Tuesday, March 31, 2015

There's None So Blind as Them That Don't Agree

Will Shetterly:

Arguments between theists and atheists make me think they're both missing the point. People have belief systems. If yours doesn't make you hurt anyone, it's fine by me, and it's even better if yours helps you do good things.

Agnosticism is concerned with the limits of knowledge. Atheism is concerned with the likelihood of belief. Epistemologically, I'm an agnostic. That is, I accept that absolute knowledge is impossible, and therefore there is a logical possibility, however minuscule, that something vaguely called God could exist. Philosophically, I'm an atheist, because knowledge doesn't have to be absolute to be good enough for everyday life, and I feel confident enough that no matter what we discover about life in the cosmic or subatomic realms, none of it will ever point toward the likelihood of the existence of a bipolar creator god with a prurient interest in the doings of human genitals. I am quite willing to bet my life on that. Pragmatically, I'm an anti-assholist, and since assholes are in plentiful supply on both sides of the argument, I tend to agree that the issue is hardly worth fighting about.

That said, Will is probably preaching to those without ears to hear, because the argument isn't so much about whether theists/atheists are incapable of doing good because of their beliefs. Most people can grudgingly concede that however stubborn and deluded their opponents are, they manage to live decent lives — for now. The worry is — to take the atheist perspective here for a moment — that theistic beliefs are an intellectual weak link. The chain of one's moral character might snap at precisely that point if the link is not replaced. If a theist is allowed to retain a vague, sentimental affection for Biblical platitudes or an open-mindedness toward the possibility of life after death, the rust might spread and their personality might give way under stress, allowing some atavistic sympathy for the harshest aspects of Deuteronomy or Leviticus to break through and take over. The argument is that incorrect beliefs are a disaster waiting to happen, and both sides will patiently wait a lifetime, if need be, to claim vindication. As with God's existence, even a fraction of a possibility can inspire faith.

But intellectuals, both secular and religious, always overvalue the importance of rational principles as opposed to simple, intuitive empathy. The power of logical necessity compels you! Except, in practice, it doesn't. People cheerfully contradict themselves all the time. Faith or the lack thereof tends to serve as a mere rationalization for what are, deep down, issues of basic character. Kind people can be attracted to the soft parts of Christianity and assholes can be attracted to the supercilious parts of atheism. Decent, humane people do not become raging, intolerant assholes just because of a new logical twist in their thinking. They will find a way to accommodate the new perspective into their basic character as if it had been there all along.

As for the crusading sort of atheists who feel compelled to badger even the most inoffensive believers, they strike me as the spiritual descendants of Frederick Taylor. In their case, they're obsessed with eliminating intellectual inefficiency, even if it results in diminishing returns or outright counter-productiveness. Just imagine how much more we could accomplish if only all these valuable neurons weren't being wasted on metaphysical fantasies and irrational superstitions! Of course, the idea that the world and all its problems can be reorganized and set right by flawless human reason is a fairy tale, a myth, a fable and a superstitious delusion itself. As a rule, it's best to recognize what "good enough" looks like and stop there.

Thoughtcriminal Background Check

Seems like just yesterday* the Internet was moaning in ecstasy as Trevor Noah, the heir apparent to the Daily Show throne, expertly stroked its cosmetic-diversity G-spot. Now it transpires that he's a serial social media thoughtrapist preying on Jews and people of girth. Just when you think you know a fellow. **

* It was just yesterday.
** I don't know anything about him.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Liquidation Theology

Reading Russell Jacoby's The End of Utopia last year crystallized a lot of things for me, and since then, it's been a bit of a recurring theme here: what does it even mean to be leftist anymore? Does anyone still believe in a radical break between the old world of exploitative oppression and the new world of classless cooperation, bridged by violent revolution? Is a gradual transition to democratic socialism, accomplished through the existing political system, the best anyone dares to dream of? Or is leftism more of a moral stance, at best a comprehensive cataloging of neoliberalism's many flaws accompanied by impotent fist-shaking, at worst the sort of cliquish posturing that pervades the web? Does anyone honestly believe a bullshitting buffoon like Slavoj Žižek has anything of value to offer, or is leftism more green instead of red these days? Perhaps it's a cyclical thing, and leftism is currently in a mystical, inward state, where the focus shifts away from changing the world toward purifying one's soul of impure thoughts.

Radical leftism and organized religion have had an often-antagonistic relationship since the French Revolution, of course, but being that both traditions have seen better days, perhaps they could consider trying to form an alliance based on the goals they ostensibly hold in common. If you're trying to re-create a political framework to accommodate idealistic goals, why not save yourself some trouble? Christianity has the mission and the infrastructure in place already; why not set theological disputes aside and see if you can't find common ground in tending to the world's poor and downtrodden, especially seeing as how the current Pope seems a lot more open to such cooperation? Having been mulling over thoughts like these for a while now, my attention was caught by this essay from Federico Campagna:

The natural question arising at this point is: why should the secular, radical Left seek Franciscus as its ally? Why should the Left trust the leader of an institution with a long history of connivance with the bleakest reactionary forces and a track record of repressive violence? Once again, I invite the reader to consider this in purely strategic terms. The Left, like the Catholic Church, has been forced to reconsider its strategy by analysis of the current political situation. There is increased support among Western populations for xenophobic, repressive governmental policies against those who can least defend themselves, and the Western Left is no longer capable of reversing this turn to the Right. Mainstream ‘left-wing’ politicians seem keener to chase their right-wing counterparts than to produce their own new brand of emancipatory politics, and the electorate is growing ever more tired with the homogeneity of mainstream policy. Communist parties are no more, trade unions are in crisis, and bottom-up radical movements such as Occupy seem like awkward re-enactments of twentieth-century scripts. The Left needs new allies if it is to check our descent into abyssal inequality, global civil war, environmental catastrophe and the further expansion of the prison-industrial system.

Franciscus’ absolutist Vatican monarchy can be a precious ally to the struggling Western Left. Indeed, that the Catholic Church has kept many of the most reactionary regimes in history in power is proof of the great value of its political support. As an Italian, and as an atheist and left-wing anarch, I can hardly neglect the role played by the Catholic Church in maintaining the corrupt regime of the Democrazia Cristiana for over fifty years – yet, this only makes me wonder what we could do now, with the Church on our side.

