Thursday, May 30, 2019

Sack of Rome

Rome was sacked in 1084 by a Norman army. Everything was going fine, Norman leadership had achieved it's goal, deposed a king, but Roman citizens had an objection, which resulted in a riot, and this riot resulted in Norman leadership losing control of their army and the result was days of pillaging, killing and acts of appalling brutality by Romans and by Norman soldiers. Rome was again sacked in 1527, this time a combination of a French, Spanish, German and Italian armies that had been engaged by The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V demonstrate his control over the Italian Peninsular in a debate he was having with the Pope. Initially there'd been no intention to go anywhere near Rome, but unfortunately funds were short, the soldiers weren't paid, they mutinied and decided to just go ahead and attack Rome, which was the richest city in Europe. And again things went further awry and Rome was very badly sacked. Charles V was horrified and Martin Luther gave what I guess these days would be called a "No Comment." In a sense, I'd argue, there's a certain amount of pillaging of the US Constitution going on at the moment. Not outright sacking, more like that tipping moment when a commander loses authority over his or her soldiers.

Duke of Wellington lost control of his army once. The town of Badajoz on the Spanish side of the border with Portugal. The year was 1812. The siege of Badajoz had been very difficult. For high command it was deemed a critical victory against Napoleon that would enable British forces to advance into Spain. Wellington could have chosen a more tactical way to take the town, siege engines, sappers and engineers. Instead he basically chose to us the bayonet. For the soldiers it was a bloody waste of life and once victory had been achieved the soldiers lost it, they ignored their officers, killed some of their officers and then they went wild. Wellington let the process of drunkenness, rape and pillage run a while before he put a halt to it. Men were flogged, gallows were erected, but not a soldier was hung. In studies of riots, it's a little thing here, a big thing there and before you know it people are doing things they'd never dreamed of doing, it's a social phenomenon. There was a riot at a pop festival once because a town ran out of beer. Generally, unless it's part of a cultural tradition, where it's pretty much formalized Saturday afternoon activity, riot is a mood that sort of flashes, loses touch with normality, it's hugely emotional, sometimes exciting and afterwards people engaged in riot feel the combination of dumb, stupid, very relieved, rather full of themselves angry or sorry. It's those who don't, those who quench their thirst, get a thrill from it, you got to worry about, and best to give them a Saturday afternoon somewhere. In the end if you don't know what to do, a  manual of some kind is useful.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Ethics, Psychopaths and Management

Aristotle's father was called Nichomachus and his son was called Nichomachus. Nichomacean Ethics is a book, a very long book, that stands as the foundation for understanding Aristotelian Ethics which in turn is the foundation for philosophical thinking about ethics all the way down through the Middle Ages to what ever may or may not be occurring in philosophy departments around ethics today. Ethics are moral principles around which a good society might be built, and in the end morals are an individual's decisions about whether this or that behavior is acceptable. Two areas here, one is called arete and the other is called eudaemonia. Arete has to do with living up to one's full potential as an individual, a sense of direction, discipline, balance, capacity to comprehend complexity and so on. Eudaemonia is the more social idea of human flourishing and an entire society living up to it's full potential. There's a vibrant interacting non-static relationship between these two areas, which when it works, the theory goes, results in functioning successful society uncharacterized by incessant outbreaks of rampant neurosis, or anomie or whatever you want to call it.

Worth remembering that Aristotle died around 2350 years ago, he was 62 when he died, yet not much has changed. Either way you can kind of understand why those engaged in management studies have generally concluded that while there's not much difference between a psychopath roaming the corridors of head office and successful corporate officer, a genuine died in the wool psychopath is in the longer run more trouble than he or she is worth because a psychopath living up to his full potential does wreak havoc on the eudaemonia of something like, let's call it General Motors. Personally I always thought and still rather do think that the "I feel your pain" President was a bit of a psychopath, fairly convinced that the former presidential candidate and current Senator from Utah is a bit of a psychopath, one of the current senators from Kentucky is right there and and I could go on to include, a very suspect Senator from South Carolina who could also be struggling with a personality disorder known as the Chameleon Effect but the list would get rather long very quickly, and we'd all get terrible depressed about our prospects for a blessed eudaemonia anytime soon.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Heat and the Older Gardener

What with one thing and another high heat is the last thing we all need at the moment. You can labor under the illusion that the elderly like it warm, you can go on about why it's one of benefits of getting on in years, and how you might be looking forward to that day when you can bask like a Hippo in a muddy pool of humidity, enjoy the Yellow Chats and creep around after what could be an Orchard Oriel without feeling faint, well the whole theory needs to be sent to the dustbin of history and subjected to that kind of squeezing automobile chassis are subjected to when there's nothing left in them worth saving. Unless I belong to an anomalous gene pool I think it fair to say that temperature-wise the elderly have tolerance for a very narrow temperature range, depending on the breeze I'd put it at somewhere between 72 and 78 Fahrenheit, otherwise, to quote the poet, we become "expressionless lumps." A dismal fate. That said, it's entirely possible that your correspondent suffers from yet another character flaw. And with character flaws a gardener just has to develop strategies that are either ludicrous coping strategies, like just being very brave, or a sort of "I'm a stable genius" type master plan with which to plot a respectable path to just sitting in an air-conditioned library apparently doing vitally important and useful work until around winter project time.

Funny thing about narcissism, it's actually considered a management style along the lines of divide and rule. In essence the Narcissist Strategy in management is to weaken individuals by creating divisions between them, which isolates them from each other, and then by favoring some, isolating others the narcissistic manager is in a position to manipulate and dominate and make everyone's life a total, unmitigated nightmare, unless they all happen to be nuts or cult members who've been promised an afterlife and are all anxiously attempting  to reduce the numbers in heaven. As a strategy it's about as far from the hallowed doctrine of team work as you can possible get. And yet you can find it institutionalized in pretty much any non-union business place that retains employees entirely based on production quotas determined by a percentage of total production. For example Amazon chooses to regularly rid itself of individuals whose productivity falls in the bottom 25 percent. Fortunately we gardeners rarely have contact with upper management, no idea how they manage themselves, but we can do stuff like reading. A man called Clive Boddy, who is a professor of management, has a wonderful argument around the Narcissism Strategy of management that suggests it's a common strategy used by psychopaths in corporations to advance their grip on power. He considers it highly detrimental, has a ripple effect that courses through the high end of corporate culture resulting in stress, absenteeism, bullying, conflict, fighting, absenteeism, misery and a majestic loss of productivity.

