send in the clowns

i very much like the idea of sovereign nations at war with entertainment conglomerates. but, if i were kim jong-un and i was interpreting comedies as acts of war, i would be worried. in fact, i'm surprised deterrence didn't work. alright you messed with our seth rogen/james franco movie? guess what, de-hack immediately or we will send in will farrell. dude we will come at you in waves of comedy annihilation. we'll assemble a unit under cedric the entertainer or tina fey. seriously, are you going to mess with tina fey? your nation will die laughing, son. this will make nuclear warheads look like kittens. when we're done, you'll wish we had opted for mere regime change.

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i don't think an act is terrorism if no one gets physically damaged. plus i think screaming terrorism is the whole world's hobby right now. i'd like to move from stopping the terrorists to stopping the phrase 'the terrorists'. but anyway: no, leaking a pre-release of your next film is not terrorism. even leaking your most embarrassing email moment is not terrorism. you could start killing people and blowing shit up this way, possibly, but until you do, you ain't no terrorist.

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reflecting back on it, i had an interesting experience in grad school. at hopkins, working on my ma, i took some classes with stanley fish (and also played on his intramural softball and basketball teams!), and then my ph.d. experience at uva centered around rorty. indeed, i first studied rorty (consequences of pragmatism) with fish. now, these were both actually rather funny and ironic men who loved life (well, fish is still that, no doubt). but it was hard to miss a sense of the end: certainly of philosophy, pictured as so tired and over, but vaguely of everything, like western culture and values, meaning, and stuff. also, um, the real world. rorty projected an air of sort-of-amused disappointment that anyone would still go get a ph.d., years after he said the whole thing was over with heidegger. that someone still believed in reality in 1986 just sort of saddened him.

they both also affirmed some form of liberal democracy and other positive values, and these affirmations were sincere and grew more intense as time went on. yet there was always that deflationary wry detachment, that shrug of the shoulders, that well-i-can't-seem-to-think-of-anything-better so, whatever. so that is actually how i think of the postmodern moment, because that was the bit of it i was in. it was attractive in its way, and they were good advertisements for their positions: fundemantally decent people. and yet it all made me want to...begin again.

 you just have to find a way to reaffirm or go on after that, right? like you're after the end - even then it was getting longer and longer since the end of art, the death of the author, flies ditching fly-bottles, and so on and so forth: the pomo thinkers declared themselves to be a dead end, which leaves you in a bit of a quandary if you're trying to pull together a dissertation topic under their tutelage. (i think a fair amount of pomo theory could be accounted for by the disappointment of the left in that era, the dreams that ran aground on reagan and thatcher, the obvious evil and decline of communism.) but really if you're after after the end or whatever, you just...go on, don't you? that end shit got boring and odd, like a strange tic or not-quite-right recurrent phrase. and it was the teleological assumptions that these figures brought to bear - which they in turn inherited from their teachers - that brought on the disappointment or even exhaustion.

but i say to you straight up that we have not yet begun to inquire. there is plenty to do. sally forth!

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cheese it, the cops! 2014-12-18 04:55:15

i have a funny feeling we may actually be in for regime change in north korea. you just prodded power where it lives: in the $. certainly, there is every justification for a massive cyber-attack on north korea, and i'm betting a lot of governments here and there are dying to try out their new weapons. the insane brutality and demented totalitarianism of the regime wasn't enough to get people going; this might be, though.

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keepin it real in the popomo era

one mark of this period in philosophy is its realism, by which i mean that philosophy in this period is convinced of the existence of a world independent of consciousness (or, let's start with that; believe me i have worked more carefully on formulating this). now one would say it's a return to realism, only guess what? western philosophy has been profoundly and almost continuously anti-realist throughout the modern era. descartes, locke, hume, kant, hegel, husserl: all locked us in a world of ideas and impressions and sensations. carnap constructed a universe out of "auto-psychological objects". hermeneutics and much of pomo phil (rorty, e.g.; but, wittgenstein, derrida), went textual instead of phenomenalist; we build a world from language, which adds a social element. i think of rorty or gadamer as linguistic idealists. baudrillard in a way makes the obvious move, yet again: oh well there's no sense in holding on to this old distinction between simulacra and reality.

but here are some elements of the realist backlash: externalism in philosophy of mind a la andy clark or mark rowlands (well, or me), timothy williamson's epistemology and response to dummett, etc, bruno latour, speculative realism a la graham harman and levi bryant (and now many others), lee smolin arguing that time is real. 

