Wednesday 29 December 2021

Stupidity is Real. No, REALLY…

["Fan mail" from J.P. ensues:]

Re: veganism and your disgusting rant about Matt Dillahunty's point of view.

Your pathetic and intentionally ignorant word-salad effort to explain the typically myopic vegan tribe position on the empty assertion of moral superiority is moronically deficient in the simplest of evidence.

There is but one incontrovertable [sic] fact that overrules everything you've said about veganism -- from the top of the food-chain down, everything that lives on the face of this planet kills and eats as many other living things as possible to survive another day, or, alternatively, is killed and eaten, if not by predators then by parasites and microbes that are even deadlier. Ultimately, nothing escapes the cycle, including humans.

To pretend there is a significant difference between animal and vegetable foodstuffs is sleezier obfuscation than anything you have accused Matt  of because you cannot describe with specificity what you throw around as 'sentient' -- you cannot know whether and to what degree vegetable specimens may or may not be sentient. You don't even know how to know. Vegans kill and consume millions of tons of vegetable matter while totally oblivious of, or hypocritically ignoring, the fact.

I would be greatly pleased if you and all your pittiful [sic] accolytes [sic] would be true to your vegan dogma and eat nothing but rocks and sand, er...for at least the next few days -- Bon appetite!

In short, it was a complete waste of time and audio bandwidth listening to your ridiculous babbling which was really as logical and reasonable as a putrid stream of wet farts.  

(don't bother to respond-- I will never visit this site again!)


Hi J.P.,

Over the last 8 years, à-bas-le-ciel has become famous (and notorious) within veganism / amongst vegans, precisely because of my willingness to criticize (and really condemn) my fellow vegans.

Two quick examples, to give you a sense of how "atypical" this youtube channel is (and the harshness of the criticism I trade in).

          Title: "Vegan Activism is a Scam: Millions of Dollars Wasted."

          Title: "Dogs and Cats: Veganism's Little White Lie, Huge Hypocrisy."

In your one, long comment, you've attributed many arguments to me that I have never presented on my channel (and this is a channel with THOUSANDS of videos)… indicating that you're unaware of what my arguments for veganism are… and, more broadly, that you're unaware of the position of this channel (a-bas-le-ciel) within the vegan movement.

Your comment doesn't indicate any familiarity with vegan politics generally, but you are, nevertheless, attributing a "made up" set of fallacies to me, that my own arguments neither espouse nor presuppose.

You can check out any of the videos on the playlist called "the short list", here:

For example, notably: "The Product of Your Ethical Decisions is YOU."

For a directly autobiographical answer to the question of why I became vegan, cf.,

          "Who I really am; why I became vegan." 


Monday 13 December 2021

Gormless Conformists and the Reform of Education.

[This is an email sent to a retired university professor who is --in his way-- involved in the reform of education, or at least in the critique of education that could lead up to some kind of reform.]

When I was at Cambridge (England) my wife and I were laughing all the time about the fact that the British had devised a system of education that COULD ONLY WORK for people like me --and yet, at the same time, it completely excluded people like me.

Most departments at Cambridge are "self directed learning" to a fault: NOBODY teaches you ANYTHING.

My wife's PhD supervisor* DID NOT READ her PhD thesis (he didn't even look at it!) and he certainly didn't provide any supervision or advice.

* [Footnote: after several years of this, at the very end of the process, she was reassigned to a different supervisor, who did read her work.]

I was not there as a student, you will have surmised: I was there as the husband of a student (and that was my first wife, we're now divorced, and I'm instead marrying someone who has read Thucydides).

It is possible that chemistry and physics do not operate this way, but many departments at Cambridge and Oxford really are "self-directed learning".

Guess what the result is?

Religious maniacs arrive, they gain a PhD, and they leave without anyone challenging their religious mania.

True-believing Communists arrive, they gain a PhD, and they leave without anyone challenging their Communist mania.

This is true throughout myriad ideologies.

When you get into factual material, the reality is even more bleak: people write M.A. theses and PhD theses about Cambodia… and they LITERALLY DO NOT KNOW WHAT SIDE THE AMERICANS WERE FIGHTING ON.  They are writing the history as if the Americans were on the opposite side.

Not just in Buddhism, but in politics and history, I was routinely seeing "Santa Claus errors" --an idiom I made up to describe errors at the level of thinking Santa Claus and Jesus Christ are one and the same person.

Nobody corrects them.  Nobody feels that they're paid to criticize or cross-examine these students.  In a very real sense, nobody educates them.

All they get is a library card and a deadline.

"Self directed learning".

