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What the PK Dickens?

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — conceptual echoes in a PK Dick bio-flick ]

PKD covers 600


I have just been watching Mark Steensland’s movie, The Gospel According to PK Dick, and a couple of fine parallelisms – echoes, really – struck me.

I’m going to start with one quote from the Chuang Tzu which is so often quoted it has been dulled for me, like a few other very great very over-celebrated works, Beethoven’s Fifth, and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565, among them. Finding its echo in the words of Robert Anton Wilson in this film breathes new life into it, at least for me, for this moment.

Chuang Tzu, then, from The Complete Works Of Chuang Tzu translated by Burton Watson:

Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

DoubleQuote that with Robert Anton Wilson in the movie:

In 1994, I think it was, somebody put up on internet a report of my death, and no matter how much I’ve denied it, it seems most people accept that I’m still alive, but there’s a die hard minority who insists I’m dead and the CIA has replaced me with an android. And I’d be much happier if I’d never read Philip Dick, because I would just think, “Well, I know I’m not an android,” but having read Philip Dick I realized if I was an android who’s properly constructed, I’d think I am Robert Anton Wilson. So that leaves me perpetually in a predicament of not being sure that I’m Robert Anton Wilson or an android programmed to think it’s Rob– to think, talk, and write like Robert Anton Wilson. I guess I’m really grateful to Phil for that, it gives me a certain agnostic detachment, which I think is necessary for mental health.


The echo of Chuang Tzu in the words of Robert Anton Wilson occurs towards the beginning of the movie. Towards the end of the movie, we have Paul Williams, the “father of rock criticism” also talking about his friend PK Dick, who was also the subject of his celebrated 1974 Rolling Stone article:

That particular, unique personality this is Philip K Dick arises, when you and I or the three of us, or any two or three readers of {Philip K Dick, or friends of his, or whatever, get together, then we have the opportunity, as in the ends of those stories, to actually experience his presence, and it’s uniquely him. And, uh, I appreciate that, and I appreciate that in that way, I still have him in my life. And that’s definitely quite a gift.

DoubleQuote those words of Williams with these, from Matthew 18.20:

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.


Gospel, indeed. and Tao, too.

Two wrongs make a right or wrong — in theory?

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — on the (Pythagorean) arithmetic of morals ]

Extermination_of_Evil_Sendan_Kendatsuba 600

Sendan Kendatsuba, one of the guardians of Buddhist law, banishing evil, Tokyo National Museum


What’s right is generally supposed to be positive, while what’s wrong is seen as negative — and as they saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.

In effect, that’s saying two negatives don’t make a positive. And if you add them, that’s correct.

But if you multiply two negatives, you get a positive — hunh?

So two wrongs can indeed make a right — that’s the mathematics of vengeance — multiplicative:

And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

— Deuteronomy 19.13

And it is also true that two wrongs don’t make a right — that’s a mathematics that denies vengeance — additive.

And then there’s the mathematics of forgiveness :

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

— Romans 12.21

Patient men, desirous of the Face of their Lord, who perform the prayer, and expend of that We have provided them, secretly and in public, and who avert evil with good — theirs shall be the Ultimate Abode

— Qur’an 13.22

And what’s most interesting to me in all this, is that the mathematical formulations, additive and multiplicative alike, don’t make a feature of time — where as their moral equivalents tend to introduce time into the equation / situation — in each case, it’s the response to evil, real or potential, that is considered.

Is the Islamic State Islamic? The Yes and No of the matter

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — both answers are true in different contexts — IMO a significant point that previous discussion has tended to overlook ]

Were (are) the Khawarij Muslim? That’s the question I keep thinking of when discussion of whether IS (or AQ) is Islamic comes up. From a Muslim perspective, they were heretics. Joas Wagemakers identified the central distinctive opinion of the Khawarij thus:

The first of these is the Khawarij’s belief that revolt against Muslim rulers was allowed if they were deemed insufficiently pious. When ‘Ali accepted arbitration with Mu‘awiya, the people later known as Khawarij reportedly shouted ‘judgement is God’s alone’ (la hukm illa li-llah). In the context of that event, this referred to their belief that only God had the authority to arbitrate, not human beings, and that ‘Ali should not have accepted Mu‘awiya’s offer. The slogan later came to represent their broader view that all judgements and rulings should be left to God, thus applying Qur’anic rulings so strictly that they expelled Muslims guilty of major sins from their community and fought them. Because they believed sinful Muslims to be unbelievers (kuffar, singular: kafir), they directly applied passages from the Qur’an pertaining to jihad against non-Muslims to those of their co-religionists who were less than perfectly pious.

From the perspective of what I’m going to call “ongoing Islam” they were heretics — the very name Khawarij indicates those who have gone out, ie left the religion of Islam — and yet their heresy was that of “fundamentalizing” Islam, being, if you like, excessively Islamic.

Consider: according to a hadith reported in Abu Dawud:

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “There will be dissension and division in my nation and a people will come with beautiful words but evil deeds. They recite the Quran but it will not pass beyond their throats. They will leave the religion as an arrow leaves its target and they will not return until the arrow returns to its notch. They are the worst of the creation. Blessed are those who fight them and are killed by them. They call to the Book of Allah but they have nothing to do with it. Whoever fights them is better to Allah than them.”

