Archive for May, 2011

Some Thoughts on The Apocalypse (Nothing New Here)

May 31, 2011

Do you guys know about Warhammer 40,000—the max-dystopian sci-fi fantasy book series based on the tabletop miniature wargame of the same name? Perhaps it goes without saying: Warhammer 40k is thrashingly bonkers. Indicative of the general maximalist vibe, the action takes place in the year 40,000. (None of this namby-pamby 2050A.D. stuff!) From what I gather, the fictional universe is one of constant total war wherein intergalactic humanoid mercenaries romp perpetually over wasted landscapes of gore & skulls, slashing their way through storms of violence in an attempt to […I missed that part]. Id Est: An Toto Wampage.

Like any cult hobby, Warhammer 40,000 is a world unto itself. Fans participate in this world by painting elaborate miniatures, playing with their armies of miniatures (basically tabletop LARP), and/or consuming the many Warhammer 40k books penned by a roster of sci-fi authors. Or, if you’re like me, you participate in this world by drinking BLLs in your friend’s basement and asking him to explain what, exactly, is a Chaos Space Marine?

One of the most interesting aspects of a fictional universe set 40 centuries in the future is the confused relationship to the past—and in particular, the space dudes’ relationship to the technologies they use. Even though the characters fly around in massive spaceships and are themselves composed of robotic appendages, they only have a functional understanding of these technologies inherited from some hazy & distant past. They know how to recharge the ship’s space batteries (I’m making this example up), but they don’t understand the principles by which the batteries operate. As a result, a kooky thing has happened to their space culture. The space dudes attribute the functioning or non-functioning of a space battery to superstitious forces and thus a confused spirituality has arisen in which space dudes pray and make offerings to the unknown magic that governs the space batteries.

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ANYHOW! The other day I was thinking of the Warhammer predicament with the space batteries in relation to a thought experiment posed by the British philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue. MacIntyre asks us to imagine a scenario where the natural sciences suffer the effects of a catastrophe:

A series of environmental disasters are blamed by the general public on the scientists. Widespread riots occur, laboratories are burnt down, physicists are lynched, books and instruments are destroyed. Finally a Know-Nothing political movement takes power and successfully abolishes science teaching in schools and universities, imprisoning and executing the remaining scientists. Later still there is a reaction against this destructive movement and enlightened people seek to revive science, although they have largely forgotten what it was. But all that they possess are fragments: a knowledge of experiments detached from any knowledge of the theoretical context which gave them significance; parts of theories unrelated to the other bits and pieces of theory which they possess or to experiment; instruments whose use has been forgotten; half-chapters from books, single pages from articles…. None the less all these fragments are reembodied in a set of practices, which go under the revived names of physics, chemistry and biology. Adults argue with each other about the respective merits of relativity theory, evolutionary theory and phlogiston theory, although they possess only a very partial knowledge of each. Children learn by heart the surviving portions of the periodic table and recite as incantations some of the theorems of Euclid. Nobody, or almost nobody, realizes that what they are doing is not natural science in any proper sense at all….

In such a culture men would use expressions such as ‘neutrino’, ‘mass’, ‘specific gravity’, ‘atomic weight’, in systematic and often interrelated ways which would resemble in lesser or greater degrees the ways in which such expressions had been used in earlier times before scientific knowledge had been so largely lost.

MacIntyre poses this thought experiment about a collapse of science to make an analogy. MacIntyre believes that in our current age the language of morality is in the same state of grave disorder as the language of science in his hypothetical scenario. In his view, our moral language—and thus, our moral reasoning—is comprised of disjointed fragments of conceptual schemes shorn from the original contexts from which the moral assertions derived their meaning. One consequence of this collapse is that moral arguments are interminable—not that they go on and on, though they often do—but that they have no grounding on which they might be compared, let alone resolved. They are incommensurable. Moral discussions in MacIntyre’s view are now a hodgepodge of conclusions & arguments extracted from the larger systems of utilitarianism, humanitarianism, Christian morality, and Kantian ethics, admixed with the arbitrary emotivism of “Because I wish it / Because I said so”.

