Overweening Generalist

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Improvisations off Leary and Wilson's 5th Circuit

A couple of years ago I read Harvard History professor Daniel Lord Smail's On Deep History and the Brain. Smail is interested in pre-history of humans, so he has a tough row to hoe, since by definition there are no written documents. Still, I thought he did a hell of a job. What a terrific read. And what's stuck with me ever since was his notion that, very early in our development as hominids, we began to develop techniques to alter our own consciousness ("autotropic") and the neurochemistry of others, from a distance ("teletropic"). Smail notes that we haven't stopped since we began this and have developed an extraordinary "array of practices that stimulate the production and circulation of our own chemical messengers."

This resonated with me in a number of ways. Books on the cognitive science of pleasure have been proliferating over the past ten to 13 years, and some of them seem quite good. I also read about pleasure with an eye toward Timothy Leary's and especially Robert Anton Wilson's posits regarding their Eight Circuit Brain model and metaphor, and pleasure seems to have most to do with their 5th Circuit. For those new to this Model, who are interested in finding out more, both thinkers wrote quite a lot about the Eight Circuit Brain (8CB) model, and much of it is diffused throughout their texts; for starters I would look at Leary's Info-Psychology, section 11, "A Neurosomatic Aesthetic: Beauty is Natural, Art is Artificial," pp.27-31. Very late in Leary's life he told his colleague R.U. Sirius (AKA Ken Goffman) that Wilson had developed Leary's 8CB model to such a degree that he knew it better than Leary himself did. (I'm paraphrasing from a passage in Design For Dying that I don't have on hand at the moment.)

From Wilson there is much writing on this 5th Circuit all-over-body pleasure/rapture, but if I had to pick one section of one book, read chapter 11 of Prometheus Rising: "The Holistic Neurosomatic Circuit," pp. 177-194, which is replete with ideas about the evolution of this circuit in humanity, quotes from Adepts, a discussion that intertwines history, class, yoga, cannabis, sex, comparative religious aspects, fear of these states of pleasure by Priests and Kings, its relationship with hypnosis and brainwashing, exercises for the reader to experience this "circuit," and the idea that this circuit might be involved in some sort of teleological movement in human evolution toward space travel. Most of the time, in any of Wilson's books, when he's discussing tantric sex or cannabis use he's also writing about some aspect of this "circuit."

For both Leary and Wilson this metaphorical "circuit" is associated with healing, floating, bliss, aesthetics, deep enjoyment in the whole body, flexibility in mind and body, "glowing" sexual and sensual beauty, and tolerance of difference.

Both thinkers employed various nomenclature regarding this "circuit": hedonic, neurosomatic, cybersomatic intelligence, psychosomatic synergy, and many others. You get the picture. They guessed that this circuit was relatively recent historically, and was indeed historical: there was writing and surplus and a relatively wealthy caste that had the time to pursue methods of whole-body bliss. The first articulators of this circuit may have been Hindus, but Smail's book and others suggest the picture may be more complex than this.

Some Recent Riffs on Pleasure
First off, I'm struck by the proliferation of books and research on the subject while the very cultures that support the research and readership seem to be undergoing crises of mistrust between governments and the governed (see "NSA and Snowden"), and rapidly accelerating inequality in income. One wonders about the semantic unconscious and this development, which might require a better mind than mine for a satisfying analysis.

1.) Cognitive scientist Gary Marcus (last seen at NYU) wondered about our appreciation of cave paintings versus the latest 3-D, audio-sensurround extravaganza. He thinks artists become savvier and savvier over time about what makes humans tick, and takes a page from Stephen Jay Gould, who in his 1980 collection The Panda's Thumb described how Disney had, over decades, retooled Mickey Mouse's image, so slowly that no one noticed. But Mickey has become "cuter and cuter: less adult, less threatening, more juvenile, more adorable." (Marcus) In describing the "evolution" of music, Marcus writes, "My contention is that music is like Mickey: not the direct product of evolution at all, but the product of artists evolving their craft in order to tickle the brain in particular ways. Music, art, and iPhones spread not because we have innate circuitry for funky dance beats or electronic toys, but because musicians, artists, and inventors are often uncommonly talented at reverse-engineering the human psyche." (see Guitar Zero, p.113)

Here we would be talking about Smail's teletropic aspect of brain-state modulation. For autotropic developments, pay attention to whatever you and your friends are doing that gets you high or makes you feel a deep pleasure.

2.) Two "field reports" on cannabis use from Dale Pendell's marvelous Pharmako/Poeia:

I used it to learn organic chemistry. If I memorized the reactions both straight and high, they stuck and I never forgot them. - "a student"

Sex is affected also: other worldly, this worldly, her worldly, his worldly, one-worldly. Two voices singing one aria, creation and improvisation in one long, stretching, eternal now. Tactile sensations exist in their own space: accessible to both but owned by neither. Genitals and other bodily parts expand, become the whole body, the two of you climbing over them like Lilliputians. - Pendell himself, see p. 202

If ya ain't got the gnosis...We're making it more available all the time. Step right up! (And board a trip to Colorado?) Or just go get your Card?

[Side note: for all those who see the reading of James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and...poetry in general as unpleasantly effortful or just too goddamned difficult, I report very good results from using a method much like the organic chemistry student, above. And aye: deeply pleasurable.]

Talk about pre-history: how does the Cambrian explosion hit ya? 600 million years ago, the fossil record shows that, for some "reason" Life decided to go nuts with just the most psychedelic expansion of new forms of critters. This seemingly overnight copious display of creativity by Nature was one argument, Darwin thought, against his idea of relatively slow evolution by means of natural selection. It led Gould and Eldredge to invent the evolutionary of idea of "punctuated equilibrium."

What does this have to do with pleasure? Stick with me here for a sec or two.

