Friday, December 30, 2016

One Hundred and Seven

Freud believed the desire for sexual activity motivates all our behavior. Whatever we think we want, sexual activity is what we really want.

Not just any form of sexual activity, but genital orgasm, the only form of sexual activity Freud considered normal (He was as much of a prude as those people who regard as normal only sexual activity between a man and a woman who are married). A desire to engage in an activity because we find it pleasurable in itself, whether or not it culminates in genital orgasm, he considered perverse. That’s why he called the infant polymorphous perverse.

Those Victorians who regarded children as sexually ignorant/innocent were closer to the truth than Freud was, because children explore their bodies in the same spirit of curiosity they explore everything. The world is new to them, and they take pleasure in all of it. That pleasure is not specifically sexual, much less specifically genital. It’s only when we become adults that we lose interest in the world and decide that Freud was right; genital sex is the only pleasure in life. Children know better.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Ond Hundred and Six

I’m still reading the neoFreudian’s book, still on the chapter about the anal-sadistic stage in which Freud said the infant’s love for its mother turns to hate. It brings to my mind the failure of our attempt to recreate the family on the macrocosmic level, the level we used to call society before Baroness Thatcher told us there’s no such thing. Most people’s love for society has now turned to hate, as has their love for their families, because neither gives them what they need.  

Freud’s origin theory of the family and society seemed to me mistaken when I was a child, and knew more about childhood than Freud remembered; but his mistake was useful to me, as other people’s mistakes often are, because it made me think about why it was wrong.

Freud always referred to the infant as ‘he’, which is wrong because not every infant is male; and even when it is, it doesn’t think of itself as male. It hasn’t yet developed what psychiatrists call gender identity, a sense of being male or female.

Freud said the infant sees itself and its mother as one, so he should have realized it’s wrong to characterize it as male. If mother and child are one, there’s no difference between them, sexual or otherwise. Only when the infant becomes aware that they’re not one does it seek to discover the reason why they differ. And it's not sex. It’s property ownership. The infant asks whether it belongs to its mother, or its mother belongs to it.

Freud thought he had the answer. He regarded the infant as male because he regarded 19th century Western European capitalism as the most highly evolved society, and the male property owner as its most highly evolved member. Men own property, and women are property.

What Freud called The Omnipotent Infant is male by definition because he owns his mother as the capitalist paterfamilias owns his wife. A mother caters to her infant son as a servant caters to her master.

But men don’t own only women. They own other men as well; men without property who are therefore other men’s property, their employees. 

Freud wasn't interested in the psychology of the poor, but presumably he would have said men without property endure being owned and used by other men because they’re masochists who see themselves as castrated men, just as women do (Or so Freud claimed).

The Omnipotent Infant’s reign ends when he discovers his mother is actually his father’s property.

At first the infant wants to kill his father so that he can retain possession of his mother. When he realizes his father is too powerful to kill, the infant gives his mother up. But he does so reluctantly, and only under the threat of punishment (specifically castration, which Freud should have known was inappropriate because he said the infant was polymorphous perverse; specifically genital sexuality defined adulthood).

When he comes to understand that giving up his mother was the right thing to do (because in taking her mother from his father, her rightful owner, he'd violated the law of property ownership, the fundamental law of society), the son submits willingly to his father and learns to love him (being careful not to love him too much, as much as he loved his mother; no father wants a homosexual son). He then becomes a property-owning paterfamilias himself, like the father he now loves. 

Freud called this maturity, which confirmed for me that society is founded by violence and perpetuated by hypocrisy. Coerced love can’t be sincere.

I knew it didn’t have to be like this.

I was young enough to remember how I felt lying in my crib, and it was not omnipotent or murderous. But I was soon enough made aware that not every infant is filled with love for its mother, this wonderful being who anticipates its needs before it becomes aware of them itself. 

Not every infant is lucky enough to have a loving mother, as I did. A happy childhood, like a happy adulthood, is the exception, not even but especially among the prosperous bourgeoisie who were Freud’s patients.

Not only is a happy infancy the exception, but the supposedly perfect union of mother and infant is seldom ended by the infant’s discovery that it has a powerful rival in its father, as Freud claimed. Most people live in poverty; therefore when the infant discovers its father, it doesn’t see him as a powerful and threatening rival. It sees him as a weak man, little more than a child himself, infantilized and emasculated by his submission to more powerful men.

I discovered soon enough that I was surrounded by murderous adults: omnipotent Infants grown older but no wiser, still enraged that the world didn’t love them as they deserved to be loved.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

One Hundred and Five

There are things everyone knows without having to be told. These are the things we call common knowledge or common sense.

We see that everything which has a beginning has an end. Knowing our own existence had a beginning, we conclude that it, too, will one day end.

There are things not everyone knows, but learns when s/he becomes a member of a community. 

Most communities consist of individuals who all share a common ancestor or way of life. Human communities are unique in that they can also consist of individuals who all share the same beliefs, or say they do. 

Most human communities, or at least their founders, have claimed that humans do not die as other animals do. They, or their essence, is immortal; or will be, if they join the community and obey its leader.

This defies common sense, and most people do not believe it, despite what they say. What unites most people into a community is not their common belief in things that defy common sense, but their common agreement to suspend their disbelief in these things because they believe belonging to a community, even one based on illusions, is better than being alone. This may be the greatest illusion.

Most people work hard to forget what common sense tells them, and remember what illusions they must believe or pretend to believe in order to be members of their community.  I’m in awe of the work that takes, and the cunning it takes for people to deceive not only each other but themselves. 

I don’t strive to live without illusions because I imagine I’m stronger and/or smarter than other people. I do it because I’m too weak and lazy to do the hard work I'd have to do in order to live with others and their illusions.

Monday, December 19, 2016

One Hundred and Four

I strive to strip myself of all illusions, so that I may leave this world as naked as I entered it.

