“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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
Publication is almost upon us.
“The Quantum of Explanation advances a bold new theory of how explanation ought to be understood in philosophical and cosmological inquiries. Using a complete interpretation of Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophical and mathematical writings and an interpretive structure that is essentially new, Auxier and Herstein argue that Whitehead has never been properly understood, nor has the depth and breadth of his contribution to the human search for knowledge been assimilated by his successors. This important book effectively applies Whitehead’s philosophy to problems in the interpretation of science, empirical knowledge, and nature. It develops a new account of philosophical naturalism that will contribute to the current naturalism debate in both Analytic and Continental philosophy. Auxier and Herstein also draw attention to some of the most important differences between the process theology tradition and Whitehead’s thought, arguing in favor of a Whiteheadian naturalism that is more or less independent of theological concerns. This book offers a clear and comprehensive introduction to Whitehead’s philosophy and is an essential resource for students and scholars interested in American philosophy, the philosophy of mathematics and physics, and issues associated with naturalism, explanation and radical empiricism.”
This author’s profile can be found HERE.
More information on the book can be found HERE.
Let’s just say I’m a little excited.
The title is an ironic gesture to a disturbingly cheerful (some, like me, might say saccharin) tune by Bacharach and David, but my intention is to talk about what is less happily categorized as circular reasoning. This is one of those fallacies that has been recognized for so long that the medievals gave it a Latin name: petitio principii. It is also one of those painful failures of basic reasoning that goes beyond the narrow confines of formal logic, or introductory critical thinking classes. This is one of those monsters of bad thinking that empower authoritarian minded individuals and their enablers to unshamefacedly spout about “alternative facts” and other infantile drivel. You see, the problem with a circle, as well as with a mind that reasons in one, is that the circle is closed; inquiry, on the other hand, is (by necessity) open and ongoing.
I’ve talked before (several times, in fact) about what Altemeyer describes as the “compartmentalization” that occurs in authoritarian belief and ideology. One can scarcely dignify this latter as “thinking,” regardless of the degree of sophisticated cleverness employed in maintaining those compartments as air tight against all facts and logic. Authoritarian thinkers, following Hamlet’s example, keep their minds, bounded in a nutshell and count themselves kings of infinite space, were it not that they have bad dreams. (Of course, Hamlet was being ironic, and mocking his interlocutors, something the Mango Mussolini’s enthusiasts entirely fail to grasp.) The thing is, these people choose to be bounded by a nutshell, all the while imagining themselves in princely command of infinite space. Meanwhile, their bad dreams (which are the trailings of reality, dogging them despite their dogmatism) are the sources of their willing embrace of Trumpian neo-fascism. Because the nutshell – the “nut house” – in which they have bound their minds is a tightly enclosed circle that permits no entry from reality. Continue reading
A “false flag” attack is a premeditated form of deception in which some disaster with a high number of casualties is inflicted upon a community, evidently by outsiders, but in reality by the community’s own leaders in order to fabricate the impression of immediate threat and danger within the community, so that the leaders may act with impunity by taking aggressive – and typically extra-legal – actions. This then establishes the leaders’ power, with the willing consent of those over whom they actually intend to exploit this power. If you are a movie buff, the “St. Mary’s virus” biological attack from the movie V for Vendetta, is an example of a false flag attack raised to the nth degree. Claims of “real” (note the scare quotes) false flag attacks are standard twaddle with childish conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and blathering histrionics of his “Infowars” website. Lest there be any lingering ambiguity, I do not hold much truck with such infantilism. People who have taught the subject know that such conspiracy theory drivel is used as comedy relief in Critical Thinking courses. Such material is swallowed with great credulity by a large number of authoritarian minded people, especially on the extreme right-wing of the political spectrum.