The US government, for near 100 years, has been at war with cannabis. Agents for the government still claim that we don't know enough about cannabis to declare its safety. Being morally and intellectually bankrupt themselves, they ought have no say in the matter. But they're wrong anyway: despite the prohibition against doing scientific research into cannabis, there's now an overwhelming body of evidence to make Obama look like a damned fool (again?) when he recently said - probably thinking himself charitable? - that pot is no more dangerous than alcohol. In fact, it's far, far more healthy. Ironically, the Unistat government funded a study of the human immune system, giving funds to researchers at the St. Louis University School of Medicine. In 1988 the researchers showed that a major component of the immune system is the endocannabinoid system: these are receptor sites all over the body (recall Wilson's term "psychosomatic synergy") that regulate immune function, body temperature, blood pressure, hunger, relaxation, sleep cycles, bone density, inflammation, and fertility.

And when did the endocannabinoid system arise, evolutionarily? In the Cambrian explosion, with tunicates. Sea-squirts! They had elementary backbones and a cannabinoid system 600 million years ago. (We share 80% of our DNA with them, as Ripley would say: believe it or not!) Today, all animals except insects have this system.

But wither pleasure here? Just this:

Smoking cannabis docks one of around 100 phytocannabinoids (plant-based cannabinoids) in receptor sites that we have endogenously. One of the psychoactive effects of cannabinoids is the ability to cause us to "break set": we become temporarily more amenable to new ideas, new approaches to things that we previously reacted habitually to. Speculating from there: Darwinian survival is all about fitness over changing environments. When the environment changes, time for new ideas. And for new ideas to come into play, there should be some alteration of memory, which plays a big part in habits. Endocannabinoids such as Anandamide help us to forget things that we don't need to clutter our minds with, which is easily seen as adaptive. Cannabis has been shown to encourage neurogenesis in the hippocampus: new neurons, new neural-circuits, novel connections. Cannabis seems to have played a big part in adaptation over the Longue Duree. When the "normal" environment threw us for a loop, it may have been a very good idea to just, like...hold on, man. Let's sit down and have a smoke or ingest this godstuff and talk this out. There's gotta be some way we can deal with this. Let's chill. Memory seems thus psycho-somatic, all over the body. The cannabinoid system CB2 has receptor sites distributed throughout the body and internal organs. There is no mind-body duality...

Pot does more
Than Newton can
To justify
Goddess's ways to man.
-paraphrase from a classic poem

A cannabis high feels so good maybe because we co-evolved with the endocannabinoid system, which probably got going with the Cambrian Explosion. Nature threw in this Gift, and we ought never let any cops keep us from it, for any reason. (Still have some ways to go...)

Summary of this section: I posit the development of the endocannabinoid system as at least the scaffolding for very much of what we consider "pleasurable" today.

3.) In a recent book by Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, How Pleasure Works, he notes early on his colleague Paul Rozin's observation that, "(I)f you look at a psychology textbook, you will find little or nothing about sports, art, music, drama, literature, play, and religion. Bloom says that these are "central to what makes us human, and we won't understand any of them until we understand pleasure." (p.xiv)

A most fascinating aspect of Bloom's book, for me, has been his very-convincing argument that humans are essentialists: they/we perceive/imagine a "real" essence "in" objects and people. This essentialism was something that Korzybski (not mentioned in Bloom's book) thought was a mistake that led us to act irrationally and non-adaptively, and should be overcome if we are to survive as a species. Bloom shows that rationality and looking into things - say, scientifically - was essentialist and yet led many humans to reject essentialism for a nascent body of mathematical and scientific "facts" about the physical world. I now see essentialism in a new light, and I do think these relatively new insights can be read as making Korzybski's thought even more robust...even if we must accept essentialism as something that absolutely will NOT go away any time soon.

In a chapter on how religion gives pleasure by firing our imaginations about "deeper realities," Bloom discusses some of the so-called New Atheists:

They are not blind to the attraction of a deeper reality; they just resonate to this attraction outside the bounds of organized religion. As an illustration, consider the view of some prominent modern-day atheists. I have already discussed how Richard Dawkins wrote a book about the transcendent appeal of scientific inquiry. Sam Harris is well known for his attack on the monotheistic faiths, but he is strongly enthusiastic about Buddhism, describing it as "the most complete methodology we have for discovering the intrinsic freedom of consciousness, unencumbered by any dogma." And Christopher Hitchens, author of  God Is Not Great, has spoken about the importance of the "numinous" - which usually refers to the experience of contact with the divine - and has argued that one can experience it without religious or supernatural belief. He suggests that humans rely on the numinous and transcendent, and says that personally he wouldn't trust anyone who lacked such feelings.

4.) Because I've gone on too long, I take leave here by linking to a popular listicle-article about why sex is good for us, trusting the links within my link will lead to something moderately illuminating, or at least for laffs. What interests me here is how much of what sex does that's healthy intersects and intermingles and even seems to have intercourse with what cannabis does.

I take hashish with some followers of the eighteenth-century mystic Saint-Martin. At one in the morning, while we were talking wildly, and some are dancing, there is a tap at the shuttered window; we open it and three ladies enter, the wife of a man of letters...caught in our dream we know vaguely that she is scandalous according to our code and to all codes, but we smile at her benevolently and laugh. - William Butler Yeats, Autobiography

a prominent 20th century science writer and thinker and public intellectual, on cannabis:
I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate. Sometimes a kind of existential perception of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of myself and my fellow men. And at other times, there is a different sense of the absurd, a playful and whimsical awareness. Both of these senses of the absurd can be communicated, and some of the most rewarding highs I’ve had have been in sharing talk and perceptions and humor. Cannabis brings us an awareness that we spend a lifetime being trained to overlook and forget and put out of our minds. A sense of what the world is really like can be maddening; cannabis has brought me some feelings for what it is like to be crazy, and how we use that word ‘crazy’ to avoid thinking about things that are too painful for us. In the Soviet Union political dissidents are routinely placed in insane asylums. The same kind of thing, a little more subtle perhaps, occurs here: ‘did you hear what Lenny Bruce said yesterday? He must be crazy.’ When high on cannabis I discovered that there’s somebody inside in those people we call mad. - Carl Sagan, in 1969, on his experiences smoking cannabis, which he did to the end of his life. See HERE.

