Overweening Generalist

Saturday, February 27, 2016

On the Snowden Revelations and Learned Helplessness

Quick like a bunny: name all the ways your communications are being tapped, tracked, and impounded.

If you said, "Every one of them, probably" congrats! You're a...winner?

Snowden was so, like two years ago, man. (Yea, but despite the fact a Federal Appeals Court ruled the indiscriminate Hoovering of all ALL all telephonic calls was "illegal" we have no reason to believe the NSA/CIA/DIA/all the other Fink-based alphabet soup assholes have stopped collecting. Sorry.)

Stewart A. Baker, a former general counsel for NSA and a critic of Snowden's ironically admitted nine months ago we're only talking about the first thing Snowden leaked to Greenwald and Poitras:

"The only debate we're really having in the US is about the very first document that Snowden produced," said Stewart A. Baker, a former N.S.A. general counsel and outspoken critic of the leaks, referring to the secret court order authorizing the phone records program. "The rest of the documents have been used as a kind of intelligence porn for the rest of the world - 'Oooh, look at what the N.S.A. is doing.'"

I can't tell if Baker is embarrassed before the world (I somehow doubt it), or if the borderline traitor is ironically telling the rest of us, "You think the phone records are something, wait till you find out we can turn on your smartphone's mic and listen to what you're saying...even when the power's off! Or that we can turn on your laptop's camera and watch you have sex and take pics of you and your lovers nude."

(Have a look-see from Jeffrey T. Richelson's book The US Intelligence Community for info on those two programs, "Captivated Audience" and "Gumfish," and as they say on infomercials, "much much more!")

NB: in the NYT article I linked to above, with the quotes from Stewart Baker, there are the required quotes from a commissar-like CIA fink-traitor to the Constitution, Michael Morrell, who says flat-out Snowden's leaks helped ISIS. Morrell is quite likely a liar.

And you know who else is a liar about Snowden? Hillary Clinton. Forget that she and Bill are now so far inside Wall St they're filthy rich off others' suffering.

Hey, I'd be happy to have someone with a vagina as Prez of Unistat, but not this one. It seems a sure bet she'd continue the retrograde moves Obama made. Snowden didn't vote for Obama, but believed him when he said, running in 2007-2008, well, let me quote Obama from 13 June, 2007:

No more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime...No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient.

The sorts of Authoritarian contemptibles who Just Follow Orders and work for the Unistat spy agencies now? Quite likely sexual fascists also. J. Edgar Hoover's FBI was notoriously on the lookout for info on sex practices of freethinkers, in order to try and blackmail them. Snowden said his fellow NSA workers commented upon and even joked about the nude bodies and sexual acts they surveilled. 

So, what do you think Thomas Jefferson would make of all this?

On second thought, don't answer that...

Re: sexual fascism: Sorry, I know that "slut shaming" is horrible. But let's not pretend something far worse, more despicable and illegal isn't happening among the security-cleared Finks whose paychecks We the People fund. (I call anyone with such a heinous interpretation of the 4th Amendment a "fink." It's one of my quirks. If you're offended, pardonamente!)

On the real issue here, privacy, I feel compelled to link to another longstanding member of our commissar class, David Brooks. For me, Brooks has quite the punchable face. I really detest David Brooks. But lawdamercy! sometimes he can write something smart, as he did in this piece about why privacy is one of Our Values. I could have quoted one of "my" guys/gals; here I just like the irony of linking to one of my enemies. 22 months before this, Brooks wrote that he "disapproves" of Snowden. As they would say about Brooks at BoingBoing, "Christ What An Asshole."

Why did all this shit go down in the first place? You probably have something to say about this. I think the venerable Alfred W. McCoy seems pretty hot when he writes about "imperial power losing its economic grip on the planet and heading into more austere times, the NSA's latest technological breakthroughs look like a seductive bargain when it comes to projecting power and keeping subordinate allies in line."

So, getting back to the prick from Stewart A. Baker, why aren't we all talking about all the other forms of our Orwellian Panopticon? Ted Rall wonders, "Is it the media's notorious inability to focus on stories, especially when they're complicated? Or are they consciously complicit in a conspiracy to keep silent about America's out-of-control security state - nothing to see here, just move on?" (p.212, Snowden) Rall says Greenwald and Poitras's The Intercept, which was started to handle the massive info from Snowden so we can all read and comment, has not - au grand dam to many of us - produced a steady drip drip drip until Obama had to reign it all in. Unistatians seem to have passively accepted they're being watched all the time. 

How to account for this? Rall and others have cited M.E.P Seligman's theory of "learned helplessness" in human's dealings with stuff they don't think they can handle, which produces anxiety and human depression. People act like a dog reduced to whimpering helplessness after sustained abuse. (Followed by, I presume, self-medication with Facebook?)