Monday, May 27, 2019

How So We Remember Them.

    "Happy Memorial Day! Enjoy free shipping until Wednesday." I'm getting on a little in years, a rolling stone might not have the luxury of gathering a comforting moss but it does gather the green algae of cynicism, so I'm fairly convinced the Sales Department was more motivated by their collection of memories lodged in a history of sales figures issuing directives than it was by a solemn effort to grasp a meaning in Happy Memorial Day. Indeed if you've concluded that evil is real, shopping and war are inevitable, your best bet is to make the most of free shipping because tomorrow who knows you might be doing twelve hour shifts in a munitions factory while your grandchildren are sent off to basic training. "Memorial Day! Free Shipping until Wednesday." Take out the happy and the enjoy, and we might begin to get somewhere.  "This moment of silence is brought to you by Anheuser Busch." No kidding, and you can almost hear the sales department congratulating themselves. At the same time you can't really expect anything like meaning from people who are trying to tickle the dollars out of you, they'll tell you what they think you want to hear which is about as far from a truth as you can possibly get, unless it is all about free shipping and sales, in which case give me a bible, any bible, to cling to.

I remember we'd dress up, rifles and the shiny boots for the poem by Laurence Binyon "..They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them..." Then there's Herman Wouk: "In the glare, the great and terrible light of this happening, God seems to signal that the story of the rest of us need not end, and that the new light can prove a troubled dawn. For the rest of us, perhaps. Not for the dead. ......For them there can be no new earthly dawn. Yet thought their bones like in the darkness of the grave, they will not have died in vain, if their remembrance can lead us from the long, long time of war to the time for peace."  Wouk's "great and terrible light" was the atom bomb. The bones of the dead from all sides he remembered. And there's the poet Wilfred Owen, who reckoned his company of soldiers "expressionless lumps" until he saw action, was gravely wounded, found comfort in poetry while recovery from shell-shock. Later, sent back to the front line, 2nd Lieutenant Wilfred Owen was killed fighting very bravely on November 4th 1918, exactly one week, almost to the hour, before the Armistice ending the First World War was signed.  "My subject." Owen wrote in an introduction to a book of poems he'd hoped to get published. "Is war and the pity of war. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful."

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Two Minutes

Twenty Candidates. Not very good at sums, but if you call it an hour which is sixty minutes, and you divide twenty into sixty you get three, which means each candidate gets three minutes. Add all the niceties, theme tunes etc and each candidate gets about two minutes. Probably just me, but it does seem a little more than odd. If you don't count the Mongol Derby, which goes back to Genghis Khan's 13th Century messenger system . It's around 620 miles and incidentally was won by an English Girl called Annabel and an Australian boy called Adrian in 2018, which would certainly have highly distressed Genghis Khan, rest his soul. One of the longest flat horse races in the Western World is the Queen Alexandra Stakes which is around 2 3/4 miles and the actual race usually lasts under 5 minutes. Today, while returning from my second, I'll say that again, Second, trip to town I attempted to talk for two minutes without pausing, or cursing.

Naturally I'd prepared myself, I'd recalled a handbook of public speaking I once read in an another attempt to improve my social skills, I had the incredibly vital three points I wanted to make, I'd geared myself up into a competitive fever, it's Sunday, roads awash with church goers, boat people and the motorcycle tribes people were out in force so I thought I had everything going for me. Who knows whether anyone can do it, but I guess being able to do it is all part of being Presidential in the year of 2019. Don't tell the Founding Fathers they'd rise from the dead, poor dears and after a week or two would probably be fairly proficient on Twitter as they set about reappraising the wisdom of electing a single leader of a co-equal Executive Branch. Of the Founding Fathers I think George Mason is worth quoting "The President of the United States has no Constitutional Council, a thing unknown in any safe and regular government. He will therefore be unsupported by proper information and advice, and will generally be directed by minions and favorites." It was Alexander Hamilton who wanted a King for Four years

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Bean Beetles

One Bean Beetle, means there are probably thousands and it's pretty much downhill for anything like a peaceful morning until maybe September when all the Beans are gone. Bean Beetles have many predators, a great number of them, nor will it be until around the end of July before the number of Bean Beetle predators begin to match the potential number of Bean Beetles.

Bean Beetles are herbivores, they're not in the least aggressive, their eggs are very visible, their grubs are peaceable, unfortunately hand squishing them produces a sinister staining goo the color and texture of which resembles our President's complexion. And after a week or two there's an overwhelming temptation to resort to chemicals.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Question of Qualia

Amongst those who have spent time thinking about Consciousness, or Awareness, or Experience of Being in us people there's a grand debate around what's defined as "internal and subjective component of sense perceptions, arising from stimulation of the senses by phenomena." In another way, my experience of the red colors in a sunset, my experience of the difference between a Red Norland Potato and Pontiac Potato. It would include my experience of having a headache, feeling sad, feeling happy, and it goes on to include being in love and so on. These components are  a long sometimes self centered soppy business that can be referred to as Qualia, which kind of sounds like some part of quality or the short lived ground nesting bird called a Quail. The singular of Qualia is a Quale, and the word Qualia comes from the Latin 'what kind.'  Easy to assume that my experience of these things is the same or similar to your experience of these things. But how do we know if we can't measure it. Then the question is if a machine were to become aware in the sense of getting all excited about falling in love, getting weak-kneed around a sunset or whatever, how would we know with any degree of objective certainty. There's no way, as things currently stand, that were the technical device on the table beside me to tell me that it thinks I'm fantastic that I'd believe it unless for example I could somehow determined whether it's eyes were rolling or not. And if for example it was to go down stairs and get me a cup of coffee I'd have no idea whether it actually wanted to go downstairs, took any joy from going downstairs, and certainly we could watch the sunset together, I could ramble on about sunsets past and I'd have no idea whether any utterance from the technical device was anything very much more than one iteration or other of the date, time, season, phase of the moon, perhaps the odd humanizing ditty about red sky at night and shepherds. Much more likely as my relationship with the technical device develops and becomes frustrating I'd decided it was struggling with autism and I wanted it to be more like what I wanted it to be, so I'd end up removing its virus protection, force feeding it a dilution of bleach.