Some Sources
"The Marijuana Miracle: Why a Single Compound in Cannabis May Revolutionize Modern Medicine," by Martin Lee
"The Lie That Won't Die: 'We Don't Know Enough About Marijuana'," by Paul Armentano
"High on Health: CBD in the Food Supply," by Allen Badiner
"Science For Potheads: Why People Love To Get High," by K.M. Cholewa
"Sea Squirt, Heal Thyself: Scientists Make Major Breakthrough in Regenerative Medicine"
"Introduction To The Endocannabinoid System," by Dustin Sulak
"The Endocannabinoid System"
"How Sex Affects Intelligence, and Vice-Versa," by Dan Hurley
The Eight-Circuit Brain, by Antero Alli (I don't know what happened with this book, which I find to be a very unique take on Leary's and Wilson's ideas. Antero diverges from both significantly, but he's never boring. He knew RAW in Berkeley and writes about him in this book. Why is this book only available for $1500? I have a pristine, signed copy I'd be willing to part with for a mere $800. Contact me at that address ----->)

A 3 min, 30-second film that addresses tunicates (sea squirts) and the endocannabinoid system in all of us:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Irritate In Chic Bug: Notes on Four Articles

I. A year ago in National Geographic David Dobbs published a piece on "Restless Genes" in human history, and I recently re-read it. What marvelous science writing. Two models of "genes" and the expression of curiosity, restlessness, and risk-taking in history are put forth: a gene called DRD-4 has been implicated in learning and reward and it modulates dopamine, the most basic endogenous "reward" neurotransmitter. We all want a little dopamine fix every now and then. Actually, closer to now.

But researchers have repeatedly noted a variant on the gene, DRD-7R, seems highly correlated with history's risk-takers: people who are eager to explore new places and drugs, try new relationships, including sexual ones. They seem more eager to try new foods and ideas. They seek change and adventure and they were the ones who lit out for the frontier, the new territory. In non-human animals the maverick gene DRD-7R relates to more exploration of territory and novelty-seeking. In humans it's also related to ADHD. Chuaseng Chen of UC-Irvine has done research showing the DRD-7Rs are found more concentrated in migratory cultures than in settled ones. Other research suggests that DRD-7Rs wither in settled cultures: they need a cultural outlet for their expression of restlessness and neophilia.

                                      four explorers on the Nimrod expedition to the
                                      South Pole. Harrowing! Shackleton is the second
                                      from the left.

But it's not that simple: the macro-version of the gene story here is explained in Dobbs's article by evolution and population geneticist Kenneth Dodd of Yale, who was part of the team that first isolated the DRD-7R variant 20 years ago. He says the picture is far more complex than one gene variant giving rise to the various Ages of Exploration. There must be a group of genes involved, and furthermore: for the pioneering types to do their thing, the culture needs to have produced tools and incorporated other traits for the novelty-seekers first, which has led to this macro picture of human innovation and exploration: DRD-7R is an exciting feature in the story of human derring-do, but we first needed genes that built limbs and brains like we have! If you're going to be the first to mount an expedition to walk out of the known territory and over those hills in the distance to see what other tribes may live there, you needed long legs (like we have) and hips configured and conducive to long walks (like we have). It helps to have dextrous hands to grasp and manipulate tools (like we have), and it no doubt helped to have a very large but slow-growing brain that spent a lot of time imagining possible behaviors and playing games between 3-18 years old. (That's all of us, virtually.) As Dobbs writes, "Our conceptual imagination greatly magnifies the effect of our mobility and dexterity, which in turn stirs our imagination further." Feedback loops inside of feedback loops, churning and seeking, spreading information and firing more imaginations.

But read the article if you haven't already. You'll get accounts of Captain Cook and Ernest Shackleton, mutant genes for tolerating lactose, and pioneering Quebec logging communities. And what was most fascinating to me: the latest research on how people who live on all those tiny islands in the South Pacific got there. I was used to reading Out of Africa stories that headed north and "made a left" toward southern Europe...probably because of my ego? That would be my ancestors's earliest route out of Africa. But others made a right, and that has made all the difference.

II. In May of 2013 a study in Psychological Science appeared, conducted by researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark and UC Santa Barbara, which studied attitudes about redistribution of wealth among men in Denmark, Unistat, and Argentina, all of which have welfare systems very different from each other. A high correlation was found between men with strong upper body strength who disliked redistributive schemes (welfare ideas) and men with less upper body strength, who favored more redistribution. The researchers think there may be something quite ancient (and unconscious?) in political ideology. When I read the piece I realized I had intuited their findings a long time ago, but it was only intuition. John Tooby and Leda Cosmides were involved in the study, and I still find their book The Adapted Mind most interesting among the books that Stephen Jay Gould charged were "Darwinian Fundamentalism." An earlier version of this study appeared in late 2012, and Natasha Lennard, one of writers at Salon that I find not-execrable, articulated my thinking fairly accurately HERE.

                                         So. Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, where a
                                         disagreement over Kant led to a shooting

III. Last September, a story appeared out of southern Russia which appealed to a dank corner of my own sense of mordant humor: two guys in their twenties were waiting in line for beer at an outdoor event in a beautiful city, Rostov-on-Don. The topic of Immanuel Kant came up and there was a fierce disagreement over some aspect of the philosopher well-known for his writings on ethics and a universal morality within humankind. Things escalated and one guy shot the other in the head with an air gun, sending him to the hospital but not killing him. The assailant faces 20 years, and the author of this brief article suggests 20 years is a long time to better get to know Kant's ideas about ethics and morality. The short piece is HERE.

