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.