Friday, January 31, 2014

Young Woman miraculously ignores her Beauty and studies Philosophy

Dateline: PITTSBURGH—Lisa Prettysweet, an achingly beautiful 26-year old, stunned her family and friends by showing the slightest interest in philosophy. Predictably, her reading of philosophy has made her more skeptical, pessimistic, and cynical and her parents are convinced that somewhere along the line, some dark miracle has brought about this ruinous diversion.

“I see no other explanation,” says Lisa’s father. “What the hell are her genes thinking, allowing this to happen? Already, she’s turned down job offers because they don’t live up to her newfangled ideals. Soon she’ll still be single but she’ll also be homeless and a couple decades from now, when she’s lost her youthful beauty, she’ll no longer have her golden ticket to fame and fortune.”

A hunchbacked academic philosopher, Joseph Bitterman, is also perplexed by Miss Prettysweet. “The mystery,” he says, “is how anyone could willingly surrender such a natural advantage for so paltry a reward as philosophical insight. Beauty earns you tangible goods such as success in all your endeavours, whereas philosophy is just consolation for the downtrodden. If you’re not in dire straits, you’ve no need for consolation. However, if you learn the dark philosophical truths, pretty soon you will find yourself miserable and then you’ll need more and more philosophy. So you’ll have entered the trap, but you’ll have done it to yourself. Why would anyone do that?”

One evolutionary psychologist sees Lisa’s peculiar interest as an extreme case of self-sacrifice. “I don’t go in much for Christian theology,” he says, “but if I were so inclined I might get down on my knees and worship this weirdly altruistic young woman. Jesus gave up only his heavenly father’s kingdom, which obviously doesn’t exist; and anyway, Jesus supposedly got it all back when he was resurrected.

“But the blessed Lisa Prettysweet is sacrificing her physical beauty, something which is obviously real. And she won’t ever get it back. Thanks to philosophy, all she’ll be left with is knowledge of life’s absurdity. Fat lot of good that will do her when her face is all wrinkled and her breasts are saggy! Turning your back on heaven to help out some conquered desert tribe is all very moral. But throwing away the chance to earn millions of dollars thanks to your having won the cosmic lottery, with full lips, large eyes, and a flat belly? That’s just insane.”

However, Lisa is not insane. When she first began reading philosophy as a teenager, her parents assumed she was developing a mental illness and they took her to a therapist. “Without anyone forcing this on her, she started reading Nietzsche,” relates the therapist. “I agree this is baffling, considering her beauty, but I ran all the standard tests and despite that anomalous and counterproductive interest in philosophy, her mental faculties are normal.”

Asked why she bothers to study philosophy when she could be entrancing the average person with her good looks, Lisa Prettysweet smiled, shook her head slowly, and turned and looked out the window.

Mass Murderer calls Republicans Soft on Satanic Values

Dateline: LAS ANGELES—In a documentary about the life of the infamous anarchist and sadistic mass murder, Max Truculence, Mr. Truculence criticizes American conservatives for being “soft-hearted, effeminate phonies.” He spoke from prison, since he’s currently serving a thousand year sentence for murdering hundreds of American liberals, raping dozens of women, and blowing up three federal buildings.

“They’re wimps, those Republicans,” begins Mr. Truculence’s tirade. “Little pussy cats, pawing at balls of string. Sure, they talk a good game, but where’s the follow-through? They make pretty speeches about how government interferes with them all the time and how they want to get rid of it, but they keep participating in the elections. They vote for Washington insiders who just mess around with bureaucratic procedures to gum up the system.

“But when was the last time one of these small-government Republicans got their hands dirty and actually rigged a truck full of dynamite at a federal building, sat back, and watched it explode? That was way back in 1995, with Timothy McVeigh. Each and every day, though, there should be another federal building going up in smoke, if you take the Republicans at their word.

