Thursday, October 29, 2015

Why Can't People Disagree Without Taking Things So Personally?

I think a not-so-obvious reason is the relativism of modern moral discourse, best expressed in the theory known as “emotivism.”
In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre wrote that “emotivism has become embodied in our culture.
He defined it as “… the doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling.” In other words, emotivism holds that there can be no way of rationally justifying one’s claims about those controversial issues mentioned above. (Intellectual Tackeout).
The basis of our actions aren't rational. Rationalizing is mostly the process whereby we narrativize what we've already done or were going to do anyway. So the issue isn't just about emotional relativism -- it's deeper than that.

It's that we literally don't know why we do what we do, but we have involved stories about why we do what we do, which we call "my beliefs" or even, "me." Might some be rational and some not?  I'm still somewhat unsure about this, based on the various interpretations I've read of post hoc consciousness etc. Maybe research has pointed in directions I haven't caught yet but it seems equally possible that our more cogent rationalization is still a blind, it just might also lead to more valued or preferred results. So we call this "truth" -- and yes I know this is a very William James kind of thing to say.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Questions Toward The Impact Of Human Nature

I've been doing a great deal of research and thought toward The Glorious Revolutions series we've been running over on Rebel News. Much of this kind of work occurs behind the screen. For instance, the rough document for the first two essays was over 20,000 words long, while the essays themselves wound up being about 1,500 words a piece. Similarly, each required the reading of 5 to 10 books. (In addition to whatever was ready at hand from past reading, with a little Internet refreshing.)

So... it's a process. But the next one I have planned has had me held up for a while. I've had a few conversations that have helped me spell out where I'm stuck, which have been both illustrative and interesting, so I wanted to share one here, while I continue to mull it over...

Friday, October 16, 2015

1491 before Columbus

From The Atlantic:
Before it became the New World, the Western Hemisphere was vastly more populous and sophisticated than has been thought—an altogether more salubrious place to live at the time than, say, Europe. New evidence of both the extent of the population and its agricultural advancement leads to a remarkable conjecture: the Amazon rain forest may be largely a human artifact.
The claims about the Amazon seem, at least on their face, more open to skepticism than what now fairly well known -- that the civilizations of the Americas were more developed, and more populated, than once thought. Though archaeological evidence of American civilization isn't quite as bare as the naysayers seem to be saying -- I've been reading about earthworks and the like found in North America from fairly credible sources for a while. And we shouldn't be surprised how quickly "nature" reclaims our civilizations, though also what an effect we can render on the world.

Either way, this article is admirable in its approach. The author manages to dig into what psychological motivates different factions likely have behind their theories. Though it's not fully explored, this is something I think that needs to get much more attention in the social sciences. Even a passing interest in history will show such a wide range of contested theories by intelligent people. Some might say "they all can't be right," which is true, but given what we have to work on I think our unconscious motives for constructing a particular narrative might play more of a role than anything else. A lot of it we can simply never know for sure. And that's what we will forever butt our heads against -- the intractable and uncertain, lost past, and the ways our narratives can render a very real effect in the world, whether or not they are grounded in fact, after all.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Glorious Revolutions Series

READ: The Whole Series To Present In Its "Glory" (reverse order)

All free on Rebel News, consider joining our Patreon so we can continue to produce independent news, editorials, and activist reporting.

I still remember when the Wall fell. November 9, 1989. If you were alive, you remember.
A newscaster on the television, his image warped and tattered by static around the edges, was talking about the end of nuclear threat. It was a revolution of culture, some said. Then President Reagan appeared, and took credit for the fall of Communism.
Revolutions leave an indelible stamp on those lived through them. But how did a falling wall end the Cold War, let alone stanch the tide of violent revolution? This is the kind of rhetoric we are fed. We’re given the pieces to this puzzle, but never told what image they’re supposed to make.
If it wasn’t already painfully obvious in 1986, it certainly is now. No one should have thought that violent uprising was a thing of the past. The legacy of globalization has generally been more revolutions, not fewer. It’s as if, with every generation, we forget the lessons learned by those that came before. This “nightmare of history,” to refer to Joyce’s famous quote, calls to mind several essential questions. Are revolutionaries incapable of hearing the ghosts of the past? Is this forgetting itself the nature of revolutions? Finally, how can we keep others from using our own hopes and ideas against us? These questions are hard to answer, and any analysis is likely to sound irrelevant to those that have lived through the mute horror of violent conflict.
Still, we must wrestle with this legacy if we are to have any hope of freeing ourselves from it. The cycle of loss and vengeance itself is a crucible for revolutionary ideology.