Most people cling to their illusions, mistaking them for a defense – not the best defense, but for people without money or power the only defense – against a cruel world. But the world is neither cruel nor kind. That is itself an illusion. The world only seems cruel or kind to those who imagine it exists in the same way they do, and loves or hates them in the same way they do it.

If we create illusions to protect ourselves from the world, and grow used to relying on them, it will be painful to lose them – as, sooner or later, we must. Better to live without them.

But striving to live without illusions is difficult when for most people illusions are what make life worth living.   

Sunday, December 18, 2016

One Hundred and Three

I awoke this morning, as I often do, with a phrase echoing in my mind: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. 

It seems a paradox at first; but even people simpleminded enough to think things must be either one or the other know it’s the simple truth. When times are good for some, it’s because they’re bad for others. In order for Charles Darnay to live, Sydney Carton must die; and it's a far, far better thing for the Marquis St. Evrémonde, the aristocrat whom Darnay becomes, that Carton die for him willingly. This seems a paradox because the truth is rarely simple.

Scott Fitzgerald is supposed to have said “The rich are different from you and me”, to which Hemingway is supposed to have retorted Yes, they have more money". They didn’t actually say these things (The truth, as usual, is more complicated); but if they had, it would have been a paradox not only because both were telling the truth, but because most people would regard both Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway as rich, yet they both seemingly regarded themselves as being different from the rich. It’s not a paradox because however rich the rich become, compared to most people, the rich never think of themselves as rich because they don’t compare themselves to most people. They compare themselves to people who are even richer than they are.

Whenever ordinary people complain that the rich become rich by stealing from others, the rich say their complaint is motivated by envy. This is a paradox because it’s the rich who are motivated by envy. They steal from others because they compare themselves to people who are even richer than they are, so they never have enough.

When ordinary people complain about the rich, they're motivated by common sense, not by envy. They know that when the rich steal from others, the whole society suffers, not just their immediate victims. But the rich don't regard themselves as members of the society they plunder. That's how they justify plundering it.    

But ordinary people seldom do complain when the rich steal from them, because they compare themselves to the rich just as the rich compare themselves to those who are even richer than they are. Ordinary people become willing accomplices to the crimes of the rich not even but especially when they are themselves the victims of those crimes, because they don't want to admit they're victims. We respect the strong and despise their victims.

Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, said Balzac, parce qu'il a été proprement fait. It’s no secret that great fortunes are founded on crime. But in order to commit a crime properly, so that he escapes punishment, a criminal must seduce his victim into becoming his willing accomplice. When everyone is a criminal, or wants to be, no one wants to see justice done.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

One Hundred and Two

I find it difficult to have conversations with other people because we don’t agree about even the most basic premises. Most of them seem to think a statement must be true or false. They don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, that we’re limited beings. We can’t know anything with certainty.

Of course this is only how other people seem to me. I could be wrong about them. Perhaps they know better. It’s difficult to know what other people think; and easy to conclude, based on the evidence of their actions, that they don’t think.   

If our goal is to know the truth (which it seldom is; more often than not our goal is to conceal the truth, or what we think is the truth, from others, or from ourselves, or both. It’s an impossible goal because we don’t know the truth well enough to know what to conceal; therefore even when we try to lie, we tell the truth. And vice versa), we must distinguish between what we know, or think we know, with certainty, and what we hypothesize based on the available evidence. But we are limited beings, so the evidence available to us is limited. The most we can say with certainty is that the evidence available to us seems to us to support our hypotheses. We can’t even say, with certainty, that we’ve interpreted the evidence correctly, because we don’t know ourselves with certainty.

We assume we’ve interpreted the evidence correctly when we test our hypotheses by acting on them, and the results are what the hypotheses predict. But this doesn’t prove our hypotheses are correct at all times in all places; only that they're correct at this time in this place. We can never know what’s absolutely true. We can only know what’s true for us.

Most philosophers dismiss this kind of truth. They say only truth that's true at all times in all places, for all people, is real; which means we are ourselves illusions, because we're limited to a time and a place.

The world we’ve made for ourselves - a world of ideas which seem more real to us than physical reality, and which we claim is true at all times in all places, for all people – is in reality not just an illusion, but a delusion. Insanity.

Because we can never know absolute truth, we make hypotheses, and hope they're close enough to the truth to serve our needs. If they don’t, that can mean our hypotheses are false, or it can mean our idea of our needs is false. But it’s easier to see that our idea of the world is false than to see that our idea of ourselves is false.  

I think I usually know others better than they know themselves; and what I know – about them, and about myself – leads me to believe we’re more alike than we are different, and - contra Socrates - they know right from wrong as well as I do. They don't need a Socrates to teach them right from wrong. They don’t do what they know is right because they don’t know what others think is right. They care more about appearing to be good than actually doing good.

But we can’t rely on others to tell us what they think is right - most people don't know what they think, and rely on others to tell them - so it's simpler to do what we think is right without worrying how it appears to others.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

One Hundred and One

Money is shit, said Freud; and shit money. Does this mean money's worthless? Or that shit has worth?

Money has no value in itself, but it gets us things we value. To say money has no value is to say this world, and all the things in it that money can buy, has no value.

Shit has no value in itself, but it gets us things we value. Shit was the first, and is still the best, fertilizer. What Freud called the symbol of death and decay is also, as fertilizer, the ultimate source of food and life. Shit as fertilizer is the nothing from which all things grow.

My life is shit. Instead of making something good with the talent I was born with, I wasted it. Most of us waste our lives, turning our gardens into wasteland (another of my recurring dreams).

If our species should ever wake from this nightmare we call history, perhaps others will learn from our mistakes and grow gardens on the dunghill we used to call civilization.

Monday, December 12, 2016

One hundred

Freud, near the end of his life, postulated the death instinct, or Todestrieb, which Stekel renamed Thanatos, equal and opposite to Eros, the life instinct. He said all organisms seek to die, but in their own way. NeoFreudians, who learn Freud’s theories in the same way most people learn the theories in which they profess to believe – by memorizing them, without understanding them – don’t understand Thanatos, so they ignore it, as most people ignore things they don’t understand. But people used to understand it.

