Sunday, December 29, 2013

Duck Dynasty Delusions and American Social Cohesion in Jeopardy, Experts Warn

Dateline: WEST MONROE, LA—Phil Robertson, star of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, got into trouble with his politically incorrect comments about homosexuality being un-Christian. For financial reasons, A&E stood by Mr. Robertson, Duck Dynasty will continue filming, and conservative groups have applauded the network.

However, shockwaves from the swirling winds created by the clash between conservative and liberal delusions are still propagating and culture critics warn that they threaten to destroy America with a mega tornado of bluster.

“It’s a true clash of the titans,” said one culture critic. “In one corner, you have fundamentalist Christianity, which A&E can’t afford to alienate since its brand is based on nostalgia for the 1950s myth of the wholesome family and, through a hostile takeover led by the likes of Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell, that myth is now owned by conservative Christianity. In the other corner, you have the progressive champion, Gay Culture, which has been on a tremendous upswing over the last couple of decades.

“America is fervently committed to Christianity, of course, but it’s also just as dedicated to progress. The two are in conflict, so American culture as a whole is effectively one big game in which the people compete for the title of Greatest Hypocrite. But now the conflict has come to a head with the Duck Dynasty fiasco and my colleagues and I are still measuring the aftershock from the titanic clash of self-delusions.”

Another sociologist clarifies: “People think that their conceits can be easily dismissed, that if someone pretends to be something they’re clearly not, we can just laugh off that fakeness. But that’s not how it is, since hardly anyone has the stomach for harsh truths. So we cling to our illusions even though, deep down, we know we can’t take them seriously since they’re fraudulent and often archaic.

“For example, we pay lip service to Christianity, but were Jesus to return he’d set almost all of North America ablaze with unquenchable cosmic fire, sending the hundreds of millions of hypocrites into perdition along with their pets, possessions, and dwelling places. There would be nothing left of us.

“But that’s only the truth, you see. We prefer the false front, the white lie, the mass delusion. That’s where the myths of family and conservative Christianity come in. We can pretend to be good Christians as long as we say an empty prayer a day over an enormous fried dinner, and scapegoat hapless homosexuals—as if Jesus would have thought gay people marrying were the greater cause of suffering than, say, war, the out-of-control prison system, or under-regulated plutocratic capitalism, all of which the conservative ‘Christian’ embraces.

“And liberals, too, need their myths to avoid facing the unpleasant truth. There’s homosexuality in other animal species, but most animals aren’t as self-righteous and preoccupied with abstract ideas as us. So gay people are bound to be ostracized for tribal, moralistic reasons. Those folks should have their human rights, of course, but they ought to be sad, not gay, because they’re stuck in a species that gets carried away by ideologies.

“Also, liberal Christians pretend that even after they read the whole Bible as a subjective metaphor, the remaining religion is the least bit interesting.”

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hope for Sufferers from Crazy Uncle Syndrome

Dateline: NEW YORK—Leo Cornwallis belongs to roughly the third of modern male siblings that suffer from Crazy Uncle Syndrome, according to the Sociological Index of Abnormality. But Leo and a growing number of others like him have sought to mitigate their condition by joining the Crazy Uncles Society.

Morris Pencilpusher, a sociologist at NYU who studies the syndrome, says that most boys in modern societies grow up to be relatively well-adjusted and successful, according to that Index which defines normality in terms of a range of politically correct criteria. But some men are naturally eccentric, unpopular, unemployed, and perhaps homeless.

“Human parents tend to have multiple children for the same reason members of other species do,” said Professor Pencilpusher, “to ensure that at least some of their offspring will know what the hell they’re doing in life and won’t fritter away their time until they’re left to twiddle their thumbs alone in the corner.

“Inevitably,” he continued, “some genetic mutations will be misaligned with the environment in important ways, so the bearers of those genes won’t succeed in many of their endeavours. Their failures will force them to compensate with madness, which blocks out the harsh reality. The dregs of humanity prefer to live in a fantasy world, just as the normal folks would prefer not to have the losers in their midst.”

“You can imagine how hard it is for me at my extended family reunions,” said Leo. “Me, I’m single with no children or prospects, and I’m broke, unemployed, and middle-aged. My insanity keeps me active, but I have to work extra hard at those reunions to block out all of the success on display. I mean, one of my brothers is a doctor, the other an astronaut. My sisters-in-law are lawyers. My parents and grandparents are rich, as are most of my uncles and aunts. So when they get together, their wealth and happiness go with them. Their conversations and mannerisms overflow with signs of their normality.

“As for me, I don’t fit in so well. I’d rather talk about ideas in philosophy, religion, or politics. The normals just sigh and say, ‘There goes crazy Uncle Leo again, always barking his madness in our direction.’ And then I have to ignore that snub and my craziness takes over. Sometimes I’ll jump into the kitchen sink and swing the microwave over my head by its cord like a morning star. Maybe I’ll dance around the living room, shirtless, while my normal family members are exchanging pleasantries and sipping coffee. And they’ll laugh at me and say again, ‘There’s crazy Uncle Leo for you.’”

The Crazy Uncles Society has been a boon for ostracized cretins like Leo. “When I feel I’m about to explode with pent-up eccentricity, I head straight to my chapter of the Society and let it all out,” he says. “We crazy uncles support each other’s madness. Our little reunions are very different from those preferred by normals, let me tell you. At the Society, no one bats an eye if you feel like ramming your head through a wall or not showering or shaving for a week or being an alienated loser, drifting through the concrete jungle with nothing to distract you from the private hell of your vision of life’s absurdity. I can even have a philosophical conversation with a fellow crazy uncle without everyone thinking I’m wasting my time on nonsense.”

Monday, December 23, 2013

Victims of Ice Storm learn Horrible True Meaning of Christmas

Dateline: TORONTOMany Torontonians and Americans have had their power knocked out by a catastrophic ice storm, but some are taking solace in the fact that being cursed with such utter darkness has taught them the true, horrible meaning of Christmas.

The ice storm has brought down thousands of large tree branches which knocked out power lines, causing power outages in the homes of over 200,000 Torontonians alone. Huddling around their candles, fireplaces, and flashlights, in the bitter coldness of the Canadian winter, with darkness falling at 4:30pm, some of these haggard Canadians have rediscovered the original purpose of Christmas.

“It suddenly dawned on me,” said one Torontonian, holding his two children by the fireplace in his living room which has become his family’s makeshift bedroom. “With all this coldness and darkness and with the winter solstice coincidentally happening right about now, who needs this nonsensical Santa Claus fellow? It’s all about the sun, isn’t it? Sol Invictus, as the Romans used to call it, the Unconquered Sun. What’s the point of worshipping Jesus, either? Without the sun, we’d really be screwed.

