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Sunday surprise existential question: so, are actors real people?

Monday, August 6th, 2018

{ by Charles Cameron — and are you maybe reading this zenpundit post in real life? ]
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You’ve almost certainly seen one or more of these Chevy ads, more than twice..

Real people. Not actors.

**

Indeed, they’ve been viewed so many times, in so many variants, that there’s now a Progressive ad that pulls the obvious reversal:

Real actors. Not people.

**

Then there’s the existential question, referenced in The Atlantic‘s The Reality of Those ‘Real People, Not Actors’ Ads piece:

During commercial breaks at the Olympics viewing parties I’ve been at in the past week, one company’s ads have consistently sent the room into a round of existential questions. What is reality? Aren’t we all actors? Just how excited can a normal person get about J.D. Power awards?

Existential? Holy Moly. But then, according to One Of The ‘Real People’ From That Chevy Commercial Speaks Out:

As The News Wheel reported in 2015, some of the “real people” were actors by profession, a fact explained away by a GM representative who claimed this was just because they scouted for people in LA. Struggling actors who know that faking enthusiasm could yield a better paycheck could explain this.

Phew, that was a close one!

**

And every actor surely knows Shakespeare, no? Jaques, in As You Like It? All the world’s a stage? In the Globe Theatre, motto: All the world enacts a play?

But forget Shakespeare and the more things in heaven and earth than are dremed of in his existential philosophy — I think I know what the Chevy ads boil down to:

Real ads. Not truth.

Aha, mini-epiphany! Fast forward, if you ask me.

Wittgenstein’s language games and the public sphere

Monday, May 7th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — suggesting a lessening of TV Trumpery and its critiques ]
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In a tweet earliee today, I suggested that the close reading of a text can be highly rewarding, a point I made most forcefully in Close reading, Synoptic- and Sembl-style, for parallels, patterns.

Key to a close reading is the “language” in which a given writer or speaker clothes their words.. “language” here being used both in the sense of their metaphors and forms (which is why I’ve been collecting sports and other metaphors, ouroboroi and other forms) and in the sense formulated by Witty Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations (PI).

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers us a list of regular language games as Wittgenstein uses the term in PI:

reporting an event, speculating about an event, forming and testing a hypothesis, making up a story, reading it, play-acting, singing catches, guessing riddles, making a joke, translating, asking, thanking

I want to suggest that we could usefully think of language games in terms of the philosophical, ideological, partisan, religious or psychological drivers that propel them.

Further, in the case of Trump, we might observe that the language game he is playing is not the one his critics on, say, MSNBC, are basing their own critiques on.

And here’s the great advantage: once we’ve analyzed the differences between Trump’s language game and aims and those of his critics, we could close shop. We wouldn’t need this constant barrage of Fox and MSNBC news on the topic — any new utterance of his or Giulianis of note could simply be indexed to the sub-para describing that particular disjunction in language game, and basta! — the rest of the news “oxygen” would be available for the discussion of other topics.

As a subset of that para — I don’t suppose Mueller xxwill want to take every piece of “off the cuff” Trumpery as intended as real “truth” — “all that is the case” –he’ll surely see it as entertainment and distraction — chuff and chaff — and zero in on the key statements of the President’s worldview, viewing them as exemplars not of “truth” but of a language game to be analyzed and evaluated as such. Having zeroed in on these relatively few key phrases, many of the many critiques offered by Trump’s accusers.

**

Wittgenstein asks what all that we consider to be games have in common, and decides they share a family resemblance but — in my words, here — the cousins on one side of the family have little (a polite word for “nothing”) in common with the cousins at the other end of thr spectrum.

If the Olympic Games included language games in their list of sports, Giuliani‘s reference to FBI agents as stormtroopers wight win long jump gold.

Here’s Jonathan Chait in Giuliani’s FBI ‘Stormtroopers’ Smear Is the Key to Trump’s Authoritarian Mind-set”>:

In 1995, National Rifle Association president Wayne LaPierre signed his name to a fundraising letter referring to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents as “tjack-booted government thugs.” The implicit association of American federal law enforcement with fascists provoked a furor. Former president George H. W. Bush publicly resigned his NRA membership in protest; LaPierre had to apologize.

