Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Satire or flattery?

 

No, I did not create this image myself.  I assume it was created with satirical intent, but hey… if you know the source material, it comes pretty close to flattery.

Source 1: https://imgur.com/5OOwLEg

Source 2: https://gurugossiper.com/viewtopic.php?t=17337&start=700


On Failure.

 


Thursday, 27 May 2021

The Right and the Wrong, the Rich and the Poor.

W.H.,

I won't dilate the issue infinitely, but it may be worthwhile to pause to imagine just how nearly-infinite the expansion of the issue could be.

What I find about the left is that they will use the name of the poor (and the idea of poverty) without actually taking the slightest interest in who the poor are, or what they want.

You know, I studied Cree and Ojibwe at First Nations University (this is on my C.V.).  I could say something similar about the left wing's interest (or lack of interest) in the indigenous people: they are interested only in the symbol of what these people are supposed to represent, not the reality of who they are.

The left dehumanizes the very people they pretend to champion.

In the United States of America today, who is more Christian, the rich or the poor?

In the United States of America today, who is more racist, the rich or the poor?

And the poor: what is their perspective on the decriminalization of drugs?  And on border control?  And on immigration?  And on transgender hormone replacement therapy?  And on practically every issue that the "urban sophisticates" of the left wing imagine themselves to have the sole, morally-correct position on?

Poverty becomes a pretext for a left-wing agenda that has nothing to do with who "the poor" are, or what they want.  The left will claim that the world could only be improved by giving all of the United States the same permissive policies toward addictive drugs that Seattle already has --while, in fact, it is the poor who suffer most by living in close proximity to the drug addicts, and who most need the police to enforce the laws to make their neighborhoods inhabitable.  The residents of Calabasas, behind their high walls, can endure decriminalization; I, in my neighborhood, cannot.

And if we care about improving sewage treatment, or the healthcare system, or the university education system, whose opinion do we turn to?  Is it the poor who know the answers to how we should reform any given institution?  No, inevitably, we turn to someone with expertise or experience salient to the problem, and it is extraordinarily rare if the person with that expertise is poor --even police reform is entirely the domain of educated elites.

From my own biased perspective, the irony is that the quality of education in the United States and Canada is SO ABYSSAL that the rich have no advantage over the poor: people with university diplomas know little more than high school graduates in this culture.  So, we have a situation of "hollow elitism", in which the opinions of the rich and well-educated are esteemed for nothing.

I would warn you, again, that I am probably more "left wing" (policy by policy) than you imagine me to be: but I am extremely cynical about the things left wingers are idealistic about.

Meanwhile, if you look at the politics of any foreign country (i.e., that the observer has sufficient detachment about) you'll immediately sympathize with the wealthiest, western-educated elite, rather than the poor, or rather than the populist leaders who pander to the poor.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanathorn_Juangroongruangkit

Thanathorn here was educated at NYU's Stern School of Business, and I think you'll find him more sympathetic than the rural poor who voted to continue to be ruled by a military dictatorship!

E.M.






Saturday, 22 May 2021

[From 2006!] On the Misinterpretation of the Philosophy of Max Stirner.


Oh, you want the "TL;DR" version?  Max Stirner's philosophy has become less obscure in the years since 2006, when I wrote this uncompromising critique of the only available version of the text in English, and sent it directly to the author of the introduction, David Leopold (who is also credited as the text's translator, but I suspect he merely revised the wording of someone else's translation).  Leopold actually received this and replied to it (by email) and I daresay he seemed mildly horrified.  Perhaps you will be, too.  THE PHILOSOPHY OF MAX STIRNER IS LARGELY MISUNDERSTOOD IN ENGLISH, and it certainly doesn't help that (1) the translation is poor, and (2) THE INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK IS EXTREMELY DISHONEST AND MISLEADING!


(The youtube video, linked above, was recorded by a younger version of myself in 2017, living in exotic Yunnan, China… whereas the text that ensues below was written by an even younger version of myself, in 2006, living in Vientiane, Laos!)

1.

