Thursday, May 31, 2012


I'm generally a fan of arcane vocabulary and altiloquent writing, as long as it's done for the sheer love of language, for the poetry of it. I'm not one of those who think that creative writing has to be Strunk-and-Whitened to the streamlined standards of an instruction manual.

But there are certain words, unobjectionable in themselves, that are used pretentiously, as buzzwords, as ways of preening. Ferzample, the word "interrogate" in place of "examine" or "question". It adds nothing in the way of clarity; it's just used in a literary theory context to provide a slightly exotic gloss to otherwise banal statements. If I see one more douchebag lit major holding forth on interrogating their privilege, their writing process, or their navel lint, I'm going to reach for my revolver.

The Clanjamphry

Tauriq Moosa:

We should therefore welcome opposition. If we can explain ourselves reasonably and with justification, we can demand the same of our opponents. Thus, we want an opposition that is reasonable, clear and uses justified arguments to defend themselves. Our purpose is to show why they’re wrong – or to accede and say their arguments are indeed better.

This is why I do not want to live in a world where everyone agrees with me. How would I know if I’m wrong, if I am not challenged in a coherent, logical way? Something does not become true or right just because everyone believes it: that’s an appeal to majority, not a justification. After all, in order to argue, you need some kind of overarching liberty to do so: in reality, a lack of dissent is a sign of conformity and subjugation, not universal agreement.

As a philosophical and political principle, this is indeed a noble one. Typically in practice, however:

Personally, the comments section can get very taxing for me. I don't think a lot of the commenters understand that I am an actual human being just like them. The mean nasty hurtful stuff does actually hurt me sometimes. If I were Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern and I got paid big money to be the target of abuse by strangers, that would be a different matter. Or if I felt there was some way in which my being a punching bag helped the dharma somehow, that would also be different. Or even if I were just a guy who enjoys arguing with people... But I am none of these things. And other people get abused in there as well. It's really sad. So the comments section as it stands now often devolves into a big, depressing energy suck that has no value at all for me. Sorry to say this. But it's the truth.

It's not always that way. In fact sometimes it's really good and stimulating. But as it stands now it's just too prone to running itself into spasms of stupidity.

My rule for reading websites with comment sections is generally the same one for crossing swaying rope bridges: don't look down. I don't know what the magic number is that indicates when intelligent discussion among individuals tips over into rabble babble, but I suspect it's fewer than twenty. It's really disheartening how even some of the best writers I know attract some of the worst commenters.

It was recently suggested to me that having my own domain instead of a free blog might increase my visibility and grow my audience. I repeated: I honestly, seriously would not want to be popular and widely-read. I get all the validation I need merely by the act of writing. The fact that a few people voluntarily read what I write is gratifying enough without having a comment box full of unimaginative sycophants, let alone trolls. So, to the lurkers, thanks for stopping by and reading quietly. To the regulars, thanks for providing intelligent remarks and honest opposition. Except for one of you. You know who you are. Yes, you. I'm talking to you. See, this is what I mean. You're just not up to our standards. Work on that, wouldja? Jeez.

Death Before Disbearding

Luke Hopping:

Socrates introduced the beard as an indispensible part of Western society’s conceptualization of the sagacious philosopher. Even though his successors claimed he refused to flee Athens before his execution for ethical reasons, we prefer to believe that Socrates knew a life on the lam would require shaving his most distinguishing feature, and chose death instead.

In a similar example of unflinching heroism, I refused to pursue a career at UPS when I was informed that they didn't allow beards on their drivers. FedEx, I'm happy to say, is much more hospitable to those of us who refuse to be taken in by all the propaganda of Big Shaving.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Switch Fields

March 18th of this year:

Brendan Rodgers's phone will constantly buzz this summer with tempting offers for his managerial alchemy. Those suitors will, he says, be disappointed. With the recent passing of both his parents offering perspective and with the contentment of life in south Wales, Swansea City's manager is going nowhere soon.

After Fulham were handed a 3-0 lesson of kaleidoscope passing – they were allowed only 38.1% possession in front of their home crowd – Rodgers was asked how easy it would be to stay at Swansea beyond this season. "Very, very simple. The sea is beautiful there, it's a beautiful part of the world," he said. "I'm allowed to work, I'm the manager of the club. There's no political games, there's nothing.

"I've learnt I have my health – I lost both my parents in the last 18 months or so and that put a massive perspective on my life. My family's happy. As you can see I love working with the team and the players. There's no doubt somewhere along the line in the next 30 years – I'm 39 so hopefully I'm going to be around a long time – if I keep working well maybe the chance [will come] later on. But my only focus and my only respect is with Swansea City. I signed a three-and-a-half-year deal and I love being here."

Liverpool are on the brink of appointing Brendan Rodgers as their new manager after Swansea City's chairman, Huw Jenkins, accepted he could not refuse the 39-year-old Northern Irishman the opportunity of a move to Anfield.

Two weeks after sacking Kenny Dalglish for finishing eighth in the Premier League, Liverpool's owners, Fenway Sports Group, concluded the search for his replacement during talks with Rodgers in London. The former Watford and Reading manager agreed a three-year contract with John W Henry and Tom Werner, Liverpool's principal owner and chairman respectively, before informing Swansea he wished to quit after a hugely successful two-year spell at the Liberty Stadium.

He sounded so certain, lo those two months ago, didn't he? Ah, well, I can't help but laugh a little at the abrupt 180º turn, but I'm intrigued nonetheless. Liverpool are my sentimental favorites in English football, but Swansea were my favorite team to watch in the league last season, especially with Liverpool's dreadful form often making their games unbearable to sit all the way through. I wish him immense reserves of luck trying to transplant Swansea's splendid passing style into schlubs like Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam.

Speaking of football news, just over a week until the European Championship tournament starts! If I go missing for days on end during the month of June, don't panic.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Need Therapy, Therapy, Advertising Causes Need Therapy

Blommaert and Varis:

Consumer capitalism places itself right in the nexus of this tension, emphasizing individual choice while at the same time aiming at mass comsumption of similar products. Remember that Marcuse saw this feature as defining consumer capitalism: the paradox that we seem to believe that we are all unique individuals when we all wear the same garments, eat the same food and listen to the same music. This exploitation of an ideological false consciousness was, for Marcuse, the reason to see consumer capitalism as a form of totalitarianism.

...The overall picture we get from this is that of culture as an accent. Most of what we do in organizing our lives is oriented towards conformity to others. This is a compelling thing, because we need this level of conformity in order to be recognizable by others, in order to make sense to them. Culture, after all, is that which provides meaning in human societies. But at the same time, we continuously create ‘accents’ in relation to the standards we have to submit to: we construct very small spaces of uniqueness, of things that we believe we do not share with others. I also wear a suit but with a different necktie; and I wear a Breitling watch which, to some, will tell that I’m in fact and deep down a non-suit person, someone who loves the outdoor, a rugged man of action. Armed with these paraphernalia, we enter the daily social arena in search of recognition, both as someone who fits a broad category, and as someone who deviates from it. It is because of these deviations that others will perhaps find me more interesting than most, a more layered and mysterious character, someone creative and inventive – so creative and inventive that I create ‘my own style’ by means of a unique combination of features, all of which can be read metonymically in relation to social categories, and all of which will provoke judgments by others.