“They’re traitors to the cause, the Republicans. They’re not real sadists. They just make a show of it with their rhetoric. They talk about self-reliance and may even carry guns around with them wherever they go like they’re in the Wild West, like they’re real tough guys who don’t need the nanny state to solve their problems. But guess what? There was practically no law in the Wild West, so you could get away with murder. When was the last time these girly-men libertarians went ahead and pulled the trigger on someone for annoying them?

“No, the GOP’s not full of individualists. They rely on the government and the law to protect them. They only pretend to care about just themselves. They only impersonate ice-cold sociopaths who have no conscience. They only talk about wanting to let the poor fend for themselves while the strongest and most ruthless get rich and do whatever they like. Don’t believe me? Well, have you ever seen Rand Paul tear a homeless guy’s guts out with his bare hands? Of course not. That Paul guy’s a socialist. He feels everyone has equal value, because of some liberal UN hogwash about human rights. What a Nancy Boy!

“Me on the other hand: I kill as I please, because I really don’t care about anyone else. That’s selfishness, you flaming Randian loudmouths. You blather on as if you’re good old Satanists—what with your evil-sounding, social Darwinian talking points—but it’s all just talk. You say you hate the Democrats, but have you killed any of them for holding back our military? No? Then why don’t you hold the Dems’ hands and sing Kumbaya with them, you wusses!    

“Every time I heard a Democrat on the TV, I expressed my disgust by killing a liberal. That’s why I based my operations in New York and LA. Can the Republicans say the same? Anyone can sound like a nasty, hateful wannabe tyrant. Anyone can stand at a political rally and call their enemies bad names, draw rude cartoons mocking liberals, or spout regressive arguments as a conservative pundit. But where’s the proof that you worship demons like I do, that you want to roll back centuries of progress and end Western civilization so you can make a go of it as top predator in the jungle? Where’s the mayhem and mass destruction from these phony anarchists?

“Again, the feminized weaklings claim they want women to be second-class citizens, to keep them at home raising children where they belong. But when have they proved their contempt for a woman by raping one? What’s that, you say? Never? Yeah, that’s because the Republicans are pantywaists.

“Sure, the US is more savage than Canada or Europe, but it’s no Columbia, Somalia, or Congo. You can really get some work done applying conservative principles in a lawless country like one of those. Give me Afghanistan any day over this socialist dystopia, the United States.”

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Happiness is for Sheep

Here's my third YouTube video. It's called Happiness is for Sheep

I finally figured out the basics of my camcorder, so there are no camera screw-ups in this video (volume or fade-out issues).

Cheers!
 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fashion Industry schemes to Punish Men by turning Women into Freaks

Dateline: LAS ANGELES—More and more consumers are aware that magazines hire Photoshop artists to doctor pictures of celebrities, as part of an elaborate ritual designed to appease the celebrities’ agents and to flatter the egocentric actresses so they’ll agree to pose for more photos for those publications. Wrinkles or other skin blemishes are airbrushed out, tummies are flattened, legs lengthened.

Despite the growing awareness, millions of girls and women have picked up an unrealistic impression of the ideal female body.

But some critics of the beauty industry have gone further, blaming the influence of resentful gay male fashion designers. “Those flamboyant designers tend to sexually prefer thin young men,” says one critic, “and so most female models just happen to be anorexic? Is that supposed to be a coincidence? No, the designers are avenging themselves on the sort of heterosexual men who bullied them growing up, by spreading a gay male’s warped ideal of female beauty. And many men fall for it, preferring women who starve themselves to become rail-thin so they’ll look like teenage boys.”

Women’s magazines have caught onto the hidden agenda. As one single mother says, “It used to be that standing in line at the supermarket you’d see the magazine covers featuring pictures of young, impossibly-thin women with impossibly-shiny hair, flat bellies, and flawless skin. But now Keira Knightly’s sporting a third arm on the cover of You’ll Never be this Healthy. I couldn’t believe it when I saw that arm growing out of her chest. I mean, I can go to the gym every day and use expensive lotions on my skin, but how am I supposed to compete with a third arm?” 