... [T]urning to the introduction provided by David Leopold (Ibidem, pg. xxxi), we find a badly flawed sketch of this important aspect of Stirner's work:

[Leopold:] ... [W]hen Stirner talks of the egoist being 'owner' of the world it seems simply to indicate the absence of obligations on the egoist --a bleak and uncompromising vision that he captures in an appropriately alimentary image:

[Leopold quoting Stirner:] Where the world comes in my way -- and it comes in my way everywhere -- I consume it to the quiet hunger of my egoism. For me you are nothing but -- my food, even as I too am fed upon and turned to use by you. We have only one relation to each other, that of usableness, of utility, of use. We owe each other nothing. (p. 263)

Leopold has disingenuously foisted this interpretation onto the source text. The sup- posedly "bleak and uncompromising vision" that he alludes to on page 263 is in fact a description of a bird singing in a tree for the sheer joy of creating its own song; the image is not "bleak", but positively ebullient. Stirner's words immediately preceding the quotation that Leopold has taken out of context are as follows:

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Make Reading Productive: a Practical Philosophy of Education.

[This was written in reply to an extremely flattering letter from a viewer: a young man who explained how his life had profoundly changed due to the influence of my youtube channel.  He had quit playing video games (having described himself as being, previously, "a video game addict"), and really devoted himself to the study of politics and philosophy, beginning from a very low level.  He wrote in asking broadly for advice, and quite possibly expecting "recommended reading" in reply.]



Hi _____,


Well, you are writing to me at an opportune time, as I'm in the process of trying to complete my book, "No More Manifestos".


Many chapters (not all) are already available within Patreon, and you can use the app's search function to hunt them down.


Here's the final text of chapter 1, for example:


patreon.com/posts/book-chapter-one-45227552


So, I will re-interpret your question as follows:


"What should I do, to develop my own acumen and abilities, within the constraints of being a university student (busy studying ______) in _______?"


Most people would tell you to devote yourself to "reading", and would then provide you with a reading list.  There are many, many reasons why this is not what I'm going to do (I'm a critic of "recommended reading", and I'm even a critic of reading itself, to a definite extent).


I think that for someone in your situation (and for most people with a full time job, etc.) the primary question is, instead, of "How can I make reading productive?", and then how that process of reading, researching, learning, doubting, discussion, questioning, etc., can be part-and-parcel of a meaningful life.


You know, there are people who live in a cave (i.e., alone, in the wilderness) and study Buddhist philosophy: they never learn what I've learned about Buddhism.  A great deal of what is recommended (both by academia, and "here" on youtube) is really just equivalent to encouraging people to seal themselves up in a cave, of one sort or another.


The people who give this advice rarely even reflect on their own process of learning, and the extent to which very non-cave-like aspects (and very non-textual aspects) of the learning process were important to them.  The importance is attributed to the book itself, as if it were a graven idol, that could impart wisdom to us, as a reward for our devotion to it.


Many, many people on the left wing do indeed study politics in much the same way as a Buddhist eremite in a cave "studies" Buddhism, and they emerge from their caves more disconnected from reality than ever before --but, of course, utterly devoted to the particular book (or guru) that they imagine to be the source of all wisdom (and all hope for a better society in the future).


(On the right wing, this is true of some of the libertarians, but I wouldn't say there's any directly comparable pattern among "moderate conservatives", who more commonly approach politics with the assumption that they've got nothing to learn.)


What is it that makes reading productive?


Instead of a huge pile of books (qua "input"), with no clear "output", I think it's important to divide the process into a series of projects, where you pick up and handle the information you're learning as an instrument.


Instead of studying Buddhism (as a whole, for example), imagine if someone took up a specific project looking at (i) prostitution, (ii) police corruption, and then (iii) what Buddhist leaders say about it (in an intensely Buddhist society like Thailand or Myanmar) and (iv) how Buddhists are actually involved in it.  The religiosity of corrupt police officers in Thailand, the relationship between pimp and prostitute and Buddhist temple, is a specific topic that could produce a specific article, essay or youtube video --and if someone took that up as their first task in the study of Buddhism, they would learn more than reading a tome of "philosophy" in a cave, precisely because (1) what they're learning is directly connected to problems in the real world and (2) because they're making the process of learning productive, by applying what they know to a kind of problem-solving mode of thought.


Imagine the difference between examining puzzles in an art gallery, fully assembled, and handling the puzzle pieces yourself.  Learning ("active research" leading to "an informed opinion") has more to do with the process of handling puzzle pieces than it has to do with staring at them.  Thus, I'm a critic of reading as such.


And, of course, there's the crucial problem of having someone let you know when you've assembled the puzzle pieces all wrong: we do not learn from making mistakes, but from noticing mistakes.  Sometimes we can notice our own mistakes, ourselves, but more often we need someone to discuss our research with --and even if they know less about it than we do, the discussion itself could draw our attention to errors we've made, contrary sources/perspectives we've overlooked, etc.


