Saturday, January 31, 2009

Compulsory Schooling

From Education in the United States, by Robert Church (New York, 1976, p. 107) with parenthetical remarks and italics added by me:
At the same time Sheldon, sensing the inadequacy of a single ragged school, began caimpaging for the city to establish a free (and mandatory) school systsem. The politics of his caimpaign were quite similar to those in other cities. The city's elite supported the idea but one man whom Sheldon identified as "a politician" urged the city's Catholics to oppose a free (and mandatory) school system on the grounds that it was a protestant plot against Catholic children. The Catholics, with the help of other portions of the (lower class) population, successfully blocked Sheldon's efforts. When it become clear that the mass of the city's population would not consent to the plan, Shledon and his influential supporters determined to circumvent the popular will. In 1853 (5 years before the first state-ratified compulsory school in Massachusetts) they persuaded the state legislature to to pass legislation establishing free (and mandatory) schools in Oswego; that legislation contained no provision for a popular referendum on the issue within the city. The law, Sheldon remembered somewhat gleefully, "was in truth sprung on the people, as one might say, contrary to their will" (this quote is taken from Sheldon's own autobiography [New York, 1911, p. 93]) . The need for reform was so great as to outweigh democratic principle.
Here is the dilemma: For the most part, we have democratic feelings about how things should be done in public affairs. We would like to think that we cannot be required to do things (obey laws, pay taxes or levies, and so on) without some kind of democratic choice or representation. In some cases we don't mind indirect representation, but on big issues (like casinos and school levies) we want to vote. Sadly for some and gladly for others, this is not the case historically with many big things and the school is one of them.

We generally trust the public will in a democracy because we think that if something is so good for the general public, then, they will obviously vote for it. In the case of compulsory schooling, most (if not all) people think it is for the general good today and would clearly vote for it if they had the chance, but it was historically created against the grain of popular sentiment. In other words, with time we have become accustomed to being forced to go to school by a rule of law that was not instituted democratically and that just might explain why we do not question the authority of the state or school anymore--we kinda forgot, or were allowed to forget, those historical memories.

This raises the question: What is more important: Freedom or obedience to a common rule of law? The rule of the people (i.e. democracy) or the rule of laws instituted by an elite (i.e. aristocracy or poliarchy)?

Much more to come...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Some Poetry for a Snowy Day

Classes are canceled and I am revising a paper, so, in the meantime, here are three poems I wrote this past year.


Aliens come and go,
In time and space they wander.
Aliens say hello,
Yet too much time they squander.

For by the time of greeting,
The alien is no more.
The alien face is fleeting,
Like the sandcastle on the shore.

And while the alien wishes,
For just a while longer,
It must be washed like soiled dishes,
Before it grows any stronger.

Baby Eyes

Baby eyes don't see that well,
At least that's what experts say.
Baby arms aren't all that strong,
Baby heads loosely bob and sway.

Baby teeth don't exist quite yet,
And baby legs can't stand alone.
Baby hearts beat ever so softly,
And baby words say the unknown.

Baby is the one that needs me,
Baby is so helpless thus it seems.
When really I'm the helpless one,
Wishing for my baby's dreams.

The dream of complete surrender,
The silent radiance of peace.
The dream of conscious thoughtlessness,
The moment of complete release.

While baby's eyes don't see that well,
They see more than I for sure.
For in my baby's blindness,
Lies an answer and a cure.

To Be Original?

To be original.
To be the same.
To be different.
All along the way.

Too much madness.
Too much sense.
Too much normal.
Sing an older hymn instead.

Why not listen?
Why not whisper?
Why not linger?
All along the way.

Friday, January 23, 2009

This just in from Vox-Nova

Here is an interesting piece from our dear friends at Vox-Nova:
The Vatican and Obama

Oh Sam, you're just so special!

No I'm not.

I mean, that's not what you mean. You mean I am weird or odd or maybe downright stupid and out of touch with reality. You say 'special' but you mean other words that you would rather not say to me. You are deodorizing the meaning of your other words and relying on the private meaning they have to us here (culturally, regionally, personally), how you inflect your voice, and what the context is to convey the meaning. But you do not mean that I am really special. You mean something else. Right?

So here is my suggestion: If you like to say things that are not what you mean, then, go ahead; but don't think--even for a second--that the meaning of the words go away. It's there, all the time. Now, I imagine you will get away with saying things you don't mean and many people will forget about the meaning of your language, but, when people happen to remember, you must admit to them what you are doing. Otherwise, you are tricking yourself.

So, by the way, what do you think about socialism? Are you pro-life?

Onward pro-life soldiers???

The commentary offered on the March for Life thus far has been interesting, and I'd like to add my two-cents, for whatever they're worth.

First of all, I agree with Skogey about the March ending at the Capitol and not the Supreme Court---certainly, the Supremes are probably, to some extent, influenced by protesters, the wealthy, political expectations, etc- but to support this sort of influence, and even to participate in it, is something any American who believes in the rule of law ought to be ashamed of. Nevertheless, anyone in the legal profession knows as well as I do that good law, and bad law, both come under pressure from political expectations and desires, and that law is the product of compromise to begin with-- pragmatic, dissapointing, and dispiriting, obviously, but unless we determine to have all of our laws made by those ideal philosopher-kings of will be an imperfect attempt to reflect a society's values.

Sadly, of course, law has lost any teleological grounding at all-- the idea that law exists to shape and direct a community's values, rather than merely to reflect them, has been all but lost by anyone but the most traditional legal scholars---I include myself in this category because I beleive in the very basic proposition that law might make us good, but this notion is largely lost on the legal community, particularly in the United States. But, as is often the case, I digress.

I had wanted to blog about the March for Life and its role in the pro-life movement in the United States. For my purposes, I will define pro-life as the movement to reduce the nubmer of abortions taking place in this country. I understand the seamless garment issues that narrow definition raises, and, to some extent, I support them, but I also support the notion that the body has many parts- and it isn't wrong to expect different things from hands and head and feet, etc.

So- does the March for Life contribute meaningfully to a reduction in the number of abortions in the United States? I'm not certain. In one sense, as Steve pointed out, its capacity to influence politicians is insignificant. Seeing a constituency may remind lawmakers of their obligation to that constituency, but I believe that it is actually on the agenda of precious few lawmakers to do sometihng to reduce the nubmer of abortions in the United States. Pro-lifers are an easily trusting lot, and by and large we accept the rhetoric of the Republican party, demand very little in the way of results, and profess profound gratitude and adulation for those who toss us even the tiniest of crumbs. The political impact of the March for Life, therefore, seems to be negligable. In fac,t we may be doing ourselves a dissservice by providing "pro-life" politicians the easy opportunity ot appease the masses with one day of lip service rather than substantive results. Furthermore, the March for Life may have the impact of villifying politicians who do not believe in making abortion illegal, but whose agendas, including greater access to health and prenatal care, childcare for working mothers, significant maternity leave, etc would acutally contribute to a culture of life. While we should never be compromising on our attempts to render abortion illegal, we need to stop being averse to working with politicians of all stripes to create an overarchign Culture of Life--and if these folks are villified, that becomes all themore difficult.

Does the March for Life contribute meaningfully to a reduction in the number of abortions in any other way? Again, I'm not certain. Unfortunately, since the political battle does not seem to be working ,the real way to reduce the number of abortions is to help provide those services and resources to pregnant woman who need them in a way that they'll feel compfortable accepting them. In short, to build an authentic culture of life. Unfortunately, the March for Life may impede these sortso f efforts too. If the March becomes our "pro-life activity" and well-meaning people can go, check "do pro-life activity" off their to do lsit, and feel fat and happy and good watching the Super Bowl, then the kind of complacency we've encouraged has not been helpful at all. However, if the March inspires people to create all kinds of creative initiatives for building a culture of life on the lcoal level, it has osme value. I don't know if it does.