Then also, I found in Robert Anton Wilson's book Everything Is Under Control an entry under P for "Passive Conspiracy." These are possibly more noxious than active conspiracies. The heroin problem circa 1998 will go on in Unistat, the author writes (I'm not sure if this is Wilson saying the following or the writer he's quoting from an NYU student he found on the Web) as long as it's perceived as a "black" "inner city" problem. The gummint will only pretend to care about stopping it. (Prophetic in 2016? You be the judge.)

RAW finishes the entry by linking the Passive Conspiracy idea with Wilhelm Reich's darker version, that "masses neurotically yearn to surrender to some fascist leader and will throw away their liberties as soon as a leader of that sort appears." (p.336) I guess Dick Cheney would've qualified here.

Just think of President Ted Cruz, ladies and germs: he has access to all your kinky sex stuff that Jesus wouldn't like. Gosh, what hijinks would ensue?

Some Sources:
Snowden, by Ted Rall
No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State, by Greenwald and Ganser
The Snowden Files, by Luke Harding
Citizen Four (2014 Laura Poitras) must-see documentary if ya haven't already. In a sane country, we'd realize we were wrong after 9/11 and give Snowden the Medal of Freedom and a ticker-tape parade and an official national holiday named after him...but which day of the year?
Snowden Statue
"Snowden, Assange and Manning Statues Unveiled in Berlin"

                                         You too might have your own blog artfully tagged!
                                         For inquiries, see Bob Campbell

Monday, February 22, 2016

Deep History and Popular Amnesia

Recently a blogging colleague of mine, Bogus Magus at Only Maybe, linked to the TED talk by Yuval Noah Harari, whose epic history book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind was published in Hebrew in 2011, but translated into English in 2014. I have not yet read it. I've read a lot of reviews. A rising academic "star", the Israeli historian gets a glowing blurb from Jared Diamond, and a funny and not-so-impressed review from the formidable Christopher Knight, who, incidentally, has my favorite take on Noam Chomsky, in a 2010 interview in Radical Anthropology HERE. (<---I've already digressed!)

Knight's take on Harari's thesis: that we need a planet run by Green Intellectuals, but all we need is the myth...I find this on the level of cosmic hilarity. Because I basically agree with Harari - and Knight sorta does, too; it's just that he's not all that impressed by Harari's scholarship. The Conundrum. What to do?

I used the term "cosmic hilarity" just above. Perhaps more apt: hilaritas, a term/idea I got from Giordano Bruno via Robert Anton Wilson: roughly, it means, in every deeply funny thing there's something deeply painful. And vice-versa...

                     Now just reeeeelaaaax...you're feeling very calm...calmer...you've never
                     felt so relaxed. Now repeat after me: The State, borders, money, God,
                     corporations and the National Debt are just as real as your own hands.                        

Recently in these spaces I touched on the 1992 trialogues with three acid head intellectuals, who would agree with Harari.

For as much as an anarchist like Chris Knight can pick on Harari, if you haven't read Harari or watched the TED clip I linked to above, or heard him talk, or anything, just note that he hammers on perhaps humankind's biggest problem: somehow the species went from dealing with what's real: other people, animals, rivers, feeding ourselves, and finding a comfortable-enough place to sleep...to actually allowing "fictions" to rule over our lives and consciousness: god, corporations, money, the State, borders...what Harari calls the "legal fictions." We've gone from an actual order of "reality" to an "imagined order." And our only way out is an "alternative imagined order."

As Robert Anton Wilson said about this: we talked our way into this.

And with talk comes hypnosis. I catch myself - or "snap out of it" - every day. "Nations" have an ontological status via the legal system. So do corporations. Money too, although it originated as sort of a convenient fiction: easier to carry a little piece of silver or gold in order to walk over the hills and buy two yaks than to haul three pigs with me in barter. But first, the guy who had the yaks on CraigsList had to believe that a piece of metal was "worth" or "equal to" his yaks. And I guess I believed it too, when I saw his ad.

The "god" Q? You be the Judge.

Speaking of Jared Diamond, his Guns, Germs and Steel was so engrossing to me the first time out - when it first arrived - I'm re-reading it, and it's even better the second time. Here is my gold piece.

Because certain types of thinkers who actually read books like Diamond's or Harari's tend to get emotionally invested in the possible political motivations of writers (and a certain caste of mind will see a surname like Diamond or Harari and go into their books with a specific bias), one thing I'm looking for in Diamond is his politics. I know he followed G, G&S with Collapse, a grand historical warning about the fates of previous human societies that wrecked their own environments. I even saw him give a talk about that book in Berkeley one evening, to a rapt, packed audience.

