. For example, the French have common feature with both Germans and Spaniards; Egyptians have common features with both Middle Eastern Arabs and the Sudanese; so do the Burmese with both Indians and Thais; and so on. In the real world there are no racial boundary lines. The concept of race was derived from an arbitrary selection of extreme points on what is in reality and unbroken continuum.

Paralell to the use of the concept of race as a rationalization of oppression and exploitation of "inferior" people, the colonial powers invented the concept of nation to unify their own countries' people behind their rulers. The word "nation," which originally simply referred to a bond to one's place of birth (as in native, nativity, and so on) was made to refer to the total population who happened to live within the domain of the same ruler.

Absurd as the concepts of race and nation are, they were not nearly as absurd as many religious beliefs and practices thousands of years old. This may well account for the hold of and nationalism and racial stereotypes on people's minds; the little lies are easy to swallow once the Big Lie has been assimilated.

5 May 1986

The future does not belong to us

A tacit premise of all arguments against the manufacture and use of nuclear weapons is that the continued existence of the homo sapiens is desirable. Let us suspended this premise for just one moment, and considere the ultimate consequence of an all-out nuclear war. Such a war wiould annihilate most -- though not necessarily all -- animal species. Survivors would probably include -- if not consist of -- insects, as they have great tolerance toward nuclear radiation. Thanks to evolution, maybe in another billion years or so, intelligent descendants of today's insects would walk the earth. They would look nothing like us, and the earth would probably look very different too. More significantly, their personalities would be different from ours; they would be more industrious, social-minded, and less desirous of individual material well-being -- truly all-for-one and, especially, one-for-all -- truly social animals. They would be genuine social animals, as indeed they have always been, unlike the so called social animals among mammalian species, which, generally speaking, tolerate and utilize society for their own ends, and are in fact lazy, self-centered, and greedy brutes. Maybe all won't be lost, after all. At least, insects would never wage nuclear war.

12 March 1986

An equitable formula for voting power at the United Nations

The U.S. and other Western countries have long objected to the one-country-one-vote scheme at the U.N. They claim that because of their large contributions to the U.N., as well as their large populations, some kind of weighted voting system is desirable. So the first question is whether their argument makes sense, and, if so, whether their criteria are the ones that should be considered in setting up such a scheme. A preliminary argument is that although different countries have different populations and so on, they should have equal representation because, in being sovereign nations, they are equal. In other words, they all have the same interest in themselves and their own interests, as any other one has in itself and its interests; the argument is similar to one that can be made for equal rights for individuals. However, as countries are not exactly individuals, but rather made up of individuals, it seems to make sense that their voting power at an international organization should have something to do with their populations; otherwise, a small number of people, albeit in a large number of countries, may vote against the interests of a large number of people in a small number of countries. It also seems useful to have, as one criterion of weighting the votes, the amount of each country's continuation. This is because such a procedure creates a healthy competition among states to contribute more and more to the U.N., which should help its becoming a true world government. In other words, a balance is created between increased contributions and decreased international authority of individual nations; that is to say, a state may choose to give more in order to get a stronger voice on the international scene, but at the same time the increased contributions make international agencies more powerful, and hence reduce each nation's ability to imposit will on other nations. So far, then, the formula for calculating weighted votes is:

Votes = Population x Contribution

It seems fair, however, that the absolute amount of contribution should be balanced by introducing a factor for ability to pay. Per capita income is the first sich factor that comes to mind:

Votes = (Population x Contribution) / Per capital income

A simple per capita income figure, however, is not quite representative of ability to pay, because it may hide wide disparities in individual income in many countries. A fairer measure of ability to pay, then, may be that the per capita income of the poorer half of each country's population:

Votes = (Population x Contribution) / Per capita income of poorer half

This arrangement is not fair either, because the figure for "contribution" already has a component of "population."

Votes = Contribution / Per capita of half

Another factor that may be introduced is the cost of living in each country. This is to answer the objection that the same amount of money buys different quantities of goods in different countries. The figures used should, however , relate to the absolute minimum amount of money needed to subsist in each country, though some allowance may be made for local standards.