We are limited, capable of knowing only a few things at any one time; so when we learn something new, we forget something old. The new thing we discover is more often than not a rediscovery of something our grandparents knew, but our parents forgot (because they learned it without understanding it). Thanatos is one of the things our grandparents knew. Socrates, at the beginning of what we used to call Western civilization, said life is a rehearsal for death.

NeoFreudians (and not just the professionals; we’re all amateur neoFreudians now, not even but especially those of us who profess to be experts) pretend to believe that children don’t know about death, just as Victorians pretended to believe that children don’t know about sex. Both are secrets supposedly known only to adults, and being initiated into these secrets is what it means to become an adult (because it obviously doesn’t mean acquiring adult responsibility, power and maturity. Most so-called adults are as submissive to, and dependent on, their rulers as they’d been on their parents when they were children).

I’ve been thinking about this because I awoke this morning with a tumult in my head. Apparently I’d had not just a dream, but what Jung called a ‘great dream’. But I couldn’t remember it.

Freud said dreams are the royal road to the unconscious, and I used to travel that road easily. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to remember my dreams.

I usually read two books at a time, preferably on related topics. One of the two books I’m currently reading is about the Kama Sutra.

It says the Kama Sutra isn’t about sex, but about pleasure. It’s a guide to living a life of pleasure, for those able to devote their lives to it.

The other book is a neoFreudian’s attempt to make sense of Eros and Thanatos.  

We’re unhappy, says the neoFreudian, not only when we get the things we want, but especially when we get the things we want, because it’s then we discover we don’t really want what we think we want. What we really want is to return to the past (as did Marcel in À la recherche du temps perdu) and recapture that oneness with the world that an infant feels when feeding at its mother’s breast.

Before I fell asleep last night, I read the neoFreudian’s chapter on the anal-sadistic phase, in which the infant becomes dissatisfied with the world’s inability to satisfy its hunger, and its love for its mother turns to hate.

I couldn’t remember my dream when I awoke, but the tumult in my head gradually resolved itself, as the cacophony of an orchestra in rehearsal gradually resolves itself into music, into the words of the Hindu axiom: Everything is food. Life feeds on life. However much we want to avoid hurting others (if for no other reason than that our awareness of their pain distracts us from our pleasure), the best we can offer them is jakta, the quick and least painful death.

I then remembered a recurring dream I used to have. Invited to a banquet (Life is a banquet, say those who live for pleasure), I discover the main course, which at first appears to be meatloaf or kibbeh nayeh, is in reality a pile of shit. It wasn’t last night’s dream, but they seem related.

Some people come into this world, so like a garden, eat its fruits until they're sated, and expect the rest of us to eat what they leave behind; and what they leave behind is shit.  

I tried to change the world for the better. They change it as we all do, turning what we eat into shit. Changing life into death.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ninety-nine

I live like a hermit, rereading the books in my library rather than reading newer books or having conversations with other people. Not because I’m shy and/or have nothing interesting to say, but because they – the other people and/or the newer books - have nothing to say that I haven’t heard and/or read before.

Learning what I think interests me more than learning what they think, because they don't think.  

People seem to find me interesting, and start conversations with me. I can’t remember ever having had a conversation, or a relationship, that I started. Other people have always started them, and I’ve responded because I hoped they’d prove interesting. But as I got to know them, I’ve always found they have nothing interesting to tell me, nothing to teach me.

Not only do I know more than they do; I know them better than they know themselves. And the effort I must make to keep from telling them what they don’t want to know eventually becomes more than the relationship is worth to me. I want real companionship, not based on deception.

I know, from reading their books, that there are interesting people in the world, people who know more than I do; but they don’t live in my part of the world.

I used to tell myself that, were I to meet the authors of these books, I’d find them disappointing because people always put the best of themselves into their books; but I know, from experience, that this is true only of the authors of mediocre books. A book is only one part of its author, but not always the best part.

I don’t like people. I love them. More than they love themselves, judging from their fear of knowing themselves. I expect better of them than they expect of themselves, and forgive them for things they can’t forgive themselves. But I can’t forgive them for lying, to me or to themselves, because they only harm themselves.      

Monday, December 5, 2016

Ninety-eight

We are all governed by fear. But it's not fear of death, as most neoFreudians claim.  

Most neoFreudians can’t or won’t understand Freud’s theory of Todestrieb. They dismiss it as the product of an ailing failing mind instead of the culmination of a lifetime’s thought.

Some of them even claim children don’t know about death, just as Victorians claimed children were innocent/ignorant about sex. They replace one adult secret with another because they think adulthood means learning things children don’t know, when more often it means forgetting things children do know.  

Freud said all organisms seek to die, but in their own way. Todestrieb is not self-destructive. What people seek is a good death, the culmination of a good life. What they fear is the meaningless death that ends a meaningless life.

Life should be a struggle to recreate the world, to leave it better than we found it. The death that ends this heroic struggle is a well-earned rest. But for most people there is no rest, because they can’t or won’t do what they know they should.

They console themselves for that failure with fantasies. Their victories and their defeats are equally illusory.

We’re all fascists now, soldiers just following orders. Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die.

All my life I’ve waited for my real life to begin. Now it’s almost over. I began it in hope, but now I’ve accepted that I never had a chance. Few people ever do.  

Friday, November 25, 2016

Ninety-seven

Sometimes I wake with a phrase echoing in my mind. This morning the phrase was “Everything is what it seems”. I spent much of the morning wondering what it meant (My unconscious has never been enigmatic, but old age has made me slower to understand it).

I’m doing less and less lately; another reason why my mind’s slower. Mostly I watch television.

Apparently 'reality' shows have the largest audience. Our president-elect, a notorious con man, became famous, at least among people who watch 'reality' shows, by hosting one.

