Thursday, February 28, 2013

Are You Threatening Me?

Well, somebody seems to be all eaten up with ressentiment:

"To be incapable of taking one's enemies, one's accidents, even one's misdeeds seriously for very long—that is the sign of strong, full natures in whom there is an excess of the power to form, to mold, to recuperate and to forget (a good example of this in modem times is Mirabeau, who had no memory for insults and vile actions done him and was unable to forgive simply because he—forgot). Such a man shakes off with a single shrug many vermin that eat deep into others; here alone genuine 'love of one's enemies' is possible—supposing it to be possible at all on earth. How much reverence has a noble man for his enemies!"

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Winter Scene


The rutted roads are all like iron; skies
Are keen and brilliant; only the oak-leaves cling
In the bare woods, or the hardy bitter-sweet;
Drivers have put their sheepskin jackets on;
And all the ponds are sealed with sheeted ice
That rings with stroke of skate and hockey-stick,
Or in the twilight cracks with running whoop.
Bring in the logs of oak and hickory,
And make an ample blaze on the wide hearth.
Now is the time, with winter o'er the world,
For books and friends and yellow candle-light,
And timeless lingering by the settling fire.

While all the shuddering stars are keen with cold.


Out from the silent portal of the hours,
When frosts are come and all the hosts put on.
Their burnished gear to march across the night
And o'er a darkened earth in splendor shine,
Slowly above the world Orion wheels
His glittering square, while on the shadowy hill
And throbbing like a sea-light through the dusk,
Great Sirius rises in his flashing blue.
Lord of the winter night, august and pure,
Returning year on year untouched by time,
To hearten faith with thine unfaltering fire,
There are no hurts that beauty cannot ease,
No ills that love cannot at last repair,
In the victorious progress of the soul.


Russet and white and gray is the oak wood
In the great snow. Still from the North it comes,
Whispering, settling, sifting through the trees,
O'erloading branch and twig. The road is lost.
Clearing and meadow, stream and ice-bound pond
Are made once more a trackless wilderness
In the white hush where not a creature stirs;
And the pale sun is blotted from the sky.
In that strange twilight the lone traveller halts
To listen to the stealthy snowflakes fall.
And then far off toward the Stamford shore,
Where through the storm the coastwise liners go,
Faint and recurrent on the muffled air,
A foghorn booming through the Smother--hark!


When the day changed and the mad wind died down,
The powdery drifts that all day long had blown
Across the meadows and the open fields,
Or whirled like diamond dust in the bright sun,
Settled to rest, and for a tranquil hour
The lengthening bluish shadows on the snow
Stole down the orchard slope, and a rose light
Flooded the earth with beauty and with peace.
Then in the west behind the cedars black
The sinking sun stained red the winter dusk
With sullen flare upon the snowy ridge,--
As in a masterpiece by Hokusai,
Where on a background gray, with flaming breath
A scarlet dragon dies in dusky gold.

— Bliss Carman

You Will be Hollow. We Shall Squeeze You Empty and Then We Shall Fill You With Ourselves.

One of my frequent criticisms of religious believers has been the dishonest way in which they profess to humble themselves before a transcendant ideal which, upon closer examination, turns out to be nothing but a projection of their own narcissism. The "true" message of Christianity, for example, amazingly, incredibly, shockingly turns out to be identical with the temperament and culturally shaped beliefs of the speaker. They proclaim themselves lowly servants of a greater whole upon which they nonetheless assert unrestrained creative control. They feign innocence while digging up buried treasure which they themselves planted under cover of psychological darkness.

It's not much different when it comes to identity politics. White social justice warriors pride themselves on their magnanimity upon ceding "control of the dialogue" to representatives of marginalized groups. If you think you detect a conveniently self-fulfilling prophetic aspect to how those "true" representatives of black interests, feminist interests, etc. are chosen, never fear. There's a white guy over there with polls, graphs, statistics and unimpeachable rationality who has already figured it all out for you.

Our Way Lighted by Burning Men

Jonathan Haidt, following Jerry Muller's lead, distinguishes conservatism from orthodoxy:

Orthodoxy is the view that there exists a "transcendant moral order, to which we ought to try to conform the ways of society." Christians who look to the Bible as a guide for legislation, like Muslims who want to live under sharia, are examples of orthodoxy. They want their society to match an externally ordained moral order, so they advocate change, sometimes radical change. This can put them at odds with true conservatives, who see radical change as dangerous.

Muller next distinguished conservatism from the counter-Enlightenment. It is true that most resistance to the Enlightenment can be said to have been conservative, by definition (i.e., clerics and aristocrats were trying to conserve the old order.) But modern conservatism, Muller asserts, finds its origins within the main currents of Enlightenment thinking, when men such as David Hume and Edmund Burke tried to develop a reasoned, pragmatic and essentially utilitarian critique of the Enlightenment project.

...Muller went through a series of claims about human nature and institutions, which he said are the core beliefs of conservatism. Conservatives believe that people are inherently imperfect and prone to act badly when all constraints and accountability are removed. Our reasoning is flawed and prone to overconfidence, so it's dangerous to construct theories based on pure reason, unconstrained by intuition and historical experience.

A similar theme which I heard years ago differentiated conservative from radical, not from liberal. Liberal is rather the opposite of authoritarian. Others have juxtaposed empiricism and rationalism in a similar manner. And this theme is also characteristic of the thinking of John Gray and Isaiah Berlin, two of my favorite authors:

Gray, like his friend and mentor Isaiah Berlin, sets himself against all proponents of the grand idea – of progress, of perfectibility, of the right and only way to live. He would, one suspects, champion the bureaucrat over the ideologue any day. We love to castigate bureaucracies – look what a hate-word "Brussels" has become for our latter-day Jacobins of right and left – but consider the alternative. People who kiss their spouses goodbye in the morning, stick from nine-to-five at their humdrum desks, and come home in the evening looking forward to a nice dinner and something on the telly, are surely to be preferred to those cold-eyed demagogues, "the prophets with armies at their backs", as Isaiah Berlin has it, who conceive a burning vision of exactly how the world should work and are prepared to spill the blood of millions to ensure the imposition of their system.

You probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that opposition to that "grand idea", to the existence and desirability of one true anything, was the main inspiration for the ironic title of this here blog.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Pig Satisfied

Christine Korsgaard:

This problem pervades our efforts to think about the other animals, for when we try to think about what it is like to be another animal, we bring our human standards with us, and then the other animals seem to us like lesser beings. A human being who lives a life governed only by desires and instincts, not by values, would certainly be a lesser being. But that doesn’t mean that the other animals are lesser beings. They are simply beings of a different kind. When we look at the other animals through the lens of our own standards, just as when we look at them through the lens of our own interests, we cannot get them properly in view.

We are all born, as Eliot says, in moral stupidity, unable to see others except through the lens of our own interests and standards. Kant suggested that it took four steps for us to emerge from this moral stupidity, but perhaps there is a fifth step we have yet to take. That is to try to look at the other animals and their lives unhindered by our own interests and specifically human standards, and to see them for what they really are. What is important about the other animals is what we have in common: that they, like us, are the kinds of beings to whom things can be important. Like us, they pursue the things that are important to them as if they were important absolutely, important in deadly earnest—for, like us, what else can they do?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Get Yourself Correct


When I saw, in this Atlantic Wire piece, that Internet personality "Jay Smooth" was lecturing Radley Balko on his attitude towards people of color, I laughed out loud. It's like God decided, "I'm going to create the perfect possible example of cultural liberalism's preference for feelings over material conditions."

Jay Smooth makes videos on the Internet. So he's got that going for him. Radley Balko, meanwhile, has gotten actual black people out of actual jail. He has worked tirelessly against police abuse and corruption, the drug war, and mass incarceration, and specifically the mass incarceration of young black men. He's been cited in court cases where innocent people were freed. His journalism-- you know, the kind where you go out into the world and find out facts in order to create change, rather than sit in front of a webcam and use tired slang-- has helped to create material change in the world. That matters. You know what doesn't matter? Tweets about how offended you are by something. Your tweets do nothing. They accomplish nothing, make nothing happen. They do less than nothing: they are nothing that you mistake for something, and thus make it harder to actual apprise the actual situation. Let's check the percentages, please.

If you're a white person who thinks that "Jay Smooth" has the right to lecture Radley Balko about race in America, you care more about your social positioning than about the material conditions of the nonwhite people you claim to be speaking for. Period. But then that's true of white, web-enabled social liberalism in general: it is fodder for the endless cultural and social status competitions of the people undertaking it, and not for the productive purpose of ending racism, or sexism, or homophobia, or other ills. Online social liberalism is a cul de sac.

It's all just so goddamned good. I can't add anything but applause! (I only wish Freddie were black, so I could watch good progressives like TBogg and DougJ call him a house liberal and a lawn jockey in response.)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Existential Jazz

Richard Holloway:

What I got from Gray’s book on Berlin was a sense of the tragic and intractable nature of the human condition. Gray writes that the first implication of Berlin’s perspective is a rejection of any idea of a perfect society or a perfect human life. Its second implication is that a developed morality cannot have a settled hierarchical structure that solves our dilemmas by telling us how to act. In political and moral life, we are engaged in endless trade-offs between conflicting goods and evils and there is no infallible system against which we can measure these values against each other. That is why we often arrive at situations in which more deliberation will take us no further and we have no choice but to act.

As Denis Healey reminded us, though we never reach conclusions in politics we have to make decisions. The way I like to describe this approach to life is as a kind of flowing improvisation or existential jazz in which we constantly adapt to new circumstances in order to keep the music going. It is possible to understand the operations of natural evolution in this way and Gray believes that other animals are better performers than we are because they don’t get stuck on fixed scripts the way we do.

...While Gray believes that life can be lived well without such metaphysical comfort, the gentle side of him has sympathy for those who find consolation in these myths of final redemption. The real illusion that Gray is trying to overthrow, in both Straw Dogs and The Silence of Animals, is what philosophers call “teleology”, which is the belief that there is a purpose to life that can be discovered by thought or mediated by revelation. In our determined pursuit of both religious and secular versions of this grand illusion, we have tortured and destroyed each other in unimaginable numbers throughout our history.

...Yet in this book, a new note has entered his writing. To his prophetic contempt for those who destroy others in the name of their theories has been added a lyrical new theme he calls “godless mysticism”, through which he calls us to an attitude of contemplative gratitude for the only life we will ever have.

He writes: “Godless mysticism cannot escape the finality of tragedy, or make beauty eternal. It does not dissolve inner conflict into the false quietude of oceanic calm. All it offers is mere being. There is no redemption from being human. But no redemption is needed.”

Cool, daddy-o. I can dig that.

Wading Through the Market's Waste, We Locked Eyes, Felt Our Loneliness Abate

Thom Yorke, answering readers' questions:

You said in an interview once that you don't like the idea that a banker could be listening to your music. Have you lost hope in people in the banking system? Or do you think artists can influence bankers? Katarzyna Slopien

I think artists can influence only through making music that challenges people, excites them and flips them out. Music that repeats what you know in ever-decreasing derivation, that's unchallenging and unstimulating, deadens our minds, our imagination and our ability to see beyond the hell we find ourselves in. My problem with bankers or, rather, the banking system is, that it's the ultimate expression of "Fuck you, buddy". There is no communal human consciousness, no will to co-operation, we are all slaves to the market. It's as if it has always been thus. It hasn't.

These bankers have made personal fortunes by stealing, exploiting and destroying our assets, our workforce, our resources and our planet. All protected, assisted and now bailed out by our governments using our money. High priests to a false god that they've done very nicely out of, thank you very much.

That's the rant over. In answer to your question, I guess lots of them are around my age and I know a few, and I am very aware of having led a very different life to most people my age. I hate to judge on an individual basis but I think whatever wealth has been accumulated in this sphere has not made those who have done it necessarily happy.

I hope, like I said, that sometimes music, maybe even my music, would help unravel the fear, cynicism and greed that stands between us and changing this shit for good. Who knows? Perhaps they'll wake up tomorrow and say: "You know what? Fuck this. I've found my conscience, it was in the suit that's just come back from the dry cleaner's and I'm going to jolly well use it."

Oh, Thom. Are you still on this silly romantic kick? There is no salvation for abstractions like "humanity" through some sort of objectively inspiring "art"; there are only individuals finding contingent meaning and inspiration where they can. What I mean to say is, fuck your derivative, unchallenging, snobbish clichés about how we will finally be free when the last bankster has been strangled with the guitar strings of the last Nickelback. Fear, cynicism and greed are equally integral parts of what it means to exist as a human, both collectively and individually; the progressivist notion that they can be neatly delineated and surgically excised, leaving only the "good" bits behind, is one of the oldest delusions of humankind, and ironically responsible for no small amount of suffering itself. We're never going to all be inspired by the same things at the same time or desirous of the same ends by the same means. Let me guess: that thought depresses you? Let me reassure you: it doesn't necessarily have to.