It’s not just Keira Knightly. Emily Blunt’s cover photo in Really Thin Magazine shows her with a third eye bulging out of her forehead, fish gills behind her ears, and bat’s wings sprouting from her back. Natalie Portman’s cover of Ain’t No Big Bottoms Here features dollar bills apparently grafted onto her skin. And in Kristen Stewart’s cover of Natural Boobs Are Dumb, half of her body has been ripped away and replaced by cybernetic implants.

“So first I’m supposed to get fake breasts, because that’s what the hot actresses are doing,” says one spoiled Californian girl. “Now, I’ve got to find a plastic surgeon who’ll give me bat wings and a third eye! Are my parents supposed to be made of money, like Natalie Portman? I’ve actually considered boycotting some of their movies and cancelling my subscriptions to those beauty magazines, because it’s too painful seeing how the rich and famous live. I wish I had a third eye instead of just this stupid plain forehead.”

The fashion industry thus torments both young women, by presenting them with fantastic images of female role models, and also heterosexual men by forcing them to mate with dupes who have degraded their own bodies. But that industry has taken the practical joke a step further still, pushing the consumer’s credibility to the limit.

“I used to throw crazy stuff into these photos,” says one Photoshop artist who works in-house for a fashion magazine. “Chicken feathers, lizard scales, insect antennas—you name it. But now the magazines are asking me to uglify the celebrities. It’s hard to believe, but that’s the new in thing. So I received this photo of Megan Fox and I was directed to make her more hideous than even the average homely woman. And that’s what I did. Mind you, I didn’t just add wrinkles, warts, rashes, flab, and body hair. I actually gave her a zombie bite on her neck, made her skin ashen like a corpse’s, and cut away part of her face so she appeared to be decaying.

“What’s the next thing you know? Women saw that cover of You Suck and flocked to their makeup departments and plastic surgeons to get ‘the zombie look.’ They avoided stores that sold expensive garments, because my Megan Fox wore a homeless person’s soiled and tattered scraps. Some envious women went as far as to flay the skin from their bones. They’ll do anything to be like their favourite celebrities; maybe it’s because average women worship them as gods.”

Wild Animals of America Party accuses Republicans of Thinking too much

Dateline: WASHINGTON—The Wild Animals of America Party began as an offshoot of the GOP, railing against big government for interfering with the divinely ordained inequalities in nature. “Let the natural struggle in the marketplace sort everything out,” said WAA’s founder Mark Savage. “Government’s top-down regulations are bound to be detached from reality and to make matters worse. We should let nature take its course since government can’t do anything right.”

But Mr. Savage realized he would have to start a third party to apply his political vision. “It dawned on me that maybe I should take my nature worship to the limit and forgo all pretenses of rational planning. So I founded the Wild Animals of America Party.”

From a distance, WAA members look like ordinary nudists since they go about their daily business stark naked. “Self-reliant animals don’t need clothing designed and manufactured by some organized group of know-it-alls,” says Mr. Savage, spewing out the word “organized” as though it were rancid slime on his tongue. “We could knit our own clothes, but then we’d be going against what God gave us. We’re proud to compete with our innate abilities, without arrogantly assuming we can improve on them by outthinking or out-planning the Lord Almighty.”

On closer inspection, however, the Wild Animals look more like homeless people or like the ancient Cynics who were compared to wild dogs because they objected to most conventional desires. Besides clothing, the Wild Animals renounce grooming and showering.

“Where does shower water come from?” asks Mr. Savage. “From the government bureaucracy that oversees the water supply. Do you see animals showering in the wild? No, and that’s because they’re not spoiled like the French, with their luxury cars and decadent desserts and tap water. God didn’t give us the toilet, since that ludicrous invention comes from human busybodies who think they can improve on the world that must already be perfect, since it was created by God. So you won’t find Wild Animals lounging on a porcelain seat. We accept no handouts.”

Asked why WAA thinks of purchased products as “handouts,” Mr. Savage explains how money itself is artificial. “Did you invent bartering, the monetary system or fiat currency? No, you inherited those systems, so if you use them you’re not self-reliant. And even if you did personally invent them, you’d be spitting in God’s eye.