As a student of religions might say, their use of the Qur’an marks them as clearly Islamic, and as a Muslim theologian might say, they have clearly departed the religion, in truth “they have nothing to do with it.”

Many contemporary Muslims would say of IS, its leader and members, that they “call to the Book of Allah but they have nothing to do with it” — and they have every right to say that. Those, however, who wish to understand what drives IS do well to understand the theology and eschatology involved, as well as the psychology of the passions they invoke — and also the Islamic context in which IS may well be viewed as having by the very nature of their excesses left the religion..


This post is copied wholesale from a fascinating conversation among friends (Mark Safranski, J Scott Shipman, Michael J. Lotus, Dan Tdaxp, Joshua Treviño, Lynn Rees and others) in response to Tanner Greer’s post Vox Will Never Understand Islam… Or Any Religion, Really, which is itself a response to a Vox piece by Max Fisher, The perfect response to people who blame Islam for ISIS.

Please share this post if you find it helpful.

Nuclear sites and religion, flags and clouds

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Oak Ridge, Albi, Bushehr, a Sinan mosque, clouds formation, the Karmapas ]

Cheryl Rofer very kindly suggested a DoubleQuote to me today, comparing and contrasting the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, Oak Ridge:

HEUMF at Oak Ridge

and the Cathedral of Albi — heart of the district in which the Albigensians / Cathars briefly and most interestingly flourished:

Albi Cathedral


I particularly appreciate this juxtaposition because of an earlier DoubleQuote I posted, drawing a similar comparison between Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant:

bushehr 600

and the Mosque of the Conqueror in Istanbul:

mosque-of-the-conqueror 600


Also notable as a DoubleQuote today is this image at the top of a Lion’s Roar post titled Is that the Karmapa’s Dream Flag over Colorado?:

Karmapa Dream Flag DQ

The Karmapa Lama is the holder of the oldest lineage of reincarnated high lamas in Tibetan tradition, and head of the Karma Kagyu stream of teachings. The flag of the Karmapas can be seen below:

flag of the karmapas 600

Here’s the brief video from which that cloud-image was taken:

h/t Jacob DeFlitch

Note also the resemblance to what is probably my personal favorite DoubleQuote, comparing & contrasting van Gogh‘s night sky and von Kármán‘s vortex street:


It may be worth adding that the Buddha is not above using cloud metaphors, as this celebrated verse from the Diamond Sutra, here in Red Pine‘s translation, illustrates:

As a lamp, a cataract, a star in space
an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble
a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning
view all created things like this.

Hourani / Ignatius, Clint Watts / Buddhism, Hindutva / Dhimmitude

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — some unexpected and enlightening juxtapositions ]

Three textual DoubleQuotes:

The first, as you’ll see, consists of two brief excerpts from David IgnatiusAtlantic piece, How ISIS Spread in the Middle East, which is worth your attention as a follow up to Graeme Wood‘s What ISIS Really Wants, and mentions Soren Kierkegaard , Baywatch and the Bay of Pigs, so what’s not to like?

SPEC Hourani Ignatius

That’s the use of DoubleQuotes-style thinking — comparative, analogical — occurring quite naturally and informatively in a long-form essay.

My second example is quite different, in that it features an interesting article by Clint Watts of FRPI, using the terminology of “near” and “far” enemies first introduced by Abd Al-Salam Faraj, and note the very different use of the same terms in Buddhism.

SPEC enemies near and far

The terms “near” and “far” used to describe enemies in Buddhism represent metaphysical rather than geographical distances — the far enemy is the polar opposite of a given virtue, while the near enemy seems at first glance to be an embodiment of the virtue in question, but is in fact an inauthentic version, to be avoided. The doctrine concerned is expressed in terms of the four Brahma Viharas or highest emotions.

Finally, there has been a lot of talk in recent years about the Islamic term dhimmi, and I was intrigued to run across a very similar concept applied against Muslims in an early Indian discussion of whether India should be partitioned or not:

SPEC dhimmitude

On reflection I realized that all sorts of other groups operate along similar lines. I found this definition — note incidentally the somewhat language-game-changing remark, “A minority is defined not by being outnumbered” — in a Pearson Higher Ed textbook online:

Minority groups are subordinated in terms of power and privilege to the majority, or dominant, group. A minority is defined not by being outnumbered but by five characteristics: unequal treatment, distinguishing physical or cultural traits, involuntary membership, awareness of subordination, and in-group marriage. Subordinate groups are classified in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, and gender. The social importance of race is derived from a process of racial formation; any biological significance is relatively unimportant to society. The theoretical perspectives of functionalism, conflict theory, and labeling offer insights into the sociology of intergroup relations.

Immigration, annexation, and colonialism are processes that may create subordinate groups. Other processes such as extermination and expulsion may remove the presence of a subordinate group. Significant for racial and ethnic oppression in the United States today is the distinction between assimilation and pluralism. Assimilation demands subordinate-group conformity to the dominant group, and pluralism implies mutual respect among diverse groups.

Did you read that? Frankly I’m at a loss to know whether these two paragraphs were intended as black humor, or are simply humorlessness:

Other processes such as extermination and expulsion may remove the presence of a subordinate group.


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