Friday, February 22, 2013


Sam McNerney:

But then something unexpected occurred. Suddenly and paradoxically I only saw the world through the lens of this research. I made inaccurate judgments, illogical conclusions and was irrational about irrationality because I filtered my beliefs through the literature on decision-making – the same literature, I remind you, that warns against the power of latching onto beliefs. Meanwhile, I naively believed that knowledge of cognitive biases made me epistemically superior to my peers (just like knowing Sartre made me more authentic).

Only later did I realize that learning about decision-making gives rise to what I term the confirmation bias bias, or the tendency for people to generate a narrow (and pessimistic) conception of the mind after reading literature on how the mind thinks narrowly. Biases restrict our thinking but learning about them should do the opposite. Yet you’d be surprised how many decision-making graduate students and overzealous Kahneman, Ariely and Gilbert enthusiasts do not understand this. Knowledge of cognitive biases, perhaps the most important thing to learn for good thinking, actually increases ignorance in some cases. This is the Sartre Fallacy – we think worse after learning how to think better.

I can't recall any particular examples off the top of my head, but this theme is prevalent in a lot of writing about Zen, too — if you think you've become enlightened, it's a pretty good sign you haven't. But if you think denying that you're enlightened means that you are, then you're wrong.

Adjacent to Refuse is Refuse

Gary Stix:

These are “Facebook abstainers,” people who engage in a “performative mode of resistance, which must be understood within the context of a neoliberal consumer culture, in which subjects are empowered to act through consumption choices—or in this case non-consumption choices—and through the public display of those choices.” In other words, is dropping your Facebook account an act of political defiance?

According to Portwood-Stacer, those who commit “Facebook suicide” or frequent the @NotOnFacebook Twitter account, or post to the hashtag #facebooksucks (Facebook no, Twitter si?) or flee to the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine may be embracing a form of reverse snobbery: “taste and distinction are invoked by refusers through their conspicuous display of non-consumption.” Call it reverse Veblenism or maybe just imagine retro hipsters from Williamsburg casting off the psychological bondage of keeping up with social media commitments.

...One refuser named Bruce and his male family members “felt that masculine norms of rugged independence and seriousness—in contrast to the implicit femininity of playfulness and dependence—were bound up in the men’s vocal disidentification with social networking activities.”

I am easily amused.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Vanity of Vanities, Saith the Preacher

Angus Croll:

Writing online is so nearly effortless that reading (not to mention reflection, deliberation and thought) has become a chore in comparison. It's easier to jot off a patronizing, indignant or self-aggrandizing missive than it is to take the trouble to read the whole article or give fair consideration to the author's perspective. Thus the vicious circle sets in…

Why go to the trouble of producing a balanced or inquiring article for a medium that encourages rapid-fire feedback over deliberation and reflection? And why, in turn, respond to that article with any semblance of balance in a medium that rewards bite-sized bluster over nuance and accuracy? And why, for that matter, bother reading the article at all, when speed is everything, and you'd better get your soundbite in now because they'll be new outrages to decry tomorrow? Anyone who wanted to learn something about Aaron Swartz before writing about him, to reflect and deliberate on his suicide before offering an opinion was too late, because by then the internet had lost interest and moved on to a hotter topic (horse-meat burgers, or the Harlem Shake, for instance).

"Doctor, it hurts when I do this!" "Well, don't do that." Yeah, pretty much. Don't waste your time trying to be in the conversation but not of it. Be the change you want to see on the Internet! Write about things that matter for however few people want to quietly appreciate it, and let that be good enough.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Security Through Obscurity

So, as we were musing about here last summer, the inevitable is apparently occurring, and the yutes these days are looking for a cooler place to hang out, i.e. Tumblr, where they won't run into their parents and teachers and a whole bunch of other old, lame people they want to avoid, i.e. Facebook. I found this part funny, though:

Tumblr actually became huge because it is the anti-blog. What is the No. 1 reason that people quit blogging? Because they can’t find and develop an audience. This has been true of every blogging platform ever made. Conversely, blogs that do find an audience tend to keep adding that type of content. This simple philosophy boils down to the equation: Mo’ pageviews = mo’ pages.

But Tumblr does not conform to this calculus, and the reason is that a large percentage of Tumblr users actually don’t WANT an audience. They do not want to be found, except by a few close friends who they explicitly share one of their tumblogs with. Therefore Tumblr’s notoriously weak search functionality is A-OK with most of its user base.

Tumblr provides its users with the oldest privacy-control strategy on the Internet: security through obscurity and multiple pseudonymity. Its users prefer a coarse-grained scheme they can easily understand over a sophisticated fine-grained privacy control — such as Facebook provides — that requires a lot of time and patience. To quote Sweet Brown, Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Tumblr proves that the issue is less about public vs. private and more about whether you are findable and identifiable by people who actually know you in real life.

Someone once told me in response to my puzzlement over Tumblr's existence that it was a popular alternative to "traditional" blogs because it was more ideally suited to use on a smartphone. Eh, whatever; as with people who claim that tweeting is less "effort" than the brute labor of emailing, I don't understand and I don't want to understand. I'm not the target audience. But I do appreciate this ethos, however. I've always said that if I ever got inexplicably popular, I'd sneak away like a thief in the night and set up shop elsewhere, like those people you read about who fake their own death to start a new life as a blank slate. Knock on wood, though; I've managed to hide in plain sight via the clever use of... a pseudonym. That, and the fact that I tend to write about things of interest to no one else. I don't know if the humor's too offbeat, the topics are too quirky, or the prose is too boring, but whatever it is, I'm afraid to think about it too much lest I inadvertently alter the formula.

The Fox Knows Many Things

Jessa Crispin:

And please note I said educated not intelligent. It's a different strata. Because even if you do decide then to autodidact yourself, there's this strange anxiety among the Ivy League whatever, or at least there is sometimes with me. When I'm writing about a new topic, I dread making an ass of myself, and I can blame my decision to leave college after one year for that. (Not to mention, the fact that what preceded that education-wise was a rural education, one focused on turning its students into farmers, because that is what they were going to be, and not poets.) I read a lot of books on the subject before I dare to write about it, but what if they are the wrong books? What if someone in college told everyone else what the right books are, and everyone knows I read the wrong ones? It's a strange dynamic, to work in an intellectual field without the intellectual background.