Finally, Sam is right. The polemical nature of sidewalk debate can create hatred. No abortions are stopped by villfiying politicians with incorrect ideas, nor is sidewalk debate valauble to anyone. Encouraging this kind of argumentative, militant stance, as opposed to one that is creative, collaborative, and overwhelmingly positive is a dangerous thing.

The folks who may get the most out of the March for Life are those who areworking every day, in some capacity or another, on pro-life initiatives. THese folks might be bouyed up, encouraged, and inspired by seeing other s come out to support them. Or they might grow cyncial at the nubmero f people willing to walk around in the cold, but unwilling to volunteer to stuff envelopes, or put pregnant women up, or collect bottles, or whatever it is. I suppose that depends on temperment.

In spite of the drawbacks, and perhaps the limited means by which the March for Life helps anything, I would, if it were accessible to me, continue to attend, if for no other reaosn than t odemonstrate solidarity with the unborn, and with women in crisis pregnancies. I would like ot demonstrate tihs ina more meaningful and tangible way, but a start is a start, and I'd rather see well-intentioned people do sometihng ,however ineefeictive it might be, than do nothing at all. Perhaps our efforts sohuld be focused on encouraging the March for Life to make sosme changes, to become an expression of solidarity and aplace ot commit to authntic change---perhaps we who oppose many elements of the March should see the seminal goodness in such a gathering and work to nurture it into all that it could be. Ultimately, the entire pro-life movement needs a new and different generation of leaders, working to make authentic changes on a grassroots level. Maybe the AMrch is the right place to start.


Another Alternative View on the 'Life' Movement

Courtesy of an anonymous comment, here is a different spin on the March for Life from, entitled, "Why I Didn't Attend the March For Life", by Steve Skojec.

You can read it here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

How the 'Pro-Life' movement left me behind

This image is usually used to imply that 'pro-life' advocates are somehow violent people in general or, at the very least, that they are somehow meaner or crankier than most. Let me be clear: This caricature is an indefensible generalization. Truth be told, either side of the abortion debate can be vicious, mean, and pig-headed.

However, it describes a different sense of why I have slowly felt left behind by the 'pro-life' movement in the United States. I will spare you a long, drawn-out chronological anecdote and be direct. Intentions aside, it is very confusing. What I mean here is that despite the very best--even heroic at times--intentions and beliefs of individuals (many of whom I personally respect and admire), the movement in general can only commit to one thing. That thing being, that, since life begins at conception, abortion at any stage and for any reason is tantamount to murder and ought to be illegal. This one thing is supposed to exhaust what it means to be 'pro-life'. Any questioning of, or embellishment to, that meaning is seen as a nuisance at best and a threat at worst.

I find that, as I have grown in my understanding of what 'life' means, I have become far too radical for this movement. Here are two simple points:

For one, I don't think that we can say that life begins at conception. That biological idea to me is to give into the need for science to dictate when life begins and ends using human rationality. I am of the inclination to take the verse, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you." (Jer 1:5) very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that I am not willing to concede that mysterium tremendum of the genesis of life to biological distinctions. Secondly, I think that murder is something that needs to be parsed out very carefully, as we do juridically in all other cases of suspected murder. It seems very reasonable, based on just these two reasons, that we can have a thoughtful and measured discussion of abortion based on rather different principles than those of the mainline 'pro-life' movement in the U.S.

Then, there is my inconvenient (to 'pro-lifers') belief that life is something that is never excluded in any human issue whatsoever. In other words, my conviction that what makes a thing 'human' is precisely because it involves life (which ought to be radically included into any cause for the preservation and defense of life), is something that I have found resisted by the 'pro-life' movement in general. In my post below, this point is made quite plainly.

Finally, the battlefield setting of this testy discourse in protest rallies and signage, which all-too-often has lead (from personal experience) to sidewalk polemics--and, at times, hatred--has also left me very alienated. I would love to see the efforts used to demonstrate and protest directed towards opening up forums for discussion and rigorous (re)evaluation of the robust issues of life which would include, not the other way around, as much goodwill as possible. It may be controversial, but it seems to me that each argument on either side of the abortion debate is based in what is understood (perhaps wrongly) to be good for the person. Getting a meaning we can understand and implement culturally and legislatively will require much more than signs, I think.

So, while I do not see myself on the sidelines, I am playing on what I see to be a somewhat different playing field. This field does not exclude the 'pro-life' vision, but it is also much more than that too. I am pro-love.

Why the National Right to Life Comittee isn't really 'Pro-Life'

From the NRLC's own mission statement which you can read here.

The primary interest of the National Right to Life Committee and its members has been the abortion controversy; however, it is also concerned with related matters of medical ethics which relate to the right to life issues of euthanasia and infanticide. The Committee does not have a position on issues such as contraception, sex education, capital punishment, and national defense.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

check your facts

Um, Sam, not to be rude, but, check your facts. MLK, Jr was a Republican. Most of the civil rights leaders were.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Speaking of Socialism...

Here are some lesser quoted words from Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech (a title I think poorly describes the message of the speech). He was also a registered Democratic Socialist Party member, along with many other people this country holds in high regard.

*UPDATE: MLK, Jr. was NOT a 'registered' democratic socialist, but there is much to justify calling him an 'unregistered' one.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering his 'I Have a Dream' speech from the steps of Lincoln Memorial. (photo: National Park Service)

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Ressentiment of Socialism and Class Struggle

Against my better inclinations, I've already been compelled to write on political philosophical issues. But, I've taken issue with Sam's description of intuitive socialism, along with his implicit defense of this sort of socialism as the better solution, as the response to capitalism which opens on to a society in which one finds the importance of community and the response to the excesses of individualism. My claim is that, first of all, I fail to see how this weaker form of socialism is at all 'intuitive' in a very meaningful way. Or I should say that if this is the intuitive form of socialism, it can only be etymologically intuitive -- that is, "social" - "ism" is that ism which speaks to the urge towards the social. If this is the intuitive sense of socialism, then as the response to capitalism, it remains fairly meaningless, since capitalism also doesn't do away with the social element of the capitalist community. This socialism would speak nothing at all to class struggle, nothing at all to alienation, and nothing at all to the teleology of history that characterizes the whole history of the tradition of socialist thought.

However, every socialism which opposes itself to capitalism always does so on the basis of the historical struggles between classes, in particular the lower classes against the higher classes. This is why Marx, and every other socialist theory or system, always speaks to struggle of the "worker." The teleology of historical socialism is the rise of the lower classes terminating in the evolution of a classless society. However, a classless society only occurs on the basis of the disappearance of the other classes. The privileged class, in the sense of the surviving class and the class which attains an historical normativity and absoluteness of perspective, is that of the "worker." Every other class becomes an obstacle to this class and its historical destiny, and herein lies the problem and the clue to the fact that socialism does not and cannot purport to be anything but the ressentiment, or hatred, of the "workers" over their situation.

I use the term ressentiment, a French term first used in its technical, philosophical sense by Friedrich Nietzsche which can literally be translated as "resentment," though it means much more than that, in order to describe a certain type of reponse and feeling of hatred and resentment, a certain longing for revenge or reversal of power relationships, that I believe characterizes every socialism. The "workers" of socialism rise up in hatred and jealousy against the upper classes, demanding a redistribution of wealth and power, which cannot be accomplished without the destruction of the upper classes and the bourgeoisie. The ressentiment of socialism is often covered up and disguised in the form of vague humanisms, the love of mankind, which becomes really only the love of a certain class, the "worker," or perhaps, in it's most deluded moments, in the "tough-love" for the upper classes who would be "better" people, perhaps, without all of their wealth and their abuse of power. However, from a Christian standpoint, it must be remembered that "love is never jealous," it never rejoices in the destruction of others or other classes, but "rejoices only in the right."

