Category Archives: Philosophy

Ab Ovum

We were visiting one of my wife’s old friends from back in her college days.  She was married to an FBI agent.  We went out for Chinese food and I remember it seemed like a damn long drive for Chinese food.  But this was their favorite place where the Chinese food was real Chinese food, I guess.  Anyway, on the way back, their kid, Katie, who was maybe 4, started asking questions.  She had been listening to my wife and her friend talking about the good old days back in college, and cracked eggKatie piped up, “Where was I?”

The other adults seemed a bit confused; they wanted to know what she was asking exactly.  Me, though, since I can regress at the drop of a hat am usually in tune with children and knew what she was up to.  “She wants to know where she was back when you were in college.”  “Honey, you weren’t born yet?”  But this kid had her teeth into something.  “I know but where was I?”  I tried to joke, “You were a gleam in your daddy’s eye.”  But she wouldn’t have any of that, so finally I just said, “You weren’t anywhere because you were not yet.”  “OK,” she said and seemed satisfied. Kids can be pretty logical philosophers; apparently she wasn’t freaked out by her metaphysical question.  She just wanted an answer.

What she was asking really wasn’t where she was but how the hell was it possible for anything to be going on before I got here.  Kids assume that they “create” everything; mommy and daddy didn’t really start until they get there.  Maybe we outgrow that idea at some point.  Maybe not.  I think I see lots of adults around who think the world did not exist before they got into it.  These people hate the idea of a past or if there was a past the present is a fuck lot better than back there in the past, whenever the fuck that was.

The idea of “progress” is a psychological defense mechanism against the idea that there was a past that might have been better than our present.  I once sat through a series of lectures in social psychology for undergraduates.  The professor was really pretty good, energetic at least.  She gave three lectures on the Freudian theory of aggression; and then she started lecturing on the modern sociological theory of aggression.  Before she did thought, she said Freud was mostly wrong.  “Shit,” the kid said next to me, “then why did she lecture on him three times?”

Good question, Dude.  My answer would be that modern academics believe in the progress of their so-called disciplines.  If Freud was right, then somebody back there in the idiotic past might have got it more right than a bunch of sociologists in the present.  Modern and post-modern academics kill the past by pretending they have got the answer and all those dumb fucks before them were looking up their assholes.

So this pretty much reams history.  The question isn’t really whether Freud was right or wrong; but what can we learn from what he says about when he was and what can we learn about what he says about when he was that might help us to understand better where we are.    

101 Greatest Books of Western Barbarism

After Crime and Punishment, I decided I wanted to read more good stuff.  Up to that time I had been reading stacks and stacks of science fiction when, unlike today, stacks and stacks of science hobbitfiction were not available.  So I bought and read some of those science fiction magazines made out of some grim grey paper that paid their writers like 2 cents a word.  I had sort of dipped into the “classics” like the Deerslayer—Fenimore Cooper stuff–; but from that I had moved to more popularized juvenile versions of Fenimore Cooper stuff and read a whole series of novels that seemed mostly to involve Indians chasing white persons or white persons chasing Indians through miles and miles of forest  for days on end. Guys back then could sure run.

But after C&P I decided to go for the real thing; but since I didn’t know what the real things were I started checking out books with titles like 100 Greatest Books of The World; or 100 Greatest Books of the Western World; or, maybe my favorite, 101 Greatest Books of the Western World.  That extra 1 seemed to acknowledge the futility of making a list of the 100 Greatest books of the Western World. But I needed guidance and having none I did the best I could with those books; I went down the list and started checking out the ones that looked most promising.  I planned to read the whole fucking lot and to come to know all that there was to know about everything that might be known.

Now of course the “canon,” or any sort of consensus about the 100 greatest books of the Western World is probably out of the question, unless you are one of those persons that likes to list things.  The “canon” has been all busted up.  Voices not previously present are.  Plato is an old dead white guy.  Obviously back then I was mislead in my reading materials by those lists and read stuff that some now consider merely testimony to the stupidity of a society dominated by white dead men.  I acknowledge the stupidity of that society.  But honestly, I don’t think the world is necessarily better off when one can go on line and find lists of the 100 greatest books of the western (as compiled by newspapers responding to the voice of the people) and find the that the Lord of the Rings listed as the number one greatest book of the Western World.

The Lord of the Rings was popular back in the 60s too.  My girlfriend read it and recommended it to me.  I read a bit and decided it was pseudo profound mythological claptrap, though I didn’t say that to my girlfriend.  Those lists I read back in the early sixties didn’t have Harry Potter on it either (as some of the web lists do) and I maintain that Harry Potter is also pseudo profound mythological claptrap.  I make this judgment not as a protest against the breaking up of the canon or because I oppose the vox populi, but on the basis of my having read an awful lot of the work of those dead white men who represent the western tradition of informed barbarism.