“That’s why we call the Republicans hypocrites, since they only pretend to let the unruly wilderness grow as it will. Look at all the fancy math spun by free market economists! All of those axioms and equations and computer models—they’re just vain attempts to outthink God. The free market conservatives may be opposed to government regulations, but they should be against all rational attempts at so-called progress. Otherwise, they’re as arrogant as communists.”  

WAA members creep around Washington on all fours, maintaining that standing upright was a prehistoric blasphemy against our original design. Although they tend to stay indoors during winter, some Wild Animals have been known to venture out into the snow, naked and unhappily furless, whereupon they typically perish from exposure to the harsh elements.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Awake while Sleeping: DMT and Paradoxical Consciousness

Scientists often come to understand how something works, indirectly, by studying how it fails. Normal, waking consciousness is perhaps the strangest known phenomenon, but I recently had an abnormal experience that sheds some light on our subjective nature. Hyperbolically speaking, I stumbled into a state of living death, which is to say that I became conscious of the unconscious inner space, while in deep sleep.

Hitchhiking on Delta Brain Waves: A Tale of Living Death

My ordeal lasted for about a week, three or four months ago, and it was preceded by omens, figuratively speaking. The omens were changes in the phosphenes in my hypnagogic state between waking and dreaming. Phosphenes are the patterns of lights you see when your eyes are closed, such as when you’re falling asleep. Usually, I’d see various flashing, interlocking shapes and so forth, but I began to notice what looked like the ends of tendrils or tentacles in the phosphenes, which led me to imagine tunnels. Eventually, I started focusing on those tentacles, mentally identifying with them, and they sort of washed over my mind’s eye and I was sucked into a mindspace filled with a different order of phosphenes. I can’t recall the exact differences, because to end the ordeal I’m about to describe I had to try to forget about all of this and relearn how to relax at night so I could get back to normal sleep. But I recall thinking that the phosphenes looked more organic and pulsating, as if I could see the base of my brain in them. More alarmingly, I could feel my heart beating much louder and slower, and it wasn’t just that I was getting nervous; instead, it was as if my consciousness were being shunted to my cardiovascular system so that while my mind was visually swimming in strange phosphenes, aurally I was awash in the sounds of blood flow. It sounded like I was underwater or in a womb. And there was an ascending high-pitched noise that must have corresponded to the change in blood pressure.

The overriding problem was that, far from falling deeper into a state of unconsciousness, my conscious self was fully awake and growing more anxious, because I felt forced to explore this new inner state. Sometimes, I’d fall out of this state and back into normal, albeit groggy conscious awareness. But I began also to go deeper into this new way of sleeping. The phosphenes became more remote and washed out, my heart beat slower and louder, and I’d reach plateaus that cycled back and forth so that it seemed as if I were consciously experiencing the shift of brave waves. There would be a realignment of the phosphenes and a change in my heart rate, and then I’d hang out on that level for some minutes, perhaps rising to the previous one or descending to the next one.

I’ve since forgotten some of the details of those early stages, but what I remember most is the final and most terrifying plateau, which I now believe was the shift to the delta brain wave. There was a mental pinching sensation, as if my conscious self were being squeezed through a narrow opening, and then it felt like I was falling slowly, back and forth like a feather, until I reached rock bottom which was a place of total darkness. My heart beat felt far away or like it had almost stopped and it was as if I were trapped in my brain’s closet, with the lights turned out and the door locked. At first I resisted this last transition, because I’m claustrophobic and I had no idea what was happening at the time. But because I wanted to sleep, I learned to let the change happen, by imagining I were indeed a feather or a rowboat that could rock from side to side until it landed safely. I resorted to mantras to distract myself. I can’t remember exactly the words I used, but I kept verbally reassuring myself that I’d be safe.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Exoteric and Esoteric Atheism

Here's my second YouTube video. I fixed the volume and lighting problems, but this time the camera faded out several times. At its worst, the loss of camera focus happens for several seconds, so it's not too bad (it's a 30 minute video), but it threw me off a couple of times. I should have this figured out for next time.