I can see why the networks like these shows. They’re badly written and badly acted, so they must be cheap to make. But I can’t understand why they’re popular. I find them unwatchable. The only shows I watch are family comedies and crime dramas.

The only comedies on TV are family comedies. Their casts are idealized surrogate families for viewers who, like me, have none, or whose families are far from ideal.

The only dramas on TV are crime dramas. I used to assume they satisfy the same craving that murder mysteries used to satisfy for the literate; but now I know better.

The classic murder mystery is a type of pastoral. It takes place in a closed community: usually a bucolic village, or an English country house filled with aristocrats (the locked room mystery is the reductio ad absurdum). Death is not a natural part of life in this ideal community, but a mystery to be solved and a crime to be punished.

The community is closed from the real world, in which death is common. The real world is a world of change, which threatens to destroy the rural village and/or aristocracy cherished for its unchanging traditions (cherished most by those for whom it is only a myth).  

The closed community of the classic murder mystery resembles a preliterate tribe isolated from the modern world. For them, too, death is a mystery. It’s always caused by an angry spirit, which can be propitiated, or a malevolent magician, who can be killed.

The classic murder mystery fell out of favor because the rural scene in which it’s set is no longer a cherished ideal for most people. We’re all city dwellers now, if only in imagination; especially those of us who live in suburbs, which have all the boredom of rural life with none of its charm. The ideal city, exciting and dangerous, is the setting for the police procedural which replaced the classic murder mystery; and the city’s professional police force replaced the village’s eccentric amateur sleuth.

 The city’s police are an anonymous paramilitary force that  attempts to impose discipline and order on a disorderly rabble. The police are disciplined, with an esprit de corps which the rabble lack; but they’re losing the fight against entropy because nothing in the city is what it seems. The hero’s father/brother/best friend, or the woman he loves, turns out to be the killer he seeks, and the respected politician and/or businessman who rules the city turns out to be a Mabuse-like master criminal.

The wealthy and powerful master criminal’s motive isn't gain, because he already has everything a reasonable person could want. He turns to crime seemingly out of boredom, and because he wants to demonstrate his superiority to the law-abiding rabble.

He’s wealthy, clever and cultured, which makes him an outsider in this supposedly democratic society. He toys with his victims, and with the police, leaving clues for them and daring them to catch him.

The working class criminal is just as clever and resourceful as the wealthy criminal, and his motive is just as unlikely. He’s usually a psychopathic serial killer (There are more serial killers in a week of TV crime drama than in a year of real crime), a socially inept and often unemployed/unemployable drifter who, despite his ineptitude and lack of education, is preternaturally cunning. He also has what appear to be unlimited time and money to carry out his elaborate plots.

The TV crime drama is not what it seems. It’s not a police procedural, but a Gothic melodrama: a paranoid fantasy of being surrounded by enemies high and low, all motivated by irrational, inexplicable malevolence.

People want to trust their rulers, because the alternative is to trust themselves and rule themselves, which they can't or won't do. But experience has taught them that their rulers are incompetent at best, and at worst insane. 

They fear the rabble as well, whom they exploit as their rulers exploit them, so they know the rabble resent them as they resent their rulers.

These fears dominate people's fantasies, and are reflected in popular entertainment because they never learned how to deal with their fears in a realistic way. They've always relied on fantasies to protect them from the world, and they don't know how to live without them; or whether they want to. 

It's not because a Hitler or a Trump is preternaturally cunning, and they so gullible, that people fall prey to charlatans. It's because they're so afraid of reality that they pretend to believe what they know isn’t true even when doing so could destroy them

They pretend not to know that a Hitler or a Trump isn't a hero who will save them, but a charlatan who will destroy them, because they can't or won't save themselves. They pretend they don't, but they know everything is what it seems.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ninety-six

Most of the evidence indicates that not only our civilization, but our species, is destroying itself. Those who deny it appear to be in the first of the five stages through which Kübler-Ross says the dying pass.

I probably won’t live to see them go through anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

I can’t remember ever being in denial. Nor can I remember ever not being depressed.

Not depressed because I’ve finally accepted that I’m mortal, because I never denied it. Depressed because I, like most people, wasted my life doing what I had to do instead of what I should do.

On the rare occasions when I’ve been happy, I knew it wouldn’t last. But that didn’t depress me, because I've always known happiness isn’t the norm, for me or for anyone else. I was depressed because so much of our unhappiness is of our own doing.

Because I’ve always known that happiness is rare, and doesn’t last, I've enjoyed it when it did come. Others are unhappy because they think happiness is the norm, or should be. They even imagine their happiness will be eternal, because they’re immortal. Surely this delusion is the cause of their unhappiness.

Even though I’ve always been aware of my mortality, and accepted it, I now feel myself moving towards the acceptance of something I couldn’t before. It’s not my mortality, but that of my species.

I tried to make the world better. Others tried to do the same, and failed. I should have known I would, too. From the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Humans have been destructive and self-destructive for as long as we’ve been a species. Repeatedly we've built a civilization and then destroyed it, like a small child building a tower for the pleasure of knocking it down. In the past, we've always built a new civilization from the ruins of the old. Now, for the first time, we have the power to not only knock the tower down, but grind its bricks into a dust so fine that no new bricks can be made from it. All that will remain is sand on an empty beach beside ahe eternal sea.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Ninety-five

Human society is unnatural, not least because it’s patriarchal. Most animal societies are matriarchal.

All children are born into a matriarchy. The first revolution, which not only made humans unique among animals but also made men supposedly more human than women, is the revolution of sons against their mothers. Boys become men by rebelling against the rule of women.   

Human society is patriarchal because men think they must rule women in order to avoid being ruled by them.

Masculinity is a rôle boys learn to play in order to be accepted as men, members of the ruling class in patriarchal society, by other men, just as girls learn to perform femininity in order to be accepted by men.