Read The Series

Friday, October 09, 2015

Cultural Cartography

From Rebel News

We’re suckers for simplistic, captivating pictures, mostly because we don’t even realize that we’re being sold a “frame”; we think we’re just seeing “the way things are,” when, in fact, we are buying into a paradigm. That’s why, all too often, while trying to talk our way out of a problem we only dig deeper holes.
... Now imagine the picture holding us captive is a conceptual map that carves up the boundaries of ideas and disciplines, charting the course of intellectual history. A faulty map is the kind of captivating picture that is bound to mislead us. In that case what we’d need is a therapeutic cartography.
— "A Therapeutic Cartography," James K. A. Smith.


In the previous essay in this series, we looked at how we interact in a marketplace where surface identities drive our purchase choices. We have a very peculiar relationship with the things that we buy — both through and with our iPhones and cars, and soon enough, our sex robots.

More broadly, we identify ourselves and each other through the consumer choices we make, or even the ones we don't make. This is often called signaling, and it's an important part of nonverbal and implicit social communication. That's what the lifestyle brand is all about — integrating consumer choice with our lives, becoming grinning robots in some Orwellian hellscape ourselves, and so forth.

Thankfully that's not entirely how it plays out. Theories about the pervasiveness of brands and media brainwashing fall short of reality. Nothing is quite so simple as the behaviorist “image in, behavior out.” We may signal our queerness or our religion through what we wear and buy, but that isn't all we are. We still have inner lives, and an experience that can't enter into this marketplace, and our identities and beliefs are shifting landscapes more than fixed, binary wastelands.

The idea of Qualia refers to the irreducibility of this inner life. The world of surfaces may be superficial, but there is something lurking somehow beneath all of that, that’s somehow authentic. Erwin Schr√∂dinger, creator of the famous living/dead cat thought experiment, said the following in What is life?: The Physical Aspects Of The Living Cell,
The sensation of color cannot be accounted for by the physicist's objective picture of light-waves. Could the physiologist account for it, if he had fuller knowledge than he has of the processes in the retina and the nervous processes set up by them in the optical nerve bundles and in the brain? I do not think so.
But this way also points toward reductive either-ors. If we're going to distinguish between the commodifiable “dead shells” referred to in the previous article and some kind of deep seated, internal identity, what is that identity? How do we know it's authentic? We are wandering dangerously close to a schema of the false and replaceable versus the fixed and true, and that is not a frame that I’d like to imply. This has become a common sense distinction for most of us: surface and interior. Fake hipsters, and real trendsetters. But the distinction itself is superficial.

Another way of contrasting the idea of real and false self, the figurative and literal, is through mimesis. Here we must challenge the “tyranny of the literal”,
In ‘Realism,’ the opening chapter of J.M. Coetzee’s most recent novel Elizabeth Costello, the eponymous heroine, a successful Australian novelist, gives a speech in which she ironically likens herself to a talking ape from a short story by Franz Kafka. The story’s ambiguities lead her to reflect on this historical loss of certainty, the way it seems to have undone the very possibility of direct communication and unproblematic representation. 
There was, she argues, ‘a time when we knew’: We used to believe that when the text said, ‘On the table stood a glass of water,’ there was indeed a table, and a glass of water on it, and we had only to look in the word-mirror of the text to see them. But all that has ended. The word-mirror is broken irreparably, it seems. ... There used to be a time, we believe, when we could say who we were. Now we are just performers speaking our parts. The bottom has dropped out. 
Her speech is not well received. Elizabeth Costello spends most of Coetzee’s novel acting the role of a celebrity writer. She travels the world making appearances, delivering lectures, fielding questions about the meanings and motivations behind her writing. It is not something she enjoys. Often her appearances do not run smoothly; her ideas tend to provoke dissent and dissatisfaction. ... The audience wants literal confession; but Costello’s aim is to keep ‘her true self safe.’ Or so her son John believes; for Costello the issue cuts deeper than this. She has come to doubt the very existence of such a thing as a ‘true self.’ The word-mirror is irreparably broken, yet she is compelled to appear before an audience. Inevitably, what she presents them is ‘an image, false, like all images.’
So, we are drawn to question the authenticity of both surfaces and interiors. The mirror itself becomes the closest that we have to any kind of certainty — as the image and its reflection can both be called into question.


