Checkmate Stalemate

Capitalism and apathy in the United States are leading factors in driving homelessness. Employing Capitalism and apathy is somewhat redundant as a major component of Capitalism is apathy and creating otherness—us and them; haves and have nots. People reaching retirement age—Boomers in the parlance—are finding themselves homeless—or as the sage, George Carlin reminds us, houseless.

An article titled America’s homeless ranks graying as more retire on streets was posted elsewhere with a comment, If they voted for Reagan, fuck ’em!

If they voted for Reagan, fuck ’em!

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The feeling behind this sentiment is that this cohort did this to themselves. They shot themselves in the foot—or the face, as the case might be. They bought into the Darwinist mythos and envisaged themselves as coming out on top—except they didn’t and the music stopped and someone else had all the chairs. In fact, a few people had many more chairs than a person could ever need, leaving more people out of the game than strictly necessary. Illusory superiority is a cognitive fallacy that keeps things like Capitalism alive. And cognitive dissonance masquing mechanisms assuage the delta between perception and reality. And like lottery players, they convince themselves that one day their ship will come in. Yet at some point during the backside of midlife—however one defines that—, comes the foreboding that this is probably not in the cards. You’d gone all in and there was no payoff.

Whilst viscerally, I agree with the sentiment—as I sometimes feel schadenfreude for the people who vote for any major party candidates in election after election and are surprised that their candidate doesn’t move the needle because of [insert excuses here]. When the other party wins, nothing material happens because they don’t understand or don’t have it right. When their party wins and nothing material happens it’s because of entrenched opposition—perhaps, rather, controlled opposition.

Controlled Opposition

But what’s entrenched is not the other party. As I’ve noted before, there is no other party. There are no material choices. I don’t believe the image below is to scale because it makes it appear that they are less alike than they actually are. The image illustrates how the Democratic and Republican parties share the same foundation. I am fairly certain one could swap our Democrats and Republicans for Labour and Conservative, but I won’t speak out of school.

Twin Peaks

Almost nothing anyone can do in the near term can have any effect. In the long run, any real threat will be eliminated, neutralised, or assimilated. They may even allow an independent voice remain, but that is only for the sake of performance. It’s more like improv than scripted, but the impact will be negligible, in the manner of throwing a pillow at an aircraft carrier—even a firm foam pillow.

The most obvious connexion is that both parties—in practice all participating factions—are constitutionalists. Interestingly enough, my spellchecker autocorrected ‘institutionalist’ as ‘constitutionalist’, and that’s another commonality. As for foreign policy, the two are virtually indistinguishable. On domestic affairs, aside from vapid rhetorical and stylistic differences that might amount to some inconsequential veneer of a different tint, but their biggest differences above the water are hot-button items that spawn more words than action—especially from the Democrats.

In the US, there’s a notion of two Santa Clauses. Ostensibly, Republicans run roughshod and spend like drunken sailors when they are in power, but when Democrats are in power, Republican messaging accuses timid Democrats—and let’s be honest here; that’s most of them—of being free-spending liberals. Both parties are unrepentant spendaholics. The only difference is which people get the leftovers. I say ‘leftovers’, because their sponsors are first on queue to get paid.

The meter’s about to run out, so I’ll end my rant here. This is just one of two topics I wanted to get off of my chest. The other relates to racism—and otherness more generally, but that will have to wait for another day.

Tilting Bodies Politic

Does digital technology make students stupid? That’s what a 2019 BigThink article asks. I like to read Big Think, but it seems like PopScience in a negative way—like Pop Psychology. It’s not necessarily directionally wrong. It’s just oversimplified and seeks the lowest common denominator.

On this topic, Plato quipped, voicing Socrates, in his Phædrus 14 dialogue except that his quip was relative to writing and memory. Some historians and Classicists have suggested that modern readers may be missing the satire. I’m no defender of human intelligence, but this is the demise of society because of change—whether due to writing, radio, television, computers, video games, mobile devices, and whatever comes up next.

For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.

Plato – Dialogue Phædrus 14

Whether or not this claim has merit, my claim is that computers have trebled manufactured consent, so it allows people to be passively active, to have to specious notion of participation in the body politic, and yet are virtually tilting windmills.

