What’s In a Name?

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A great many persons who manifest what Altemeyer has called the “right wing authoritarian” type of mindset will also, often enough, display some rather strikingly childish, if not downright infantile, traits with respect to basic cognition. In particular, among this group one will find many persons who will insist that the contemporary GOP retains its status as “the party of Lincoln,” or that the Nazis were “really socialists” because the word “sozialismus” appears in their name. In both instances there is nothing more than a name in common between the one thing (Lincoln did belong to what was then called the Republican party) and the other (today’s GOP is absolutely tarred by Trump and his blatant fascism.) The laughable rubes who make this association – often enough loudly and in public, with utter self-assurance not to be impinged upon by any shred of logic, principles, evidence, or facts – might otherwise be dismissed as merely uneducable and pathetic, were it not at least one aspect of their behavior that is worthy of note: their use of names, as exemplified above, is magical. And not “magical” in the benevolent sense of “charming,” “truly special,” or “delightful,” but magical in the primitive and pernicious sense of actual magic – specifically, “name magic.”Wizard

There is a connection between magical thinking and fascism, one that has been recognized for some time now. Ernst Cassirer addressed this connection in his important work, The Myth of the State.i Published at the end of WWII (and shortly after Cassirer himself died), Cassirer applied his enormous insights regarding symbolism and modes of thought (his three volume The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms remains an unparalleled intellectual achievement) to the forms of mythological thinking that were such a driving force behind nationalism and fascism. (Cassirer was Jewish and an eye witness to the rise of Nazism in Germany. Seeing the writing on the wall, he was able to escape with wife, going first to Sweden, then England, and finally the United States, where he wrote Myth of the State while working at Columbia University.) As such, it is also a valuable source of insight into our own Trumpistas, and their unflagging devotion to “Dear Leader.” Continue reading

Objects and Relations

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Let’s get (a little) mathematical. If you’re still reading, good for you!

I spend a fair amount of time reading various logic texts. Most of that time, these days, is spent on texts that are shared with a “Creative Commons” license, and are thus freely downloadable. This is for two reasons: first, I am deeply offended by contemporary text book prices. For example, Hurley’s logic book (you can look that up on your own) is around $100.00 for the more recent editions. Not as bad as Calculus text books, but certainly extreme when one considers that the material presented can be had for free from other sources. So, despite the overwhelming improbability of it ever occurring, I can’t stop myself from thinking about the scam inherent in textbook pricing, and thinking how I, as a would-be teacher, might better serve my students w/o bankrupting them.Venn diagram

The second reason is that I just really like the subject, and want to keep my nose in the books on this subject at all times. Like playing the cello, if you stop practicing, you lose whatever mastery you may once have possessed. (The cello analogy is in reference to the great Pablo Casals and the possibly apocryphal response(s) he gave to why he always practiced so diligently.) Since I am otherwise utterly penurious, my choice of texts to “practice” with are limited to what I can download for free. With respect to topics within mathematics, including formal logic, the range of materials is actually enormous, and the quality exceptionally good. One of these books is the Open Logic Text by the Open Logic Group (“OL”), licensed under Creative Commons international attribution 4.0. (I believe I have fulfilled my legal obligations in the forgoing; full .PDF HERE.) I very much approve of this text, and almost anyone but me would never have even the slightest critique to offer regarding its exceptionally comprehensive coverage of the topic in a readily understandable fashion. But I do have one criticism, one that pretty much no one but a Whiteheadian would ever think to make. And that is about their too sanguine opening about the centrality of sets, and their uncritical acceptance of an intransigently object structured thinking. Continue reading

It’s Not Easy Being Green

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The Green party has long been anathema to any genuine progressive turn in American politics now for upwards of twenty years or more. Beginning with Nader’s undercutting Gore’s electoral chances and thus putting Shrub (the lesser Bush) in the office of the President, the Green party has done everything in its power to demonstrate its absolute rejection of basic logic (to say nothing of facts on the ground) in favor of an “ideology” that amounts to nothing more than self-absorbed infantilism.kermit confused