A Tale of 2 Cities

Mr. Richards was my sophomore English teacher.  He wore bow ties.  And occasionally he would launch into a lecture, nearly a sermon, about the importance of being virtuous and how virtue was its own reward.  And how sometimes we might have to sacrifice stuff for the greater good.  Maybe he had been inspired by Kennedy—that turkey—; I don’t know.  But he got on my nerves

 Every year in home room, somebody would nominate me to represent the class on the Student Council.  I considered student government a complete joke.  I declined every time.  But this time Richards took me aside into his little office and gave me a lecture on how my fellow students looked up to me and that I should accept the role and the responsibilities of being a leader.  I thought the guy was full of shit.

So I started attacking him in my papers.  I’d write something like: if anybody thinks this particular character is virtuous and acts unselfishly, then he or she doesn’t know anything about the human race and should on such matters as these keep his or her mouth shut on things beyond his grasp of reality.  The he or she was Richards, of course; and I would always go on to back up my argument with intelligent counter evidence.

Things got pretty tense between us.  He liked to change the seating assignments.  So one week you’d be here and the next there.  Whenever I had any kind of choice, I gravitated to the back row or the sides.  I hated the front row; that’s where all the kiss ups and brown nosers sat.  So there I was sitting in the front row while he was going on about something, and very casually I stretched out my long legs and rested my feet on the edge of his typewriter stand.  Then I yawned.  Jesus, the look I got.  I pretended not to notice, till he whacked my foot and told me to put my feet down.

Those fuckers could always dish it out but they couldn’t take if for a second.

One day I was sitting in the back row—where I belonged—and when he launched into one of his moralizing monologues, I raised my hand.  He made the mistake of acknowledging me and for the next 10 minutes we went back and forth.  He tried to assert virtue; I asserted that people acted solely from fear—fear of punishment, fear of pain, fear of the law, fear of justice, fear of death, fear of failure.   There was nobody in the room but me and him; the rest turned their heads this way and that like they were watching a tennis match.  The bell rang, and my fellow students applauded.

I figured I had licked the fucker.  Still, I had to admit he had let me talk; in all my years in school up till that time I had never seen a teacher and student go back and forth like that.

I wrote another paper attacking the guy; I think it was on that damn Tale of Two Cities, with that idiot Sydney Carton—or something like that.  Mr. Richards stopped me after class, and said he hoped I knew he wasn’t an idiot and that, if I wrote another paper like the last one, he would kick me out of his class.

That gave me pause.  I had never heard of somebody kicking anybody out of his class before.  Out of the whole school, yes, but not out of a class. Where would I go?  And what for really—sticking my feet on his typewriter stand and telling the truth.  But something like that could get back to my parents and there would be hell to pay.

Looked like where ever I turned, the assholes had me by the throat.

 

 

You’re Invisible!

About a year after we arrived in San Diego, we started attending Trinity Presbyterian Church.  Set jutting from the hillside, the bottom of the church, under the part that jutted, housed the Sunday school, and on top of that the Church proper.  An A-Frame structure, somewhat futuristic looking, in a Disney Land way.

GodMore troubling than the non-traditional architecture were the sermons.  While I can’t say I understood the sermons delivered in Ora, S.C., I had the feeling they were generally gloomy and featured Calvinistic ruminations on grace and damnation.  But in California, we received, as I slowly came to understand it, heaping dollops of Sweetness and Light.  This was the pap upon which Sunday Morning Christians Suckled.

God was no Yahweh bent upon retribution for sliding from the path; he was instead the God of Forgiveness.  In fact, He would forgive almost anything.  He was not I felt a God John Wayne could respect.  His Son moreover loved everybody.  Nobody need feel unloved as long as He was around.

 This whole sickly conglomeration was mixed up with grotesque and macabre events featuring persons rising from the grave and being tortured to death.. The whole business was distasteful, even vulgar; I couldn’t make any sense of it either.  I could find no connection between the macabre events and the meanings assigned to them by the Bible as interpreted by our Minister. 

How did getting strung up on a cross when one could have easily left town equal “dying for our sins.”  How did dying and then rising from the dead equal “dying.”  Deadness by definition is infinite.  At best the Son spent a brief three days in the other place.  And what was the big deal about a God becoming human.  Was it so awful being us?  Had God humiliated himself by assuming the form of what he had supposedly created?  And to top it off, he returned for a while to this earth as a ghost.  I am probably wrong; lots of odd things happen in the Old Testament but I don’t remember any ghosts.