On page 90 of G, G &S Diamond's talking about how profound the shift to agriculture was. And he tips his hand. There's no hierarchy in hunter-gather band societies because every able-bodied person has to devote a lot of their time to finding food, but under agriculture:

In contrast, once food can be stockpiled, a political elite can gain control of the food produced by others, assert the right of taxation, escape the need to feed itself, and engage in full-time political activities.

Yep. The old schoolyard game from here to eternity. Why do some of us regularly forget this stuff? How did these posited original "takers" pull it off? Probably at first by brute strength? "Gimme yer lunch money!"

In HG Wells's Outline Of History, there's always a recurring bunch of heathens on horses who ride in from the north and rape and pillage and take the food.

(Or: I guess "take the food" really is part of pillaging. It's been a while since I've pillaged and I fess up I plum fergit. I'm pretty sure pillaging involves a handful of things, which I do not have the time to list for you here, but when I say something like "the Saxon hordes," what scenario pops up in your imagio? Just go with that.)

In Vico, the savages wandering the forests of the world happen upon a latifundia, and settle for serfdom, which is the beginning of class warfare. It's probably a variation of all these themes?

Later, on the same page (p.90 of Guns, Germs and Steel) Diamond is telling us about how stockpiles of food allowed for people to specialize: there are kings, bureaucrats, and a standing army. And there are those Weird Ones who heat the metals found in the ground and see what they can do with this stuff. Ah-HA! a spear so long, heavy, durable and sharp you can probably run a guy through with it and take all his wheat and cattle!

Oh, and another specialist arises:

Stored food can also feed priests, who provide religious justification for wars of conquest.

Note that in the NPR interview Harari says that the Agriculture Revolution is history's biggest fraud. Then he attributes this idea to Diamond. But it's a favorite left-ish political trope. It's in McKenna. It's in Rousseau. You can name others. Probably many others...

Certain things happened, which caused trillions of other things. And I get to sit here, well-fed, and read fat books and blog. I did not grow my own food. I have never hunted. The only gathering I've done was mostly for kicks, and some of it would you might call "stealing." There: I said it.

Back to the Yearn For Green.

It seems like a desperate move. There's no going back. Harari seems to engage in some sort of satirical reductio in saying we may as well download ourselves into silicon and live forever as merged-AI robotic something or others. Other times, only the richest of us get immortality; the rest are losers who have to die the olde fashioned way. (See Harari's bit with Daniel Kahneman.) I see Harari as a legit scholar who's also a skilled polemicist, with a touch of the hermetic-trickster in him; I said above I had not yet read his Sapiens. For now, in my minor discussion of Harari I have merely been practicing Bayard's Art.

How does all this forgetting about the "imagined order" occur? How does it occur that many people seem to have never even encountered these ideas at all? And how are we doing, collectively as a species, with this new "alternative imagined order"?

No way Harari really believes all that stuff about what's in store for our future. At least I hope he's trying to make a satirical point. Myself? I tend to favor sentient flesh. No robot sex for me. We fall for a lot of stuff that thugs and con-artists pull out of the Imagined Order of Reality. Perhaps all we can do today and tomorrow is talk a little bit about the Imagined Order vs. our new Alt. Imagined Order with our friends and loved ones. Maybe?

And I, like Ralph Abraham and Rupert Sheldrake (and Ezra Pound?) would like to get back to the Garden. After all, we are stardust. We are golden.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Pound Notes: (Ezra), Paideuma and You

I just finished re-reading 1992's Trialogues at the Edge of the West: Chaos, Creativity and the Resacralization of the World, a collection of far-out-there "trialogues" between the chaos mathematician Ralph Abraham, the late hyperarticulate psychonaut Terence McKenna, and the arch-Heretic of Biology, Rupert Sheldrake. These conversations about eschatology, climate crisis, morphological fields, comparative religion, discarnate entities in world history, wellsprings of creativity, educational reform and metaphors about "light" - among other things - seemed ancient. With the acceleration of information and experienced time, I revisited this book that I'd read soon after it came out. I had forgotten how NeoPlatonist all three thinkers were. One riff that runs pretty much through all these conversations - held at Esalen - was: what do we need to do to re-think what got us into this predicament? And they all seem to agree we need an updated archaic revival: of partnership society (not patriarchy), of getting back into nature and connecting in a deep way with plants and life. We need to find ways to lessen our own toxic egos, dissolve boundaries between each other, and sex is really healthy and good. Psychedelic mushroom use was one thing they all agreed was a potentially powerful way to catalyze all this.