This view that we have become unmoored from the “grand narratives” or “legitimizing myths” that formerly framed our ethical culture has an essential overlap with thinkers like Frankie Lyotard. And MacIntyre’s view that we are flailing about, unaware of the significant historical background of our beliefs, sounds a lot like Freddie Jameson (e.g., “the present [is] an age that has forgotten how to think historically in the first place”). Which is only to say that MacIntyre sounds quite du jour. Which is fine—we don’t mind our kontemporary konfusion described by our contemporary thinkers—it’s comforting even!

But then we remember that this is basically the argument Nietzsche was making 130 years ago. He was ranting against a European bourgeois culture in which the moral sentiments ostensibly grounded in Enlightenment rationality or the Christian worldview had outlasted the collapse of the credibility of both. (Y’know, ‘God is Dead’—not in the sense that the Old Man in the Sky has been felled, but that He is no longer a viable bedrock for absolute morality.) My point here is that when reading the distressed diagnoses of MacIntyre/Lyotard/Jameson/et al asserting that we live in the turbulent wake of a cultural collapse, you have to hear Nietzsche in the background saying, “Dude, don’t act surprised about this news in 2011—I’m covering the same beat in the 1880s and I’m saying it’s already happened!”

My jam here is not that Nietzsche’s or MacIntyre’s specifics are right, but to point to the more general notion of the slow unwinding of culture. [FINALLY CLOSING IN ON MAIN POINT] I bring this up in relation to our ubiquitous cultural fantasy about a Mad Max/The Road­-variety apocalypse (…on which—don’t get me wrong—I enjoy riffing as much as any!) But this cultural fantasy is just that—a fantasy—a hypothetical escape route from our Boschian gyre / a wishful return to some simpler Natural State. Something like a gritty update on Treasure Island. And implicit within this fantasy, another: that the apocalypse is coming. But I’m like: Forget Apocalypse Now, I’m saying Apocalypse Already. Nobody is going to be Raptured one decisive day; the world adrift will continue to drift.

And that’s fine—me suspect that’s how it has always gone down! & I’m not trying to cruise around on a Bummer Enforcement Patrol—I’m just rappin’ about constant flux, baby! Quit dreaming about the world getting taken care of. Or made anew.

[To be continued… like the worlb]

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Memories, Dreams, Reflections: School Years

May 28, 2011

By Mr. Carl Jung:


A Little Story

May 24, 2011

An excerpt —  a nested fable! — from What is Man? by Mr. Mark Twain. Many LOLs.

A Little Story

Old Man: I will tell you a little story:

Once upon a time an Infidel was guest in the house of a Christian widow whose little boy was ill and near to death. The Infidel often watched by the bedside and entertained the boy with talk, and he used these opportunities to satisfy a strong longing in his nature–that desire which is in us all to better other people’s condition by having them think as we think. He was successful. But the dying boy, in his last moments, reproached him and said:

“I BELIEVED, AND WAS HAPPY IN IT; YOU HAVE TAKEN MY BELIEF AWAY, AND MY COMFORT. NOW I HAVE NOTHING LEFT, AND I DIE MISERABLE; FOR THE THINGS WHICH YOU HAVE TOLD ME DO NOT TAKE THE PLACE OF THAT WHICH I HAVE LOST.”

And the mother, also, reproached the Infidel, and said:

“MY CHILD IS FOREVER LOST, AND MY HEART IS BROKEN. HOW COULD YOU DO THIS CRUEL THING? WE HAVE DONE YOU NO HARM, BUT ONLY KINDNESS; WE MADE OUR HOUSE YOUR HOME, YOU WERE WELCOME TO ALL WE HAD, AND THIS IS OUR REWARD.”

The heart of the Infidel was filled with remorse for what he had done, and he said:

“IT WAS WRONG–I SEE IT NOW; BUT I WAS ONLY TRYING TO DO HIM GOOD. IN MY VIEW HE WAS IN ERROR; IT SEEMED MY DUTY TO TEACH HIM THE TRUTH.”

Then the mother said:

“I HAD TAUGHT HIM, ALL HIS LITTLE LIFE, WHAT I BELIEVED TO BE THE TRUTH, AND IN HIS BELIEVING FAITH BOTH OF US WERE HAPPY. NOW HE IS DEAD,–AND LOST; AND I AM MISERABLE. OUR FAITH CAME DOWN TO US THROUGH CENTURIES OF BELIEVING ANCESTORS; WHAT RIGHT HAD YOU, OR ANY ONE, TO DISTURB IT? WHERE WAS YOUR HONOR, WHERE WAS YOUR SHAME?”