In contrast to the capitalism-socialism debate of the nineteenth, twentieth, and now again twenty-first centuries, Christianity has posed itself as a third option, one which rejects both options of two sides of the same bad coin. While I have certainly rejected socialism as nothing more than the ressentiment of the "worker," I do not mean to defend the upper classes against the lower, nor to reject the need for justice for the poor and the development of a just economic situation. However, this must only be accomplished on the basis of the universal love which Christianity preaches. Christianity does not preach a classless society, but rather preaches that class distinctions are not important before God and shouldn't accord any greater honor or dishonor among men. However, there must be justice for the poor and the rich alike. Charity, as the defining virtue of a Christian community, demands that society should take care of all of its members, though it is important to recognize that for the Christian, society does not equal government, but rather society as Christian society equals the "Kingdom of God," the "People of God," i.e. the Church. It is the Church and Church communities that are responsible for building a society of virtue and thus of ensuring that people take care of one another and develop a community in which there is justice for the poor and rich alike. But this must a society in which greed and jealousy are rejected in all forms and in every class.

One can, however, hardly expect a philosophical theory ever to accomplish or encompass this sort of love which builds virtue and alters the very character of a society. In all likelihood, the philosophers will continue to be caught up in this debate and will never extricate themselves from these systems of ressentiment. In the process, I fear that society will continue to be subjected to incessant references to Adam Smith and Karl Marx and get nowhere in the process.

Introducing myself, and some comments on socialism

Hi everybody,

Awesome blog! I already love Rimatara! Thanks for inviting me, Sam. I look forward to discussing things with you all. To introduce myself, I’m a Philosophy grad student at University of Kentucky. The discussion unfolding recently caught my attention, since socialism is one of my academic (and non-academic) interests. I consider myself Marxist, in a rather loose interpretation of that term. (To be technical, I'm roughly a "Marxist humanist" in Erich Fromm's sense of the term.) I am also a Catholic, and during the summers I go back to my undergraduate university (University of the Incarnate Word in Texas) and take graduate theology classes. So, all that does not explain the totality of my interests (academic or non-academic), but it does explain why a couple of the recent blog posts have finally led me to emerge from winter hibernation and throw in my two cents (sorry for the mixed metaphor). (Sam's comments about death counts are interesting to me too...but I drafted the following comments on socialism before his piece on death counts, so here goes...)

Defining socialism is a gargantuan task. Asked for a definition, socialists seem to flounder around in a morass of technical jargon about alienation, praxis, theory, historical events, class struggle, value, price, human nature, and so on. Socialism is sometimes defined as "worker ownership of the means of production," but that is a controversial definition, because many people (like me) would argue that socialism is about more than just "who owns what" (contra the watered-down definitions that both socialists and supporters of capitalism like to offer). Mere economic redistribution--like the Swedish welfare state--also doesn't really seem to qualify as socialism, nor does merely placing the ownership of the means of production in the hands of the *state* constitute socialism, at least not if one wants to be true to something like a Marxist approach to socialism. (Marx rarely speaks of the "state" at all, saying far more about the "workers.")

Nor, however, would I be satisfied with saying that socialism is merely non-capitalism(although if one were to add a commitment to "community" of some kind, as Sam suggests, that might get us closer to what we're looking for). From a practical standpoint, it would probably be awesome if everyone opposed to capitalism would jump behind the banner of socialism. But from a theoretical standpoint, there has to be more to socialism than just being anti-capitalist, because a movement for major change in society should be able to say something about what it is for, not just what it is against.

Of course, various historical events make the task of defining socialism even more difficult. On the one hand, it would be wonderful if a new definition of socialism could be developed that would enable socialists to get away from tiresome and hacked-over debates about why various historical attempts at socialism failed (or didn't fail)--I try to avoid those debates--and focus instead on addressing the pressing issues of the present (the increasing gap between rich and poor, ongoing U.S. military invasions, etc.). On the other hand, grappling with historical events seems unavoidable in attempting to define socialism. Slavoj Zizek says somewhere (can't recall where) that, whether they like it or not Marxists have to grapple with Lenin, like Christians have to grapple with Paul (the analogy doesn’t work perfectly). And non-Marxist socialists can't really avoid historical issues either, if they want to explain how they differentiate themselves from Marxist socialists.

Perhaps, rather than striving for a definition of socialism, we would be better off if we could address some pertinent issues relating to socialism, and thus dance around the topic, without attempting to hit the nail right on the head (sorry for another mixed metaphor). I'm not sure what alternative approach to suggest, but here is a possible question (to which I don't have an answer prepared): Does capitalism foster alienation, and how could alienation be reduced? (But if people want to discuss my worries about defining socialism, or some other topic altogether, have at it! :))

Anyway, that was fun! Nice to meet you,


Stop the insanity

During my days as a wide-eyed youth in the '90s, I recall seeing a best-selling book just about everywhere books were sold: Stop the Insanity, by a spiky-haired woman named Susan Powter. I never read the book, but I do remember being irritated at its ubiquitousness and the vagueness of the title. What insanity, I wondered.

Well, now I'm writing a post called "Stop the Insanity," and the subject is clear. We need to stop pretending that "Magical Mystery Tour" is a good album.

That's right, I said it. The Beatles made a bad record. For decades, the Beatles have been cited as an influence for just about every successful rock/pop act that has followed them. The band's catalog has become something like holy scripture -- "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" is widely regarded as either the best or first concept album ever, and the post-Beatles solo projects the band members were involved in after the fact are granted nearly the same reverence.

Or they would, had the ex-Beatles not definitively shown us what silly people they really were following the band's breakup. Paul McCartney dabbled with the very hit-and-miss band Wings, George Harrison wound up getting eclipsed by his involvement in the "Free Tibet" movement, John Lennon married Yoko and produced a seemingly endless series of audio abortions, and Ringo Starr emerged as the tiny conductor of Shining Times Station on the "Thomas the Tank Engine" program for children.

To be fair, Lennon and McCartney did pen and produce some good music following their stint in the Beatles, but I think it's safe to say that the majority of the work they did in the '70s and '80s was garbage.

But let's not get too far into the post-Beatles weeds here. What I want to discuss now is the set of rose-colored glasses the Fab Four's work is regarded with in retrospect. Specifically, I want to deal with the atrocity that is "Magical Mystery Tour."

First, some historical information. "Magical Mystery Tour" was originally released as a six-track EP in late 1967, the soundtrack to an ill-fated Paul McCartney project, which had "ordinary people" going around in a bus and having "magical" adventures... which was an idea Macca stole from the late Ken Kesey (author of "One Few Over the Cuckoo's Nest") and his band of "Merry Pranksters," who ate a bunch of acid, climbed aboard a colorfully-painted bus, and traveled the United States. The film project was a flop, since no magical adventures ever materialized, but the soundtrack proved to be a hit, and stayed on the number-one spot on the U.S. lists for eight weeks in 1968.

The record's A-side begins with the title track, "Magical Mystery Tour," which has about as much depth and musical interest as the soundtrack to any pre-'80s sitcom... in fact, the soundtrack to M*A*S*H is far better, using the instrumental version of "Suicide is Painless" for a show about the Korean (and really, the Vietnam) war. Next up is McCartney's "Fool on the Hill," which is perhaps the only decent song on the album... although it's certainly no "Penny Lane."

Track three, "Flying," is an instrumental, and is incredibly forgettable. This is followed by "Blue Jay Way," which is terrible and makes LSD seem like something to do to get yourself into the mood for a psychedlic suicide. "Your Mother Should Know" is a half-decent, and rather boring, McCartney piece, which may constitute the only evidence that "Magical Mystery Tour" is indeed a Beatles record at all.

Finally, we make it to the album's supposed tour-de-force, "I Am The Walrus." I'm not exactly sure where to begin, other than to say that this is a dogshit song. Worse than that, really. But let me tell you about my first experience with it.