                               this photo of Pound seems to have originally appeared in the 
                               New York Daily News with the caption: "Jew Hater"

By 1939, Pound had gone over the edge. He'd lost his center, but he didn't know it yet. He had been driven...mad? into paranoid antisemitic conspiracy thought? into deep delusions? It's up to The Reader to decide. Having a great number of artist-friends killed in the 1914-1918 World War...for what? The Poet - who, let's face it: was probably born an extra-ordinary person - decided to investigate the ultimate reason(s) this war happened. And he soon got into economics: money, banks, bankers, usury, and...oy!

Ezra Pound thought pretty much the same things about an "archaic revival" as the three Wiggy Thinkers I mentioned above (except for the drugs, which about which, later, below): In 1939 Pound wrote:

What we really believe is the pre-Christian element which Christianity has not stamped out. The only Christian festivals having any vitality are welded to sun festivals, the spring solstice, the Corpus and St. John's eve, registering the turn of the sun, the crying of "Ligo" in Lithuania, the people rushing down to the sea on Easter morning, the gardens of Adonis carried to Church on the Thursday.

Soon after, Pound wrote:

Paganism included a certain attitude toward; a certain understanding of, coitus, which is the mysterium. The other rites are the festivals of fecundity of the grain and the sun festivals, without revival of which religion can not return to the hearts of the people.

["Ligo" here is not to be confused with the recent news that Einstein's gravitational waves have finally been found by LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Waves Observatory. Pronounced "leegwa," Ligo here is the summer solstice as celebrated in Latvia and Lithuania; it's like their xmas.]

Put blood simple, Mad Ol' Ez was for the sex goddess Aphrodite, and Helios: the sun god. Fucking outdoors in Nature: that's the true religion for those of us in Europe and the West. It gets to the heart of Pound's idea of paideuma, which was the semantic unconscious of a people; the deep tangles of ideas that form a culture and make it unique.

 I've been reading A.David Moody's third volume of biography of Pound, Ezra Pound: Poet Vol III,  and it's magisterial. I've long regarded Pound's life as the most compelling, dramatic, spellbinding, weird and tragic of all 20th century artists. This bio covers "the tragic years 1939-1972," to Pound's death. Moody confirms some of my ideas about the inexhaustible Ez. It extends almost all of my ideas about the guy who edited The Wasteland. It's the sort of biographical subject-writing that a street intellectual who maybe had only "heard about" Pound might still thrill at reading. It's almost like Pound was "made up" by some other Mad Poet-Genius, in order to compete with a figure like Faust. But Ez wuz real!

Around the time the Trialogues book came out, Ray Muller produced a fantastic documentary film about Hitler's favorite filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, called The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl. Pound's life was at least as wonderful and horrible as Riefenstahl's.

The term paideuma was coined by Leo Frobenius, who I wrote about HERE.

In her terrific book on lost writings by Pound, Machine Art and Other Writings, Maria Luisa Ardizzone has a long footnote about Pound and his understanding and use of Frobenius's term which is worth repeating here:

Pound's idea of culture as Paideuma is crucial for understanding his virulent anti-Semitism from the 1930s onward and for his treatment of aesthetics. Frobenius's idea that there is a connection between, for instance, the form of a bed which certain people make and use and the kind of economy (agricultural and sedentary, or nomadic)(see Frobenius, Anthology, 9) is crucial for Pound's idea that an economy of usury will influence art: "form." Pound summarizes this idea in a single assertion, variously reiterated: "The form of objects is due to CAUSE" In Guide to Kulchur, 57, Pound explains the meaning of "Paideuma" as follows: "To escape a word or a set of words loaded up with dead association Frobenius uses the term "Paideuma" for the single or complex of the inrooted ideas of any period." In "For a New Paideuma" he writes, "The term "Paideuma" as used in dozen German volumes has been given the sense of an active element in the era, the complex of ideas which is in a given time germinal, reaching into the next epoch, but conditioning actively all the thought and action of its own time." (Selected Prose, 284; emphasis [Ardizzone's]. I have stressed the importance of the word "complex," which in Pound's work belongs to the idea of a unity that is one and plural. - pp.44-45, note #45, Machine Art

[Quick observation: I agree totally with Ardizzone about Pound's desire to see a paideuma as a unity that is plural. Pound had metaphors for aesthetic growth and movement in culture before World War 1, such as "the vortex." His Imagism was a deliberate attempt to revolutionize Modern Art. Hell, all of his aesthetic manifestoes and books sought Rev. The plurality within a unity metaphor seems isomorphic to Sheldrake's morphogenetic fields, which are invisible fields that carry memories of both themselves and other morphogenetic fields. It's similar to Leibniz's "monads" and Jung's collective unconscious. It also bears a family resemblance to the sociology of "ideologies" which have a public face of claims to rationality, and to being above the fray of power and politics yet are quite likely a special interest. All of these ideas have often been presented as a unity with much plurality "carried" within. Sorry for the digression!- the OG]

So: Pound fell in love with this invention by Frobenius and sought to extend it. But for a "sick" mind such as Pound's what it meant had to do with what got us into WWI: war profiteering, banking crooks, and bad ideas that Pound saw were complexly rooted in an alien paideuma: the Semitic one. It had infected Europe and his United States. He needed to wake us all up to this invisible but deeply rooted menace.