It seems that some people have such nostalgia for their apparent way of life that any deviation is considered to be an affront and possible disruption. Perhaps, it’s because I feel there’s possibly as much to shed than to keep in my book, so for me, it’s more good riddance than oh heavens.

If a lion could speak

If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

As much as I love Wittgenstein’s quote on language, I find it vastly more amusing aside the lion of Gripsholm Castle in Sweden. Because as talking lions come, this one is certainly more unintelligible than most.

If a lion could speak (Gripsholm Remix)

I also appreciate Daniel Dennett’s retort that if we could manage to communicate with this one talking lion—not, of course, this lion in particular—that it could not speak for the rest of lionity. (Just what is the equivalent of humanity for lions?)

If a lion could speak (traditional)

Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said, “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.” ( [Philosophical Investigations] 1958, p. 223) That’s one possibility, no doubt, but it diverts our attention from another possibility: if a lion could talk, we could understand him just fine—with the usual sorts of effort required for translation between different languages—but our conversations with him would tell us next to nothing about the minds of ordinary lions, since his language-equipped mind would be so different. It might be that adding language to a lion’s “mind” would be giving him a mind for the first time! Or it might not. In either case, we should investigate the prospect and not just assume, with tradition, that the minds of nonspeaking animals are really rather like ours.

Daniel Dennet — Kinds of Minds: Toward an Understanding of Consciousness (p.18)

Consciousness Is Religion

I expect that consciousness is a human nominative concept. Like religion, it will become smaller as science encroaches. In 1994, David Chalmers presented his idea of the hard problem of consciousness in a lecture, Toward a Scientific Basis of Consciousness, but I feel this is more due to the insufficiency of language than anything else. To me, consciousness isn’t well defined. It’s like a medical syndrome. It’s just a grouping of seemingly related conditions that haven’t yet been parsed. In time, it may be determined that they weren’t even related in the first place. Apophenia and cognitive dissonance are two significant human biases that affect perception.

At core, consciousness might be functionally reduced to that of an interpreter. Some have posited that the only thing that exists is ‘information’, whatever that means, so there only needs to be an interpreter—a translater. If that interpreter is defined as consciousness, then so be it. This appears to lead us to a Cartesian place—though it doesn’t follow that the self or ego exists. This would be a second-order event.

Anyway, just rambling. As seems to be the case lately, I’ve got little time to develop my thoughts. At least I’ve captured them for now.

Dear diary…

Covid Casualties

I’ve got several things on my mind, but they are ostensibly unrelated. I’ll post separately as time allows, but this is a personal story.

My sister has been visiting a dialysis centre three times a week for the past 5 years awaiting a matching kidney donor. She rang me the other day to tell me she was en route to hospital as they had found a donor. Found is probably a poor word choice. Some person had died, rendering the kidney superfluous for all intents and purposes.

My sister was excited to regain some control over her life. She was told that the host of this kidney had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and was informed of the risks. The official cause of death was Covid—perhaps owing to a compromised immune system. No matter. My sister accepted the risk. It was evening, and the transplant was scheduled for the morning after running some test panels.

That morning, she was devastated by the news that she had tested positive for Covid, so she was no longer a candidate for a transplant. This is a reminder that Covid is not just about the effects of having caught it. She’d go back on the list and wait. Perhaps it wouldn’t take 5 years this next time, though there are no guarantees.

This is not my first experience with Covid. My 20-something-year-old daughter was hospitalised for over a week due to Covid. I’ve had friends and acquaintances get it, but they all survive–long-Covid effects notwithstanding.

I thought I’d written about the death of my last girlfriend who was another Covid casualty of the indirect variety. She died in June 2020. Her plight was sealed by deferring treatment of an infection for fear that hospitalisation would increase the probability of her contracting Coronavirus. This decision turned out to be fatal.

To be fair, there is a lot of information, misinformation, and disinformation abound, and it’s a challenge to sift out the relevant material. And neither is the ambient fear helpful. And so it goes…

Identifying Identity

“Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer.”

