Sorry, Ma, You’re Not Moral

Immanuel Kant taught that an action is only a “moral” action if it goes counter to our inclinations. I have always assumed that by this he meant, not that it is a downright bad action, but merely that it does not fall into the category of moral actions, those that are performed because they are right. Funnily enough, in Matthew 5:47 Jesus of Nazareth is recorded in much the same vein: “And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?” If it comes easily, they both seem to be saying, then no brownie points!

Now, mothers tend to lay claim to lots of brownie points as reward for their parenting. But at the same time they also speak about their mother-love as instinctual. Well, they can’t have it both ways: if maternal love really is instinct and nothing but instinct, then they cannot claim ethical merit for possessing and following it. “Do not even the publicans so?”

Given that a mother should be perfectly capable of recognising that she is just following her nature, which is an ethically-neutral thing to do, what is going on with the cult of the brownie points? The answer lies, as usual, in the human drive for undeserved self-esteem. She wants a double whammy, to be praised on two mutually exclusive grounds at the same time: once for doing what is right, in the strenuous Kantian sense, and again for harbouring maternal love, which makes her a good person.

But wait a moment; there are also such things as bad, neglectful mothers. Our loving mother therefore deserves a certain number of brownie points for not being one. The question provoked in my mind, then – and of course I have no knowledge of what it is like to be a mother – is whether she has overcome inner obstacles to be a good mother. Was she just following her nature, or rising above it? It would follow from the Kantian approach that the most moral woman would be the one who would like to abuse her child but doesn’t. If that is too peculiar for us, then we ought to be Aristotelians instead.

Posted on December 14, 2017 at 16:21 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment

On Muggles And Kant

Whenever domestic tyrants denigrate “Reason”, we must refrain from being drawn on the philosophy, because that is not what it is about. We need immediately to ascribe what looks like an epistemological doctrine to their natural aversion to anything that might help the marks figure out the particular scam they are running.

Such people, and I speak from personal experience, cannot tell you what Immanuel Kant wrote in The Critique Of Pure Reason, but if you give them their first sight of the bare title, they will express satisfaction that somebody you know has critiqued – that is to say, they imagine, exploded – the very idea of an objective rationality. Because once that pesky heathen Enlightenment idea is undermined, then all knowledge must rest on Faith, and if that is so, then whatever the muggle wishes to believe must automatically be true. And so in turn, whatever the muggle wishes to do unto you must be fully justified. For if first principles are unprovable, then we cannot disprove the superstitions of anyone who wants to impose his own by force.

You will see the same thing if you drop G.B. Shaw’s term “Life-Force” in front of the same audience. They will leap to the conclusion that this is the same thing as their god, and tell you that since you believe in god you must obey their rules. That the force so denoted in Man and Superman, basically a woman’s drive to breed with the genetically superior man at all costs, is actually the same thing as the domestic tyrant’s personal god of him-approval and others-condemnation seems highly unlikely, but he will not care about that. If he hears “Life-Force” as another name for what Schopenhauer considered the ultimate stuff of the universe, he will likewise never take on board the fact that Schopenhauer considered it inimical to happiness.

No, give these people the little finger of many technical terms of philosophy and they will immediately grab the whole hand, hearing them only as complete ratification of their own narcissistic delusions and predatory agendas, and expecting you now to toe the line. Just Say No – don’t even pass the time of day with them.

(Fiddle date-stamp to March 25, 2009)

Posted on December 7, 2017 at 18:21 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment

The Sedulous Abettors

Regarding one of her characters, Edith Wharton says, “most of the young men of his age….. (made) the abysmal distinction between the women one loved and respected and those one enjoyed – and pitied. In this view they were sedulously abetted by their mothers, aunts and other elderly female relatives…..” Now, that men used thus to distinguish between marriageable maidens and prostitutes is old news, but in the customary excoriation of men for their wholly peculiar and inherent wickedness, I miss a discussion of why exactly their mothers, aunts and other elderly female relatives should “sedulously abet” them in making this abysmal distinction.

It would obviously be important not to confuse the categories in the one direction, lest the enjoyed-and-pitied personage be loved and respected too, which would lead to her getting her hands on the family silver. Such things did happen, of course, abysmal distinctions or no. The record may be held by the venerable King Leopold II of Belgium, who married a teenaged French prostitute. I fancy, however, that we can detect in Wharton the other direction too – the implication that the senior women of the tribe are egging on the young men to sow their wild oats with the démi-mondaine in question.