Exactly. Politics is the art of the possible and all that. Well, I'd be all for it. I mean, I assume we've all learned our lessons from the horrible, bloody histories of both supernatural and political religions, so as long as we proceed from there, I don't see any reason wh—

Reconstructed in these terms, xenophobic, repressive, financial and neoliberal forces cease even to be the targets of a concerted attack, transformed instead into unhygienic elements to be cleaned away. How could it be otherwise, if ‘we’ – the unemployed, the working poor, the prisoners, the illegal aliens, the single mothers – are the forces of Love? Necessarily our enemies must be the agents of Hatred and Destruction. No longer will leftists be forced into the awkward position of answering whether sinking migrant boats and privatising public healthcare is ‘good for the economy’ or ‘bad for the economy’: finally, they will be able to simply rail against the ‘abomination’, the ‘bestiality’, and ultimately the ‘Satanism’ of their opponents.

There is no doubt that this conceptual construction of the enemy as a sub- human monster has a long and appalling history. It is the rhetoric of the Crusades, of totalitarian regimes and, indeed, of recent right-wing politics such as those demonising ‘terrorists’, paedophiles and the ‘feral’ underclasses. To embrace it is dangerous. Yet we must acknowledge that this brand of populist discourse is extremely effective in the construction of a united front. Allying with Franciscus’ new Church, embracing its crusading rhetoric of Love and even accepting the likely hegemonic position of the Church in the network of left-wing forces, will enable just that: a strong, well- organised and financially powerful global network of radical-left forces capable of effectively unleashing the pent-up, reterritorialising violence of the masses and to redirect it against the barbaric, late-capitalist, nationalist ‘host of Satan’.

Franciscus’ war rhetoric sounds terrifying, and rightly so. If it is embraced by a transnational, united Left-wing front, it might be capable of destroying its enemies, placing the poor and dispossessed as close to a position of power as they have ever been. But it would be a mistake to assume a safe and consistent path that will lead from this revolutionary explosion to the creation of a stable and effective system of emancipatory politics in the following peacetime. It might be the case that, having harnessed the power of the Church to their own ends, the victorious Left will decide to overthrow their old, Catholic allies and to enforce a further, post-theological turn to the new political and administrative framework. That will be the hard path of reform and, as Alex Williams once remarked, ‘revolution is easy, reform is hard’. Yet, without a victorious revolution, the chance for reform might never arise.


...Did he just say that we need to frame this new leftism as the forces of Love against the forces of...Satan? Because hey, Manichean rhetoric gets results?

...Unleash the pent-up violence of the masses?

...Unhygenic elements to be cleaned away?

...Let's just start destroying and killing and if this all goes wrong somehow, ahh, whatever, we'll fix it in post?


Neoliberalism it is, then!

Friday, March 27, 2015

I'm the Confuser!

David Cannadine:

Anyone who has persevered with this book thus far should be aware at least of this: the claim that the male and female identities established by biology and culture are more important than any other collective identities is at best highly tendentious. For it is merely one more example, alongside those made on behalf of religion, nation, and class, of the misleading but widespread practice of what has been termed "totalizing": namely, the habit of describing and defining individuals by their membership in one single group, deemed to be more important and more all-encompassing than any other solidarity — and indeed than all others — to which they might simultaneously belong.

Yep. To re-quote Steven Pinker:

We live in an age of social science, and have become accustomed to understanding the social world in terms of "forces," "pressures," "processes," and "developments." It is easy to forget that these "forces" are statistical summaries of the deeds of millions of men and women who act on their beliefs in pursuit of their desires. The habit of submerging the individual into abstractions can lead not only to bad science (it's not as if the "social forces" obeyed Newton's laws) but to dehumanization. We are apt to think, "I (and my kind) choose to do things for reasons; he (and his kind) are part of a social process."

Vince Noir had the right idea: synthesize the categories, don't cling to them even more tightly.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wages Against the Machines

Evgeny Morozov:

Thus, there’s a very sinister and disturbing implication to be drawn from Carr’s work—namely, that only the rich will be able to cultivate their skills and enjoy their life to the fullest while the poor will be confined to mediocre virtual substitutes—but Carr doesn’t draw it. Here again we see what happens once technology criticism is decoupled from social criticism. All Carr can do is moralize and blame those who have opted for some form of automation for not being able to see where it ultimately leads us. How did we fail to grasp just how fun and stimulating it would be to read a book a week and speak fluent Mandarin? If Mark Zuckerberg can do it, what excuses do we have?

“By offering to reduce the amount of work we have to do, by promising to imbue our lives with greater ease, comfort, and convenience, computers and other labor-saving technologies appeal to our eager but misguided desire for release from what we perceive as toil,” notes Carr in an unashamedly elitist tone. Workers of the world, relax—your toil is just a perception! However, once we accept that there might exist another, more banal reason why people embrace automation, then it’s not clear why automation à la Carr, with all its interruptions and new avenues for cognitive stimulation, would be of much interest to them: a less intelligent microwave oven is a poor solution for those who want to cook their own dinners but simply have no time for it. But problems faced by millions of people are of only passing interest to Carr, who is more preoccupied by the non-problems that fascinate pedantic academics; he ruminates at length, for example, on the morality of Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner.

...How, the critics ask, could we be so blind to the deeply alienating effects of modern technology? Their tentative answer—that we are simply lazy suckers for technologically mediated convenience—reveals many of them to be insufferable, pompous moralizers. The more plausible thesis—that the growing demands on our time probably have something to do with the uptake of apps and the substitution of the real (say, parenting) with the virtual (say, the many apps that allow us to monitor kids remotely)—is not even broached. For to speak of our shrinking free time would also mean speaking of capital and labor, and this would take the technology critic too far away from “technology proper.”

I don't have the breadth of knowledge to be an actual critic, so it pleases me when someone who does have it says what I've been saying all along. It makes me feel a bit like the kid who first noticed the emperor's danglies swinging in the breeze.

Leaving aside the whole difficult question of whether most people actually want to live up to Carr's ideal vision of the contemplative, literate citizen, or whether they just dimly recognize that it makes them look good to at least profess to want it, the simple fact remains that most people simply don't have the fucking time and energy after a long day of work to relax by reading modernist literature before bed instead of scrolling aimlessly through Facebook (or to go for a walk according to the exacting standards of another elitist twat). People who actually, you know, work for a living have bigger and more urgent problems to worry about than whether their brains are getting the correct sort of exercise by sending text messages instead of composing letters with quill and inkwell.