To paraphrase a recent quip by Hadley Freeman, so much academic writing is just stating the obvious with extra jazz hands.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Eddy Nahmias:

Determinism is sometimes presented to mean that the past and laws control us or that our actions are pre-determined, as if someone planned them. But it should not be anthropomorphized in these ways. The Big Bang did not plan our lives, and it didn’t really cause what we do in any useful sense of ‘cause’. Determinism should also not be confused with fatalism, the idea that certain things (like your actions, or Oedipus’ sleeping with his mom) will happen no matter what - that is, no matter what you want or try to do (or no matter what Oedipus tries to do to avoid his fate). Quite the opposite - determinism suggests that what happens in the future depends on what happens in the past and what we do in the present. Finally, determinism should not be confused with what I call bypassing - the idea that our conscious mental activity is not causally relevant to our decisions and actions. Determinism does not mean that our minds don’t matter.

So, what does determinism mean? In the philosophical debates, it is a specific thesis about the relations between events or states in the universe, as governed by laws of nature. It says that, holding fixed the laws of nature and the state of the universe at one time (e.g., the distant past), there is only one possible state of the universe at any other time (e.g., the future). As such, determinism does not mean that reductionism is true - i.e., that everything can be explained in terms of low-level physical events (such as interactions between quarks or neurons) - nor does it mean that epiphenomenalism is true - i.e., that our (conscious) mental states play no causal role in what we do. Some people worry that reductionism entails epiphenomenalism, and most people (rightly) worry that epiphenomenalism would threaten free will. But these are different heads of the monster, distinct from the (now-shrinking) head of determinism.

...I can’t rehearse these arguments here, but here’s just one quick thing to consider. Do we think that the truth of determinism would make it false to say, “That leaf [that just landed there] could have landed somewhere else”? I don’t think so. I think we think the leaf could have landed elsewhere, and we probably think that if it had, it would have been because something had been slightly different (e.g., strength of wind, time it broke off of tree, etc.). And those earlier differences were possible too. Determinism is entirely compatible with this analysis of ‘could have happened otherwise.’ It doesn’t make everything inevitable. Now, do we mean something different in kind (metaphysically different) when we say, “That student could have chosen a different paper topic”? Do we commit ourselves to the universe being indeterministic when we say or think such things about human choices? I doubt it. We do think that our choices involve lots of complex factors and capacities that tree leaves (and dogs and babies) don’t have.

South Beach Diet

An email from my friend Arthur:

MIAMI (AP) – A Miami police officer on Saturday fatally shot a naked man who was chewing on the face of another man on a downtown causeway off-ramp, police and witnesses said.

The Miami Herald reports that gunshots were heard at about 2 p.m. on the MacArthur Causeway off-ramp, which is near the newspaper's offices. Witnesses said that a woman saw two men fighting and flagged down a police officer, who came upon a naked man mauling the other man. The newspaper quoted witnesses as saying that the officer ordered the naked man to back away, and when he ignored the demand, the officer shot him. Witnesses said that the naked man continued his attack after being shot once, and the officer shot him several more times.

Police said the other man was transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital Ryder Trauma Center. The newspaper said he had suffered critical injuries.

Okay, I think I figured this one out: it was a Dante symposium gone horribly, horribly awry. Dante scholars are a notoriously disputatious bunch. There was a discussion about the exact meaning of the scene in the Ninth Circle of the Inferno where Count Ugolino is chewing Archbishop Ruggieri's head because the latter locked the former and his children up in a tower and let them starve. The controversy was over Ugolino's last words, after recounting the death, one by one, of all his children till only he was left: "Then hunger did what grief could not do." Does Dante want us to interpret these words to mean simply that he died, or as a veiled confession of cannibalism? The scholarly discussion deteriorated into an argument, which degenerated into a re-enactment, which led finally to the gruesome and tragic outcome of which you have just read. Note that with one exception all the categories of sinners in the Inferno are naked. (The dead cannibal is down there now being congratulated as the place's first meta-sinner—the first one who sinned in the course of a literary argument about the sinners in the Inferno.)

Or not; just puttin' that out there, is all.

Alphabet Soup

Ah! If that’s all we’re talking about—brief, informal bulletins to your friends—fine. No one cares how you spell your text messages, any more than they care how you spell your grocery lists or party invitations. Deciphering a few misspelled words in a two-sentence tweet isn’t too burdensome; we’ll do it for a bud. And if we can’t, who cares?

So if you want to chat in leetspeak or use cutesy abbreviations in your texts, go crazy. You’re talking to your own tribe; they know the code, and they’re willing to indulge your affectations. And let’s be honest: A lot of that intentional misspelling, like the argot of any subculture, is meant to exclude outsiders—such as nosy parents. It’s a badge of membership in your little clique.

But having gained a yard or two for laissez-faire spelling in narrow, private circumstances, Trubek proceeds straight to the touchdown dance, proclaiming without further ado that the very idea of standardized spelling is an “outdated dogma” of the “print era.” Hold on a minute, here! If we agree it’s OK to tell an occasional white lie among friends, we’re making an exception, not voiding the rules. It doesn’t mean honesty no longer matters.

So let’s be clear: Are we saying that professional news sites should spell words in any way that strikes their mood or fancy? What exactly would be the benefit of that? Should government officials feel free to “play with language,” as she exhorts, when drafting safety regulations? How would contracts be enforced if anyone could say that what appeared to be a promise of “delivery” was actually a variant spelling of “devilry”?

A friend of mine noted the prevalence of typos and misspellings on an English professor's blog recently, though some of them were, to be fair, examples of words that pass spellcheck while being ungrammatical or incoherent in context. Probably due to haste more than anything. We shared a commiserating but hollow laugh.

See, I've always been a great speller. I catch errors in books all the time. But the sheer volume of typos and misspellings-from-ignorance you encounter among the electronic graffiti in the refuse-strewn, dingy alleyways of the web wears you down, and you start to fear that if you see one more person mix up your and you're, or use that instead of than, you yourself will forget the proper usage, the affliction will spread like a mutated virus, and we will require Arabs to preserve the knowledge and transmit it back to us several centuries hence. I can't get that upset about it anymore; I just cross myself, avert my eyes, and mutter Illuc sine gratia Dei eam while drawing my traveler's cloak more tightly about my throat and hurrying on, the ragamuffins and street urchins' cries of U MAD LOL Y U H8N? trailing after me into the Cimmerian gloom like vengeful, slightly retarded spirits.

In my own writing, I find that I tend to become habituated to the little red spelling squiggle, since I apparently employ a fair number of odd names, nonce words, neoterisms and portmanteaus, and I get tired of pausing to submit their application for dictionary citizenship. But, and I'm sure there's an official term for this, I do find that I tend to misspell certain words while typing that I never would while writing. I think of it as keyboard dyslexia, where the wrong hand insists on tapping its key before its partner, almost as if my left hand were to seize the pen from my right to insert whatever letter it felt just had to go there. Really, left hand? "Enviornment"? You think that looks better? "Mithg" for "might"? Really? Go back to scratching itches, you dolt.

Saturday, May 26, 2012



Let’s all stop judging people who talk to themselves. New research says that those who can’t seem to keep their inner monologues in — raving bus station denizens, for the most part, excluded — are actually more likely to stay on task, remain focused better and show improved perception capabilities. Not bad, really, for some extra jabbering.

Pfft, I could have told you that. I was a very quiet, withdrawn kid who would probably be placed on the shallow end of the autism spectrum these days, and the only time I felt comfortable talking above a murmur was in my own company. Sometimes it was in the course of playing with toys, inventing dialogues between my G.I. Joes, and sometimes it was just singing impromptu nonsense songs, but especially as I got older, I found that talking out loud, in more or less complete sentences, was invaluable for gathering my thoughts and streamlining them.

