The question is the same as “what is a blog?” I write about questions that interest me. I acknowledge that they may not interest others. I enjoy it when they do.
I do not write for the purposes of rhetoric – I do not wish to persuade the reader. Even when I offer argument for dialogue, it is to bring out thoughts. A successful blog entry has advanced the process of thinking about a particular thing; a failed one is when some point is repeated and repeated without development.
Stupidity reigns, again
I have long been bothered by the explosion of stupidity and disgust over intelligent thought which is seen in our American culture today. The CS Lewis quote I offered really does have legs:
The trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.
A yearning for simpler times gets used as a yearning for primitive times. They are not the same. We have turned back towards tribal leadership – “Yah, as long as all the guys agree.” Tribal leadership often leads to bad decisions, especially if it has no tradition of thinking things through.
People squabble about The Trump Phenomenon, which merely coincides with the appearance of Mr. Trump on the national stage. I wonder if he notices how deeply underwater he really is, in wishing to take on one job least capable to provide leadership. A massive streak of narcissism is needed for the job – few with humility are allowed in, and rapidly given the bum’s rush out.
The Trump Phenomenon merely coincides with a long history of opposition to liberal democracy in the 20th century. “Liberal,” in its most correct expression, is the political indistinguishability between citizens, as opposed to aristocracies or tyrannies, where the citizenry is only given whatever rights that they cannot harm the government with.
The origins of Modernism
Most political forces in the 20th century mistrusted representative liberal democracy, and sought to overwhelm it with a new rational machine governmental structure based solely on facts and logic, like Plato’s Republic. (link)
There’s a reason why Plato’s Republic never took off to universal success. To cite a summary: “Socrates’ argument is that in the ideal city, a true philosopher with understanding of forms will facilitate the harmonious co-operation of all the citizens of the city. This philosopher-king must be intelligent, reliable, and willing to lead a simple life. However, these qualities are rarely manifested on their own, and so they must be encouraged through education and the study of Good.” (WIKIPEDIA)
On the progression of government through the various forms, Socrates examines Tyranny (cit.): First, he describes how a tyrannical man develops from a democratic household. The democratic man is torn between tyrannical passions and oligarchic discipline, and ends up in the middle ground: valuing all desires, both good and bad. The tyrant will be tempted in the same way as the democrat, but without an upbringing in discipline or moderation to restrain him. Therefore, his most base desires and wildest passions overwhelm him, and he becomes driven by lust, using force and fraud to take whatever he wants. The tyrant is both a slave to his lusts, and a master to whomever he can enslave.
Who is the best leader?
Plato did not share the American Founder’s depth of psychology, or of cynicism. Plato imagined that a good human – a Great Leader – could be forged by careful attention to the youth, selecting from among the best and brightest to find the most noble leader.
The Puritanism of early America was perhaps more accurate regarding human nature; that humans are fallible no matter what. The founders expected that, since government grants power, and people lust after power to a greater and lesser degree, then by some form of natural selection, the individuals who rise to the top are those who are most skilled in manipulation and achieving power. The refutation of this argument comes from doubt as to the nature of Original Sin. The support comes from a good close look at Uncle Joe Stalin.
Communism and American liberal democracy differ in two notable ways: The certainty or disbelief in essential identity of the human soul, that the existential value of one person cannot be compared in degree to the value of another; we are all human. Of this, the Communist insists that nature is dictated by economic class. But Communism offers the naivete and hubris of the certainty of the Perfect Leader; liberal democracy insists that this fiction is impossible, and only exists as a delusion in the public mind. The supporting argument is Plato’s Republic – the opposing argument, North Korea’s Li’l Kim.
The Promise of Transhuman Futurism
Humans are doomed to pursue the ideal that we can use our rational capacity to live rationally, and as a structure of our social being.
Thoreau pursued it in solitude:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” He lived by the pond as a solitary Protestant monastic.
That’s fine, but often we get out and chat about our swellness to others, and many of them are taken in. Ma Jones offers the following warning (link)
After 150 years, Walden endures as a monument to frugality, solitude, and sophomore-year backpacking trips. Yet it’s Thoreau’s ulterior motive that has the most influence today. He was one of the first to use lifestyle experimentation as a means to becoming a published author. Going to live by the pond was a philosophical decision, but it was also something of a gimmick. And if you want to land a book deal, you gotta have a gimmick. Recently, with “green living” having grown into a thriving and profitable trend, the sons and daughters of Thoreau are thick on the ground. Not many retreat to the woods anymore, but there are infinite ways to circumscribe your life: eat only at McDonald’s, live biblically, live virtually, spend nothing. Is it still possible to “live deliberately”? What wisdom do we take away from our postmodern cabins?
Since the laws and fundamentals of human nature are not up to our intellectual greatness – it takes intellectual greatness to recognize this – we have to take a rational plan to achieving the ultimate society, rather than just a shed by a lake. Thoreau’s mom is rumored to have brought him his lunch quite frequently, it seems.
We now propose that we can create rules for thinking machines, and those thinking machines, by following rational rules, can herd their human cattle into a more rational future. It’s amusing until someone tries to make it work, e.g. the EMR and modern American medicine.
Often herding the cats involves culling the ‘bad ones’ out – those that tend to stray off. Given enough time and birdshot, one can select, in a Darwinian way, for the most obedient cats, those less likely to stray at the report of a shotgun. It takes time.
The New Sunshine of Political Theory
We are caught in a struggle between “Let’s get STOOPID!” and “Let’s get real smart, do what I say.” They pretend to differ; the followers wear differently-colored uniforms to tell the teams apart.
We learn the form, but not the movement. We pretend that to be able to act independently is somehow detrimental to the Greater Good. We posit that a finite set of assertions, algorithms or facts will contain the True Meaning. We do that. Throughout our vast growth of civilization and polity, a mass of great practical ideas, we still are afflicted with the habit of thinking we can create the future under our own present terms. We will keep doing that, and we will wind up looking like the cartoon of the guy with the exploding cigar. (Thanx to Mark Sheeran)