Under the Influence

Galen Strawson is my latest male crush. With almost everything I read or hear from him, I say, ‘that’s what I think’, over and over and over again. So I thought I’d share some of my journey to now. I made a post about female influences not too long ago. This is a bit different.

My first obsession, let’s say was the Beatles. I can’t pinpoint precisely when, but when I was a child, it’s been said that I would sing ‘she’s got a chicken to ride’ when it came on to AM radio. I asked for or bought all of their albums, and read everything about them that a kid could get his hands on back in the day. This obsession lasted for years and overlaps some of my next interests. My interests were in John Lennon’s political interests and George Harrison’s spiritual interests. I didn’t really find Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr very interesting beyond their musical abilities. And to be honest, I also got all of the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and so on. At my peak, I had over a thousand vinyl records—all lost in a house fire because vinyl and heat are generally incompatible. Paper didn’t fare much better, as I lost hundreds of books, too. A lesson in impermanence.

I am a bit of a nonconformist, a contrarian, and a polemicist

In grades 5 to 8, National Socialism and World War II were fascinating to me. Not Hitler, per se, though I do recall reading Mein Kampf at the time. There was just something about the sense of unity. Upon reflection, I realised that this meant me conforming to some other trend, and that was no longer interesting, as I am a bit of a nonconformist, a contrarian, and a polemicist, so there was that.

At some point, I came across Voltaire’s Candide and it just struck me. This may have commenced me on my path to becoming somewhat of a francophile. I extended my interest into the language and culture. My WWII phase has already primed that pump. I remember reading Dumas, Hugo, and some Descartes.

After I graduated, I was a recording engineer and musician. I remember reading Schoenberg’s Structural Function of Harmony and being enamoured with Dvořák and Stravinsky. I was influenced by many musicians, engineers, and producers, but there was just something about Schoenberg.

I went through a Kafka phase—that eventually included Donald Barthelme. His Absurdism was a nice foundation for my subsequent interest in Camus. It was something that just resonated with me. After Kafka, I discovered Dostoyevsky and consumed everything of his I could get my hands on.

I took from Jung and Campbell the importance of metaphor

In the 1990s, I discovered Carl Jung and eventually Joseph Campbell and a few years I spent reading Jung’s Complete Works and peripheral material related to Archetypal and Depth Psychology. I absorbed the material. I took from Jung and Campbell the importance of metaphor, but it never really resonnated beyond this.

Somehow, this experience led me to the Existentialism of Sartre (and Camus and Beauvoir). At the same time something clicked with me, I was always put off by the teleological imperative these guys seemed to insist upon—Sartre’s political involvement and Camus’ insistence on Art. These were their paths—and I certainly had an interest in Art and Politics—, but I felt this was too prescriptive.

For a brief time, I really liked Hume (and Spinoza), but then I discovered Nietzche and felt compelled to read his major works. It all made sense to me. It still does. Nietsche set me up for Foucault with his power relationships and the sense that morality, good, and evil are all socially constructed and contextual.

And Nietzsche brought me to Foucault and his lens of Power. These two still resonate with me. I investigated a lot of postmodern thinkers after this.

Nietzsche brought me to Foucault and his lens of Power

Daniel Dennett came next. He seems brilliant, and I tend to agree with most of what he says. I was still absorbing. Where biologist Robert Sapolsky gets philosophical, it’s about the same.

But Galen Strawson is different. And I have a lot of catching up to do in my reading of his direct work. The difference is that with these prior influences, I was absorbing and synthesising—creating my own perspectives and worldview. By the time I am finding Strawson, with every encounter, I am ticking off boxes.

  • That’s what I think
  • That’s what I think
  • That’s what I think
  • That’s what I think

Only, he started publishing in the 1960s. I could have been reading his work all along. Since I agree with 99.999 per cent of what I get from him and he is such a deep thinker, I am looking for two things:

  1. Something that expands rather than confirms
  2. Some spaces to operate that he has missed or ignored

As I continue on my Anti-Agency project and gather more inputs and perspectives, I’ll be considering a lot of Strawson. Here’s a clip I really enjoyed. I am thinking of doing a sort of reaction piece, but whether or not that happens, here’s the source.

[Video] Galen Strawson — Is Free Will a Necessary Illusion?

Spoiler Alert: I believe that free will is a cognitive bias related to apophenia. It’s a Gestalt heuristic.

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…

Philosophie de la musique

Soundcloud: Bry Willis

So, OK. A bit of a bait and switch. This post is not about the philosophy of music, but music is a part of my life and has been since I was a kid. My philosophy is that I connect with music and it connects back.

This past month, I’ve been especially enjoying pieces centred on Sus2, typically in F.

To me Sus2 voicings have a Minor sadness yet are somehow more airy. My last 3 excerpts illustrate different takes.

Give a listen or not. Feel free to comment or not.

I’ll leave you with a piece I wrote for a former girlfriend, who died in June 2020. I could write am entire philosophy-psychology series on her, but for now, here is the purposfully meloncholy piece (with a notable nod to Smashing Pumpkins), the opening notes also serving as her ringtone.

Mimetic Desire

People influence one another and, when they’re together, they have a tendency to desire the same things, primarily not because those things are rare but because, contrary to what most philosophers think, imitation also bears on desire. Humans essentially try to base their being, their profound nature and essence, on the desire of their peers.

