The gist is this: most of what goes by the name of religion is really idolatry—especially the appeal to supernaturalism. The only kind of God that satisfies the ancient claim of being the “Highest One” is a God of this world, offering no selfish fantasy of paradise in the next. This God is perfectly in tune with the immanent, Carl Sagan-ite account of science, yet one can also find information about Him in scriptures and religious traditions, selectively read. It’s a God that calls to mind, for instance, Spinoza’s “God or Nature”; J. N. Findlay’s 1948 paper claiming that the object of the ontological argument for God’s existence must be something higher than the God of religion; and sociologist Philip Rieff’s critique of the gods we invent to serve our own desires—religious, clinical, and otherwise. The second half of Saving God features a series of technical moves that, as best I can gather, is an attempt to squeeze some kind of Heideggerian phenomenology into the back door of analytic philosophy, which in turn makes room for introducing a close-to Hegelian view of God as Being’s self-disclosure to beings in history—yada, yada, yada.All this is to say (and here I am imitating Johnston’s alternating rhetoric referred to above) that God is here and now, not beyond. Inscribed in all the fluff and error of religion—even in the story of the Christian Passion—there are basic truths about the universe and the Mind that pervades it which philosophy, fortunately, has the means to extract.
Over 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees (over 8,000 of them have doctoral or professional degrees), along with over 80,000 bartenders, and over 18,000 parking lot attendants. All told, some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the BLS says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree.…Putting issues of student abilities aside, the growing disconnect between labor market realities and the propaganda of higher-education apologists is causing more and more people to graduate and take menial jobs or no job at all. This is even true at the doctoral and professional level—there are 5,057 janitors in the U.S. with Ph.D.’s, other doctorates, or professional degrees.
Most people who kill themselves actually lived better-than-average lives. Suicide rates are higher in nations with higher standards of living than in less prosperous nations; higher in US states with a better quality of life; higher in societies that endorse individual freedoms; higher in areas with better weather; in areas with seasonal change, they are higher during the warmer seasons; and they’re higher among college students that have better grades and parents with higher expectations.Baumeister argues that such idealistic conditions actually heighten suicide risk because they often create unreasonable standards for personal happiness, thereby rendering people more emotionally fragile in response to unexpected setbacks. So, when things get a bit messy, such people, many of whom appear to have led mostly privileged lives, have a harder time coping with failures. “A large body of evidence,” writes the author, “is consistent with the view that suicide is preceded by events that fall short of high standards and expectations, whether produced by past achievements, chronically favorable circumstances, or external demands.” For example, simply being poor isn’t a risk factor for suicide. But going rather suddenly from relative prosperity to poverty has been strongly linked to suicide.
Apparently some evil imp surreptitiously cracked my skull open without my being aware of it and proceeded to fill it with a hornet’s nest, pop rocks and cola, and a vibrator left on high speed. So while I mewl softly in a darkened corner, here are some things I’ve enjoyed reading recently for your entertainment.
One of the strangest things about the teabaggers I know is the way they vehemently deny holding any racist beliefs while making no effort to hide their, well, racist beliefs. I’ve heard radical right-wingers laugh at black people for being “too stupid” to get out of the way of Katrina, blame them for being the primary group responsible for taking out loans they couldn’t afford and thereby crashing the economy, and suggest that the reason Europe can afford to have such strict gun control laws is because “they don’t have a problem with the niggers like we do here.” A violent incident involving a basketball player leads to muttering about uncivilized thugs, but routine brawls in hockey don’t seem to reflect poorly on white people in general. Despite the majority of welfare recipients being white, the ones who always inspire apoplectic tirades about freeloaders and parasites are referred to with names like Shaquanda and Tyreesha (and good luck convincing a teabagger that the majority of their taxes are not going toward keeping “those people” living the high life in Section 8 housing, wining and dining on food stamps). And the only part of our “heritage” that my fellow Southerners seem interested in celebrating are the years 1861-1865. The bolder ones even argue that slavery gave blacks at least a rudimentary work ethic, not to mention Christianity.