We have to contend with this tension between surface and interior, and amongst all the principalities thereof. That's true, even in the face of such uncertainties. Many of us struggle against these seemingly geological forces, without even knowing what we're struggling against.

The self and society as landscape is a frame suggested by Structuralism, and later by Post-structuralism when written in relief. Both position history as structure composed of geological flow rather than events; this was done, in terms of the latter, because the very structures imposed by theory could reify imperialist “grand narratives.” For example,
The history of events, Braudel was to scathingly write, were merely the history of “surface disturbances, crests of foam that the tides of history carry on their strong backs” (Braudel, 1980: 10). The outcome of the struggle for supremacy in the Mediterranean, then, was viewed by Braudel as the outcome of longer term structures (political, social, economic and geographic) and not at all the result events or the actions of individuals. —Extending the Longue Dure√©: Manuel De Landa and a Thousand Years of Nonlinear History.
The tension of surface appearance against deeper identity, and the constant anxiety that there is such a thing as a central or deep identity, drives the tectonic forces between what I'll be referring to later as cultural borderlands and centers. We needn’t know which is authentic, but merely recognize the tensions between these principalities. This might still seem a baroque metaphor, even if it’s far from unprecedented in the social sciences, but it's nevertheless apt. Dynamism in the self or the state arises from difference, conflict from too sudden changes; often arising where one identity abuts another, and all are also ever changing.

This is borrowing from the frequent use of geological and even cartographic metaphor in such works. These metaphors are essentially impersonal, even when they refer to parts of personal psychology. For this reason, they have been vastly preferred within post/structural analysis, over the earlier mythopoeia of Freud or Jung, for instance, which paints all inner experience as personal, in reaction to a mythologized external world.

Manuel Delanda’s odd but brilliant 1000 Years of Nonlinear History is possibly the penultimate example of this sort of device. In fact, the entire book is constructed as a series of geological, biological, physical-psychological-historical metaphors (even if he is insistent that it is not a metaphor but rather an “engineering diagram”),
We live in a world populated by structures — a complex mixture of geological, biological, social, and linguistic constructions that are nothing but accumulations of materials shaped and hardened by history. Immersed as we are in this mixture, we cannot help but interact in a variety of ways with the other historical constructions that surround us, and in these interactions we generate novel combinations, some of which possess emergent properties. In turn, these synergistic combinations, whether of human origin or not, become the raw material for further mixtures. This is how the population of structures inhabiting our planet has acquired its rich variety, as the entry of novel materials into the mix triggers wild proliferations of new forms. ...
And so on. It's important to recognize that all the structures on these these maps ebb and flow, empires rise and fall more less the same as colonies of coral might. More prosaically, just as one might stand on the Pacific rim and hundreds of millions of years later, they might spy a new continent on the horizon, a 19th century American Republican might find more in common with many of today's Democrats. Our labels are not what ultimately defines us. After all, nothing is fixed. And what of the center of the world? As Umberto Eco observed, you can hang Foucault's Pendulum anywhere.

Thus, all domains are conceptual maps, even including the inscrutable, uncertain, and ultimately implicit world of qualia. A map does not provide a certificate of authenticity, of course — as so many counterculturists are bound to point out, “the map is not the territory.” But without it, we can’t begin to track our way out of the shifting hinterlands. We cannot properly understand society, or ourselves, until we've charted the surfaces of this never-ending symbolic fault line. But we mustn't find ourselves limited by the names, labels, and borders that happen to be written in this fleeting moment.

So let's look at an example framework...


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