Secret handshakes and code words, yep. Luckily, I don't work in an intellectual field. I might as well stand in front of the gates of academia with a straw hat and overalls, long grass shoot hanging off my lip, befuddled look on my face, watching the turnip truck upon which I had only moments earlier been a passenger disappearing over the horizon in a rooster tail of dust. Per the Peter Principle, the blog format is pretty much my highest level of competence.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Armida's Garden

One day the wanderer slammed a door behind himself, stopped in his tracks, and wept. Then he said: “This penchant and passion for what is true, real, non-apparent, certain — how it aggravates me! Why does this gloomy and restless fellow keep following and driving me? I want to rest, but he will not allow it. How much there is that seduces me to tarry! Everywhere Armida’s gardens beckon me; everywhere I must keep tearing my heart away and experience new bitternesses. I must raise my feet again and again, weary and wounded though they be; and because I must go on, I often look back in wrath at the most beautiful things that could not hold me — because they could not hold me.”

— Nietzsche

Michael Clune:

I divide the writers, artists, philosophers, and critics engaged in this effort into two camps. The first I call the "reasonable" camp. These writers recognize that no actual artistic object can retain its freshness after repeated experiences. Critics from Viktor Shklovsky to Michael Fried see in the continual innovation of musical, literary, and visual forms an attempt to counter the effect of time on experience. Once we become accustomed to Cézanne's way of arresting our senses, we move on to Picasso. After Joyce's verbal explosions, we take up Beckett's minimalism.

Not just any new object will do the work of pleasurably extending intense perception. The object needs to be balanced between familiarity and novelty; the new thing must give the mind some foothold in the known, otherwise we just tune it out as noise. And the history of art—with each new artist taking up and transforming the forms of the old—provides a perfectly reasonable process for delivering time-slowing artifacts poised between old and new.

Very reasonable—but the true heirs of Augustine and Keats adopt the unreasonable approach. The reasonable writers respect the temporal constraints of perception. They transfer the desire to enhance life through art from the individual work to the historical succession of forms. The unreasonable writers, those who want the impossible—writers from Thomas De Quincey through Marcel Proust, Vladimir Nabokov, and John Ashbery—seek the creation of a work that will permanently arrest perception at the moment of the first encounter. The simple logic of children and utopians drives them. We want to stop time. Only through the persistence of the intense perception of the same object can we be assured that our ancient ambition has been achieved.

I know the feeling well from listening to music. There's a certain hypnotic magic that accompanies a favorite song for a little while, inspiring a euphoric sense that surely, this time, the feeling is too perfect to ever fade. I should know; I've felt that way thousands of times. And each time, even as rationality and memory are patiently trying to claim otherwise, part of me finds it impossible to resist the desire to believe it. No, no! The melody, the rhythm, the poetry, they're perfect! This is revealed musical truth here! I'll never let familiarity breed contempt!

All my beautiful friends have all gone away
Like the waves
They flow and ebb and die

— The Cult, "Revolution"

Like I said: thousands of times. That pattern, itself, is what's eternal. And to me, there's a comfort in that. I wouldn't really want it to be different. As a panta rheist, how could it be otherwise? Ebb and flow are both necessary parts of the same cycle. But each time we outlast or outgrow something we've loved, it defines the borders of our separateness all the more sharply, feeling like death and mourning in miniature. I do feel like there's probably some sort of primal desire in humankind to submerge oneself in something greater, something all-encompassing, where we could shrug free of the burden of our own responsibilities and sense of existential isolation. Clune's "unreasonables" are those who feel that burden more strongly.

I yearn to belong to something, to be contained
in an all-embracing mind that sees me
as a single thing.
I yearn to be held
in the great hands of your heart —
oh let them take me now.

— Rilke

Saturday, February 16, 2013

When You've Once Said a Thing, That Fixes It

"It's too late to correct it," said the Red Queen: "when you've once said a thing, that fixes it, and you must take the consequences."

Daniel Levitin:

There are a host of other problems. Recall that the IAT rests on the assumption that more difficult mental operations—such as resolving conflicts in attitudes about others—take more time. But there are other reasons that a mental operation can take more time. One is unfamiliarity—we respond more slowly to words and images that are unfamiliar because they require more retrieval and processing time. Another is the confusion born of linguistic and conceptual associations. The word "old" is often used as a synonym for "worn out," "spent" or "obsolete" when we're talking about technological products like computers, cars or sewing machines. When prompted by that word while taking an IAT, our brains automatically call up these associations; despite what the authors would have you believe, the fact that we have such associations doesn't mean we hate or devalue our grandmothers.

Another confounding factor is that the brain is designed to detect patterns of co-occurrence and responds to learned associations based on a lifetime of hearing word pairings. If I hear the word "bread," the first word that comes to mind might be "butter," even if I never eat butter, never buy it and for that matter don't even eat bread. But associations aren't the same as biases. My quickness in conjuring one word when hearing another says nothing about an "implicit bias." It says even less about how I would treat another individual. Common sense would tell you this.

Such linguistic associations occur at a shallow, superficial level of processing and reflect only statistical patterns in the language, not held opinions; and not everyone who knows the stereotypes about race, age or gender believes them.

Attempting to find moral significance or straightforward causality in word choice sounds like the concept of a Freudian slip, rebranded for our modern age. Honestly, the more I learn about language — and I'm hardly any sort of scholar — the more deeply amazed I am that such flimsy, abstract signs allow us to understand as much as we do and communicate at all.

Without Music, Life Would be a Mistake

Kathleen Higgins:

Actually, I got interested in non-Western philosophy very early. The high school English teacher that told me that philosophy was what I was interested in read an excerpt from J. Krishnamurti in his class one day, and I insisted after class that he loan me the book. I also took a Chinese philosophy seminar my first semester in graduate school. Another motivation for my interest was that, having majored in music as an undergraduate, I’d been fascinated by a course I’d taken on Indian music. Indian music was tremendously sophisticated, but based on very different structural choices than the Western tonal tradition had made. I was quite interested in the philosophy of music, and I was rather disappointed, studying philosophy in grad school, to discover how much of Western tradition after the ancient Greeks more or less ignored music. When I was introduced to Chinese philosophy, I found just what I was looking for, a philosophical tradition that paid a lot of attention to music and its relation to the good life quite generally.