Quick Glance Into Pound's Paranoia: Drugs
I wrote above that Pound was not in line with McKenna, Abraham, and Sheldrake about drugs. And this gives a hint. Moody tells us that Pound said he "knew" since 1927 the Commies were drugging us as a political weapon. Yep: "drugs" - no delineation between mescaline or cannabis or amphetamines, just "drugs" - were being used by Jew-Commies to corrupt and destruct the goys. Get a load of this, Ez in a letter to Olivia Rossetti Agresti, August, 1954, Pound in the loony bin at St. Elizabeth's in DC:

heroin is pushed/ and the negro attendant knows that big chews are back of it...AND the kikes go for the WHOLE of the more sensitive section of the younger generation/ 'all' jazz musicians on marijuana/which 'is not habit forming' and leads to heroin/ and 'Benzadrine is harmless, they give it to aviators'/ so that after carpet bombing they will go on with some drug habit or other. - Moody's vol 3, p.317

[Brief comment: talk to Mezz Mezzrow, a jew-turned black about marijuana among jazz musicians!]

On with it...

Now, because I could go on for another 2000 words but won't, I want to end by floating out this idea: If we look at Frobenius's life: he was proto-fascist, but was one of the first Modern Europeans to raise up Africa as filled with brilliant and genius traditions, or as Frobenius's biographer Janheinz Jahn wrote, Frobenius gave to German people a counter-idea about Africa: an "insignia of nobility: human dignity, culture, art, literature, and history...it helped Africans and Afro-Americans to find a new consciousness of themselves within the African tradition." - from a short bio titled Leo Frobenius: The Demonic Child

Now: inventing the notion of certain geographical areas as living organisms and works of art and ideas seems fine on the surface, but it's an old trap, innit? If WE are one thing, THEY are another. And we may see beauty or value in the OTHER, but reading history for the last 30 years: far too often: THEY are simplified into a threat. "They" become demonized...

And there are other ideas like paideuma floating around out there. I guess the trick is to see the human race as one family (actually, we are: see "Everyone On Earth Is Actually Your Cousin" and note any changes in your consciousness after you've understood it). We're all in this together, the world is getting smaller and smaller, eh?

And THEN let's think about the human collective unconscious, or paideuma, or mazeway, or whatever you want to call it. It's an idea seemingly tailor-made for Generalists. What are your preliminary diagnoses? Where did we get the idea we must always be armed to the teeth? Why do men rule over women? Why must "my" version of the Sky-God have a bigger dick than your Sky-God? What about money? What about ownership of land? Please feel free to add ones that puzzle you.

See what you can make of it before we realize what Pound thought had already happened: he thought we'd made a "botched civilization." How do we use our imaginations to get out of this? Take your time, even though we sorta are pressed, no?...

                                           art: Bobby Campbell

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Metaphors in Literature, Philosophy and Science: Divagations

"It's an instrument," Machine Gun Kelly said. "Play it." [1]


Lately I've been studying ideas about influence, coercion, advertising, hypnosis, and ideas about "mind control," particularly what is usually called "conspiracy theory" ideation. I'll just leave it at that.

Well...no. Let me add one thing: I have come to a tentative conclusion about that last item: Yes, some conspiracy theories about "mind control" seem to have varying degrees of validity, if not soundness. Others seem batshit crazy to me. But for those C-theorists with more scholarly minds - or even those who have attained reading levels of a bright 15 year old - I think the richest depths to plumb are in the study of 1.) Rhetoric, and 2.) Metaphor. You wanna learn how to control minds? Find out everything you can about both of those areas. You won't be drilling in a dry hole.

                                Can Chinatown be a metaphor? Who for? Why?


In a prescient essay from 1996, "Farewell To The Information Age," UC Berkeley linguist Geoffrey Nunberg quotes John Perry Barlow, Ted Nelson and Michael Benedikt about how digitization wipes everything clean and is totally revolutionary. Barlow said something to the effect, "We thought we were in the wine business but it turns out we're in the bottling business." Nunberg riffs off this - in 1996! - by writing, "We are breaking the banks and hoping still to have the river." (If I recall correctly Nunberg is quoting Paul Duguid.)

No divagation here. Make up your own!