I would sit at the sermons trying to understand but feeling more and more repulsed.  How could the Minister use such word as “but” or “therefore” or “however”—those precious logical connectors—to create an edifice of unreason?  I tried to understand.  But that was difficult, not only because of the subject matter, but because the year before while a sophomore in high school, I had decided, not that I did not believe in God, but that He had not ever existed, for to say I did not believe still implied a disjunctive relation to Him.

I don’t recollect having been in any particular way upset that Sunday morning, but rather than get ready for Church I continued to read my novel.  When my mother asked why wasn’t I getting ready, I replied calmly that I was an atheist and that going to Church struck me as hypocritical and a waste of my time.  Perhaps I suffered a temporary lapse of sanity or maybe it was something like hope. 

 In any case, I should have known what would happen.  My mother reported that I had become an atheist to my father.  She then fell to weeping and wondering aloud what she had done to deserve such a son.  He, having stopped striking me directly sometime before, thundered around the house, slamming doors, and cursing up a storm.  Whereupon my youngest brother who was 14 years younger than I and about two years old began to cry at all the racket.  The din was unbelievable.  I was then informed by another brother that nobody would be going to church that day unless I went and we would all accordingly go to hell together because of my action.

 I put on my church clothes, went to the car and waited; they all came out and got in the car, as if nothing had happened; the incident was never brought up again, nor did they ever ask me if I had changed my mind or why I had become an atheist or what my reasoning was if any.  Really, they were not in the least concerned with what I felt or thought only with how I “behaved.”

Webs of Words

I was reading around on consumerism and came across an article that the neo-marxist were wrong about consumerism and the newer hip guys like Baudrillard were right because desire is mediated.  So individuals seek the sacred now in consumer objects and are able to achieve individuation without rigid hierarchies and maximize personal freedom.

Sure desire is mediated; Hegel said that, and maybe the guy does prove the neo-marxists wrong (or at least his version of it ).  But the whole argument is not just wrong but completely absurd:

 First, one can only be free in his system if one has money to buy sacred consumer objects.

Second, since this is true, consumerism of the kind he describes cannot and will not do away with rigid hierarchies until the class structure is modified.

Three, this consumerism that he promotes threatens to eat up the world’s resources; maybe we will have to impose some rigid hierarchies to restrain over consumption.

A patently absurd argument of this kind is possible only if one steps completely into the so-called world of intertexuality.  It is an argument contextualized by the argument it makes against a position it does not understand and so is nothing but a creation of words with absolutely no reference to any known reality.

It’s this kind of stuff that leads the masses to think, if they think at all, that academics live in the “ivory tower” and are generally out of touch with common sense.  The masses for their part do not see that common sense is not reality, but a socially mediated construction.  The consequence of this is that anybody can easily be caught up in a self-satisfying and narcissistically fulfilling web of words.

I was a teenage existentialist

This was a while ago.  Back in 1963 or so in East County, San Diego. I found Dostoevsky in the public library.  Notes from the underground esp. confused me, and somehow I must have stumbled on the word existentialism because I started reading Nietzsche (though I didn’t understand him at that time; I was a sophomore in high school).  Also Sartre, Nausea, and some other stuff, and I tried to read Kierkegaard.  When I couldn’t understand it, I started reading commentary by a Hazel Barnes and Walter Kaufman.  My parents drove me to college with me clutching Kaufman’s from Shakespeare to Sartre in my sweaty hand.

There’s nobody in my high school to whom I could talk about being a teenage existentialist.  It was a working class high school.  We didn’t read any of that stuff.  And I wouldn’t have talked with my parents even if they had been interested in my emotional states, which they weren’t being utterly self involved in their own emotional imbalances.  One guy I knew had read Colin Wilson’s The Outsider, and sort of knew what I was into, though he was into transcendental philosophy and wanted to go to India to see people levitate.

I was told one day that I have selected by somebody to participate in a national writing contest for high school seniors.  Big deal.  I would have to stay after class all alone in a classroom and write a time essay.  So I did.  The question was really abstract maybe about humanities relation to nature or something; I remember thinking, hey, I can write about this!  And started pouring out existentialism.  About how human beings were unnatural creatures, a sort of overflow, or excess, a kind of fungus spreading without control over the face of the earth to eventually destroy it.

I thought a lot about the a-bomb back then.  

Anyhow I was in the top 25 for the whole country.  Big deal.  I wonder what impressed them–maybe references to people like Sartre, cause if I had been reading them, I would have thought, "Hmmm. A teenage existentialist in California.  The poor kid must need some psychiatric help."

But I was an existentialist for a long time.  Life I thought was an extreme situation.