And so fretting about one's technological consumption habits is becoming just one more trivial class signifier, one more way for people with the money to afford artisanal, free-range, handcrafted leisure time to conspicuously signal their status. The revolution is over, or, rather, it was stillborn to begin with. The bums, as always, are the ones who lose.

Therapolitics

Wendy Kaminer:

How did we get here? How did a verbal defense of free speech become tantamount to a hate crime and offensive words become the equivalent of physical assaults?

You can credit — or blame — progressives for this enthusiastic embrace of censorship. It reflects, in part, the influence of three popular movements dating back decades: the feminist anti-porn crusades, the pop-psychology recovery movement and the emergence of multiculturalism on college campuses.

Interesting. I read her book Sleeping With Extraterrestrials over a decade ago, but hadn't seen her around since. I had no idea her reasonableness had transformed her into a quasi-reactionary, gender-traitor enemy of all that is good and holy. Glad to see it.

Our progressives strike me largely as the kind of people who will endlessly congratulate themselves for having successfully rebelled against the uptight, repressed mores of the Victorian age while failing to consider that not only were the Victorians proud of their enlightened, sophisticated attitudes, but that in another couple centuries, it's just as likely that people will be looking back with astonished laughter at our own hypocritical taboos and uptight mores. As always, history stops right here where we happen to be standing, conveniently enough. We are the punctuation mark following the final word on enlightened values. I know, right? What are the odds? Why, it almost seems too good to be true.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Wrath Toward Khan

I've read Razib Khan's blog for a few years. I find him insightful on a number of topics, including religion, history, and culture, and I found his perspective as a self-identified conservative very helpful as I attempted to make sense of the people now commonly known as social justice warriors (even there, it often seems like his conservatism is motivated largely by opposition to the politically correct left as much as anything; this particular spleen-venting doesn't sound any different from the themes Freddie deBoer, an avowed socialist, specializes in, a fact noted by one of his commenters.)

I have no opinion on whether he's racist or not. I'm not nearly educated enough to follow his posts about genetics. I certainly recognize that there's enough circumstantial evidence to construct the sort of guilt-by-association hit piece that Gawker used to get the NYT to drop him like a hot potato, but I also note a distinct lack of any direct, damning quotes from the man himself. I certainly recognize that he has clearly signaled either his openness to taboo thoughts about race and biology, or his sheer refusal to play politics when it comes to science. The real point is, I don't care. I have enough faith in my own thinking ability to not get tricked into believing in some kind of malevolent "race science", even if he were trying to subtly indoctrinate his readers with it, and there's too much good stuff on his blog to avoid it for the sake of appearances. More importantly, I'm just sick of the shrieking and the demands for collective shunning that dominate online discussions.

It almost surprises me to admit that. At this point, I would prefer a conversation with a mild reactionary to one with a self-righteous progressive who only knows enough to master the dynamics of high-school cafeteria politics. Too many people assume they already know everything they need to know, and the only thing left to do is make a big public display of which team you're on. To hell with that.

In the midst of this otherwise disheartening fracas, I did snicker at this comment:

The left argues that while no governmental law is explicitly racist, governmental and societal institutions have racism built into them. So this is what enables leftists to decry racism even though there are no governmental laws explicitly permitting it. The left calls this “institutionalized racism.”

The same argument applies to free speech. While it’s true that there is no governmental law explicitly preventing Razib from expressing his views, governmental and societal institutions have built into them mechanisms that prevent Razib from expressing his views. Perhaps we should call this institutionalized censorship.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Tide Is High

Brad Warner:

Someone meditates for a long time and has a profound insight into the nature of reality. He or she then decides to try and teach that insight and how to reach it to others. This goes fine for a little while, but then an institution is established to try and make the lessons more standardized, efficient and accessible. At this point certain people notice that there are opportunities for power, authority and money to be had within that institution so they get involved. Once these weasels start running things the original purpose is lost. Then someone else has to come along, call bullshit on the institution and start the whole thing up again as an outsider. The same pattern occurs with predictable regularity.

Right now in the West, we are in one of these transitional periods. Back in Japan, Zen has become an orthodox institution that offers its members opportunities for power, authority and sometimes even money. Disgusted with this situation, a few sincere practitioners packed up and moved to America and Europe. They found some genuine students and started a few temples. But now those temples are growing in stature and importance, and ambitious people are starting to see that they might be able to climb their institutional ladders and become powerful. The rot is setting in.

This process is still in its infancy, so things haven’t gotten too bad just yet. Whenever I complain about the organizations who are trying to standardize the Zen curriculum into mind-numbing uselessness I’m always told something like, “Aw, but these guys aren’t a giant evil institution! They’re just a nice group of low-key people who want to do good things.” Which I’m sure is more-or-less true. But you don’t have to be a genius to see where things are heading.

Brad is, of course, paraphrasing a famous passage from The Book of Panta Rheism, which says, "All philosophical systems of men are mere castles of sand before the ancient wisdom of the ocean; bow ye before the power of the moon's gravitational pull and be sore afraid." Man-made religions arise and fall, ossify and regenerate, until the sacred waters tire of their foolishness and wash them all away. Incidentally, this explains the omnipresence of great flood myths in cultures around the world.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Who's Žižoomin' Who?

Josh Cohen:

Where, in the standard reading of Hegel, one element comes into conflict with another external to it, in Žižek’s reading, conflict is internal or “immanent” to the first element. The resulting paradox is that an action becomes the result (rather than the cause) of its counteraction. To take the best-known example in Hegel, the master discovers that the slave is not his other but the condition of his status as master – that he is the master only by virtue of his dependence on (or enslavement to) the slave. The precariousness of the master’s identity lies in how he can be master only by virtue of not being master (as Arctic Monkeys put it in an album title, referencing Alan Sillitoe, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not).


The diagnosis of our inertia becomes the basis for a brutally unsentimental politics in which all voluntary commitments are mere ruses of ideology. Following the French philosopher Alain Badiou, his friend and interlocutor, Žižek insists on the revolutionary moment as an unpredictable “Event”. Change cannot be agitated by the active agent of traditional politics. On the contrary, “The change will be most radical if we do nothing.” The attempt to make things happen can only ever entrench the order it claims to be contesting, whereas by waiting passively we open ourselves to being swept up in an authentic event.