— Voltaire

God knows that I am not interested in God, but in the quoted sentence, ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him‘, Voltaire has established a pattern: If X did not exist, it would be necessary to invent X. Identity is a possible X. Time and now are other possible Xs.

I’ll focus on identity. That identity is a social construct may be technically correct, but so what? My position is that identity doesn’t exist, yet people–including me–identify. We search for identities that don’t exist. What I was when I looked is no longer there. And if someone invents a new attribute of identity, we tend to evaluate how we relate to it. Among other things, cognition is a difference engine.

“The mirror is a worthless invention. The only way to truly see yourself is in the reflection of someone else’s eyes.”

— Voltaire

When the concept of race is brought up—as invalid of a concept as it may be—, we assess how we relate to it. Sex, gender, self—it’s all the same pattern.

I’ve written on race identity in the past. Given it’s a fiction for the human species, it’s a moving target even within the realm of identity, a moving target in its own right. In my estimation, race is a conflation of colour, class, and culture—evidently, the 3Cs. So, although I don’t believe the concept of race is valid for homo sapiens sapiens, I still have a sense of what the users of this term mean. Besides colour, which I feel is the primary attribute, couched in this notion is cultural affinity as proxied by national original, another nonsensical notion.

In my case, I was raised as a WASP. My family background is white, Anglo-Saxon (Norwegian), and Protestant (Northern Baptist), so in the US I am afforded privilege. Were I to play it up, I should be able to parlay this into better jobs, better housing in better neighbourhoods, with access to better networks, and on and on. And even though I don’t play that game, I still accrue some of these benefits. Others I eschew. But I have options. This is the nature of privilege.

I don’t identify as white, nor do I identify as black or brown. This mantle is cast upon me. I can deny the notion, but I am helpless. Just as the black person can’t escape being identified as being black, the white person is similarly chained to their whiteness. In the United States, historically, a white person can deny the attribute of white, but simpletons will still consider them as white. But this is not a disadvantage to overcome. Some might argue that with a shifting colour landscape these days are coming to an end, but they haven’t ended yet, to the chagrin of the white folk who want to continue to ride the wave of privilege. People of colour, on the other hand, likely want to see this wave crash (and burn, if that’s possible).

But I’ve gone off the plantation—or is that reservation? No matter. Identity is nothing more than a connected locus of stateless states. It’s an n-dimensional snapshot of everchanging moments. The relationship between identity and identification might be viewed by analogy as the relationship between sex and gender, both social constructions in their own right. As with sex, identity is assigned. Except in rare cases, one doesn’t have the option of denying their biological sex. As with gender, identification is a space where you can self-assess. It’s just as pointless, but it somehow makes us feel better.

As with Voltaire’s quip, if the Self did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. And invent, we do. As with objects in physical space, there is more absent than there, but that doesn’t prevent us from imagining it as real and present. In the end, identification is a heuristic that has survived as an evolutionary fitness trait. For what it’s worth, it affords us the capacity to differentiate between friends and enemies, us and them. But it also can be over-indexed and lead to unwanted or at least unexpected results. The question is how much energy should one expend on identity formation and assessment?

No Better Time Than Now

I saw this first on LinkedIn—that Instagram for personal promotion in a sea of vanity and hubris of all flavours—and had been sourced from Twitter, a more free-form universe.

Image

As the narrative went, this was written by a Parkinson’s-afflicted father to his daughter. There are many ways to interpret this. Ostensibly, it’s in line with Nike’s Just Do It tagline of a few decades back or perhaps Joseph Campbell’s advice to follow your bliss, but what is it?

To me, the it involves socially sanctioned activities, whether in commerce or the arts. If the it is robbing banks or shooting fentanyl, perhaps the drive should rather be suppressed. So the do it or go for it operates within boundaries. Nothing new here.

Then there’s the ‘no time is better than now’—exclamation—bit. Why privilege now? Why wouldn’t it have been a better yesterday or last week or tomorrow?