Back when I was a teenager, I got it into my head that I'd missed out on an amazing movement in popular music -- the '60s and early '70s. Having been born in 1980 to a pair of bluegrass-lovers, I grew up listening to Willie Nelson and Clint Black and Rickie Nelson and Alabama (the band, not the perennially-racist state).

When I was 15, I received three important albums: "The Cream of Clapton," Paul Simon's "Graceland" (which I still regard as the greatest album ever made) and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Up until then, I'd been listening almost exclusively to a cassette tape of Billy Joel's "Piano Man" I'd purchased in British Columbia a year earlier after hearing "River of Dreams" on the radio. I decided that the '60s clearly were an important time in music history, and set out to listen to as much of that era's rock and roll as I could get my ears around.

It wasn't long after I got these first three key albums that I found myself, with a freshly-earned twenty-dollar bill in my pocket, driving my parents' car to the record store, where I found a copy of "Magical Mystery Tour" on CD. "Ah ha!" I thought. "This is the Beatles, and it's in the 'acid period.' If I listen to this, I'll gain insight into that strange and phenomenal era."

Well, I bought the record and eagerly tore through the wrapping plastic as soon as I got back to the car. I felt like I was going to gain some secret knowledge, some kind of illumination. Imagine my disappointment on placing the CD in the vehicle's sound system and turning up the volume. I believe my reaction was something like, "Oh."

I didn't want to believe it at the time, and I know there are a lot of people who still don't believe it. But it's a shit record. "I Am The Walrus" eventually came on, and I'd had enough.

I've listened to that song countless times in the 12 intervening years, and it's just indefensible. That hasn't stopped people from trying: "It's absurdist," "It's a study in juxtaposition," "It's sheer genius." No, it isn't. It's John Lennon being as high on hallucinogens and yogi spirituality as he could possibly get and writing a cretinous parody of a Bob Dylan song. The nonsense lyrics are often mistaken for being "deep" -- they aren't. There is no trenchant meaning hidden in the phrase "Semolina pilchard / climbing up the Eiffel Tower." That's just stupid. It's meaningless, and, anticipating a probable objection, meaninglessness does not confer depth.

I want to point out that I have no problem with drug usage. I've actually tried a few myself. If eating LSD and staring at a shrub for nine hours makes you happy, I say, go ahead. But please, keep the insights you discover to yourself -- don't foist them on the rest of humanity. That's what "I Am The Walrus" really is: the ramblings of someone who's been high for the better part of three months directed at people who haven't been. It's nothing less than infuriating, and I am sick and tired of everyone pretending that it's avante-garde genius. In fact, if Mark David Chapman had his lawyers bring up "I Am The Walrus" during his murder trial, he might have gotten off on a manslaughter charge.

It's only fair to point out that "Penny Lane" and "The Fool on the Hill" are terrific tracks, but they're out of place on what is otherwise a rotten, meaningless record. McCartney wrote those anyway, and he can be righteously lambasted for having penned "Ebony and Ivory" and "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" later, during his solo career.

The 1960s were an amazing time of cultural exploration and experimentation. While we have many gems that came out of this time, there are also a fair amount of turds -- William S. Burroughs' "Naked Lunch" is a fine example of the latter. "Magical Mystery Tour" certainly falls into the "failed" category, and my view is that now, forty years later, we really need to quit pretending that it's a landmark record.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Counting Dead People

I am putting aside my series for the moment to write something more important, I think.

I have grown weary of hearing people put causes and ideologies before human persons. What I mean here, concretely, is the use of casualty reports to attempt to justify one side or the other in Gaza. On Facebook there is a growing trend for Israel supporters to post how many people (especially children) have been killed by rockets and, for Palestinian supporters (or people who do not sympathize with Israel) on the other hand, to post how many people have been killed in the recent warfare by Israeli forces. The same tactic exists when anti-war types tote Iraq War death counts to stand down the war supporters who tally up the dead at 9-11. Or the people who oppose capital punishment who cite the number of dead executees against the dead people murdered by criminals noted by capital punishment supporters. And, then, you have the reproductive rights supporters who cite the dead girls trying to get illegal abortions against the dead babies legally aborted who are brought up by anti-abortion advocates.

Counting dead people, it seems to me, is to treat those persons -- those mothers and fathers and children and brothers and sisters and babies and 5 year olds and 79 year olds -- as objects, numbers. This numerical objectification attempts to argue that certain collections of human life are somehow more important or to be mourned more so or less so than others. I know there are cogent arguments for this kind of thing (e.g. innocent life is more valuable than criminal life). Nonetheless, I think we ought to do less counting of dead people as a means to advancing the causes we claim to be fighting for. We should pause -- even stop -- to remember, over and over again, that these are human persons! Real, bleeding, breathing, fearing, sweating, loving, and beautiful human subjects who do not die to be counted and listed as casualties of some cause we support or oppose.

Nothing can become more important than this. All life is sacred and all death is sad. Justice, desert, politics and its subsidiaries must be humbled by the raw existential angst and beauty of life and death. They should yield and become sobered by it.

Right now, I fear, we are drunk.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Three objections to what I have written so far

Before I go any further in my musings about socialism and capitalism (see the sidebar for those essays), I think it would be useful to spend some time clearing the air -- albeit only partially, if that -- of certain objections that have come up. I find each of them very compelling (and thank those who brought them up) and think that in order to give them just attention I should "advertise" them here briefly and, then, post responses to each of them. I hope that this method is not too tedious and that you will bear with me if it is. On the other hand, I am sure there are far too many credible objections to what I have written thus far to number, so, if these three are insufficient to you, I am sorry about that too.

These are the biggest objections people have raised so far, it seems to me:
  1. 'Capitalism' is a biased word to begin with and what it means is less than clear if not problematic. No one calls herself a capitalist, rather, this term is coined and used by socialists or alike. And even if it were an appropriate name to call the converse of socialism, what does it mean? Why have I neglected to pay that any attention?
  2. My weak, intuitive sense of defining socialism is too weak, even nihilistic maybe. 'Socialism' is reduced to fuzzy, warm feelings we have for one another. This may be something, but to call it socialism is about as productive as calling oil "black stuff." More importantly, it forgets that socialism is, as Boston put it, "more than a feeling." It is a real thing that happened in the history of ideas and in recent political history. Which leads the third point.
  3. Esoteric meanings of thing we have mostly clear definitions for in dictionaries and so on only complicate things needlessly. No one in their right mind needs -- not to mention that no one wants -- another theoretical nuance or more intellectual parsing out this or that from the language we use and can, generally, agree on. This may serve a certain small circle of blowhards and cloud dwellers, but it does no good for these terms as they work in the world for the rest of the population. Weak, intuitive socialism is nothing more than nerdly self-gratification. If I want to say something about socialism or capitalism (or whatever word we prefer for what socialist and alike call capitalism) I should stick with the pre-established, normative definitions and, then, try and say something smart about it.
Does this seem like a fair assessment so far?

A Belated Introduction

Hello, all. I've already written one blog entry on the crisis of science, mostly in response to other discussions already going on here, and never got the chance to introduce myself and where I'm coming from intellectually and otherwise.

I am a Ph.D. philosophy student at the New School for Social Research trying to specialize in ethics, but for the purposes of my writings here, that's probably entirely beside the point. My writing tends to range from the philosophical to the theological, being not only intellectually Catholic but religiously so as well, and every so often to the political, although my distaste for politics and political debate compels me to do this only in the most extreme instances where holding my tongue is no longer possible for me. That being said, I am very upfront with that element of my writing and my thought that is the most contradictory and perhaps the most urgent: I am a philosopher with a hatred of philosophy, a future professor with contempt for the Ivory Tower of Academia, and an intellectual who would like nothing better than to leave the intellectual life behind to get down to more important and urgent matters.