The United States lately had a remarkable challenge in improving the level of education in Afghanistan, hm?  And in eradicating the Taliban THROUGH education, if we're being perfectly honest.  This couldn't possibly be accomplished through self-directed learning.

Self-directed learning increases inequality.  People like myself can thrive on it: highly independent, highly motivated, self-critical, defiant, frankly brilliant people --BUT IRONICALLY, the only people who could "get ahead" at Cambridge were gormless conformists.  The professors wouldn't work with anyone who challenged their ego in any way: they wanted supplicants, not applicants --and that's exactly what they got.

Do you already know the book, "Academically Adrift"?  (It's quite likely I've mentioned it to you before, perhaps years ago now.)

Look, at age 43, I am genuinely at the point of saying, "Carthago est Delenda".

At this point, our educational institutions could be improved by being burnt down.

Saturday 11 December 2021

It's not a humblebrag if you're actually humble, and actually bragging.

Losing Faith in Veganism: the Revolution that Never Was.

Veganism is —in part— about doing the right thing just because it's the right thing to do.  It is —in part— a process and praxis of self-improvement.  But veganism also has revolutionary ambitions: one way or another, it is an attempt to "revolutionize" the society and the world that we live in.  What happens when people join the movement for all the right reasons, and then they quit the movement because they decide —in this sense— that the revolution is doomed. [Link to the video:]

Wednesday 8 December 2021

Youtube: better than handing out sacks of rice to starving people. #ZeroIrony

[Letter from a viewer:]

There's a reason why you have to disable the comments and dislikes in your video's. You want to pursue filmmaking for youtube? Here's the best advice I think you need right now. Take feedback from your viewers. If you're getting dislikes and hate comments, you're probably making shitty content. Ask yourself why is it that you need to disable comments. If you have enough self-awareness, you should be able to figure that one out and then stop doing it.

All the best, although I don't think it's going to work out for you


[My reply:]


To quote a Keenen Ivory Wayans movie, "Oh sister, you are so barking up the wrong tree right now."

If you'd read the description to any of my videos --ANY of them-- you would have seen the following:

Why are comments disabled on my youtube channel?  Here's the answer, in a relatively uplifting 5 minute video:

I get messages from people all the time telling me how profoundly my youtube channel has changed their lives.  Some of them have stayed in touch with me for years, so I get a sense not only of the impact that my political philosophy has had on their lives in the short-term, but in the long term, also.  And, as indicated in that five minute video, I try to make the time to talk to those people at length (long emails, Skype calls, etc.) --and when you have just 2000 viewers per day, believe it or not, the time you have for talking to members of your audience is very finite indeed.

There are people who have quit playing video games because of my channel.  There are people who've quit eating meat because of my channel.  There are people who've broken up with their husbands or wives because of my channel.  There are people who changed their major in university, took on new career-paths, etc.

But, above all else, there are people who changed their political direction in life, because of my channel.  They reconsidered their political assumptions.  Started asking new questions, and came to new conclusions.

How about you, Leigh?

Do you get that kind of feedback from YOUR audience?

Do you have some sort of job (or some sort of hobby) with similar outcomes?

I have to tell you: I've handed out sacks of rice to starving people in Laos ("humanitarian work")… this is better.  What I'm doing, right now, on youtube: it's better.  Oh, and I've tried that "street activism" that vegans tend to brag about, too: talking to strangers while standing on the sidewalk.  Let me say, again: this is better.  ;-)


Saturday 4 December 2021

On the production of new fables (and songs) for Socmas.

My mind has been set on just two tasks, after which I assumed I'd pour my attention and energy into Socmas.

I had imagined I'd have completed these two tasks by December first.  I have not.  Not yet.

The two tasks are, simply, (1) finishing the revisions to the manuscript for No More Manifestos, and (2) reading two books that are directly related to that revision process (sort of, "fact checking").

Now, I have to respond under a few different headings, here (1) about this song in particular that you've composed, (2) about the broader question of composing songs (a revision to this one, or some number of other songs you may compose), and then (3) the even broader question of the production of fiction and rituals for Socmas.

All three, to begin, are united by one problem: who is singing?  One of the most successful examples of propaganda in the history of the world is a song by Stan Rogers, titled Barrett's Privateers: its strength is this, i.e., that the listener knows very clearly who is singing (i.e., the fictional protagonist, situating us in the historical moment in question).  And, without digressing into matters of mere fact, the song is propaganda, and is telling the audience how to feel about history (it is neither entirely honest nor accurate).  That sense of "who" is sining is --in my opinion-- what makes it possible for many people to join in singing the song (i.e., very much like the most successful Christmas carols, and that's why I mention it here as an example).