Last night, in the midst of a long, deeply incriminating interview, Rudy Giuliani called FBI agents “stormtroopers.” Here was the president’s lawyer, not an outside lobbyist, comparing federal law enforcement to Nazis directly, rather than indirectly.

Stormtrooper vs jack-booted government thugs is an interesting comparison (& makes a fine DoubleQuote), and Chait’s “implicit association of American federal law enforcement with fascist” in hth cases exemplify just the kind of language extremism we should be avoiding in our policy debates.

Chait’s continuing half-paragraph illminates the arcane workings of the media machine in processing such things:

The Washington Post’s account of Giuliani’s interview noted the remark in a single sentence, in the 30th paragraph of its story. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Politico accounts of Giuliani’s interview did not even mention the stormtrooper remark at all.

There are times I wish for sanity.

**

Okay, that was third and last in this series.. Previously:

  • On negative space in the painting..
  • On negative space, private morality in the public square
  • This:

  • Wittgenstein’s language games and the public sphere
  • resource: The Rajneeshis and the Incels

    Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — opposite extremists at opposite extremes — for JM, if he ever gets time to read / view / hear it ]
    .

    As I write this, JM Berger is publishing what will no doubt be a powerfully argued and fascinating theoretical and, I suspect, anecdotal account of a wide range of extremists, Extremism (The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series):

    extremism arises from a perception of “us versus them,” intensified by the conviction that the success of “us” is inseparable from hostile acts against “them.”

    **

    I presented JM’s tweet-stream detailing the stages of his developing theoretical researches culminating in this book on ZP not so very long ago, at JM Berger, Extremism — you have been alerted, informed

    Both the groups I’ll discuss here finally fit JM’s definition, but my interest is in a comparison between two searches at an earlier time in their development when their motives can be seen prior to violence. And what interests me is that their situations are polar opposites. In brief, one laments zero sex, the other enjoys infinite sex.

    In both cases, sex is central, central is too weak a word..

    **

    Sex

    Cobsider the ways of the world around you, Vogue, the tabloids, Playboy, porn..

    Consider your own desires and fantasies, your urgencies and restraint, lust and romance, your personal Casablanca (and note Janis’s Casablance ref!! when we get there)..

    And having considered sex, consider these two extremes on its spectrum:

    **

    Sex to the almost infinite power:

    Consider Christina Aguilera, live, body & voice:

    And consider Janis singing:

    “Move Over” is the only song on the 1971 album “Pearl” that Janis wrote on her own. If the lyric doesn’t strike you as particularly suggestive, just listen to the way she sings it and you’ll see what we mean.

    Apply that to:

    And now multiply by this, drawn from her letters:

    She certainly didn’t subscribe to the radical-feminist orthodoxies of the superfluousness of men. She fell in love at a heartbeat; her sexual appetites are perhaps best described as ravenous (she had female as well as male lovers), her judgment frequently awry.

    That’s — listen to her singing again, concert after concert —

    sexuality, pure & full-throated.

    This — I can’t manage both — from a male (ie female) perspective..

    & woah!:

    [ & btw, philosophers, listen up, if you don’t already ]

    janis song: “a woman left lonely”

    “she would make love to 25,000 on stage, then go home alone..”

    ight be able to do both sex & incel with Janis..

    **

    Given that, that strnegth, that compulsive pull, that driven drive

    Zero Sex, the absence, involuntary

    Those who are involuntarily celibate — can’t get none — perceiving themselves shunned by those who attract them __

    final lyrics, one version:James Brown, It’s a Man’s World..:

    Oh how, how man needs a woman
    I sympathize with the man that don’t have a woman
    He’s lost in the wilderness
    He’s lost in bitterness
    He’s lost in loneliness

    The last three lines occur frequently in different recordings, the line I sympathize with the man that don’t have a woman comes from a version I don’t have access to on video. And that last stanza, with that line in it, could be an incel anthem.