"You can only cruise the boulevards of regret so far, and then you've got to get back on the freeway again." [2]


"I am completely convinced that there is a wealth of information built into us, with miles of intuitive knowledge tucked away in the genetic material of every one of our cells. Something akin to a library containing uncountable reference volumes, but without any obvious route of entry. And, without some means of access, there is no way to even begin to guess at the extent and quality of what is there. The psychedelic drugs allow exploration of this interior world, and insights into its nature."
-Alexander Shulgin, PIHKAL p.xvi

Do you like to find out new things every day? The pleasure of learning a new thing gives you a bit of a dopamine buzz. Because you're learning. And possibly from books. Now: what if you already have the most marvelous stash of novelty-in-form-ation ensconced in your genes? Too bad you don't have a key to that library. Well, who is this Shulgin guy? Does he know of which he speaks? If he's right, what are some of the barriers to keep you/me from accessing the stupendously wondrous texts held within?

A friend of Ted Nelson - Jaron Lanier - thinks the idea that all it will take is another thirty or fifty years of Moore's Law and our computers/AI will outrun Nature? Probably wrong, even though widely accepted among his fellow Internet-inventors. And, because I love metaphors around books, Jaron says this:

"Wire and protocol-limited mid-twentieth-century computer science has dominated the cultural metaphors of both computation and living systems. For instance, Jorge Luis Borges described an imaginary library that would include all the books that ever were or might possibly be written. If you were lucky enough to live in a universe big enough to contain it (and we aren't), you'd need to invest the lives of endless generations of people, who would always wither away on starships trying to get to the right shelf. It would be far less work learning to write good books in the traditional way. Similarly, Richard Dawkins has proposed an infinite library of possible animals. He imagines the invisible and blind hand of evolution gradually browsing through this library, finding the optimal creature for each ecological niche. In both cases, the authors have been infected by the inadequate computer science metaphors of the twentieth century. While an alternative computer science is not yet formulated, it is at least possible to speculate about its likely qualities." - The Next Fifty Years (2002)

First off: are there any Borges experts out there? I wonder how much Borges was influenced by computer science in his marvelous "Library of Babel" versus notions of infinity he'd read about in kabbalah, Renaissance magicians, and sufism. Still, I guess Jaron's point holds regardless. And he's been trying to re-imagine a computer science for quite awhile now, given the quick advent and obvious problems of inequality and surveillance.

The codex-book as metaphor seems so potent to literate minds. When I read Borges's famous short story, then read Lanier's literal interpretation, I realize I visualize the Library of Babel as something along Chomsky's "discrete infinity." I mean, I don't want to board a starship, but I do hazily recall many days of spending timeless hours in the stacks of very large libraries or used book stores, finding endlessly marvelous things, actually looking at books written in Chinese - completely mysterious and yet wondrous - and the Babel branch is like that, only it goes on forever. The place closes at 10 PM, and I realize I never ate dinner. And now that you mention it, I don't see any EXIT signs anywhere. How long have I been in here? How do I get back to the register?

However, psychedelic drugs as accessing experiential book-like knowledge? I don't know. One often reads in visionary works the problem of our "clouded lenses" - flawed vision as metaphor. In Erik Davis's Nomad Codes there's a metaphor around psychedelic drugs as keys that can open doors previously kept locked. Earlier (c.1976), Dr. Leary gave us the metaphor of DNA as text: "The DNA code contains the entire life blueprint - the history of the past and the forecast of the future. The intelligent use of the brain is to imprint the DNA code." - Info-Psychology, p.59 As an exercize, unpack all the metaphors there!


Speaking of kabbalah: Joseph Dan discusses the structural argument of the Zohar: "Historical events, the phases of human life, the rituals of the Jewish sabbath, and the festivals are all integrated into this vast picture. Everything is a metaphor for everything else." - Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, p.33


"The history of consciousness is the history of words, " Joyce said immediately. "Shelley was justified in his bloody unbearable arrogance, when he wrote that poets were the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Those whose words make new metaphors that sink into the public consciousness, create new ways of knowing ourselves and others." [3]


Along the above lines, one of my favorite passages in Lit about the poet's magickal imaginative powers to alter reality comes from a passage in A Midsummer Night's Dream, where Theseus says the "poet's eye" works on "the forms unknown" and:

Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothings
A local habitation and a name.

You've probably seen this quote used to bolster all sorts of arguments in contemporary thought. There seem to "be" things "out there" as yet undiscovered OR: people experience something but have no words to label these "things" in experience. The neologist, the meme-propagator, the master rhetorician, the re-framing metaphor user who alters minds: these all seem to fit Theseus's poet's magickal workings.