Patriarchal society's ideal woman is childlike. Men desire her because they miss their own childhood, and regret that in order to become men they had to give up qualities they used to associate with children, and now associate with women. But the more they desire the childlike woman, the more men fear her. 

Men fear their desire for the childlike woman will overwhelm them, whereupon they'll become children themselves again.

Men fear the feminine in themselves as well, those qualities in themselves they consider feminine and childlike. They pretend to be guided by reason alone, becoming emotional only when they allow themselves to be guided by childlike women.

Homosexual men don’t desire other men more than, or instead of, women. Freud, who didn’t understand women, understood men well enough to know that what men desire they also fear.

Believing they don't have feminine qualities leaves men feeling incomplete, less than fully human. The more incomplete they feel, the more men desire women to complete them. The more incomplete they feel, the more men fear that instead of completing them, women will overwhelm and feminize them. The only way a man can avoid being feminized by women is by avoiding women.

Human society is unique in that, unlike most animal societies, it's built on illusions. Homosexuality, masculinity and femininity are not the most important ones. We talk about them endlessly in order to avoid talking about the others.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ninety-four

I could easily slip away.

As a swimmer, tired of fighting the sea, lets himself slip beneath the waves.

Not waving, but drowning.

As on a winter’s night a traveller, tired of fighting the storm, lies down and lets the snow cover him.

Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore.

As a traveller, midway on his journey through the forest, finds he’s lost his way.

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita.

I’m not lost, because there's nowhere else to go. There’s only here and now.

Nothing ever changes. Mutatis mutandis. Change is an illusion. It’s our reality because we are ourselves illusions, such stuff as dreams are made on.

La vida es sueno.

I used to wonder if there was something wrong with me. But there can be nothing wrong where there can be nothing right.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ninety-three

Progress is an illusion. With every war we fight, we destroy more than we win; and we fight at least one war every generation.

Not only do we let combat decide who's fit to rule; we let it decide what's true.

Humans supposedly differ from other animals in being guided by reason rather than instinct (although most resort to reason only when force fails; and only to justify their prejudices and passions).  But what they call reason is trial by combat.

The Greeks systemized what they called reason into logic, whose rules they derived from law. But law does not yield truth.

In a court of law, adversaries employ professional rhetoricians to argue their case. A lawyer is not a philosopher, seeking the truth, but a servant, making the argument that best serves his master's interests. He does this not only by presenting evidence that his client is telling the truth, but by withholding or calling into question evidence that his client is lying. He would be violating his professional code of conduct if he presented evidence that he knew was true, but detrimental to his client's case.  

I’m surprised we’ve learned anything when our method of determining truth is trial by combat. Not only have we lost more than we’ve gained, as we always do in combat; but now we’ve even forgotten the rules of combat.

I was thinking this as I watched the presidential debates, which don’t deserve to be called debates. Neither candidate made an argument, presenting evidence that supports his or her argument and/or refutes his or her opponent's. Both merely made statements, what in a courtroom would be preliminary statements. Each time Clinton made a statement, Trump shouted Wrong! Each time Trump made a statement, Clinton grinned, rolled her eyes and forced a laugh.

The election is over, but the 'debate' goes on. Every conversation sooner or later becomes an argument about Clinton vs Trump, and these arguments are no more debates than were the so-called debates between Clinton and Trump. People merely shout Wrong! at each other. But why? The elections are over, so what do they expect to win?

Clinton and Trump were the two most unpopular presidential candidates in US history, and it’s a mockery of what we used to call democracy that it offered voters no choices other than these two. 

People still argue passionately for one or the other because they have to persuade themselves that not only did they have a real choice, but they made the right choice, despite all evidence that there was no choice. Both were wrong.

People are angry because they're trying to believe, or suspend their disbelief, in something they know isn’t true. But they’ve had lots of practice. Most of the things people believe, or tell themselves they believe, aren’t true.   

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Ninety-two

When I heard Trump won the election, I was nauseated. No doubt I would have had the same reaction if Clinton had won.  

I would probably have been nauseated when I heard the Supreme Court had given the presidency to Bush the Lesser; but she'd died a few days earlier, and I was too busy planning my suicide to think about the election. I was nauseated four years later, however, when Bush was (re) elected. 

I was more disgusted than nauseated when Reagan was elected.

I was more astonished than disgusted when Nixon was elected. He had already run once, against Kennedy, and been defeated, and I was sure he would be again.

Voters liked the charismatic Kennedy, and disliked the gauche Nixon; but as much as they disliked Nixon, they disliked LBJ more. Voters disliked LBJ so much that they spurned even Humphrey, his designated heir, and chose Nixon, whom they'd previously spurned for Kennedy.

For years pundits have said that Americans don’t vote for the candidate they like most, but against the candidate they dislike most. People who voted for Trump in this election did so because they dislike Clinton most, and people who voted for Clinton did so because they dislike Trump most. The election was close because Clinton and Trump are the two most disliked presidential candidates in US history.

The people who now fill the streets, yelling “Not My President”, dislike Trump, but that doesn’t mean they like Clinton. Those pundits who claim it does know better.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Ninety-one

I went to bed last night still thinking about À la recherche du temps perdu (or rather what Phillips mistook to be its message) and the election. There’s no way to avoid thinking about the election, because the media talk about it constantly in order to avoid talking about the problems that will still be with us when the election’s over. When I awoke this morning, I didn’t remember what I’d dreamt. Instead I remembered a television show I’d seen years ago.

It was called On Leaders and Leadership. The leaders who appeared on this show, and imparted their wisdom to the audience, were always businessmen. Scientists, artists and and poets apparently have nothing to teach us.

The show was hosted by a rouged and pomaded homme d’un certain âge who squirmed and simpered with delight, as the Baron de Charlus might have done, to be in the company of such powerful men (although the baron preferred his men younger and rougher).

