Contrivication

Hmm. What to gripe about today? Its an important consideration, in fact its usually the first thing I think about when I wake up… after I’ve finished adjusting myself and the teepee I’ve pitched I mean (lest I injure someone, which could include myself)… but lets say soon thereafter my mind turns to complaining.

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Today we’ll go with Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain acting like bro’s with beers. Asian background peeps told to act casual.

Ha ha.

I really like Anthony Bourdain… and Barack Obama… well… I mean he’s probably okay. Although I find him less genuine than Bourdain. I would have preferred eight years of Bourdain lets put it that way. Also watching Anthony eating strange street food off a surface of dubious hygienic quality was one of my guilty pleasures. I miss him in a very similar way I miss Christopher Hitchens, albeit for different reasons. Although I think they were both quite epicurean. Which probably says a lot about the sort of people I like.

Still, I really hate contrived stuff.

 

Postscript. I don’t think contrivication is a real word. But maybe it should be.

 

 

Centerism

What are those things you should never mention when trying to ingratiate yourself at a social event? Religion and politics? And perhaps more recently your thoughts on vaccinations and the shape and inclination (or lack thereof) of the terra firma beneath your feet.

I must admit I recently felt very ill disposed to one particular mother at a child’s birthday party who was waxing on lyrically about her anti-vax stance to anyone who would listen. Eventually I had to walk away… lest I propel my forehead into her orbital socket at an acceleration that may have been deemed more confrontational than friendly. In my defence she was especially odious. Maybe that’s what I make people feel like when I waffle on about libertarianism and humanism though. Although I don’t ever do it at parties. Probably because I’m too busy stuffing my face with those delicious tiny hotdogs and washing it down with carbonated sugar water. (I tend to really cut loose when the opportunity arises, going full Epicurean)

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The center, if you don’t help define it, how will you know where it is? – Christopher Hitchens

To be fair centrists, these days, seem few and far between and since they are generally reviled by both sides of the political divide, parties (childrens or otherwise) are generally not the best proving ground to grind out your kooky libertarian theories of personal ownership, minimal government and a single egalitarian tax bracket. People are likely to look at you askance and then shuffle off to find safer topics, like… ‘how bout them Mets’*.

*which doesn’t really help me either, because my loyalties lie above 161st street

Of course I could just keep it all to myself, bottle it up and avoid raging against the status quo. Instead I could self critique my views on the affairs of state every night before I fall asleep (or potentially more likely, rehashing it alone on the toilet, where most of my deep philosophizing gets done).  I think peer review (of a sort) is important and at the very least it can be indicative that you may have gone too far down the rabbit hole. Echo chambers are a dangerous thing. And so I blog… trying to figure out where the center is (for me at least).

Not of the apocalypse

This is basically just a transcript of a Youtube video (admittedly it is potentially one of the greatest videos ever to be uploaded to Youtube), bound in a hardback and given a pretty foreword by Stephen Fry. I am (apparently) a gushing fanboy and therefore completely powerless when it comes to resisting this kind of gimmicky, consumerism claptrap. (Will)power was my dump-stat.

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I do have to admit something… I always just assumed that when they (Dawkins, Dennet, Harris and Hitchens) were referred to as ‘the Four Horsemen’… I just surmised they meant, of the Apocalypse. I mean I didn’t really give it much thought, that sorta made sense to me, insofar as the horsemen of the apocalypse are a sign of the nearing of the end times (My knowledge of all things apocalypse and its precursors is based almost entirely on the reading of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and may therefore contain some ontological gaps).

In any event reading the foreword I was horrified to discover they ACTUALLY meant Arthos, Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan. (As in the musketeers) with nary an apocalypse in sight.

Ha ha. I had to laugh at myself. I am such a dumbass.

I also have to admit I kinda liked Stephen Fry’s Foreword. Even though I tried not to. I have a pathological aversion towards Forewords. Why can’t books (or even transcripts) just stand on their own merit. Why do they need someone to set the scene or give context or even (in some cases) apologize for the offence that might be taken within the confines of the dust-cover. Stop treating us like idiots. (Even though, in some cases, and I am mostly speaking for myself, we are).

Encouraging signs of polarisation

I think its because we are so bombarded with information every second of every waking hour that we are inclined to believe we live in the worst of times. The reality is probably the complete opposite. Generally speaking I should add. There are likely some Syrians and those peeps domiciled in places like (darkest) Venezuela who would disagree with the assertion that…

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Our perceived conflict is largely an imagined one, an ideological confrontation where we conceive ourselves to be battling for the future soul of our (as yet unrealized) Utopian society… not really in any meaningful way… Today’s insurrectionist is found lounging at home in leafy, green suburbia, sporting a suspiciously stained bathrobe and a bowl of Fruit Loops balanced on their burgeoning midsection, eyeing their split-screened twitter feed mentions and scrolling through Buzzfeed articles. (I feel the need to lampoon and typecast these people purely for my own gratification, in reality they are likely just like me, only prettier… and likely wealthier)

Of course there are those who will take it to the next level by punching people and getting dressed up in ninja-esque garb to accelerate trash cans through store-fronts… but I tend to believe that this is a minority of a minority. (People holding extreme uncompromising views on the left and right is thought to be only about 8%) Which is really quite encouraging… because that means (quickly checks his math) 92% of society is sane. Maybe its 8% on either side of the divide? Still… that’s… eh… (counts on fingers) 84%.

Of course a collection of crazies gathered together in one place to achieve some level of mischief or indeed the modern revolutionary (with their nine social media accounts) start to make us doubt our ability to cooperate with out fellows or indeed what we believe of bipartisanship generally, which is then accelerated by the ‘news’ corporations who see us less like people and more as a commodity to be manipulated and exploited for profit. Not to mention the bots, foreign governments and that familiar nemesis, the Illuminati.