Y'know, that actually sounds fascinating. I've never looked at Chinese philosophy with an eye toward that perspective. I'd be interested to see how it compares and contrasts with the Greek concept of mousikê.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Winter Heavens

Sharp is the night, but stars with frost alive
Leap off the rim of earth across the dome.
It is a night to make the heavens our home
More than the nest whereto apace we strive.
Lengths down our road each fir-tree seems a hive,
In swarms outrushing from the golden comb.
They waken waves of thoughts that burst to foam:
The living throb in me, the dead revive.
Yon mantle clothes us: there, past mortal breath,
Life glistens on the river of the death.
It folds us, flesh and dust; and have we knelt,
Or never knelt, or eyed as kine the springs
Of radiance, the radiance enrings:
And this is the soul's haven to have felt.

— George Meredith

You Can't Trust Freedom When It's Not in Your Hands, When Everybody's Fightin' for Their Promised Land

Whitney Philips and Kate Miltner:

Kate: The thing is, as much as some Redditors may want to claim otherwise, Reddit is not The Internet. Reddit is a privately owned platform that can decide what sort of user-generated content will or will not be tolerated. Legally, Condé Nast (who owns Reddit) can do whatever they want to control what is posted on the site (which seems like not much, because pageviews, probably). The question that Shatner's comments raise is whether or not they should.

...The other thing I wanted to bring up is why we are even talking about this in the first place. I mean, who cares whether or not Reddit is tolerant of this sort of stuff except for people who hang out on Reddit? Why is this even a story to begin with? Well, it's a story because Reddit is an influential platform—influential enough that President Obama's campaign staff thought it would behoove him to do an AMA. So the reason that this matters is because one of the most influential and highly-trafficked sites on the internet is also a site that hosts a lot of content that demeans and insults the majority of the US population.

Whitney: The problem I've always had with that argument—if we start censoring some of the things, what will stop us from censoring ALL of the things??—is that it essentially plays on a person's fear of being silenced, not their sense of basic human decency. In short: this person is being censored for their beliefs. You don't want to be censored for YOUR beliefs, do you?? Then you better defend with your life other Redditors' right (which isn't actually their right, as they're posting to a privately owned website) to post incendiary, unnecessary, completely unproductive bile all day, because "free speech."

In other words, the argument that selective censorship can only lead us down a path to fascism often does little more than to lull everyone else into complicity, and therefore functions as preemptive self-censorship. You are encouraged to hold your tongue when you see something upsetting, because maybe next time you'll be the one whose speech is under the microscope. This is a problem, because some people need to be told to SHUT UP, particularly when their speech interferes with their audience's basic human right—what should be a basic human right—not to be constantly inundated with violently racist, sexist, homophobic, pedophilic or otherwise ignorant bullshit every time they go online.

I tried to charitably interpret this discussion, to look for some nuance I perhaps hadn't heard before in similar arguments, but it seems like the same old same old to me, now fortified with extra Social Justice Warrior buzzwords and butthurt. Yes, first amendment issues don't apply to privately-owned spaces, but by the same token, if you don't like what's being said in one private forum, you're free to go find one more to your liking, or create one yourself. Miltner's comment is revealing: the problem isn't the existence of such questionable content, which would be grudgingly tolerable if quarantined in some remote corner of the Internet, but the fact that large numbers of people on a popular site aren't as bothered by it as she is.

As Isaiah Berlin explained at length, political and social values, even the ones that are commonly agreed to be "positive," are frequently in conflict. He justified his prioritizing of liberty as the paramount value by noting that its presence was the necessary precondition for even having the argument about where to draw the line, let alone the ability to correct the overreaching of ideological zealots. It may be unrealistic to refuse to act in the absence of total consensus, but one should also be extremely wary of those who are impatient to declare the discussion over and settled, especially when they make their case through such loaded language, dismissive snark and blatant appeals to emotion, as Philips does above.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

There Was No War but the Class War, I Was Ready to Set the World On Fire

Karl Hand:

Is there any reason for a revolutionary to watch a fantasy movie like The Hobbit? Activists and radicals, perhaps more than anyone, must live in the real world.

Uninterested in escaping from the struggles of life, a radical mind sees real social situations brimming with injustice to be fought and wants to do something about it. Perhaps this is why there are not too many fantasy writers among the literary heroes of the radical left. We tend to favour poignant and sensual descriptions of real world conditions.

This season’s debut of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, or the performance of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, that tragic social commentary of the experience of itinerant work during the great depression at Sydney Opera house this year, are the food of great progressive political sentiment.

By contrast, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit along with other blockbuster fantasy movies like Harry Potter, X-Men, and the Twilight saga are read by the kind of people who are more concerned with the coming zombie apocalypse, or masked Super-Villains, than they are by the plight of the urban poor. They inspire people to fight evil wizards, or deranged mutant supremacists, not bosses in a union.

Fuckin' hoi polloi, amirite? You turn your back on them for one goddamned second, and they're off indulging in their various opiates or building golden calves. I swear, it's like they don't want to learn what's best for them. All is not lost in this case, thankfully, as our vanguardist hero has discerned how even Tolkien's conservative parable can be subverted in service to the revolution. The things we do for you ungrateful lumpenproles...

To borrow and repurpose a line from Gayatri Spivak, it's ideologues incapable of seeing art as anything more than propaganda for their cause who are "the least interesting and the most dangerous."

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fish Don't Know They're in Water

William Deresiewicz:

Somehow, the rebels of half a century ago have grown up to become the new Victorians. There’s a right way now to eat, vote, laugh, think.

Which means it really shouldn’t be that difficult to make an avant-garde. Here are some of the pieties that it might undertake to profane. That people are basically good. That freedom is the chief ingredient of happiness. That we control our fates. That society is slowly getting better. That we are more virtuous than those who came before us. That the universe coheres in a mystical whole. That it all works out in the end. In short, the whole gospel of self-improvement, progressive politics, ethical hygiene, and pantheistic spirituality. The upper middle brow is as committed to the happy ending as is Hollywood. Tragedy is inadmissible: the recognition that loss is loss and cannot be recuperated, that most people’s lives end in failure and emptiness, that the world is never going to be a happy place, that the universe doesn’t love us.