Votes = (Contribution x Cost of living) / Per capital income of poorer half

As in progressive taxation , where the rich supposedly pay a higher percentage of their income than the poor, a similar coefficient should be introduced in the above formula. The amount of this coefficient would depend on the ratio of

Per capita income of poorer half / Cost of living

so that the higher the ratio, the closer would the coefficient be to, say, 1.00. The final formula, then, is:

Votes = (Contribution x Cost of living) / (Coefficient x Per capita income of poorer half)

21 October 1985

Means and ends in politics

There is not necessarily just a single species of progressive person, as far as political movements are concerned. In other words, the work of different "progressive" groups may possibly be in conflict with each other . One example is the fact that the environmental movement concerned with whales may not really care about politicians to about nuclear weapons (on second thought, though, the same people seem to be interested in both of these issues, so this first example may not be a very good one -- in fact, it will turn out that it isn't, because there is no fundamental difference between the two issues). My second example, a better one, has to do with the Sandinista movement in Nicaragua, on one hand, versus the antinuclear [weapons] movement, on the other. If the revolution in Nicaragua fails, some of those concerned with the Nicaraguan experiment may not care very much whether the Bomb falls or doesn't fall. In other words, they may feel that if the Nicaraguan [revolutionary] experiment fails, the survival of the homo sapiens is not something worth worrying about. The third example is about the fact that a proponent of feudalism, for example, was a progressive person several hundred years ago. In other words, and more generally, contradictory causes have been "progressive" at different times and places. An item in the newspaper today made me aware of this contradiction again. A certain extreme-leftist European group, while denouncing nuclear missile, had also denounced "petite bourgeois pacifism." Apparently they feel that the usual antinuclear protester has the wrong attitude. They seem to see such a person as someone who is simply concerned with peace, that is, lack of any kind of conflict. Notwithstanding the obvious Marxist rhetoric, there does seem to be an important point here. On one side there is concern for peacefulness and stability. On the other side there is concern for pursuit of concrete realizations of high ideals. The kind of tragedy that can result from confusing the two can perhaps be illustrated with reference to the Iranian revolution. The rhetoric has always declared the revolution to be for the betterment of the lot of the downtrodden and the exploited. One notices the contradiction when one sees that the clergy who preach for an end to injustice and exploitation, represent the very forces that caused the problem in the first place. Religion is the opiate of the people; it tends to keep them pacified and concerned with their small personal problems, and to keep them from perceiving the larger societal picture. It is a means of keeping people ignorant of the real nature of their plight. For example, it keeps them from realizing that concern for personal salvation, and therefore disregard for the essentially social nature of human existence, is a part of the problem. By assuming the progressive rhetoric, the Iranian clergy managed to lure the progressive elements to its side. The progressives forgot that religion is not something to join for them, but rather something to try to get rid of.

13 October 1985

What does God have to do with it?

Religions just say "Believe." How can I believe, when you don't give me anything to believe? Religion is completely without substance. If they say "believe in God and the message of this or that messenger of God," I would say "Why?" If they bring in miracles, I would give Hume's answer, including the fact that even if I personally saw a miracle, it would only prove something wrong with my senses; and also there is the fact that miracles do not prove the existence of a God, and so how can they prove somebody is a messenger of God? If in answer to my original question "Why?" they say "Because we believe in brotherhood and peace, and so on," I would say "I already believe in all those things, and they have nothing to do with belief in any God or religion I do not need God or religion to think and act as a mature adult human being. The basis of humanism is not a set of beliefs; rather, it is a mature realization of what it means to be a human being, namely to think and act rationally, or in other words not to act according to the whims and impulses. A rational agent is a moral agent, because a rational agent automatically behaves morally, that is, in accordance with principles of brotherhood, charity, and so on. Charity is based on faith in man, and hope for his future.

10 October 1985

If an advice falls in the forest...

People consult others about their own problems, in order to have their own thoughts and incipient decisions confirmed. If the second person does not confirm those thoughts and decisions, he may be disliked. But this may be completely rational, in his own way. In rejecting the consultant for giving unfavorable advice, the first person is saying "You are not what I thought you were." In other words, the seeker comes to the adviser with the subconscious thought in mind that "I know this person is such and such a type of individual, and that therefore he would see the situation in such and such a way, which is also how I see this situation." If this expectation is not confirmed, the seeker rejects the adviser and his advice; he rejects the adviser, because the adviser turns out to be a "phony" -- he has been pretending, as the seeker sees it, to be something other than what he is; the seeker rejects the advice, because the advice, as the seekers sees it, is issued from a source that the seeker now does not see as competent to advise the seeker on the matter. If the seeker is unwilling to reject the advisor, however, the seeker will try to distort the advice; he may think to himself: "He didn't really understand what I meant, because I didn't explain it very well"; or "even though he said "Do A," he really meant "Do B ""; or "To implement his advice to "Do A," I would really have to "do B""; or "He tried his best, but he really doesn't know about this sort of thing."

