Barred From Eliot’s Heaven

According to Little Gidding, our exasperated spirits may be “restored by that refining fire, Where you must move in measure, like a dancer”.

In that case I myself am doomed, because I have never had the slightest understanding of why human beings perform this thing called dancing. From the outside, I might be able to see how some kind of subjection of our fallen wills to given rules could be what the poet means by “moving in measure”. Not being a psychopath, I can assent to that in theory. I can obey rules, certainly, but nevertheless cannot begin to dance, neither formally nor even in the modern throwing-your-arms-about sense.

Being unable to do the latter might have something to do with my fear of making a public idiot of myself, which is unfortunately stronger than anything else I might want to “express”. Perhaps that is the sin of pride.

Not being able to follow a dance of formal steps, whether as waltz or barn-dance, may be something different. It is probably related to a lack of understanding of one’s place in the world, and that in turn is almost certainly something that adults can create in their offspring. All they need to do is to define the child not primarily in relation to the larger world, but in relation to their own selves, in intimate isolation. Clearly all infants begin that way, but they ought not to be kept there. Then again, to riff on Schiller’s famous quote: against the narcissistic parent’s need for a pet, the gods themselves struggle in vain.

(Fiddle date-stamp to September 18, 2010)

The Mythology Of Will

I have mentioned elsewhere that the concept Schopenhauer termed “the Will” was not at all the same as that celebrated in the film Triumph of the Will. As the underlying reality of the universe, the Kantian ding-am-sich, he meant something like the Bergsonian élan vital or the Shavian life-force, and not the mere imposition of what some people want upon what other people want. Which latter may be considered our first popular meaning.

Another very common meaning of “will” is the ability to persist with one’s desiderata. This may be considered misleading on the grounds that persistence is not a matter of how “hard” you will a thing, whatever “hard” may mean here, but only on what obstacles will make you give it up.

A third thing people call by “will” is best seen in popular novels of magic, an excellent example being Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. The eponymous magical practitioner is forever “gathering up his will” to achieve things in the external universe. We meet the same thing in the common device of “metapsychic” powers, especially telekinesis or “mind over matter” as it used to be known: the idea seems to be that a telekinetic’s mere will is causative.

The magician’s will seems to involve some kind of effort, but it is never clear exactly what this might mean, because moving our own limbs involves no great grunting and straining. Moving the limb against outer resistance, by all means, but that is not the same thing. If we raise a healthy arm in empty air, it does not feel like striving to overcome constipation; the willing and the accomplishing appear to be precisely the same thing. As in the Nike slogan, we “just do it”. And if there is no grunting and groaning “exercise of will” to raise our arm, why should we believe in some strenuous putting-forth of our “wills” in order to move things at a distance, that is, to do magic? If we really could call up demons by our “wills”, it would surely be no harder than wanting to hum and so humming.

If wanting something “badly” does not feel like straining to lift a weight, it must then be a way of saying that we are prepared to sacrifice more to get what we want, either our own interests or preferably someone else’s. That being so, it should go without saying that the notion of one man being more potent at magic by virtue of having a stronger will is nonsense, other than in the sense of being more content to wade through more blood. Which brings us back again to Triumph of the Will.

The whole concept of some inner homunculus strenuously pulling at ropes and pulleys in order to move the body should be recognised as just that, a model, and all models may be mistaken. This model of effortful willing may in fact be a projection from the ownership of slave labour.

(Fiddle date-stamp to July 16, 2011)

Posted on January 11, 2018 at 14:52 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE LONGEST CON, From Rationalism to New Age

The Consequence Of Secret Stalinism

Millions of netizens seem to regard their right of “free speech” as meaning a duty incumbent on all hearers to agree with them, or at least not to express disagreement. Every day you can witness somebody explicitly claiming that your having a different opinion is a criminal denial of their rights. Moreover, any reluctance to stroke their egos seems to constitute “oppression”. I would not be the first to point out how freedom of speech has been misconceived as a guarantee, not of personal safety in public speech, but of popularity.

I would suggest that, against the background of such breathtaking ignorance and intolerance, nay online Stalinism, the whole conceptualisation of “hate speech” is a thoroughly bad idea.

In a reasonable world, getting up on your hind legs and yelling “Kill the Outgroup!” would be deemed to fall under the traditional exception to freedom of speech, namely that you are not free to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. We could then usefully discuss where precisely the boundaries should go between saying, “The Outgroup is Naughty” and “Kill the Outgroup!”

Again, in a reasonable world, saying that the outgroup is naughty should not lead to people descending on it with torches and pitchforks, but we do not live in a reasonable world. In Tsarist Russia, the acronym “HEP” was not an expression of an intellectual position but a call to murder all the Jews of the town. In Rwanda, the radio instructed people to kill the cockroaches, that is, the Tutsis, and behold, people went out and killed them. So under certain circumstances, saying certain words must fall outside free expression.