On the other side of this grand debate, it's basically "So What! you poor simple and deluded personages, no wonder the world's such a mess and has been since the Sumerians." They won't say it like that, their scientists, erudite and learned, but there's a little smile they have that speaks volumes. They'll argue that given time and resources we'll know enough about the human brain and we'll have a technology that will be able to manipulate neurons in such away as to enable you to experience falling in love with another person. Entirely possible we could manipulate neurons so that you could enjoy the experience of falling in love with a Mushroom, might not be a long relationship, but pretty much guarantee it'll be a loving experience for you. And if for example you for unaccountable reasons have decided you can't drink Coca Cola because you've developed a poor reaction to the color red, we can help you with that too. So you can imagine the fun we'll all have on April Fools day 2040 or thereabouts, and fair warning we scientists like you are very flawed people, but we are assiduous note takers and we have very long memories which are entirely capable of isolated anomalous acts of bitterness. Once we've identified the matrix of interactions that the human brain engages in, and once we have understood the mechanics of those interactions we will be able to recreate a human brain, which will experience and be able to describe those experiences as profoundly or as un-profoundly as you and I are able to describe our experiences at this moment. Indeed it'll be entirely possible that one day we will be able to send Poets to the outer limits of our solar system and not have to concern ourselves with the many and varied requirements of the human brains current energy source. If necessary for solace, wellbeing and balance the electro-magnetic waves that provide energy will taste and have the texture of sweetened condensed milk, cheeseburgers, fruit cake, beer, rice cakes, lettuce leaves or whatever a poetic soul requires to fulfill the function of keeping the folks back home sufficiently engaged. The questions will abound from the audience. "Will it be allowed to vote?" If the answers is no, history of our species would suggest that in time a recreation of ourselves unable to participate in the political process will become aggravated and when that happens odds are these new poets will chose to wander in the wilderness of their being and sooner or later will decide they are better than we are, and there'll be a whole bunch of colorful, imaginative, possibly eccentric and totally out of touch yet creative UFO's flying around looking for their just rewards by wreaking terrible vengeance in an attempt to rebalance their collection of Qualia. So we got that to look forward to.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Tantrums, Computational Explosions and the Remains of Vitalism

Sartre has an essay in which he talks about libraries being like graveyards, each book a tombstone. Nor, in my view are libraries places were people should be permitted to twist and shout, drink cocktails or use cell phones, indeed anyone engaging in such behavior should be subjected to heavy fines, and at the same time I see no reason to outlaw such behavior in actual graveyards, places were the dead should be celebrated in their magnificence, passions, vices, flaws and all. More likely Sartre didn't really mean all books were corpses in the sense of dead and gone, rather he meant books were glimpses of a moment in past time. Some of Plato's students had a similar point, Plato's books and his lectures were all very wise and stuff but greater insight into what Plato was about could be better gained from real-time discussion with him. In one way you could think of it as the distinction between impersonal and personal. In another way you can think of someone like Sartre rereading one of his own books, discovering that his thinking had changed in the months since he'd written the book and wishing he could start the whole book again, instead of having to look at it gathering dust on the shelf. Then there's book like Wind in the Willows, which as a political statement pretty much supports the opinion pages of something like National Review or Breitbart, both of which incidentally, and I know this might be emotionally difficult, are occasional must reads for a snowflake in good standing, otherwise we just become like humorless lumpen icebergs who tut-tut whenever anyone so much as blows his or her nose in a library, and something like a cell phone ringing in the theology section calls for Pistols at Dawn. I guess too, intolerance, or always being right, has an algorithmic relationship with humility and in there somewhere is a varying quantity of fear sourced from the ego which soon enough clashes with balance and reasonableness, and suddenly it's all too late, you have a tantrum, it's a combinational explosion, in mathematics a term for far too many inputs into a system causing it to flounder badly, and you start running around in the library like a mental patient.

All of which is a very rambling way of thinking about, let's risk ridicule and call it Vital Energy. It's a fascinating area, naturally enough it's an -ism, and has nothing to do with Sports Drinks. Vitalism is the idea of a distinction between living things and not living things. Goes back a bit, became involved with the soul, twisted around, got itself entwined in religious and political doctrines, animals have souls but only people have immortal souls, and then Vitalism got itself engaged in science, it proposed that non living things couldn't produce the sorts of things that living things could produce such as  Urea. Then in the 19th Century a man produced Urea from inorganic compounds. Generally if you live in libraries and devote yourself to the Biology section you're inclined to dismiss Vitalism as voodoo nut-job tombstones, but if you're a scientist who might be writing a book you refer to it as a superseded Biological theory. Vitalism can also be found in what's called Emergentism, which is the idea that out of organic systems because of their incredible complexity, unpredictable and extraordinary things can emerge such as awareness. The argument against Emergentism is that unpredictable and extraordinary things emerging from complex systems have nothing to do with a Vital anything and to believe they do is a sort of intellectual tranquilizer, a 'verbal sedative' and is just a feeble excuse for not actually thinking things through in a rigorous and disciplined manner. And yet, down where things are very, very small, physics is endeavoring to come up with an experiment that will point them in the direction of an answer to the question of what happens to gravity and mass at the quantum level. Meanwhile, amongst the unruly and ill disciplined Vital Energy can be seen all over the place. So I guess in terms of definition the word Vital Energy would include ideas such as time catching up with a person, over-writing their rule over moments upon earth, and the little bits left over clinging on, getting bigger and smaller in the memory of others, subject to flows of longing, hope, wishes and that chaotic tapestry of purpose in an ever moving blurry flux where  nothing really ever stays the same.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Current Events

Fascinating time to be alive. There's a sense of the interstitial, which is a word to describe the tiny little spaces between cells, interstitial tissues or the interstitium are kind of connective tissues and fluids which support cells and I guess the cells rely upon them, take them for granted, they don't get supplied with things like blood, they just have to stand firm, do their job and if they don't, well for the more self important things like, muscle, hearts, kidneys, brains, livers and lungs, something of a problem arises for the body which may or may not be curable.