7 October 1985

Feminism and Compassion

One rather puzzling feature of the feminist movement is hatred of men. It has perhaps justifiably led some to think of feminists as essentially lesbian – the point being that there are legitimate feminists, but that the rest are feminist because they are lesbian, not lesbian because they are feminist. This is, of course, an oversimplification of the matter, in any case. The point, however, is a serious one. Some lesbian feminists claim that lesbianism is inseparable from feminism, because man is the enemy. In other words, they see a conceptual conflict (and not simply an emotional one) between intimacy with men and the cause of feminism. They interpret their whole being in feminist terms are, and can therefore only fit intimacy with another woman into the picture. This is what they claim, in any case. It seems, however, that this view is based on an interpretation of feminism as the liberation of the female species, rather than that of female human beings. Whether conceptually wrong or not, their analysis is contrary to historical evidence. The main impetus behind the modern feminist movement was the American Civil Rights movement, which was definitely aimed at improving women’s lot as much as that of men. Lesbian feminism, however, loses touch with humanist values as soon as it becomes able to divide humanity into two species. This is perhaps why compassion and peace pervaded the Civil Rights and peace movements of the 1960s, and are absent from the feminist movement. On a more practical level, it’s true that overstatement is needed in order to make important and unfamiliar concepts understood, but espousing hatred of man simply in order to make a point is ridiculous, if not ultimately counterproductive. To make men out to be a gang of brutes out raping their wives and committing incest with their daughters, neither just rewards the many men who are deeply concerned about the plight of women, nor does it creates the proper frame of mind for women to help men understand the nature of that plight.

4 October 1985

How real are you?

I was thinking about the idea that on the strict philosophical level one can’t talk about a dead person – at least not without using highly convoluted language. For example, I can’t talk about a dead person and use words like “he” or “she” or “John Smith” in referring to the person, because, strictly speaking, these words are meaningful only in reference to living persons who can be pointed out as the reference point for these words. So far, it seems that we can only talk about what exists. But this distinction breaks down in the case of a person who I am not sure is still alive or not. If I am not sure whether John Smith is alive, I can talk about him as a person who quite possibly a exists; the possibility is enough to enable me to do so, since in no case are we certain of anyone’s existence unless the person is sitting right in front of us – someone I saw a minute ago may have been struck by lightning right after leaving. If it turns out that the person I was talking about did not exist as I was talking about him, this fact in itself should not make what I said meaningless. After all, we constantly talk about people who we assume to be still alive, who could possibly not be alive. There is, however, an apparent paradox here. On one hand, we can talk about anything that we presume to exist, whether it does or not. On the other hand, we can’t talk meaningfully about anything, as we may be wrong in presuming its existence . The paradox can be resolved if we realize that the problem here is the concept concept of “thing”, and other concepts like it, such as “person.” “He,” “she,” “John Smith,” “tree,” and so on are fictional constructs that we create in our minds to make it possible to go on living . Such concepts are equivalent to nonexistent ones such as “Napoleon” and “the Library of Alexandria.” Both in the case of “the living, breathing, John Smith” and “Napoleon,” I am referring to constructs in my mind. An objection at this point is that John Smith would surely not agree that he is an artificial or fictional construct. We may answer the objection by trying to clarify the matter further. When someone else refers to me as “he," he is creating a fictitious entity. His "he" is a different entity than my “I.” My “I” and John Smith’s “I.” are both quite real, or at least real insofar as they are the foundations for everything else that we are and know. But what makes the “I” itself possible is the historical nature of human consciousness. We are, so far as we know, the only creatures on this planet who can think of “Napoleon” or “yesterday’s lunch.” The same thing goes on when we refer to “John Smith.” What we mean when we say “John Smith” is the set of memories we have of a particulars spatio-temporal continuity's behaviour. We can only see and think in historical terms. One question at this point is whether the “historical” and “fictitious” are interchangeable, because if they are, then the “I” may also be fictitious – because the “I” appears also to be historical. There seem to be two solutions. The first one is to say that the transcendental “I” is unhistorical and eternal. The other solution is to say that the “I” is in fact of the same nature as everything else. These seem to correspond to the Dualist and Monist solutions in various philosophies.

