“Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family,” Admiral Mullen said.
Become Who You Are
One of the most thoroughly useless, idiotic pieces of advice any of us got while attempting to navigate the labyrinth of adolescence was to not worry about what others do or think, “just be yourself”. A friend of mine back then unwittingly refuted this platitude with a plaintive question: “But what if wanting other people to like me and approve of me is part of who I am?” Exactly. That was the whole issue, wasn’t it? We didn’t know who we were, and it certainly wasn’t helpful to have absorbed the idea that your character was largely fixed and immutable, and that experimenting with different ways of thinking, talking, dressing, or behaving was a sign of superficiality and deceitfulness. I never even considered that developing one’s character partially (or even largely) by imitation could be a positive thing until I read about the psychological concept of modelling when I was in my twenties.
How is art involved in the Dionysian solution? As with the Apollonian, it requires one to view, to create oneself as an “aesthetic phenomenon.” Imitating again the techniques of artists in the literal sense, especially the technique of aesthetic distance, one is required to view the self from a distance so that rather than regarding it “in the spell of that perspective which makes what is closest at hand and most vulgar appear as if it were vast and reality itself”, rather than its being “nothing but foreground”, we learn to see the wood for the trees, to see ourselves “simplified and transfigured”, “to see and…esteem the hero that is concealed in everyday characters.” …One is, in other words, to come to view all the details of one’s life as fitting together into the kind of coherent unity that we demand of a well-executed character in literature.There are two aspects to Nietzsche’s repeated injunction to “become who you are”. The first is the anti-Delphic idea that the self is something one “becomes”, that is, makes or creates rather than discovers. It is a fundamental position of the later Nietzsche that there is no real, given self waiting to be discovered, neither a self conceived as a persisting Cartesian object, nor a self conceived in the related Schopenhauerian or Freudian manner, as a set of “real”, innate and unalterable, but largely repressed desires. The self, Nietzsche holds, resembles the state; it may be conceived as a “social structure of drives and affects”. As such, though its elements may be given, it, like the state, is the product of free creative activity. The second is the idea of becoming who one is as opposed to who one is not, the idea of becoming an authentic rather than inauthentic self.[…] This, it must be emphasized, is by no means Nietzsche’s only technique for accommodating the “questionable”: another consists in exhibiting problematic attributes and events not as means to but rather as parts of the good…So, for example, one might see a character trait that in isolation one might regard as a vice as, in the context of one’s personality as a whole, having the necessary function of softening, of taking the hard edge off one’s virtues, humanizing one’s character.A further technique that applies to only one – but a very important – phenomenon, the phenomenon of death, is to see its occurrence at a given time as demanded by the pleasingness of one’s life as a whole, in the way in which the inner logic of a play or piece of music demands that at a certain point it should stop. Zarathustra enjoins: “Die at the right time!” One should, he says, “cease letting oneself be eaten when one tastes best” and not, like a wizen apple, hang upon the branch for too long.The important thing to notice about all these techniques for coming to terms with prima facie evils in one’s life is that one cannot do it without choosing who you are: deciding, that is, what your dominant desires, character traits, emotions, goals and values are. I cannot view a weakness as contributing to the overall attractiveness of my nature unless I know the “artistic plan” of that nature as a whole.Notice that the process of creating this self is an artistic process, a task of ordering the events in one’s life that in some respects is analogous to the writing of a Bildungsroman, a story of the growth of personality from naivety to maturity, and in other respects is analogous to the task of creating a character that will engage the esteem and attention of the reader.
To give style to one’s character – a great and rare art! It is practiced by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and then fit them into an artistic plan until every one of them appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye. Here a large mass of second nature has been added; there a piece of original nature has been removed – both times through long practice and daily work at it. Here the ugly that could not be removed has been concealed; there it has been reinterpreted and made sublime. Much that is vague and resisted shaping has been saved and exploited for distant views; it is meant to beckon towards the far and immeasurable. In the end, when the work is finished, it becomes evident how the constraint of a single taste governed and formed everything large and small. Whether this taste was good or bad is less important than one might suppose, if only it was a single taste!For one thing is needful: that a human being should attain satisfaction with himself, whether it be by means of this or that poetry or art; only then is a human being at all tolerable to behold. Whoever is dissatisfied with himself is continually ready for revenge, and we others will be his victims, if only by having to endure his ugly sight. For the sight of what is ugly makes one bad and gloomy.