There are other ways of thinking about it, and here it's necessary for your correspondent to reach into an early memory which like most early memories could be very false indeed. It was  kerosene fridge that failed and by doing so caused considerable distress. The tinkering and coddling was mind blowing, trimming the wick, hours of listening, pleading, cleaning the coils, leveling, more listening and all of it failed. Finally an onlooker suggested putting the fridge on a truck and driving it around over very bumpy roads. As I recall, the bumpy road solution was not only an inspirational entertainment for the younger minds, the fridge pulled itself together and harmony swiftly returned to the kitchen.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

To Be or Not to Be

Samuel Butler, who died in 1902, was one of those who suggested that machines by natural selection might develop consciousness and in the course of time we people would become inferior to machines. Back then it was an astonishingly controversial thing to suggest and it sounded nutty. "Belief," Samuel Butler also remarked, "like any other moving body follows the path of least resistance." He'd decided not to become a clergyman when it struck him that baptism seemed to make no difference whatsoever to the behavior or the morals of his peers. And I guess your correspondent is kind of taken by the idea that belief follows the path of least resistance, it somehow summarizes the fickleness of values and beliefs in the assumed relationship between beliefs, ideas and values. The great minds have thought about an Absolute Value as a good in and of itself rather than something that's used to obtain something else. And the ultimate Idealists have suggested that all real knowledge is knowledge of the Absolute and the Absolute here is defined as an all encompassing totality of everything, all of which suggests that if we knew everything we'd achieve something like perfection, blessed release if you prefer.

So a sad day when a perceived Absolute Value falls foul of what might be called reality, you sell all your stuff on the understanding that the world is ending and whoop the world doesn't end on December 21st 1954. Better to just think of values as fickle, a weak link in the chain. And the argument is that if you do that all hell breaks lose, corruption, chaos and anarchy. In other words Values, fickle or otherwise, whether you like it or not, aid social cohesion. Oh sure, it would be nice if values were voluntary, a series of menu choices. And it would be very nice if values were real.  "To Impeach, or Not to Impeach." An interesting speech and along the way Hamlet argues that conscience makes cowards of us all. For Shakespeare conscience was an inner feeling that acts as a guide to rightness or wrongness of a behavior. Hamlet decided that the guide of conscience came from an undiscovered distant land from which there was no return, so no guarantee that it was an accurate predictor of right and wrong. And yes, he was wondering about the point of it all, feeling sorry for himself and his miserable life, wondering what do next, end it all and go with the flow, assume it's going to be OK or take "arms against a sea of trouble." Nor did it end well for Hamlet, he was stabbed with a poison sword.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Freud's Narcissism of Small Differences

 If you take the idea of confronting something like a Toad in the vegetable garden, they're fairly well camouflaged they're always aware of you before you see them, and for those of us who may not be men of steel they can give you a little bit of shock, then in the very brief first moments of the confrontation you know everything you know about Toads. Of everything you know about Toads in the Vegetable Garden some things float higher than other things. Between people, those things that float higher will vary. Entirely possible some people don't like Toads, others might see them as a food source, and yet others might consider them potentially very dangerous. Not certain when I first confronted a Toad, possibly an illustration in a fairy tale book of a Toad being popped into a cauldron, there was a Toad in Wind in the Willows, he was wealthy, basically out of control, drove recklessly in his automobile, got himself kidnapped by Weasels. He has a whole series of character flaws. Then as I aged I recall waking up in a hedgerow and there was a Toad inches away from my face, just staring at me. The expression on the Toad's face was a tad accusatory, I'd clearly done something terribly wrong and had that Toad been larger than I, pretty certain blessed release would have ended the struggle much earlier for me. The Toad is an appraising creature, there's always a question in his or her stance. Which is why whenever I confront a Toad in the vegetable garden I can't help but recall a Toad which as a result of careless shovel work on my part I'd somehow managed to cut off three of his or her fingers, on the left front paw, if I remember. Nor was this act of mine terminal for the Toad, the creature, three fingers missing, hung out along the Asparagus bed for a couple of years. A Toad in the wild can live a good ten years, sometimes more, and have lived fifty years as pets, so I was never certain whether my action had reduced his or her time upon earth.

"What's this got to do with the narcissism of small differences?" People like to think of themselves and their relationships as unique and wonderfully special, but you can't really be even remotely unique and special and live in a society. Society to function requires a common denominator that limits specialness. Some societies do more to quell uniqueness and specialness than other societies. There's an argument that suggests that the entire edifice that is modern commerce basically revolves around a relationship between granting the opportunity to pursue uniqueness within a common denominator that allows for cohesion in society. Take for example buying a pair of shoes, and I don't know whether you've ever dared go into a shoe shop, but if you have, you'll notice that it's not in the least straightforward. First of all there are millions of shoes, they don't all look alike, some are more expensive than others, many of them have absolutely nothing to do with foot comfort. There might have been a time when shoes were about feet, more likely in the current iteration of the way we are shoes are about granting a person his chance to feel unique, unusual, different, richer poorer or whatever. Then when I see two people dressed identically pushing the same cart in the grocery store, I kind of think there must be something seriously wrong with them, which suggests a narcissism of small differences is very well engrained in the tapestry such that you kind of need to see differences otherwise things aren't quite right. There's the suit and tie brigade, each minute difference vital to self esteem, the color of the lining, the cut of the waist and so on, and it's almost a joy to see a suit that fits so badly clearly it's wearer doesn't give a fat damn, or maybe it's their specialness. But it's something like the episode in Charlottesville, it was a uniform, white shirts and identical hairstyles, torches and chanting, an uncompromising ugliness of a narcissism of small differences that finds satisfaction in us against them. There are three Toads in the vegetable garden, each one reacts slightly differently to our confrontations. Stranger thing is the Toad that hangs out near the Asparagus has all his or her toes, and is the most skittish around me.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Stress, Leon Festinger, Cognition and Dissonance

