Jacob Bacharach: We Like Ike…

Jacob Bacharach

Jacob Bacharach

A brutal and unfair society requires a population that conceives of the intellect in terms of taking instruction. Even in my own student days, when testing was far less important, I can recall teachers and exam proctors stalking up and down the aisles between desks warning us of the dire consequences of not carefully reading the instructions. A culture thus educated develops mental habits that revolve around taking and interpreting commands. Its sense of duty and ethics isnt is this right, but rather, am I doing this right? In this regard, the appointment of a David Petreaus, or a John Yoo, or a Condoleeza Rice to prominent positions in the academy are less significant because these people are monstrous than because they are expressly not so. When Yoo is asked about the torture memos he authored and replies that he was just providing the executive with what it requested and required, people tend to see obfuscation, but I see an instructive kind of honesty: he just cant imagine that one wouldnt provide what his boss required of him. He didn’t torture anyone.

This by the way, was Arendt’s misunderstood point she had the bad luck to coin a very quotable phrase that distracted from it. What enables evil is not so much the capacity of ordinary people to be converted to dark purposes, but instead the incapacity of people to think about purpose and consequence. Our dilemma is that this form of thoughtlessness is exactly what the reformers of education at all levels seek. Unfortunately, for the most part, they too are unable to think about what theyre doing. The people who hire a Petreaus only perceive that his instruction might in some way help some students do what he did, and what they themselves have done to a lesser degree: enter an institution, serve it, and move upward through its ranks to their natural place in the overall order. Does it occur to them that this is Huxleys dystopia, a life of servitude in a predetermined class interspersed with the occasional recreational bunga bunga and some Coors Light Lime? No. They haven’t read it. But you can divide into groups of four and prepare an in-class presentation for the next time we meet. Here is a Harvard Business Review article summarizing the case. Use it as the basis for your work.

We Like Ike, Man

Since the modern world is all about me, me, me,

Have computers taken away our power? | The Guardian
Link

In his films, Adam Curtis draws on recent attempts to overthrow power in autocratic countries, describing the spontaneous revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan as a “triumph of the visions of computer utopians of the 1960s, with their vision of computers allowing individuals to create new, non-hierarchical societies” just like in that mass game of Pong. “The internet played a key role in guiding revolutions that had no guiding ideology, except a desire for self-determination and freedom.” But the desire for freedom itself was not enough, he says. “In all those revolutions, that sense of freedom lasted only for a moment. The people were brilliant at overturning the power but then what? Democracy needs proper politics, but people have given up on saying that they’re going to change the world.” The Arab uprisings began after he finished making the films, but he sees these in the same way. “It’s as if these people assembled spontaneously on Twitter and they just want freedom. But what kind of society do they want?”

He does not deny that Twitter and Facebook had some impact at least organisationally. But he has strong views on social networking for anything beyond straightforward organisation; he considers the sharing of emotions online to be the “Soviet realism of the age”.

He quotes Carmen Hermosillo, a West Coast geek and early adopter of online chatrooms who in 1994 argued that, although the internet is a wonderful thing, your emotions become commodified. “It is fashionable to suggest that cyberspace is some island of the blessed where people are free to indulge and express their individuality,” she wrote. “This is not true. I have seen many people spill out their emotions their guts online and I did so myself until I began to see that I had commodified myself.” Says Curtis, “On Facebook and Twitter, you are performing to attract people you are dancing emotionally, on a platform created by a large corporation. People’s feelings bounce back and forth happy Stakhanovites, ignoring and denying the system of power. It’s like Stalin’s socialist realism. Both Twitter and socialist realism are innocent expressions of the ideology of the time, which don’t pull back and show the wider thing they are part of. We look back on socialist realism not as innocent but as a dramatic expression of power; it expresses the superiority of the state, which was the guiding belief at the time. I think sometime in the future people will look back at the millions and millions of descriptions of personal feelings on the internet and see them in similar ways. This is the driving belief of our time: that ‘me’ and what I feel minute by minute is the natural centre of the world. Far from revealing that this is an ideology and that there are other ways of looking at human society what Twitter and Facebook do is reinforce the feeling that this is the natural way to be.”

Curtis doesn’t tweet or Facebook send him to the gulag! but he has an excellent blog, “which isn’t about me or my feelings, because I don’t think I’m as interesting as the stories I’m telling”.

Where will the next big idea come from? He wonders about China. “Is it a stable system? Or a mercantilist economy that’s gone too far?” Or closer to home. “If things go really bad, they change. If things get really bad, they say, can we have a dramatically different, better kind of society?”

Since the modern world is all about me, me, me, here’s a confession: Curtis’s ideas have made me run for my life. In 2009, in the course of It Felt Like A Kiss, the sublime theatre event Curtis put on with Punchdrunk about the birth of hyper-consumerism, I was separated from the audience and sent down a long, dark corridor, which I took to represent the apotheosis of individualism. I remember thinking, I must run because my life depends on it I knew it wasn’t real, but I couldn’t help myself. It was terrifying. The ideas in All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace are similarly mesmerising and disturbing, but they’re also a provocation: have we really given up on the hope of changing the world in our lifetimes? Or is that in itself an idea worth fighting for?

