Rules

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(“More what you might call ‘guidelines’ …”)

If you don’t get the above reference, then I pity the life you’ve led.

Anyway, it turns out that I have “rules.” The idea hadn’t occurred to me so much, one way or the other, until some 20 years ago, when I happened to formulate these “rules.” (I’ll stop scare-quoting the word now.) I may or may not have mentioned the fact that I was (for a while, at least) a moderately serious Renaissance Faire participant, what is often referred to as a “rennie.” And by “participant,” I mean I had invested something in the neighborhood of $1,200.00 in garb and gear (about half of that was for my custom made, thigh-high boots alone) to participate in character as a low ranking German nobleman of the 16th C. The attached picture really is me (and yes, that is my hair). I share it here with the generous permission of the photographer, Jeffrey Gibson, D. Phil. The hyper link at his name is to his photographer’s website, and I encourage everyone to follow that link and take a look at some of his work.Gerhard11 - Gibson photographer

In any event, it was at Ren Faire – in garb and in character – that I learned that I had rules. Rules about interpersonal, social/sexual interactions. This would be a matter of scarcely any interest even to myself, except that the nature of those rules has some interesting philosophical characteristics over and beyond just what I personally will or will not do. It is to this latter I wish, ultimately, to address myself. But first I have to say a bit about the rules themselves, so that the philosophical implications have something to build upon. But to get to the rules themselves, I first must tell a story. Continue reading

HERSTEIN’s SECOND LAW:

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Never assume intelligence when stupidity will do the job.

This is a recently composed notion of mine, unlike my “first law,” which I’d entertained for many years prior to writing it up HERE. Now if only I can come up with a third law, I’ll have a complete set. “Laws” like these always come in threes: Asimov’s laws of robotics, the laws of thermodynamics (although some de classé fools claim there are four of these), and so on. Anyway, I’ve got a ways to go to come up with #3, and in the meantime I’m here to talk about the second law. (Notice how I avoided saying, “I’m here to talk about #2” … )LAW

So, “Never assume intelligence when stupidity will do the job.” Every conspiracy theory in the world is predicated upon ignoring this fundamental law of reasoning. This rule has been variously expressed as, “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups” by the good folks at Demotivators, Inc. But while this latter formulation drops out as a corollary to the above, the Second Law is the more fundamental statement of the principle involved. So, my discussion here will start with a few examples of conspiracy theories, because these provide the clearest examples of violation of the law. But these are merely exempli gratia, and I don’t want them to overwhelm the larger problem of the ability of gross stupidity to make things unboundedly worse than they already are, without any shred of planning or design. Continue reading

Bridges

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I don’t like bridges. I mean the physical, not the musical, ones. Your typical short span over the local creek won’t upset me. But those huge, arcing monsters traversing vast rivers or bays give me the willies. Perhaps the Sum of All (my bridge) Fears is the Coronado Bay bridge in San Diego, pictured below. It is high, it is long, it is curved, and it doesn’t even have any external skeletal structures to give you any sense of containment or safety. As you can see from the picture, there’s barely even a guard rail at the side. Look again at the little dark bump a bit right of center of the picture, on the bridge. That’s a vehicle driving by. I’m sure it has never happened, but in my nightmares I envision cars flipping over that rail and going into the bay.san_diego_bridge_05

But the nightmares get much worse than that. In them, there is no rail at all, and only a line separating oncoming traffic from each other. The curves are canted at such an extreme angle that you have to accelerate into them or risk sliding right off. But if you accelerate too much, you’ll fly off the outside edge. The whole thing is more twisted than a knotted shoelace, with multiple on and off ramps and cars streaking past at insane and uncontrollable speeds.