It’s difficult to say what amuses me the most about the way our revanchists do their utmost to deny the separation of church and state. On the one hand, you would think people who are so extremely concerned to make sure that every citizen regularly displays a gaudy excess of sentimental patriotism, lest the nation collapse from a lack of self-esteem, would be constantly harping on one of the things we Myrrhkins can all be justifiably proud of. As I mentioned recently, we’ve grown so used to the idea that metaphysical differences are not worth bloodshed that it can be easy to forget just how long it took for us to get to that point. Fifteen hundred years of Christianity being synonymous with state power, and we never did get around to acting on all those supposed ethics at its core, but a mere couple hundred years of secularism have already accomplished far more. Even many colonial religious groups understood this, realizing it would be in most of their better interests to keep any one denomination from enjoying state favoritism.
Unfortunately, Axl Rose embracing Nirvana seemed to confirm Kurt Cobain’s worst fears about signing with a major label. For Cobain, Axl Rose represented everything horrible about corporate rock. On a personal level, he found Rose to be a despicable human being, the epitome of racist, sexist, homophobic, proudly redneck and macho assholes that his music was intended to irritate and destroy…Rose signified old-guard, cock-rock superstardom, and Cobain was never more deliberate in his desire to dismantle that institution than in his outspoken criticism of Guns N’ Roses. Cobain’s aversion to turning into Axl Rose bordered on obsession…It’s convenient shorthand to paint Axl Rose as the meathead rock cliché and Kurt Cobain as the genuine artist, but what gets left out? Looking back, I see the crucial difference between Axl and Kurt being how they chose to act out their darkest, ugliest sides. Both men had troubled childhoods that led to adult lives distinguished by intense mood swings and a compulsive need to control their surroundings. Both men hated the press for spreading “lies” that often turned out to be true, and both were drawn to complicated women who created as much misery as ecstasy in their lives. Both men saw fame as a double-edged sword; it gave them the attention they craved after a lifetime of being ignored, and yet it also seemed to intensify their feelings of self-loathing. They were, to use medical terminology, a couple of fucked-up individuals, which both men expressed eloquently in their music.
A believer can never truly stomach a sceptic, because the latter’s refusal to take anything for granted is always perceived as a slight. For some inexplicable reason, a sceptic can never simply be acknowledged as someone who has made the choice to stick with the logical over the illogical and it is always, always taken personally.
In the longest and remotest ages of the human race there was quite a different sting of conscience from that of the present day. At present one only feels responsible for what one intends and for what one does, and we have our pride in ourselves. All our professors of jurisprudence start with this sentiment of individual independence and pleasure, as if the source of right had taken its rise here from the beginning. But throughout the longest period in the life of mankind there was nothing more terrible to a person than to feel himself independent. To be alone, to feel independent, neither to obey nor to rule, to represent an individual – that was no pleasure to a person then, but a punishment; he was condemned “to be an individual.” Freedom of thought was regarded as discomfort personified. While we feel law and regulation as constraint and loss, people formerly regarded egoism as a painful thing, and a veritable evil. For a person to be himself, to value himself according to his own measure and weight – that was then quite distasteful. The inclination to such a thing would have been regarded as madness; for all miseries and terrors were associated with being alone. At that time the “free will” had bad conscience in close proximity to it; and the less independently a person acted, the more the herd-instinct, and not his personal character, expressed itself in his conduct, so much the more moral did he esteem himself. All that did injury to the herd, whether the individual had intended it or not, then caused him a sting of conscience – and his neighbor likewise, indeed the whole herd! It is in this respect , that we have most changed our mode of thinking.– Nietzsche
I asked my friend Arthur what he thought of Kristen Hoggatt’s essay, and this is what he wrote back:
Music affects us on a more primal level than language (a fact Schopenhauer made much philosophical use of) and it will tend to overshadow (distort, transfigure) whatever words or lyrics you set to it. A song can survive, even “ennoble” mediocre lyrics; but no lyrics, however brilliant, can survive unmemorable music. It’s great when words in songs are intellectually or aesthetically stimulating in themselves, but the qualities that make the words seem to work as poetry when set to music are not necessarily the qualities that would make them work as poems. Who worries whether the librettos of great operas are poetry in themselves? They usually are not, and composers like Richard Strauss, aware of the greater authority of their art viz a viz merely literary merit, have been brutal with the literary pretensions of their librettists (like poor Hoffmansthal, Strauss’s collaborator on many of the great operas): give me what works (serves the technical needs and imaginative ambitions of the composer, me), not what seems beautiful or profound to you as a poet.The poets of our tradition stopped being troubadours centuries ago. Poetry is its own music, both for the ear and for the imagination. It comes into its glory read aloud, but not necessarily when set to music. (Which is not to say that great poems can’t be set to great music. But it’s surprisingly rare. Schubert was inspired to new heights by Heine, but he could compose equally great songs to fairly fun-of-the-mill poetry.)Music is a Dionysian art; poetry is Apollonian.P.S. I forgot to add something about Stevens, a propos of Simon’s comments. Strauss often cut out metaphors and verbal associations he thought crowded the aural canvas and distracted from the music. A poet like Stevens wants to pursue verbal associations and imaginative ideas wherever they take him, to let poetry revel in its own extravagance, its own “fictive music.” Poetry is the music of the mind in motion among its metaphors, and it addresses something solitary and inward in us–just as music itself often does, when it isn’t telling us to get up and boogie.