During the years in which I spent hours on the road between midnight and morning, it was a way of keeping my brain awake and active. I would talk my way through a subject that was preoccupying me, and the verbalization seemed to make it easier to keep my thoughts grounded and focused. Or I would compose poems (and later, posts) in my head and recite them over and over to see if they had what I considered a certain musicality.

I don't mind being considered crazy for that; I probably didn't want to talk to you anyway.

Friday, May 25, 2012

I Am No Better and Neither Are You

Stephen Fry:

Sometimes if I so much as connect Spotify or some other music service to Twitter and a follower sees that I am listening to a piece of classical music, they will tweet something charming like “posh twat”, “Why do you listen to that boring rubbish?” or “who are you trying to impress?” I’m beyond being bothered by such tragically irremediable rudeness and intolerance, but I do hope sane, open people will give themselves time to listen to music. Classical music isn’t to be danced to, it doesn’t necessarily remind you of your first snog or your first bust up – those inestimable, moving and essential services are certainly part of popular music’s draw and connective power. Classical music, since that is what we must call it, is something else. It must be payed attention to. It is not wallpaper or “the soundtrack to one’s life” as much other music in my life (happily) is. It is Art. There, I said it and I can’t and won’t apologise for making that distinction. I’d go the gallows for it. And while you may think me an elitist, I have never in my 40 years of engaging with such music encountered the snobbery that is routine amongst listeners to popular sounds, who tell you with absolute cutting certainty that this artist is “crap” and this one is “god”. I can remember the embarrassed parties at which older teenagers would muscle up to my hopeful record deck and sneer “Haven’t you got any decent music?” Some people in the classical sphere will always prefer Couperin to Alkan or Debussy to Rossini, naturally, but it’s very very rare to find the equivalent curled lip condescension as one’s music collection or playlists are “inspected” by some self-appointed schoolboy DJ. I suppose “highlights” and endless versions of Pachabel’s Canon and The Lark Ascending might cause the odd eyebrow to raise, but not from me or anyone I’d give houseroom to. Let people love One Direction and let them love Laurie Anderson, or Mahler, Reich, Kate Rusby or Alfie Boe, but don’t they DARE make anyone feel small for their loves.

In a boiled-down, nitty-gritty gist of a nutshell, Nietzsche famously argued that resentment was the key difference between what he called aristocratic and slave morality. Aristocratic people treated those they considered their lessers with disregard, as befitting barbarians (the Greek word barbarophonos signifying both the gibberish sounds of foreign languages, as well as the sound of foreigners speaking Greek improperly). They didn't really hate outsiders, so to speak, as hatred would require an investment of emotion all out of proportion to the seriousness they were taken with.

When internalized, though, that disregard from others curdles into resentment, leading one to seek revenge and vindication. To repurpose the concept here, a classical music aficionado enjoys the serene self-assurance that comes with a familiarity with high culture and its aristocratic history. Insecure pop fans can't suffer the presence of such a person without feeling implicitly judged, pitied, or condescended to, and so, like all people with chips on their shoulders, they're quick to pick a fight for the sake of pride. Stephen Fry is too busy enjoying the straightforward pleasure of music he loves to aggressively lord it over anyone, but people who feel ashamed of their different preferences or their cowardice over expressing them will unfortunately try to level him with shame as well.

Even among different facets of pop culture itself, though, the narcissism of small differences produces countless examples of people using taste as a cudgel. To borrow a recurrent theme of Freddie deBoer, most people, if they were honest, would admit that they don't really have deeply rooted, intense feelings about Nickelback, Comic Sans font, coffee brands, Uggs, Crocs, socks with sandals, or whether they are iPhone or Android types. But they care very much about being recognized as the type of people who have strong, informed and correct opinions on these things, and about being accepted and praised by others like them. Lacking confidence in their ability to blaze their own path, they look to situate themselves as moral, intelligent, worthy people in relation to constellational patterns of taste as randomly drawn by those confident enough to do so. It's a shrill, desperate apophenia imposed upon the sound and fury of insignificance.


Oliver Burkeman:

Underachievement, the way Bennett uses the term, begins to seem less like an appealing option for the lazy-minded and more like a path to a superior kind of achievement.

Partly, that's just because moderation's often best. (Bennett's "underachiever's diet" involves avoiding bad fats and keeping treats occasional; his "underachiever's workout" entails walking, doing something with your upper body and getting enough sleep.) But the deeper point is your life is an enormously complex web of interacting variables, and it's impossible to know how, when you focus on maximising one or two of them, you'll end up distorting the others. "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe," wrote the naturalist John Muir – an observation that's become a mantra for environmentalists, but which applies to individual lives, too. Tug too hard on one thread and the whole thing unravels.

This column has previously extolled the virtues of "deliberate mediocrity" as a strategy for beating perfectionism. But Bennett's stance evokes the idea, most often associated with Taoism, that knowing not to reach too far might be the essence of freedom.

"Underachievement" is a radical and necessary corrective in a manic culture fervently devoted to accomplishment and efficiency. But rather than idealize lassitude and slothfulness on a personal level, I would prefer to champion an ideal of something like bonsai minimalism, applied to human life. A withdrawal from grandiose spectacle and self-aggrandizement, yes. But not a renunciation of all passion and striving, just confinement to a miniature scale. Not an inversion of heroism, but an almost puzzled lack of interest in the very concept. Refusing even the impotent artist's consoling fantasies of posthumous vindication and acceptance and cultivating instead a quiet self-containment, content to prune and sculpt details of everyday life that others overlook as insignificant, too absorbed in one's activity to consider using it as a marker of social status.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Selfhood. Philosophers from the Buddha (Thus, monks, any body whatsoever... Any feeling whatsoever... Any perception whatsoever... Any fabrications whatsoever... Any consciousness whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near... is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: ‘This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am'.) to David Hume (For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception.) to Elton John (Although I search myself, it's always someone else I see) have debated its amorphous nature.

Now Bruce Hood says the self is an illusion. Will Wilkinson says it isn't. Is so! Is not! Rabbit season! Duck season! Personally, I think Spinoza had it right; we're all modes of the one substance, temporary wrinkles in the universal fabric. Also, I would add that calling something an illusion is not the same thing as calling it an error.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Author of the Testosterone Scriptures, Where Did You Go?

The Big Lebowski: What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?
The Dude: Dude.
The Big Lebowski: Huh?
The Dude: Uhh... I don't know sir.
The Big Lebowski: Is it being prepared to do the right thing, whatever the cost? Isn't that what makes a man?
The Dude: Hmmm... Sure, that and a pair of testicles.

There’s no winning this argument. Because the only acceptable deviation from traditional masculinity is queerness; anyone deviating must be queer. Even if they don’t know it. Suddenly what was good in my life is pathologized. Suddenly there is something wrong with him (secretly gay), and there’s something wrong with me (only attracted to men who are secretly gay). This isn’t about style, about guyliner or wearing a boldly pink tie. It’s about something essential in who they grew up to be, something in their nature that my friends — smart, bright, ambitious, dare I say masculinized women all of them — are reading as less than.

I’ve been reading books about masculinity, the authors trying to challenge what we think of as normal. Boyhoods, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform, and Mark Simpson’s Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity. All three writers are queer. When I tried to find a book that challenged society’s ideas of masculinity that was written by a straight man, all I could find was a book defending men’s needs to cheat on their wives.

The stark choice between masculinity and queerness; that sounds familiar. But as intrigued as I am by the idea of a straight male challenge to masculinity, I'm also a little confused. Aren't there quite a lot of guys who aren't all about "aggression, muscularity, exhibitionism, dominance, and phallic preoccupation"? In fact, wouldn't it be fair to say that such a stereotypical jock/frat/brute of a guy is often a cultural punchline? What qualifies as a challenge here?