“You don’t appreciate the sun until it’s gone for a long while and you’re left without substitutes like commercial light bulbs or power generators. Not until you’re sitting in your house, which feels more like a cave in the evening and nighttime, with all the lights out and no heating or distractions from TV or the internet—not until you’re looking out the window at the desolation, at the trees torn in two by the weight of the frozen branches and at the fire trucks going by and the ice coating absolutely everything outside, that you start to beg for the sun to return.

“How spoiled we’ve become with this Santa Claus impostor! Jesus said to give away all your possessions, because you’ve got more important things to do, worrying about, you know, your eternal destiny in the afterlife. And now on Jesus’s alleged birthday we’re supposed to be consumed with acquiring more and more possessions? How obscene is that?

“Anyway, I’ve got even more important things to worry about now, like keeping my kids from freezing to death. Bless the sun’s return in full force around our silly little Christmas Day!”

Asked about the true meaning of Christmas, the shivering Torontonian said, “It’s that we’re no better off in some ways than our ancient ancestors who literally worshipped the sun. But the sun’s not alive. Neither, of course, is the freezing rain. We’re at the mercy of indifferent natural forces.

“By all means, let’s be jolly when the days will finally start to get longer around Dec 25. But is it too much to ask to spare a thought for the true hero in all of this and not be distracted with tales of some fat guy who cares too much about children? Or with myths of some ancient bearded dude who would pretty much hate all of us awful hypocrites if he were still around? Bless the sun, I say! And to you, Unconquered Sun, even though you can’t hear me and you couldn’t care less, I say, irrationally: Get yourself back here ASAP before I freeze my balls off!”

Sunday, December 22, 2013

RWUG News

Just a quick note: the search function on this blog hasn't worked for a long while, but I've recently replaced it with some HTML code that works. So now you can search this blog again. The search tool is located down on the right, just above the labels. 

And if you're reading this blog on a mobile device's tiny screen, you won't see the search tool (or the labels). But that's OK, because you don't need no stinking search tool, right? 

Also, I've added a menu at the top with quick links to separate parts of this blog.

Happy holidays everyone!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wall Street Banks’ Financial Dealings stump the Lord Almighty

Dateline: NEW YORK—A cabal of Wall Street bankers runs a global crime syndicate that buys the regulators of their industry, rigs the rules of the market, and uses convoluted financial instruments and bogus mathematical models to siphon cash from the majority of people in modern economies, according to many experts. However, no judge or jury has convicted the bankers of any crime, because no one other than the bankers understands exactly how they’re doing what they’re doing.

“That’s all going to change,” said Laura Lickspittle, head of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, which is supposed to regulate the black hole that is the financial securities industry. “As our critics point out, the SEC has resorted to employing a workforce of hundreds of trained monkeys instead of people, because of budget cuts and a lack of political will to learn about the nature of global financial fraud. As you can probably tell from my fur, I myself am merely a monkey.

“But we begged Washington for assistance. ‘Mr. President,’ I told him, ‘you know, we’re just a lot of shrieking monkeys over here compared to the diabolical masterminds we’re up against. We need help.’”

Help came in the form of aliens from another planet. “I had this ace in my back pocket,” said the president. “We’d made secret contact with the Poindexters years ago. Now we’ve asked them to prosecute the Wall Street bankers and they’ve agreed.”

The Poindexters are an advanced extraterrestrial species specializing in the science that sustains a number of intergalactic empires. “We conquer planets before breakfast,” said the top Poindexter adjudicator, upon the alien race’s arrival on Earth. “So we think we can figure out what your bankers are doing to you.”

The trial lasted several weeks, during which time the Poindexter attorneys struggled to explain the alleged financial crimes to a jury and to counter the Wall Street lawyers’ obfuscations. The prosecutors’ efforts were hampered by the jury’s inability to stay awake for much of the trial.

In the end, when the jury voted to acquit on all charges, the Poindexters conceded defeat. “We tried to untangle the bankers’ sinister schemes. We really did. But these guys are friggin criminal geniuses. I mean, come on! In fact, we’d like to take them off your hands for you. We could use their weapons of mass economic destruction—however the hell those weapons work.”

The bankers refused to leave Earth, which led the president to invoke Plan B. “I’m shooting for the fences on this one,” he said. “I happen to have a second back channel. This time, I’m calling on God.”

With transcendent splendor, the creator of the universe materialized in front of the White House. His voice boomed as he declared, “I’m not supposed to be judging anyone yet, but I’ve had a look at the evidence. As to how the bankers’ financial instruments work, I’m stumped. I don’t have the foggiest idea what those wonks are up to—and I design universes for a living, so this doesn’t sit well with me.”

God vanished and the stock market shot up a million points.

Robopundit Alex Castellanos soft sells Republican Anarchism

Dateline: PALO ALTO—Robotics Corp, a Fortune 500 company, treated reporters to a behind-the-scenes look at the manufacturing of their preprogramed artificial persons for use in selling conservative policies in the United States. The featured model is called the Alex Castellanos, which belongs to the company’s Moderation Class of automata.

“We have three classes of automated pundits that we design and assemble here at Robotics Corp,” boasted the CEO Tom Fiddlesticks. “There’s the Mad Dog, which we license exclusively to Fox News. There’s the Neuter, used mostly on liberal networks like MSNBC. The Neuter we just program to sound more or less like liberals so it can then quibble with the liberal pundits and distract and confuse the viewers. And then there’s my favourite class, the Moderate, which is featured on networks like CNN that appeal to viewers who pretend they can tell the difference between facts and infotainment.”

Often mistaken for a flesh and blood person, the robopundit Alex Castellanos has worked on numerous Republican presidential campaigns, including George W. Bush’s, and is billed as a guest commentator on CNN where he sells right-wing policies which, if enacted, would usher in a nakedly plutocratic and neofeudal slaughterhouse the likes of which hasn’t offended the conscience since the age of the robber barons.

“What I love most about the Castellanos model are the little details,” said Mr. Fiddlesticks. “Castellanos’s facial features and voice were designed to make the Republican policies he defends seem as harmless as possible. The sad, drooping eyelids, the well-groomed moustache, the extra pounds in the cheeks and throat which put at ease the average, obese American viewer; and then there’s the real kicker, which is his voice. The timbre was calculated to be silky-smooth and winsome so that no matter how atrocious the implications of what this robot is saying, you just want to wrap yourself up in a warm blanket and fall asleep listening to more of what he’s selling. It’s a thing of beauty.”

The Castellanos model never loses its temper on television, assured Mr. Fiddlesticks. “His programming forbids it, whereas the Mad Dog model is just the opposite. Castellanos masterfully soft sells even the most demonic of Republican ravings. He can mitigate the worst of the horrors that creep and crawl out of the Republican Party.”