4 June 1985

Character is behaviour

Personal character is a means of predicting people’s behaviour, and not a means of judging their behaviour. People observe one’s character from the outside, so an act that is “out of character” is really in character. This is because the act is a part of the person’s total behavior. The pattern of behaviour can only give us general directions in predicting people’s behaviour, and not judgments about particular acts.

3 June 1985

Quality versus quantity in J.S. Mill

Can we know whether our actions are right by using J.S. Mill's theory? --

Happiness, being a quality, is not measurable . In other words, qualitative concepts such as happiness, cannot be quantified, or, for that matter, defined. The reasons for the unsuitability of happiness as a moral criterion should become clearer as we proceed.

Even if we assume happiness to be quantifiable, and even if we are convinced that some action produces happiness, we can never be sure whether it can produce the same balance of happiness against happiness in the long run. Smoking cigarettes may make people happy, but in the long run they may pay for all of that "happiness" with a greater "amount" of unhappiness. How is one to balance many years of mild happiness against a few years of intense unhappiness (due to lung cancer and so on) unless one evokes a "higher" criterion, for example, the intrinsic value of human life? If human life is valuable irrespective of the amount of happiness or unhappiness that it producers, then we can say that smoking cigarettes is bad because it cuts human life short, and not because it causes unhappiness. The problem is that Mill disregards the question of whether the means towards happiness are good or bad in themselves or not.

To remain within his own theory, however, Mill has to disregard the significance of means in any action, and stress only the end result of actions. An act can have a very "happy" consequence, without necessarily being a result of "happy" means. For instance, a feudal lord may drive his serfs night and day in order to produce the maximum possible amount of grains and so on, all the while telling them that it is all for their own eventual happiness. The latter may be true, but one may ask whether all the unhappiness during the year was worth the happiness gained at the end of the year. The question cannot be answered by mere reference to quantitative comparison of the two amounts of happiness and unhappiness, assuming such comparison to the possible. An adequate answer requires reference to such matters as human dignity and freedom, which are outside the Utilitarian sphere of definition.

Mill also does not make it clear how exceptions to moral rules are dealt with, that is, how does one know how widespread those exceptions are.

Mill's theory suffers not only from the inability to tell us what action is right, but also from internal inadequacies and inconsistencies. For instance, what would be the motive or incentive for a person, in cases where there is a conflict between personal and general happiness, to follow the Utilitarian principle and ignore his own happiness for the sake of general happiness? In other words, Mill does not deal with the apparent priority of self-interest in all human actions in a convincing way. The incentives mentioned by Mill, that is, the "external" motives of law and opinion, and the "internal" ones of education and reason, do not seem to be quite adequate to deal with the problem:
(a) If we need laws to act as incentives for good behaviour, then what is the use of a personal code of behaviour such as Utilitarianism?
(b) Opinions of others are by no means infallible, since on one hand they can be manipulated and altered to his own advantage by a sufficiently clever person, and on the other hand others do not know about a great deal of one's behaviour, and, of course, they are not able to form any opinions about them as a consequence.
(c) No matter how highly educated a person may be, he can probably never escape from the overwhelming influence of self-interest on his actions.
(d) Mill refuses to base his morality on subjective feeling about actions, and now he wants to base it on subjective reasoning processes. If the morality of actions can be rationally derived, then what is the use of general moral principles such as Utilitarianism?

23 May 1985

Dialectic of praise

Complimenting someone for having done something, or praising the quality of his work, is often a sign of a lack of appreciation. In the first case, the compliment may be interpreted as "Oh! So you finally overcame your laziness and did this.” In the second case, the praise may be interpreted as "See! You're quite able to do an acceptable job; so there is no reason or excuse for allowing your laziness to overcome you.” In both cases, the "nice words" quite likely have an undertone of reproach. True and deep appreciation can only be shown by being nice to the person; such an attitude proves to the person that he is appreciated, rather than this or that act of his.

8 April 1985

The absurd meets the irrational

It occurred to me a while back that it might be interesting to try to figure out whether Jesus believed he had the answer, or whether he merely hoped (fervently) that he had the answer. The question arises because religious faith appears at best to be no more than a Pascalian wager. Such a faith, although it may make the person feel warm and holy, is never a rational certainty -- not to speak of its essentially paradoxical character. Hence faith gives rise to hope, and thus to charity; but it does not give rise to rational belief. Any evidence to the effect that Jesus had a rational belief in his message, then, would seem to be proof that he was either indeed the son of god, or that he was "emotionally disturbed.” One way to settle this question may be by analyzing the tone of his sermons: does he seem to be stating rational beliefs, or is he "selling"? Is he just trying to convince his audience, or is he trying to convince himself too?