A relative of mine who died years ago was an electrician. High school education, born and raised in a rural small town. He loved fishing, lifting weights, and listening to heavy metal. He also lived alone in his late thirties/early forties and spent a lot of time cultivating flowers in his garden. I don't think he was closeted; he just preferred a solo lifestyle after having been through the end of a long-term relationship. And as far as I know, he never had any problem with acceptance from his peers. His basic affability trumped any misgivings guys might have had about the petunias and roses in front of his house.

I find it hard to believe that examples like his are a rarity. I suppose if, by challenges to masculinity, you mean boys who play with Barbies or guys who want to weep openly in public, yes, that might be rare. But emotional restraint is just much a middle-class value in general as much as an admonition that "boys don't cry", and it's hardly a big deal for a guy to list cooking as a favorite activity, or for him to have long hair and sport jewelry that would have been unthinkable for his parents' generation.

Perhaps we're talking about challenges to manhood as defined by work, wealth, accomplishment. If so, well, as I said before, I'm all for reclaiming the "omega male" descriptor as a positive affirmation. I played the game long enough to prove I can; now I'm walking away from it, uninterested in proving myself to anybody anymore. But I hardly think the pressure to be a success in a professional career, or to be independent of your parents with a family of your own, is a strictly masculine issue either.

And though I know everyone would prefer to forget the phenomenon ever existed, for sheer gender subversion, what about glam rock and '80s metal? Cool guys wearing makeup and women's clothes who nonetheless were more sexually successful with women than all the guys who hated them; what more could you ask for?

What's Your Definition of Dirty, Baby, What Do You Consider Pornography?

The Independent:

Alain de Botton has addressed love, happiness and religion. Now he wants to investigate pornography in the belief it can be turned into a moral and noble industry.

The philosopher wants to bring together leading figures within the porn movement and the arts to identify a “new pornography” which is more socially acceptable and is “fit for thoughtful, good human beings”.

...He said society is “awash with porn” which “represents a threat” both to the people who create it and to those who consume it, but he is convinced that it need not be that way and that people can be sexual and virtuous simultaneously.

...“Ideally, porn would excite our lusts in contexts which also presented other, elevated sides of human nature - in which people were being witty, forinstance, or showing kindness, or working hard or being clever - so that our sexual excitement could bleed into, and enhance our respect for these other elements of a good life,” he said.

He really just doesn't seem to comprehend that not everybody is crying out for a shepherd, a tutor, a father figure. I worry about people with such a propagandist bent, especially when they're convinced that they're doing it for virtue.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Michael Dirda:

Eric Hoffer was, if anything, even more remarkable than his book. When “The True Believer” was published in 1951, he was a largely self-educated longshoremen, aged 50 or thereabouts (there is doubt about his actual birth date), a barrel-chested guy who earned his living by loading and unloading ships on the docks of San Francisco.

...In the museum world, there is a category called “outsider art,” that is, painting and sculpture created by untrained “folk” artists. Hoffer practiced what one might call “outsider philosophy.” He simply followed his own lights, his own intelligence. ...Still, this “longshoreman philosopher” was primarily a reactive thinker, usually developing his own train of thought by building on, or contradicting, observations from earlier writers.

...Whatever his origins, by the 1930s Hoffer was a migrant farm worker in California. When exempted from the World War II draft (because of a hernia), he learned that the longshoremen needed men on the waterfront, and there he found his ideal job — one in which he could work just three or four days a week, leaving the rest of the time for reading, thinking and writing.

Ideal, indeed; be still, my beating heart! Surely you won't be surprised to hear that Hoffer was, in fact, a bit of a role model for me. I first heard of him by virtue of his mention in Ted Kaczynski's manifesto, read The True Believer, and was deeply impressed by the actualization of what I had thought was a near-mythical possibility in our modern world, that of the non-academic philosopher who makes up with diligence and native smarts what he lacks in specialized training.

A reactive thinker? Technically true, but I can't help but notice that the manner in which that's phrased indicates criticism, points being deducted. But I wholeheartedly agree with Maria Popova's recurring theme on the combinatorial nature of creativity, further suspecting that much academic writing is impenetrable and jargon-laden by design rather than necessity, and that "originality" consists just as much of skillful branding, marketing and self-promotion as it does actual content.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Raise Your Hands, You're a Sinner

Evan Shapiro:

The question is not "Is Lena Dunham racist?"; it's "Is Lena Dunham any more racist than the rest of us?"

Recently, there's been a firestorm over the lack of diversity on Lena Dunham's HBO zeitgeist-apalooza, Girls. I will not rehash what has previously been hashed -- but if you missed it: Jenna Wortham wrote this critique of the blandness of the characters and casting of Girls; then the Twittersphere went apeshit; then Molly Lambert informed us that it's not Dunham who's racist, it's all of TV.

So, now you're up to date -- except for one thing: It's not TV that's racist, it's us. I've said this before, but it bears repeating: TV (especially right now) is far more of a reflection of who we are as a society, than who we ought to be.

What was Leah Dunham’s experience? I think the reality is that her experience probably was mostly white, at least from what I’ve seen in the real Brooklyn. People tend to cluster with their own group. And that’s what gets on my nerves about all the enthusiasm about diversity: it’s a massive demographic token for something which people tend not live out in their own lives even when they have the opportunity.

They're both talking about the fact that people tend to choose to live in racially homogenous areas. Khan's essay is interesting and considered, though, while Shapiro's is an excellent example of the pseudo-contrite confessional genre that irritates me so much.

How does it help anything to use such a powerful term as "racist" in reference to a 25 year-old woman's admission that she only feels convincing as a writer in creating characters who reflect her own Jewish/WASP experiences? How is it meaningful to apply the term to those of us who live in semi-rural small towns, who would have to literally seek out friends and acquaintances by virtue of ethnicity, as if they were merely tokens in a diversity scavenger hunt, in order to satisfy such standards? (What next, are we going to start unfavorably judging people by the racial content of their favorite music? Oh.) And, as Khan mentions, how many people like these, if you were to glance at their Facebook pages, would turn out to have an ethnically balanced group of friends?

Of course, the aim isn't really to clarify anything about race in American society; it's just a way to signal to other progressives that here, we have a cultured, thoughtful guy who isn't afraid to get at the root of the problem and implicate himself alongside everyone else in his criticism. It may be toothless criticism, and it may appear in the sidebar of the Huffington Post right above the video of a puppy playing with a lawn sprinkler, but it makes the right people feel self-satisfied for a while, and that's what really matters.

'Cause the Craving Remains the Same

Alan Brody:

Addiction busts up what matters: the condition is capable of creating urges and motivations which bring about highly significant losses to a person’s well-being in spite of the person’s standing preference not to live like that. It’s possible that an addict is able, at times, to control the urge to use; but the addict also might not be able to prevent an urge to use from spontaneously arising and motivating. Other conditions, for instance bipolar or obsessive-compulsive disorders, can also create self-regulatory failures, so that episodes of self-destructive behavior are willingly engaged in which contravene the person’s general preference not to behave like that. Furthermore an appearance, at times, of control – intentionally cutting down, or temporarily stopping – can mislead the addict and others into believing that the addiction really is under control. The ability of the addict to believe that he/she is addicted also typically becomes compromised.