Thanks to the narrow parameters of television punditry, only the top half of robopundits need be manufactured. So when a live CNN segment has been aired, a team of handlers wheels the legless Alex Castellanos off stage and into a portable engineering station for daily maintenance. Said Mr. Fiddlesticks, “The engineers will grease the moustache, test the voice modulator, and buff the eyeballs so they twinkle just right. For that winning smile, they’ll use car wax.”

As Robotics Corp’s financials indicate, there’s a booming market for conservative robopundits. “Viewers have a superabundance of information on the internet,” explains Mr. Fiddlesticks, “so plutocrats face the challenge of managing public opinion in the face of the grotesque lopsidedness of their policies.” Most observers around the world agree that only the top one percent of the American population benefits from the Republican platform, just as only the handful of aristocratic families lived in luxury during the medieval Dark Age while the massive peasantry toiled all day and subsisted on gruel.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Love or Disgust? A Christian debates a Misanthrope

            Standing on a downtown street corner was a new monastic Christian named Jason, who wore a sort of monk’s robe with a large hood, long dreadlocks, and glasses. Beside Jason was a crude sign saying “Jesus was homeless.” Jason bid passersby a good morning, most of whom ignored him completely, but when one fellow crossed his path—a balding man in shabby clothes—the fellow smiled and Jason asked, “Why are you smiling, friend?”
“I just thought you were staging some sort of postmodern play or performance art, since you look like a medieval monk or something.”
“I’m just a Christian.”
“Yeah, I can tell that from your sign, but you’re not what someone would expect from a Christian nowadays.”
“No, I’m not. I agree completely. I should be more specific and identify myself as a new monastic Christian. It’s a Christian movement dedicated to getting at the essence of Jesus’s message and making it relevant to the modern world.”

Authentic Christianity

            “What’s that essence?”
            “To love fellow people as much as you love yourself.”
            “Alright and how is that relevant today?”
            “Well, Jesus’s message is relevant in that it’s radical in our egoistic societies. After modern science and capitalism and democracy, not to mention the flawed examples set by most Western churches, it’s subversive to speak of the moral imperative to love each other as companions in this fallen world. Instead, we’re taught to look out mainly for ourselves, to compete and horde possessions like dragons, to fight and kill, to divide and conquer. Jesus’s message amounts to radical egalitarianism and socialism. If practiced, it would set the modern world on fire.”
            “Are you saying the Church should be a humanistic, communist enterprise? Aren’t Christians supposed to glorify Jesus and recognize that they can’t do anything right themselves, that we’ve just got to grovel now and wait for Jesus to return to fix the world, because of our tendency to corrupt everything?”
            “Ha ha! No, that’s the ‘conservative Christian’ distortion of Jesus’s message. You’ll hear it from these so-called evangelical Christians who are in bed with the most anti-spiritual libertarians and crony capitalists you’ll ever want to meet. They say we’ve got to idolize the Bible, follow its every letter, and worship Jesus. I do think Jesus was divine, but God didn’t make me a simpleton. I happen to know about the political and theological divisions between the early Christian sects which led to the canonization of scripture.
“The Bible is a political document, you know. The Gnostics and the Jewish Christians under James became marginalized and the winners got to write Church history to rationalize their compromise with the Roman Empire. The Gnostics taught individual empowerment through the divine power within each of us, while the universalists wanted to establish a global version of Judaism for the gentiles, under a power hierarchy headed by a Caesar-like pope with absolute authority through the Holy Spirit. And so they interpreted Paul’s letters, forged some others, and selected some interpolated gospel narratives to support those ambitions.
“By the time you reach modern Christianity, you’re talking about grotesque political compromises that are antithetical to what Jesus’s life was about. You have to read between the lines provided by the Catholic Church, which won out in the early power struggle, but Jesus was clearly a socialist, a pacifist, and an uncompromising moralist. He was a spiritual visionary with his eyes set on an ideal world. Compared with his ideal, the real world is revolting, and he lived with that contrast in mind. That’s why he didn’t care about earthly happiness. We’ll be happy in heaven, where we belong.”
“So it’s left versus right-wing Christians, is that it? Each reads into Jesus what they want to see. Leftists want a radical Marxist and conservatives want an authoritarian to rubberstamp our animalistic side, our tendency to divide into warring groups of rich and poor, friend and foe, patriot and traitor.”
“I’m curious where you’re coming at this from, friend, since you sound like you’ve put some thought into this already. But I agree that that’s what the conservatives are doing. However, new monasticism isn’t the same as liberalism or socialism. There’s some overlap on various social issues, such as vegetarianism, the death penalty, wealth distribution, and so on, but I’m an ascetic like Jesus. Liberals defend private property and communists worship the state. I don’t say the state should have totalitarian control over all the nation’s wealth, but I also think we have a moral and a spiritual duty to think long-term and to care most about what’s really important, which is each other’s welfare, not about signaling how much more happy and popular we are on account of our wealth and power. We should voluntarily renounce much of what we take for granted, because it’s bad for our spiritual well-being. And I don’t worship the state. I worship the divine spark of consciousness in each of us, which makes us truly equal.”
“Hmm. I can go along with much of that, as it turns out. But there are sticking points…”

Saturday, December 14, 2013

RWUG News

Hi, all! Hope you're having a pleasant holiday. 

Thanks to all of you who bought my first novel, God Decays. I wanted to let you know that a reader has set up a forum to discuss the book, and that I've started writing the sequel. 

Also, I'm planning to invade YouTube soon, to let everyone there know that they're trapped within an undead god. That should be fun. 

On another note, my satirical news pieces are appearing also on websites that specialize in that sort of thing, such as GlossyNews and The Spoof. If you like satirical writing, you'll find a lot more of it on those sites. When I've written enough of those articles, I'll collect them in a special PDF.

Cheers! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Smart Phones Turn their Users into Assholes, Researchers say

Dateline: BERKELEYWhile many Americans are reeling from the news that the NSA is spying on their locations by tracking their mobile devices, social scientists are concerned about a more existential threat: those devices are turning people into assholes.

Ordinary users of smart phones, eReaders, and the like are noticing the change. Said one, “A decade ago, you used to be able to have a friendly chat with a stranger. But now everyone’s always wired in; they’re looking down at their mini computers, texting or tweeting someone, googling this or that, or playing a game app. You’ll be asking someone a question and he’ll be multitasking, giving you only half his attention while he’s checking his email.”

Social scientists at UC Berkeley have a theory to explain what’s happening. They call it assholization. It began long ago, they say, at the dawn of technology. Tools made us more efficient and powerful and that started turning our ancient ancestors into assholes. “It’s largely just a matter of being corrupted by power,” says Dr. Stanley Pishposh, the lead researcher at Berkeley studying this phenomenon. “At one point, long, long ago, we must have been settling disputes with just our fists. Then we invented the ax and those earliest ax users were perhaps the first full-fledged assholes to walk the planet. They bullied those without axes, you see. Again, we used to have to run from here to there. Then we domesticated horses and you had the rise of the nobles who could afford them—again, big-time assholes, thanks to that advance in technology.