“Sometimes doing nothing is the most violent thing to do.” As though to affirm this aphorism, which ended his 2008 book Violence, Žižek takes pains to show how the renunciation of action authorises “Leninist” ruthlessness.


Žižek’s pronouncements on our political predicaments often seem animated by the same fantasies of making and unmaking the world with brazen unconcern for the consequences. Surely it is only in such a spirit of cartoonish indifference that a serious thinker could open a sentence with the phrase: “Even Nazi anti-Semitism . . .” Restoring the phrase to the full sentence does nothing to redeem it. “Even Nazi anti-Semitism, however ghastly it was, opened up a world: it described its critical situation by positing an enemy, which was ‘a Jewish conspiracy’; it named a goal and the means of achieving it.” This is in contrast to the corrosiveness of capitalism, which deprives “the large majority of people of any meaningful ‘cognitive mapping’”. In other words: yes, it may have been ghastly but at least with Nazi anti-Semitism you knew where you were.

I wish that this summary translation were mere flippancy but it is depressingly precise. The grim prospect of “non-eventful survival in a hedonist-utilitarian universe” licenses Žižek to prefer even the most catastrophic political experiment to our current set-up. As he writes: “Better the worst of Stalinism than the best of the liberal-capitalist welfare state.”


Žižek’s contention in Trouble in Paradise is that our liberal-capitalist civilisation, for all its injunctions to enjoy ourselves, is devoid of genuine love and life. Yet there is nothing in Žižek’s brutal and peculiarly thin political vision to persuade his reader that life on the other side of capitalism, for which he lies impassively in wait, will be any more fun.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

We'll Be Happy and We'll Dance; Oh, Oh, Listen to the Music

I gotta say it was a good day:

This Week’s Releases: March 17, 2015
New stuff (CDs / vinyl)

...AWOLNATION “Run”

...Modest Mouse “Strangers to Ourselves”


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Stand-Up Philosopher



Having watched History of the World, Part 1 about eleventy-teen times as a kid, to the point of having the entire dialogue practically memorized, I am dismayed to realize that I never thought to incorporate Comicus's job description into my own persona before now. Well, that's fixed.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Take Me to Your Leader


British liberals, perhaps haunted by colonial guilt, have sometimes gone further and positively encouraged people to conserve their traditions, since any pressure to conform to British customs would smack of imperial arrogance. Guilt, in this case, hides a peculiar irony, for this type of "multiculturalism", much hated by conservatives, actually reflects the way much of the British Empire was governed, by dividing colonial subjects into communal groups, and ruling through their leaders.

In addition to being pithily amusing, this echoes what Kenan Malik has often said:

And this brings us to another irony about multiculturalism: multiculturalists insist that society is diverse, but somehow fail to see the diversity of minority communities. On the multicultural map, diversity magically ends at the edges of minority communities. Multiculturalists tend to treat minority communities as if each was a distinct, singular, homogenous, authentic whole, each composed of people all speaking with a single voice, each defined primarily by a singular view of culture and faith. In so doing, they all too often ignore conflicts within those communities. All the dissent and diversity gets washed out. As a result the most progressive voices often get silenced as not being truly of that community or truly authentic, while the most conservative voices get celebrated as community leaders, the authentic voices of minority groups.

The Danish MP Naser Khader tells of a conversation with Toger Seidenfaden, editor of Politiken, a left-wing Danish newspaper that was highly critical of the Danish cartoons. Seidenfaden claimed that ‘the cartoons insulted all Muslims’. Khader responded that ‘I am not insulted’. ‘But you’re not a real Muslim’, was Seidenfaden’s response.

‘You’re not a real Muslim.’ Why? Because to be proper Muslim is, from such a perspective, to be reactionary, to find the Danish cartoons offensive. Anyone who isn’t reactionary or offended is by definition not a proper Muslim. Here leftwing ‘anti-racism’ meets rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry. For many leftwing anti-racists, opposing bigotry means accepting reactionary ideas as authentically Muslim.

The Virtues of Silence

Blakey Vermeule:

But as I looked around for guidance and clarification—what sorts of passions do the Algerian war and its complicated aftermath—especially in Algeria—raise nowadays?-- I found that the loudest voices were the most certain and the most certain voices were the least informative. Everybody was trying to find an angle, to take a line, to drown out somebody else, to predict disastrous consequences, to moralize, punish, engage. And I found myself yearning for one or two intellectuals to be un peu désengagés—a bit less warlike and a bit more cautious. Maybe I was yearning for late Camus—a man who fell silent because he just didn’t know what to say.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

He's Into That, That, Spiritual Stuff

Roger Housden:

Those who are on the path of individuation are the most likely members of the “spiritual, not religious” sector of the population. These are the people for whom faith tends to be more central than belief; for whom religion has become a personal spiritual affair instead of an institution whose belief system you sign up for. People like this are not so concerned with what they believe or don’t believe; they want to know how rather than what — how they can connect to a world beyond their own ego, a world of meaning and value that they intuit to be present, and yet are not always in touch with.


Unlike religion and atheism, the faith that lives in the heart transcends our mania for conclusions. Religion is full of definitive answers about the meaning and purpose of life meant to guide you safely from the cradle to the grave. Atheism is equally conclusive in insisting that there is no meaning or purpose to life at all and that what we see is all we get. Spirituality without religion, on the other hand, allows us to live with uncertainty, change, and ultimately, death, not because we believe that a better place awaits us, but because we intuitively sense that there is an intelligence, an inherent rightness, in the way life presents itself moment by moment. We have faith that life has its own Logos beyond all physical appearances — that life is deeper than our minds can ever know.

Cliques Nix Politics

Tom Bartlett:

Ancient quarreling aside, the over­arching theme of the Bailey episode for Dreger was whether or not a scholar should be allowed to present evidence for a theory that some find profoundly threatening and deeply offensive. The critiques of Bailey often revolved around whether his book was "invalidating to transwomen" — which seemed like a separate question from whether the argument itself had any merit, a question that continues to be debated.

In her new book, Dreger also empathizes with Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, authors of A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion (2001). They argue that rape is motivated at least in part by sexual attraction, a view that diverges from the widely held notion that it is solely about violence and control. Palmer and Thornhill see their work as contributing to an understanding of why rapists rape and therefore, ultimately, of help to victims. Their many irate detractors see them as rape apologists. What started as science devolved into name-calling and death threats.