Marcel’s a snob, as most people are; but it’s not businessmen who fascinate him, as they do most people now. He’s obsessed with the landed aristocracy, who reign but do not rule; they employ servants (aka politicians) to do that for them. Marcel assumes that, free to do as they please, aristocrats pursue culture and the arts, as he would if he were free to do as he pleased.

He becomes fascinated first by the beautiful Duchess de Guermantes, and then by the Baron de Charlus, her brother-in-law. The baron cultivates a reputation as a ‘ladies man’, which is accepted at face value by ordinary people who don’t know him personally; but his homosexuality is an open secret among the aristocracy.

In the last volume of À la recherche du temps perdu, the baron’s secret is revealed as the secret of his entire class. Just as the baron’s reputation hides his homosexuality, so does the aristocracy’s hide their decadence.  

The word ‘decadence’ became attached to the aristocracy during the Gothic age. At first it referred to a multitude of perversions, but in the Modern age it became virtually a synonym for homosexuality. But homosexuality was never the secret of the decadent aristocracy only. As bourgeois capitalism became decadent, it become our secret, too.   

Every society consists of two groups: the rulers and the ruled (The aristocracy, who reign but do not rule, aren’t members of society in that they don’t consider themselves, nor are they considered by others, to be bound by society’s laws). Who rules and who is ruled is determined by combat (war and/or the civil war called revolution); but once it’s been determined, pundits attempt to preserve the peace (and the power of the rulers who are their patrons) by teaching everyone that the current social order isn’t just a temporary truce in the endless competition between groups; it’s the natural order and/or ordained by god, therefore rebelling against it would be both unnatural and blasphemous.

Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum  is the motto of every ruling class, but only fools believe it. The ruled suspend their disbelief in this myth only as long as the advantages of belonging to a society, even an unjust one, outweigh the disadvantages.

The ruled don’t rebel when they lose faith in their rulers, because they never have any. But they don’t have faith in themselves, either. They submit to being ruled unjustly by others because they know themselves too well to believe they’d do better. Only when their rulers are so incompetent that they threaten the survival of the society do the ruled rebel.

When they do rebel, it’s not because they believe all men are equal, though they often use that argument as a rhetorical weapon in their battle against their rulers. The ruled believe, as do their rulers, that some are more fit to rule than others. It’s their rulers’ incompetence that causes the ruled to believe that, if they couldn't do better, they certainly couldn’t do worse.

The last volume of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu  takes place during the Great War.

Those who live through one usually imagine a war is a turning point not only in their own lives but their society’s; but war doesn’t change things as much as most people imagine, or in the way they imagine.

War, and the constant threat of death, makes the hitherto cautious Baron de Charlus reckless. He starts wearing make-up, and develops effeminate mannerisms.

During a blackout, Marcel discovers the baron in a lower-class male brothel. When he mocks anti-German war propaganda (the baron is loyal to the aristocracy, which is international, not to France), he’s overheard and a hostile crowd gathers. 

Marcel also discovers the Duchess de Guermantes has been supplanted as queen of Paris’ haut monde by Mme Verdurin.

Before the war the duchess, the baron and Marcel mocked the bourgeois Verdurins as vulgar Philistines. But as he gets to know them better, Marcel realizes the Guermantes are just as vulgar as the Verdurins. They differ only in that the Guermantes have had generations in which to cultivate the elegant manners that hide their vulgarity.  

When he discovers the widowed Mme Verdurin has married the widowed Prince de Guermantes, and is now a Guermantes herself, Marcel realizes that mutatis mutandis.

During a war, and the civil war called revolution, members of the ruling and the ruled classes (and even the aristocracy) change places; but the division of society into rulers and ruled classes doesn’t change. War therefore confirms this is the natural order sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum.

Societies are founded and perpetuated by violence. Their laws specify when violence is forbidden and when it’s allowed, even necessary, to use violence to maintain the social order.

War unites a society’s rulers and ruled against a common external enemy, thus avoiding civil war. Each time a new generation comes of age the society must fight another war against an external enemy to teach a new generation of slaves to obey their masters even when doing so means death, and a new generation of masters to overcome whatever scruples they may have about exercising the power of life and death over others. 

Relations between rulers and ruled are always violent, whether actively or only potentially; and relations between men and women are always sexual, whether actively or only potentially. In a patriarchy, in which men rule women, violence is sexualized and sexual relations are perceived as inherently violent, aka sadomasochistic.

Men rule women for the same reason the rich rule the poor: they fear being ruled by them. Women accept their inferior place in society for the same reason the poor do: the advantages of belonging to the society outweigh the disadvantages. Men tolerate women for the same reason all masters tolerate their slaves: they're useful. But masters always prefer the company of their equals, which in a patriarchy means other men.

Most modern human societies forbid sex between men, but not because it’s unnatural, as homophobes claim. Other animals engage in homosexuality. It’s human society that’s unnatural.

It's unnatural in practicing slavery, not in practicing homosexuality. Ancient human societies tolerated sex between men as long as they belonged to different classes. It was common for masters to use both their male and female slaves sexually. Tolerance of homosexuality eventually ended, as did tolerance of slavery, but both practices continued.    

Human society, like most animal societies, is hierarchal. Competition sorts its members into winners and losers, rulers and ruled. Human society is unnatural in that the outcome of this competition is determined before it begins. Women (and poor men) are always losers, and (rich) men always winners.

When society sexualizes violence, it’s inevitable that war, the most violent of social activities, should be the most erotic. When war is an exclusively male activity, it’s inevitable that men who depend on each other for their lives should love each other. But most men can’t or won’t express their love for each other naturally any more than they express their love for women naturally. They love other men in the same way society teaches them to love women: violently and sadomasochistically.

Most people are ruled by others because they can’t or won’t rule themselves. The ruled seldom rebel, however unjust their rulers, because they know themselves too well to believe they’d do better. Rulers also know themselves too well to believe they’re capable of ruling themselves, much less others; therefore they always fear their subjects will rebel.