If I am not imagining out of whole cloth this cheerleading, the question becomes how exactly the matriarchs profit. If the young man is so well supplied with ladies of negotiable affection that he need not seduce and “ruin” any women of his own class, this is obviously of benefit to the seniors, whose principal job it is to weave webs of lucrative family alliance.

But perhaps there is something else as well. We may have quite recently lost contact with how mothers, aunts and grandmothers, even in supposedly prudish ages, used to have a sympathetic attitude to young male horniness. I fancy I myself took a voyage in time when I had an African mistress who shared me around the clan and wanted to get me well laid everywhere. That in some metaphor of loyalty she called herself my mother, for all that she was less than half my age, may have been of relevance. Her own mother seemed to approve the strategy, and her cousin my housekeeper was also an enabler. To someone brought up in a culture in which all women had supposedly passed through the Sexual Revolution but were in fact fanatical minders of other people’s business and sexual manners, inclined to concede males their sexuality only on a long list of correct conditions, this cheerful abetting and procuring seemed simply bizarre. But what if it were, at least in its less extreme forms, to be actually the human baseline?

A genetic lineage – and its always-female real leaders – will fancy itself in credit when its young men impregnate all and sundry, and in debit if other tribes do the same in return. Thus the basis of old-school sexual morality. If this is the hardwired root of the enabling strategy, the big question must be why it went so sharply into reverse in the latter part of the twentieth century, so that it became the vocation of mothers, aunts and other female relatives both elderly and young, indeed of any female whatsoever, to restrict men to their official partners – and even then only after much jumping through doctrinal hoops. After so many thousands of years since Mount Sinai, the programme of imposed male chastity succeeds only now?

(Fiddle date-stamp to February 13, 2012)

Posted on November 30, 2017 at 18:01 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE NAME OF THE GAME, Who Is Exploiting Whom?

How About Doing It Right Instead?

Forests have been felled for the sake of books on how to acquire self-confidence. I do not think, however, that any of these involve acquiring self-confidence by meriting it. “Be what you would like to seem”, said Socrates, whereupon humanity reversed the polarity and set out to seem as vigorously as ever it could.

Self-help books seem always to be about ignoring reality in favour of some kind of willed delusionality, which it is hoped will be contagious. What is supposed to give me confidence is not being good at what I do, but merely the intensity of my self-belief. And this is to be created, it seems, by pure introspection rather than by improving my game. Basically, I do not enhance my abilities but sit in a corner and whip up this self-belief. I then become that most dangerous of all possible employees or managers – the person with a delusion of competence.

This is probably why so many new solutions simply do not work, and why so many projects collapse in ignominy. The old rag-trade joke of “Never mind the quality, feel the width” has given way to “Never mind the quality, feel my conceit”.

(Fiddle date-stamp to March 13, 2010)

Posted on November 22, 2017 at 20:06 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, Management As Cargo Cult

Some Thoughts On NPD

When we speak of someone as “having” Narcissistic Personality Disorder, we badly need to ask who it is that “has” the disorder and what they would be like if they didn’t. As with all the other personality disorders, the locution of “having” – having something different from their selfness – seems to be a cowardly cop-out. There is no non-narcissistic person separate from his narcissism that can “have” the disorder in the same way in which he might have a sore toe; and he is not going to recover. Narcissism is what he is – all of him, forever.

It would be more honest to use the adjectives and even noun labels latterly forbidden to us and say that such-and-such a person is grandiose and self-infatuated, that he simply is a narcissist. But perhaps the simple nouns and adjectives are forbidden to us precisely because the narcissists have successfully taken over the culture of “talking about narcissism”? After all, the personality disorder tests are said to be easy to cheat, as we all know what they want to hear. So such “regulatory capture”, as we call it in industry, is easily possible.

Something similar appears to have happened with parenting. I have seen “support” websites for the parents of what these poor victims sometimes politely call “children with NPD” and at other times call “monsters”. Nowhere here do we see any reference to the fact that narcissism is caused above all by narcissistic parents. In fact, the flora of such “abuse” sites may sometimes even give the impression that a narcissist is actually whoever is failing sufficiently to adore you.