..."I very much identify as a liberal feminist," she says. "That said, I get extremely impatient with liberals who want to rail about Republicans who won’t look at facts and then you get people who are making decisions based on identity and not on the facts. To me, that’s just a perversion of liberalism." That stance wins her fans among a crowd she’s not sure she wants on her side. "Believe me, it makes me uncomfortable that my last 20 Twitter followers are right-wingers," she says.

Yet she worries that partisan team-playing — making sure the progressive cool kids like you — is a hindrance to reasoned dialogue on tough topics. "I think we get lazy sometimes, and we let our politics rule what we’re doing, and as academics we can’t do that," she says. "There’s this whole branch of academe in which simply telling your story is taken as some sort of data beyond just telling your story. To me it’s just telling your story."

If I had the stature or the ability to write a Letters to a Young Foolosopher sort of book, I would center it around this simple advice: Be suspicious of narratives. Not reflexively contrarian — don't argue just for the sake of it. Automatically taking the opposite side of any given argument is just another way of letting other people set the terms of your thinking for you. Not nihilistically paranoid, either — don't assume that anyone speaking of "truth" and "objectivity" is just cynically concealing a lust for power and dominance. That sort of nihilism is a comforting meta-narrative itself, a way of shrugging off the burden of weighing, judging and measuring each new set of circumstances. Just be suspicious. For various reasons, from biological to social to individual, it's very easy for us to notice patterns and submit to their internal logic. Like jogging through the woods, it's natural to notice a clear trail and let that determine our direction. Narratives are both indispensable and unstable, and thus require constant vigilance.

When Michael Bérubé famously joked about people who "used to be a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, (are) now outraged by Chappaquiddick", he was basically talking about the power of narratives, the need to fit this particular experience into a preexisting story. Pace Bérubé, though, I don't think you need Marxist theorists to make sense of the phenomenon; I think it can be explained by the cognitive phenomenon of chunking. It may seem paradoxical at first glance, but it's actually easier, given the way our brains work, to substitute one grand narrative for another, like switching railroad tracks, than it is to rethink individual principles piece by piece, which can be frustrating and time-consuming. In other words, confronted with a traumatic shock like 9/11, many liberals might have felt disoriented and confused over principles that they had formerly taken for granted. But rather than think slowly and methodically about whether their personal pacifism had been too reflexive, or whether liberalism as a whole had let multicultural dogma blind itself to a serious threat, they responded by wiping the intellectual slate clean (simplicity!) and replacing their former worldview with another one, fully-formed (more simplicity!). Crisis averted, and at minimal cognitive cost. They might be wrong about a whole bunch of different things now, but at least they feel comfortable again.

But that, right there at the crisis point when you're not sure what to think or who to believe, is where I would suggest you need to be suspicious and resist the urge to seek comfort among allies. Having emerged, blinking, into the sunlight, don't be so eager to turn right back into the shadows. Take your sweet time, don't be afraid to be left behind by those who have already made up their minds, and consider what makes this experience unique before deciding it's merely a reflection of something else. Many of the people who would laugh knowingly at Bérubé's witty formulation are the same ones who favor a different narrative, in which they are too sophisticated, rational and objective to ever fall prey to such groupthink, and the cycle begins again, to the delight of whichever trickster god gave us the gift of narrative to begin with.

There may not be any singular, objective truth about the world to be found. There may even be several, or many, irreducible truths, all in permanent conflict with each other. Still, using the general concept as a lodestar seems to be beneficial, especially when, as Dreger has experienced, up becomes down and ally becomes enemy. Concentrate on finding as much truth as you can, don't be in any hurry to assemble it into an overarching narrative, and don't be intimidated by those who use guilt, anger and shame to prevent you from inconveniencing their own narratives. Doing so may marginalize you in favor of those who are always ready to put politics ahead of truth-seeking, but I'd hope you find that a fair price to pay.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Everything Fallen Through; I Think I See the End of the Line

Marah Eakin:

Rob Crow says he’s pretty much quitting music, saying it’s “financially irresponsible to [his] family,” as well as “ultimately humiliating to my psyche.” The Pinback and Goblin Cock frontman posted on Facebook that he’s going to try to “finish and release the work” he’s “already spent [his] heart and tears on,” but that “even that is likely to ruin” him.

I was just listening to him today. Shitfuckhelldamn. I hate a world in which Rob Crow can't earn enough money as a musician to keep doing it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Left Behind


At a time when the left is struggling to redefine itself and respond to current political and economic crises, a series of trends in contemporary theory has reshaped the ways that politics is understood and practiced. Older thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida, and newer voices like Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, David Graeber and Judith Butler, among others, have risen to the status of academic and cultural icons while their ideas have become embedded in the “logics” of new social movements. As some aspects of the recent Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have shown, political discourse has become increasingly dominated by the impulses of neo-anarchism, identity politics, post-colonialism, and other intellectual fads.

This new radicalism has made itself so irrelevant with respect to real politics that it ends up serving as a kind of cathartic space for the justifiable anxieties wrought by late capitalism, further stabilizing its systemic and integrative power rather than disrupting it. These trends are the products as well as unwitting allies of that which they oppose.

Perhaps Hegel was right after all, and rather than keep attempting to resuscitate a dying political tradition, we should look to facilitate a new synthesis.

...adding, since we're on the theme of "whither the left?", this essay from David Auerbach is also very good. There's even a handy graph!

Today’s Moralist accepts a more moderate version of the Structural critiques of the Theory Cluster, acknowledging that good intentions may mask underlying prejudice at the individual and societal level. But the Moralist also reverts to a more Ethical focus, demanding of individuals that they comprehend the Structural framework, struggle against it, and finally emancipate themselves from it. At its extreme, the Moralist Cluster is embodied by the callout, the act of finding fault and inadequacy in the words or actions of another, which, even when well-intentioned, nevertheless constitute a betrayal of leftist ideals. Indeed, the good intentions are themselves problematic since they, in their seeming innocuousness, may succeed in obscuring a malevolent force of injustice. The callout demands that the target rectify this mistake (and so doing, alleviate suspicion) by staging a public or semi-public admission of fault and aggrievement, and applying for absolution from a community of his, her, or its cultural peers.