The more rulers fear their subjects will rebel, the more they use violence to control them. The more they use violence, the more likely their subjects are to rebel.

Every society is founded on, and perpetuated by, violence. Peace is never more than a temporary truce which lasts only until the next generation matures. But as people become better educated, they’re less willing to believe, or suspend their disbelief, in the myths that justify their society’s injustice.

The Modern age was more violent than any other not only because of modern technology, and because better educated people were less willing to tolerate injustice and incompetent rulers.

Unhappy with the social order, people at first idealized the past and tried to restore it. Eventually they learned, as Marcel does, that the past wasn’t better than the present - it was only different - whereupon they idealized the future instead, and invented the modern myth of progress. But every revolution was followed by a counter-revolution, as those disillusioned with the new order tried again to restore the old.

Revolution and counter-revolution were the two faces of the Modern age. Whether people sought to restore the past or build a better future, all agreed the present social order was unjust and must be replaced.

There are no revolutions now, in this postmodern age, because people have lost faith in themselves and their ability not only to change the world for the better, but to change it at all. Mutatis mutandis. Some still claim they want to destroy the present social order and restore the past, but they put all their effort into destroying the present order because they, like everyone else, have lost their illusions about the past.

Our postmodern age is secular not only because people no longer believe, or suspend their disbelief, in the old gods who presided over and legitimized the old order, but because they can’t bring themselves to believe, or suspend their disbelief, in new ones.

Most rulers now claim to represent the people aka the nation. Vox populi vox dei. But whichever gods they claim to serve, it's still the aristocracy they really serve. The only change is that landowning Guermantes have now been replaced by factory-owning Verdurins.

We are a predatory species, therefore our warriors used to be respected. By submitting himself to military discipline, a man conquers himself, which enables him to conquer and rule others. But there are no professional warriors now, because there are no civilians now. Workers are soldiers in an industrial army, obeying their master’s orders in the factory as well as on the battlefield; and a master is first and foremost a businessman who defeats his competitors in the market, not on the field of battle.

In modern society overt war, fought on a battlefield, is an escape, a holiday from the covert war of civilian society. In overt war men can stop pretending to be civilized and human, and become what their society teaches them they really are: animals, predators and prey.

Humans are naturally hierarchal, like all animals; but unlike other animals, their nature is malleable, not fixed by instinct. What defines them as human, and civilized, is learned. Because their destructive and self-destructive behavior is not natural, but learned, they could learn to behave differently. 

Human society is naturally hierarchcal, but not naturally unjust. That's why war is necessary. Violence preserves the unjust social order. But in the postmodern age, the violence of the battlefield is less important in preserving that unjust order than the violence of the marketplace.

Most people regard capitalism as synonymous with democracy not because in a capitalist society all men participate equally in governing, but because all must participate in the combat of the marketplace. There are no civilians in that war.  The combat of the market, more than that of the battlefield, determines who’s fit to rule and who must obey.But the combatants are far from equal.

The capitalist myth depicts every competitor in the market as having an equal chance of winning. In reality the winners and losers are decided before the combat begins. What some call capitalism, and others democracy, is a myth like any other, created to justify social injustice.

The only alternative to the modern myth of combat which some call capitalism, and others democracy, is the old myth of co-operation which some used to called religion and/or brotherly love and now call socialism and/or democracy (but not what capitalists call democracy; socialist democracy teaches people to co-operate and work together for the common good, sharing their wealth as they share the work that creates it. But all such names are only words people use to lie to themselves, pretending not to know what they know).

Capitalists condemn co-operation as unnatural; but it's a society based on competition without co-operation (and only an illusion of competition) that's unnatural.

Capitalists claim humans are not social animals, but naturally predators and prey, and any attempt to force them to live together as equals is unnatural.

Most people say they’re unhappy with modern society because it coddles the poor and the weak. It disarms predators, which gives an unfair advantage to their prey. They assume that were it not for society and its laws that favor the weak and inferior, they would be one of those successful predators whom they admire, rather than their prey.

Modern society survives, even though most of its members hate it, because capitalists teach people it’s unnatural for them to unite against their common enemy. All men must fight each other alone, as individuals, because all wealth is created by heroic individuals and rightfully belongs only to them.  Proudhon said private property is theft, but capitalists claim it's public property, the commonwealth, that's stolen from the heroes who create it by politicians, who then give it to the undeserving poor.  Everyone hates politicians and is disillusioned with democracy, the ideology in whose name they claim to govern.

Marcel becomes disillusioned with every woman he desires once he comes to know her, beginning with the duchess, then Odette, Gilberte, and finally Albertine. Eventually he realizes it’s not real women he desires, but an ideal woman, an illusion. This teaches us, says Phillips, that we’re better off not getting what we want, not learning the truth about whomever or whatever we want, or think we want. I think Proust teaches us we can’t avoid learning the truth because time destroys all illusions.      

Marcel’s heterosexuality, like Charlus’, is an illusion (created not by Marcel the novel's narrator, who is himself an illusion, but Marcel the author). What he wants isn’t a woman, real or ideal, but Saint-Loup, the ideal man.

Saint-Loup seems to be everything Marcel is not but wants to be: aristocratic, heterosexual, and a brave and noble war hero sans peur et sans reproche. Marcel the narrator adores this manliest of men, as people believed homosexuals adore heterosexuals when homosexuality was considered decadent and heterosexuality natural, because he can neither have Saint-Loup nor be him (Marcel adores Albertine, a lesbian, for the same reason). Saint-Loup dies twice: first in battle, and then as an ideal, when Marcel discovers that he was, in reality, homosexual (like every decadent aristocrat).

The Great War destroyed the last of the old empires, and the Second World War destroyed the illusion that the republics which succeeded them were better. That’s why the fascists lost WW2, but won the peace. We’re all fascists now, pretending to be nostalgic for the past when in reality we’re merely disillusioned with the present and what we still call, for lack of a better name, democracy.