6 April 1985

From hero to madman

The treatment of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn by the Western media. His heroism and defiance of the system were originally admired. Later on, the idea resurfaced that whoever would destroy his personal life or even inconvenience himself in any way for the sake of an ideal, must be a madman. Hence began their reports on what was wrong with him, and eventually he was shunned and ignored by the media. In the [former] East, dissidents are suppressed; in the West, they are ignored -- hence they in fact receive more attention in the East than in the West. Solzhenitsyn's fall from hero to madman can perhaps be understood in light of the previous post: the man who lives for an ideal is incomprehensible to the average person; since the gods are dead, he is simply "abnormal" -- in other words, a madman.

5 April 1985

Deification by design

The primitive’s deification of whatever he/she does not understand – principally, large-scale natural phenomena – is translated into the theistic person’s deification of whatever is morally beyond belief, and hence beyond understanding; the character of a “prophet,” for instance, is beyond the common person’s understanding – hence, for example, the deification of Jesus. The primitive worships that which arouses powerful feelings in him/her, and yet seems utterly superior to the primitive’s own level of existence. The Christian worships Jesus, because Jesus’ message has a powerful emotional impact, yet the Christian does not really want to be like Jesus; the Christian, therefore, has to believe that Jesus is utterly superior to his own level of existence. The Christian indeed fears Jesus, in the same way that the primitive fears Thunder. Jesus threatens to destroy the Christian’s real ideas about the right way to live and to be. The Christian is as far from understanding Jesus, as the primitive is from understanding thunder.

13 March 1985

Nazism is history... or is it?

Hitler may have lost the war, but he did not lose the Kampf. The "ideals" of Mein Kampf -- which are, in fact, Hitler's observations on how the realities of the human condition can be used to propel a small group to power -- are on their way to become the realities of each country in the world. National Socialism as the actual political philosophy of the post-war world.

14 January 1985

It’s for a good causality

Causality has generally been misunderstood. The concept of a mechanical, and therefore meaningless, causality misses the “intentionality” or purpose that is inherent in causality; in other words, the correct meaning of the world “causality” contains the connotation of purpose, and any mechanical understanding of causality is simply a misapprehension borne of fuzzy thinking. When a glass falls off a table and breaks, one clear way of understanding the event, as opposed to unclear, passive, ways of understanding it, is by describing it this way: “The floor broke the glass.” The description may at first seem absurd, but it is no more absurd than “I lifted the glass to my lips” – rather than “The glass got lifted to my lips.” The supposed accidentalness of human existence, a bastard child of the evolutionary theory, stems from a similar root, namely, a misunderstanding of the nature of evolutionary causality. An illustration from a different field may help to clarify the matter. Take cooking. The usual understanding of the process of cooking is that the ingredients come into being as a result of interactions between the sun and the soil, and then they are picked up and used as food. Let us look at the matter differently. The sun and the soil give plants what these require. Plants use what they are given to improve themselves and to ripen into tasty and nutritious produce; hence, they give of themselves to animals. Animals use what they are given by plants to nourish themselves, and to grow and mature, hopefully, into good friends of the earth. In the case of human beings, then, the intention would be to give rise to a being that is capable of a relatively full appreciation of the whole process.

13 January 1985

The Essences of Childhood

Children take their lives and the world more seriously than adults do; a child accepts every facet of life as intrinsically meaningful. He/she does not require a superstructure of laws of interaction and meanings of relationships to make sense of the world. This purity and atomism of childhood begins to disappear as more and more laws and extrinsic meanings are taken for granted. Hence, adults become blasé about the world, while moving away from essences. As an illustration, the essence of goodness and evil are directly accessible to a child; to an adult, however, goodness and evil are vague, abstract, and intangible unknowns that have nothing to do with the “concrete reality" of day-to-day life. Adults, therefore, play the game of life, though without being truly serious about it; children, on the other hand, play their games in total awareness of their meanings, and in earnest seriousness. Children know the True, the Good, and the Beautiful in the latter three’s actual essence, and require no concepts to “visualize” them; adults need the concepts to categorize and visualize those essences, as they are no longer able to directly perceive them. Children are not taught the essences; rather, they are made to forget them. Does one begin to get old when one has completely forgotten the essences?