W.H. Auden described Freud as "no more a person/now but a whole climate of opinion/under whom we conduct our differing lives." I thought of that while reading Jonathan Gottschall's The Storytelling Animal, where he related Frederick Crews's summary of one of Freud's most famous case studies:

Freud was determined to find a primal scene to serve as the fountainhead of Pankeev's symptoms. He made it materialize through a transparently arbitrary interpretation of a remembered dream of Pankeev's from the suspiciously early age of four, about six or seven white wolves (actually dogs, as Freud was later compelled to admit) sitting in a tree outside his window. The wolves, Freud explained, were the parents; their whiteness meant bedclothes; their stillness meant the opposite, coital motion; their big tails signified, by the same indulgent logic, castration; daylight meant night; and all this could be traced most assuredly to a memory from age one of Pankeev's mother and father copulating, doggy style, no fewer than three times in succession while he watched from the crib and soiled himself in horrified protest.

It seems absurdly ludicrous in hindsight, but that's the thing — how likely is it that we don't have shared cultural delusions that will be looked back upon in another century with similarly incredulous humor? Which scientific and aesthetic ideas do our cognoscenti see as obvious to the point of being unremarkable? What sorts of things do educated, intelligent people take completely for granted and reinforce among each other?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Monks of Spamalot

I read Morris Berman's The Twilight of American Culture about fifteen years ago, and I still have a soft spot for it. It appealed to the bookish misanthrope in me. His idea of New Monastic Individuals, it would be fair to say, has some parallels with my own conception of the good life, one of avoiding status and power for the sake of individual conscience. But for someone who talks about the need to lighten up, his humor these days strikes me as too bitterly dejected to be appealing, and I naturally find it hard to take seriously anyone who takes Nicholas Carr seriously.

This, though, was unintentionally hilarious. I was partly amused by the tentative suspicion that an influx of spam was the doing of ideological enemies before being condemned as another example of unrestrained capitalism, but mostly it was the admission that he paid some guy "a huge amount of money" to set the blog up in the first place. You paid some guy to set you up on Google's free blogging platform, and he didn't even bother to click the spam filtering option for you? Look, you crotchety old coot, I say it with sympathetic affection, but while you're waiting for America and civilization in general to collapse, you might want to take a break from shaking your cane at those damn kids and familiarize yourself with some technology, at least enough to prevent being fleeced of your life savings while the currency still retains some symbolic value.

The Brownish Splatters On All That Matters

Aikin and Talisse:

Finally, and most famously, is the stoic perfection of emotion. Here, the stoic exercises are designed to help us remember what distinguishes what matters from what doesn’t, and to react appropriately. And so we have Epictetus:

In the case of everything attractive or useful or that you are fond of, remember to say just what sort of thing it is, beginning with the little things. If you are fond of a jug, say “I am fond of a jug!” For when it is broken, you will not be upset. If you kiss your child or wife, say you are kissing a mortal human being. For when it dies, you will not be upset. Encheiridion 3

It’s here that we see what’s alien, almost inhuman about the paradoxical tradition in ethics. It seems that in order to make ourselves invulnerable, we must shed all the things that make us human. The well-being of a son or daughter, the flourishing of a marriage, the pleasure of friendship. That naturally makes us happy. And so, too, do children’s hardship, the failure of a marriage, and loss of friends make us unhappy. To become invulnerable to these losses, it seems we must forgo the benefits, too.

The stoic, in maintaining his own inner light, in tending his personal virtue, seems to lose a profound virtue, too. Let us call this the damage problem. Stoicism is ruinous of the goods we naturally take as comprising the good life. It’s a kind of scorched earth policy with life, in order to achieve invulnerability.

Put this way, it comes off like a form of philosophical reductionism, a way of breaking meaningful objects and experiences down into their constituent atoms until their value is essentially defined out of existence. I prefer the honest heartbreak of Issa and mono no aware.

Eisejesus (Slight Return)

Andrew Sullivan links to this for our consideration:

In authoring scripture, Origen argues, God has deliberately planted all sorts of interpretive obstacles: problems, difficulties, mistakes, morally objectionable stories, and so forth. These manifold obstacles lead us to press beneath the surface of the text and to search more deeply for its spiritual meaning. Such spiritual exegesis isn’t just a scholarly technique. It requires ascetic purification, the spiritual transformation of the reader. So the problems in scripture…are planted there by God to lead us into the depths of spiritual life, just as a wise teacher might plant mistakes in a class discussion in order to lead the class, gently and unobtrusively, towards the truth.

He doesn't say whether he cites it approvingly, but knowing him, it's probably a safe bet. So Origen anticipated the dinosaur-fossils-as-test-of-faith rationale that long ago, huh? That's impressive. But I mostly enjoyed the use of the term "exegesis" in this context. To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, I think you mean a different word.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Multiculti Satrapy

Kenan Malik:

But how do we define a community? That question has been all too rarely asked in the debate about cultural diversity and community empowerment. In fact, much cultural policy as it has developed over the past two decades has come to embody a highly peculiar view of both diversity and community. There has been an unstated assumption that while Britain is a diverse society, that diversity ends at edges of minority communities. The claim that The Satanic Verses is offensive to Muslims, or Behzti to Sikhs, or indeed that Jerry Springer: The Opera is offensive to Christians, suggests that there is a Muslim community, or a Sikh community or a Christian community all of whose members are offended by the work in question and whose ostensible leaders are the most suitable judges of what is and is not suitable for that community. All are viewed as uniform, conflict-free and defined primarily by ethnicity, culture and faith. As a Birmingham Council report acknowledged about the council’s own multicultural policies, ‘The perceived notion of homogeneity of minority ethnic communities has informed a great deal of race equality work to date. The effect of this, amongst others, has been to place an over-reliance on individuals who are seen to represent the needs of views of the whole community and resulted in simplistic approaches toward tackling community needs.’ The city’s policies, in other words, did not simply respond to the needs of communities, but also to a large degree created those communities by imposing identities on people and by ignoring internal conflicts and differences. They empowered not individuals within minority communities, but so-called ‘community leaders’ who owed their position and influence largely to the relationship they possessed with the state.

...Thanks, however, to the perverse notion of diversity that has become entrenched, Shabbir Akhtar has come to be seen as an authentic Muslim, and the anti-Bezhti protestors as proper Sikhs, while Salman Rushdie and Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti are regarded as too Westernized, secular or progressive to be truly of their community. To be a proper Muslim, in other words, is to be offended by The Satanic Verses, to be a proper Sikh is to be offended by Behzti. The argument that offensive talk should be restrained is, then, both rooted in a stereotype of what it is to be an authentic Muslim or Sikh and helps reinforce that stereotype. And it ensures that only one side of the conversation gets heard.