“Then the car replaced the horse and you saw this exponential increase in assholization. Now there’s road rage and street racing and running through stop signs and monster truck rallies. There are the drivers that cut you off and drive slowly in the passing lane and give you the finger and sell you a lemon of a used car and key your car doors and listen to assholian talk show hosts on the car radio. Cars have made us even bigger assholes.

“Finally, there’s computerization, which really tips the scales. Technologies like the internet and mobile devices make us incredibly more powerful than our ancestors, which naturally corrupts us all the more. You have anonymity on the internet which turns people into trolls terrorizing cyberspace. You’ve got curt emails, intelligence-draining tweets, and assholes showing their penises in video chat rooms. You’ve got computer viruses and spam and popup ads, all brought to you by monumental assholes.”

We used to have to rely on morality or the law to defend us when we couldn’t ensure our security because we had so few tools, but now we have an army of machines that makes us feel invincible. According to Dr. Pishposh, “nine times out of ten, a primate with nothing to fear acts like an asshole.”

The researchers hypothesize that we’re adapting to an environment that contains more and more machines, which makes us more robotic in our thinking and behaviour. “Computers don’t yet have much emotional capacity,” explains Dr. Pishposh. “There’s something about programming a computer with a lot of math and logic; you don’t get much intuition or feeling out of that machine. So assholization itself begins with the advent of technology. An ax is an asshole. Just try dropping one on your foot and you’ll see what I mean. The ax won’t get out of the way, let me tell you. And a car is a big, whopping asshole. Cars kill people all the time, the buggers. And computers, too—assholes, the lot of them. They cost an arm and a leg, they always crash on you, and you think your porn is well-hidden, but no it turns out you forgot to password-protect one of the directories and then your wife finds it. I hate it when that happens.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sexism and the Horror of Sex

Standup comedians make much of their living by poking fun at the battle between the sexes. The audience laughs in lieu of thanking the comedian for providing an excuse to disavow the liberal convention of overlooking the manifest cultural differences between the sexes. The comedy often becomes sexist in that the comedian exaggerates the differences between the social roles of men and women, but those differences are real.

The Mystery of Sexism

Nevertheless, the battle of the sexes is mysterious. Sure, some individuals are worse than others, but a collective demonization of women by men and then a counter-demonization of men by women, after feminism, can hardly be justified. There’s a cold war between heterosexual men and women, so that each group has stereotypes of the other, driving each to oppress the other or at least to fantasize about doing so. To be sure, I’m not saying this culture war is entirely inexplicable. Historically, men have tended to oppress women, because men are more aggressive or arrogant; at any rate, men have had more control over the levers of culture and so their stereotypes of women became more widespread, which created a vicious cycle in which men used those stereotypes to justify keeping women as slaves, and women internalized the prejudice, adapted to that cultural environment, and played such degrading conventional roles as the virgin, whore, or crone. But after the modern revolutions, women could define themselves as persons having an equal status with men, which gave women the rights to be educated and to enter the workforce. Now, partly for economic reasons (specifically globalization and the loss of manufacturing jobs due to increasing competition with machines), but also because modern women have more influence over the dissemination of cultural myths, it’s masculine men who are persona non grata in Western, liberal cultures; whereas women were once universally objectified by men, men are now being feminized, emasculated, and duncified in popular culture so that the effeminate gay male has almost replaced the traditional masculine hero.

Again, power and cultural influence explain much of this demonization. But there’s a mystery here, too, which is that we should expect heterosexual men and women to have bonded over what’s typically regarded as the greatest experience in life, that being romantic love culminating in sexual intercourse. How could men or women stand to see each other collectively belittled when sexual tension underlies virtually all of their dealings with each other? Shouldn’t the memory or the prospect of sex make those in power ashamed of demonizing the weaker sex, whichever either happens to be? After all, if heterosexual men rule, tend to look down on women, and yet want to have sex with them, what does that make those men? And if women rule, buy products popularized by ads that portray men as buffoons, and yet women are sexually attracted to competent, masculine men, what does that say about women? Why do men and women sabotage themselves by denigrating the object of their greatest affection? Sexism seems self-defeating, as is strikingly apparent in the ultra-conservative Middle East in which many women are so brutally objectified that they become asexual, such as when they’re forced to wear burkas. In that case, archaic religious memes explain why men with the same sexual lusts as anyone else would repress them and prevent women from tempting them by displaying their enticing body parts. Still, this only pushes the mystery back a step, since then we must ask what drove Muslim men to accept such a sexist religion in the first place in spite of their shared sexual experience with women. How could they have been convinced to condemn their sexuality with such thoroughness, overriding their powerful sexual instinct?

This is the mystery of the war between the sexes. How could heterosexual men and women be made to openly loathe each other in general, despite their bonding over what’s supposed to be the greatest experience, the fulfillment of the meaning of life, and so on, namely the experience of romantic love as expressed especially in the sex act? The solution is that the sexual experience is the source of the conflict, because sex is misrepresented by the cultural happy-talk about it. Of course, sex is exciting and fun and physically pleasurable; just about everyone desires sex more than anything else. But sex is also an existential horror which forces us to confront our embodiment, mortality, animalism, and underlying impersonality, not to mention nature’s mindlessness and thus the subversive implications of atheistic naturalism. The sex instinct is so powerful that we can’t help but celebrate sex in popular culture. But we do so only by showcasing sex in the abstract or meaningless sex between objectified or glorified actors. Our personal sex lives are shameful things that must be kept secret. If you deny this, back up your denial by posting to the internet the details of your sex acts, including your real identity and recordings of your deeds so the public can judge for itself. No, the bond between romantic partners is very much like that between partners in crime: only the sexual partner knows the humiliating nonsense the pair of them gets up to in the bedroom, even if it’s just the look of the person’s face during orgasm, and each partner holds the power of blackmail over the other. I’ve discussed this at length here, here, and here, so I won’t belabor the point.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Rush Limbaugh blasts Pope Francis and the Jesus he rode in on

Responding to Pope Francis’s warning that the “idolatry of money” leads to a “new tyranny,” the conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh spoke on behalf of the demonic powers that govern the material world and that only genuine followers of Jesus can detect.

Just seven or eight such followers currently reside in the United States and when they listen to Limbaugh speak on the radio they report hearing “the howling of the damned” in the background.

The rest of us have only Limbaugh’s words to confirm his satanic allegiance. After calling the pope’s warning “pure Marxism,” Limbaugh said “The value of anything is established in the private sector,” thus testifying to the very idolatry of money of which the pope spoke in his Evangelii.