In either case, I hope I can keep things interesting here at any rate and pass on what ever insight or wisdom I may have acquired along the road. But my hope is not to spark more questions or a deeper thirst for knowledge so much as to promote action, a vital and dynamic embrace of life, and a care and concern for not just thinking but doing what is right.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

on how stuff is...

i was going to write a book review for this post. i even started it. hell, i even read the book. long story short: go out and buy a copy of the valkyries, by paulo coehlo, and pretend you've never read the alchemist, because this is nothing like that.

several years ago, when i was living in washington, dc, i came across liberation theology, in all it's glory, and nothing has been the same since.

i think we can talk all we want about communism and socialism, or the real versus the simulated. i spent a good portion of college writing papers about aristotelian political theory, the rise of empire in europe, the divine right of kings, the arab/israeli conflict. i wrote papers...i read journals...i studied my way into reading glasses. what i can tell you about machiavelli, or hitler, or marx, or lenin, or hobbes, or locke, or cromwell, or the sun king, or any of the rest of them is fairly pointless. the minute you realize that all the isms in the world boil down to who really owns your stuff, and how much your stuff really owns you is the point at which real education takes place.

orthodoxy must meet orthopraxis, or it's all empty. it's all vanity. and i think, i know, i believe you can have an orthodoxy and a fully integrated orthopraxis that is separated from a relgious structure. ultimately, everything filters down to the systems, no theories, no excuses. bone meets bone, and you must deal in flesh, in relationships, outside of G-d, or god, or gods, or just the voices in your head. and that kind of relationship exists out of the time and space where religion or dogma or theory have any real bearing on who we are or how we are.

that's what i think, today.

mil besos,

But 'Socialism' was not a Marxist Invention!

I would like to thank those who have spurred these musings on socialism and capitalism into a series of sorts. I only hope I can stay engaged. The title of this post is a rip-off from a chapter in Michel Foucault's Remarks on Marx, "But Structuralism was not a French Invention." Also, the point I would like to make here is indebted to certain questions posed by readers and I hope there are many more to come (questions, that is). Answers seems so entirely far fetched at this point of bloggery. Now, on to the my point(s).

Historically, socialism is a (if not the) reaction against capitalism. And, we are usually led to believe, it is the thing that began in the frustrations of Marx and Engels, that climaxed in their seminal writings. This caricature of socialism portrays it as something 'invented' by the Marxist reaction against capitalism. As I wrote previously, I think this interpretation leads to a smelly, too-strong kind of socialism that is too easily ignored or attacked (and for good reason, I think).

However, recognizing that the weak, intuitive sense of 'socialism' was not a Marxist invention, then, we begin to understand what I have argued is the earliest -- and most serious -- meaning of 'socialism'. What I mean by this is that a weak sense of socialism is not intuitive only because it makes sense historically, empirically, or what have you, pure and simple. Socialism, in the weak sense I outlined earlier, is a another word for the human struggle for justice, freedom, and love. It only becomes something situated in particular situations that, to us here and now, are political and economic after the fact. After the weak sense has been raped of its meaning and turned into an ideology. That is to say, that the economics, politics, or what have you, of this weak socialism is not the usual, modern polemic. At the same time, it is addressing a distinctly modern problem.

I choose the word 'addressing' instead of 'fixing' for good reason, I think. The hubris of strong socialism is that it is teleologically identical to modern capitalism. It offers an alternative all-to-similar to the completeness of its predecessor. Socialism as a weak, intuitive thing only says what it can say. In other words, it addresses capitalism as a something different, but not newer than the vices it displays in history. So, we find that socialism, in the weak sense, is something that precedes and exceeds its supposedly Marxist invention.

Now, I should be held accountable to reducing socialism to nothing (in the critical view of some unforseen objectors). I think that will be my next task.



I'm JD, the newest edition to the blogging team here at Rimatara.

So who am I?

I'm the very conservative, old-school Catholic guy. Except when I'm not. Sometimes, I'm the fairly progressive and open-minded Catholic guy. Except when I'm not. Sometimes I'm the ambivalent guy who sees both sides of a good argument and can't choose. And sometimes, I'm the guy who looks at the argument, and decides its the intellectual version of "self-abuse" I just sit back and watch the show.

You'll get a mixed bag from me. I'm not bright enough to disagree with Sam on matters philosophical, and, like I said, I try to steer away from anything that smacks of sophistry. I'll talk a little bit about politics, a little bit about me, a little big about Catholicism and religion, and a little bit about hockey. At which I suck.

Hope I keep things interesting, and, at least on occasion, hilarious.

Thanks to Vox Nova!

In a fit of charity, Policratus, from Vox Nova, has featured RIMATARA on his wonderful group blog. Being new and all, about all we can offer by way of reciprocity is thanks and strong wishes that those of you who are not yet familiar with Vox Nova will get familiar soon. The erudition and verve that their writers display day in and day out is well worth your time.

What Does Socialism 'Mean'?

Oftentimes, people who are sympathetic to socialism (who may or may not be socialists themselves) argue that socialism's meaning is misunderstood. The basic sentiment of this argument is that if people only understood what it "really means," then, socialism would be accepted by all (or many).

In response to this, those who oppose socialism (who may or may not be capitalists) will often retort with a definition of socialism or a quote from a socialist, Marxist, or alike. Using whatever definition they provide as a foundation, they will provide arguments as to why they both understand what socialism is and have good reason to oppose it.

I find this dance very tiresome and circular -- not to mention boring. I think there is another -- perhaps better -- way to go about things that may offer a place we can begin to have a more fruitful and interesting discussion. Namely, we ought to ask, again in an entirely different sort of way: What does socialism mean?

What makes this question different is that when I ask what the 'meaning' of socialism is, I am not asking for a dictionary definition or a convenient quote from Marx, Engels, Lenin, or Mao. What I am asking are more direct questions that are usually excluded from these kinds of discussions altogether. These are questions like: What does it mean for the events we can call 'socialist' to happen? In other words, what does it mean for capitalism to be rejected by so many people at different times for so many different reasons? Where does that sentiment come from? Is it justified? Does it make sense? Can we empathize with it?

Answers to these questions will reveal a different sense of socialism. A weaker sense than the strong, pungent scents of theoretical or historical socialisms. This is what socialism is, I think, in its infancy, its intuitive beginnings. Those early intuitions are the sense that something is wrong with capitalism. Or, to put it more aptly, something is wrong with the human person objectified by the modern, capitalist reduction of persons into objects -- human resources.

I think that those who can agree with this weaker sense of what socialism is, can begin to talk about alternatives that may vary in ideology or political sentiment, but will not be reduced to what John Mayer calls, "slow dancing in a burning room."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Movie Review: "Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater"

I picked up Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater on my way out of the public library and figured that I could stand to learn something about Barry Goldwater or -- to put my expectations more accurately -- what people think about Goldwater. Since the latter is the larger portion of my belief about narratives in general, I find the subtitle useless. And, still, I'd like to think that the subtitle is not entirely off the mark -- or, to put it another way, although Goldwater was not resurrected in this movie to speak to our times about his conservatism and his life, I found the movie to be quite fascinating. The most fascinating part was the way the movie was done, who commented on Goldwater, and what they said. Ranging from Al Franken and Hillary Clinton, his son (Barry Goldwater Jr.) and granddaughter, and plenty of snippets of Goldwater himself, this was a story told in a very complex way that had an agenda: "conservatism" has lost its way.

Many would agree with this and might also find it odd to hear such a view coming from the likes of Clinton (a former Goldwater Girl in her youth) and Franken, but the what is important, I think, is not that "conservatism" as outlined by Goldwater is lost and needs to be restored, but, rather, that politics has lost its way and has been reduced to fundraising. Goldwater is presented as a deeply complex man -- with his fair share of demons and angst in his own life and those his life affected (most poignantly in the lives of his neglected children) -- who represented more than a brand (that I find very unpersuasive) of political ideology.