In a delightful book on the neuroscience of music, Daniel J. Levitin discusses our need to categorize from an evolutionary standpoint. "Categorization entails treating objects that are different as of the same kind. A red apple may look different from a green apple, but they are both still apples. My mother and father may look very different, but they are both caregivers, to be trusted in an emergency [...] Leonard Meyer notes that classification is essential to enable composers, performers, and listeners to internalize the norms governing musical relationships, and consequently, to comprehend the implications of patterns, and experience deviations from stylistic norms." Then Levitin quotes The Bard's lines from above. - This Is Your Brain On Music, p.147


There may be one reader (I'm looking at YOU!) who has wondered, "Is this dude gonna address all the 'the brain is a computer' metaphors?" No. Because there's too much written about it. I swim in those waters. (Are you, by chance feeling hyper-aware of metaphors right now? Hyperaware of the so-called "tacit dimension"?) One of my favorite lines about "the brain is a computer" comes from some book I don't even remember reading, but it's in my notes. The brain is NOT a computer, but it is a Chinese restaurant: crowded, chaotic, lots of people running around, and yet stuff gets done. I apparently got this metaphor from Welcome To Your Brain, by Aamodt and Wang.


George Lakoff admits his empirical research on metaphor (of which I am a major amateur reader) had been preceded by Ernst Cassirer, I.A. Richards, Kenneth Burke, Benjamin Lee Whorf and a few others. The oldest thinker he names is Vico, who died in 1744. Lakoff argues strongly and convincingly that metaphor is not some fancy part of speech, as most of us were taught. It's deeply embedded in everything we say and do. I once wrote him that he never mentions Norman O. Brown, who said, "All that is, is metaphor." Lakoff wrote back and said NOB wasn't "empirical." Anyway, check out these lines from a guy who died in 1592 (if Vico was allowed, why not this guy?):

"To hear men talk of metonomies, metaphors and allegories, and other grammar words, would not one think that they signified some rare and exotic form of speaking? And yet they are phrases that are no better than the chatter of my chambermaid." - Montaigne "On the Vanity of Words"

Okay, maybe it's a stretch. Montaigne seems to not be arguing that metaphor is basic to our speech - as Vico did - but he seems to be rather unimpressed by the talk of metaphors. And yet, he's using metaphors in every sentence. If Montaigne were here to find this out, I suspect he'd find it all quite marvelous.


A.) I recall Joseph Campbell talk about a lecture he gave on gods, goddesses, heroes, etc. And a young man rose up and said these things didn't exist; they're lies. Campbell replied they were metaphors. After a slightly rancorous exchange, Campbell suddenly realized the young man didn't know what a metaphor was. Campbell told him it's when you say something IS something else. 

B.) Alfred Korzybski argued that humans suffer for taking literally what he called "The Is of Identity" and "The Is of Predication." If I say, "Cate Blanchet is the greatest actress alive now," (And I might if you were here, just for fun, but for now that would be missing the point entirely) I'm predicating/identifying/making the same "Best Actress In The World" and "Cate Blanchet." But who knows how to logically prove my assessment? And even if I could prove - an impossibility, in my metaphysics - that Cate "really is" equal to the term "best actress in the world," Cate's so much more than that. I'm hypnotizing myself or you or both of us by leaving out Cate as a mother, Aussie, masturbator, gardner, philanthropist, a person with a rich private memory, as prankster, etc, etc, etc, etc. 

How do we square A with B? And what about font size?

1. From the Hemingway-inspired short story by William S. Burroughs, "Where He Was Going," from Tornado Alley

2. Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon

3. Masks of the Illuminati, Robert Anton Wilson

                                          OG logo by Bobby Campbell

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Drug Report: "Morality" Pills

Going through some odd drug articles I stopped and re-read two from 2012, both addressing the idea of improving ourselves morally via neuropharmacology.

The first one was by Peter Singer (who in 2014 was the Swiss think tank Gottlieb Duttweller Institute's 3rd most important thinker in the world), and Agata Sagan, an independent researcher living in Warsaw, last I checked. She is very concerned about victims of repression and the idea of affective altruism. (See the article here, so you know I'm on the level.)

They address public acts of massive indifference to human suffering and why some people risk their lives to save strangers from things like burning buildings. The 1970s studies by Milgram and Zimbardo get mentioned, as do the seminary student experiments: on the way to give a sermon on the Good Samaritan, if the student was feeling rushed for time, they didn't stop to help a person lying on the ground, moaning. Demonstrations of empathy in rats? Yes. Then it gets good.

Singer and Sagan think we're getting to know about the brain to such a critical point that we might come up with a pill that will make us act with the better angels of our inner beings. We'd care more about others with this posited drug. We might not even have "free will" - they actually say this at the end of the piece - but we do need to think about the ethics of such a posited wonder drug: do we give violent criminals a chance to take it before locking them up? Do we - presumably the Police State apparatus now ready to lock in to pedal-to-the-metal Delirium Mode - monitor "pre-crime"? Do we go all out Gitmo-Dick Cheney-Clockwork Orange with those who some law and order types deem "potentially dangerous"? Would we implant a time-release device in the brains of psychopaths (like Dick Cheney?) to keep them from burning down the village for kicks? And if this miracle drug were good enough, would we still need religion?