Well, why not just hold that addicts abandon their resolve to be abstinent simply because they change their minds, and not through some sort of compulsion? It’s common to change one’s mind when faced with temptation. Sometimes the choice to go ahead with the temptation is the result of a cost-benefit evaluation – in other words, it seems worthwhile to do it. At other times a person might gratify their desire or urge without entertaining any qualms or even thoughts about it. So although an addict’s habitual behavior might be atypical, rather than seeing it as a result of a compulsion they’re not strong enough to fight against, why not see their addictive behavior as something done in a willing manner, because the person feels like doing it, and/or they regard it as worth doing?

...Support for the moral and other willingness models has been garnered from the fact that some addicts have stopped or limited their drug use when they have had good enough reason for doing so – that is, when they regard doing so as important. For example, it is not unusual for women to stop smoking while pregnant in order to protect the fetus, but to resume smoking afterwards. Also, addicts will often limit when they engage in their addiction, for instance, not at work, or not around certain people. Addicts might also demonstrate an ability to limit their drug use, e.g., their drinking, just to prove that they can successfully control their habit. Some addicts may decide that their addiction no longer works for them, and stop using completely. Furthermore, it is often claimed, that even if there are genetic or biological factors causing an addict to have strong urges, control over them still depend on what the addict thinks it is worthwhile to do, even when the urges are intense. Urges “incline but do not necessitate,” to use an expression of Leibniz’s.

I've always been skeptical of the disease model of substance abuse, not out of a misanthropic "fuck 'em if they're stupid enough to use" sensibility, but because, as with free will, I wonder about the conceptual framework of identity behind it. I wonder if it's just simply too injurious to our moral sensibilities to accept that anyone could willingly choose to satisfy their addiction at the expense of their responsibilities to friends, family, society.

Practically speaking, I don't see where it makes a difference. Addicts almost always will need treatment and a lot of support to change their lives. But I wonder about the way in which compulsive, destructive habits are visualized as being insidious, foreign agents that invade and corrupt the integrity of their host. How does it clarify our understanding of the phenomenon to call it a "disease" rather than simply an "addiction"?

Reinventing the Wheel of Existence

Andrew Brown:

On Sunday, in a rather more low-key event, Stephen Batchelor and Don Cupitt will be debating with Madeleine Bunting the possibility of religion without supernaturalism at Friends House on Euston Road in London.

Cupitt is a Christian, of sorts: at least, he's an ordained Anglican priest. But he believes almost nothing of traditional Christianity. "The whole system of Christian doctrine is a somewhat haphazard human construct with an all-too-human history, and … the Bible, when read closely, does not actually teach – nor even support – orthodox doctrine."

Batchelor, similarly, trained for 10 years as a Buddhist monk in Dharamsala, the headquarters of the exiled Dalai Lama, but believes few of the central doctrines of traditional Buddhism. "The kind of secular Buddhism I am interested in … entails a rethinking of Buddhism from the ground up. And what emerges from this reconfiguration of core values and ideas might not look anything like the Buddhism we are familiar with today."

Both men believe in the finality of death. They suppose that this life is the only one we have or can have, and that it is absurd to suppose that personality, in any form, survives the collapse of the body. The doctrine of karma is here reduced to a simple statement of faith that the world is made of braided causal chains: every effect has a cause, and is itself a cause of other effects. There's nothing there about reincarnation.

Speaking of lugging too much stuff around with you... I can't help but feel that it's just too much trouble to try to renovate from within a well-established framework that has existed for centuries. It's too likely to end up as an argument over linguistic minutiae and appeals to authority. The -ism suffix is like a conceptual climbing vine; it slowly suffocates a way of life, renders a body of thought immobile.

You Can't Take It With You

LRB, in an article on Gary Snyder:

In Kitkitdizze, there are tools everywhere, racks and stacks of them, useful objects respected like artworks. Blades, chisels, axes, boots, helmets, guns. The actor Peter Coyote remembers Joanne Kyger laughing about ‘how much stuff Gary had to store so that he could go off to Japan and live simply’.

George Carlin:

So you keep getting more and more stuff, and putting it in different places. In the closets, in the attic, in the basement, in the garage. And there might even be some stuff you left at your parents' house: baseball cards, comic books, photographs, souvenirs. Actually, your parents threw that stuff out long ago. So now you've got a houseful of stuff. And, even though you might like your house, you've gotta move. Why? Too much stuff! And that means you've gotta move all your stuff. Or maybe, put some of your stuff in storage. Storage! Imagine that. There's a whole industry based on keeping an eye on other people's stuff.

I used to scoff at people who had storage spaces. If you had so much stuff that you needed to put some of it in a place where you couldn't even get to it, then you had too much stuff! And now here I am having to deal with my own stuff...

There's an idea that a good Buddhist should have no stuff at all. She should only own one bowl and two robes. She should live off the good graces of people who respond to her calling to the truth by supplying her with food and shelter.

That's a nice ideal. Buddha's original group of monks and nuns were able, it is said, to live like that in Northern India 2500 years ago. But times have changed. I doubt many people could live like that in Northern India today let alone anywhere else in the world. I also have nagging doubts about Buddha's original monks actually having lived that way even back then. For one thing, to "leave home" in those days meant going a few miles or less away from home. Which meant you could leave your stuff there if you needed to. I'll bet you a case of doughnuts a lot of monks and nuns did just that. Of course, some were probably very strict with themselves about this. I just doubt that all of them were.

There are lots of misconceptions about contemporary Buddhist monks with regards to stuff. For example, one would think that a guy whose nickname was "Homeless Kodo" probably owned nothing but his robes and a change of underwear. In fact, the word yadonashi (宿なし, homeless) that was applied to Kodo Sawaki referred to the fact that he did not have his own home temple like most Zen teachers. He did, in fact, have a home to live in. What's more, his student Kosho Uchiyama complained that as Kodo's attendant he was required to lug mountains of Kodo's books whenever Kodo went out on the road to lead retreats. Homeless Kodo had stuff.

Having come from a family of slobs and borderline-hoarders, I have to say that I'm pretty proud of my ability to be tidy and unencumbered by too much stuff.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

We Could Be Just Like Carnivores


Men are less likely to choose vegetarian options, because their choices are influenced by a strong association of meat with masculinity, a new study suggests.

"To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American food," the researchers write in the paper, published online May 6 in the Journal of Consumer Research. "Soy is not. To eat it, they would have to give up a food they saw as strong and powerful like themselves for a food they saw as weak and wimpy."

Following the logic of "you are what you eat", I wonder why more hetero males don't consider it a compliment to be called a pussy. Oh, well.

As for me, if someone rudely asks if I'm a vegetarian, I say no, I'm a Kanamit. Then I return to reading The Most Dangerous Game.

Belloc's Lament

Females were “dramatically under-represented” in the United States’ top 100 grossing films last year, accounting for 33% of all characters at a time when they made up nearly 51% of the U.S. population, according to a study being released Tuesday.

The 33% figure represented an increase over the findings of a similar study in 2002, when females comprised 28% of the movie characters, said the report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

But while there were more female characters overall, fewer of them were “clearly identifiable protagonists,” the study found -- 11% in 2011 versus 16% in 2002. “Thus, while there are more female characters on screen today, fewer stories are told from a female character’s perspective,” according to Martha Lauzen, executive director of the center.

Her title for the report: "It's a Man's (Celluloid) World."

The report mirrored a study of women's behind-the-scenes participation that the center released in January, which found that women made up 18% of all directors, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the 250 highest-grossing movies last year. That was only one percentage point higher than when the center began studying employment figures in 1998.

Lauzen’s latest report said that, on average, female characters in last year’s films were younger than the male characters, less likely to be portrayed as leaders and more likely to be identified by their marital status. It said that 73% of the female characters were Caucasian, 8% African American, 5% Latina and 5% Asian (with the rest in smaller categories, including aliens and animals).