No, Al Swearengen, No
Things you never hear: “Please stop sucking my dick or I’ll call the police.”– George Carlin
“I think these pipe-smokers oughta just move to the next level and go ahead and suck a dick. There’s nothing wrong with suckin’ dicks. Men do it, women do it; can’t be all bad if everybody’s doin’ it. I say, Drop the pipe, and go to the dick! That’s my advice. I’m here to help.”
Fear of a Black Planet
Maybe I’m wrong and we do need a national “dialogue on race,” but my guess is that if Barack Obama figures out a way to turn the economy around and create some real paying jobs, a lot of this racial angst will disappear pretty quick. If you tune out the hottest parts of the Tea Party rhetoric and just focus on who these people are, what you’ll basically see are a bunch of middle-aged white people who spent their teens listening to Eddie Murphy albums and deep down are a lot more worried about their credit card debt than they are about ACORN taking over the government. Add a little more disposable income to that crowd and this whole debate will recede to tolerable levels. Or maybe not — but we can all hope, I guess.
Of Mouse and Men
The first time I really listened to any of Danger Mouse’s output was when he worked on Beck’s excellent Modern Guilt record two years ago (I’m a huge Beck fanboy). Earlier this year, I was enthralled by the Broken Bells record, where he collaborated with James Mercer of the Shins. And earlier this month, we got the official release of the long-delayed collaboration between him and the late, much-lamented Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse. I’ve been listening to that disc over and over and over since then.
They’re Trying to Build a Prison for You and Me to Live In
With no warning one weekday morning, investigators entered an organic grocery with a search warrant and ordered the hemp-clad workers to put down their buckets of mashed coconut cream and to step away from the nuts. Then, guns drawn, four officers fanned out across Rawesome Foods in Venice. Skirting past the arugula and peering under crates of zucchini, they found the raid’s target inside a walk-in refrigerator: unmarked jugs of raw milk.
Guns drawn. Against raw foodie hippies selling unpasteurized milk.
A few weeks ago, I was walking down my lengthy driveway to the mailbox. When I got around a small copse of trees, I saw a bunch of people standing around in my neighbor’s backyard. As I got closer, I realized they were cops, all decked out in body armor. It appeared they were just getting ready to knock on, or maybe kick down, his back door. I froze for a moment, wondering if I should go back to the house, but I thought that might make me look suspicious, so I kept going. I got my mail and was heading back when one of them called out to “let me holla atcha for a minute.” As it happened, I didn’t know these people at all, as they had just moved in a couple months ago, and I had yet to even speak to them, so I had nothing to tell The Man.
In our post 9/11 age of ambivalent attitudes regarding civil liberties, you often hear it smugly asked, “If you haven’t done anything wrong, what do you have to hide/worry about?” But let me assure you that no matter how boring and nondescript of a life you live, standing next to a guy with Kevlar who’s carrying an assault rifle while asking you questions will make you start nervously wondering if there’s something, anything you might have done that could turn their attention toward you. And when you see story after story of cops raiding the wrong house – the neighbor’s house – or when you read Digby’s ongoing coverage of police using tasers against nonthreatening victims simply for the sake of intimidation or commanding “respect”, this kind of thing will only make you worry more.
The cops left without entering the house or arresting anyone. But two days later, I had just gotten home in the evening, and ten minutes later, when I happened to glance out my window, I saw five vehicles surrounding the house, and the crew was running around again, assault rifles aimed at all windows and doors. This time, they led the guy away in handcuffs. I never saw any coverage of the story, so I still don’t know what he was accused of.
Americans are so terribly afraid of so many things. It’s too common to even surprise anymore, the fact that the biggest flag-wavers are usually the most vocal advocates of harsher prison sentences for a wider range of crimes, many of them victimless; the fact that the people who currently see death camps in Obama’s shadow were just a few years ago insisting on more, more, more government surveillance for the sake of freedom. Well, they got their wish. And we can only hope that this system will eat itself, because I don’t think we’ll ever voluntarily renounce it ourselves.
The always-eloquent IOZ said some time back:
And that, dear readers, is how I feel about director of the Center for National Security Studies Kate Martin’s observation that “They want to turn these enormous spy capabilities, built to be used against overseas enemies, onto Americans. They are laying the bricks one at a time for a police state.”