12 January 1985

From showing-off to showing-with

At some point in life, not necessarily the same point for everyone, childish showing-off turns into adult sharing. In children, showing off may be a means of trying to overcome a sense of weakness or virtual non-existence; this will become clearer if we perhaps extend the meaning of “child” to include all supposedly immature persons; it is a known fact among a certain elite that the search for a physically attractive mate is for reasons of vanity, rather than individual need or want. The latter point can be substantiated by a desert-island illustration: in such a situation, basic sexual compatibility is sufficient, and no frills are necessary – or even meaningful. Showing-off, then, is for a “child” a means of affirming some meaningfulness for her existence as opposed to the existence of others. As the basic existence of the person gradually become established, however, the need for antagonistic existence diminishes; there grows, in its place, the need for filling out qualitative gaps in that existence. In other words, the person is more or less aware of his own weaknesses at this point, weaknesses that he has to live with, and which he cannot overcome by acquiring new toys to show off. At this point, the person needs simultaneously to show her own weaknesses and to overcome them; she needs to show her weaknesses, because that is the only way she can be what she really is – in other words, showing one’s weaknesses becomes a means to confirm one’s own existence, as opposed to the earlier state, where showing weakness was suppressed at all cost. Mere unveiling of weaknesses, however, leaves a meaningless and empty blank. Hence, the weaknesses need to be overcome as they are being unveiled. This can be done by mutual collaboration between two persons; as the first person shows off, for instance, her knowledge of geography or his new car, the second person moves in, and, by showing interest or enthusiasm, brings meaning into the situation. Speaking more explicitly, the first person, by showing off her knowledge or his possessions, communicates his/her need for approval. Therefore, showing off, far from creating interpersonal distance and antagonism, as it did in “childhood,” become a means of sharing oneself with others. An established and mature personality no longer means to say, “I have a lot of knowledge, money, or taste”; rather, such a person wishes to convey his/her qualitative weaknesses, and to seek help in alleviating them.

11 January 1985

The one in all

Why should I try to be considerate and warm towards the bank teller or the supermarket cashier? After all, she is only a stranger who I will never get to know. Nevertheless, isn't she just like me and all the people I do know? Wouldn't I like to have been friendly towards the people I now know, when I did not yet know them? Aren't people, therefore, deserving of consideration and warmth, irrespective of whether I happened to know them or not? After all, everyone is someone's friend or acquaintance. Thus, perhaps, the mystic's vision of "the one in all" -- or, as some of them would say, the vision of the friend in all; through such a vision, the artificial duality of friend and foe, and hence that of I and he, dissolves into a unified vision of all humanity, and perhaps later into a universal vision embracing own life, and eventually the entire cosmos; the latter may perhaps be accomplished by thinking of the cosmos as a part of what I am, rather than an "it".

20 December 1984

Caught in moralisms

When Nietzsche says, "I am the opposite of the Yes-saying spirit," he means that he is not the kind of man whose thoughts run in channels of approval and disapproval, that is, the moralistic kind of man. Nietzsche's statements, for example the one about the blond beast of prey, have been interpreted by such men -- or rather misinterpreted by them -- as moralistic statements of approval or disapproval -- the statements are, in fact, no more or less than metaphors about reality, and as such they are statements of fact, not value.

19 August 1984

Removing the subject

Problem: finding out what a friend really thinks of one. Solution: asking another friend to ask the first one about oneself, without the second person revealing the purpose of his inquiry, and with the understanding that he will not reveal the answer to anyone; in other words, using sneaky and indirect means -- more bluntly, using guile and deception. Corollary: Can a parallel methodology be developed for experimental science, to eliminate the subjectivity of observation, and to make nature speak for itself? In both questions, the problem is making the source of knowledge speak independently of one's psychological influence upon him or it.

21 May 1983

The origin of politics

People turn to the bringing forth of politics and political systems only when they can no longer tolerate life with their fellow beings -- and in this case "can't" means "ought not to," but inertia keeps people from bringing the latter fact to the level of consciousness. Politics, then, comes into being as a means of restraining beings whose instincts urge them to find a few like-minded individuals, and go away to found a new community. Hobbes was right in his view of the nature of politics, but not in his view of the need for it -- at least as far as manageably small, harmonious communities are concerned -- though, on the other hand, he was talking, after all, about the Leviathan.