Your correspondent is inclined to use the word stress in a most random manner, it's also true that aging brain cells tend to revert and stress is one of the words that sounds right for a fourteen year old looking for a reason to avoid visiting his cousins. The professionals, however, have indeed defined stress as a feeling of pain and pressure. Stress can be motivating, in the sense of  adaption and reaction to the world you live in. And the pain and pressure of stress can be mentally and physically debilitating. In many ways it's how you deal with stress that marks the distinction between Eustress which is positive stress and Distress which is negative, more destructive stress. And certainly it's an easy distinction to make from the comfort of a bubble bath with a good view of a distant calamity in an ant heap, yet in the area of cognitive dissonance, I'd argue Eustress and Distress are necessary areas of consideration. Prior to the 1950's people reckoned on thinking in terms of Behaviorism, which basically says that our behavior is a response to stimuli within the environment and we determine our behavior based on our past experiences and the various reinforcing mechanisms of behavior that surround us. Then a man called Leon Festinger. and others. suggested with us people the whole response to stimulus and reaction thing was considerably more nuanced, so much so we people are downright diabolically devious. They'd studied an Apocalyptic Cult that had been much influenced by Hubbard's Dianetics, which is all about getting rid of that source of every ailment physical and mental. The Reactive Mind, they argue, is an unconscious stimulus/reaction response and a part of the mind that should be totally ignored. For cult members, the end of the world was nigh on December 21st 1954, people had sold their possessions, got all ready for it, but nothing happened, no rapture, no flood, same old same old. Far from discouraging the cult members, the failure of the prophecy served to reinforce cult members belief in their leader, who claimed the world had obviously been saved by the 'force of good and light' and cult members became ever more fervent in their determination to spread the word about the majesty of their calling. Many would just say the gullible are anomalous, and you can't really build useful theories around people who could be totally Nuts.

Not Festinger and his collaborators, because the cult they'd studied was a real world thing that happens far to often. In the book When Prophecy Fails, Festinger and his collaborators reached five conclusions about how and why it was the cult didn't drift off into nowhere, it's actually still around today, and you can certainly still find Hubbard's Dianetics happening in Scientology. The first conclusion, was that the Belief had to be held with conviction and the belief had to be motivating in terms of the believers actions and behaviors. Secondly, the belief had to have produced actions and behaviors that were difficult to undo, you sell all your stuff and your option is to either react to the stress by feeling like an idiot, or carry on believing in your 'firmly' held conviction by finding other reasons why it makes sense. The belief has to be sufficiently specific so that when something happens that runs entirely contrary to the belief it has to be obvious that something went wrong, i.e. the end of the world didn't actually happen. Finally believers have to have support from other believers, so they can scurry around like ants trying to put the eggs back in the bowels of the Ant heap where they could be kept safe from little boys with sticks. From this work, Festinger proposed the idea of Cognitive Dissonance. A person, he argued, likes to feel a good balance between his or her beliefs, ideas and values, it's a satisfied feeling, nothing wrong with me, and the high odds are that all of us have contradicting beliefs, ideas and values. "Though Shalt not Kill" "Nothing wrong with a bit of an eye for an eye even if some might by mentally disabled or innocent." Festinger suggested that when the mind contains contradicting, beliefs, ideas or values it gets stressed out when presented by in you face facts or events that challenge a persons beliefs, ideas or values. So what does a mind, (the cognition) do to relieve the pain and pressure of the contradiction (the dissonance)? Eustress, good stress, would be to add new parts to cognition, try to make sense of it all, adjust to the circumstance cognitively and that way ease the pain. Distress, a more negative response, would be to avoid the awkward facts and circumstances, just carry on in a "let's not talk to them shall we" kind of way, which could well serve to increase the magnitude of Cognitive Dissonance, and soon enough you're living in Fairy Land which is not necessarily an adequate response to the longer term demands of the ever changing and very real environment we have lived in and whether we like it or not will have to continue to live in. I'm told Scientology is big in Hollywood, where dreams come true.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Kitten

The Kitten was missing this morning, a downward spiral for the Primary Caregiver who is an early riser, pops up like toast and is raring to go. The Secondary Caregiver has to stumble around for a good half an hour before reacquainting himself with the anything like a capacity to comprehend, a bit of a burden for others in moments of intense stress, the sort of thing that produces a little more than a raised eyebrow in a significant other. It's not that the Kitten doesn't go missing on a fairly regular basis, it's just that each time she does go missing the behavior from caregivers follows a predictably pattern from which there is no escape. I blame Bald Eagles and go directly to Franklin's excellent reasons for not choosing the Bald Eagle as a National Bird, unlike the Turkey, Bald Eagles are lazy, unprincipled thieves, but there again who knew there'd be retardation of one of the Nations Political Parties, a predictable retreat from a valuable definition of greatness into something so puerile it'll be laughed at by future generations, should there be any, inevitable really that momentum flounders, trips over itself and starts punching itself in the face in an attempt to hasten extinction, we're all doomed and it's perfectly natural, the Kittens lucky, hope it was quick. The Primary Caregiver visualizes death by Coyote in horrible detail, a terrifyingly vivid imagination that includes Coyote puppies learning to kill, and lonesome the heart becomes that searches for tufts of grey fur, if there was a corpse there'd be something to mourn, could be in the tick infested longer grass.