    The raw reality of it: a child’s wail — see how much you can bear to see —

    Hreere, should you care to watch it, is the boy’s full video, unvarnished:

    This boy, this young man, a day or so after making this video, went out and killed six people in Isla Vista, Calif., in an attempt as “the prefect gentleman” to get his revenge on the hottest blondes in UC Santa Barbara. And became, for some, a hero to be emulated.. And emulated he was.

    Readings follow suit:

  • Forbes, The Disturbing Internet Footprint Of Santa Barbara Shooter Elliot Rodger
  • Clarion Project, What is the ‘Incel Revolution’ and Why Should I Care?
  • NYTimes, Toronto Van Attack Suspect Expressed Anger at Women
  • NYTimes, What Is an Incel? A Term Used by the Toronto Van Attack Suspect, Explained
  • WaPo, Inside the online world of ‘incels,’
  • LRB, Does anyone have the right to sex?
  • It is this extreme I have greater difficuty understanding.

    This most recently, btw:

  • LATimes, Killer who committed massacre in Isla Vista was part of alt-righ
  • The SPLC report counts Rodger among 13 alleged alt-right killers whose actions left 43 people dead and more than 60 injured since 2014.

    Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who killed six students in the college town of Isla Vista in 2014, was the first “alt-right killer” to strike in recent years..

    As I said, BTW..

    **

    Sex raised hopefully to the power of the infinite:

    And then I hear that howl against the backdrop of the (mixed-bag) documentary about the Rajneeshis:

    Wide-open their hope, shut-down their finale.

    **

    And finally, Something Other

    Now I want to watch, binge-watch Brideshead Revisited, the Jeremy Irons version, for some very un-American, upper-class-snobbish, public-school-boy, Roman-Catholic-gay historical-throwback art-level Britishness:

    Dropping you in at an odd, a very odd luncheon:

    I who have been beaten — four, with a bamboo cane, at Wellington College, (a sort of military academy slash prep school) — for doing the Times crossword in place of my math moework. Ah yes, and when I came up to Christ Church, Oxford, dunked in Mercury, that college’s Tom Quad pool, after exacting the price of a glass of port from my tormentors, almost twenty years before the film from which this excerpt was taken, was filmed.

    For I too am Anglo and Roman Catholic and Buddhist and Taoist and a snob — at least until I meet you or you, and humanity breaks in.

    Two summits, one Korean peninsular

    Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — colloquially speakin’, there’s a whole lot of prayin’, partyin’ & paradoxin’ goin’ on]
    .

    War on the Rocks brings us a fascinating article by Ramon Pacheco Pardo of the Institute for European Studies of Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Senior Lecturer in International Relations at King’s College London, titled The Korean Summit that Really Matters, and you guessed it, it’s not the one between Trump and Kim, its the one between North and South — and the WOTR piece has more (perhaps not unexpectedly) about the South than the North.

    For my purposes, the WOTR piece opened eye-catchingly with a Buddhist and Christian doublet:

    On Monday, South Korea’s Catholic Church held an unusual prayer: It prayed for the success of the upcoming inter-Korean summit. The following day, South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended a Buddhist service, also praying for the summit’s success.

    That much religion in two short sentences put me on the alert —

    — and only from there did the writer move to a comparison between the Moon and Trump summits:

    Clearly, the Moon administration is leaving nothing to chance to ensure that next week’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un redefines Korean geopolitics. Both Moon and, to a lesser extent, Kim have been preparing for this moment for years. This is why the upcoming inter-Korean summit, not the much-discussed summit between Kim and U.S President Donald Trump, is the one that really matters for the future of the peninsula.

    **

    For a detailed look at the entire Korean situation, look at or critique the whole WOTR piece:

  • WOTR, The Korean Summit that Really Matters
  • The two articles Pacheco Pardo links to regarding President Moon attending Catholic and Buddhist prayers are:

  • NK News, S. Korea’s Catholic Church prays for inter-Korean summit’s success
  • NK News, Moon vows efforts to establish peace between the two Koreas
  • **

    Digging around a bit farther afield from there brought rewards.