If you asked me, “What would a contemporary police state look like?” I’d reply that it would look an awful lot like what America looks like right now. I would tell you that subsidized consumer affluence has proven a far more effective method of social control than centrally planned, faux-egalitarianism. I would tell you that someone finally figured out that breadlines breed rebellion but lines at the multiplex for the midnight opening of the next blockbuster do not. I would tell you that keeping up with the Joneses has proven a more effective enforcer of conformity than any book of Dear Leader’s wisdom ever did. I would tell you that hope for Vegas vacations beats fear of the work camps for quashing dissent. I would tell you that subtle is better than overt, seemingly random better than routine, carnivalesque better than somber, colorful better than drab. Look at the billions of dollars and man-hours thrown into deciding between a guy from Massachusetts and a gal from New York who evince no convincingly held differences of belief. Has ever a nation been farther from revolution than the United States in the year 2007?
I feel a great many people waiting, breathing shallowly, as if one day at last the whole edifice will tip over and reveal its infested foundation. It won’t. I feel as if a great many people are waiting for a president to suspend the government, or for black-hood squads to start snatching people in broad daylight, or for the police to establish checkpoint entrances to our cities and loyalty oaths in our schools. (That last, of course, already . . . ) They are waiting, in other words, for incontrovertible and public evidence that Denmark is rotten, some moment of national epiphany when Candidate-for-Life Benito Giuliani descends through the clouds in his own airline trailing some athletic blond with a camera on his way to a firelit vigil in Yankee Stadium.
When I mentioned my story to several people, some shrugged. “Probably a meth dealer,” they said, as if that settles it. Well, fuck him, then. He deserved it! Let’s make some jokes about prison rape and keep whistling past the graveyard.
Little Deviant Acts
I’m of two minds about things like this:
It’s a tough line to draw. One doesn’t want to be an enabler of stupid expressions of faith, but at the same time, one shouldn’t discourage kind intent. Hitchens is in a situation where he’s going to have to walk that line a lot.
Hitchens is very gracious about being told that people are praying for him to recover, perhaps surprising to those who have absorbed the message that the so-called New Atheists are intolerant, fire-breathing ideologues. But there is no uniform way to respond to something like that. Some people may be expressing sympathy and trying to impart good cheer the only way they know how. Others may be using the opportunity to flaunt their supposed magnanimity, seizing an easy chance to be seen looking gracious and caring in the eyes of others while getting in a dig at a man they already know doesn’t share their beliefs. Each individual has to judge that for themselves. Go along to get along, or attempt to gracefully demur? Nietzsche:
Sometimes to act against one’s better judgment when it comes to questions of custom, to give way in practice while keeping one’s reservations to oneself, to do as everyone else does and thus to show them consideration as it were in compensation for our deviant opinions: many tolerably free-minded people regard this not merely as unobjectionable, but as ‘honest’, ‘humane’, ‘tolerant’, ‘not being pedantic’, and whatever else those pretty words might be with which the intellectual conscience is lulled to sleep: and thus this person takes his child in for Christian baptism though he is an atheist, and that person serves in the army as all the world does, however much he may execrate hatred between nations, and a third marries his wife in church because her relatives are pious and is not ashamed to repeat vows before a priest. ‘It doesn’t really matter if people like us also do what everyone does and always has done’ – this is the thoughtless prejudice! The thoughtless error! For nothing matters more than that an already mighty, anciently established and irrationally recognized custom should be once more confirmed by a person recognized as rational: it thereby acquires in the eyes of all who come to hear of it the sanction of rationality itself! All respect to your opinions! But little deviant acts are worth more!
I’ve been told that I was in someone’s prayers before, and my response was pretty much just to smile noncommittally. They meant well. I wouldn’t take the opportunity to lecture someone about my dissonant views right there on the spot, unless I felt the sentiment was being offered in bad faith; I would just attempt to make myself clear beforehand, in a neutral setting, how I felt about such things. If they persist in doing it anyway, I would take that as a sign that it was really all about them.
When it comes to being blessed after sneezing, though, I will say “No, thank you.” If they ask why, I’ll say that since I’m not at death’s door, nor do I believe that my (nonexistent) soul has been temporarily blown out of my body where it can be snatched up by Satan, I don’t need to be blessed. No one will be offended (and they already think I’m weird anyway), so I see it as a perfect chance to mildly shock someone into seeing something in a new way, to shake up their complacency. I think we should always seek to do that.