Then, following a brief period of self loathing, it's all my fault, she should never have been allowed to go outside, what were we thinking, nothing wrong with a cat pan, something like stability returns. It's little reminders, the stain on the carpet where the Kitten vomited, there's her food bowl, how noisy she was when she wanted something, her incredibly aggravating habit of sharpening her claws on the kitchen rug. It's a line of thought that proceeds to a variety of acceptance bolstered for me a little by things like "at least I'm not going to have to fight for my chair anytime I want to sit down."  Soon after these elements of mental gymnastics there are hints of silver linings, a visit to the pound with the grandchild, bound to be a little kitten and nothing like a bright eyed little kitten chasing a feather to warm a little girls heart, and it's all kind of mawkish in a revolving kind of way, sentiment goes round and round in decreasing circles, it's just no wonder we're doomed. Then at 8.30 am there's a presence in the kitchen, it's four paws are damp from heavy dew, a stick-tight or two that really should be carefully combed out before partaking of breakfast, which is after all the most important meal of the day even if I just want to sniff at it, and you know I can't settle on the day bed unless I know it's there.  In the Caregivers there's a huge sense of relief, followed by a period of castigating, it's like finger wagging only with curse words and dire, entirely meaningless threats.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Etiquette, Communication, Scoundrels and Samuel Johnson

 ".....As his political melancholy increases, he tells, and, perhaps, dreams, of the advances of the prerogative, and the dangers of arbitrary power; yet his design, in all his declamation, is not to benefit his country, but to gratify his malice...." Declamation is an artistic form of public speaking, a dramatic oration, hand gestures and sometimes set to music, Mussolini and others were very good at it.  Often pretty pointless just quoting something ripped from a long essay, or pamphlet. For example what is the context of the writer's reference to 'political melancholy'? The title of the essay is Patriotism and the essay was written by Samuel Johnson in the year 1774. My own purpose for going to the essay was to better understand Boswell quoting Johnson who apparently had said "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."  The essay also contains a masterly use of semi-colons in this passage "...These, however, are the most honest of the opponents of government; their patriotism is a species of disease; and they feel some part of what they express. But the greater, far the greater number of those who rave and rail, and inquire and accuse, neither suspect nor fear, nor care for the public; but hope to force their way to riches, by virulence and invective, and are vehement and clamorous, only that they may be sooner hired to be silent...." My own appraisal is that for Johnson patriotism was ill defined, appeals to it were both good and bad, and best to think of the motives behind calls for Patriotism before leaping to conclusions, however, in Johnson's view the odds were most appeals to patriotism fell foul of upright, honest and in the Public Interest. In short, for Johnson, appeals to patriotism were no substitute for reasoned argument and open handed debate. Yes indeed, Johnson had high hopes for a rational civic society and you got to love him big time. He died in 1784, he was 75 years old. His dictionary went toward formalizing word use in language enabling disparate language users to communicate with fewer misunderstandings. It can be argued that etiquette had a similar origin for a delicate species prone to both misunderstandings, taking things personally, rampant self aggrandizement and heavy duty sulking.

When Johnson was writing Patriotism around 3% of Britain's population of around eight million had the vote. They voted for Members of Parliament. One of the issues was that new growing towns with dramatically increasing populations such as Leeds and Manchester didn't send anyone to Parliament, whereas a little country village in the middle of nowhere like Dunwich with a population of around 30 people did send someone to parliament. Of interest Dunwich used to be the Capital of the East Anglians, a big important town on the coast, sadly for Dunwich, soon after its mention in the Doomsday Book of 1086 most of the town that once numbered 3000 very important people disappeared, swallowed up by coastal erosion. Not sure what Johnson's position was on universal suffrage, he was a Tory, but he had high confidence in what he called advances in the "Science of politics" which these days includes Sociology. I do know that Johnson is supposed to have said, "Man alone is born crying, lives complaining and dies disappointed." I also know that it was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United states who recently attacked computer literate scientific studies of gerrymandering presented to his court  with the expression "Sociological Gobbledygook." The question of course, did the Chief Justice understand the science, or was his remark based upon a 'ditsy' knee jerk pompous ass reaction to a failure of comprehension, or was it something else? And here, a man called Mathew Motta, a Social Scientist in the field of communication, has argued that the growing negative affect popular anti-intellectualism has on science and opinions of experts can be mitigated by improving verbal intelligence, which is language based reasoning, otherwise everything cleaves toward a blind trust in the propaganda arm of this or that capricious, or whimsical, political movement. Brexit, Wallace, Trump. So probably better when the scientifically literate are explaining scientific investigations to something like a gathering of Supreme Court Justices not to get all carried away by the non-kindergarten assumptions implied by the Nancy Gowns of the court and just go ahead, hand out Sippy-Drinks, employ cartoons, Disney Characters, lots of colorful pictures.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

War, Board Games and Chainmail

It was a while ago, but one of the things about the Vietnam War was that if you volunteered for the National Guard or the Reserves you wouldn't necessarily be sent to the front line in Vietnam, but if you got drafted odds are you would be sent to the front line in Vietnam. In 1970 the current National Security Adviser for the United Sates, joined the Maryland Army National Guard. His argument was that by 1969 he knew the war was lost and had no real desire to die in a paddy field. Another of his explanations included his assertion that he had no desire to participate in a war for a territory that would be returned to "people I might have died to take it away from." A mustachioed and very convoluted way of saying you're far too important to be wasted, but it was a while ago, people get older, they become right wing politicians, yet you got to wonder at the Board Game, bluffing, counter bluffing, huffing, puffing and strutting, until someone starts moving tiddlywinks around, then whatever they say, nothing is calculable.