Limbaugh later contradicted himself by saying that the reason America is the greatest nation in the universe is that its founding documents enshrine “the notion that we are all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, meaning nobody can take 'em away, and that is the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights come from our creator, God” (sic).

So those rights derive not from the market but directly from God. Here, Limbaugh proves himself to be a polytheist since he evidently worships not just money but his country. This speaks, in fact, to the American conservative’s definition of “patriotism”: you’ve got to believe your country is infallible and sacred or else you’re a traitor.

After centuries of selectively quoting from the Bible to achieve his purposes, the Devil has turned to cunningly interpreting the intentions of America’s founding fathers, thus distracting many Americans with a xenophobic civic religion that substitutes for the Christian one to which most Americans say they adhere, according to the lying polls.

Whereas Jesus said people should care more about the afterlife than about the present, fallen world, which is governed by demonic forces until Judgment Day when the hidden Father will reveal himself and establish his perfect kingdom, two-faced “conservatives” like Limbaugh insist that we should be consumed with secular priorities, such as amassing wealth and enjoying our freedom to do whatever we want as long as we don’t hurt anyone else—as if our wants should be respected, given what Christians call our sinful nature.

Jesus said people should give away their possessions and leave their families to demonstrate their commitment to the spiritual world that transcends the material one. Speaking for the Devil who enjoys misleading gullible Christians, Limbaugh said that “Wherever socialists have gained power, they have done nothing but spread poverty. They cannot and do not produce wealth”—as if a talent for producing material wealth in a fallen world that’s red in tooth and claw were an indicator of spiritual greatness and should impress a genuine Christian for even a single moment.   

Monday, December 2, 2013

Stoicism and Cosmic Horror

The stranger the postmodern Western world becomes, the more we might hear plaintive calls for a return to Stoic level-headedness. Jon Stewart’s centrist political rally expressed a similar sentiment. Centrists want our leaders to be at least halfway competent so they can “get stuff done,” and that requires a rational set of priorities. Indeed, there are intriguing ideas in ancient Stoicism, but I think they should be updated by existential and cosmicist interpretations of philosophical naturalism.

Cynics and Stoics

Stoicism, founded by Zeno of Citium in the 4th C. BCE, was influenced by ancient Cynicism, so I’ll begin by summarizing some relevant Cynic beliefs. Ancient Cynicism was a form of asceticism, so you can see that it differs greatly from the modern meaning of “cynic.” The Cynics agreed with Plato, Aristotle, and with Greek ethicists generally that happiness is the primary good in life and that rationality is crucial to achieving it. But whereas most Greek philosophers taught that a virtuous balance between reason and emotion was a means to various practical ends, such as excellence in some profession, the Cynics believed that virtue was its own reward and that worldly pursuits tended to corrupt the character, dull the critical faculties, and mislead a person by distracting her with trivialities. Reason, the Cynics thought, shows us clearly what is of ultimate importance, and that is the everlasting natural world. Along with the much-later Romantics who rebelled against modern forms of decadence, the Cynics’ central distinction was between nature, which is to say the wilderness, and what we might think of as artificiality, which is to say the arbitrary social convention that doesn’t correspond with any natural reality.

Our moral duty, then, is to understand nature and to live as relatively wild creatures, not to be misled by social expectations which are brought on by ignorance and delusion. The reason this is our duty is that such an unburdened, ascetic life frees us from stress and from unrealistic, unfulfillable desires, and thus makes for happiness in the sense of tranquility. Artificiality is the root of evil (vice) and suffering, since when we become proud of so-called human progress we form unnatural desires and set up unrealistic plans which nature is bound to frustrate. Wise people live in accordance with nature; they use ascetic techniques of non-attachment to train themselves to want only what will probably be provided, not to set themselves up for failure and misery by living in a fantasy world. The Cynics were infamous, though, because far from merely ignoring the phony world of popular culture, they openly ridiculed those attached to fantasies of being supernatural masters of the world who owe nothing to nature because they occupy the self-made artificial world we call civilization. Anyone who routinely condescends to the other species, by assuming that humans have some right of dominion over the world because of our innate greatness is a fool whom nature will punish. The Cynics acted like ravens sounding their ominous warnings of the downfall that inevitably follows this popular sort of pride, mocking upstanding citizens who in turn regarded Cynics as deranged for living like beasts and renouncing the fruits of social progress. Indeed, Cynics called themselves dogs, they owned no possessions, and they might masturbate in public or otherwise demonstrate their contempt for average people’s presumptions.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

PDF Installments of RWUG

Here are the eBook installments of this blog: 

First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth

Note that the first one is really long (about 700 pages).

Here's a special installment: Artificiality and the Aesthetic Dimension.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Backward-Walking Politician has Limited Use of Political Platitudes

Dateline: WASHINGTONDue to a rare neurological disorder, Rupert Farfenoogle can walk only backwards. He can’t face backwards, so he uses a system of rearview mirrors strapped around his upper arms to see where he’s walking.

From a young age, Mr. Farfenoogle dreamed of being a politician. “I just thought of how great it would be,” he said, “to exploit people’s naivety, to tell them lies to make them feel good so they’d give me power which I could use to enrich myself.

“Like all politicians-in-training I attended The Machiavelli School for Rapscallions. There I learned how to subdue my conscience, to see the horrors of the real world ever so clearly, and to keep those revelations a secret so I could smile and nod and shake hands with the best of them. I learned how to be cynical, to hold average people in contempt so that I could ignore how they think society should be run and I could fob off my talking points on them.”

But when it came time to graduate and Mr. Farfenoogle was told the inner secrets of his craft, he became dismayed. “They showed me a list of principles, which they said were the bedrocks of politics. One of them shocked me and I still remember the exact words: ‘When you’ve run out of lies and you’re in danger of letting the public see how hollow you are, just tell them we’ve all got to move forward.’ That was it, you see. ‘Move forward.’ But how could I resort to that vacuous cliché, in my condition? If I literally couldn’t move forward, how could I rely on that stale metaphor to get me out of trouble? Wouldn’t that hackneyed standby line backfire on me? But wouldn’t I be a hopelessly ineffectual politician without it?”

Nevertheless, Mr. Farfenoogle did enter politics and was elected to office. “At first I coasted on my disability, since I could just tell the public sob stories so they’d vote for me out of pity. But then—disaster! I was being interviewed by a pack of reporters and suddenly I realized I’d run out of preapproved talking points. It was like losing your life preserver and being cast adrift at sea. ‘How do you respond to that specific criticism?’ they kept asking me, and I was running on empty. Should I risk an invocation of forward motion? I thought, even though I could move only backward. Shall I still fall back on that platitude? I had no choice since the alternative was to have an actual public conversation. But that would have exposed my sociopathy, which I’d cultivated while training to be a politician.