i'm reading coming to our senses, by viki mccabe, who is a cognitive psychologist. here's the nut:

Because we coevolved with and adapted to a world of complex systems in which we participate, our senses evolved to parse the structural information that specifies the properties of those systems. . . . Unlike most books about cognition and perception that focus primarily on us - what we think and how our brains work - this book takes its lead from the world itself. . . it is not about us and our ideas; it is about the world and the structural information its complex systems convey.
this, i have to say, is obvious when you think about it for a moment: on any sort of naturalistic account of human beings, our perceptual apparatus has to respond to real features of the environment: that is what our sensory systems are for, and if we were imposing space and time on the universe, for example, the real universe would long ago have expunged us. we experience space and time and causation (to begin with) because they are real features of the world external to us. (this is why i'm also arguing against half-assed interpretations of relativity, etc). lord knows how philosophy got away with not asserting that, for centuries. i have a notion that enlightenment-and-after philosophy as a whole is profoundly anti-naturalistic and anti-scientific, is fighting a rear-guard action on behalf of Spirit, Mind, or whatnot.
in a certain way, baudrillard becomes ever-more true. but all of this virtual reality sets up a yearning for an authentic reality: philosophy is also an index of what we need. i started out as a realist in this sense, but got more intense as time went on. studying with rorty and stanley fish or contemplating their heroes like gadamer or reading baudrillard, you just could not help longing for a reality external to consciousness; the pomo moment was so enclosing, and it explicitly had a sense of dead end: like, this is where we ended up. debord shows the dead end politically, for example. i always thought the backlash had to come. i felt totally alone trying to create some kind of realism in rorty and fish's grad seminars in the 80s, but i did try. i didn't seem to have much luck making it come in the early 90s or whatever - i still felt to myself like a lone voice - but i think it was actually happening all around by then. the full brunt of all this will emerge in entanglements.

just when you need jean baudrillard

it really is too bad that jean baudrillard croaked before world war 17, pitting north korea against sony entertainment. a comedy assassination is taken as an 'act of war' and leads to an overwhelming virtual response. also, it's about time a government went to war with a corporation, or i also think that the us government is now at cyber war with north korea on behalf of the japanese corporate sector. pundits are debating whether the hacking is 'terrorism'. really the virtual and the actual have flowed or flown into one another, at least in all the rhetoric; the distinctions have broken the media! there does seem to me to be an important difference between actual and virtual murder and war and terror, though, even though cgi is getting better and better. i think the whole thing is entertaining indeed. if i was sony or kim, i'd be figuring out how to monetize this bad boy in terms of an ongoing podcast or an unfolding assassination contest or nuclear holocaust conducted on buzzfeed. 

observers and meanings

i don't seem to be able to interest any physicists in squabbling, but let me give a primary example of the sort of thing i mean. so, one idea is that time is relative to an 'observer', specifically because of time dilation, in which time is measured differently by different observers depending on their movement relative to one another. now, this appears to be a quasi-kantian assertion: time is dependent on perception; it is a mental phenomenon or necessarily has a mental or subjective aspect.

but however, as far as i can see, the thought experiments that drive this have absolutely nothing to do with observation. two clocks travelling in different directions display the phenenomen. two plants would age at different rates relatively to each other, or two samples of the same element would undergo radioactive decay at apparently different rates. the thing is no more observer-dependent than radioactive decay in a single sample.

probably physicists must know this; there is no place for observers in the equations and so on. so from one angle it is just a terminological convenience. but i would think of it as a globally misleading terminological mistake. it freaks people into accepting an informally subjective universe as though that was a matter of course. obviously, i completely repudiate the sort of metaphysics that makes time relative to observers. but it rather irritates me that a whole century would assume something like that just because of an abuse of words. one asserts that time is observer-relative. perhaps 'what one really means' is true or something. but what one really said is false. words don't mean whatever you want them to mean.

what happens here is that you perform a thought-experiement: imagine that you were traveling east; now imagine you were traveling west; you're looking at a clock, etc. but you got confused between describing a thought experiment and descibing describing a thought experiment, so that you put the thinker you imagined yourself to be into the imagined world as though it were a necessary feature of that world. you imagined imagining an experiment, when you should have just been imagining an experiment. you made the consciousness which is necessary to perform any thought experiment necessary to the results of that experiment. i do think philosophy might have helped with some of this!

but this reading of relativity and also the subjectivist or phenomenalist reading of the uncertainty principle and so on, is also part of physics pr. it's so wild! only in its false form it's not that wild; it's just warmed-over german idealism. so try to state it in its true form.