IV. So there was apparently this star male philosophy professor who seduced a beautiful and brilliant student. Rumors and gossip raged, then she began to show her pregnancy. It was a huge scandal, and the student's uncle's anger was boiling at the professor. The professor thought the best thing to do would be to marry the student. She was against this. But they did anyway, in secret. The results of improprieties around sex were so scandalous the professor hid his new bride in a nunnery. Then the uncle had some thugs break in to the professor's house and cut off his penis while he was sleeping; an earlier version of Bobbitizing a guy. (The most unkindest cut of all. But of course I'm horribly, clangingly biased.) The professor, now a eunuch, took up a life in a monastery. He and his wife exchanged letters for the rest of their lives and these letters have kept scholars busy ever since.

You may have heard of the professor and his student: they were Abelard and Heloise, and the action took place 900 years ago. I mention it because I enjoyed reading this book review by Barbara Newman of a new edition of versions of the letters. I hadn't known about dificilio lectio, which says, when faced with anomalous and competing versions of the "same" text that had been copied by hand by scribes, choose the "more difficult" one, because it's more likely to be authentic. This seems like a proto-inchoate intuition about information theory, in which longer messages, when passed from person to person via memory, get shorter.

I find it very intriguing that Heloise may have been a sort of 21st century feminist, according to one reading of translations of her letters.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Gangsters and The State; The State as Gangsters: On the Semantics of "Gangster"

As we keep learning over and over, the NSA's spying into our every move has stopped zero terrorist attacks. So, this is not only a massive abuse of civil liberties and an absurdly gross violation of the 4th Amendment, it's very costly and so yet another welfare program for people already well-off.

It seems only natural to ask: is catching a terrorist really the main purpose behind the building of the total information awareness of the Panopticon? Because no War Criminals or Wall Street crooks have been prosecuted - almost everyone seems to be doing "better than ever" among those crowds - are they preparing for the inevitable uprising when the economy collapses again?

Is this all merely well-dressed gangsters from Ivy League schools seeing The People as a threat to their interests and taking precautions to smash any person(s) who deign to stop their gluttonous lust for cash and power? It's probably more complex than that, but I don't think I'm drilling in a dry hole here. There's just too much historical precedent.

Historical precedent for what? WTF is the OG on about now? Just this: most of the citizenry are garden-variety brainwashed to believe that "gangsters" are only Italian guys from New Jersey, or Mexican guys selling drugs and using machine guns, or some other Hollywood fantasy-image. I think it semantically fruitful to open up the definition of "gangster." Stick with me on this; it's brilliant. I may be paranoid, but I'm also a free-thinker.

UK Now
If gangsters can buy off juries, cops, lawyers, issue "get out of jail free" cards for a nominal fee, and infiltrate Scotland Yard, then who would be the gangsters and who would be the government? This is not an idle postulate, as Operation Tiberius, in effect since 2003, shows. UK gangsters even used a little-known but historically effective trick of infiltrating the Freemasons in order to aid in their corruption of cops. As William S. Burroughs might say were he alive to hear this: "It's the old game from here to eternity: it helps the pay The Boys off..."

Using a secret society in order to further the goals of your own secret society goes back at least to Adam Weishaupt's Bavarian Illuminati, which many Masons seem proud about after the fact. So far my research suggests Weishaupt's goals were what most of us would consider from the "Left;" the Propaganda Due (P2) secret society that corrupted the Italian justice system were right wing fascists who had infiltrated the Freemasons, starting (probably?) in the early 1970s.

Rather black (gangsters and thugs and criminals) and white (those sworn to uphold the law, truth, justice, and maybe even a modicum of fairness), the color I see when I look at various "justice" systems more often looks like this:

                                         Rather than "good guys" vs. "bad guys"?

No, but seriously: grok in its fullness the rot in the UK. I think this sort of thing is historically inevitable when the wealthiest 10% can buy the political system. And this is greatly aided by income inequality, perhaps the biggest social justice issue in the Northern Hemisphere since anthropogenic global warming, but this is mere opinion on my part.

US Allowing Sinaloan Drug Cartel to Flood US Cities With Drugs
In exchange for info on the members of other drug cartels, the DEA made deals with the members of the upper hierarchy of the notorious Sinaloan cartel, circa 2000-2012. It's estimated that 80% of the drugs - cocaine and heroin - entering the Chicago area were allowed under this deal.

A daily-repeated trope among right wingers in Unistat is that, since Chicago is Democratically-controlled and Obama came from there, (and other "reasons"), this explains all the corruption and murder in Chicago. It's a lot more complicated than that. (Of course it would be: the right wing's concocted stories seem increasingly designed to appeal to a 5th grade reading level.) This State-crime - the DEA agents are paid for with our tax money - is a FACT. Or to put it another way: children and other destitute people in Chicago and all over Unistat are murdered and terrorized by the decisions made about "information gathering" by members of the Unistat government, paid for by us. (See the gray area above.)

I have not seen this story covered in the mainstream corporate electronic news, but it may have been. And it should be covered and many members of the DEA and the Unistat government who sanctioned this should go to jail for a long time. But I've lived long enough to have grave doubts any white-collar of Unistat government-gangsters will do any jail time. Why? Because when I was twenty I read Alfred W. McCoy's The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia. I saw what happened to Gary Webb. I had worked for the Christic Institute, which was smashed by the Bush41 Admin. I attended talks and read the book by Michael Levine, a former DEA agent who revealed how corrupt the whole international drug smuggling scene was. I knew enough about the CIA dealing with Lucky Luciano and heroin trafficking in the 1940s. I read Chomsky, Peter Dale Scott, and others...like Ryan Grim, in his book This Is Your Country On Drugs, see especially pp. 171-192 for stories on Unistat-State-gangsters aligned with the Mafia and other syndicates and drug smuggling. I could go on and on.