So, this is also part of the praxis of dividing up the near-infinite mountain of reading into a series of small, specific projects, that have definite "output": the output you create can be seen/heard/read by other people (even if it just a circle of five friends you've got, or friends you'll meet in the process) who can then point out to you mistakes you've made, or limitations and shortcomings of your approach.


Many people would tell you to build up a wall of books you've read, and then try to develop some sophistication toward the wall as a whole.  I am telling you, instead, that it's important to develop a sophisticated attitude toward each brick, one at a time, as it goes into the wall, and to regard the whole process of learning as part and parcel of a meaningful life.


And this meaningful life is something that reading must add to, not subtract from.  It can't be that you're imposing on yourself, and suffering to do the research because it is detracting from everything meaningful in your life: the strategy of making reading productive is, in effect, that the reading becomes a positive and rewarding part of your life --something you're positively motivated to do (even if it is only on the weekend, only in the limited spare time that your university classes (or job) allows you to have, etc.).


I talked to two different viewers recently who made the mistake of "being inspired by" my youtube channels in the following manner: they bought a copy of Aristotle's Ethics, and began reading it, from cover to cover.  (I believe only one of the two finished the book, before complaining to me.)


Now, firstly, I have never endorsed or suggested such a thing (although I've made many youtube videos about Aristotle).  Nor do I suggest, for example, that anyone should sit and read the Bible from cover to cover.


Now, as it happens, Aristotle's Ethics is a terrible book, with only a few pages that are worth reading, as it happens, and even then, the few (interesting) pages are only significant because they allow us to compare what he said in his books on Politics and Rhetoric to a different account.  However, if you want to really learn something from Aristotle's Ethics, you'd need some specific project, with some specific purpose, and some kind of "output" (an article, a youtube video, etc.).


You would need, in this way, to bring a problem-solving purpose to the book.


My method here can be discovered by any jejune person, spontaneously.  Suppose someone told you that they had been forced to read the Bible as a child, and found it utterly boring.  However, as an adult, the idea occurred to them that they would research the question of slavery in the Bible ("once and for all") to discover what exactly the Bible said on the topic, and how this fit into the history of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and misc. political movements to abolish slavery (and attempts to defend the institution of slavery, in response).  Now suppose this person wanted to write an article, or create a youtube video, summing up their conclusions --perhaps they'd discover a number of specific issues along the way that were unexpectedly interesting, and resulted in youtube videos just dealing with that specific topic.


Perhaps some of the issues were "parallel", rather than "intersecting", e.g., this researcher then might well wonder about the history of the abolition of slavery in China, Thailand and Japan (countries where Christianity and Islam were not factors at all in a "parallel" process).


Now, suddenly, the study of the Bible seems fascinating, and not because of anything inherent in the text: the book doesn't exist as an idol to enlighten us (as a reward for our devotion to it), but merely as an instrument that we take up in our own hands, in the process of solving a problem (or answering a series of questions) --and that will, indeed, involve challenging the book, and challenging our own assumptions, by consulting and comparing a variety of sources.


It is significant (and not merely a cultural curiosity, I think) that the easiest way for people to express how they've become sophisticated (politically, philosophically, etc.) is through a series of negations.  They can tell you a series of things they used to believe in, and how they challenged or overturned them, by learning something else.  They were Communist and became ex-Communist, or they were muslim and became ex-muslim, etc.


It is much more difficult to express the process positively: what was the combination of doubt and curiosity that demanded exercise, and how exactly did you exercise it?  I have tried, in this reply, to start explaining to you that process of exercise.


Someone like James Boswell was able, in his time, to publish every stray thought that entered his head in a newspaper: the most casual nonsense that he'd thought up (about politics, etc.) he could publish, from a very early age (certainly, long before his first hit book) and he was then able to surround himself with people who would "entertain" his opinions, and sometimes challenge him, in a salon of ideas.  I will admit my bias: from my perspective, Boswell was a very stupid man, and, also, morally evil.  However, in his manner of living, you can see how effortlessly he "made reading productive"; if he lifted a finger to research the Constitution of Corsica, he was rewarded with a tremendous amount of both publication and feedback.


Here, in Canada, Newspapers are dead.  The body of the book publishing industry is an emaciated shadow of what it formerly was.  Uploading to youtube is one way to approach the problem; having a circle of colleagues in a Facebook group (or equivalent) is another.


There is no point having "output" without "input": there's no point in having a book review channel, if you don't actually read books.  However, most educators are reluctant to say the opposite: there's no point in reading the book if you aren't motivated by some particular purpose --such as a book review, or such as researching some particular topic, to produce some kind of thesis, etc.