“So I intoned the magic words: ‘In any case, we must move forward,’ I said, pretending I was being wise and profound. ‘Now’s not the time for looking back.’ Then I warmed to the theme: “No, forward we must go as a people, ever onward…’ I carried on and on like that, wondering if I was making a fool of myself—especially since I’d decided then to make my exit and was forced to physically back away from that crowd. I used the mirrors at my side as I took those backward steps to the hall that led to my office. Glancing forward at the reporters, I tripped over a garbage bin and soiled my suit with the remnants of a Diet Coke can. I’m sure I was blushing, but the mesmerism seemed to work since the reporters just stood there like they couldn’t have been more bored.”

Months went by and Mr. Farfenoogle routinely filled the awkward public silences with calls for everyone to move forward. He would answer substantive criticisms of his policies on immigration or health care or the war on terrorism with the bromide, “Yes, well, surely we can’t move backward.” Despite the fact that Mr. Farfenoogle would sometimes take long backward strides even as he spoke those words, his critics were stymied.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Enlightenment and Suicide

Is there such a thing as a pessimistic, nihilistic, or otherwise melancholy person who’s not also a hypocrite? This question is at the root of a conventional criticism of anyone who subscribes to some dark way of looking at things. The natural suspicion is that believing that life is wretched and hopeless should lead the person to suicide, so if the person chooses instead to keep living, the person's philosophical beliefs must be phony. In fact, the philosophy I’ve been exploring on this blog, which draws from existentialism and cosmicism, among other sources, is pretty grim and iconoclastic, so does it also imply that life isn’t worth living? To anticipate the conclusion, the answer is no.

The Dark Side of Existential Cosmicism

It’s important here to distinguish between having a cause and having a reason to kill yourself. Any cause of suicide must overcome the instincts that drive us to keep going even under dire circumstances. Some people’s instinctive will to live might be stronger or weaker than that of others, so different situations may prove unbearable to different people. In any case, this question of what might cause someone to take her life differs from the question I’ll try to answer here, which is whether a melancholy worldview, and in particular the one I’ve laid out, might provide a good, which is to say, a sufficient, reason for suicide. Notice that you can have such a reason but not the cause, because your will to live may be stronger than your rational side which recognizes the logic of the reason in question. This is the basis of the criticism of melancholy individuals: their reason tells them the proper course, but they lack the courage or the intelligence to follow through, that is, to overcome the pro-life forces both in them and in society.

Now I’ll summarize what seem like the pro-death parts of my philosophy, to see whether they imply a reason for suicide. To begin with, I assume naturalistic metaphysics, according to which science tells us what the fundamental facts are, and I interpret the social relevance of that naturalism in a way influenced by Nietzsche, Thomas Ligotti, Leo Strauss, and others. So of course I assume atheism. There’s no personal God. But with Nietzsche, I assume there’s a good reason the majority of people throughout history have been theists. There are many explanations of the prevalence of theism, but the one that’s most relevant to the existential question at issue, about whether life is worth living, is that we all have an irrational side that makes us want to trust in myths and believe in something sacred. That’s why we conceive of God (and of all manner of other supernatural entities) in the first place, even as children like to play with their invisible friends. The crisis of postmodernity is that we’ve killed the God we created, because of the Enlightenment, so that now we’re left with the threat of nihilism, that is, with the feelings that nothing’s sacred and that life is absurd. This is all just standard Nietzsche. I reject, however, Nietzsche’s solution to this crisis, which is to glorify the natural impulse to cherish life because of the opportunity it gives the strong to overpower the weak. I agree with Nietzsche’s aesthetic take on viable morality, but I don’t think power for itself is a worthy goal, nor do I feel that raw natural processes are sacred.

Granted, I do think naturalism implies a kind of pantheism, according to which natural processes are supremely divine in that they’re ultimately creative. But I don’t commit the naturalistic fallacy of inferring that because something is absolutely X (in this case, creative) as a matter of fact, therefore that thing is highly good because of that fact. That hasty evaluation would leave open the questions of whether creativity ought to be valued at all and whether it should have a positive or a negative value. Perhaps nature is absolutely repulsive because of its supreme creativity, since nature creates new things by destroying old ones. Even if naturalists should worship nature, the question would remain whether they should be tree-hugging hippies or wiccans, on the one hand, or doom-and-gloom Satanists or neo-Lovecraftian cultists, on the other. I’m inclined to think either that all valuations are subjective or that nature’s authentic, most fitting value is beyond our comprehension, so that we can only project onto the universe a value that satisfies us.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Torontonians fear Mayor Rob Ford’s Scandals make their City too Interesting

Dateline: TORONTO—Toronto’s citizens are mortified by the world’s mockery of their Mayor Rob Ford for his many scandals, such as his admitting to having smoked crack cocaine while in office, because they fear Toronto will lose its status as the world’s most boring big city.

“We just want everything to go back the way it was,” said one Torontonian, “when no one cared about Toronto. We want to fly under the world’s radar so we can keep living in quiet desperation. Is that too much to ask? To not have a crazy circus come to town, so I can get on with wasting my life?

“What we need is a robot with no personality, like our Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Now there’s a leader for you: hair like a piece of Lego, never offends anyone, never rocks the boat. We need an empty suit as our leader to reflect our blissful lack of any worthwhile culture.”

Another Torontonian is even more candid. “Rob Ford broke his contract with us. He’s supposed to lie to the people about absolutely everything. That’s what we elect them for, right? But Ford can’t stop speaking his mind. Doesn’t he know that politicians are supposed to be the cream of the crop? Truth-telling children grow up to be adults who lie constantly to themselves and to others, and then they choose the most pathological of the liars among them and elect them to lead the people to disaster. That’s how we go from A to B.

“I mean, sure, Ford lied for a while about smoking crack. He did his best to be a politician there. But he’s constantly gaffing: it’s one thing to have no respect whatsoever for the liberals on the Toronto City Council or for the downtown elitists or even for the institution of Canadian government. But as any kind of executive, surely you’re supposed to keep your grudges a secret so you can more easily backstab your enemies.”

However, Mr. Ford shows no sign of being less forthright with his opinions. “I’m no phony or snob,” the mayor said in an improvised press conference. “I say what I want, just like any average Joe, and if you don’t like it you can go fuck yourself. Especially you, John,” Mr. Ford said, pointing at a CBC reporter. “Right now you’re taking notes so the liberal pundits at CBC can make fun of everything I do. Let me tell you something: the CBC is a bunch of pussies. They have the nerve to call themselves ‘Canada’s number one news network’—even though they wouldn’t survive without the taxpayer subsidies. What a bunch of flaming girly-men and feminazis.

“Now, I’ve got a lot of work to do, lowering taxes so the blue collar folks around here don’t get raped by Toronto’s stuck-up socialists who have their heads up their asses, eating cheese while riding around on their bicycles like it’s the 19th century. Hello! Get yourself a car or get the hell off the road and take your airy-fairy, artsy-fartsy nanny state with you!”