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oedipal realism

this paper by timothy williamson (one of the most eminent contemporary philosophers; i am struggling into his modal logic as metaphysics) is very fascinating. it's a history/memoir about the sneaky and then explicit revival of metaphysics within the analytic tradition, with characters including ayer, strawson, and kripke. in general there's a lot of interesting history of analytic philosophy emerging these days.

williamson writes this about his supervisor at oxford, the anti-realist philosopher of language michael dummett. "He was remarkably tolerant of the strident realism of my thesis, which effectively presupposed the futility of his life's work and pursued other issues from that starting point." that was around 1980. i might have written that sentence about my thesis with rorty, except that i probably at this point wouldn't put quite so much swashbuckle in it. i was a realist - the most extreme realist i could figure out how to be - but in 1988 i was not ready to really do rorty any damage. i am now. but he's not there anymore. but he too was remarkably tolerant, here of my combined anti-rortyanism and incompetence. i have this funny feeling that by 1980, when he was about 25, timothy williamson was fully as formidable as dummett, but i guess one wouldn't know without reading the thesis. i always thought those giant dummett books on frege etc went from awfully precise-seeming to awfully fuzzy-seeming right at the point where the anti-realist conclusions started flowing. 

but, all this time, philosophers of the generation after people like dummett and rorty have been yearning in a thousand ways for a return to the real world. i actually think this is intensified by the cyber-world and the screen world and virtual realities etc etc. in that atmosphere people yearn for a real physical environment. sometimes philosophy floats like this: as a negative image of the culture or an expression of its yearnings away from itself. 

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So if Zombie Ayn Rand eats the brains of vampiric Ted Cruz…

For Crispin and Co....Merry Baby Jesus Birthday and stuff....

Philosophical zombies

Speaking of which, here is the offical Crusader AXE position on CIA torture and such abominations. While I think it's a pretty good piece as these things go, as often happens with VetsToday, the comments are the best part. When a column gets that response, I feel like Sheldon Cooper, doomed to spend my life teaching evolution to fundamentalists in east Texas. On the other hand, they're pretty funny, if you don't mind feeling amazed at the stupidity of a hunk of the American population. Here's a personal favorite --

Since the massive Rhine meadows slaughter of 1.8 million Germans after WWII by your Rat Bastard leader Eisenhower torture has been a part of the US military efforts ever since! You rat bastard Yanks are far worse than the NAZIS ever were they were using these techniques for maybe ten to twelve years You Yankee Rat Bastards have been at it for 200 plus years and you Rat Bastards are proud of it! How long will you Rat Bastards remain in the sewers and latrine pits of humanity? 

Enjoy! good luck! and all that stuff...



against mason

for such an unprepossessing person, michael hayden's resume is really something, as is his testimony. four-star general and director of military intelligence. nsa director as the program of universal surveillance was established and of cia as, let's speculate, most of the records of the bush-era programs were cleaned up in anticipation of the transition. lord knows how he's contracted into the security state through the chertoff group, while like all such careers today, his makes it clear that the corporate boardroom, the surveillance state, and the torture chamber are located in the same compound. he is the primary spokesman for the pro-torture cabal currently invading the media in a years-in-the-making attempt to avoid trial for crimes against humanity.

what an academic might find disconcerting, though, is that he is also a distinguished professor at george mason university. this is the sort of problem i pointed to with regard to the gruber scandal. so perhaps your tendency there was to think there's nothing so wrong about the same professor helping write obamacare and being hired to sell it and also providing mit-stamped objective research showing that it would have good effects. but, if so, you might also be the sort of person who'd be disconcerted by a pattern of contributions to a university coupled with appointements that do not have even a vague academic justification. at many academic institutions, you are a distinguished professor just merely in virtue of raw power you wield, and also you have next to no academic duties. what a miserable excuse for a university george mason is, an object-lesson in academic boot-licking, like the philosophy department at moscow u under yuri andopov or something. but at any rate, in setting out the whole squishy totalitarian thang, i should have included the professoriate along with the corporation and the state. all forms of prestige and wealth gather around power, wait in line to shower it with accolades and cash.