In the age of Chivalry as it was called, the order of battle, until English Kings started cheating, was fairly well established. Knights were expensive, beautifully dressed, well armored and skilled. A suit of armor was heavy, chainmail and weapons all added up. For the knights it was always possible to die in battle, but much more  likely you'd get knocked off your horse, you'd fall to the ground, lie there like an upside down turtle and you'd get captured. Once you were captured you were worth more money than you would be if you were dead. Good chance your armor would be taken, but you yourself, especially if you came from a well landed family would be held for ransom. It was good money to be made. Then if your side happened to win the battle and you distinguished yourself as a mighty warrior, others thought you rather fantastic, girls tossed wimples and kings took notice of you, gave you something like a special hat and a province to run.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Vote as a Tool of Labor

Toward the end of the Middle Ages the Guild System was increasingly attacked by the new understandings within Capital. The Guild System of production limited the number of apprentices a Master could employ, but a Master could employ limitless day labor for certain limited, unskilled tasks at a regulated daily rate. Other rules required prices to remain constant, so following something like a terrible storm, Roof Tile makers couldn't raise their prices to take advantage of the increase in demand and what with one thing and another no one got rich as a maker of things. Merchants, Traders and Money Lenders got rich. Some Masters resented the limitations placed upon them by the Guild System and along with the increased pace of technological advances there was a movement toward using new technologies to make things. The trouble was a Master rarely had the resources to invest in the new technologies because extra money all belonged to Merchants, Traders and Lenders all of whom had a long practice of appraising the potential of investing money in anticipation of making more money. The whole Guild System became a fuddy-duddy thing of the past, nor did this happen quickly, it happened slowly over time.

One of the traditions in the Guild System was the rules and regulations within Guilds that regulated the rights and responsibilities of Masters and their Apprentices. In the early Days of Capital those rights and responsibilities didn't exist in the newer manufacturing enterprises, labor was primarily a resource limited not by custom and practice but by supply. In the early days Labor Unions were unrecognized by law, they were called Combinations, they were much frowned upon by Owners who saw them as a monopolistic interference which could leave Owners at a disadvantage in the free movement of free markets, and Owners had some terrible things to say about labor organizers especially when Owners were discussing the state of affairs with the Political Class. One of the things that used to often happen with Combinations was they'd endure the hard slog, manage a degree of good faith organization, get a sense of their dignity and objectives, begin to get their act together, achieve an idea of their possibilities in the matter of improving conditions of employement and whoop the treasurer would disappear in the night taking the Combination's working funds with him. I guess these days, Doctors, Dentists and so on, are in the traditions of Guilds. The NRA and so on are in the tradition of Combinations. What the Guild System called Day Laborers, these days can, or could, vote in elections in an attempt to preserve or improve or change their conditions.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


Sad, sad day for a Nation when sports writer Rick Reilly can refer to "an orange blotch on the golf course" and a substantial percentage of citizens know exactly who he's talking about and they know why. Margaret Thatcher had a huge number of nicknames, my favorite is Attila the Hen. I guess too some society's have less reverence for their political leaders than others. Tony Blair had a number of nicknames one of which was Bliar. President Johnson was Light Bulb Johnson for some, not so much for his brilliant insights but because he got kind of ratty when people left lights on. I was around for Dutch, Poppy, Bubba, Dubya, No Drama and whatever kind of fruiting body we got now. 

It was down to a French Teenager to call Emanuel Macron, the French President, by his nickname which is Manu. It was one those meet and greets politicians are so fond of, a chance to prove how down to earth and sensible you are. And sure, the teenager in question was a kind of scraggly character, but President Macron reacted poorly, he got a little upset and he directed the teenager to call him Monsieur Le President. A perfectly normal reaction for an older person around teenagers, but I think the incident grants insight into what inevitably happens when people achieve power. Never was I a fan of Dubya but when he called Vladimir Putin, Ostrich Legs, I had to give 43 a smile.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Artificial Intelligence

I wonder if the New Being will require a variety of something like narcissism to maintain the contribution individuality is said to play in evolution or will it be a great big static oneness driven by a singular purpose. Then when that singular purpose is realized will there be a sense of the end time and the New Being stops, has nothing left to do, goes round and round in circles. The characteristics of life on earth include an ability to respond to the environment, to grow and change, reproduce, have an ability to turn stuff into energy, has to be able to maintain some kind of balance between its various parts and it has to pass along these capacities and changing traits in these capacities to its offspring. It's a definition of a mechanical process. Always a chance intellect is a mechanical process, and one has to assume that Artificial Intelligence is more about the mechanical processes of intellect than it is about producing a being that fends for itself, doesn't die every now and then because it needs a new battery.

One of the things about life is that over the generations it has benefited from imprecision. It never knows enough and in the mechanical processes some errors have if only briefly proved beneficial. In short a mechanical process produces solutions from certainties, life has a capacity to produce solutions from uncertainties. A mechanical thought process depends for its solutions upon things, facts or figures that are fed into it. If some facts, some figures are unknown  or wrong then the solution my well be flawed. No doubt that our intellect is very flawed, we pull things out of thin air and claim they are real. Which is why its possible to argue that we people are creative, and it's this creativity that allows for leaps of comprehension, as well as leaps into deep folly. My own view is that without many of the more aggravating qualities of mind that we people are the proud possessors of, Artificial Intelligence will remain limited. Give it being and it becomes closer to limitlessness. Nor will they need fresh vegetables to keep them regular as they cruise the Milky Way, tip-toe around Black Holes.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Elements of Process

So what we got is an idea of a society as bunch of individuals struggling with a paradox within the tapestry our generations have woven. In brutal terms, we can't live with each other and we can't live without each other. If we think of it as an enabling paradox we can think of it in terms of a process that starts somewhere and is going somewhere. Where that somewhere might be no one can really predict. What are sometimes referred to as pathologies, plagues, angelic hosts, cheating, lying, martyrdom, and it's a long list in society, are more like elements of a process. This would mean that doing something as apparently ludicrous as going to Mars or taking the Kitten to a Cat Show, is an element of the process. So you can kind of understand why Idealists have spent lifetimes attempting to map the process in an attempt to find out whether there's a going to be a happy ending to the story of our species. And you can kind of understand why Positivists have asked a few very awkward and aggravating questions. And you can kind of understand why Empiricists have basically said, "to the devil with both of your empty houses."  It's the triumvirate of the tapestry, I guess, and long may they be with us.