    We already knew that Junche — “usually left untranslated, or translated as ‘self-reliance'” is ideology of North Korea, and that it is effectively a cult of personality of the revolutionary (dynastic) leader — nothing much new to glean there — but the South Korean leader’s speech led me onwards:

    President Moon Jae-in has called on Buddhists to show their support for peace on the Korean Peninsula. “The Hwajaeng theory espoused by Wonhyo (617-686), one of the greatest masters in the history of Korean Buddhism, means a ‘cooperative resolution of conflict,’ and it will hopefully be fulfilled on the peninsula, as we resolve conflicts and division between the two Koreas,” he said.

    His remarks came during a Buddhist ceremony on April 17 to pray for security and peace on the peninsula, with chief monks and representatives from major temples across the country, and also some non-Korean Buddhists, in attendance.

    Aha!

    **

    Wonhyo seems to have been something of a blithe spirit, as well as a scholar, the author of voluminous works:

    [Wonhyo] tried to embody in his own life the ideal of a bodhisattva who works for the well-being of all sentient beings. Transcending the distinction of the sacred and the secular, he married a widower princess, visited villages and towns, and taught people with songs and dances.

    — as one of his commentators puts it. You can almost hear Wikipedia laugh or snort (your choice) as it says:

    While the Buddha discouraged such behaviors, his [Wonhyo’s] songs and dances were seen as upaya, or skillful means, meant to help save all sentient beings.

    **

    Get serious, please!

    The required reading would appear to be in:

  • Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, Wonhyo: Selected Works, A Charles Miller, ed & tr
  • Defeating language at its own game by all available means, no wonder Wonhyo taught by dancing and singing!

    **

    That’s all very well, and may please the poet-theologian in me, but what about Hwajaeng and conflict resolution?

    As a methodological approach, hwajaeng refers to Wonhyo’s relentless pursuit of ostensibly variant or conflicting Buddhist doctrinal positions, investigating them exhaustively until identifying the precise point at which their variance occurs and then showing how differences in fundamental background, motivation, or sectarian bias on the part of the proponent of that particular doctrinal position led to the production of such apparent contradictions. He never judges any proposition to be ultimately correct: it is only determined to be valid or invalid from a given standpoint. Wonhyo then lays out his own argument in contradistinction to the attached views he has previously elaborated.

    It will be instructive to see how President Moon develops this approach vis-a-vis South-North dialog, and how the somewhat inscrutable Kim Jong Un receives and adapts to it..

    **

    The image in the top panel, above, shows President Park Geun-hye and Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung. President Moon succeeded President Park after her impeachment in the 2017 elections. He is shown praying, second left, in the lower panel, above,

    Image sources:

  • Korea.net, President meets Catholic leaders
  • Korea.net, President Moon asks Buddhists to join peacemaking on peninsula
  • Okay, my head is spinning.

    Time In all his tuneful turning (ii)

    Thursday, March 15th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — Dylan Thomas’ vision of time to set beside Stephen Hawking’s ]
    .

    **

    I’m arguing here that Dylan Thomas is at least as great a thinker about time as Stephen Hawking, and his masterpiece, Fern Hill is my proof text to that effect.

    I’ll borrow here from a piece I wrote called That HyperText is Linear: it’s the Northrop Frye applied to Dylan Thomas bit that’s of relevance here:

    **

    I get much of my thinking in this area from the literary critic, Northrop Frye, who says somewhere that you can (and should) read a poem through from beginning to end, and that this will give you what he calls the “diachronic” meaning — the sequential meaning “through time”: but when you have done this, you should also perceive what he calls the “synchronic” meaning — the meaning that comes from the poem as a whole, with all its parts simultaneously present and influencing one another, in a way that is impossible in a first sequential reading, but is possible in a meditative way afterwards…