The mayor proceeded to bowl over a bevy of journalists and cameramen, landing especially hard on the CBC reporter, whom he sat on in the confusion.

Mr. Ford’s psychiatrist, Dr. Rudolph Hornswoggler, admits that “People roll their eyes when Ford calls himself an average guy, because he’s—you know—a morbidly obese multimillionaire. But according to my diagnosis, the mayor is an avatar of the Id, like Rabelais’s bawdy character, Gargantua. All of us have embarrassing unconscious desires, but we learn to repress them to get on as civilized adults. Ford’s having none of that. He has gargantuan appetites, because he embodies what we think of as the worst in all of us. Thus, he's an everyman, after all.”

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tribal Antics of Canadian Question Period melt Face off of Skull

Dateline: OTTAWA—A study headed by Dr. Lawrence Dipplerdoo, medical researcher at McGill University, indicates that excessive exposure to Question Period at the Canadian House of Commons can be fatal. In an interview with RWUG Magazine, Dr. Dipplerdoo said that if you watch all 45 minutes of a Question Period, from beginning to end, there’s a statistically significant chance that your face will melt off of your skull and land in your lap.

The period officially called Oral Questions occurs each sitting day in Ottawa and allows the opposing parties to seek information from the Canadian government. Parties pose a limited number of timed questions to ministers, depending on the size of their caucus, and one or another minister rises to respond.

“Theoretically,” said Dr. Dipplerdoo, “a public exchange like that between elected politicians should be benign or even salutary. Transparency in government is widely assumed to be a virtue. But my team has discovered that transparency is beneficial only if what you’re permitted to see isn’t so horrible that the sight of it melts your face off.” Dr. Dipplerdoo therefore recommends either that Question Period be kept from the public “as a sort of lethal secret on par with the true name of God” or that television viewers of the abomination be forewarned that they could be left faceless.  

According to Dr. Dipplerdoo, the risks have gone unreported until now because hardly anyone bothers to watch even a moment of Question Period, let alone the entire daily cacophony, the assumption being that Canadian politics is boring and therefore unworthy of attention or that Question Period is a circus in which nothing is ever resolved amidst all the taunting and sneering. However, Dr. Dipplerdoo noticed that recent cases of human face-melting had a common cause, which was that when the bodies were found, the deceased had been sitting in front of their TVs which were tuned to a station that broadcasts Question Period.

“The petty jeering and juvenile cat-calling, the routine dodging of questions and reciting of mere market-tested talking points, the standard refusal to come clean and level with the public, the hypocritical nitpicking by the opposition that’s never saintly when it’s in charge of Parliament—all of that’s familiar to the minority of Canadians who’ve been brave enough to give even a passing glance at a Question Period,” said Dr. Dipplerdoo. “But what we’ve found is that those corruptions can be concentrated and effectively weaponized.”

The doctor hastens to add that the mechanism by which Question Period can kill its viewers is unknown, but his team hypothesizes that “the Canadian politicians’ soul-crushing cynicism, which is so evident in the farcical Oral Questions, is impossible to ignore or to misinterpret when a viewer absorbs a full dose of that poison. What can literally kill average Canadians is the shock that a government could be so hollow, that so many elected representatives could so recklessly sabotage the disguises for their nihilism—their conservative haircuts, tailored suits, and the like—by demonstrating their bottomless loathing for each other and for all Canadians.”

The doctor said that the depth of that hatred is evidently contagious and proves lethal in sufficiently high doses—unless the viewers are “immunized by a personal reserve of shamelessness.” “After all,” the doctor continued, “the politicians sit through day after day of the absurd goings-on at Question Period with their faces intact. We theorize, then, that viewers could survive a full dose of the poison from the House of Commons as long as they, too, were so jaded that nothing could appall them.”

Monday, November 18, 2013

Life as Art: Nature’s Strangeness and the Aesthetic Attitude

My last several articles have focused on the relationship between nature-as-wilderness and the artificial worlds we create with language, culture, and technology. This distinction comes up in my responses to Brassier’s nihilism and to Scott Bakker’s eliminativism (his view not just that there’s no meaning or value, but that there’s no personal self), in my discussions of the mythopoeic mindset, the Neolithic Revolution, and the development of the autonomous self. The trick is to see the bumbling exaptations and psychological and social tinkerings that complexify biological processes and produce higher-order worlds (language games, worldviews, cultures, infrastructures, cityscapes), which are regulated by prescriptive (optional) laws and intended functions as opposed to being driven by natural probability, as being stages in the greater decay of undead nature.

Metaphysically, as I’ve said elsewhere, the universe is natural in that mental properties aren’t primary, but nature is made up of matter and energy and these come together with their mindless creativity to foreshadow the mentality that has nevertheless developed. This is the key, mysterious concept: natural (not divine) creativity. The Presocratics called this the field of becoming, the impermanence of beings, which is to say the way all things enter and exit a state of being so that the apparent world is always in flux. There are patterns in those changes, including cycles, regularities, hierarchies, and the excrescence of new orders of being, which is the process of complexification. In fact, natural creativity can be mapped on horizontal and vertical axes, in that there’s change within the temporal dimension and also an increase in the variety of game pieces, as it were, from atoms to molecules, to nebulas, galaxies of stars, solar systems, and organisms, social orders, and artificial substitutes for the wilderness. The point is that in the big, metaphysical picture, there’s continuity in the splitting off of artificial worlds which alienate their inhabitants, but there are also revolutions in nature, new starting points for more complex changes. This is because the norm in nature is creativity, the change from the earlier to the later and from the simple to the complex.

Before I move on to other topics, beginning next week, I want to consider one other implication of this picture of the role of artificiality in the creation of meaning and in the world’s re-enchantment. Specifically, I think this picture tells us why morality can be understood as an aesthetic phenomenon. By “morality” I mean the ideal of the good life which we try to achieve by following rules that govern personal growth (virtues and vices) and social interactions. Now, assuming morality is a human creation, it has much in common with art since art too is our creation. But this isn’t saying much, because not all creations are artworks, at least not in the narrow, conventional sense of “art.” So we should look closer at artistic creations. It turns out that since Marcel Duchamp’s urinal and Andy Warhol’s soup can paintings, which is to say the birth of Dadaism and Postmodernism in art, the definition of “art” has broadened to include virtually anything. This might have spelled the death of art or else the re-enchantment of nature. But this may present us merely with a paradox rather than a choice between opposites, since postmodernists may have disposed of an unduly narrow conception of art and thus revealed the fact that everything becomes art for modern naturalists (atheists).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Embittered Man Opens Shelter for Regretful Advertisers

Dateline: NEW YORK—Hugo “Sellout” Slickster, a recovering ex-advertiser, opened The Center for Alienated and Cynical Advertisers (CACA). Its mission is to provide support for advertisers who are withdrawn and embittered because their job forces them to dehumanize consumers and thus themselves.