I'm kind of conservative in the sense that I think equal rights under the law is about the best we're ever going to achieve with regards to reducing social inequality, and even that ideal takes a lot of effort to get anywhere near attaining (and sustaining). As Richard King noted, the problem with equal rights, for some people, is that they aren't enough by themselves to guarantee social justice. But social justice is a relative, subjective standard. Perfectly apportioned pie charts of sociopolitical identity do not naturally occur in institutional and interpersonal relationships. Imbalances of power and influence are inevitable, and yet do not predictably lead to uniformly negative outcomes. Precise fractions, mathematical means, and other such abstractions can only be imposed on human activity by diktat. Your parents weren't just being insensitive when they told you that life isn't fair.

Partially, I'm annoyed by the implications in such articles, that a perfect numerical balance of male and female (and why stop differentiating there?) film, pop, literary, etc. stars is necessary and, if stymied, it must necessarily be due to some nefarious -ism; attempts to appeal to standards of merit are countered with quasi-Freudianism which brooks no falsification. Partially, the annoyance is with the random bureaucratic metrics of progress, as if 50% of the fame and profit in Hollywood accruing to women will directly correlate with an increase in tips for waitresses and a decrease in domestic violence; or the apparent belief in gender/racial essentialism so similar to early Romantics like Johann Herder; post-colonial guilt rejects the attempt to reach something approximating universal ideals and experiences open to understanding by anyone in favor of cultivating jealously-guarded hyphenated identities.

But it's also the fact that all around the web, people will link to this story, have the requisite two-minute hate of sexism, take a moment to feel the sugar rush of affirmation that comes with associating oneself with a righteous cause, and go back to posting pictures of cute animals. It's cheap and easy, and it strikes me as cynical. Let's fume about the insidious oppression that exists simultaneously everywhere at once and nowhere in particular, all the better to keep us from having to offer up anything like meaningful insight or a practical course of action. Behold my righteous denunciation! Somebody should, uh, do something about, you know, all the things that suck. What matters is being seen, positioning oneself as a crusader for all the right causes.

The point is to make sure the argument never stops. Injustice never sleeps; there will always be an asymmetric ratio in need of rectifying. It becomes a comfortable career, almost, crusading for impossible standards of fairness, secure in knowing that things will only change slowly if at all, thus guaranteeing a stable, reassuring identity for the crusader.

There appear to be two rational explanations for this behavior. One is that Scalzi and the commenters who aped his behavior have a simply atrocious grasp on psychology, human behavior, and politics, and sincerely believed that mocking people would lead to their enlightenment. The other is that John Scalzi's purpose was never to actually contribute to education and social justice, but rather to demonstrate his superiority to those people he claimed to want to educate, and in doing so show what a brilliant and enlightened guy he is to the liberals he is in cultural competition with.

The Blair Faith Project

Over dinner with Tony Blair, Gould confessed to feeling lost. He had done everything required of him. Why had the cancer returned? Blair’s response was remarkable: “The cancer is not done with you, it wanted more. You may have changed but not by enough, now you have to go on to a higher spiritual level. You have to use this recurrence to find your real purpose in life.”

Somehow managing to stay one step ahead of Harry Hutton and his avenging noose of justice, this silly tosser is waxing metaphysical everywhere I look all of a sudden:

Finally, were this to become reality, there would, in my view, be one major and positive consequence for faith itself. It would allow those of us of faith to discuss and proclaim what our faith means to us, why Faith and Reason go hand in hand and how Faith enriches our lives and guides them, however that might be obscured by our human frailty. It would open up the potential of Faith to many who search for meaning, who are trapped in the present, but have come to regard the faith traditions as the anachronistic preserve of the irrational, the superstitious and the prejudiced. It would allow a true and rational belief in God to direct the path of the 21st Century. That is where Faith belongs. And why the world needs it.

Even post-industrial Western democracies are run by madmen. You just gotta laugh.



They say they don’t want Facebook. They insist they don’t need Facebook. They say they’re living life just fine without the long-forgotten acquaintances that the world’s largest social network sometimes resurrects.

They are the resisters.

...But if Facebook is to live up to its pre-IPO hype and reward the investors who are clamoring for its stock this week, it needs to convince some of the resisters to join. Two out of every five American adults have not joined Facebook, according to a recent Associated Press-CNBC poll. Among those who are not on Facebook, a third cited a lack of interest or need.

If all those people continue to shun Facebook, the social network could become akin to a postal system that only delivers mail to houses on one side of the street. The system isn’t as useful, and people aren’t apt to spend as much time with it. That means fewer opportunities for Facebook to sell ads.

Oh; well, then. How could I have been so selfish?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

One Come a Day, the Water Will Run, No Man Will Stand for Things That He Had Done

“I have two perspectives on what this might mean,’’ he said. “One says: humans are like rats or cockroaches. We are already living from the equator to the Arctic Circle. The weather has already become .7 degrees warmer, and barely anyone has noticed or cares. And, yes, the coral reefs might become extinct, and people from the Seychelles might go hungry. But they have gone hungry in the past, and nobody cared. So basically we will live in our gated communities, and we will have our TV shows and Chicken McNuggets, and we will be O.K. The people who would suffer are the people who always suffer.

“There is another way to look at this, though,’’ he said. “And that is to compare it to the subprime-mortgage crisis, where you saw that a few million bad mortgages led to a five-per-cent drop in gross domestic product throughout the world. Something that was a relatively small knock to the financial system led to a global crisis. And that could certainly be the case with climate change. But five per cent is an interesting figure, because in the Stern Report’’—an often cited review led by the British economist Nicholas Stern, which signalled the alarm about greenhouse-gas emissions by focussing on economics—“they estimated climate change would cost the world five per cent of its G.D.P. Most economists say that solving this problem is one or two per cent of G.D.P. The Clean Water and Clean Air Acts each cost about one per cent of G.D.P.,” Caldeira continued. “We just had a much worse shock to our banking system. And it didn’t even get us to reform the economy in any significant way. So why is the threat of a five-per-cent hit from climate change going to get us to transform the energy system?”

Oh, I'm sorry. Had you just been going blissfully about your day, not even sparing a thought for the impending Gaian uprising that will render all your trifling joys and worries completely irrelevant? Well, no longer, I'm afraid. If we're lucky, some supervirus that is still mutating into unstoppable lethality as we speak will take us all quickly in our fevered, delirious sleep, rather than us surviving long enough to experience life in a Cormac McCarthy novel.

I did enjoy this part, though:

Unlike some other scientists engaged in geoengineering, Eisenberger is not bothered by the notion of tinkering with nature. “We have devised a system that introduces no additional threats into the environment,’’ he told me. “And the idea of interfering with benign nature is ridiculous. The Bambi view of nature is totally false. Nature is violent, amoral, and nihilistic. If you look at the history of this planet, you will see cycles of creation and destruction that would offend our morality as human beings. But somehow, because it’s ‘nature,’ it’s supposed to be fine.’’

Reminded me of my favorite philosopher-poet:

You want to live “according to nature”? Oh you noble Stoics, what deceptive words these are! Imagine a being like nature, wasteful beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without purpose and consideration, without mercy and fairness, fertile and desolate and uncertain at the same time; imagine indifference itself as a power—how could you live according to this indifference? Living—is that not precisely wanting to be other than this nature? Is not living estimating, preferring, being unjust, being limited, wanting to be different?

Monday, May 14, 2012


Andrew Cohen:

In the profundity of this beginninglessness and endlessness, it became apparent that death was an illusion and that everything that exists and does not exist—the seen and the unseen, the known and the unknown—is all inseparable from this one inconceivable mystery. The majesty and glory of those few moments are impossible to describe in words—it was like the whole universe suddenly became conscious of itself in me.

