Archive for August 2006

True Excellence In Broadcasting

August 31, 2006

When a man of low character and dubious intelligence like Donald Rumsfeld has the gall to insinuate that his critics are appeasers to fascists, we could just ignore him or ridicule his apparent lack of irony. Some are not so charitable however, like this powerful rebuttal by Keith Olbermann shows. His quote from Murrow at the end is inspirational.

Of course all the neocons can offer is fear and insinuation, any legitimate topic about facts and consequences would be rhetorical suicide. I used to think Clinton was a master at political spin, but he cannot hold a candle to these guys. I partly blame Clinton for creating the neocon mess, since he drove thoughtful conservatives to such despair that they became desperate to believe in a cause. The neocon cause of eternal, preemptive war is unworthy of their beliefs, and I am hopeful that time will eventually prove that.

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Libertarianism as a False Promise

August 30, 2006

Some of the most powerful rhetoric in the history of the world has come in the form of liberty as its own reward.  The Declaration of Independence is forever one of the primary examples of the universal desire to be free of tyranny.

Despite that compelling motive, freedom without wisdom and virtue, as Burke would say, is the greatest of all evils.  Instead of being bound by moral or legal chains, to unleash the ego free of all constraint is to open Pandora’s box upon the Earth.  The maxim that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely remains true with only the rarest of exceptions.  To hand over the keys of power to those who cannot cope with them is to invite disaster and ruin.  To use a simple example, every teenager wants the keys to the car as soon as they are physically able to drive, even though their mental maturity and respect for the rules of the road has far to go.  Society collectively decides that a certain age is appropriate to allow teens to begin driving.  The age limit is arbitrary, a few teens may be ready much earlier and some much later, but the imperative to set some sort of limit is required.  Libertarianism denies the imperative.

That is why I refer to Nietzsche as a harsh libertarian, because he denies the value of virtue, disdains the collective wisdom of society, and focuses his rhetoric on the free spirit imposing its will upon the herd.  So the elite will to power superman, or superwoman, is destined for antisocial tendencies by default.  It is a closed system that cannot deal with failure, because it lives in a romantic world of denial.  Denial about the imperfect nature of man, and denial about the response to that imperfection.

Tribalism and Moral Bankruptcy II

August 30, 2006

This is the subject that just keeps on giving. One point I should have made in the previous post but failed to, was that tribalism infects both Right and Left sides of the political spectrum. In both cases it leads to tyranny, although the version adopted by Marxists is often more subtle and corrosive.

Hegel, who is considered by many to be the philosophical father to Marx, had a large scale view of tribalism carried out on the stage of history. Slavish devotion to the state was the way to allow the great actors of the world to engage in their glorious battles to find sublime truth. Morality was viewed as an undercurrent to the epic sweep of history. Yes, that really is the mindless type of dogma that Hegel encouraged. All the world’s a stage and playing a role scripted by our political situation defines our life completely.

Nietzsche, who applied a harsh type of libertarian principle, promoted a will to power philosophy that centers around dominance and social ranking. Conflict was glorified not only with those outside the tribe, but also from within. Moral systems only exist within the context of power. Suffering and fear of suffering is the defining element of man’s relation to the world (which is a Buddhist maxim, BTW). Megalomania has no greater proponent than Nietzsche, even Ayn Rand pales in comparison.

Tribalism and Moral Bankruptcy

August 28, 2006

The contention of the pre-Enlightenment thinker, as I understand it, is that the self in the modern world is not a whole person living in a vital community, but rather is an abstract ghost lost in the wilderness of individual rights. In medieval times, choice was not an option, all social duties and customs were geared toward continuity of the tribe and clan. Knowledge was not shared equally, but was oriented only towards those at the very top.

If that is a correct interpretation, our only real obligations of charity are towards our in-group and the only thing stopping massive sectarian killing is the threat of revenge. Even the law should be tribal in scope, since personhood is in fact limited only to the in-group. Slavery is clearly licit under this moral system.

I am fairly certain this concept of history is misguided. Medieval rights extended from property ownership, and although the feudal system was built around the idea of continuity in ownership, there is a natural population threshold at which feudal systems begin to degrade rapidly. Even slavery, for all the prejudiced talk about superior and inferior races and preserving traditional culture, was doomed once it became cheaper to pay wages than to buy them and carry all the obligations of ownership. From a purely amoral economic standpoint, this viewpoint is in serious jeopardy.