We live amidst the ruins of empires we mistook for civilization, on the abandoned battleground where Arnold’s ignorant armies fought, the desolate wasteland of Eliot’s poem and my dreams, unable to wake from the nightmare we call history. Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant

The war of all against all now rages everywhere: on the battlefield, in the marketplace and in the bedroom. It may appear to be economic, but Freud taught us it’s really sexual. What men compete for isn’t property, but women. Or rather, women are the property for which men compete (We postmoderns talk constantly about sex for the same reason we talk constantly about elections: both enable us to avoid talking about what's really troubling us).

Women also compete for men because a woman is, in her own mind (according to Freud, who admitted he didn’t understand women), really a man, but a castrated man who seeks to replace the penis s/he thinks s/he’s lost by attaching him/herself to a real man.

Freud’s view of women as castrated men is not how women think of themselves, but it's how most men (or at least men like Freud) think of them. It explains why misogyny is endemic in our society. 

Most men tolerate women as long as they stay in their (inferior) place. They prefer the company of their equals, other 'real' men (though they always fear they're not 'real' men themselves, which explains why homosexual panic and homophobia are also endemic in our society) But a man who loves another man runs the risk of being taken advantage of by him, just as he runs the risk of being taken advantage of by a woman (who is only an illusion, actually a castrated man, naturally jealous of 'real' men).

All real men must compete in battle, must prove they’re real men, in order to prevent other men from using them as real men use women and/or unreal/homosexual men; and they all know this competition is an illusion, a ritual whose end is decided before it begins.

Because Freud taught people that this competition is not really economic, but sexual, unreal (poor) men fear being defeated, emasculated and sodomized (homo)sexually as well as economically by real (rich and powerful) men.

Donald Trump constantly boasts of his great wealth and equally great virility (both are, his critics claim, as spurious as the Baron de Charlus’ heterosexuality), as though these qualify him to be our president; but with his cosmetic suntan and elaborately combed-over hair, Trump looks as unmanly as Ronald Reagan did with his rouged cheeks and dyed hair, or the simpering host of On Leaders and Leadership. The manliness of our leaders is as unconvincing an illusion as the womanliness of the female impersonator. People follow the man who claims he can lead them where they want to go, even though they know he's a charlatan, because they don't know, and don't want to know, where that is. 

Pundits claim not to understand why workingclass men support  this billonaire; but it’s obvious.

Although a billionaire, Trump is not a member of the ruling class. He’s an outsider, a buffoonish con man whom respectable businessmen shun (Of course businessmen appear respectable only in the eyes of their sycophants). His workingclass followers therefore see him as one of them – a loser – but one who's succeeded in conning everyone and turned himself into a winner.

Everyone knows power is a con, an illusion. Everyone knows, or thinks s/he knows, that Balzac said every great fortune is founded on a crime. What he actually said was Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu'il a été proprement fait. A crime properly committed is not one that’s remains secret, but one that becomes a secret everyone knows, a crime everyone pretends not to know is a crime in order to maintain the illusion that the social order is legitimate. 

His critics warn that, if elected, Trump will be a dictator; but every ruler is a dictator to his critics.

The aristocracy define as legitimate the ruler who represents their own interests, and condemn anyone else - including the ruler who puts the interests of all the people above that of any one class - as a dictator.

The ruled have a different standard for determining whether their ruler is legitimate. They consider legitimate the ruler to whom they surrender more or less willingly. The tyrant rapes them, while the legitimate ruler seduces them. No ruler, not even a tyrant, rules entirely by force. Every ruler uses bribery and propaganda to seduce people into surrendering to him more or less willingly.

Every ruler rules with the consent of the people, whether overt or tacit, and uses force only when bribery and propaganda are not enough. But he must also serve the aristocracy, or they’ll have him removed him from office. Rulers come and go, but the aristocracy reigns sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum.

Considering the work it takes to seduce the people, while at the same time serving the aristocracy whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the people, why would anyone want to become a ruler?

I suspect most rulers don’t actively seek power - at least not at first - and not for its own sake. They’re put in a position of power by others – either the aristocracy, who do not wish to rule, and appoint a ruler to protect their interests and keep the people in their (subservient) place – or the people, who cannot and/or will not govern themselves. Only when he finds himself unable to perform the task which others have given him does a ruler seek more power.

It’s usually one class or the other who persuade him that he and he alone can bring order out of the chaos which threatens to destroy society. He’s a fool if he believes them. He’s worse than a fool if he comes to this conclusion on his own.

Only a fool could be persuaded that he's fit to govern others, and only a madman would persuade himself of it. People seek to govern others only when they can’t or won't govern themselves, and people submit to being governed by others for the same reason.

Namque pauci libertatum pars magna iustos dominos volunt. Most people submit to being ruled by others because they’re too aware of their own flaws to imagine they can govern themselves. But the people they choose to govern them are not only as flawed as they are; often they're more so. 

The superior strength and wisdom that people attribute to their ruler, which they believe enables him to govern not only himself but others, and justifies them in submitting to him, is always illusory. That illusion is created and sustained by both the rulers and the ruled, each for their own reasons. It’s not each other whom they deceive, but themselves.

We postmoderns are no longer haunted by our past mistakes, because we’ve forgotten the past and become a people without a history. We’ve become as innocent as children again, pretending we don’t know what we know, just as Phillips says we should.

À la recherche du temps perdu is one of the last great 'realist' modern novels. Later novels experimented with deconstructing the realistic novel because we now know, or think we know, that what we used to call realism is an illusion. Postmodern novels are not merely unrealistic but anti-realistic, intellectual games for mandarins. 

The Divine Comedy and The Iliad were myths that helped form their nations. There are no such narratives now. People still insist on believing, or suspending their disbelief, in their nation, especially now that they no longer believe in gods, because they need to feel they belong to something greater (though not necessarily better) than themselves; but they must do so without the help of their artists and poets. They must use violence without a myth to justify them.     

How long can this go on? I don't want to know.