The next video will be on the goal of happiness.

Also, I added a few more satirical reports below.

Cheers!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Weed-smoking Potlandians debate whether to legalize Nicotine and Alcohol

Dateline: CANNABISTOWN, PO—In Potlandia, marijuana is legal for recreational purposes and is commonly smoked by nearly all of the adult citizens of that country, while alcohol and nicotine are banned. But the alcohol and tobacco industries regard Potlandia’s laws as discriminatory.

“We think it’s absurd for nicotine cigarettes to be illegal in a place where marijuana cigarettes are legal,” says the tobacco lobbyist, Deborah Lotsofgall. “I mean, what’s the difference between the two? How can anyone respect the law when it’s so glaringly inconsistent?”

But most citizens of Potlandia defend their laws. “The drugs aren’t the same at all, man,” says Sunny Moonwind, wearing a tie-died shirt, bandana around her forehead, and bare feet. “Like, marijuana gets you high, not low, you know what I mean? It’s like, the blessed weed kicks your ego to the curb so your spirit can rejoice. But nicotine just makes you a more close-minded worker bee, man. It makes you a slave to the machine. And who wants to be a slave when you can be free?”

Matthew Wino, a lobbyist for the alcohol industry, practices civil disobedience in Cannabistown, the capital of Potlandia. He stands on the street corner offering free shots of Jagermeister and shouting, “Don’t you people want to lose your inhibitions and have some harmless fun? You know, hook up with a stranger, forget your troubles, buy things you see on TV, and make your crazy country more economically competitive?”

Few Potlandians take up Mr. Wino’s offer. Doctor Morris Pothead explains the difference between the drugs. “The thing is, nicotine and alcohol are capitalistic drugs, engineered to dehumanize the users, whereas cannabis is a natural entheogen, which means it’s a drug that gives you religious experiences. Nicotine is a stimulant and a relaxant. When you smoke it, you become both relaxed and sharp, which makes you a more productive worker. That’s why nicotine is legal in hyper-capitalistic countries: it’s good for the economy—even if it’s terrible for the people’s spiritual well-being.

“And alcohol is a party drug that puts you in a fantasy world so you forget how capitalism exacerbates the ego, ultimately making the drinker more selfish, pleasure-seeking, and materialistic, because it clouds her judgment so she loses sight of the big picture. It distracts the users with parties and one-night stands and fake confidence which helps them outcompete each other, so they forget that we’re all in this together.”

Every Saturday, Potlandians have a concert reminiscent of Woodstock in which they smoke a lot of pot and celebrate visionary art, have lots of sex and explore the outer reaches of human consciousness.

But Ms. Lotsofgall isn’t impressed. “Just look at these freaks!” she says, shrugging off a hippie who had offered her a joint. “They’re flaky do-nothings. Don’t they know they should be working non-stop with hardly any vacation time, like in the US? That’s the meaning of life. You’re supposed to work hard all day long for a very low wage that rarely increases, so your bosses can enrich themselves at your expense. That’s how the real world works, the world of bogus economic models and Nazi-inspired social Darwinian prejudices and out-of-control egoism that makes people so cruel and angst-ridden, they either shoot little kids with machine guns or don’t revolt against their society when something so evil happens in their midst.”

Dentists Besieged on Mock Your Dentist Day

Dateline: TORONTO—Mock Your Dentist Day has come around again and millions of North Americans are celebrating by standing outside their dentist’s office, hurling insults through loudspeakers, and holding up signs accusing dentists of highway robbery.

This day honours the audacity of dentists for charging an additional thirty dollars, on average, just for tapping a set of healthy teeth a few times for under a minute—after the hygienist has already done all the work, scraping and polishing the teeth.  

“I remember the first time I was truly appalled by my dentist,” says one man camped outside his dentist’s office. “Sure, my dentist used to rip me off like the rest of them, but he always had a smile on his face. My teeth are healthy; I mean I have no cavities or anything like that. So after the hygienist was done cleaning my teeth the dentist didn’t really have any work to do.