Leftists may draw ideas and practices from any of the four quadrants, but the further apart two principles are, the more likely they are to come into tension with one another. (Thus, individuals will tend to themselves take ideas and positions that are closer to one another rather, inasmuch as they tend toward coherency and consistency.) Many internecine struggles within the left can productively be understood as resulting from the distance between positions on the graph. In particular, the far leftist attitude toward liberalism is not a consequence of marginalization nor of resentment per se, but instead stems from the sense that liberalism is in fact the most virulent danger facing leftism today, the true center of reactionary and conservative forces—the space where these forces lie hidden rather than out in the open, and, thus cloaked, frustrate the possibility of real change.

Sciapods, Blemmyes, and Panotii, Oh My!

Saladin Ahmed:

Now certainly, one could spend one's life reading only books by straight white men, and never run out of wonderful material. But this is akin to spending a lifetime's worth of vacations visiting only Disneyland. Whether or not one agrees with 'the SJWs' that it's ethically contemptible, it is, in a word, boring.

Because, naturally, all straight white men think and write exactly alike, which is no surprise, given that they were all mass-produced on the same suburban assembly line before being assigned to their identical upbringings. Their vocabularies, their prose styles, and their imaginations all follow the same well-worn paths as dictated by their biology. Their race and sexuality, needless to say, thematically informs everything they write. The Exotic Others, of course, do everything differently, from sex to grocery shopping to forming friendships, which is why they've evolved completely new languages to convey those nuances, languages which are nearly incomprehensible to straight white readers.

I swear, this fetishization of superficial differences reminds me of Pliny the Elder describing the inhabitants of the All-Ears Islands, or Marco Polo (and later, Columbus) telling tales of dog-headed cannibals. Now let me tell you of a race of equatorial homosexuals well worth describing in this book. You may take it for a fact that all the men of this island have massive, permanently engorged members, which they use alternately as pogo sticks, oars, jousting lances, or parasols; for I assure you that the whole aspect of their lives is that of a phallic nature... 

What Piece of Work Is a Man?

Middlebrow bumper sticker in California: IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN DO IT. Yeah, sure. Unless the thing you're dreaming is impossible. Then, chances are, you can't do it. But try to enjoy life anyway.

— George Carlin

Leigh Phillips:

And the turn away from modernity and enlightenment has also been coincident with the neoliberal variant of capitalism. Could it be that an unrecognized casualty of neoliberalism has been the forward-looking optimism of both the Left and Right? That neoliberalism and the global defeat of workers’ movements have resulted in a decadent bourgeoisie more interested in looting short-term profits than investing in new technology, research, and exploration?

And if this is true, then retracing our steps back to the fork in the road where we went astray will require a fresh embrace of the logical, the rational, the empiricist, the positivist, the materialist. We might try to remember that once upon a time, it was as incumbent upon leftists to battle superstition and unreason as it was to battle the bosses and bankers. We must be careful to avoid naïve championing of scientism, of course, or worse still, a blimpish, New Atheist–style Enlightenment-mongering that barely hides its apology for empire.

But why must Dawkins-esque bullying and Romulan anti-rationalism be the only choices? We might instead take inspiration from Spock, Surak, and Spinoza, and of course Rodenberry, Nimoy, and the rest of the egalitarian, ambitious, humanist, reason-loving dreamers that gave us Star Trek, and rejoin their battle so that instead of the current innovation-phobic, Earth-bound stasis, humankind might again advance outward to our final frontier.

Indeed, "if this is true". Rather than being a trifling afterthought, this is in fact the impasse preventing us from proceeding with the plan for an intergalactic socialist utopia. Is it true? Which is the cart and which is the horse here? Did neoliberalism unfairly brainwash and demoralize the masses, or was some form of reinvigorated market worship very likely to come about following the widespread disillusionment with socialist utopianism? Have people cynically embraced greed and selfishness, or have they rationally decided that it is, in fact, logically and empirically justified to focus our attention and efforts on tinkering with "the way things are" rather than attempting to enforce "the way we want them to be"?

But then again, can any human institution truly be said to represent some objective, preexisting nature of things? Isn't human nature at least partially a creative act? Aren't some parts of our nature flexible enough to adapt, whether through circumstance or design? Given the right conditions, could we perhaps create a new type of human shorn of barbaric impulses? If so, though, given past experiments, is it rational to trust those who claim to have mapped out the plan and empower them to act on their vision, or will the required gods-eye omniscience forever be out of our reach? In the case of something as completely unprecedented as relocating human civilization to outer space, what would even count as a reasonable plan? What economic and political standards can we even use for guidance?

And so it comes down to a leap of faith in one way or another. Personally, I see no reason to believe that human nature would be any more transformed for the better by reaching the stars than it was by reaching the other side of the Atlantic ocean. Wherever we go, there we are. There's no escape, even in space, from the inevitable incommensurability of values. Indeed, even here, we see the same old seeds of politicized conflict sprouting in this visionary soil of interstellar brotherhood: Enlightenment, logic and rationality mean seeing things my way. Disagreeing with me marks you as a reactionary. I wonder where that stance will lead us?

Sunday, March 08, 2015

He's One of the Old Gods

Christopher Caldwell:

The late political scientist James Q. Wilson described “Calvin and Hobbes” as “our only popular explication of the moral philosophy of Aristotle.” Wilson meant that the social order is founded on self-control and delayed gratification—and that Calvin is hopeless at these things. Calvin thinks that “life should be more like TV” and that he is “destined for greatness” whether he does his homework or not. His favorite sport is “Calvinball,” in which he is entitled to make up the rules as he goes along.

Day-in, day-out, Calvin keeps running into evidence that the world isn’t built to his (and our) specifications. All humor is, in one way or another, about our resistance to that evidence.

Aristotelian philosophy? Pfft. What this shows is that Calvin is the modern-day embodiment of a trickster deity. Selfish, amoral, and prone to delusions of grandeur, his wild adventures nevertheless tend to produce beneficial results for others, however inadvertently (in our case, at least, we are greatly entertained). He belongs to the realm of mythology, predating philosophy.

Never Met a Wise Man; If So, It's a Woman (Slight Return)

Melvin Konner:

Research has found that women are superior to men in most ways that will count in the future, and it isn’t just a matter of culture or upbringing—although both play their roles. It is also biology and the aspects of thought and feeling shaped by biology. It is because of chromosomes, genes, hormones and brain circuits.