18 May 1983

The poverty of poverty

Poverty is depressing -- to its "sufferers" that is -- not because of anything in poverty itself, but rather because of the way it is interpreted -- I am of course talking about the case where the basic survival and the basic happiness requirements are available. The reason poverty is depressing is that it is perceived as the lack of something one should have; more exactly, it is perceived as the lack of something that would supply part of the purpose of one's life. If the purpose of one's life, therefore, were defined so as not to include those "extras," their lack would of course be, at the very least, no cause for the downheartedness -- in fact, such a "lack" would not be felt at all -- an Indian farmer does not in any sense feel his life has not achieved its purpose as he doesn't own a Rolls Royce. Now as far as the genealogy (or "archaeology") of the need for these extras -- it doesn't just happen. As one begins to realize that society does not automatically provide one with the means to satisfy ones psychical needs, such as companionship of the right kind, "love," and so on -- and that even one's physical survival could possibly be endangered by a lack of food or proper shelter -- a surge of animal fear, very similar to the exultation of religious "salvation" from the dread of existence, pours forth, and crystallizes in a grasping for anything that would relieve this fear of deprivation. To summarize, the need for the extras originates in one's realization of the precariousness of one's psychical and physical survival -- that is, the first semi-conscious clue to the role of the law of the jungle in a society where economics, rather than ethics, is the basis of individual and mass conduct.

17 May 1983

Poverty and student life

The poverty of the student life was originally an essential part of being a student, and a source of distinction, if not pride, for students. The student, as he [or very rarely she] joined the academic world, say a monastery or ancient university or college, assumed poverty as a symbol of having renounced the world, and of being in pursuit of higher aims than the accumulation of material wealth. Eventually, the concepts of “student” and “poverty” were firmly associated with each other in the popular mind – though, originally, the poverty was understood to be simply an assumed state – it was understood that the student had chosen of his own free will to lead the life of a poor man; later, however, this part of the equation was forgotten – ideas are easier to forget than appearances. The former conception was therefore replaced by the picture of the student as just another poor man – and what does a poor man want the most, if not wealth? Thus originated the picture of the student as a man who had temporarily abandoned the pursuit of wealth, in order to get ready to pursue much greater wealth…

14 May 1983

The commodification of beauty

Admiration of female beauty may gradually be supplanted by admiration of female makeup: “Look at the makeup on that woman!!” “Doesn’t that chick have great hair-dye?” “She certainly knows how to fix her face!” – the latter exclamation perhaps suggesting a further progress of democracy, in that natural beauty, being a cause of envy and division, will be replaced by quantified makeup appeal, that anyone can partake of – beauty as a possession, rather than an indefinable, ephemeral, “I know not what.” Concomitant with the above, beauty will become active rather than passive – one makes oneself beautiful, rather than simply sit and wait to be admired for something that is already there – this adding a masculine dimension to feminine beauty. As the “classical” forms of female beauty are forgotten, and a new kind of beauty is invented to fit each particular face, the idea that there is something intangible called female beauty – that there is a form of female beauty – will gradually be forgotten. The ironical result of all this may be that the universal beautification of women will end in depreciation and abandonment of the value and meaning attached to female beauty. As was hinted above, by this time beauty may be perceived as an ability. Hence, there may be a return to the classical Greek idea that a strong and well-proportioned man, with a mind as powerful and well-organized as his body, is the most beautiful creature there is.

22 February 1983

There is no self

The basic error of psychologists who have taken Nietzsche's notion of "masks" literally, is that they have presupposed the masks are put on an unchanging, or at least stable, foundation. It is a well-known, for instance, the men tend to be more neat and well-behaved in women's presence; it is generally assumed the men put on a different mask in women's presence than the usual one; or that they put on a mask then, while they are otherwise maskless. Such talk, however, is based on the mentioned presupposition. Without that presupposition, it becomes clear that a man becomes a different person in a woman's presence; or, in general, that any particular person becomes a different person for every other person -- that is, every person is as many persons as he happens to come into contact with. The question that, if the above is correct, then what is a person when he is by himself can be answered by reflection on the nature of solitary activity. All such activity is other-directed, that is, directed towards another person; such a person may be a particular person known to the one we are considering, or else a type of person. For example, the writing of a friendly letter is directed towards a particular person, while the writing of an unsolicited magazine article is directed towards the types "editor" and "reader.” The many-faceted nothings that we are...

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