“But he pretended like he did and that, of course, was his crime. He’d take a metal instrument and tap my teeth with it absentmindedly, peering inside my mouth for an abnormality he knew he wouldn’t find. I used to mentally count how long that part of the dental check-up lasted. It was usually no more than half a minute or so. As I said, though, at least he wore a smile on his face and kept it light by making some amusing remarks—while he effectively reached into my pocket and stole thirty dollars from my wallet.

“You see, on top of the charge for the cleaning, my dentist charged thirty dollars for what he called the Dental Examination. I moved houses a few times, saw different dentists, and they all did the same. For those of us with healthy teeth, it’s organized crime and there’s nothing we can do about it if we want our teeth professionally cleaned, because they won’t let the hygienists work on you unless you consent to letting his holiness the dentist perform his bogus exam.

“Anyway, my funny little thieving dentist was on vacation during one of my checkups, so after the cleaning another dentist walked in while I lay back. Without saying a word, he sat down, tapped my teeth a total of four times, and after exactly sixteen seconds he stood up, pronounced my teeth healthy, and hurried out like he was oh so busy.

“‘Surely he’s not going to charge extra for that so-called exam,’ I thought. ‘Surely he couldn’t live with himself if he did so, couldn’t drive around in his BMW without puking if he happened to catch a glimpse of his pudgy rat face in the rearview mirror.’

“But no, as sure as the sun rises every morning, there was the thirty dollar charge printed on the bill. That dentist didn’t even do me the courtesy of telling a joke or two to distract me from the brazenness of his scam. And that’s when I’d had enough. So you’ll find me out here every Mock Your Dentist Day, telling them in the immortal words of the singer Sam Roberts, ‘You can take what you want from me, but you better believe that I can see you.’”

On the annual Mock Your Dentist Day, infuriated patrons throw eggs and tomatoes at the brick exteriors, pound on the windows, demanding there be no charge for needless exams, and shout slogans such as “We pay for work! Do more than smirk!” “Your job is funny! Return our money!” and “Hey, you dentist, we’ve been menaced!”

For their part, dentists are bewildered by the uproar. One asks, “Don’t they know how much we sacrificed to get through dentistry school? I had to memorize a lot of stuff and everything. No one would go through that hassle without knowing they’d be above the law afterward. So we extort a few extra dollars from our healthy patients. I have bills to pay. My third luxury car needs fancy new hubcaps.”

Saturday, January 11, 2014

RWUG on YouTube!

Here’s my first YouTube video, also embedded below, in which I explain why we’re all in the undead god. Sorry about the lighting and volume level. They’re not too bad but they’ll be improved for the next video, which will be about two kinds of atheism. 

The first several seconds after the titles of this first video show me seemingly at a loss for words. I was thinking of how to start the video off. The silence went on for around a minute and I cut most of it out but decided to leave some of it in because of how amusing it looks. It looks like I’m choking, to use the rapper’s lingo.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Starving Artists call the Internet a vast Communist Conspiracy

Dateline: WASHINGTON—Millions of underemployed or out-of-work citizens of Canada, Europe, and the United States took to the streets to protest the internet as a vast communist conspiracy. Moreover, many Westerners are flocking to China, praising its pervasive censorship of the internet as instrumental to that country’s economic boom.

Calling themselves the new proletariats, because of their powerlessness in the information-based economies, they’re made up of journalists, musicians, visual artists, authors, film-makers, comedians, teachers, and everyone else whose work can be digitized. 

They maintain that people have badly misunderstood the ethos of those who invented the computer and the internet. As one musician who sleeps on his friend’s couch says, “The computer geeks declared that information needs to be free. That right there should have been a warning sign that those so-called libertarians were actually full-blown commies. They were commies of the hippie variety, with their long hair, their science fiction-fuelled dreams of utopia, and their social alienation.