Go ahead: you can make that jump …San Diego Bridge Construction

You might ask yourself, why I am sharing these sleep disturbing images with you? Well, good question, glad to see you’re paying attention. For the record, I did tag and categorize this post as “personal,” meaning that the reflections are largely personal ones that need not have any deeper philosophical significance. Although, in this instance, there is a deeper personal significance to last nights squirrelly dreaming. Continue reading

Too-Late Trolls

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There’s a phenomenon I’ve been noticing on social media for a while now, in those sections focusing on climate change, AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming), and the infantile, ideological denial thereof. The latter, the denialists, come in a variety of flavors. There are the Galactically Stupid, who insist AGW is not really happening. Press these willfully delusional intellectual children even a little bit, and they are all forced to fall back on some kind of conspiracy theory or other, since that is the only way they can dismiss the overwhelming scientific evidence proving them wrong. Yes, that’s right:

Tens of thousands of scientists, publishing of thousands of research papers, on hundreds of independent lines of evidence, in dozens of independent scientific venues, have collectively joined in an insidiously impenetrable conspiracy to foist upon the world a demagogic lie whose sole purpose is to destroy capitalism. Meanwhile, a few well-paid heroes of the proletariat struggle desperately to save the innocent fossil fuel industry from this terrible onslaught.Sad Troll

Like I said, “ Galactically Stupid”. But this IS where they have to go, given the overwhelming volume of evidence establishing the reality of AGW. Continue reading

Twisted

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Power relations and interpersonal relations – by which I mean, those that carry substantive sexual content, regardless of whether they ultimately lead to coitus – must be kept separate. When they are not, they both become twisted. The preceding invites immediate misinterpretation, and so I must take steps to clarify and set that misinterpretation aside. I’m not talking about the kinds of “kinky” sex games that go by the various titles of “bondage & discipline” (B&D) or that form of pain management that falls under the title of “sado-masochism” (S&M). Note, first off, that the two are not the same. Note, secondly, that, when engaged by two (or more) consenting adults, the power relations are what might justifiably be characterized as “pseudo power” relations. There is a pretense of power in real play. Indeed, insofar as any person in such plays or scenarios exercises real power, it is the “sub,” the “submissive” (who might be either male or female), because this is the person that can bring the whole thing to a stop with a single word. In all real play, the sub has the “stop,” the “safe,” or the “control” word, and can exercise it at any point of his or her choice. And herein lies the difference between consensual B&D or S&M play, versus genuine abuse: in the former, there is a pretense of power in real play, while in the latter, there is a pretense of play in real power.fur handcuffs

This is where we find so many of the objections to the sexual fantasy Fifty Shades of Grey. (I decline to link to it.) Well, one of the objections; evidently the writing was not such as to be short listed for the Booker Prize. I’ve not read the book myself, so everything I say here needs to be viewed with some skepticism. However, I am reporting the evaluations of people I trust. So while that should mean nothing to you, it means a quite a bit to me. In any case, the female protagonist in the story never exercises any real power. Rather, she is the Stockholm-Syndrome participant in her own degradation. Persons can certainly appear, to all superficial observation, to be willingly consenting to such degradation. But this is the paradigm of the pretense of play in real power.

And it is twisted. Continue reading

Ruined

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“You’ll ruin your life!”

I have objected to this phrase, commonly enough used by parents (and others) to admonish their recalcitrant children (and others), all of my adult life and even into my youth, so something over 40 years now. The only ruin a life will find is death, and even that might not be a ruin, depending on how well lived that life was. Certainly there are things a person can do that will permanently redefine the direction of that life. For example, young persons who, in a fit of rage, murders another person, and as a result ends up spending the remainder of that life in prison, has certainly changed the direction of that live in a manner that is unlikely to match very closely anything the individual ever hoped for or dreamed of. But is that life ruined? Isn’t it still a life, a life that might yet rise above its petty and benumbedi existence to genuinely mean something? A ruin is something that once was, but now only exists as a mere husk of its former glory. A life is something that is not over until it is over, regardless of whatever unexpected and (possibly) undesired twists and turns that occur in the process of that life.Acropolis-of-Athens