I love quotes—or they pique my interest—if they interest me. But vapid platitudes annoy me to no end. They are beyond being trite. I suppose I can forgive the person who finds solace in this note, but these almost always preach to the choir. They resonate with the daughter—first on an emotional level owing to the familial connection and next to a connection in worldview. I don’t need to point out the connection between worldview and upbringing. Let’s pretend there is no covariance.

Meantime, whatever you’re doing go for it. Just do it. Or not. Take the path on the left. Or the right. Or just sit and meditate. Or turnaround and try something else. But whatever you do, just do it. There’s no better time than now.

Note to Self #2

Hopefully, I get past these self-notes, but for now, I’m busy…

I don’t know if this is a good thing or not, but as I was structuring my thoughts critical to democracy, I discovered (recovered?) a structure I created several years ago. The structure was centred on the premise that democracy is a specious concept that retains life through the illusion of control. My latest concept is that people are just too dumb for democracy—not that it would matter if they weren’t.

I still question why I expend the effort. Who wants to read a piece whose premise is that the reader is likely too stupid to merit participating in a democratic process? Even worse, who wants to read a piece that claims the weakest link in any political process is people. I’m a sad panda.

On the upside, there’s some content crossover. And now I need to settle on a new centre. Please stand by.

Descent of Man

Joe Talbert, singer and songwriter for IDLES, shares some of his perspective with us. Cued is a bit on masculinity, particularly the toxic variety.

Interview with Joe Talbert of IDLES

For me, it’s a breath of fresh air. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but the IDLES bring some of the lost energy back into music. I’m old enough to remember the first Punk wave of the 1970s and the next waves as well as the ripples.

The Descent of Man clearly explains how masculinity as a construct is dangerous, problematic, and … bullshit

Joe Talbert

I’ve always been out of step with my music interests, ability, and availability. In the ’70s, I was raised on the Classic Rock of the day, from the Beatles and Stones in the ’60s, to Zeppelin and Sabbath in the ’70s before focusing more on the likes of Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin, and then Allan Holdsworth. In the mid-’70s, came vapid and syrupy, saccharine pop and the nonsense that was Disco. Thankfully, this was disturbed by Punk on one hand and Eddie Van Halen on the other. Then there was New Wave and the Hair Bands.

When I wanted to play Rock in Japan, I had offers for Country. My mates in Los Angles were into retro when I was into Progressive and Jazz Fusion. I did get on a Blues kick for a while, but I didn’t really feel like I could pull it off—some affluent white kid and all. Besides Hair Bands in the ’80s, there was a Euro-synth wave, but I wanted something more complex and experimental. By the ’90s, I finished grad school and was career-oriented. I fell in love with Grunge and post-Grunge, but that was a personal endeavour. I did finally play that in the 2000s as covers sprinkled with originals, but it was a side-gig not designed as a career. That train had sailed. Nowadays, I still dabble, but I’m not all that motivated to compose much.

Anyway, IDLES is refreshing. I don’t critique it as music. It’s not particularly melodic or harmonic. It’s about the message and the energy. There’s a beat that drives, and there is instrumentation and vocals. It’s an experience.

IDLES – Car Crash (Live on KEXP)

But this isn’t about the music. It’s about the notion of normalcy. In this clip, Joe talks about his longing for normalcy. Maybe that’s just normal, but I’ve never subscribed to the notion of normalcy, so I’ve never longed for it. Truth be told, my preference is for people to realise that it’s all a control mechanism.

Joe was influenced by therapy and The Descent of Man by the artist Grayson Perry. In this book, Perry, clearly giving a nod to Darwin’s earlier work, takes on toxic masculinity and attempts to reframe the very notion of masculinity. Like normalcy, I am not interested in gender roles either.

I worked as a statistician for a couple of years way back when, so it turns out that I have a perspective on normal. The problem with the notion of normal is that deviation for normal is seen as broken. Social sciences and pop-psychology have done this. Foucault wrote a lot on this phenomenon. I won’t address his work here.

Joe viewed himself as broken because he bought into the narrative. He feels better now. He feels he’s in a better place. Perhaps this was necessary for him. I can’t speak to that. It’s not a goal I aspire to. Perhaps I’m privileged. I can’t say. For now, I get to enjoy the respite Joe & Co afford us.