“Answer me this: If information is free and we have an information-based economy, how are we supposed to make any money? How are we supposed to earn a living?”

“It began with the libraries,” says a journalist whose newspaper went bankrupt. “Those were the vanguard organizations that got everyone used to the idea of getting things for free. Yeah, why don’t we all just share our books and songs and movies? That way we consume the content and pass it along without paying a dime. Well, some of our taxes go to sustaining the libraries, but we don’t pay the content-producers.

“So what becomes of those entertainments we love? They go bye-bye and you wind up in a communist gulag with Pravda-like propaganda on all the billboards, telling you everyone’s happy and the nation’s glorious; meanwhile, the richest 10% control 75% of the nation’s wealth and you’re working for peanuts while pampered kids in China are enjoying your work for free on the internet. And what about the totalitarian rule of silence in the library? Shush me, indeed!”

The new proletariats blame digitization as the source of their woes. Content that can be reduced to a series of ones and zeroes loses its value and becomes disposable, they say, so that consumers come to expect content to be free of charge. “Pirating on the internet is rampant,” says a freelance writer working half a dozen day jobs in the service sector, “because that’s what the internet is designed to do: it turns everything into mere information which no one but the author thinks is worth any money. Cultural content now is like an ugly kid with a face only its mother can love.”  

The starving new proletariats have called on Western governments to censor the internet, to make it so annoying to use that people stop doing business on it.

Asked how she accounts for the fact that some people, such as the founders of Google, have gotten rich off of the internet, a teacher who lost her job because of competition from free online educational videos said, “Just like in communist Russia there’s a minority that profits by adding to the communist bureaucracy. For them the internet is an end in itself, not a means. They don’t foolishly try to do business on the internet; the internet is their business.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese government is appalled that Western, so-called capitalistic countries would dare to compete with China by using an uncensored internet to turn those countries into communist utopias. “We’ve been down that road,” said China’s premier, “and it’s not pretty.”

Monday, January 6, 2014

Artistic Creativity: Angst’s Antidote and the Outsider’s Solace

What is the nature of great art? Take, for example, the art of writing. Commonsense tells us that writing in general is the sharing of thoughts and that both thinking and writing are uses of language to get at the truth or to achieve some other practical aim. Nonfiction writers put sentences together in meaningful ways to model some reality, while fiction writers tell stories to explore ideas and psychological hypotheses. Rational writers put together arguments while emotional writers try to manipulate the reader’s attitude. Whereas thinking is private and speaking is a very limited way of making thoughts public, writing can produce a permanent record. All of which assumes that a writer should be concerned mainly with such mundane tasks as choosing the right words and tone of rhetoric, following an argument’s logic and avoiding fallacies, and so forth. Indeed, these are necessary skills if you want to write well, but the essence of arguably the most influential kind of writing is nowhere to be found in this account. So I’ll try to explain here the function of great art in general, although I’ll focus on what I’ll call prophetic writings, which include the philosophical, religious, and literary kinds.

Artistic Inspiration as Daemonic Possession

First, though, here’s how I think the commonsense view came about. In the ancient world, writing was relatively rare, because writing was done by hand and there was no mass-produced paper. Much Bronze Age writing was controlled by the government, as in ancient Egypt in which only an upper class of scribes was taught to read and write. There were mainly three kinds of ancient writing: records were kept for business purposes, engravings and the ancient equivalents of signs were used to maintain the power of the ruling elite, and stories were told and arguments were made in the service of prophetic or religious ideas. The third kind of writing is quite different from the other two, more mundane kinds. After the printing press and the computer, writing has become so commonplace that most people think all writing is utilitarian. This is because most people have no prophetic or religious aptitude: all they can do is record daily events or use writing to achieve some short-term goal, as with the grocery list; apply the rules of rationality to persuade the reader that certain statements are reliable; or use rhetoric as a tool in power games. People have thus lost sight of the most important kind of writing, because writing as a medium has been cheapened by its overuse. More specifically, we’ve forgotten the nature of what I’ll call prophetic writing and have even trivialized scripture by literalizing it, as though the alleged truth of a myth like one in the Bible were of the same type as that of a record of some commonplace business transaction.