Razib Khan:

Many cultural anthropologists  believe that they have deep normative disagreements with Jared Diamond. In reality I think the chasm isn’t quite that large. But the repeated blows ups with Diamond gets to the reality that cultural anthropology has gone down an intellectual black hole, beyond the event horizon of comprehension, never to recover. It has embraced deconstruction, critique, complexity (or more accurately anti-reductionism) and relativism to such a great extent that whereas in many disciplines social dynamics and political power struggles are an unfortunate consequence of academic life, in cultural anthropology the fixation with power dynamics and structures has resulted in its own self-cannibalization, and overwhelming preoccupation with such issues. Everyone is vulnerable to the cannon blast of critique, and the only value left sacred are particular ends (social justice, defined by cultural anthropologists) and axioms (white males are oppressive patriarchs, though white male cultural anthropologists may have engaged in enough self interrogation to take upon themselves the mantle of fighting for the rights of the powerless [i.e., not white males]) which all can agree upon.

I'm put in mind of white male progressives using racial epithets to attack uppity black conservatives in the name of tolerance, or "mansplaining" the correct understanding of feminism to women who adorably insist on worrying their pretty little heads about big ideas. Their activism is, like Malik said, rooted in and reinforcing of stereotypes. Honestly, if you don't allow the circular reasoning to make you dizzy, it's hard to avoid concluding that a significant percentage of social justice warriors are in it for their own therapeutic reasons more than anything else.

Quot Libros, Quam Breve Tempus (VIII)

Michael Dirda:

None of us, of course, will ever read all the books we’d like, but we can still make a stab at it. Why deny yourself all that pleasure? So look around tonight or this weekend, see what catches your fancy on the bookshelf, at the library, or in the bookstore. Maybe try something a little unusual, a little different. And then don’t stop. Do it again, with a new book or an old author the following week. Go on—be bold, be insatiable, be restlessly, unashamedly promiscuous.

Okay, the silver-tongued devil talked me into it. Here it is, as currently constituted, the alpha and omega, the first and last, the beginning and end of my "recently-read, currently-reading, still-yet-to-read" stack. The stars must have aligned just so for so many books from my wish list to become available all at once from my local library.

You're All Individuals!

M.H. Forsyth investigates the origin of the British slang insult "div" and finds one suggestion from Urban Dictionary:

Derived from "individual needs child", a cruel schoolyard insult. Not at all politically correct. Someone who's "not quite normal", an idiot, spaz, etc. ...Then there was a writer in The Guardian in 1987 who said "I first started using the term ‘divvy’ some 20 years ago... When I was growing up in Liverpool in the 1960's it was commonly assumed to be derived from the word ‘individual’", which would seem to support the Urban Dictionary's third attempt.

Which, I admit, made me laugh, recalling an earlier conversation we had here. And on that note, I will say to Noel that I've been reading Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought, and while much of it so far is indeed probably only of great interest to linguists, I found the section on linguistic determinism, starting on page 124 of my copy, to be pretty interesting (and relevant to the perennial issue of politically-motivated language policing).

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Winter's Spring

The winter comes; I walk alone,
I want no bird to sing;
To those who keep their hearts their own
The winter is the spring.
No flowers to please—no bees to hum—
The coming spring's already come.

I never want the Christmas rose
To come before its time;
The seasons, each as God bestows,
Are simple and sublime.
I love to see the snowstorm hing;
'Tis but the winter garb of spring.

I never want the grass to bloom:
The snowstorm's best in white.
I love to see the tempest come
And love its piercing light.
The dazzled eyes that love to cling
O'er snow-white meadows sees the spring.

I love the snow, the crumpling snow
That hangs on everything,
It covers everything below
Like white dove's brooding wing,
A landscape to the aching sight,
A vast expanse of dazzling light.

It is the foliage of the woods
That winters bring—the dress,
White Easter of the year in bud,
That makes the winter Spring.
The frost and snow his posies bring,
Nature's white spurts of the spring.

— John Clare

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

What Is Important Is to Live

Jessa Crispin interviewing Ann Cvetkovich:

JC: When people write about situational depression, they tend to mean if you're in a bad job or a bad relationship or unemployed, and yet you go further to, what is this system that we're all living in that is causing an epidemic of depression and anxiety. And speaking of the despair of capitalism, I was last month forced to undergo an audit by two different agencies to prove my worth to the German government, so they could decide whether or not to renew my visa. And as a writer, having to prove my worth through a dollar (sorry -- Euro) figure was utterly sick-making. What is the artist or writer to do to stave off depression in an age when a) you are expected to bring your whole self to the medium you work in, becoming a publicity-generating, socially accessible machine, and b) there is so much emphasis in our capitalist society on income? Both seem antithetical to the role of the artist.

AC: Well, you’ve just put your finger on one of the key arguments of my book, and it sounds like your own case history would be a good way to exemplify that argument! Indeed, there are so many aspects of ordinary life under capitalism, including both work life and personal life, that are depression inducing. This is not just true for artists, but for everyone trying to eke out not just a living wage but to do so via work that is creative and life-affirming. Capitalism sucks the life blood out of people in a range of class positions -- high-flying professionals who are stressed out and over-worked, working class people who do society’s shit work, and, yes, the artists who are trying to figure out how to either live on less or turn their creative work into a revenue stream.

Stuart Smithers:

I realize that it’s unrealistic to think that sanghas will start Marxist study groups to actually try to understand capitalism, understand the misery and suffering that systemically result from capital, or to use his ideas on issues of identity, attachment, subjectivity, consciousness, materialism, alienation, and happiness to inspire alternative modes of living in the world. For those who are interested, the Dalai Lama’s half-Marxism seems like a good place to start, and if somebody finds his stance confusing or misguided, that seems like a good reason to take another look at Marx. But the charm of capital remains so great that I doubt Buddhists will be any less seduced by it than other groups.

...Buddhism and America should enter the movement of the real and be engaged with the struggle to end suffering, and man’s inhumanity to man. The movement of the real is emotionally tough, because its first move is to reveal error. But it also appears in the emerging sangha, an invisisble movement of unification that appears in the action of the collective. The action of the collective is to be collected, to come together and deal with whatever arises from this being together. In the decline of capital, the saving power of the collective might appear in new and unexpected forms. Buddhist insurgency might look like a shift to a new leaderless sangha, or a new type of leader and teacher who discovers and understands the vast unrecognized potential of the collective movement of the real. 