And yes, I too have seen the strained fabrications that have self-righteously proclaimed that Nader did not cost Gore Florida in 2000. But like any person gifted with nothing more exotic than the mere abstract possibility of intelligence or thought, I recognize these exercises in childish excuse-making for what they are. This nonsense has even gone so far as to claim that Nader voters would have turned to Bush, had Nader not been running. Which is to say, Gore wasn’t far enough to the political left for such people, so in the absence of Nader they would have leapt even further to the political right. The only imaginable reason for doing so would be sheer, infantile spite which, given the nature of the Green party and its devotees, is actually almost believable. But I’m going to work on the assumption that Green party voters are merely stupid, as opposed to self-absorbed, narcissistic, intransigently petty, sniveling little cry-babies. If I am mistaken on this point, I apologize in advance. Continue reading

At Least I Have Chicken

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Person’s familiar with the gaming world might well recognize the title of this essay as a quote from a famous incident in the online game World of Warcraft. The incident, recorded and posted on YouTube (see video below) might be labeled The Last Charge of Leroy Jenkins. A group of players are nervously planning a complex attack against a difficult, game generated collection of very dangerous “creatures” (the online game permits players in remote locations to play together, and communicate verbally even as they operate their “character” in the game.) But after a few minutes of this, one of them (“Leroy Jenkins”) loses all patience with the process, declares “Enough talk!” and rushes into the midst of the creatures bellowing his battle cry, “LEEEROY JENKINS!!!” Caught off guard, the other members of the team realize they’ve lost the advantage of surprise and follow in, only to have the entire team wiped out by this cluster of creatures. As they bitterly review this catastrophe, casting an occasional word of criticism in Jenkins’ direction, Leroy simply responds, “At least I have chicken” (presumably in his real world crib, as there is none in the game.)

The whole thing is much funnier if you’ve had any experience with multi-player roll-playing games, whether online, networked, or old school paper and painted tokens D&D. But the behavior is familiar to us all from the broader reaches of our lives, as we recognize a form of doomed compromise that those around us – and most likely we ourselves, at one time or another – have made. This came out again recently in a colleagues interaction with the students in his class. (It is not revealing much to note that said colleague is, indeed, a man.) The colleague was presenting one of the classic figures of Western philosophy, and the students began asking in reply, “but how important is this really?” Discussion went back and forth a few times until finally exasperated, my colleague said something to the effect that, “the alternative is to be an uneducated pawn in a machine that views you as nothing more than a commodity to be used until you’re used up, suffering the waste of your life in a job that offers no fulfillment, living in a house in the suburbs with a spouse that is indifferent to you and children that despise you!” There was a moment’s silence, when finally one student replied, “at least we’ll have a house in the suburbs.”

At least they’ll have chicken. Continue reading

Feeling The Possible

Possibility and the possible have long been treated as the bastard third cousins of philosophy. This is true even though there are entire areas and sub-disciplines of formal logic that are nominally dedicated to studying those topics. The problem is that the approaches taken to the nature of the possible (and I will be using that term and “possibility” as more or less interchangeable cognates) as parasitic upon the ideas of “necessity.” In formal terms, possibility and necessity are supposed to stand on equal footing. But in approach and intention, that almost never occurs. This is discouraging, to say the least, since our sense, our feeling, of possibility is a very real aspect of our feeling of reality overall, whereas our only notions of necessity are the abstract, or even recondite, mathematical constructions we make of a thing we can have no experience of whatsoever. Car speeding

Thus, necessity and possibility are traditionally represented with a box and a diamond, respectively. When attached to a sentence, schematically represented by “p” or “r”, then merely asserting “p” becomes the stronger claim of “necessarily p”, or “p is necessarily true,” represented by “p.” Similarly then, “possibly r,” or “r is possibly true” is schematized as “r.” Either can then be treated as a shorthand form for the other using a variation of DeMorgan’s rules: “p = ~◊~p”, and “◊r = ~□~r,” where “~◊~p” reads as “not-possibly not-p” and “~□~r” reads as “not-necessarily not-r.” This is all very handy for when you are doing formal logic, but a little thought might well lead one to doubt that any so mechanical and reductive formulation is capable of actually representing reality. Is necessity real at all? And even if it is, why would it be nothing more than a truth-functional inversion of possibility? Meanwhile, there is nothing mechanical about possibility itself, even as we mechanize – for purposes of convenience – what we end up saying about the possible. Right there is the rub: the reality and what we say about that reality are not the same at all. And while I cannot escape the use of words to do so, it is to the experience of the possible that I now wish to turn. Continue reading