Young Man: He was a miscreant, and deserved death!

Old Man: He thought so himself, and said so.

Young Man: Ah–you see, HIS CONSCIENCE WAS AWAKENED!

Old Man: Yes, his Self-Disapproval was. It PAINED him to see the mother suffer. He was sorry he had done a thing which brought HIM pain. It did not occur to him to think of the mother when he was misteaching the boy, for he was absorbed in providing PLEASURE for himself, then. Providing it by satisfying what he believed to be a call of duty.

Young Man: Call it what you please, it is to me a case of AWAKENED CONSCIENCE. That awakened conscience could never get itself into that species of trouble again. A cure like that is a PERMANENT cure.

Old Man: Pardon–I had not finished the story. We are creatures of OUTSIDE INFLUENCES–we originate NOTHING within. Whenever we take a new line of thought and drift into a new line of belief and action, the impulse is ALWAYS suggested from the OUTSIDE. Remorse so preyed upon the Infidel that it dissolved his harshness toward the boy’s religion and made him come to regard it with tolerance, next with kindness, for the boy’s sake and the mother’s. Finally he found himself examining it. From that moment his progress in his new trend was steady and rapid. He became a believing Christian. And now his remorse for having robbed the dying boy of his faith and his salvation was bitterer than ever. It gave him no rest, no peace. He MUST have rest and peace–it is the law of nature. There seemed but one way to get it; he must devote himself to saving imperiled souls. He became a missionary. He landed in a pagan country ill and helpless. A native widow took him into her humble home and nursed him back to convalescence. Then her young boy was taken hopelessly ill, and the grateful missionary helped her tend him. Here was his first opportunity to repair a part of the wrong done to the other boy by doing a precious service for this one by undermining his foolish faith in his false gods. He was successful. But the dying boy in his last moments reproached him and said:

“I BELIEVED, AND WAS HAPPY IN IT; YOU HAVE TAKEN MY BELIEF AWAY, AND MY COMFORT. NOW I HAVE NOTHING LEFT, AND I DIE MISERABLE; FOR THE THINGS WHICH YOU HAVE TOLD ME DO NOT TAKE THE PLACE OF THAT WHICH I HAVE LOST.”

And the mother, also, reproached the missionary, and said:

“MY CHILD IS FOREVER LOST, AND MY HEART IS BROKEN. HOW COULD YOU DO THIS CRUEL THING? WE HAD DONE YOU NO HARM, BUT ONLY KINDNESS; WE MADE OUR HOUSE YOUR HOME, YOU WERE WELCOME TO ALL WE HAD, AND THIS IS OUR REWARD.”

The heart of the missionary was filled with remorse for what he had done, and he said:

“IT WAS WRONG–I SEE IT NOW; BUT I WAS ONLY TRYING TO DO HIM GOOD. IN MY VIEW HE WAS IN ERROR; IT SEEMED MY DUTY TO TEACH HIM THE TRUTH.”

Then the mother said:

“I HAD TAUGHT HIM, ALL HIS LITTLE LIFE, WHAT I BELIEVED TO BE THE TRUTH, AND IN HIS BELIEVING FAITH BOTH OF US WERE HAPPY. NOW HE IS DEAD–AND LOST; AND I AM MISERABLE. OUR FAITH CAME DOWN TO US THROUGH CENTURIES OF BELIEVING ANCESTORS; WHAT RIGHT HAD YOU, OR ANY ONE, TO DISTURB IT? WHERE WAS YOUR HONOR, WHERE WAS YOUR SHAME?”

The missionary’s anguish of remorse and sense of treachery were as bitter and persecuting and unappeasable, now, as they had been in the former case. The story is finished. What is your comment?

Blass From The Past: This Old Chestnut

May 20, 2011

Seems as good a time as any to revisit this little gem. BTW, should we talk about celebrating death now, or later? When do we get to talk about how stupid the idea of “countries” is? Can we talk about “who” deserves “what”??

Smug Cock

May 3, 2011