Reading both of these pieces actually reminded me of something I read by Stephen Kinzer a few years ago:

The other theme I heard time and again here is that political change takes time. Perhaps because they have such a long history - 10 times longer than the history of the United States - many Iranians seem ready to wait patiently for change rather than risk plunging their country into upheaval by demanding it immediately.

"Nobody can prevent us from having democracy in our country," a merchant in the Shiraz bazaar told me. "It is our wish and our right. But it will take time. You cannot change a very strong government in a few months."

A middle-aged man in Isfahan who sympathized with the post-election protests said he was glad they have ended. "They were not going to achieve anything, and continuing them would just mean more people hurt or killed or put in jail," he reasoned. "What is the point of that?"

...In Iran, as in other countries with long histories, many people believe that not all problems have quick solutions, and that some have no solution at all. "In our history we have had many periods that were sad, and other periods that were happy," a woman at an internet cafe in Isfahan told me. "You cannot rush things. What is important is to live."

I'm aware that most Westerners who fancy themselves to be politically sophisticated and aware would condemn such attitudes as quietist. But when I read excerpts like the ones above, I can't help but laugh a little at the presumption, the firm conviction that, well, of course there must be an alternative economic system in which man's inhumanity to man will be eradicated, or, less ambitiously, one where writers and other struggling artists will at least be guaranteed a comfortable existence in which to pursue their vision without being defined by their income! And if there isn't one already, surely we can will one into existence! Stranger things have happened, I suppose, but I just wonder how much of that idealism is the product of our brief historical memory.

Lucubratio (XV)

I saw a bumper sticker from this organization on a vehicle yesterday; they seem pretty cool. And then I just saw this excellent article.

It can be heartbreaking to be a pit bull lover. Nice to see a couple of bright spots.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

You Drink the Wine But It Tastes Like Water, and You Broke the Bread But It Had Turned to Stone

Brad Warner:

I love Dogen’s teachings. I am dedicated to zazen practice. I do my best to follow the Buddhist Precepts. I even like some of the ceremonies Zen Buddhists do and do them myself. I haven’t burnt my robes yet. Even when I said I was not a “member of clergy” it was because Zen Buddhist monks are not members of clergy — even those who think they are.

But Zen Buddhism as an organized religion holds no appeal to me. The organizations who claim to uphold the Zen Buddhist Way can be just as corrupt, hypocritical and ineffectual as any other religious institution out there.

Brian Wheeler:

There is a concern among some non-believers that atheism is developing into a religion in its own right, with its own code of ethics and self-appointed high priests.

Jones insists he is not trying to found a new religion, but some members of his congregation disagree.

"It will become an organised religion. It's inevitable. A belief system will set in. There will be a structure, an ethical outlook on life," says architect Robbie Harris.

He believes Evans and Jones have "a great responsibility" if the Sunday Assembly "continues to be as successful as it is now".

George Carlin said that art, music and philosophy are merely poignant examples of what we might have been had not the priests and traders gotten hold of us. I would say that the priests and traders are the inevitable conclusion of art, music and philosophy, not the polar opposite. Spontaneous creativity will always become ritualized, dogmatized, branded and marketed by the power-hungry, at which point that spirit of spontaneous creativity will withdraw in order to emerge somewhere else. Circle of life, yo.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Dying All the Time; Lose Your Dreams and You Will Lose Your Mind

So, Nadine Gordimer once gave some advice to Christopher Hitchens which Jeffery Eugenides quoted in an address to the winners of a literary award. You may have read about this already in any number of places, but if not, he said:

“A serious person should try to write posthumously,” Hitchens said, going on to explain: “By that I took her to mean that one should compose as if the usual constraints—of fashion, commerce, self-censorship, public and, perhaps especially, intellectual opinion—did not operate.”

...All of the constraints Hitchens mentions have one thing in common: they all represent a deformation of the self. To follow literary fashion, to write for money, to censor your true feelings and thoughts or adopt ideas because they're popular requires a writer to suppress the very promptings that got him or her writing in the first place. When you started writing, in high school or college, it wasn't out of a wish to be published, or to be successful, or even to win a lovely award like the one you're receiving tonight. It was in response to the wondrousness and humiliation of being alive. Remember?

Todd Hasak-Lowy and Will Wilkinson both offer bruising dissent. As for me, I think that, like a lot of advice, it's very good for certain people at specific times in their lives, but it does Procrustean violence when viewed as a general rule applying to all writers irrespective of age, experience, and motivation. Again, what if wanting other people to approve of you is part of who you are? Why should perfect self-containment be the ideal toward which artists strive? Why should the purity of the artist's intentions be the measure of the art's worth, rather than the effect it has on a given individual in the audience? What if Eugenides's archetypal artist was himself inspired to his lofty perch by art created by flawed individuals with base ulterior motives?

The simple fact is, if this advice is true, we only usually realize it, we only feel the truth of it deep in our marrow, once we've tried flirting with the boundaries of fashion, money, and approval. We tend to discover where those lines are by crossing them. Personally, I think this sentiment is worth pointing to as a polestar, as an ideal one may want to aim for. But I suspect the character that infuses one's writing will come from the valuable experience of the laborious process of saying "not this, not this," to so many things along the way. Even good advice will become empty posturing if adopted at the wrong time, the very same posturing such advice was meant to forestall. There's no shortcut around making mistakes and outgrowing them.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Jeh Love

JEH Smith:

I have declined, and continue to decline, to reply to many of the diverse points of criticism directed against my profession of faith, which I released into the world a month or so ago. I had thought it would be clear that there is a sort of writing that does not invite arguments in opposition, but simply says lo! behold! ecce!, and carries with it an implied Whitmanian ass-covering: "You say I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself!"

And he "continues to decline to reply" at great length. Anyway, Whitman wasn't covering his ass; Whitman was standing proudly in the intellectual nude, letting his non-sequiturs dangle in the breeze. Look, if people are basically prohibited from asking meaningful questions and expecting coherent answers, then they're going to judge the merit of your God-is-love soliloquy on the basis of how you present yourself. By your fruits shall we know you. And for someone who claims to have realized something incredibly important and transcendant, you don't appear to be any different from any other overly-defensive, condescending windbag. I might be intrigued by a fellow who appeared serenely unruffled by critics or wholly captivated by the sublimity of his vision, but this just bores me.