    Take Dylan Thomas’ poem, “Fern Hill”, for example. It’s an incredible tour-de-force, moving from the poet’s sense of wonder and praise at the natural world around him in childhood, to the moment when time takes him

    Up to the swallow-thronged loft by the shadow of my hand

    and he wakes

    to the farm forever fled from the childless land…

    — his “lamb white days” are over, and he realizes finally that

    as I was young and tender in the mercy of his means,
    Time held me green and dying…

    That is, so to speak, the throughline, the sense of the poem from start to finish — as I child I was young and easy under the apple boughs, I was green and carefree: and yet, all the while, my childhood was slipping away from me, for Time itself held me green and dying…

    That’s the “diachronic” reading…

    But the “synchronic” reading is quite different. It doesn’t depend in the same way on a process through time. Instead, it works by the piling up of similar phrases:

    the sun that is young once only…
    All the sun long…
    the sun grew round that very day…
    the sun born over and over…

    These phrases, scattered throughout the poem, seem to build on one another, almost imperceptibly, in a very remarkable way. Suppose that it was life, rather than the sun, that was at issue here:

    A phrase like “life that is young once only” would clearly emphasize the freshness of youth and the decay that age brings — and thus be very much in line with the diachronic meaning of the poem. But a phrase like “life long” would emphasize the enduring quality in life, maybe even its eternal quality (“eternal life” even), while “life born over and over” would capture the cyclical feeling that’s present in the rotation of the seasons (and in the idea of reincarnation) — and “the sun grew round that very day”, while it doesn’t make sense to read it as “life grew round that very day”, clearly means that each moment is itself the moment of sunlight, in a way that’s akin to the zen sense of living in the moment…

    So it’s as though the poem moves from beginning to end along a track that emphasizes initial innocence and its eventual loss: but read in the wholistic, “synchronous” sense, it quietly suggests that time can be viewed as a slowly entropic and degenerative process, as an endless and unbroken wholeness, as always and only the instant, and as a cyclical recurrence…

    To me, that’s mind-blowing. Thomas isn’t presenting one of these as “the truth” — to the extent that there’s a “main” way to view time in the poem, it’s certainly in terms of a slow and not so slow process of the loss of innocence — but as four complementary ways in which we can see it. Four major philosophies of time in one poem, phrased in terms of the sun, and thus slipping almost unnoticed into our consciousness while we’re busy following the “throughline” or “plain sense” of the poem… four major philosophies, not contradicting one another, but spoken together, as in a polyphony.

    There are some similar phrases relating to the moon, too, and they need to be similarly weighed and considered if you want to go deeper into “Fern Hill” — but that’s another part of the story, for another day…

    **

    That’s from That HyperText is Linear, not currently available on the web.

    Four major philosophies of time, each seen from a human perspectove, voiced together as a polyphony, and presented “subcutaneously” — beneath the surface of the poem, and of the reader’s conscious awareness.

    That’s what I admire in Thomas’ poem, and what I would compare with Stephen Hawking’s analog of another great scientist’s “Single vision & Newton’s sleep!” — for the juxtaposition of Dylan Thomas vs Stephen Hawking is indeed an age-old one, finding its classic instantiation in William Blake‘s antipathy towards Isaac Newton.


    William Blake, Isaac Newton, The Tate Gallery

    I’ll let Alan Moore, he of the comics [Watchmen, eg], explain:

    For Blake, the boundaries of Newton’s thought were the cold, stone parameters of an internal dungeon to which all humanity had been condemned without its comprehension or its knowledge. Despite the invigorating consequences Newton’s influence would have for a then-nascent industry, Blake would elsewhere describe this rigid and reductive pall as ‘Newton’s Sleep’, a drowse insensible to vision or to ethical restraint beneath which it appeared the world had fallen. Goya to the contrary, here the monstrosity was birthed not by the sleep of reason, but instead born from that sleep which reason represented. From our own industrially despoiled and bankrupted contemporary perspective, Blake’s view surely seems a product of extraordinary prescience rather than of the angel-addled madness which some of his less insightful critics have attributed.

    Enough.


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