Link to video: All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2011/may/06/adam-curtis-computers-documentary

Nude in your hot tub, facing the abyss

LINK Lars Iyer

Down from the Mountain

Once upon a time, writers were like gods, and lived in the mountains. They were either destitute hermits or aristocratic lunatics, and they wrote only to communicate with the already dead or the unborn, or for no one at all. They had never heard of the marketplace, they were arcane and antisocial. Though they might have lamented their liveswhich were marked by solitude and sadnessthey lived and breathed in the sacred realm of Literature. They wrote Drama and Poetry and Philosophy and Tragedy, and each form was more devastating than the last. Their books, when they wrote them, reached their audience posthumously and by the most tortuous of routes. Their thoughts and stories were terrible to look upon, like the bones of animals that had ceased to exist.

Later, there came another wave of writers, who lived in the forests below the mountains, and while they still dreamt of the heights, they needed to live closer to the towns at the edge of the forest, into which they ventured every now and again to do a turn in the public square. They gathered crowds and excited minds and caused scandals and partook in politics and engaged in duels and instigated revolutions. At times, they left for prolonged trips back to the mountains, and when they returned, the people trembled at their new pronouncements. The writers had become heroes, gilded, bold and pompous. And some of the loiterers around the public square started to think: I quite like that! I have half a notion to try that myself….

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Real reading is reincarnation.

 

there are readers and there are readers. There are people who read to anesthetize themselvesthey read to induce a vivid, continreal-readers-books-stackeduous, and risk-free daydream. They read for the same reason that people grab a glass of chardonnayto put a light buzz on. The English major reads because, as rich as the one life he has may be, one life is not enough. He reads not to see the world through the eyes of other people but effectively to become other people. What is it like to be John Milton, Jane Austen, Chinua Achebe? What is it like to be them at their best, at the top of their games?

English majors want the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of people wholet us admit itare more sensitive, more articulate, shrewder, sharper, more alive than they themselves are. The experience of merging minds and hearts with Proust or James or Austen makes you see that there is more to the world than you had ever imagined. You see that life is bigger, sweeter, more tragic and intensemore alive with meaning than you had thought.

Real reading is reincarnation.

https://chronicle.com/article/The-Ideal-English-Major/140553/

A Room of My Own – Emilio DeGrazia

Whenever the house gets messy enough I like to retreat to a favorite little space where I hope everyone will just let me be. There, in that small room, I find some quiet ways to come to terms with all the messy troubles in the world. I’m suspicious of the way the word spiritual is used, so I tell myself it’s where I make my separate peace.

In that room there’s a window looking out. So I also call it a room with a view.

That window is small enough to provide me some dense impressions of how human beings tend to behave. Yesterday, after turning off the TV news and its steady stream of talk about wars and the horror potential of four-hour erections, I imagined myself somewhere in the Mideast right after a fellow named Jesus, like many others, was crucified. The region I’m in is teeming with religious cults, rituals, prophets, seers, and devotees. Some of these cults come from Persia and beyond, others from what we now call Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, and beyond. And all these cults compete for attention with the devotees of the various Greek and Roman deities.

The region is, religiously speaking, untidy, and messy if we disapprove. The Romans, who rule the scene, think it best to let people believe what they want as long as they pay their taxes and behave. A few of the Roman emperors think of themselves as gods, but because there are so many gods all around the emperors secretly know they’re not the only ones in a crowded field of minor league god-players.

Anybody with teenagers in the house knows this much: Untidiness gets on the nerves. So many cults, so many deities, so many important things to believe, this way or that. The urge for neatness kicks in, for the sake of order and clarity and purity. Throw a bunch of stuff out, finally. Get rid of all the cults and gods that clutter the temples, streets and minds. Get back to basics, the god I like.

So polytheism officially lost out, and the great monotheistic religions took over. The woman devoted to chastity no longer has her own special goddess, Artemis, to call her own, and the drunken lecher no longer calls on Bacchus to juice him up. The Gnostics, who believe themselves in the special know about most things divine, have to join the Roman church or play dumb, and the Manichaens, with their rival kingdoms of evil and good, become just one more designated minority heretic group. The One God, Jewish, Christian, and eventually, Muslim too, becomes the acceptable, invariable and eventually required only God.

So why don’t we get along? Why all the trouble and fuss in the Mideast and here at home? The troubles are not just about oil and jobs. They’re also about dignity and belief and the right to believe and be left alone to get on with the daily chores of life. Trapped by these troubles are ordinary and reasonable people who want zealot politicians and preachers to go mum for a change. These good folk don’t like others trying to mind their spiritual business.

The monotheistic leaders agree that they all worship the same God. one, absolute, an invariable. Meanwhile, the other invariables persist – the chaste woman, the lecherous drunk, the mystic knower, the saint who thinks he’s living in a black and white, evil and good, world with other believers who look at all things spirituality, morality, abortion, gay marriage, big corporations, and religion’s role in politics this way and that.