The Goldwater of this film represents one of the last "human" politicians. By "human" I mean Goldwater, in this film, is treated as a political subject, not a mere object of that machine we call politics.

Like him or not (Goldwater, that is), this film seems to be a timely thing to watch. And, as far as I can tell, it seems to be a pretty decent piece of documentary journalism too. You may want to check it out at your local library. Something tells me that it is not leaping from the shelves.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Membership Dues

There are many sophisticated ways to write about taxation and I doubt that this is one of them. Still, I'd like to make a few simple points on the matter using membership dues as a simile.

I don't mind paying dues as long as: a) I can afford to pay them and b) they provide things I like. So, when I could afford to play golf (which I can't anymore) I was very interested to find a golf course I could join. By "join" I mean paying an amount of money which would entitle me to the benefits of the golf club. There is nothing ideological about this scenario and I would like to think that it is a generalizable thing to say about most people.

This seems to be why no one complains about public benefits and programs that they use. I don't see many people railing against libraries or firefighters. We largely get mad about paying for things we find unimportant or think could be better spent elsewhere. This means that no one is wholeheartedly against an institution (be it a government or a country club) charging a membership fee for things we like. No one wants to dissolve the state completely. Even an anarchist would simply like to see a conglomeration of people that occurs in, what seems to them, a better way. Conglomerations, governments, country clubs, families, churches, dating and what have you are the water we swim in. There is no way out. The question is simply a matter of what we think we need and how we are to pay for it. And I do mean "we." This includes the 'I' and the 'we'. There is no 'I' outside of the 'we', I think.

When those "things we need" are inalienable rights, then, we find ourselves in a very difficult predicament. This is because certain things, like life, are provided by extension of certain services, like medical care. So, to say that it is an inalienable right is one thing, but to say it is something we should charge for as part of the membership package is another one altogether, at least to many people. There are many more issues to discuss here. Nothing stranger (at least to me) then why we never seem to object to public parks. Although I do think that beauty is an inalienable right too. But that is for another time.

What does not help the matter, is to send people to this corner or that and assume that by inhabiting that space (e.g. liberal, conservative, anarchist, socialist, and so on) they have said everything we need to hear. This is messy stuff and I think that walking away from shallow corners and empty allegiances and opening up some free space to think deeply about these things is a good start.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Socialism and Capitalism

If we strip the words of their historical context and simply look at what they seem to say as plain terms, I think it is easy to say that socialism intuits as more humane than capitalism. Comparing social (human) and capital (non-human) things as ends seems to be an easy choice to make. The problem is that that basic meaning, plain and simple, isn't nearly enough. I should reveal, as a matter of honesty, that there has always seemed to be a certain empathy I can share with my committed socialist friends that I cannot with my capitalist ones. Putting that aside for the moment, I do know that, in many (if not most) ways, the sentiments of my capitalist friends are similar (if not the same) as their converse socialist opponents. Their issues go back to a basic misunderstanding in the root intuitive appeal of what makes someone decide to "be" a socialist or a capitalist.

I think that socialists and capitalists both want to see a better world. The capitalist, on the one hand, finds the excesses of free markets excusable (to a certain extent) because of the principles of freedom they hold dear. These are principles that clearly desire for the human person to be free and flourish. The socialist reacts against the excesses of modern capitalism and finds the evils of historical socialist states excusable (to a certain extent) because of the principles of solidarity and community that also desire for the human person to exist in freedom and flourish.

Yet, both are deeply misguided, it seems to me. If there were an ideology to be had, I think we would have to move past the individualist vs. pluralist polemics. Truth be told, persons are deeply inscribed with both individual freedom, uniqueness, and dignity that is manifest in their desire for community, solidarity, and relationships. Unless we have a paradigm of politics, economics, or what have you, that accounts for that complex relationship between the person and the community, we will be left with too little.

What we can find some hope in is that, for those not exploiting these ideologies, most of those who ascribe to this or that want the same things: joy, peace, hope, goodness, and, of course, Love.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

An Elementary Introduction to an Elementary Introduction to Quantum Physics

Earlier I described the two basic sensibilities of science as, on the one hand, a Newtonian Outlook and, on the other hand, a Quantum Outlook. I am always annoyed when people invoke technical terms, like "quantum," and fail to show even the slightest idea of what it actually is, or seems to be to them. Lest I be a complete hypocrite, I would like to describe what I mean here from a very simple explanation of what quantum physics is, or, at least, seems to be to me at this point.

To begin to sum it up, it is best described as a perceptive quandary posed by the fact that we, humans, are very big and very slow when compared to many things, including hummingbirds and mosquitoes, but, especially, subatomic particles and their own subparticles. That is, if we could exist at the tinyness and fastness of an electron, for example, we would see things so differently that our intuitions about the way things work, that is move and function, would change completely.

One way we can observe this is with light waves/particles and how they behave rather oddly when pushed to conform to little spaces (see: Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle). But, the gap is so vast between our own big/slow world and the tiny/fast world of the subatomic (and smaller) world, that our minds have a lot of trouble getting at what they need to get at in order to say true things about the subatomic world and, especially, the smaller ones than that. So, we find that notions of time, space, motion, thermodynamics, and so on get rather messy and unsettled.

This impovershied description is what I mean to invoke when I used the word, quantum.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dinner Report

Vegetable wild rice soup on Saturday, turkey lasagna on Sunday, bella-mushroom pizza on Monday. Topo Chico mineral water, southern-style homemade iced tea, and Miller High Life to drink. Yum yums in my tum tums.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Freud, Football and the Marching Virgins (and William James)

If the title isn't fun enough on its own, read this wonderfully playful little essay about Freud and football by Thomas Hornsby Ferril. A very interesting thing about it is that it expresses the religious sense in ritual and meaning in a way that is very foreign to the rather clumsy religous sensibility that seems to monopoilize what we mean by "religious".
To book drop again, another person who I am doing lots of work with is William James (1842-1910). And, it just so happens, I am particularly interested in his work in philosophy of mind as it addresses religion, human immortality, and human blindness. The funny thing is, he has no formal religious creed to speak of. Lest he be ignored as some non-denominational hack, his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, is a must read for anyone interested in these things.

An Audacious Review of Book Reviews

I mentioned Foucault as an interest of mine in an earlier post and I thought I would clarify that endorsement by referring you to two book reviews that I wrote on Foucault 2.0, by Eric Paras.

Foucault has been interpreted, for the most part, as a structuralist, anti-humanist, and fairly obsessed with power. With the recent arrival of Foucault's lectures given at the College de France during his final year when he was not writing, a new interpretation has become available. Namely, that Foucault was really a humanist, that is concerned deeply about the human subject, which is the main point of Foucault 2.0.

If this interests you, you may want to look at my short education-focused review in Education Review or my longer philosophical treatment in Parrhesia: A Journal of Critical Philosophy.

The Crisis of the Sciences

There can be no question that in popular culture as well as in scientific culture, science has attained a type of normativity, a type of authority that has established itself over and against every other sort of authority, whether religious, philosophical, cultural, etc. This can be seen very clearly in the way in which we always run to scientific objectivity to resolve disputes. Where no such objectivity can be found, it is simply assumed that we have arrived at a position for which there can be no claim to truth. The simple result of this modern cultural phenomenon is this: all truth is nothing more than objectivity and all objectivity is nothing other than scientific objectivity.

I would submit that inasmuch as science always operates upon this assumption, and inasmuch as it must do so in order to maintain the absoluteness of its authority in contemporary discussion and debate, science always proceeds uncritically, and thus naïvely. Scientific naïveté, then, consists in the fact that science has never grounded the assumption that knowledge and truth consist in objectivity. This has only ever been assumed by science. In part, this is because science doesn't need to ground this assumption in order to arrive at its conclusions. That is, in order to have a scientific understanding of the fact that the chemical composition of water is H2O, one need not have previously grounded the assumption that this chemical composition is an objective fact. For scientific knowledge to work here, this can be taken for granted without difficulty. However, to the extent that science no longer self-critically restricts itself to the performance of its own tasks and field of validity, but seeks to become a totalizing theory, an all-encompassing "philosophical" view of the cosmos, actuality, and being, reducing all to objectivity, science and scientific theory proceeds wholly uncritically and without grounding. That is, inasmuch as it seeks to become "philosophical" is requires a philosophical grounding, but one which it is incapable of furnishing.

