Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A lot of what makes this different

is that the answers aren't easy. There are a lot of easy answers out there, ranging from, "We rock," to, "We suck."

What has so far characterized what we call "dissent," though, is that it absorbs all the elements of "we suck" except for our responsibility. Dissenter after dissenter paints a picture of all of these radicals as helpless-yet-aware pawns trapped inside the workings of a machine too great for us to control.

But then, isn't that just the defense of Obama that the dissenters themselves regularly mock? That he's trapped by the circumstances of his predecessors, or forced by Kerry or the Republicans, to not do what he really wants to do in his heart of hearts? Bullshit, of course, as so many people have pointed out with regards President Drone.

...which is why the same defense does not apply to us.

(If this one isn't around to tell you the next part of the story, don't worry; it's not exactly an exclusive, however much it seems like one from here. We're doing this only because it's necessary to progress. <3~LE)


  1. There is no political solution to the human problem. History might have logic and destination, but it is hard to find instances where agency has really mattered. Let the chips fall where they're about to. In the meantime, internal freedom/redemption is as plausible a project as always. Those who know will be unfazed even if the gas and the water stop and the grocery shelves empty.

    1. "Internal freedom/redemption" is good, but that's a popular solution among the yoga-going middle-class set, which finds blissful irrelevance in the effects of its actions at the same time as it finds inner peace in a $6.99 latte every morning. That's why I think there has to be an element of truth and/or justice worked into one's "inner peace." I mean, Oliver North is comfortable with himself--read his book. His self esteem is through the roof, and so, too, are many of those kiddies getting spit out of Wharton every May with MBAs, ready to teach Eichmann how to Eichmann.

      There's a dangerous thread to follow down that same path, too, if we say that we're aware of, and sorry for, our actions. Say we claim that we understand we do these wrongs as part of a system, and we either ask for forgiveness from some deity, or assume that it doesn't matter anyway because all bets were off as soon as, like, the Big Bang. The practical effect of our behavior is no different, except in scale, than the practical effect of George W. Bush's.

      Underscoring all this is the truth, idealistic or not, that if enough of us woke up one morning and decided, "Fix," we could fix it--rather easily. Unlikely, maybe to the extreme, but possible, and this is just what "the Germans, 1933-1945," didn't do. Their sustained willingness to live lives of evil, petty, daily compromise made something that, as Godwin knows, we all feel didn't turn out well.

      That's about where Flannery O'Connor's suggestions of encompassing responsibility become eerily relevant, because we see that we're as culpable for the Versailles machinations as we are of the resulting aftermath.

  2. Say, Socrates has certainly achieved the ideal of internal freedom, and he can hardly be accused of comfortable self-satisfaction. It is true that a bastardized, undedicated attempts to achieve it simply confuse it with the subjective result of comfortable, untroubled middle class life ("how bad can it be, after all? look at how relaxed my day is!").

    There is no dispute that "in principle" it is possible to radically change society overnight, but the fact that it does not ever happen says something. The "original sin" is precisely transcending the communal existence in harmony with nature and into a more luxurious existence full of possibilities, where anything good comes at the price or is accompanied with something terrible. Redemption is possible, but it is unclear that it can be collective. I am aware of no thinker who was able to articulate a vision of collective redemption, and some of the half-finished attempts resulted in approximately just as much misery as the status quo.

    1. "If at first you don't succeed," after all. So much of our existential angst is tied up in the--admittedly very understandable--notion that an abbreviated human lifespan, or five thousand years of civilization if you prefer, are "long times" (e.g., a period of measurable time long enough to justify conclusions about finality). And they are long, but compare that to the example of a kid learning long division, who thinks that a whole week of classes is a "long time." In each case, the practitioner is correct: it's been a long time, and the process has not yet worked.

      From other perspectives, though, the quantity of time and effort involved looks "short." In fact, not only does it look short, but the practitioner may realize how foolish it was of her/him to believe that early failures inevitabilized future failures, or made foolish the notion of undertaking the task itself. So why bother with, say, algebra?

      Ideally, what we learn from the process is not just that the process itself was possible, but also a different way of looking at the time involved, such that it no longer seems so overwhelming. One of the tricky bits about the long, agonizing failure is that the task itself (again, say, "long division") might not be the most important lesson. Maybe it was part of the process necessary to not see "a whole week of lessons" as such a painful, endless burden in the first place. Later, we can look back on the lesson and think, "Wow, it wasn't so bad; why'd I act like such an asshole about it? Mrs. McGurt was only trying to help, and if I'd stopped thinking about my afternoon shows and arguing that calculators existed, it would've gone lots faster."