We can get a sense of what’s been lost if we analyze certain words that described the sort of charismatic figure that used to inspire prophetic writing, beginning with the very word “inspiration.” According to Dictionary.com, that word originally meant “the immediate influence of God or a god.” The word “genius” referred to the “guardian deity or spirit which watches over each person from birth.” A prophet was one who had the “gift of interpreting the will of the gods.” A vision was “something seen in the imagination or in the supernatural.” Before the word was generalized after the Puritans’ influence, “enthusiasm” meant “inspired, possessed by a god.”

The common thread here is the idea of being possessed by a higher power and turned into a messenger, so that what I’m calling prophetic writing, which as we’ll see encompasses philosophical, religious, and artistic or fictional writing, is revelatory. The multigenre author Dan Simmons makes much of this higher kind of writing, although he pompously takes the myths associated with prophecy rather literally. The key idea for him, as he says in his fourteenth installment on how to write, is that a great writer must find her daemon that dwells perpetually in what Yeats calls a condition of fire. “Daemon” is the original Greek word for “muse.” Christians demonized the daemon and replaced the daemon, that is, the external entity that’s supposed to possess and inspire a great writer, with the tamer source of inspiration, the muse or guardian angel.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ancient and Modern Enlightenment: from Noosphere to Technosphere

Hope you all had a happy new year.

I have an article up on Scott Bakker's blog, on the difference between ancient and modern enlightenment. Here are the first few paragraphs:

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Enlightenment is elite cognition, the seeing past collective error and illusion to a hidden reality. But the ancient idea of enlightenment differs greatly from the modern one and there may be a further shift in the postmodern era. I’ll try to shed some light on enlightenment, by pursuing these comparisons.

Ancient Enlightenment: Monism and Personification

Enlightenment in the ancient world was made possible by a falling away from our mythopoeic, nomadic prehistory. In that Paleolithic period, symbolized by the wild Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh and by the biblical Adam in Eden, there was no enlightenment since everything was thoroughly personified and so nothing could have been perceived as unfamiliar or alien to the masses. The world was experienced as a noosphere, filled with mentality. Only after the rise of sedentary civilization in the Neolithic Era, when farming replaced nomadic hunting in 10,000 BCE, which allowed for much larger populations, was there a loss of that enchanted mode of experience which actually depended on a sort of blissful collective ignorance. As a population increases, the so-called Law of Oligarchy takes hold, which means that social power must be concentrated to avoid civilizational collapse. Dominance hierarchies are established and those in the lower classes become envious of the stronger and more privileged members who are sure to display their greater wealth and access to women with symbols of their higher status. By doing so, each social class learns its boundaries so that the social structure won’t be overridden, which would invite anarchy.

As Rousseau argued, civilization was the precondition of what we might call the sin of egoism. Contrary to Rousseau, prehistoric life wasn’t utopian; at least, objectively, human life in the Paleolithic Era was likely quite savage. But the ancients seemed to have an easier time perceiving the world in magical terms, judging from the evidence of their religions and extrapolating from what we know of children’s experience, given their similar dearth of content to occupy their collective memory. Thus, even as they killed each other over trifles, the prehistoric people would have interpreted such horror as profoundly meaningful. In any case, I think Rousseau is right that civilization made possible a falling away from a kind of intrinsic innocence. Specifically, the increased social specialization led to an epistemic inequality. As food was stored and more and more people lived together, there was greater need for practical knowledge in such areas as architecture, medicine, sanitation, and warfare. The elites became decadent and alienated from nature, since they found themselves free to indulge their appetites with artificial diversions, as specialists took care of the necessities of survival such as the harvesting of food or the defense of the borders. These elites codified the myths that expressed the population’s mores, but while the uneducated majority clung to their naïve, anthropocentric traditions, the cynical and self-absorbed elites more likely regarded the folk tales as superstitions.