The ancient Greeks had a saying: “Count no man happy until he is dead.” The point being that the quality of a life can turn at a moment, so that the most successful individual might suddenly be cast down from the pinnacle of success to utter “ruin.” One of the favorite tales along this line is that of Oedipus, who rises from the status of an abandoned orphan to the all powerful king of a great country. Unfortunately for Oedipus, he gets there by unwittingly murdering his own father, and marrying and having sex with his own mother, all following the iron-clad declarations of a deterministic prophecy that allowed for no deviation. He ends up a blind beggar wandering the countryside. Such were the vicissitudes of life in the ancient world, success was fragile and life was harsh. Yet, they might as easily have said, “count no man disappointed until he is dead.” For life’s struggles may be constant, yet our success in dealing with those struggles can be a story of heroism or failure at almost – almost – any level. Continue reading

In Praise of Unpopular Ideas

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The title of this post came to be long before I had any idea what I was going to write. There is certainly no lack of great and genuinely classic arguments along this line, and I’ve no need or desire to do a rehashed book report on Mill’s On Liberty, or Milton’s Areopagitica. Still, with power canalizing everything it is able into predetermined forms, and the Butthurt Baby in Chief‘s unhinged ravings against the press, against President Obama, even (evidently) thundering at his own staff, saying something about “unpopular” ideas seemed not out of place. The challenge I decided to set before myself was to do so as a Whiteheadian.Abort_retry_fail

My previous post took a number of steps in that direction, including setting up some background on Whitehead’s mature metaphysics. And I’ll not revisit that argument here. Rather, I wish to expand upon it by entertaining some additional Whiteheadian notions, those of the role of error in the growth of meaning, and of the functions of reason in life. Mill talks of the positive value of error in the above referenced book, but his attitude is that such a role is primarily as a whetstone against which reason and truth can sharpen themselves. On the other hand, the trifold functions of reason (Whitehead’s book “singularized” the term to the Function of Reason) open up how the possibilities of meaning in the world creatively expand as we move beyond the shackles of mere existence into the full universe of possibility. That movement – that “creative advance” – involves a kind of “error,” in that what simply “is” must yield to that which only yet “might be.” And that “might be” will, almost invariably, start out by being unpopular. I’ll begin with The Function of Reason, as it is both the easier to explain and the founding (albeit implicit) principle behind Whitehead’s theory of the role of error. Continue reading

The Accretion of Value

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[Update below]

Whitehead’s philosophical work is not often viewed with an eye toward its contributions to ethical or political theory. David Hall’s work stands out as one of the better known exceptions to this rule, and Jude Jones’ study of Intensity in Whitehead’s thought has immediate applications in the area of ethics, though it is often viewed from a purely metaphysical angle. I thought it high time to bring a little Whitehead back into this nominally Whiteheadian blog, and current events have offered some examples of how this might be done. Obviously this won’t be anything even remotely approaching those mentioned works’ level of scholarship; indeed, I wish to say up front that anything I say here is simply a product of my own musing, and not to be attributed to anything Hall or Jones said (although, at this point, I can scarcely tell how much is my own thought, and how much I’ve just internalized from others’ work that it is now a part of my own fabric.) No small part of the problem is that, by the time you’ve explained Whitehead, you’ve no space or energy left to apply him to ethics. This is why this post will be some 200+ words longer than I otherwise aim for.magnetic-field

One thing that can be usefully set out right up front: Whitehead’s entire professional career, whether mathematical or philosophical, was dominated by two generic problems that can be usefully described as “the problem of space” and “the problem of the accretion of value.” This issues often overlapped for Whitehead. Thus, in his earliest major professional work, his Treatise on Universal Algebra (a mathematical work on logical forms of space), he devotes several paragraphs to the importance of good symbolism for efficient and unambiguous expression and use of concepts. This is a matter directly relevant to the accretion of value, because good symbolism is a value that accumulates with each gain in efficiency and clarity. In his works on education (widely acknowledged to by sympathetic with Dewey‘s) Whitehead uses ideas of mathematics pedagogy to advance claims about the nature and purpose of a liberal education, education being one of the primary means for the accretion of value. These examples by themselves are almost enough to (loosely) ground the case for a Whiteheadian ethics. But I want to add a few details and then (as mentioned) give a brief application. Details of my discussion can be found HERE. Continue reading