      No matter how often you say shit like that, though, when you face the new challenge, it's not just on the intellectual level. The task is conjoined with all of the necessary motivating factors, so when you do your semester of differential equations--even a decade after you learned your lesson about long division--you're doing it with a distracted, uncaring professor, beset by parking police and housing insecurity and future job and food insecurity, and so the semester of diff. eq. seems just as brutal and pointless as the childhood week of division. Your own soft spots (preferences for what to do with your time, to mate, to be housed, or to not die) can make any new lesson as "real" as it needs to be.

      Regrounding (and again, my greatly mystical apologies), all the practical associations here cut the same way. Enough genuine individual retreats would achieve all the political solutions, as no one would be voting lesser evils, attending NFL games, shooting Iraqis, or running for Congress. Collective redemption may well be a process that involves thousands of years of even the slowest of us realizing, "Hey, this could be better than it is." It takes, at the least, the ability to believe that something, anything, could be better; that there is a possibility of plausible group action that goes beyond, "honorable military sacrifice for motives clouded to your lowly caste" or, "maintaining superior blood/gene-lines." That's why seemingly innocuous shit like art is the more important battleground for the pragmatic. Without it, enough of us can't even imagine what we could "organize" for--we just accept the shitty, impossible nature of narrative.

      One by one, drop by drop, constantly reassuring a particularly daft one while the last forty thousand you just fixed keep trying to slide back due to circumstances that aren't even their fault and that keep multiplying exponentially, while your arms are getting tied behind your back by someone who was your lover the last time around. Worth even trying? Imagine what could make it so, then believe in that.

  3. Not bad. It is remarkable that we consider the last 2000 years to be a long time, considering that it only encompasses about 60 generations, if I'm doing the grade school math correctly.

    The question of time though - what if this is the insurmountable block? Most of the charms of life do in fact revolve around mating, finding a place to call one's own etc., and there is a real urgency associated with them, which in turn drives us to do things we'd rather not do, and not in the available ways. Consequently, the inclination to do the right thing is constantly challenged. Hoping that people would abandon the preoccupation with these things in the name of the potential better - or forcing them to do so under a certain utopian scheme might inherently result in half measures at best. If the concept of the good is impossible to define substantively and in universally valid terms, maybe the human condition is inherently to be a partial being, meandering between conflicting ideals for good.

    As for the algebra lesson - what if it is indeed pointless? The greatest intellects and scientists have all reached and end point in the knowledge process and have been forced to acknowledge lies elsewhere - in revelation. Pascal, Bohr, and many others, after all this labor reach a point that has always been available to the mystics. The more you grow, the more you turn back into a child. I don't know if you ever return completely, but I personally cannot conceive of heaven on earth on the way there

    1. Yeah, and how many cell divisions does it take for something to improve? All of the world's corporate science aficionados who pronounce our impending doom are self-hypocritizing, even if they're half right inside the half that counts.

      That battle between the "compulsions" (or, in an older time, the "lusts") and the "right thing" ("conscience," if you will) is a fun one, on an individual scale or a large scale. Culturally, we're like the relapsing drunk, staring at that mug and thinking, "Why bother? I know I'm gonna ruin it soon anyway," and then heading right into a bender. No matter how statistically likely a change, it can only happen by happening, sic, ergo we must make it before it can be made, also sic. It seems inevitable that at any point before a lot of decisions get made, said decisions could be stymied by saying, "It is unlikely that so many decisions could be made at once."

      Moral relativism, yeah. As long as one person is willing to make that argument, the claim is always there; the only way to ever refute it is the golden rule, and since any liar can claim to be innocently following it (for example, by saying he's trying to help the people he's droning), you can never prove that the concept of the golden rule is sound. It's the individual redemption thing you touched on in your first response: if you're following it, even just once in a while, you know you are, in a way that you can never prove to others beyond question.

      We can certainly "conceive" of Heaven on Earth; it's probably more accurate to say that we don't "predict" it. And maybe that's for the best. No, strike that; it is for the best. Some people actually enjoy the cruelty of these competitions, and who are we to deny them that? They should be allowed to build their little realms of betrayal and power and exploitation, for those who want to exist that way. We can look at our time here as a self-applied job interview for where we want to end up, and behave accordingly. That doesn't mean, though, that algebra doesn't still have applications in both jungle and garden.