Another critical line that we need to take is concerned with class. The therapy culture assumes that everything is concealing its opposite, so that the narcissist is in fact anxiously feeling inferior and striving not to. Such a thing is certainly possible, and yet we should remember that such “unstable” high self-esteem is not the only kind. The upper classes have always had an utterly stable sense of absolute entitlement. Their self-admiration is real rather than a desperate compensation. Might it even be that all the psychometric talk of narcissism is merely an update of the aristocrat’s contempt for the parvenu, that is, old money’s disdain for new money?

Whenever a man is reproached for considering himself the “all-important centre of his universe”, I want to reply, “But how could he not?” We are the centres of our own perceptual universes, all of us, this is simply the human condition. We have no alternative but to see the universe from inside our selfhood. The difference between ethical levels is not between people who are and are not the centre of their universes, but between people who recognise the independence and rights of the objects that appear in their self-centred perceptual fields and those who do not. The ideal can only be centres-of-the-universe who act decently towards competing centres-of-the-universe.

And it is all very well blaming the loveless for their solitude, as if they invariably have the choice, but of course a person who lacks any strong cathexis will experience the human condition of being the centre of the universe much more definitely – and dangerously – than those who have someone to share it with. Loneliness thus causes a risk, but the temptation to solipsism may be defied. I would therefore ask: demonising all lonely people as narcissistic, regardless of their ethical behaviour, is that either fair or wise?

(Fiddle date-stamp to January 5, 2010 afternoon)

When Is A Cult Not A Cult?

One source of morbid but free amusement is to take a “charismatic” church that has been fretting about the sequestration of youngsters by “cults”, and ask them to define the differences between these “cults” and themselves. Any member of the church who, instead of getting instantaneously angry and threatening you with hellfire, as some of them do, actually tries to answer the question, as (to be fair) other members do, is going to have difficulties. For the criteria are met in precisely the same way. The cults set children against their parents? Well, so do you, and with plenty of Dominical authority. They go further and attempt to isolate impressionable youngsters from the rest of the world? Well, so do you, also quoting Scripture as well as the charismatic doctrine of infernal powers – which derives, not from the Bible as you pretend, but from Dante Aligheri and even from the occultist tradition. They subject the faithful to unaccountable leaders? Well, you yourselves talk about holy submission to godly men, always meaning yourselves. They empty the pockets of the converts and funnel it all up the sales pyramid? Enough said.

Church members honest enough to recognise the congruence are obliged to fall back on the line that it is different when the exact same things are done by Good than when they are done by Evil. The one is the original, the other a satanic imitation. This may make sense inside their own closed universe, but tends not to impress to the questioner.

It is in fact possible to have some sympathy with these housegroup leaders if one asks what, under some definitions, is not a cult? For it may be the occupational hazard of professional cult “deprogrammers” to conceive of everything as a program – to conceive of everything as neural subversion or a parasitic meme running on human wetware. There are two big problems with this approach. First, what they are doing is then exactly the same as what the cult is doing, but with different clients; and this they practically admit with the very term “deprogramming”. Second and more generally, if everything is X then nothing is. For example, it makes no sense to say that all money is forged. We need a non-X with which to contrast our X. So if everything is a cult, then nothing is, and we need to work a little harder at distinguishing cult religion from cult movie.

(Fiddle date-stamp to June 15, 2011)

Posted on November 5, 2017 at 19:13 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · One Comment
In: THE LONGEST CON, From Rationalism to New Age

Rule One

Men have traditionally been advised that, for the sake of peace with their womenfolk, they should always let them have the last word and invariably tell them, in total defiance of factuality, that they are right. The book about the corrosive effect of this on men – who might have been brought up to value truth for its own sake in preference to the feeding of narcissists – has yet to be written.

If that endeavour is ever tackled, however, the above principle of furnishing narcissistic supply may turn out to be only a specific application of a still more general rule. At the highest level of abstraction, our Rule One might be expressed as “Never, ever question female motivations.” The royal road to peace with womenfolk, and to its price, the destruction of the independent male soul, might be to accept all their showbiz acts of virtue and altruism at face value and not ask what they are really up to.