The notion of karma comes with lots of new-age baggage, but it is an old and very conservative idea. It is the Sanskrit word for “deed” or “action,” and the law of karma says that for every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction. Kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering. No divine intervention is required; it’s just a law of the universe, like gravity.Karma is not an exclusively Hindu idea. It combines the universal human desire that moral accounts should be balanced with a belief that, somehow or other, they will be balanced. In 1932, the great developmental psychologist Jean Piaget found that by the age of 6, children begin to believe that bad things that happen to them are punishments for bad things they have done.…The rank-and-file tea partiers think that liberals turned America upside down in the 1960s and 1970s, and they want to reverse many of those changes. They are patriotic and religious, and they want to see those values woven into their children’s education. Above all, they want to live in a country in which hard work and personal responsibility pay off and laziness, cheating and irresponsibility bring people to ruin. Give them liberty, sure, but more than that: Give them karma.
This seems to play into what you mentioned earlier, that you were writing Greek tragedy, which certainly had comedic elements.Yes. Before finishing the first season I’d reread most of Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus, those three guys. I’d read some of it in college, but I hadn’t read it systematically. That stuff is incredibly relevant today. As drama, the actual plays are a little bit stilted, but the message within the plays and the dramatic impulses are profound for our time. We don’t really realize it. I don’t think we sense the power in there because we’re really more in the Shakespearean construct of—Yes, the individualism kind of thing.The individual and the interior struggle for self. Macbeth and Hamlet and Lear and Othello……It seems to me that people want to be sort of special, unique snowflakes, and the Shakespearean thing addresses that more.Right! Let’s celebrate me and the wonder that is me. It’s not about society… Now, the thing that has been exalted and the thing that American entertainment is consumed with is the individual being bigger than the institution.
You suggest that the rise of meritocracy has trained us to see the rich as deserving of their fortunes rather than as sinful or corrupt. But, speaking for myself, in the wake of Enron and Martha Stewart, and given the state of modern government, I definitely consider more rich people than ever to be cheaters. I kind of always have.That’s interesting. It’s not a typically American perspective. Americans usually tend to have this idea that we’re moving toward some system of fair competition where there won’t be any more Enrons, and the school system will make everything equal. Personally, I think the whole idea of meritocracy is bananas. I mean, the idea that you can create a society where you arrange people in descending order in relation to their merit as human beings, and give them money in relation to that system is completely illogical. Because there are so many factors that go into people’s personalities. The modern worldview is that you can look at someone’s resumé and make a judgment about how noble and worthwhile they are. Something’s wrong with that: there are just too many other factors at play. I have a lot of sympathy for the old Christian view that the only person who can tell the worth of another human being is God, and He can only do that on the day of judgment. I think we need to be humble in judging other people, and in judging our own value. There’s an arrogance that comes over people who think the system is just. The more just you think the system is, the crueler you’re likely to be, because if you generally believe that those at the top deserve their success, you have to believe that those at the bottom deserve their failure. That’s when you start talking about people as “losers,” and saying things like, “Winners make their own luck.” So there’s a very nasty side to this otherwise very nice-sounding idea that we should make society fairer. Success is never totally deserved just as failure is never totally deserved.
Today is Nietzsche’s birthday. In lieu of gifts, please consider offering someone a penetrating psychological observation or, alternatively, asking them to consider how they might live their life differently if they learned that every tiny detail of it was destined to repeat in exactly the same way for eternity.