The Myth of The Binary

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I’m going to step out of my comfort zone here and speculate on a topic about which I’ve little real knowledge, and no formal education at all: matters relating to the politically charged, hot-button issues of sex, gender, and identity. Partly, I’m hoping that others more knowledgeable than myself might point out where I’m off track, either a little or a lot. But also, I need a compact, go-to source to address the people who are even more ignorant – or, more frequently, just grotesquely and willfully stupid – than I. In particular, even with my lack of formal background, I believe I can address a few cogent words to what I will call “The Myth of The Binary.”Binary Identity

I perceive three primary axes along which to attack this myth, each of which demonstrates that “binarity” – a term I will also be using – is categorically a myth, and a myth that we are long overdue to reject wholesale. But, because I am an amateur playing in other people’s field, many of the terms I will be using are largely of my own devising, or that I have heard and am using to clarify my own thoughts. Consequently, if one were to do an internet search on these terms, it is anyone’s guess if anything would show up at all, and what (if any) relationship such “hits” would bear to what I’m saying here. However, It is sufficient that the terms I use be treated as “technical” ones, so that my burden is simply to use those terms in a consistent and coherent fashion. “Binarity,” for example, is just a short hand for the Myth of the Binary. The three axes that I will employ to critique the myth are what I will call (1) physical presentation, (2) sexual orientation, and (3) gender identification. Continue reading

What is Populism?

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The question came up on social media, What is populism? I had my own little St. Augustine moment, where I realized that, as long as no one asked me, I knew exactly what I meant by the term, but as soon as someone asked I had no idea. (In fairness to Augustine, his moment was around the significantly more subtle notion of “what is time?”) I could run off to the dictionary and waste people’s time by quoting that, but I won’t. For one thing, the dictionary (like Wikipedia itself) is not the answer to a question (other than “how do I spell this word?”), it is the starting point for asking questions. Further, dictionary answers aren’t always that well considered. Thus, the dictionary will tell you that an ad hominem fallacy occurs any time you say something bad about a person, ignoring the fact that, in order to be an actual fallacy, it must be either irrelevant or untrue (or both). Finally I’ve enough acquaintance with the word “populism” via use – both my own and other peoples – that the dictionary will either tell me nothing new or, like ad hominem, tell me something wrong.Mob action

After I make of quick gloss of the sorts of things that populism is at an absolute minimum, I’ll go on to suggest two different developments of the idea. One development leaves populism as a relatively “morally neutral” political method or technique, while the other will put it squarely in the negatives as a substantially fascist instrument. Neither one of these approaches represents the “truth” about populism, or the “real definition”; they are simply different ways in which the word can be used, ways that should never be conflated. I’ll finish with some thoughts from Whitehead and Dewey about the philosophical underpinnings of the kinds of popular relationalism that strengthen genuine democracy. Continue reading

Mothers of the Disappeared

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Anyone defending Trump’s concentration camps on the ground that “there aren’t gas chambers”, has only convicted themselves of absolute moral bankruptcy. These same people will still be justifying these concentration camps when there ARE gas chambers.

 

Children Auschwitz

Trump’s recent EO is irrelevant to the above, which was true long before that EO was ever signed. Such persons have shown their true colors. And that EO only nominally stops the further sepAration (note the spelling, which Trump managed to fuck up); it does nothing to address those who have already been herded into the camps, many of whom have long since been entirely lost in the system.