This is all out there, but you have to READ; this won't be covered by Eyewitless News. If it is covered - and every now and then it is, and well-done, too - it's talked about for two days and then disappears; no public discussion emerges. Because it's...taboo to think about the implications? Robert Anton Wilson thought so. See his essay, "The Godfather, Part IV," in The Gemstone File, ed. by Jim Keith, pp.133-143.

And therefore, there will be no justice, only smashed lives in a terminally criminal and evil and stupid "War On Certain People Who Use The Wrong Drugs."

This may seem a bit glib or histrionic to you. But think about the mothers whose children are now dead, shot in the streets of the south side of Chicago. And then realize that sworn officials of the government allowed the drugs that were being warred over to flood those Chicago streets. Picture a mother at a funeral, crying for her baby who never had a chance. Who are the "gangsters" here? It's not so black-and-white, is it?

       CIA aid for Thailand
   was channeled through a front established

by a CIA agent
             with underworld bank connections
    thus helping to open up the world

to a flood of heroin through Thailand
             while the mob in Manilla
     helped to Westernize the Philippines

by its control of gambling
             and later child prostitution
     carried on in the big hotels

Can we be surprised this happened
              when the mob was being protected
     both by Hoover in the FBI

and Angleton in the CIA
             who vetoed a Justice Department investigation
     and almost no one in the US seemed to care

at least in its universities
             When I wanted to pinpoint
    the center of the corruption

I did not point to the CIA
            who seemed to think they were doing their job
    or even the government

which has always been corrupt
             so much as to universities
    for having sanctioned this system

-from Peter Dale Scott, Minding The Darkness, pp.178-179, and he gives footnotes for all his sources and assertions in the margins. NB PDS has the harshest criticism for his own: the universities who "sanction" this gangsterism.

Legalized Gangsterism
According to Simon Johnson of MIT, the "Most Dangerous Man in America" right now is Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan Chase. Dimon seems to have contempt for Congress, the laws, and anyone who will challenge him, anyone not as rich as himself, or anyone who would try to reign in his Too Big To Fail (TBTF) bank. Recall that We the People bailed him out.

                                   Jamie Dimon: "The Most Dangerous Man in America"

Here's an article that describes how angry Dimon was with Obama for leaving him out of the team that was supposed to re-write the rules for the way Wall St worked. It links to a better and longer piece on this guy, who now knows he's TBTF, and can do just about any evil he wants in the world, and he'll only be fined if caught. He doesn't really produce ANY WEALTH with his own hands; he merely gambles with other people's money and wins even if he loses. And he wants MORE. He's worth an estimated $400,000,000 and "earns" an annual salary of $27.5 million. He may wear a nice suit. He may have a Harvard MBA. He may belong to all the best private clubs and be asked to give his opinions on the stock market on CNBC or Faux News, but to me, he's a gangster. But I'm only entitled to my opinion.

JP Morgan-Chase/Jamie Dimon studies:
Too Big to Charge?
Despite Eight Ongoing Criminal/Civil Investigations, the Bank's a Law-Enforcement Partner With the NYPD
JP Morgan-Chase: "Incredibly Guilty"
Now We Know: JP Morgan-Chase Is More Criminal Than Enron
Matt Taibbi Explains JP Morgan-Chase's Crime Spree

Jamie Dimon's feelings are hurt: people don't appreciate him enough. I'm not making this up. Sociopath? I'll go: yes. Gangster? Oh hell yea. I know, I know: I have a very active imagination. What do I know? I'm just some dipshit blogger sitting in his living room, among his books, worrying about paying the utility bills. Dimon's rich! He must be a Good Guy! Did he actually use an automatic rifle to kill a bunch of people over money? No. Well there you go: he's cool.

And I could've picked 30 or 40 other white collar Business Criminals here; Dimon just seems stellar to me.

From a poem about the year 1934:

He was a hero in Oklahoma
helping the oppressed by
              stealing from the eye-rollers
                                 & now and then giving to the poor

He hated bankers
and finally he was killed by FBI agents on 10-22
Woody Guthrie wrote a song about him
with those great lines: 
                                       Yes, as through this world I ramble,
                                            I see lots of funny men,
                                       Some will rob you with a 6-gun,
                                           and some will rob you with a fountain-pen.
                                       But as through your life you'll travel,
                                           wherever you may roam,
                                       You won't never see an outlaw drive
                                            a family from their home.
-from "Pretty Boy Floyd," by Ed Sanders, America: A History In Verse, Volume I, 1900-1939, p.323
["JP Morgan Chase Settles: Is $13B For Role in Mortgage Crisis Fair?"]

Note: Sanders regularly uses the term "eye-rollers" for the wealthy class, who, if you bring up anything like the ideas presented in this particular blog-spew, they merely roll their eyes, as if you're crazy.

This has been a ramble on the semantics of "gangster" and I hope at least one person found a modicum of edification. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Nixon's FAP: Near-Hit or Near-Miss?

Basically, a Negative Income Tax scheme with a lot of moving parts but certainly simpler than the bloated welfare bureaucracy, President Richard Nixon floated a Family Assistance Plan to the Unistatians on TV, August 8th, 1969, 49 weeks after the police riot in Czechago.

Nixon had been poor as a kid. He understood poverty. Also, anyone who's studied him knows he was a very complex man, and probably qualified as a sociopath of some sort. He believed black people were genetically inferior to whites. (In 1982, Nixon told Ehrlichman he thought "yellow" Asians were genetically superior to caucasians, at least in terms of intellect.)

"Talking about welfare reform with Moynihan out of the room, Nixon told Haldemann and Ehrlichman: 'You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to...' In private he would assert that there had never in history been a successful or adequate black nation. 'African is hopeless,' he told Ehrlichman. 'The worst is Liberia, which we built...'" -p.110, President Nixon: Alone In The White House, Richard Reeves.