Guards and officials at a prison in northern Mexico allegedly let inmates out, lent them guns and allowed them to use official vehicles to carry out drug-related killings, including the massacre of 17 people last week, prosecutors said Sunday.Those leaks from Wikileaks seem to show that the ISI, the Pakistani spy agency that essentially created the Taliban, still is really quite supportive of that organization, despite Pakistan being technically allied with several countries trying to destroy it.– Wonkette
Plato’s theory of forms, after all, has it that beyond the material world — the all-too-human world that’s anatomized in icky detail in the vast majority of Craigs list postings — are ideal archetypes. These archetypes are the most real things in the universe. A platonic relationship is, therefore, a human relationship that inspires appreciation for the idealized human, the divine. The relationship must be chaste lest it become an end in itself and a distraction from spiritual matters.
Sigh. This is why I keep saying, while only barely joking, that Plato ruins everything. Nietzsche famously quipped that Christianity was just Plato’s philosophy for the masses, the same overly abstract world-denial. Concepts and ideas are real, of course, but in the same way that our neocortex developed out of, and on top of, our cerebellum and limbic system, concepts and ideas don’t exist by themselves, independent and superior to the earthly reality from which they came. Me, I don’t trust any idea that isn’t still speckled with a little bit of mud and a little bit of blood.
And while they stress their lofty indifferences, the members of the Strictly Platonic crowd are equally passionate about their desire: conversation, conversation, conversation. Live, e-mail, phone, text, chat — platonic people, it seems, want people to talk to. […] The forum is enlightening because it represents a collaborative effort to define “platonic” — and define it against nearly everything else on Craigslist. You would think the word would be debased by now. But it’s surprisingly intact. Maybe that’s why we still need some notion of platonism in everyday life. Once we’ve stipulated that commercial culture is that which debases everything, we need a popular concept that helps us resist debasement.
See, I could fit in with this crowd. But note the words “passionate” and “desire”, those are important. As nerdy as it sounds, I’m at a point in my life where the thought of reading, writing and discussing is more exciting to me than the thought of sexual or romantic adventures. As Henry Rollins once said, “I don’t want to know, I don’t want to be known, in that relationship kind of way.” There’s so many ways to know someone, so many angles to approach from. I just happen to not want those sort of entanglements anymore. But make no bones about it, I’m not claiming that I’m pursuing a “better” or “higher” activity; it’s just different, like any other question of taste. I wish we could envision a joyful pursuit of intellectual pleasures that doesn’t conjure up images of oddball malcontents of one stripe or another, wrinkling their noses in disgust at all the rutting pigs around them. Forget Plato. Listen to Epicurus instead.
Share Not Suffering but Joy
I’ve always thought that if turtles had a philosophy, it would be Stoicism. When confronted with danger, draw yourself up as tight as you can, hold perfectly still, and maybe it will miss you.
Yes, I’m being slightly unfair for the sake of metaphor, but leaving aside the absurdity of human beings trying to “live in accordance with nature”, or that of the notion that there could ever be pure, clear reason detached from emotional considerations, it’s still largely a negative philosophy aimed at “reducing vulnerability“, and as such, allows itself to be too defined by the avoidance or rationalizing away of pain. There are aspects of it I find useful in small doses and in certain circumstances — it’s worthwhile to meditate, for example, on the fact that all you love will eventually pass away. But as with some manifestations of Buddhism*, the lesson drawn from this is too often to attempt to cultivate a serene detachment in advance to lessen the turbulent emotional pain when the feared event comes to pass, rather than to feel more intensely in full knowledge and acceptance of the inevitable, gladly taking your chances that the pain may be too much for you to bear then.
Life is constant flux. Contingent things are always arising and passing away. But there is no safe vantage point from which to observe it all, no shelter to eventually arrive at. We’re already in the thick of it. Open up your heart and dive right in.
To me, a more sensible philosophy to deal with the inevitable losses we all suffer was espoused by none other than Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss: Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.
*Joel Mendez notices the same parallels, but I disagree that Zen is a good example of the sort of Buddhism that cultivates this sort of mentality. The Zen practitioners I know use Zen as a tool to see through the limits of all conceptual frameworks, especially of “the self”. Using it to try to master an ironclad self-control would indicate that you haven’t taken the insights far enough, and they would probably smile and ask, “Who is it that’s doing the controlling?”