(Fiddle date-stamp to June 13 afternoon, 2012)

Posted on October 27, 2017 at 21:10 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: WHAT WOMEN WANT, The Copernican Revolution

Which Once You Took For Exercise Of Virtue

What Eliot describes in Little Gidding as “the rending pain of re-enactment” becomes linearly worse with age. Firstly because, as the short-term memory goes, the long-term memory notoriously improves, and secondly because for each new day, “the shame of motives late revealed and the awareness of things ill done” acquires new material to feed on. To believe that you will one day become old and wise enough not to commit acts, the shame of which will subsequently keep you awake at night, is simply an illusion.

Velle non discitur; your basic character does not change, and if you are a dork who does not know how to model social interactions at twenty, or a selfish jerk who does not care how he hurts others, you will in all probability be exactly the same at seventy, or even worse. In the words of the concise Jewish expression, “Wherever you go, your tuchas goes with you.” If the number of times you embarrass yourself or betray others in your seventy-first year is in fact smaller than the number of times you embarrass yourself or betray others in your twenty-first year, this will be solely because you have fewer social interactions to make a mess of, many of your former victims being either already alienated or dead as mackerel.

There are only two remedies for this gift reserved for old age: firstly, to believe that seniority is virtuous by definition and that everything you now do is therefore right and proper, a self-conceit that can leak backwards in time until you come to believe that you were a moral paragon in your youth as well; aging does not give people a better character, merely the conceited delusion of having a better character. This delusion is embraced by perhaps the majority of middle-aged people. The second remedy is death. Unfortunately these remedies tend to occur in that order; whereas it would be so much better if we all died before combining all our other vices with senile self-satisfaction.

Sour old braggarts insist that they are superior in wisdom to young people. Well, they are simply wrong. If human beings are very, very complex algorithms, then the typical old person is a highly simplified and limited algorithm; its behaviour now consists of little else than the same dozen lines of dialogue, or rather monologue, mostly intended to insult, irritate or at least bore the surroundings. I am astonished to find novels containing intelligent, scientifically literate and tolerant parents and other old people, because I never met any myself. I know I would have remembered meeting someone over 50 who was not devoted to ignorance, superstition and bigotry.

The reason why algorithm-based artificial intelligence has never worked is because people were trying to build a computer that acted like a young, healthy, rational human being. They ought instead have built a machine that passed the Turing Test by emulating the average querulous pensioner on the bus, weary, whiny and hung-up on trivia. You could probably use a computer from the Eighties, programmed in Basic.

Posted on October 18, 2017 at 21:27 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment

The Spiritual Is Never The Other

I have argued elsewhere that the word “spiritual” is very difficult to parse. When it means pertaining to a ghost, that is, to some alleged residue of a former human, it is almost comprehensible as a name for something that does not actually exist, but otherwise it seems to be mostly a pointless synonym of either “emotional” or “ethical”. That is, having a “spiritual experience” usually means having an emotional high, whereas acting “unspiritually” means doing something wrong, and we already have words for both ideas.

This applies, of course, only to non-tactical usages. For the main purpose of the word “spiritual” lies in one-upmanship, in a claim to see, know or understand something that you cannot, because you are not as “spiritual” as wot I am. This is sometimes parlayed into a pecuniary receivable, while sometimes the point-scoring is considered sufficient in itself.

It is high time that the human race collectively resolved that whenever someone makes this claim, they should not be pleaded with to concede us some human worth, or even argued with, but treated like any other kind of malignant parasite.

(Fiddle date-stamp to 22 Feb 2010)

Posted on October 9, 2017 at 19:04 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE LONGEST CON, Religion As Emotional Tech

On Morality and Environments

According to Mark Hauser of Harvard, human brains have a separate morality module. We learn, however different morality packages in different environments. Individualism and confrontation are the appropriate responses to a stable environment, he says, while collectivism and conformity to an unstable one. Well, he seems to be thinking of the instability in terms of resource-poverty, where we all pull together to survive. I wonder whether he has considered another kind of unstable environment, one in which preaching of individualism and confrontation has led to a society based on maximum short-term extraction? Or would he consider that a stable one, in that the rich stay rich and the poor starve in an entirely predictable manner?

(Fiddle date-stamp to October 25, 2009)

Posted on September 28, 2017 at 18:54 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, Messing With The Heads Of The Prey