From a moral standpoint, tribalism is repugnant. It places people into simple categories, the most simple categories in fact, and allows the most vicious and dishonest behavior to be rewarded. In that respect, I guess it resembles a lot of misguided attempts to increase productivity.

God forbid that we should actually try to discriminate down to the level of the individual. We may actually learn how to not judge a book by its cover. Worse yet, we may have to show some respect and charity to people who are different than us. Then our whole identity may collapse into the void of postmodern nihilism. Although if our identity was actually that weak to begin with, we may be better off without it.

Saturday Book Quote

August 26, 2006

Although I am certainly not a fan of his, Stephen King occasionally prints some worthwhile fiction. His short stories are usually his best ones, and The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger was the beginning of an epic story.

“Few if any seemed to have grasped the Principle of Reality; new knowledge leads always to yet more awesome mysteries. Greater physiological knowledge of the brain makes existence of the soul less possible, yet more probable by the nature of the search. Do you see? Of course you don’t. You are surrounded by your own romantic aura, you lie cheek and jowl daily with the arcane. Yet now you approach the limits – not of belief, but of comprehension.”

(and later in the same conversation)

“This Stranger, this Maerlyn, is a minion of the Tower? Like yourself?”

“Much greater than I. It has been given to him to live backward in time. He darkles. He tincts. He is in all times. Yet there is one greater than he.”

“Who?”

“The Beast,” the man in black whispered fearfully, “The keeper of the Tower. The originator of all glammer.”

“What is it? What does the Beast-”

“Ask me no more!” The man in black cried. His voice aspired to sterness and crumbled into beseechment. “I know not! I do not wish to know. To speak of the Beast is to speak of the ruination of one’s own soul. Before It, Maerlyn is as I am to him.”

Saturday Book Quote

August 19, 2006

From one of the most mind bending books I have ever read, today’s quote comes from Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. Reading this book while suffering from insomnia could precipitate a mental collapse. For all the craziness and paranoia, it does contain some powerful lessons about Gestalt psychology.

“It requires the greatest kind of wisdom, she thought, to know when to apply injustice. How can justice fall victim, ever, to what is right? How can this happen? She thought, Because there is a curse on this world, and all this proves it; this is the proof right here. Somewhere, at the deepest level possible, the mechanism, the construction of things, fell apart, and up from what remained swam the need to do all the various sort of unclear wrongs the wisest choice has made us act out. It must have started thousands of years ago. By now, it’s infiltrated into the nature of everything. And, she thought, into every one of us. We can’t turn around or open our mouth and speak, decide at all, without doing it. I don’t even care how it got started, when or why. She thought, I just hope it’ll end some time…one day the shower of brightly colored sparks will return, and this time we’ll all see it. The narrow doorway where there’s peace on the far side. A statue, the sea, and what looks like moonlight. And nothing stirring, nothing to break the calm.”

“A long, long time ago, she thought. Before the curse, and everything and everyone became this way. The Golden Age, she thought, when wisdom and justice were the same. Before it all shattered into cutting fragments. Into broken bits that don’t fit, that can’t be put back together, hard as we try.”

Philosophy and Humor

August 17, 2006

If you have not yet been enlightened by Monty Python, please study it now.  In a nutshell, this lecture as well as the body of work of Monty Python, explains the absurdity of language and the sheer comedy of most philosophy.

Where philosophy most often runs into trouble is in the two extremes of transcendence and nihilism.  In both cases, the normal order is shattered, so that the identity can be reshaped and perception skewed towards an agenda.  The Golden Rule, the Categorical Imperative, or any hint of moderation becomes the enemy once a higher purpose is in place or we become lost in the moral darkness.

Humor on the other hand, is like water putting out these fires.  It reorients the self towards the creative and the playful, while establishing a bond of fellowship with the recipient.  It asserts the strangeness of the human condition while accepting our limitations and follies.

Since brevity is the soul of wit, I will end the post with a philosophy joke.  How many eliminative materialists does it take to change a light bulb?  Actually, I am afraid to ask them.  The whole lot of them went outside last week, started a parade in which they were carrying signs like, “I lost my mind and I’m PROUD of it.”