“I took creative writing in college,” Slickster told the crowd of reporters soon after he’d cut the ceremonial ribbon in front of the New York facility. “Then I realized there’s no money in that for most writers, so I went into advertising. As impractical as it is, I wish I’d stayed in creative writing.”

He recalled the first day of his studies in the field of advertising. “At first, I was taken aback by the focus of the introductory textbook. I thought it would cover the tricks of the trade, maybe how to put an optimistic spin on an imperfect product—that sort of thing. But the first chapter’s title was ‘Why you must Deaden your Heart and Learn to Loathe every Consumer.’ I asked the instructor if this was some sort of joke. She told me that advertising isn’t for bleeding hearts. ‘If you love your fellow man,’ she told me, ‘start a charity. But if you want to go into business, know that you’re in a war. And you can’t destroy your enemies unless you hate them.’ ‘But if you hate and destroy consumers as your enemies,’ I asked her, ‘who will buy the products?’ I’ll never forget what she said next: ‘Consumers are like cockroaches. You can never destroy them all.’

“For weeks I puzzled over what she'd told me and what I read in that textbook. I learned how to build up your contempt for consumers by objectifying them, by thinking of them as market-researched statistics and targeted demographics, as biased bundles of instincts and emotions that are driven by a primitive unconscious which can be enslaved and branded with code words and cognitive framing techniques. I learned how to ‘destroy’ consumers by making suckers out of them, perpetrating bait-and-switch operations by holding out abstract goods like happiness or a satisfying sex life and sticking the buyers only with loosely-associated, low-quality products manufactured by low-wage labourers in the Far East.

"Eventually everything clicked: consumers are loathsome materialists and so they deserve the crap that businesses feed them. Consumers demand this crap! They lap up the frozen foods, the designer underwear, and the mindless television programs as if they were cups of life-sustaining water. So they’re abominable and we advertisers were entitled to abuse them however we wished. In fact, our honour required that we lie to them in a thousand ways, to pay them back for their sinful demands.”

Only years later, after landing a string of advertising jobs, did Slickster realize he was trapped. “It dawned on me that I didn’t live in a cave. I too was a consumer, so as an advertiser I’d been trained to hate myself. That was the trap. It’s one thing to be cynical about your enemies if you can distinguish us from them. But what if there’s no such difference? Does knowing you’re a selfish, self-destructive materialist make you any better than the deluded herd that merely consumes without seeing the whole disgusting process for what it is? No, it only makes you doubly cursed.”

And so for every half-truth Slickster wrote in his advertising copy, for every phony, manipulative situation he conjured in his video or internet propaganda for soulless corporations, he felt he was wounding himself. 

“It was like going into battle with a sword, but every time you stab someone, the sword turns around and slices you too. I had no doubt consumers are pathetic creatures. I’d seen it first-hand; I’d seen the dirty tricks work, seen the masses gobble up the new line of crap in the false, irresponsible hope that those poisonous doodads would give them what they really want out of life, namely something to believe in, something sacred. The hipster secularists thought they were so sophisticated, leaving their church and buying into the hedonistic myths. They forsake their spiritual leaders, the priests and rabbis and imams—who are ignoramuses, of course, but at least they care about people instead of passionately hating them all. And the secularists pledge themselves to the Corporations. They beg hollow parasites like us for salvation, they demand that we make their lives worth living—we who condescend to them so brazenly, with a panoply of professional techniques; we who are forced to demonize them so we can conduct our evil business and feed the cattle a diet of lies.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Personalizing Ourselves: Science, Liberalism, and the Reality of Illusions

At the end of one of our discussions, Scott Bakker concludes, “To say there is no meaning in nature is just to say there is no meaning in us. The death of God is the death of Man. There is no objective subject or subjective object.” I’d like to analyze this conclusion, especially the second of those three sentences, and explore what it means to speak of the difference between natural reality and the illusions of purpose, normativity, and the personal self.

Science Undermines Liberalism

Scott’s provocative comparison of the death of God with the death of the human person should be especially troubling to liberal atheists. The theist, after all, denies that either of those individuals is dead, but the liberal atheist is in danger of inconsistency rather than just of being uninformed. This atheist believes that theologies are fairytales which beguiled our ancient ancestors but which no longer make sense, that when Europeans woke up in the modern age, they lost faith in their monotheistic traditions in just the way that when a child grows up, the adult is no longer interested in children’s stories. Thus, the fictional character called God died in our imagination and that’s all God ever was: a fantasy that captivated most people who ever lived, but that no longer serves as part of a powerful story for those who understand the importance of modern science. And yet, as John Gray argues in Black Mass, liberalism borrows its morality from monotheism. Liberals assume that each person has moral worth, because he or she is an end rather than a means, an independent individual or agent rather than another link in a causal chain, and thus a conscious, autonomous, and rational person rather than merely a machine or an animal.

Liberal institutions like capitalism and democracy assume as much. Capitalism depends on the assumption not that we’re just narrow-minded animals seeking our advantage over others, but that we’re rational in seeking that advantage, which is why capitalism is supposed to leave us not with the anarchic and chaotic state of nature, but with a merited distribution of goods. As rational creatures, we plan how best to use our skills to compete and so we implicitly sign a social contract in which we agree to live by certain rules that permit private ownership, and so on. Those who most cleverly play by the rules and put their talents to work earn the most rewards in this system, assuming the economy lives up to the ideals set out in capitalistic theory. Thus, the concept of rational self-interest is crucial to this sort of economy, but what if there are no such things as selves or rationality as they’re commonly understood? Again, democracy requires that citizens be worthy of self-governance, by being informed about their representatives and about how economies and political systems work, so that their votes make sense, and by being free to pursue happiness so that the voters leave the dreary business of politics to the professionals. But what if no one’s free and happiness isn’t ideal, after all, because nothing in nature is really good or bad?

What’s radical, then, about Scott’s attribution of the folk notions of selfhood to the brain’s native blindness to its inner workings isn’t just that Scott sets himself in opposition merely to some compromises in academic philosophy, to a discipline which doesn’t greatly interest most people. No, Scott’s interpretation of cognitive science conflicts also with the foundations of liberal, which is to say modern society. If academic philosophy went up in smoke, there would be no apocalypse, but if liberalism were widely viewed as bankrupt, there would be no bulwark against right-wing craziness, including religious fundamentalism, the backlash against science and rationality themselves. If rightwing or so-called conservative ideologues were to have the whole floor on which Western societies stand, I believe those ideologues would bring down modern civilization and we’d be faced with a neo-feudal Dark Age.