All wars are boyish. People point to Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir as evidence that women, too, can be warlike. But these women were perched atop all-male hierarchies confronting other hypermasculine political pyramids, and they were masculinized as they fought their way to the top. There is every reason to think that a future national hierarchy staffed and led by women who no longer have to imitate men, dealing with other nations similarly transformed, would be less likely to go to war.



As women come to hold more power and public authority, will they become just like men? I don’t think so. Show me a male brain, and I will show you a bulging amygdala—the brain’s center of fear and violence—densely dotted with testosterone receptors. Women lack the biological tripwires that lead men to react to small threats with exaggerated violence and to sexual temptation with recklessness.



Perhaps it is time for us to consider returning to the hunter-gatherer rules that prevailed for 90% of human history: women and men working at their jobs, sharing, talking, listening and tending children. Men didn’t strongly dominate because they couldn’t; women’s voices were always there, speaking truth to male power every night around the fire. There was violence, and it was mainly male, but it was mostly random, accident more than ideology.



Specific yuks aside, there's a couple things that are meta-amusing about this. One, it's funny to see the WSJ, of all papers, blatantly trolling its own readership with articles you'd expect to see on the HuffPo. Two, I remember decades ago seeing mediocre stand-up comedians play with the conceit that women would make the world more peaceful and efficient. But the spirit of our age is such that, if you add in a smattering of neuroscientific buzzwords, those old jokes are suddenly fit to print as serious think-pieces.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

I Cried Because I Had No iPhone, Then I Met a Man Who Had No Personalized Emoji

Robinson Meyer:

“If you say you're going to diversify, why not add a few red-haired emoji in the mix?” asks Emma Kelly, the site’s proprietor. “Natural redheads may be rare at less than two percent of the world's population, but that is 138,000,000 iPhones waiting to happen.”

Kelly isn’t the only advocate who says hair is the next frontier of emoji diversification. Writing at the Guardian, Rhik Samadder noted that there are no emojis for beards or afros. Survey the list of humanoid emojis, and the hair is mostly black, brown, and straight.

No beards?! Okay, I retract my earlier sarcasm. This is serious.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

It Was a Mob Mentality, They Set Their Rifle Sights on Me

Asam Ahmad:

Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and language use by others. People can be called out for statements and actions that are sexist, racist, ableist, and the list goes on. Because call-outs tend to be public, they can enable a particularly armchair and academic brand of activism: one in which the act of calling out is seen as an end in itself.

What makes call-out culture so toxic is not necessarily its frequency so much as the nature and performance of the call-out itself. Especially in online venues like Twitter and Facebook, calling someone out isn’t just a private interaction between two individuals: it’s a public performance where people can demonstrate their wit or how pure their politics are. Indeed, sometimes it can feel like the performance itself is more significant than the content of the call-out. 

Wiki:

A struggle session was a form of public humiliation used by the Communist Party of China in the Mao Zedong era to shape public opinion and to humiliate, persecute, and/or execute political rivals and class enemies. In general, the victim of a struggle session was forced to admit to various crimes before a crowd of people who would verbally and physically abuse the victim until he or she confessed. Struggle sessions were often held at the workplace of the accused, but were sometimes conducted in sports stadiums where large crowds would gather if the target was famous enough.

Note: Any implied equivalence, morally or politically, between social justice warriors and the Red Guards is being made purely for the purposes of hyperbole, satire, insult, entertainment, or any particular combination thereof. In truth, it must be admitted that SJWs enjoy the privilege of having been born into a political system and cultural milieu that offers few viable opportunities for them to express their burgeoning authoritarianism in a truly deadly form, and as such, are unlikely to ever amount to much more than a temporary nuisance in the big scheme of things. In fact, with any luck, things like Jonathan Chait's recent articles and Jon Ronson's latest book signify the beginning of a mainstream pushback against them.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Laughter Is Bourgeois

Humor and intersectionality; they go together like peanut butter and chocolate, that is, if peanut butter were oil and chocolate were water. I know, I know, it's bad form to snicker at a dissertation, where pompous windbaggery is the required house style, but there's just something especially, irresistibly, ironically amusing about an examination of subversive humor taking itself so seriously:

So, while there has been success in publicly speaking about the problems with using skin color or body type as a determinant for power in the past, this legal and discursive progress has occurred simultaneously with a systematically buried (Young 124) element of racism: the "constitution" (Gordon 2011, 20) of blacks by whites, through white people non-consciously being-whitely-in-the-world. That phrase requires some unpacking.


But, as Sullivan notes "white privilege is just as, if not more destructive than white supremacy, even if (or, perhaps, precisely because) it is not as spectacular....White privilege maintains itself largely by seeming normal, natural, and unobjectionable. It functions best by remaining invisible, that is, unconscious" (Sullivan 2006, 55). If this is the case, and privilege fosters psychological oppression, then even those who vocally object to racist and sexist practices can still play a role in sustaining systematic oppression. The ignorance is socially diffused and made all the more obscure by the fact that single instances of biased attitudes akin to those found in Yancey's elevator example, cannot sufficiently explain the harms of psychological oppression without invoking a broader view.



Environmental factors can include socializing tendencies that subtly influence norm-adherence or system-justifying behavior. For example, Young argues that the "historical accidents" that equate whiteness and maleness with abstract reasoning, and objectivity, among other favorable attributes  on the scale of normativity, continue to systematically infect the "mastering gaze" of the unmindful privileged who act as if their perspective is the universal point of view "from nowhere" (Young 127; Code 286).


Ironically, this non-serious attitude, in Morreall's sense, when applied to oppressor or oppressed in humor, can actually be seen as an adoption of seriousness in the existentialist sense. Rather than standing as a confrontation to a legitimate problem, the laughter from the oppressed acts merely as an exercise of fictionalizing and/or aestheticizing what would otherwise be viewed as a crippling state of affairs. Seen in this light, the humor acts not as a subversive tactic, but rather as a further mechanism of self-constraint, for the laughers are not really interested in changing anything, but merely experiencing the temporary relief that comes from tension-releasing laughter; they are revealing that they are content, even at ease with the way things are even though the play mode enables them to recognize the disparity between that reality and how things should be (see Morreall 1999 4-6).

When You Curl Up in Bed, Just You in Your Head, Now, Are You Livin'?

Kyle Chayka:

In the end, technology is just a conduit for our own humanity. We complain that we’ve become addicted to glowing screens, but it’s less the screens themselves than what's behind them: thousands upon thousands of other humans, all interacting with each other in degrees of real time, a mirror of society itself. I don’t believe that interacting with other people more makes me any less willing to reflect on how I fit in to this tapestry of lives.