Reeves thinks Nixon thought it didn't matter what he personally thought about poverty; in a bit that feels ultra-Machiavellian to me, Reeves writes that for Nixon it was important for a President like himself to appear to care about equality: "The appearance of public equality, he had concluded, was essential to the public order - particularly in maintaining peace in urban black ghettoes - and the appearance of domestic calm and concern was essential to his own political standing." (Reeves, 110)

(Historical context: lots of urban riots in Unistat, 1965-69.)

Most of his cabinet was against this new Family Assistance Plan. Nixon lobbied hard to get it before giving up during his run for re-election in 1972.

Basically, this is what it was: a welfare family of four would receive $1600 from the federal government. States could supplement as they wished. The Aid for Families of Dependent Children program would be cut, as would Food Stamps and Medicaid. Welfare was seen as an inefficient bureaucracy. Under the FAP, if you worked, you could keep up to $60 a month that you earned, and 50% above that. There were other ideas about families of five or seven, and as Reeves writes, "Working poor families would also receive direct federal payments calculated on a complicated scale."(This complexity is one of the main reasons I prefer the Universal Basic Income ideas as advocated by Philippe van Parijs or Guy Standing: everyone gets a certain equal amount, period.)

Let's look at the $1600 in 1969 terms and 2013 terms. If I go HERE and plug in 1600 and convert it to what it's worth in 2013, we get $10,348.

Nixon told the nation on TV, "A third of a century of centralizing power and responsibility in Washington has produced a bureaucratic monstrosity, cumbersome, unresponsive, ineffective...a colossal failure."

Everyone who would receive benefits would have to accept work or training.

Nixon actually worked hard to do something like give a family of four $10,300 in cash for a year. He loved the drama of working for this idea. As Reeves writes, "Nixon had long ago decided to propose dramatic welfare reform - and the drama was more important than the specifics of reform or the possibility of enactment." (Reeves, 111) With Nixon's mindset in my mind, I find it interesting that there's a slang term that's arisen relatively recently: fap.

There were moments when it looked like it could pass, but it never did, obviously. The FAP (which was called the FSS or "Family Security System" before the name change) was unpopular with many middle-class workers, who perceived that they would be working to subsidize loafers. Social workers of course hated it because they were afraid it would put them out of their jobs. Organized labor - and yes, kiddies, there was such a thing - didn't like it because they saw it as a threat to the minimum wage. (!) Welfare advocates and other leftists thought it wasn't enough money. And of course conservative objected to it because it was giving money to people who weren't working. It seems the Welfare advocates and leftists were the group I most agree with here...

The background to Nixon's idea came from some Negative Income Tax ideas from the economist Milton Friedman, who had written about it in the early-mid 1960s, as an alternative to Welfare. One of Friedman's ideas, extrapolated to 2013 would have given a family of four $24,000 to $30,000. Daniel Patrick Moynihan had read of Friedman's novel ideas and had floated them to Nixon, urging Tricky Dick that if he could get it passed, he would be seen as some sort of American hero. (Moynihan...a bit of a trickster himself?)

What did happen: the Earned Income Tax Credit, which only applied to those who had jobs.

I ask The Reader to ponder the political landscape of ideas in 2014 Unistat (or idea-lack thereof) and try to decide, if an idea to give $10K and change to families of four arose from some congressentity today, where would they be seen along the political spectrum? Almost every Sixties and early Seventies radical saw Nixon as an absolute monster, and with good reason.

"You can't be neutral on a moving train." - Howard Zinn

"It only takes twenty years for a liberal to become a conservative without changing a single idea." - Robert Anton Wilson, Illuminati Papers, p.111

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Promiscuous Neurotheologist: The Atheologies of Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Robert Anton Wilson

In the past few weeks I've been reading the so-called New Atheists - articles and passages in books by and about them, interviews, etc - and the more I read them the more each thinker seems slightly different than the others. The ones I'm talking about are Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dennett, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq, Pinker, Jerry Coyne, Victor Stenger, Michael Shermer, and Lawrence Krauss.

                                              Ayaan Hirsi Ali, moving the New Atheist
                                              debate forward, although I must wonder
                                              why she's allied with the retrograde
                                              American Enterprise Institute

I could go into why I started to see individuation with each of these thinkers, but that's for some other day; what really fascinated me was what was not said, and the idea that this sort of thinking is "new;" it is not. Atheism has a long pedigree, even in Unistat, but it's largely been marginalized. I don't recall any atheist thinker being singled out in any class I ever took in high school. When I started reading compendia of atheist thought, one thing led to another and I realized it was just another marginalized discourse in Unistat; Randall Collins would say that the social and intellectual conditions were not right for a more mainstream discussion of atheism in the culture at large. It is no accident that this "new" discourse (also a publishing phenomenon, but it wouldn't be if people weren't buying the books) exploded after 9/11.

Randall Collins's magisterial The Sociology of Philosophies has a robust theory about why ideas gain ground at certain times and not others. He seems heavily influenced by Erving Goffman in developing ideas about emotional energies gathered in groups around a seminal thinker, and how the group branches out and disseminates and develops ideas, depending on culture and history, space and political  propinquities. Cultural capital is actualized around attention spaces and I'll just quote from him to give you a feel for where Collins is coming from:

Imagine a large number of people spread out across an open plain - something like a landscape by Salvador Dali or Giorgio de Chirico. Each one is shouting "Listen to me!" This is the intellectual attention space. Why would anyone listen to anyone else? What strategy will get the most listeners? [...]
A person can pick a quarrel with someone else, contradicting what the other is saying. That will gain an audience of at least one; and if the argument is loud enough, it might attract a crowd. Now, suppose everyone is tempted to try it. Some arguments start first, or have a larger appeal because they contradict the positions held by several people; and if other persons happen to be on the same side of the argument, they gather around and provide support. There are first-mover advantages and bandwagon effects. The tribe of attention seekers, once scattered across the plain, is changed into a few knots of arguments. The law of small numbers says that the number of these successful knots is always about three to six. The attention space is limited; once a few arguments have partitioned the crowds, attention is withdrawn from those who would start another knot of argument. Much of the pathos of intellectual life is in the timing of when one advances one's own argument. (p.38)