My Boner, My Self

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Ho-hum, another school massacre. But this one shares some connections with our neighbors to the north that merit exploration. One part of those connections introduced the general population to the term “incel”, for “involuntarily celibate.” On the surface, the term means just exactly what it says – one is presently non-sexual in one’s life, while wishing there was (in fact) someone there as a physical partner. This nominally suggests that one is single, but that is not a necessary condition; a person can be in a committed relationship in which the other partner, while present as a person, is not available sexually. (When such a situation is unilaterally imposed, it generally signals the end of the relationship, though bonds of loyalty and commitment will, among decent people, still take a while to break down.) Most people have, I am sure, spent significant amounts of time single and celibate when they’d much rather have been busily involved with one (or more!) other partners. But the notion of “incel” goes far, far, beyond this: it implies a profound injustice imposed from without, and (more importantly) a manifest entitlement to the sexual favors one is not receiving. Hence, “My Boner, My SelfiHaHa

Needless to say, such a collection of beliefs is almost exclusively limited to males. (One can hardly describe such self-absorbed snivelers as “men.”) Thus, both of the above mass murderers were motivated NOT by bullying, but by sexual frustration under the perceived rubric of male sexual entitlement. Dimitrios Pagourtzis stalked and harassed a girl for months before she finally had enough of his unwanted advances and publicly embarrassed him to get him to stop. Her reward for standing up for her own rights and the sanctity of her own person was to be the first victim Pagourtzis murdered. Alek Minassian explicitly identified himself and his murders with the incel “movement.” Both of these sociopaths believed themselves to deserve the sexual favors which they saw the world as unfairly denying to them, and believed that their murderous rampages were a mighty blow in the name of justice. In reality, of course, there are scarcely words in this or any other language capable of heaping upon these worthless excuses the measure of disdain, vituperation, disgust, and contempt that they genuinely deserve. Yet despite these obvious and indisputable facts, there are those who pose as “intellectuals” who variously present (whether explicitly or implicitly) Pagourtzis and Minassian as victims. Rather than say more about the incel infantilism, I want to address the movement’s enablers and apologists and, along the way say a bit about real men and real scholars. The emphasis on men is, again, because males are the overwhelming perpetrators of these crimes, as well as of the public mewling about their poor, neglected wee-wees. But before making any generalizations about “men,” as a collective plurality, let’s contextualize the discussion by establishing some poles between which we might hope to develop a spectrum. For one such pole, let’s start with Jordan Peterson.
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Shut Up and Calculate

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson shares with Stephen Hawing a commitment to demonstrating that lots of schooling will never, by itself, equate to an education (a distinction I’ve explored in a variety of places.) For example, in a bromide from a few years back, Tyson not only dismissed philosophy as being of no value, but insisted that bright students should stay away from it as it is nothing more than a distraction.i Stephen Hawking, for his part, has maintained a long running snark-fest directed at philosophers, notable mainly in that Hawking’s petulance is only exceeded by his ignorance, and the indefensibility of his “arguments”. One must scare quote the word “arguments” in the preceding because neither Tyson nor Hawking have an actual argument, only ex cathedra pronouncements that are to be accepted without question, and in the complete absence of anything like logic, principles, evidence, or facts.Adding Machine

Thus, for example, Hawking vapidly legislates in his recent book, The Grand Design, that, “philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” What Hawking is, in fact, asserting here is that philosophy is only philosophy when it is doing physics. So when it fails to do physics (and actually does philosophy – a subject Hawking knows absolutely nothing about, and imagines himself virtuous for his willful lack of education) then this can only be because philosophy is dead. He declares (in Black Holes and Baby Universes), without a particle of evidence to support his claim that,

There is a subspecies called philosophers of science who ought to be better equipped. But many of them are failed physicists who found it too hard to invent new theories and so took to writing about the philosophy of physics instead. They are still arguing about the scientific theories of the early years of this century, like relativity and quantum mechanics.

and then goes on to pule that, “Maybe I’m being harsh on philosophers, but they have not been very kind to me.”ii This is the sort of childishness one might expect from a 3rd grader, not from a man who held the Lucasian Chair at Cambridge University. In its way, however, it is perfectly representative of an attitude that has consumed much of physics, in which any attempts to ask deeper questions about the issues of contemporary physics are met with the dismissive command to just, “shut up and calculate.” Continue reading