Reading this piffle reminded me of der meisterpiffler, G.W.F. Hegel. That, in turn, reminded me of Dieter Roth's brilliant artwork in which he chopped up the paperback edition of Hegel's complete works, combined the result with spices and lard, and presented it in sausage form. And I would be remiss in not sharing the commentary my friend Arthur offered on it:

I found Dieter Roth's Hegelian literaturwurst totally hegelarious. It captures the indigestible Teutonic bulkiness of Hegel's notoriously awkward prose, not to mention the thick pseudo-science and post-mystical rationalism of his thought, according to which we shouldn't inquire too much into the details of how the sausage of Absolute Spirit is made; the grinding process of the Dialectic will make things turn out for the best--or wurst. Speaking of wurst, it is Hegelian to hold that by naming a thing we negate its particularity (its partial, undialecticized existence) and sublate it into the realm of Geist. Hence Edgar's words in King Lear take on a world-historical significance: "The wurst is not, so long as we can say, 'This is the wurst.'"

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Shake the Slab of Flesh, Taunting for a Fetch

Hugo Schwyzer:

This doesn't mean, of course, that slender women aren't attractive, or that all of men's sexual preferences are simply about trying to win approval from other guys. Yet as Alice Randall, Joe Tex, and Sir Mix-a-Lot all remind us, what men want has at least as much to do with culture as with biology. In the black community, Randall suggests, those expectations about male desire have encouraged female obesity; among middle-class whites, expectations about what men want play at least a strong supporting role in women's destructive pursuit of thinness. No, it's not all "men's fault." But men are hardly innocent bystanders either. As the anecdote about Jennifer Fink's six year-old makes painfully clear, what guys are taught to find attractive drives their desire at least as much as does their evolutionary hardwiring.

I remember it vividly: I was standing in Spencer's Gifts with a couple friends, all of us maybe seventeen or eighteen, flipping through the Iron Maiden and Metallica posters. Brian S. stopped on a poster of some swimsuit model with an appreciative "Oooh!" and a leer. I chimed in with my guttural agreement. And right there, at that second, I had a weird feeling of self-consciousness, a clear realization that I didn't, in fact, think that the scantily-clad blonde bimbo was attractive at all. I was just playing a role I'd learned to play, not even one that had ever been explicitly taught to me. It was more like something you absorb through cultural osmosis.

I went to a club, you know, a "boom, boom, boom," like a club. And I'm standing there, looking at all the people, and there are the hot chicks. The hot girl at the bar. You know, when you see them, she's a hot girl at the bar. She's got the shirt and the skirt and the boots, those three lines, just like some perfect ratio that they hit with those three lines, and you-- [frustrated grunt] And they're all standing there like that.

And I used to look at somebody like that and, "Wow, she's an angel. What could I ever say to make her like me?" Now I look at her, and I'm like, "What is that? Is that even a person? What the fuck kind of person is that? Is that an identity, even? Who would want to be that?"

I have two daughters. I pray they don't grow up to be the, "ehh," the hot girl at the bar. What kind of--"Hey, what do you do?" "Uhh, people wanna fuck me!"

- Louis C.K.

Maybe I'd seen enough music videos, commercials and movies to have internalized what a "sexy" woman looked like, and how guys were expected to react when they saw her. I probably saw older, cooler guys at school act a certain way toward girls who fit the profile. And, of course, it's understood that only a fag wouldn't thump his chest while howling and gibbering at a sexy girl. You're not a fag, are you, kid? You like girls, doncha?

So of course a lot of what guys profess to find sexy is nothing but their habitual response to Pavlovian bells. "Sexy" images are associated with acceptance as much as fulfilled desire.

Lucubratio (XII)


In conclusion: men with beards are strong, smart, adult, scary, threatening, and possibly sociopaths.

Hermits. You forgot hermits.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Karma Police, Arrest This Man

I took note of the brouhaha, the hubbub, the folderol, the kerfuffle over Naomi Schaefer Riley's post this week, ruefully shook my head over the stupidity of it all, and promptly forgot about it. But in between recovering from yesterday's trip to North Carolina and preparing for tomorrow's trip to Pennsylvania, my Dunning-Kruger alert caught my attention with its insistent jangling. Oh, for fuck's sake, what now?

One thing that Riley says is true: CHE knew who she was when they hired her, and almost certainly caved to a mob-like outcry when they fired her. Writers should not be fired solely for holding unpopular opinions. That said, she neglects to mention that she is also guilty of an offense that constitutes a very legitimate reason for a writer to be fired: being stupid.

Hamilton Nolan, eh? Well, he has at least one prior on his record, so he's definitely an at-risk candidate. But merciless Mary, mother of Fuck, am I really reading a writer for Gawker suggesting that stupidity is a fireable offense? You do realize, Mr. Nolan, that the only substantial difference between your headquarters and the Huffington Post is the layer of ironic, self-conscious posturing over top of the superficial stupidity, yes? Do you really want that dam to break?

Sadly, I have to say that pulling Nolan in for questioning failed to have any deterrence effect, as we soon found him back on the streets, ostensibly condemning Jonah Goldberg's knuckle-dragging machismo by calling him a bitch and a pussy. The self-unawareness is strong in that one.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Well, I'm Not Dumb, But I Can't Understand Why She Walked Like a Woman But Talked Like a Man


Against Me! singer Tom Gabel has come out as transgender to Rolling Stone. Gabel has plans to start living as a woman and will take the name Laura Jane Grace.

The punk rock singer will remain married to her wife, Heather. "For me, the most terrifying thing about this was how she would accept the news," Gabel said. "But she's been super-amazing and understanding." The couple has a 2-year-old daughter.

Gabel is 31 years old and told the magazine she has long felt disconnected from her body. The singer suffers from gender dysphoria, and plans to take hormones and undergo electrolysis treatments. The magazine reports Gabel is also considering gender reassignment surgery.

What interests me is the metaphysics of it. I've heard a few transgendered people talk about that sense of disconnect, a feeling of "being born in the wrong body." As an empiricist and materialist, though, it seems as obvious as can be that there is no soul, no "you" that exists independently of your body with a different gender. A cultural norm accepted unquestioningly is one thing, but I can't help but think that a sincere conviction that "I" am something different from "my body" is a product of a neurological disorder. What does it even mean to claim to feel like a woman within a man's biological body?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Got to be a Joker, He Just Do What He Please (Slight Return)


This week, Slate's tech columnist Farhad Manjoo and Dear Prudence advice columnist Emily Yoffe debate the question: Does opting out of any and all social networks make you seem "suspicious"?

Gosh, I hope not! It's not that I'm shifty or treacherous or anything like that. I just think I'm better than you; I mean, clearly. Also, you're quite clingy and needy, not to mention boring. Honestly, I really can't be bothered to feign interest in your insipid thoughts, which you're strangely insistent on sharing with me. I'm sure you understand. It's not me, it's you.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

I Fear That I am Ordinary Just Like Everyone

Rob Horning:

One of the first and more memorable moments that I had a premonition of what being old would be like was when I came back to college in January 1992 after a holiday break. I was at a party and the customary Steve Miller Band songs were blasting, and then suddenly, with no fuss, Nirvana was playing. I felt instantly as if I had been completely exposed. I thought there was something special about being into a certain kind of music — and Nirvana in the summer of 1991 was very much that music. It was supposed to be a bulwark against being perceived as mediocre. Suddenly I saw that the distinctions I was investing myself in were always already unimaginative, insignificant — superficial distractions that had preoccupied me and protected me from pursuing some other kind of self-knowledge. The future didn’t promise escape but re-enclosure and surrender. The escape routes you learned were already traced on commercial maps. They led deeper into enemy territory. You wake up to discover that you are in fact enlisted in the enemy’s army.