But we are seeing a perfectly analogous move gaining traction on the political left, and it is worth our time to squash it before it gains any traction. Multiple peaceful protests have recently either been preceded by, or occurred in parallel with, violent actions that had no relationship to the original protest. One increasingly sees these violent behaviors decried as the work of “paid provocateurs.” There are more than a few problems with these accusations, not the least of which being that they come without even the tiniest scintilla of evidence to back up the accusation. And these accusations will often be made by the self-same people who will brush aside Alex Jones’s fatuous nonsense with a roll of the eyes and a sweep of the hand, all the while as they are doing the exact same thing as Jones: making hysterical, baseless accusations and assuming that the volume with which they make the accusations carries probative weight. Continue reading
Well, the first two weeks of Trump’s presidency bore no real surprises: the Butthurt Baby in Chief acted exactly the way you would expect a narcissistic psychopath with a fascist agenda to behave. Quite aside from the lack of organization, the total inability to grasp what governance is or ought to look like, executive orders pouring out like water from the fountains of the Nile, including the objectively illegal ban on Muslims entering the country (except, coincidentally, from those countries where Trump has business interests); indeed, there has not been a single terrorist attack committed by a refugee from any of the banned countries within the US since at least 1980. (One writer has suggested this ban is a “headfake” to test the loyalty of various departments, and the limits of what the courts will permit Trump to get away with.) We also have his infantile need to bring a cheer-leading squad along when he gives a press conference or a speech. He has declared the New York Times to be “fake news” for their failure to be his obedient and unquestioning mouthpieces, and has essentially put the Breitbart propaganda outlet in charge of the National Security Council, while removing persons with actual experience in and with intelligence. I mean that last in all the less flattering ways you can construe it. With regard to the non-voter fraud lie that Trump revels in spewing, the fact that such fraud is essentially non-existent is a matter of no concern for Trump: he doesn’t need facts, because the slack-jawed who swallow whatever lie that is spoon-fed to them by the paid professional liars at Fox “News” agree with Trump, so that makes it all true. This is so mind-numbingly childish that is seems to give it more credit than it merits to point out that it exemplifies the fallacy of the argumentum ad populum. And don’t even get me started on the Twitter storms …
What kind of a “man” does this? (And yes, I use the term “man” guardedly, because I take the word to mean something more than merely an adult featherless biped with a penis.) Well, I’ve already said a fair amount about how and why Donald Trump is a fascist. I’ve made it clear that I do not use the term casually, or as a throw-away fallacy. But what about the other terms I’ve been using? I’ve characterized Trump as a narcissist for a while now, and have recently shifted from describing him as a sociopath to a psychopath. What sort of legitimacy can I give those terms, especially since I’m not really qualified to make such a diagnosis with any expertise? Continue reading
So now this appears to be happening: several users out in the Twitter-verse apparently are crowing about the repeal of Obamacare while defiantly bragging about keeping their insurance through the ACA. Again, to all appearances, these people are real. Meanwhile, racist Trump designee for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, questions whether women and LGBTQ people face any serious discrimination in the world. Examples could readily be multiplied. This is because fascism is a movement that does not center on any sort of intellectual framework, while its appeal is to persons of an authoritarian mindset that rigidly compartmentalizes concepts and experiences so that genuine intelligence can never get a foothold on the person’s thinking. Under such circumstances, exercising reason – genuine reason – becomes itself a revolutionary act.
But beyond that quip, what more can be said about the matter? Isn’t that a bit like dismissing Trump’s followers as being stupid? Even if this was true, would it really be an effective approach to dealing with the current consolidation of power by the fascists? In response, I would encourage people to read the above linked posts on the authoritarian mindset, but I’ll have a few more words to say about the nature of genuine intelligence below the fold. But mostly I want to think about the revolutionary aspects of reason around the topics of memory, logic, and leadership. Continue reading
The phrase that opens this post is one that has been around for some time. Claude Levi-Strauss used it as the title to what has since become his most famous, and possibly most important, book. Even in 1962, when the book came out, one could use such a phrase without irony and be accepted as a scholar. These days, the imputation of a “savage mentality” is likely to be met with considerable resistance, and general antipathy (at least from those with a more liberal political orientation.) “Savage” is a pejorative term, and its application (especially in matters of thought and mentality) was almost always applied to aboriginal peoples whom colonial invaders (almost always of European descent) wished to demean, degrade, and – rather savagely – exploit. Such attitudes have been quite rightfully (even righteously, in the non-pejorative sense of that word) denounced for many decades now.
Nevertheless, I submit that there really is such a thing as a savage mind, where such a mentality is understood as an antithesis to that of a civilized mind. It is an example of the genetic fallacy to reject the term because it has been seriously abused in the past. This is not a comparison between persons in pre-scientific, non-technological, &/or aboriginal societies and our own, “gloriously” developed Western cultures. Rather, I submit that the distinguishing characteristic of savagery is its rejection of community in various forms and to varying degrees. Continue reading