Herein one will find the crisis of the sciences. The lack of fundamental grounding in the sciences is connected to a lack of understanding in the sciences of problems of epistemology which then have resulting problems in ontology and indirect problems in ethics, philosophy of religion, etc. to the extent that they become subjected to scientific judgment and critique. Fundamentally, what science forgets is that every object is an object only for a subject which perceives and objectifies it. The object, then, is not object in-itself, but is only an object for me who perceives it. Morever, inasmuch as the validity of scientific objectivism depends upon a notion of the object as wholly self-standing, as primordially objective in-itself, scientific objectivism, or any theory which posits truth as objectivity, could only work by taking up a "view from nowhere" wherein the object can be perceived and understood simultaneously from all its sides and throughout the history of its development. This, however, is impossible and ignores the ultimate ineluctibility of the subjectivity of perception, understanding, and ultimately of truth and being itself. There is no going around the subject, and thus, there is no doing away with the subjectivity that must underly and support every objectivity.

The object, then, is only constituted by an act of objectification which makes it possible as object in the first place. This, however, is the never-understood state of affairs out of which science as an institution arises as a cultural construction of humanity. This is not to say, however, that science and the object, as constructions, are "merely" constructed, or voluntaristically constructed. Rather, they do maintain their spheres of validity. However, the sciences must recognize the limits of their horizons of validity. They can never expect to arrive at any unified theory that can be the expression of all that is and has validity as truth. Instead they must be understood as holding sway within spheres that are limited to mere objectivity, an objectivity which they must come to recognize, if they are to rise out of their naïveté, still requires an explanation which the sciences themselves can never furnish. If the sciences can recognize their limits and, in recognizing these limits, if they can further recognize the validity of other horizons of experience, truth, etc. beyond the limits of the physical, substantial object, then the sciences can recognize that they have nothing to say at all, either positively or negatively, about the phenomena of religion, theology, etc. Failing this, the sciences will remain forever in naïveté and will thus, in failing to be self-critical, fail to be fully scientific in the first place.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

To Make Ian Feel Better:


Why no one should feel uncomfortable, I think

I think we have Adam to blame for launching us into this thread that seems to have jump-started RIMATARA. And, I think we should thank him for that. Ian and I have done our fair share to heat things up, so to speak, and it seems now (at least according to Ian) that this might just turn out to be yet another tiresome "atheist vs. theist" debate. If it were true, it would be something to signal a rather normal -- not to mention boring -- blog has begun and you should ignore it so it can die quickly. Now, you may indeed want to spend your time in better ways than reading this blog since, after all, there are better -- much, much, much better -- things to do, I am sure; but, if these recent exchanges have anything to do with it, I think they might be an indication of good things, not bad ones, to come. Let me explain.

Adam and Ian are not religious atheists. What I mean here is that they are not devotees of a non-god. They are not claiming certainty over their skeptical views about theism. This is a very good thing indeed. Otherwise we could simply dismiss them as adherents of another religion: atheism.

Now, my quibble with them is that they are not totally godless. They seem to represent the modern turn towards a religious devotion to science. There are two clear differences in modern scientific outlooks as I see it. Let me sketch them here briefly.

One, is a Newtonian outlook. This is not to claim any entry into Newton's mind, it is just a place holder. This outlook see the world as "explainable" through what we call scientific inquiry or method. The hard thing to put your finger on, though, is where human inquiry gets "sciencey". Where and why does it become the new religion of modernity rather than the old, outdated ways of looking at the flat, Ptolemaic world? This view of things is still the dominant one, as I see it.

The second view is the Quantum outlook. This one is still suffers from a great deal of assumptions about epistemology (that is, how knowledge gets "sciencey") but it has one great insight -- the world, at its core, is a mystery. This mysterium tremendum of the world opens the door, once again, for a discussion not so unlike the pre-modern one. Only this one has been augmented by the things we can say about the world (e.g. the earth revolves around the sun, thus far it seems to us), albeit carefully and modestly.

I may have some big problems about science with Adam and Ian, however, none of them centers around belief in a higher power or not, it is just a dialogue over the foundations of knowledge, which is a good dialogue to have, I think. So, to restate what I meant to get across earlier, I wonder what we mean by "sense" here (hence the openness to mental "disorder"), I am not denying it completely, I just think that we could be much smarter -- and humbler -- about it.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Lighten the mood, maybe

It occurs to me that we may have found ourselves in the middle of a God vs. atheism debate far too early on in the run of this blog. It might be a good idea to table that issue for the time being and move on to other topics -- at least for now.

I think it's a good discussion to have, and I'm genuinely interested in the viewpoints of other people -- I certainly don't consider myself to be in possession of the absolute right perspective on this, or anything else. However, I don't want to scare people off right out of the gate.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Madness, Retardation and God

There is a significant difference between what could be, and what absolutely cannot be.

That is, at first blush, a statement about as profound as "the sky is blue." Perhaps a better statement would be that there is a significant difference between what probably isn't and what absolutely isn't.

Regardless, it's a statement that has always kept me away from being an atheist.

"My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose," is a quote that's been attributed to many but was, as far as I can tell, first said by the British-Indian geneticist J.B.S. Haldane.*

In a world where we've proved that things like black holes and quantum physics exist, the idea of some kind of being, even a transcendant being that defies "sensibility" is something that I cannot discount. It is something that could be, even if the evidence seems to be thus far against it.

Sam noted that my objection to a "transcendant, supernatural being who created the universe in 7 days" as being "fucking retarded" was primarily an objection to fundamentalism. Fair enough. I hold to science and sensibility over fundamentalism because science has proved that many of the beliefs held to strongly by fundamentalists (of every religion) simply cannot be. The sun absolutely does not revolve around the earth. The Earth was absolutely not created in 7, 24-hour days a few thousand years ago (though it's definitely possible to get into a more nuanced discussion about what place a creator could have in the process of evolution and the creation of the universe.)

This, in and of itself, is not an argument against the supernatural. Fundamentalists hold so strongly to these ideas because they've painted themselves into a corner by claiming that their various religious books contain no errors. Therefore, for them, proving that any part of their book is wrong really does defeat their religion.* For those with a more nuanced and mature view of faith, no such problem presents itself.

I still resist what Sam refers to as the "spooky stuff" though, because science and sensibility provides a much more satisfying explanation of my universe. I see no evidence of the spooky that cannot be explained by the mundane.

Humanity is destined to religiosity by a combination of madness and retardation. We developed intelligence that was significant enough that we were able to understand our own mortality, and we were forced (to avoid madness) to come up with a system of belief to defeat the crushing realization of our own impending deaths. Because, at the time, we were not advanced in our development (retarded if you will) we hit on the supernatural.

Again, do I believe that there is absolutely no place or possibility for a supernatural, transcendent being in our universe? No. This is something that could be, or at least has not been proved impossible. At the same time, however, my science and sensibility has slowly and steadily turned things that could be into things that absolutely cannot be.


There are two other categories of supernatural that you never seem to defend. Ghosts and other people's gods. My science defeats them too (though I, once again, can't say for sure they don't exist), and yet I see no impassioned defense. Could it be because you have no stake in spectres or Zeus?

* Amusingly, though not relevantly, Haldane has also been quoted as saying that the only thing one could deduce about the mind of God from looking at creation was that the creator had an "inordinate fondness for beetles."
**Though, interestingly, most of those who fight so strongly against the idea of evolution seem to let the whole heliocentric thing slide. Not to mention the flat earth.