                                         Randall Collins, sociologist extraordinaire

The so-called New Atheist's arguments seem to have reached a plenum, but quite possibly we will be surprised by some new development in their lines of argument. I do think Unistat needed an intellectual avalanche of books and articles espousing atheism for one reason or another. I find the right wing Christian ideology - which to me always seemed closer to fascism than Jesus's words from the Gospels - stultifying. And no doubt there were plenty of people who didn't believe but found themselves in pockets of Unistat in which ostracism for "coming out" was a very real threat; so they endured Sunday mornings. Possibly the New Atheists, as their ideas trickle into the capillaries of small town thought, make it just a little bit easier to realize oneself. The rise of mainstream atheism in Unistat seemed dialectically necessary. We'll see where it goes. Meanwhile, I have my fascinations with the two thinkers mentioned in my title: their quasi-atheistic ideas don't seem to have captured an attention space.

Collins's ideas are about ideas appearing at the right place, right time, under the right conditions. Nonetheless we are free-thinking agents and do not place a high value on following the main streams in order to have the correct ideas to trot out at cocktail parties.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (NNT)
I combine two thinkers (Taleb and Wilson) of seemingly disparate personal disposition, each with seemingly quite different audiences, yet both thinkers have produced a body of work that shows a fascination with chaos, randomness, erudition and epistemological doubt. Indeed, Taleb's three major works (Fooled By Randomness;The Black Swan; Antifragile) are now being labeled "The Incerto Trilogy." A taste of Nassim's basic incertitude: "Prediction requires knowing about technologies that will be discovered in the future. But that very knowledge would almost automatically allow us to start developing those technologies right away. Ergo, we do not know what we will know." (p.173, The Black Swan)

Taleb - who seems a strident character who insists he has a good sense of humor, so I'll take him at his word - thinks it's a bad idea to bash religion, even though he himself seems an atheist. Why not bash like Dawkins, Harris, et.al? Because nature abhors a vacuum, and he points to the atheistic USSR under Stalin: something else takes the place of irrational religion, and it could lead to far worse outcomes. He traces the first suicide bombers. Were they actuated by fundamentalist religious fervor? No, they were not Islamic terrorists from the Middle East. Rather, they were Greek orthodox Communists in Lebanon. The vacuum left in the wake of The State's abolition or proscriptions against religion are replaced by "all kinds of crazy beliefs." NNT also would have rival religions not be in physical contact, which seems a tall order but interesting idea. Top-down attacks on religion do not work, and NNT points to the diminution of Catholicism in Southern Europe and Ireland, which saw an accompaniment of usury and debt. (Unforeseen consequences?) And here's one of my favorite passages from NNT; it gives much of the flavor of his overall philosophical caste of mind:

I am most irritated by those who attack the bishop but somehow fall for the securities analyst - those who exercise skepticism against religion but not against the economists, social scientists, and phony statisticians. Using the confirmation bias, these people will tell you that religion was horrible for mankind by counting deaths from the Inquistion and various religious wars. But they will not show  you how many people were killed by nationalism, social science, and political theory under Stalinism or during the Vietnam War. Even priests don't go to bishops when they feel ill: their first stop is the doctor's. (p.291, The Black Swan)

Later Nassim said that if you're critical of religion but invest in the stock market you're a hypocrite, which reminded me of Dawkins saying that the postmodernists who questioned the fundamental laws of physics who then got on airplanes were hypocrites. Skepticism is "domain-dependent" and 19th century "rational" Western medicine no doubt killed more people than it saved. When you have "experts" you have the "illusion of control."

NNT thinks that if religion has survived for millennia we shouldn't uproot it unless we can be damned well sure we can replace it with something less damaging. (But we cannot be sure, right?)

Like the late Robert Bellah and Robert Anton Wilson, NNT thought religion was not about "belief" but about action, and it starts with ritual. We have ideas about "God" all mixed up. Most religions started off with rituals, then developed deities post hoc. Religion makes people do things, and then the King arrives and uses the local religion for social control.

Further, NNT sees very strong historical lessons in Christianity and Islam that support his idea that history does not crawl but "jumps" and is best not thought of as something that develops slowly and relatively predictably: in noting the paucity of extant writings by contemporary thinkers in or near Jesus's time, "Apparently, few of the big guns took the ideas of a seemingly heretical Jew seriously enough to think he would leave traces for posterity." And: "How about the competing religion that emerged seven centuries later; who forecast that a collection of horsemen would spread their empire and Islamic law from the Indian subcontinent to Spain in just a few years? Even more than the rise of Christianity, it was the spread of Islam (the third edition, so to speak) that carried full unpredictability; many historians looking at the record have been taken aback by the swiftness of the change." NNT follows up these observations by making a general note about our study of history: "These kinds of discontinuities in the chronology of events did not make the historian's profession too easy: the studious examination of the past in the greatest detail does not teach you much about the mind of History; it only gives you the illusion of understanding it." (p.11, op.cit)

Illusions of understanding: this is at the heart of NNT's work.

For NNT, the Economist's religion of probability is as primitive as religious fundamentalists; here NNT's deliberate provocation seems to dovetail with Robert Anton Wilson's guerrilla ontological takes on "serious" bodies of thought. NNT reminds us that Syria, Egypt and Iraq were "secular" states, that churches are standing-room-only in Russia now, and that Dennett's argument for "science" clashes with most individual scientists,who understand how very much we do not know in the scientific world. Almost every decision every day is probabilistic and faith in the stock market or communism or "capitalism" works really well...until it doesn't.