“Mimetic Desire: Shakespeare Rather than Plato.” When These Things Begin: Conversations with Michel Treguer, by René Girard and Trevor Cribben Merrill

Although I have some reservations—or at least reserve some latitude—, I tend to agree with Girard. Desire is a social construct. Desire is separate to needs. Desires are wants. As accomodated in Economics, we don’t need what we want, but we want what we need. We desire what we need.

we don’t need what we want, but we want what we need

What Girard is essentially saying is that I want what I want because you want it. This is independent of value in an economic sense. Memetically, the value of an object increases relative to the perceiver simply because another person wants it. In my reckoning, I’d separate want from desire or at least elevate desire to a higher degree of wanting.

Girard termed this triangular relationship between subject (you), object (the thing), and the mediator (the influencer) mimetic, to mimic. I suppose some of this might be considered to be memetic, but I also suppose that memes serve to simplify rather than serve as a distinct transmission vector.

circa 2016

My question is—exacerbated during this pandemic—how does this operate in isolation? I consider myself. I am not an ascetic by most definitions, but I am somewhat of a minimalist. My only ‘vices’ are my computer and my guitars. I used to be a professional musician—though most of that was spent on the other side of the console—and I was a Gibson snob. From the perspective of emotional desire, I still am. There is a certain nostalgia, but I don’t play out anymore, and I’m not seriously recording, so I don’t need the same perceived quality of an old Gibson.

Guitarists know that different guitars give different sounds. I’ve owned as many as 10 guitars at a time, and each had its purpose. Some was feel. This guitar was for Blues, this was other for Grunge, and that was for Jazz…and that for Fusion and that for a retro sound. This one had a fast neck, and this one sustained for days. This one was tuned à la Keith Richards, sans a string, to an Open G, and the was set up for Drop C, and of course there was the Standard-tuned one for good measure

Jason & Me circa 2012

Did I need 10 guitars? No. Did I need 1? Not really—not unless I wanted to be a musician, desired to be a musician, so the degree of freedom was l, given this other desire. Having 1 guitar for a guitar player is not the same as a painter with only one colour of paint, but it almost feels like it. It’s certainly a convenience, and it allows players to express themselves artistically.

The question isn’t why I desired a guitar, but why I wanted to be a musician, and of all the instruments, why the guitar—and why did I prefer this genre over that. I’ll admit that my tastes are rather eclectic, but all that says is that I mimic eclecticism or eccentrism. My parents are not eclectic. Most of my friends are mainstream whitebread people—none I’d deem eclectic.

I’m rambling. Just because I don’t remember the source of my desire doesn’t mean there is no source. Perhaps it’s a composite source. I can’t say. Perhaps the outcome I’m naming, say eclecticism, is incorrect, so I am seeking the wrong source.

circa 2004

My point was that I don’t need a Gibson to be satisfied. First, I’ve already owed them, and I don’t have the same performative needs. But I still want to play, and I still want to exercise some artistic freedom, so I still have a few guitars.

To wrap this up, I’ll leave with an unpaid mimitec endorsement of Harley Benton guitars. The last guitar I purchased was this Harley Benton Black Paisley TE70. It’s very fit, and I picked it up for about €200, which included shipping and handling. They are German-built. When I was a kid, a guitar at this price range would have be borderline unplayable and won’t sound shite-like. These aren’t €1,000 instruments, but you’d be hard pressed to find a 5x value differential. They are build solid and have been given extra care not previously seen in down-market instruments. If I wanted to spend another €200, I could upgrade the pickups and for a bit more swap out the electronics to bigger potentiometers—but I won’t. I was planning to splurge and spend €50 on locking machine heads. Nope. Good enough. At €200 a pop, I could afford all sorts of configurations, but even that desire has waned—at least a bit, at least for a while.

circa 1984

Is it a gift?

This is a continuation of my previous post—with a touch of TMI…

I was divorced some time ago, and I was ‘accused’ of giving gifts to another woman—a woman a met after I was served papers for the divorce. After her attorney asked if I had ever given any gifts to anyone, the judge scoffed when I asked for a definition of gift so that I could respond honestly. The judge actually rolled her eyes and made a comment that my approach was not going to work. So without an established definition, I replied, ‘No. I never gave any gifts to anyone.’ She was fine with the response. In fact, she already had made up here mind in the same manner when a person pleading the Fifth in the US is automatically seen as having something to hide and therefore guilty of something. It’s a fanciful notion that taking the Fifth somehow eliminates the concern in question, but the entire jurisprudence system is arbitrary and virtually capricious—despite supposedly being a deontological endeavour. In practice, the goal of organised Law is to elevate process over justice so as to at least give the appearance that it is fair and otherwise meaningful.

Lady Justice

So, is it possible to give a gift? Is it possible to know this? Is it possible to know the intent of anything?

Gift (n): a thing given willingly to someone without payment


If gift is defined as a something given willingly and without payment, what is the scope of without payment, and what constitutes payment? Is altruism even possible? Is this possible to know? Again, can anyone know the intent of another? Can anyone truly know the intent of their own actions? Does the unconscious or past experience obviate intent?

In my case, I gave a woman some—what might colloquially be called—gifts. There were no strings explicitly attached? Does this mean there were no strings attached? I had a romantic interest in this woman. Clearly, this courting game involved gift-given in return for some expected payoff at some time in the future.

What if I had given one of these gifts to a stranger on the street—perhaps a homeless person? Would that now be a gift? What if I was in a foreign place with a nil probability of encountering this person ever again and nobody witnessed the transaction and I would never tell another soul about it? Would this be a gift?

I suppose if I had no notion of karma, whether the Eastern variety or the Western Heaven-oriented variety, and it gave me no hormonal benefits relative to dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, I’d buy it.

So, accuse me of being pedantic, and you’ve made my point. We only want to employ language until the point it complies with our notion of our sense of truth. But it’s nothing more than this.