Okay, here's the thing with great thinkers like Singer and Sagan: they're often far too straight. I mean, haven't they heard of Ecstasy? When the cops in Murrka found out about it, they made it a Schedule I drug (no known effective use, no known legitimate positive use, no research allowed without kissing our ass first). This despite a welter of scientific gnostics like Alexander Shulgin, Thomas and June Riedlinger, and Dave Nichols, testifying to its human benefit. The DEA's Administrative Law judge, Francis Young, agreed that it wasn't all that dangerous and in a 90 page decision, recommended Schedule III for MDMA/Ecstasy/Adam/E, etc. The DEA itself said "Fuck that shit: we're shutting it down: Schedule I." So much for sanity...

In my worst moments I fantasize about registered supporters of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump being forced to take an Ecstasy suppository, but then I'm just weird. Poetry made me that way. Blame it on, uhh...poetry. Yea.

To quote the great scholar of drugs, Dale Pendell, on this issue of outlawing Ecstasy due to bad information and scare tactics:

The clear message from the Drug Warriors is that they are not interested in peace, citizenship, or even tolerance. - PharmakoDynamis, p.216

Side Note: Israel and Palestine issues make me meshugenah and majnoon, respectively. It looks like there's no hope for a two-state solution, and the Israelis keep building the settlements. There seems enough people on both sides who want peace, but all it takes is some small percentage of bad actors. Or...what happened in Ireland between the Protestants in No. Ireland and the IRA? From Dale Pendell: "Ecstasy clubs in Northern Ireland were the first venue where Protestant and Catholic youths danced together. When footballers in England began taking ecstasy, violence plummeted. Everywhere it has gone ecstasy has been a catalyst for peace."

And no one was forcing it on 'em. Just let nature take its course. But first: get it out of the hands of the cops, and into the hands of researchers.

With the cannabis wars turning to the side of human decency (finally!), some of us might start reading up and getting in gear to re-legalize MDMA.

Now, also in 2012, I read this article from J. Hughes, the Executive Director for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Not nearly the luminary that Singer the Utilitarian is, but this article from later the same year seems more down-to-earth. Hughes - a bioethicist and sociologist - knows how oxytocin and testosterone and dopamine and serotonin work in studies having to do with antisocial behavior, crime, empathy, and religious ideation. It's a tad longer than Singer-Sagan, but well worth the read.

My favorite part was when he took on Jonathan Haidt's sociobiological intuitive morality ideas. Haidt claims to have been a liberal but now he's not, because of his research, which yield five human instinctual moral behaviors:

1. Don't hurt people
2. Don't cheat
3. Defer to authority
4. Favor your family/tribe over the Others
5. Stay sacred, avoid that which spiritually pollutes

I read Haidt's book The Righteous Mind and he's way up there on my list of the most overrated thinkers today. PBS did a documentary of Edward O. Wilson not long ago, and they repeatedly used Haidt to sing EOW's greatness, which I found nauseating. I think of Haidt as the real-life proponent of the mind behind the situation in Shirley Jackson's great and horrifying short story, "The Lottery." Haidt says fear unites us. Built into Haidt's bullshit evolutionary psychology of "morality" is this: well of course I don't like what he's saying; that's because I'm a liberal and liberals are blind to the last three of those five listed above. Not blind. We just don't place those values very highly at all. So: damn straight we seem "blind" to the natural goodness of racism, nationalism, deference to authority figures simply because of their authority, and we think homosexuals deserve equal rights, and women should be able to control their own bodies. If that's blindness so be it. I'm not having any of Haidt's crap.

(I've blogged on Haidt before, for instance HERE and HERE.)

And neither is J. Hughes, who sees "defer to authority" as anathema to progressive thought. Favoring your family/tribe can be re-worded as "racism, nationalism and nepotism are true, good and natural!" I take the avoidance of "spiritual pollution" to be akin to having a stick up your ass over other people's weird (and therefore "wrong") sexual proclivities.

For Hughes, any drug (or practice) that would improve our abilities to feel empathy/see ourselves in others and let go of the need to control others: liberal and voluntary. Why? Because the liberal approach to moral enhancement seems inherently minimal compared to the Haidt-people. Think of a politically powerful group who adhered quite strictly to Haidt's five above: do you think they'd endorse anything like Ecstasy?

That's a trick question, of course: we've obviously had those people in power, for a long time. Especially in the DEA. And look at how great we're doing!