Crab Cakes, Stuffed Mushrooms and Mental Retardation (and Lesprosy)

So, since my primary role here is to tell you what I ate for dinner, I must report the ongoing quest my wife and I have to find the best recipes for crab cakes and stuffed mushrooms while living on a graduate student budget.

To put it briefly, crab cakes are a beast of a thing to make well and portabello mushrooms vastly improve the flavor of a stuffed fungi over an ordinary one. I find that a cold Miller High Life brings out the best in a rich, fried crustacean and a chilly, light and not-too-sweet Riesling offers a great pairing for darker-flavored, baked fungus caps. You can have all this fun for well under $20, total.

On a completely unrelated note, I've been thinking about Adam's amusing introduction that ended in the choice words: "fucking retarded." While this may seem blatantly offensive to some, I think it could stand to be cooked a bit longer.

I mean, the very idea of retardation adding a degree of insanity into what, on its own, is merely profane -- would make a French guy (who has no religious system to speak of) I like to read a lot chuckle. So, to all those who are enticed by this opening line: "At the end of the Middle Ages, leprosy dissapeared from the Western world." Or, if you think it might be neat to read a philosophical geneology of madness, then, take a peak at Michel Foucault's, Madness and Civilazation which bears the pithy subtitle, A History of Madness in the Age of Reason.

Besides name (not to mention, book) dropping, I think that Adam's statement more correctly reveals antipathy toward the "fucking retarded" than towards the transcendent. That is to say that Adam (and, perhaps, Ian as well) seems to reject the "spooky stuff" because it makes no sense. This notion of sensibility, however, born by the Enlightenment and incarnate as science, seems to be just as, well, fucking retarded at times too. So he (and perhaps Ian) might want to stop the name-calling and do some name and book dropping of their own.

Where in the world is Osama Bin Laden?

(My deepest apologies to all who, like me when I wrote it, are dismayed by the cheesiness of the cheap play on "Carmen San Diego." I'm sure its been done before, I just haven't had time to Google it yet.)

Really now, where is he? Some say he's hiding in London, Pakistan, Afaganistan, Turkey and others say he's been dead for some time but the mystique keeps up curious. Me? Well, I don't have a single clue on the matter. But, in the snippets of time (and I do mean snippets) I spend thinking about it, I find it hard to disuade the intuition that we, the USA, would have found him by now if we really wanted to.

But alas, I have no juicy conspiracy theory to go with that intuition. Its just a hunch. The reason its so strong, though, is largely because I am slowly learning that when any government, especially the USA, is asked these kinds of questions (like where?, who?, how?, when?, and, that deepest one of all, why?) -- which is the exception to the rule of unquestioned belief in the State, or, at least, what the States tells us about itself -- all kinds of embarrassing things spill out and stain the carpet of naivete with deep red stains of blood, booze, and lipstick.


On Specificity

This is a test for a certain idea that I am working around in my head recently.

We, that is human persons, never exist with specificity.

We never act with specificity either. We are always doing and being something else too. Our full attention is never given specifically to a thing. All the while, our hearts beat, our heads itch, our muscles flex, our minds wander, and our tummies growl.

Regarding perception, we never see something with specificity, we only see a side of it. To see something specifically we would have to be presented the whole thing. This dimensional proviso provides a limit on what we perceive as this or that and reveals that we only perceive in parts, fragments. Computer imaging tries to overcome this limit by presenting a rotational view of a graphic thing (like a car or a house or something), but, still, we can only see one side at a time. And event then, we are affecting and affected by more than just that thing, otherwise we would see nothing -- the room would be dark and so on.

I think I want to extend this idea to everything -- to the world.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

National Hangover Day

This post is a response to Sam's last reflection (below).

It is indeed interesting to note to correlation between religious observances and bizarrely-calendar-based festivals in modern culture -- such as the coincidence of New Year's and the Catholic Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God -- but I don't think it's accurate to assume that people have grafted binge drinking onto religious feast days.

In fact, something like the opposite is true. Since certain broadcasters have taken it upon themselves to lead the charge against a so-called "war on Christmas" (these people tend to be rather limited in their choice of metaphors), I decided to take some time and look up some of our cherished Christmas traditions to find out how much of the holiday has ever really been devoted to Jesus. As it turns out, there's very little Christ to take out of Christmas -- most of the dearly-held traditions, such as Christmas trees, Advent calendars, and the date of the holiday itself, are culled from either Roman or Germanic pagan rituals that centered variously on one or another war god or the Winter Solstice. Since time immemorial, these celebrations involved orgiastic bouts of drinking and gallantry, which were, presumably, upsetting to church authorities when the emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official Roman religion in A.D. 380. A trend of superimposing religious observances over previously-existing (and probably more entertaining) pagan festivals was established, presumably for reasons that are not too difficult to guess.

While new connotations became associated with the holidays, the "party" element apparently wasn't entirely suppressed. The nativity became the pretext for the December feast day, but it seemed to still include a fairly large amount of public intoxication, which led to religious authorities actually discouraging the celebration in England. Christmas was not routinely observed by the initial colonists in the New World (Puritans are no fun at all). What we now think of as Christmas in America did not really exist at all until after Charles Dickens popularized the rather ecumenical "A Christmas Carol" in 1843. It now involves not only a celebration of the birth of Christ, but also visits from "Saint Nick" (whose feast day is Dec. 6) and the exchange of presents (which is sometimes done on the pretext of commemorating the visit of the gift-bearing Magi -- although the Feast of the Epiphany is observed Jan. 6).

The season happens to be packed with feast days, actually -- as noted above, the Solemnity of Mary is Jan. 1, Dec. 26 is the "Feast of the Holy Innocents," and so on. As a child, I remember being frustrated every year by the rather high frequency of compulsory Mass attendances that my family took me along to, which got in the way of assembling the Lego kits I'd received Christmas morning.

All this to say, that the New Year's eve drinking tradition has deeper roots than just about all the rest of the holiday practices, and the more devout might consider it fortunate that the all-night party has at least been moved to a week after the date set aside to commemorate the birth of Christ. While Sam (party-pooper though he might be) may feel, understandably, that there's too much party in his religious observance, I would put it the other way and say that there's too much religious observance in my party.

N.B.: For years, I've considered Jan. 1 to be "National Hangover Day," since even normally-restrained people are apt to tie it on a little during New Year's celebrations. This year, however, I'm up, clear-headed and blogging, at 10:30 a.m. My plans for the evening fell through, and my fellow-revelers and I couldn't even muster up the joy to finish a bottle of rather good champagne. There's always next year.

Happy New Year?

I must admit that celebrating New Year's day as a major holiday is quite perplexing to me. I do acknowledge the interestingness of this day as it marks a passing of time and the need to refresh ourselves every so often with days like this, but a day of celebration (or should I say recovery from the its eve) just strikes me as a bit odd.

I was told last night that this makes me weird and party-pooperish. So be it. It might have been better, I think, to make the passing of time more poignant by, perhaps, marking it with the seasons. Like establishing and celebrating the generally accepted end of Winter and beginning of Spring or something like that. Much like Christmas, Easter, and Harvest celebrations are seasonally -- if not purely astrologically -- measured.

As a Catholic, it always irks the heck out of me when Masses celebrating the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God (the feast of January 1st), become "Happy New Years!" ceremonies. When Fr. Nice Guy reads his resolutions, gives the predictable "do your best in 2009!", or offers the more palatable "let's be grateful for 2008" during the homily, I feel like I'm at, well, a New Years celebration. For the intents and purposes -- that, religion aside, suit me much better, at least from a time-division standpoint -- of the Church the (liturgical) year ended and begun right before Advent.

In spite of all that, Happy New Year to all of you. I hope 2009 is a nice time-space thingy for us all.