Moreover, at that moment “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was playing, I saw instantly that the distinctions that made me in my mind who I was didn’t really belong to me, and they could be wiped away in an instant, by some frat bro playing a certain CD on his boombox. I realized I didn’t even know what could belong to me, in that sense. I had an intimation of that bitter-old-man insight that there is in fact no distinction to be found in consuming and projecting allegiance to those sorts of commercial products. I was lifted up for a moment to the bleak promontory from which I could see that all those cultural commodities are basically the same. It was terrifying, because from that perch one can see the higher one, from which all “individuals” are essentially the same mortal creatures, preoccupied with distinctions that are indistinguishable from the perspective of eternity.

Take pop culture writing. When people talk about the AV Club, they talk about a place where people can discuss the pop culture they love. Who could argue with that idea? But when I look at the actual AV Club, I just see row upon row of people who need to let everyone know that being a fan of Community marks you as a connoisseur while being a fan of Two and a Half Men makes you a chump. Even our purely subjective aesthetic choices are not allowed to be our own anymore. If tastes are subjective and people are allowed to make whatever choices they want in the media they consume, people can't use those tastes to justify their self-conception as arty or hip or whatever. So what you get is a lot of people heaping derision on those who make different aesthetic choices. Nobody can leave other people alone anymore.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

'Cause the Person I Am are the Parts That I Play

Augusten Burroughs:

I am not a happy person. There are things that do make me experience joy. But joy is a fleeting emotion, like a very long sneeze. A lot of the time what I feel is, interested. Or I feel melancholy. And I also frequently feel tenderness, annoyance, confusion, fear, hopelessness. It doesn't all add up to anything I would call happiness. But what I'm thinking is, is that so terrible?

I know a physicist who loves his work. People mistake his constant focus and thought with unhappiness. But he's not unhappy. He's busy. I bet when he dies, there will be a book on his chest. Happiness is a treadmill of a goal for people who are not happy by nature. Being an unhappy person does not mean you must be sad or dark. You can be interested, instead of happy. You can be fascinated instead of happy.

...But holes are interesting things. As it happens, we human beings are able to live just fine with many holes of many sizes and shapes. Pleasure, love, compassion, fulfillment; these things do not leak out of holes of any size. So we can be filled with holes and loss and wide expanses of unhealed geography—and we can also be excited by life and in love and content at the exact same moment.

For me, the closest correlate to the generic "happiness" is the feeling of being fully immersed in an experience, not taking it for granted.

Away From All Suns?

Robert Zaretsky:

Even contemporary philosophers, such as Thomas Nagel, who think there is something real and uncanny to the concept of nothingness, are unperturbed by it. In his 1971 essay "The Absurd," Mr. Nagel admits that nihilism "attempts to express something that is difficult to state, but fundamentally correct." This sentiment reflects something true and enduring about our lives: the shock we feel, when stepping outside ourselves and adopting the "view from nowhere," when we suddenly confront the dissonance between the great importance we devote to our daily activities and their ultimate inconsequentiality.

Yet this state of affairs, as Mr. Nagel adds, is hardly reason for the romantic and heroic posturing of a Bazarov or Nietzsche—or, for that matter, a Jean-Paul Sartre or Albert Camus. Instead, he says, an ironic "What? Me, worry?" is the proper response to the cosmic unimportance of our situation. My life, in short, is little more than a cosmic episode of Seinfeld: rather than watching a show about nothing, I'm a walk-on in a life about nothing. Laugh tracks are optional.

Nietzsche warned that our dignity is the first casualty of nihilism. On the 150th anniversary of Bazarov's birth and death, we might wonder about the strange career of this view from nowhere. Is it possible that our age's ironic response is a symptom of the disease that pretends to be the cure—a disease grown so familiar that we take it as a sign of health? Or perhaps, like Bazarov's parents, we simply need to attend to what we have lost and seek to maintain its memory.

We (at least we in the West, the children of monotheism) used to believe that meaning was "out there", defined by an ultimate authority, God. People and their actions were only meaningful in relation to these supposed external, eternal values; they had no worth of their own, only as symbols pointing to something else. As belief in monotheism waned, some people made one last desperate, panicked lunge to hang on to the validity of universal meaning. They replaced their outdated God with capital-N Nothingness in order to avoid taking responsibility for creating meaning themselves while accepting its inherent contingency.

Others have outgrown the desire to find preexisting truth revealed and are content with the temporary joy of building sand castles of our lives despite the omnipresent encroachment of the tide. Fuck it, dude, let's go bowling.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Goodbye Nasty


"It is with great sadness that we confirm that musician, rapper, activist and director Adam 'MCA' Yauch, founding member of Beastie Boys and also of the Milarepa Foundation that produced the Tibetan Freedom Concert benefits, and film production and distribution company Oscilloscope Laboratories, passed away in his native New York City this morning after a near-three-year battle with cancer," reads an official statement from the Beastie Boys. "He was 47 years old."

Licensed to Ill was the first cassette I got for myself, the first music of my own that my parents didn't already know about and didn't want to know about. That and Paul's Boutique were omnipresent in my soundtrack to high school life. I don't care for hip-hop as a rule, but I've always had much love for the Beasties.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

What We've Got Here Is Failure to Communicate

The researchers divided issues into those concerned with fellowship (wealth distribution, immigration), and those concerned with morality (gay rights, abortion). Conservatives envisaged a Jesus with views close to their own on morality issues; but they recognised that the man who gave all his possessions to the poor would probably have advocated more progressive taxation policies than those of the Republican party. Conversely, liberals saw Jesus as having similar views as themselves on fellowship issues but they believed his views on gay rights would be to the right of their own.

The social psychologist Leon Festinger coined the term "cognitive dissonance" for the discomfort felt when we recognise conflict between our ideas and perceptions. He proposed that we tend to reduce conflict by altering our view of reality. This process of "dissonance reduction" ("I didn't want that job anyway") has been used down the centuries to reduce the conflict between a person's religious convictions and their actions.

...Ross and his colleagues suggest that dissonance reduction takes place not only within the individual, but as a collective enterprise. Preachers, politicians and co-believers tend to emphasise and de-emphasise different aspects of the Christian canon; so conservative Americans study the Old Testament with its homophobic rhetoric and eye-for-an-eye morality, whereas liberals look to the New Testament Jesus who was sympathetic to the poor and the meek.

When the majority of us who are not apocalyptics (i.e. stark, raving mad) talk about ethics, we make a number of presuppositions. When we discuss what we think is the best way to live, we take for granted the idea of a world with a future; a stable, enduring society requiring maintenance; human flourishing within the course of a normal lifespan. These things are both expected and desired, so much so that, when presented with an alternative ethical vision that neither desires nor expects such things, we simply refuse to believe our lying eyes while ignoring the little twinge of conscience that warns us how something doesn't feel right here.

How many times does Jesus have to talk about the kingdom of heaven, not earthly society, being the place where the poor and the meek will finally receive their due? How many times does he have to tell his audience that they will live to see the Son of Man coming in all his glory? Your attempts to ferret out his likely position on city zoning laws and office etiquette are doomed to be stillborn. You were speaking a different language from the very start. He did not care about the things you care about. He did not want the things you want. He looked forward to the violent end of the world, and all his values were informed by that desire. There is no further conversation to be had with him. Some men you just can't reach.