You've heard me say many times that all the hand-wringing about technology's pernicious effects on our souls is a disingenuous means of avoiding the harder questions about what it means to flourish as a human being, about how many different ways there are to do so. Likewise, taking for granted that an authentic life must contain ample amounts of reflective solitude is an exercise in question-begging, one which privileges the accomplishments of the intellect over the apprehensions of intuition. Contemplative stillness does not necessarily bring one closer to the "truth" of existence, and I say that as a devotee.

From the Flame Lit By a Faith

But you will have gathered what I am driving at, namely, that it is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests—that even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by a faith that is thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato, that God is the truth, that truth is divine ... But what if this should become more and more incredible, if nothing should prove to be divine any more unless it were error, blindness, the lie—if God himself should prove to be our most enduring lie?

— Nietzsche

John Gray:

For secular thinkers, the continuing vitality of religion calls into question the belief that history underpins their values. To be sure, there is disagreement as to the nature of these values. But pretty well all secular thinkers now take for granted that modern societies must in the end converge on some version of liberalism. Never well founded, this assumption is today clearly unreasonable. So, not for the first time, secular thinkers look to science for a foundation for their values.

It’s probably just as well that the current generation of atheists seems to know so little of the longer history of atheist movements. When they assert that science can bridge fact and value, they overlook the many incompatible value-systems that have been defended in this way. There is no more reason to think science can determine human values today than there was at the time of Haeckel or Huxley. None of the divergent values that atheists have from time to time promoted has any essential connection with atheism, or with science. How could any increase in scientific knowledge validate values such as human equality and personal autonomy? The source of these values is not science. In fact, as the most widely-read atheist thinker of all time argued, these quintessential liberal values have their origins in monotheism.

The new atheists rarely mention Friedrich Nietzsche, and when they do it is usually to dismiss him. This can’t be because Nietzsche’s ideas are said to have inspired the Nazi cult of racial inequality – an unlikely tale, given that the Nazis claimed their racism was based in science. The reason Nietzsche has been excluded from the mainstream of contemporary atheist thinking is that he exposed the problem atheism has with morality. It’s not that atheists can’t be moral – the subject of so many mawkish debates. The question is which morality an atheist should serve.

I must admit that the Guardian's long-reads are often worth reading, as opposed to their Comment Is Free section, where apparently any moronic monkey with a modem can submit an essay.

Now, then, just in case it needs to be spelled out, neither Nietzsche nor Gray are saying "You atheists have 'faith' in science which makes science a religion hurr hurr!" The main point is that science is not going to solve what we think of as existential problems —  the "why" questions. The secondary point is that faith in the idea that "the truth shall set you free", or that truth is ultimately destined to win out in the end, is a laughable delusion. Science is indeed the best tool we've yet discovered for getting as close to objective truth as we can. However, science may only reveal that existence is devoid of objective meaning (many would argue it already has). For weak and sensitive individuals, the harsh truth about themselves may be too much to bear. And a lone truth-teller still needs tactical nous in order to avoid being snuffed out by the politically powerful.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

As Below, So Above

John Gray:

“In most of our versions of paradise, sacred or secular, heaven is a place where dreams come true,” Garrett writes. True enough, yet what he omits to note is that human dreams of perfection are essentially contradictory. We may dream of a cosmos governed by moral laws but we also want one in which our cherished personal attachments can sometimes be exempted from these laws. We would like ourselves and those we love to be spared ageing and death; but if our wishes were granted, whether by divine decree or by means of the new technologies that futurists in Silicon Valley are coming up with, we would cease to be the creatures we are and become unrecognisable to one another. Our inability to form any coherent view of the afterlife results from it being a projection of needs and impulses that are irreconcilably at odds.

Now, as in the past, there are many who look to another life to resolve these conflicts, but the anarchy from which they seek to escape is inside themselves. 

In Jesus's world, the Son of Man would arrive in his kingdom, the last would be made first, and each person would be repaid according to their deeds. In Marx's world, the communist society would regulate the general production and allow each person to try their hand at being a hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic, according to their whims. In Nicholas Carr's world, looking backward rather than forward this time, personal technology has distracted us from our authentic selves, and if we can just plug our ears with wax and ignore its siren song, we can get back to whatever deep, meaningful things we were assuredly doing with our lives before the mid-'90s. In these sorts of narratives, imagination fails at the crucial moment and leaves us with a vague "happily ever after" denouement, where we have healed and become whole. Once we reach this state, then what? No one ever says. It seems to be assumed that we'll know an ideal state when we reach it, and having done so, we'll be content to bask in it indefinitely.

I, on the other hand, suggest to you that most people don't actually know themselves well enough to know what would make them content, and even if they were to luck into contentment somehow, boredom and mischief would soon drive them back to dissatisfaction again. More money in the checking account? A prettier appearance? More time to read good books? The dictatorship of the proletariat? The Second Coming? It doesn't matter what you give them; people will always find new ways to make themselves unhappy again. However beautiful a design you manage to weave from your circumstances, the threads will immediately begin unraveling. You may even start picking at them yourself.

Kenan Malik credits Hegel with the insight, overlooked by previous philosophers, that humanity was above all else a work in progress. Human nature did not burst onto the scene fully formed as if winking into existence from a vacuum; individually, it was shaped through interactions with others, and socially, it was shaped through the evolving stages of history's dialectic. Having grasped that humanity's story was born in motion and conflict, though, Hegel gave in to the temptation to envision it eventually coming to rest on a static plateau, deciding, conveniently enough, that the historical dialectic was destined to reach its final resolution in the Prussian state. Many others since then have likewise found themselves unable to conceive of human existence outside the self-serving conventions of narrative structure. Whether they see the ideal human subject as needing to be discovered in the past or created in the future, they all still assume that the meaning of existence reveals itself in the conclusion. But a chord ringing out interminably would be the death of music. A pose held indefinitely would turn even the most graceful dancer into a statue. The motion is the meaning.

The human spirit is a shark with just enough awareness to turn one eye up toward the light shimmering down and dream of a world without constant motion, the scent of blood, and mindlessly gnashing teeth. The denizens of the world above know better, though. In our world, we are required to swim forever — in currents of our own making, if need be — or else die.