Israel_Shahak.jpg‘There are some encouraging signs of polarisation’ – Dr. Israel Shahak, chairman of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights and holocaust survivor

‘Nothing flippant inheres in this remark; a long and risky life has persuaded him that only an open conflict of ideas and principles can produce any clarity. Conflict may be painful, but the painless solution does not exist in any case and the pursuit of it leads to the painful outcome of mindlessness and pointlessness’ – Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens went on in a later interview to add;

‘Polarization and the dialectic is what clarifies things’

While I agree that polarization and conflict are potentially good things in so far as they force us to confront and enunciate what it is that we actually believe in… I really don’t think we are there (yet) and that we are not as polarized as we have been led to believe. I think for the most part we still like each other, and that our Venn diagrams overlap more than they don’t… especially once we get up close and personal and out of our unyielding online personas. That and getting out from under the demagogues we subscribe to.

I like the idea of using the litmus test of ‘How is this person making their money?’ Ad revenue, patronage, subscription services… these people need to keep you hooked (so they can eat… and buy Teslas). They market a perceived deficiency to you, for example that you lack an awareness of the fast paced current event cycle or just an ideological inadequacy that they know people use to define themselves. I think people want to feel that they are connected to something… And there are more than enough people offering to fill that void with something that sounds appealing. Plus you get to belong to a tribe, be that progressives, conservatives or libertarians. These are your people, they got your back.

Of course they don’t really. Got your back I mean. Belonging to some nebulous tribe of people be they democrats or republicans doesn’t really mean anything. The person more likely to have your back is your neighbor. A relationship we often neglect in favor of virtue signalling our allegiance to some broader collective.

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Strange how we’ve evolved from something that was, at one point, a vital survival imperative.

 

The prime directive

On why we need contrarians in our society

…George Orwell said the prime responsibility lay in being able to tell people what they did not wish to hear. John Stuart Mill (Bertrand Russel’s Godfather) said that even if all were agreed on an essential proposition it would be essential to give an ear to the one person who did not, lest people forget how to justify their original agreement.

Kudos to Christopher Hitchens (Letters to a young contrarian) for mentioning three of my favorite peeps in a single (awesome) paragraph. (god, I miss Hitch sooo much)

And while I don’t really consider myself a contrarian (I am way too dumb), its nice to imagine a state of being where I am better than I actually am. (I’d settle for just being better looking)

Walking the talk

It is said that, just before the Sino-Soviet split, Nikita Khrushchev had a tense meeting with Zhou Enlai at which he told the latter that he now understood the problem. “I am the son of coal miners,” he said. “You are the descendant of feudal mandarins. We have nothing in common.” “Perhaps we do,” murmured his Chinese antagonist. “What?” blustered Khrushchev. “We are,” responded Zhou, “both traitors to our class.”

Hitchens, Christopher, Arguably, Atlantic Books 2011.

I find this anecdote likely too cute to have played out exactly like this and I am naturally cynical about such things. Besides no black and white footage of this exchange seems to be available on YouTube, furthering my skepticism. (Unlike the Kitchen Debate some years later). Like the biblical Thomas I am, these days, less inclined to accept things on faith and hearsay alone.

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As an aside. Can you imagine Donald Trump getting all up in Vladimir Putin’s face. And then poking him with the finger. I can’t. I amuse myself by imagining Vladimir grabbing Donald by the lapels and then hip throwing him in a slow motion arc before bouncing his head on the concrete. Ippon! (Based purely on relative CQC skills, not to be read as an endorsement of Vladimir Putin or for that matter, Richard Nixon)

Those espousing ideology (and inflicting this ideology on others) often don’t live the ideology themselves. We all know examples of this sort of hypocrisy. The socialist politician that lives in a mansion. The Neo-marxist professor who goes home to his upper middle class home in a nice leafy green suburb. The Union bosses having lunch at the Ritz-Carlton. The preacher with the Gulfstream(s) in the hanger.

A strange condition of the human condition is that the duality of our ‘leaders’ is not only accepted but also defended (or at least completely ignored) by their adherents (often with insane zealotry). A social throwback perhaps ingrained in our natural proclivity towards tribalism in which all fealty was sworn to the chief.

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The exception to this case is the Capitalist. Which in a world of sanctimonious bullshit seems weirdly refreshing. You will rarely (if ever) find someone espousing Capitalism as the one true path, living in a shack next to an open sewer. I also think you will likely find the capitalist has less disciples willing to rush to his defense.

Although unlikely in my life time, I am hopeful, that one day, humanity will cast off both our appreciation of -isms and the yoke of having to be ‘led’ by someone, either through an autocrat or via ‘democracy’.

One day they will (also) say Joey was a head of his time. I’d like point out that is is untrue and that Joey was, for the most part, just thinking about getting head.

The narcissism of small differences

This is a concept coined by Sigmund Freud, (der Narzissmus der kleinen Differenzen), its the idea that communities with adjoining  territories and close relationships are especially likely to engage in feuds and mutual ridicule because of hypersensitivity to details of differentiation…

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I have quite a soft spot for Sigmund Freud. I think he is sometimes quite unfairly maligned and typecast for his psychoanalysis theory while the rest of his body of work is ignored or down voted (for lack of a better term).

“In numerous cases of apparently ethno-nationalist conflict, the deepest hatreds are manifested between people who—to most outward appearances—exhibit very few significant distinctions.” –  Christopher Hitchens citing the phenomenon when talking about ethno-national conflicts. 

I first heard the term ‘Narcissism of small differences’ when it was used to describe what happens when libertarians and classical liberals argue. Essentially they get all bent out of shape about the tiny differences instead of appreciating the large commonalities in their political ideology.

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