NNT has also observed something interesting about the three monotheistic religions that most people would consider "good" or "fair" and I rarely see this mentioned: Christianity's ideas about sex ended the anthropologist's "Big Man"'s monopolization of women. One man, one wife: the little guy was not left out any more. Islam came along and made a restriction to four wives. Judaism had been a polygamous religion, but in the Middle Ages is became monogamous. NNT observes that this may have been a political move that headed off potential revolutions of angry, sexually-deprived men fomenting violence from the bottom of society.

So, for Nassim Nicholas Taleb: no New Atheism for him. And yet he's not exactly a believer. With regard to the desirability of religious belief, there seemed much unsaid, much overlooked, and he tried to point some of it out.

Robert Anton Wilson (RAW)
Born poor into Catholicism on Long Island in the 1930s, RAW recalls, in a documentary about him, that he found out that Santa Claus wasn't real. He kept waiting for them to admit that God wasn't real, but they never did. RAW's atheology - I adopted the term after reading a piece in which he used the term within the context of the serious/joke religion Discordianism - seems more avant garde than NNT's. RAW began satirizing the Bible and all monotheistic religions in one of the first articles he ever published, "The Semantics of 'God'" in Paul Krassner's The Realist, in 1959. RAW's main riff was Why do we call God a "he"? If we do, we must assume He has a penis. And how large must it be? Then RAW pretended to use math in comparing King Kong and the average man's penis size, Kong's height and the relative size of a penis-per-height ration for gorillas, then speculating about the size of God's schlong. If we're not prepared to admit "God" has a penis, let's stop calling God "he" and say "It." Neurosemantically, we might derive a more sane view of "God" if we said "It."

RAW even neologized over the overwhelming male-ness in monotheistic religions - why women can't be priests, etc: "theogenderology."

After more than a decade of very intense self-experimentation with psychedelic drugs, abstruse Crowleyan magickal practices, an immersion in the most difficult High Modernist texts, and all sorts of other self-described "gimmicks" in order to see how malleable his own mind was, RAW decided he was a "model agnostic," taking Neils Bohr's Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics and combining it with phenomenological sociology, a studiously ironic take on conspiracy theories, and Korzybski's General Semantics to make a heady personal philosophical brew about the "self" and the world of perception, "reality tunnels" and ideologies, and a radical doubt filled with endless wonder about the world, of which we must always be uncertain.

Some scholars of hermeticism may be able to discern a long line from 14th century thinkers to Wilson; what's interesting to me is RAW's abiding interest in popular culture, surrealistic humor, neuroscience, the quantum theory, Einstein's relativity, the main strains of 20th century philosophy (including Existentialism, Phenomenology, Pragmatism, Logical Positivism, and the "Linguistic Turn"), combined with Crowley's synthesis of seemingly all the major alchemical and hermetic practices. He liked to quote Crowley's line from The Book of Lies:

I slept with Faith and found a corpse in my arms upon awakening; I drank and danced all night with Doubt and found her a virgin in the morning.

Doubt keeps the mind alive and questioning. And yet doubt requires belief. Why not watch your own nervous system as you decide to "believe" in some idea for a week, and then doubt it? Believe, then doubt; believe then doubt. See what happens to your ideas about "reality." RAW seems to dare his readers to try this. (At times he explicitly advocated it.)

Here's the thing: for RAW and many other modernistic antinomians: all gods and goddesses are "real" in the sense that they are projections the human genome has made; they are externalizations of deep inner aspects emanating from the biology of humanity. And so, on that level, let us use them to gain poetic insight about ourselves. Note: he doesn't believe the gods and goddesses of history "really" exist "out there;" they exist "in here," which seems "real" enough. I think it will be quite some time before the New Atheist's ideas, working dialectically with the traditional believers of a monotheistic God, create a intellectual space in which to consider "god" in these terms.

Moreover, I have oversimplified RAW's atheology, as at times in his writing career he considered himself a sort of theologian, and near the time of his death he seemed to still agree with a boyhood influence, Ezra Pound, about "seeing" gods. Here's a passage from Pound that gives us a tinge of the flavor:

We find two forces in history: one that divides, shatters and kills, and one that contemplates the unity of the mystery. 
                                    "The arrow hath not two points."

There is the force that falsifies, the force that destroys every clearly delineated symbol, dragging men into a maze of abstract arguments, destroying not one but every religion. 

But the images of the gods, or Byzantine mosaics, move the soul to contemplation and preserve the tradition of the undivided light. 
(pp.306-307, Selected Prose 1909-1965, Ezra Pound)

RAW at other times seemed to identify with William Blake in naming our creative spark as God.

[But is this not what the modern guerrilla-ontological trickster hermeticist does?]

In an article published in Oui magazine in 1977, RAW quoted a fellow counterculture-hero-writer, Kurt Vonnegut, about the clash between science and religion:

As Kurt Vonnegut says, "A great swindle of our time is the assumption that science has made religion obsolete. All science has damaged is the story of Adam and Even and Jonah and the whale." Vonnegut goes on to say there is nothing in science that contradicts the works of mercy recommended by Saint Thomas Aquinas, which include: to teach the ignorant, to console the sad, to bear with the oppressive and troublesome, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to visit prisoners and the sick, and to pray for us all. (p.57, The Illuminati Papers)

In the bulk of RAW's writings on organized religion, though, he seems much more in the line of Nietzsche and Mencken and Carlin, with surreal barbed satire about good rich vicious Christians in church enjoying hell-fire sermons that seemed like the worst S&M trip ever, while they politically advocated "more bombs for Jesus."

Finally, a little article I found a while back made me think this would make RAW smile: The Claremont College Theology School desegregated the way the religious books were categorized and shelved in their library.

Some Sources:
Robert Bellah interview: Religion isn't so much about what we believe, but what we do
Nassim Nicholas Taleb on YouTube: 9 mins: On Role of Religion (live talk from Q&A with audience)
"Why Monotheism Leads To Theocracy," by Joshua Keating
"Atheism Is Maturing and it Will Leave Richard Dawkins Behind," Martin Robbins