On the other hand, we do not live in a reasonable enough world for a person’s feelings of this and that to be allowed to abrogate freedom of speech. This is because people do not have strong feelings solely as an unavoidable consequence of being oppressed. Having your feelings hurt is by no means dependent on the real and objective actions of other parties. For people manufacture their feelings, cultivate them like hothouse blooms, exaggerate them and lie about them. Especially when they can get something out of it, such as attention, power and pecuniary compensation.

This means that none of us are safe from your claiming that we have hurt your feelings. It is like the old Metropolitan Police offence of “causing suspicion” in the mind of a police officer, against which no defence was even theoretically possible. The sole criterion was the existence of a subjective phenomenon in the mind of the police officer, for which we only had his word. This phenomenon was disproportionately invoked at the sight of a black citizen. Do we really want this to be our modern epistemological model?

No, sanctions should be attracted only by our actual behaviour, our demonstrable acts, and not by the creation of alleged emotional states in other people with their own axes to grind. This gives far too much power to people whose core skill is throwing tantrums.

(Fiddle date-stamp to October 19, 2009)

On The Truly Hidden

When mystics go on (and on, and on) about the Oneness of things, or about how everything is a unity, Hugo tends to go switch-off. It seems as much a meaningless babble as the invocations of Red Indian spirit guides by Victorian con-women wearing turbans and lots of bling.

One fine day, however, the Arabic expression Ahadiyyat al-‘ayn, or “Uniqueness of Essence”, suddenly seemed to make sense. This was because most of our knowledge is gained from comparing things and noting their similarities. Essence or Being as such, if we dare use such a simple noun for “the totality of what exists”, by definition cannot be compared with things that are like it. As Popper said of History, something there is only one of cannot support inductive generalisations. Is it really too much of a stretch to say the same of the Everything-That-Is? If we may be said to know Being, therefore, it cannot be the same sort of knowledge as when we know individual things within Being. Perhaps Hegel or Heidegger said it better, I do not know, but that was at any rate how Hugo saw it that one fine day.

Schopenhauer said something in the same general area when he cautioned that all the original forces of Nature are a qualitas occulta. As Hume had already realised, we cannot observe causation, only the repetitiousness of something happening after another thing and in close proximity. From which Kant decided that causation was a product of our own minds. All this talk of “forces” is therefore as much bullshit as that spouted by the table-tapper; we know that stuff happens, but the “forces” are as fictitious as her Big Chief who has nothing better to do all eternity than tell the paying public that their dear departeds send their regards.

In the same way, we cannot easily expound why some things are so, even when they seem intuitively obvious.This is because, says Schopenhauer, the principle of sufficient reason, in its four forms (cause, logical consequence, existence and motivation) is absolutely inexplicable. For it is the principle of explanation itself. If we call on a person to explain something, we ought to have a concept of what “explanation” actually means, and not demand that he tell us while explaining the first thing.

And yet, “Everyone knows without further help what the world is, for he himself is the subject of knowing of which the world is representation.” What philosophy does, says Schopenhauer, is merely to reproduce our concrete knowledge of the world in the abstract. Well, then, so the Everything-That-Is is after all knowable, we know it in the direct and undeniable manner that a fox knows what the hen is. But when the mystics make a meal of this knowledge, claiming to have something exclusive, they never say that theirs is the fox’s knowledge of the hens, nor yet its rephrasing in terms of philosophical abstracts. Rather, they seem to be claiming it as a third thing entirely, about which they can naturally tell us nothing more without a paid subscription.

Posted on December 28, 2017 at 15:34 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE LONGEST CON, From Rationalism to New Age

The Chivalry Paradox

In some jurisdictions far more fuss is made about “violence against women” than about violence against harmless old men, say, or against male children. Were there to be a serial murderer who conscientiously killed equal numbers of male and female innocents, the progressive dailies could still be relied on to banner-headline with “Violence against women”. At least ten men would have to be done to death for every woman before the editors condescended to take notice.

Now, upon what could this possibly be based other than the old-school value of “chivalry” – a value that is at the same time derided as hand-wavingly sharing a nature (neither dividing the substance nor confounding the persons) with phallocratic violence? Were a progressive to be asked to explain just precisely why violence against women was so uniquely heinous, it may be doubted whether she could in fact do so, without either citing the alleged innocence of women in men’s power-games, (although most men who suffer violence are merely seeking to pass and repass the thoroughfare just as innocently), or else invoking some inherent sacredness or at least superiority of the female sex (of the same kind as she has spent her life opposing whenever claimed by men).

(Fiddle date-stamp to September 23, 2011)

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 · One 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)