But now there are not countless sacred cults to choose from and to find comfort and community in. So here we are, stuck either inside the umbrella, or somewhere outside. If we’re inside the One God umbrella it’s easy to take potshots at everyone outside, and vice versa.

Things get much worse when those inside the umbrella multiply and divide. Then they begin taking potshots at each other too. Various types of Catholics and Protestants come to mind, and Sunni and Shia, with many local variations. Things get much worse when the uncivil comments the zealots hurl at each other turn into civil wars. While people stuck in civil wars crucify each other, they also live in the same town, and sometimes next door.

There’s usually no backing down, especially when zealots begin making speeches and when the basic response that results from thinking of the world as good and evil gets on the roll called revenge. You killed my son? Then I’ll rape your daughter. That kind of thing.

And when there’s no Rome to collect taxes and keep the calm, that is, when people require government to take only one side, things are likely to get worse.

It makes a lot of people wonder where they can find a decent cult to join. They’d probably do much better by clearing space for a little room of their own, but please, everyone, don’t bring your messes into my little room.

The problem with poor people is quite simple…

lifted from Stop Me Before I Vote Again [[/]] …

They don’t have enough money.

My dear (and long-suffering) spouse was on some kind of a panel the other day, where a number of kind good-hearted liberal folks were trying to figure out how to encourage literacy among the poor.

Of course this wouldn’t be a problem if there weren’t any poor. You’d then just have rampant illiteracy among the ‘middle class’, which doesn’t seem to cost anybody any sleep. As long as you have a BA and a white-collar job, it doesn’t matter how pig-ignorant you are.

So dear spouse suggested that maybe poor people would be better off if they had more money. Shock and dismay all round.

Now really, isn’t this the very heart and soul of liberalism? Leave all the core institutions of the society alone — including that most ancient and hallowed of institutions, poor people — but think, think very hard, about clever ways to improve the lot of those… poor… people. Everything is on the table. Sky’s the limit. Think. Think! Think outside the box!

Except the one unthinkable idea: abolish the poor. Which is to say, give ‘em money.

Oh, no doubt they’d all buy big flat-screen TVs, and nice new sneakers, and SUVs. But then, that’s what their ‘middle-class’ fellow-citizens do too. Doesn’t that mythical but indispensable beast, ‘the Economy’, feed itself on just such folly? So the Teevee tells me, anyway. Not to mention NPR.

Now you may say that an unearned income is bad for peoples’ moral character. And maybe it is, in some cases. But I know a bunch of people who have enjoyed unearned incomes for the last four or five generations. Some of them are pricks, of course. But most are very decent people — hardworking, if there’s any virtue in that; conscientious; polite; respectful of books and pictures and 18th-century music; attentive to their spouses and devoted to their children.

From what little I’ve seen of life — if you want to elevate the cultural tone of the poor, you need to give ‘em a trust fund.

And you have to stay the course. A presidential term won’t do it. A generation won’t do it. No, if you want to eradicate the lingering traces of the Culture Of Poverty(*), you’ve got to take the long view. Three generations at least.

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(*) Do I correctly recall that we owe this loathesome phrase to the unspeakable Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who I hope gets to Heaven some day, but spends several millennia frying in Purgatory first?

OLD TIME RELIGION’S UNCIVIL PAST Emilio DeGrazia

I was pleased when legislators added the word civil to the gay marriage bill recently approved by the Minnesota legislature and governor. Marriage has a long history of being on the rocks, so it could use a little civility.<?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = O />


Those strongly against gay marriage are hard to argue with, in part because their opinion has hardened into heart-felt belief. Ive heard opponents of gay civil marriages claim that their version of marriagea union between one female and one malehas been sanctioned by their version of God for over two thousand years. Bumper stickers proclaim this version as gospel truth all over town.


So I decided to go to the original source, Genesis and other early books of the Bible, to see how marriage fared before it became a part of new old time religion. What I found in these early books of the Bible is that its easy to conclude that God had little interest in having His own wife and family. One thing is certain: He was a committed bachelor forever. He was not married to any queen of heaven. Nor did God take a traditional view of marriages made in heaven. A proper conjugal relationship between one male and one female married to each other is not how family life got its start. When God got around to creating Adam, his first-born, he preferred red claysome call it dirt or dustrather than a female as his medium. From Adams rib (in one version) He then fashioned Eve, freed from the obligation to have an actual heavenly wife. A free lance artist He indeed is; a husband He is not.


Marriage as a divinely sanctioned union between one human male and one human female also did not seem to be part of Gods original plan. Were Adam and Even really ever married? Were they husband and wife, or brother and sister? More likely the latter, it seems, since Eve (in one version) was engineered from Adams rib. And if they are our first parents are we all offspring of an incestuous marriage that it would be hard to conceive as traditional? And after Cain and Abel grew up whose childrentheir sisters?did they make into wives with whom they could exchange the vows requiring them to honor and obey? Continue reading