Now, this song you've proposed for me has the opposite problem --and it may be an incomplete song, or a first sketch indicating an idea for a song, etc., I am not offering criticism for the sake of criticism, but rather discussing the underlying issues for the sake of whatever may be produced next (and by any one of us --not putting any kind of undue burden on yourself).

Is it really possible to write a song that is performed from the perspective of Alcibiades?  If it is possible, it is probably unwise.

Now consider, by contrast, the strength of a song performed from the perspective of an anonymous member of the jury that sentenced Socrates to death: he (singing) and we (when we sing along) could have the sense of certainty that we were doing the right thing in condemning him to death --and later in the song, we could have some kind of regret, being caught up in the politics of the time (etc.).

Did Alcibiades smash the herms?  We (in the 21st century) do not know, but we can write a song from the perspective of someone on the jury who is certain that he smashed the herms (and that he should be executed or exiled for that reason) --and we can indicate that this certainty is false (later in the song, or that same moment, through careful writing).  This is, so to speak, "the unreliable narrator".  I think that's the only way to handle it: we cannot portray Alcibiades himself as bragging that he smashed the herms.

More broadly, we can't really depict Socrates as anti-religion --we can only portray him as someone who was hated by others as if he had been anti-religious.  Handled carefully, that is the more powerful message.

Who was Socrates and why did he matter?  He had original ideas about politics and religion: these were an unwanted challenge to the society he lived in --and they killed him for it.  That can be made into song (and narrative fiction) from many perspectives, but the most implicitly dramatic is that of the nameless, numberless crowd that condemned him.

His original ideas about politics and religion: were they, in fact, better than those of Pericles or Aristotle?  We'll never know: it is quite possible that the answer is no.

Did Socrates propose an atheist Society?  No, certainly not.  Did Socrates propose abolishing slavery?  Certainly not, nor was he even interested in their "upliftment" in any way, so far as I can see.  Did he suggest veganism or even vegetarianism?  No, and others did, in his era and culture.

The fictional Socrates that is ridiculed in "The Clouds" was more of a nihilist than the actual Socrates; but, in part, he died for that fiction --and, of course, he died in part because he really was attached to a whole cabal of schemers (some of whom dreamt of taking over the government, and others actually did so, briefly).  From our perspective, he died because he opened the door to a set of disturbing questions, that inexorably lead to nihilistic answers --including, very simply, whether or not the gods actually controlled rain, thunder and lightning.

Is Socrates the hero or the villain of the story?  Is Alcibiades the hero or the villain of the story?

I think the modern perspective must be, "Inasmuch as they were trying to destroy democracy, they are the villains, and yet, inasmuch as they were trying to challenge and overturn the city's religion, we would go even further in villainy if we could".

I think that is a very productive "starting position" for the creation of new fables: Socrates as a hero is not terribly interesting, and Socrates as a Christ-like victim is even less so.

Viewing the polity of Athens as the protagonist (i.e., "the members of the jury") we then work with "an unreliable narrator" second to none: the singer of the song can condemn Socrates (and/or Alcibiades, etc.) and can at the same time lament his death, ruefully celebrate particular things he and his followers did, and so on.

But, after all, SOMEONE smashed up the herms: from the perspective of Athenian members of the jury alive at that time, it certainly was possible that it could have been members of the same cabal of freethinkers that Socrates and Alcibiades were a part of that smashed them up… who else?  Oh, but didn't you hear the rumor that it was supporters of the Persians that did it?  The Spartans would never do such a thing, it must have been the Medizers, etc.

The moral ambiguity is this: Socrates didn't die so that the power of the church could continue --i.e., his position is not like Galileo, where his imprisonment (or death) is for the sake of religious authority.  No, on the contrary: Socrates must die so that democracy can continue.  And, unlike religion, democracy is neither right nor wrong, but always changing: for a time, democracy made Alcibiades the most famous and powerful man in Athens --and then the same democracy (the same voters) condemned him to exile (and he was not faultless in this matter!).

I am not really interested in Socrates as the victim of democracy: the death of Socrates, instead, has to be seen as a kind of vindication of democracy.

This song by Stan Rogers, that you may well detest: note how liberally it shifts between seemingly objective statements of fact, and very harsh condemnations of the other historical actors involved ("God damn them all!", etc.).  This device of, "I was told ______" is very powerful: people made up their minds about Socrates (and Alcibiades, and Plato, etc.) on the basis of things they were told --and that they later regretted, to some extent.

I think that's the "ontic range" within which the production of this kind of "new fable" has to exist.