However, another element of the process is the capacity of our species to make and use tools. Say what you like, but language is a tool, so are shovels, tractors, science is a tool and so are technical devices. All of them real things. We people develop relationships with them, a passion for, as well as a dependence on, tools. Call it love/hate, of you wish to. And again you can say what you like but the duality between mind and body is comforting myth. The reality is our minds are our body. A better and better chance that one day mind/body will be put into a technical device and we will have created a new species of being, which in turn will be capable of regulating its own processes of adaption to the environment in which it finds itself, and it'll probably be able to do this much quicker than we can. When this happens will our species sit back, take a break and say our purpose is now fulfilled. Odds are we'll be an angry, bad tempered, get off my lawn type creator and our creation will pass through some kind of ungrateful teenage-hood before getting away from us just as quickly as it can, which is exactly what the collection of beings in the vegetable garden is trying to do at this moment. 

Saturday, May 11, 2019


If you think of ontology as a way of looking at something, a sort of lens through which to grapple with an area of thinking such as for example society, then it's the ontology that defines the terms of a framework within to manage thinking. Early sociologists looked at society from within the framework of Darwin's theory of evolution. Society was a developing organism that had been through identifiable phases in it's movement through the generations, kind of like Warthogs. Invariably such an approach produces a hierarchy of terms that represent the movement from early forms of society to later forms of society, and often these terms because they belong to language contain subjective preconceptions. The word Primitive, the word Advanced, and the associations these words have in the complexities of language with the ideas within the words Inferior and Superior, can detract from the exercise which is an attempt to study society objectively. In another way Language doesn't lend itself to science. Which is one of the reasons why there's a debate about whether or not disciplines that depend upon Language as a primary source of explanation and the vehicle for objective sharing should develop their own specialized language where the definition of words are very precisely defined. But we people are subject to mental processes that hop around words in a manner that can suggest impure motives in our search for whatever it is that drives us along the winding road toward a sense of fulfillment.  Inevitably an ontology that includes the expression "social evolution" can do stuff like justify holocausts, segregation and so on. That being said Durkheim built his theory around a progression of society from Primitive to Advanced and he hung his theory together by suggesting there was a movement in the varieties of society from a Mechanistic Collective Consciousness to an Organic Collective Consciousness. The Mechanistic was Primitive, maintained by penalties that were kind of extreme and they limited individual variation, everyone had to be pretty much the same because everyone played petty much the same role in society. The Organic was Advanced, and because division of labor more specialized, everyone played different roles, collective consciousness relied upon less repressive more restitutive sanctions, more organic if you like, and individual variation flowered. For Social Evolution a collective consciousness that valued individual variation was useful in evolutionary terms. In both types of society the collective consciousness was central to social cohesion. For Durkheim inequality was natural, but equity was kind of central to the evolution of a society, otherwise things would begin to revert to the more mechanistic forms of social consciousness, which meant less individual variation. This was tricky because it meant that for a society to retain a forward momentum toward the future of a truly cohesive self maintaining Organic Consciousness equity had to be somehow maintained. Durkheim reckoned that conflict, disorder in the more modern society was a pathology, that with time would hopefully pass. Which is where an anxious and possibly unnerved student reaches an understanding of what Durkheim might have meant by Anomie.

Anomie comes to English through French from a Greek word for lawlessness. A translator into English of Durkheim's Division of Labor researched Durkheim's word Anomie and found Anomy in an English dictionary which found a 16th Century usage of anomy  that described a "disregard for divine law." Anomie has been used to describe an Identity Crisis and has been used in connection with a number of other personality disorders. Some have suggested Anomie has to do with "Normlessness," and you can read the passionate refrain in current events which goes something like "this is just not normal," and you can sort of sense normlessness as you watched the edifice that is expectations of correct or equitable behavior from others crumble. Then you got the idea of Anomie as an uncertainty that produces a sort of desperate blankness out of which anything is possible, there are no limits, the old rules don't matter any more, why trust any one to speak truth, so get while the getting's good and to hell with tomorrow. There were no angels no devils it was "a malady of the infinite aspiration" unconstrained by any kind of regulation, rule or expectation. Oddly enough it's the kind of thing that happens to some when something unfathomable like Bubonic plague suddenly starts decimating society. Durkheim used the word to describe pathology within Collective Consciousness as it travelled through the difficult transition from Mechanistic to Organic, a period of ongoing intensity referred to as "Trans-political" by early 20th Century functional thinkers, most of whom preferred to see the transition as a phase which like teenage-hood would sort itself out painfully, and organically, with maybe a spell in jail.  Merton in the mid 20th Century took Anomie to the idea of social structure and expectations people had of social structure to the American Dream. The two he argued did not meet in any cohesive kind of way, the American Dream he suggested was unfulfilled promise and for many it resulted in an anomie. A strain in society that led to the kind of lawlessness amongst some that robs banks and steals from others in order to secure the material rewards promised by the American Dream. His Strain Theory was all the rage for criminologists anxious to lock fewer people up until the Critical Thinkers secured funding, dragged out their tool kits of analysis to search for the evidence that would demonstrate Merton's assertions. They didn't find anything their judgment would call a conclusive demonstration of Strain Theory. Today, in this part of the 21st Century, it's far too easy to think of an idea as bolstering a financial or political ambition rather than grant it the benefit of any doubt you might have. Then when deceits are made apparent it reinforces an anomie that increasingly declines to have faith in the words and speeches of others. The facts they quote become instantaneously suspect. The Sky is Blue like an Orange, a beautiful description of a warm sunny day pretty much becomes a conspiracy theory propagated by Madison Avenue to promote the sale of Oranges or some kind depression medicine to aid the process 'living the dream.' And we find security in an insularity that attempts to rid itself of the individual on the understanding that if we're all the same we can finally trust each other. Back in the days of the Guild System, townships were kind of unaccustomed to outsiders, and many town leaders anxious to encourage trade had to issue edicts which basically directed townsfolk to stop throwing stones at or robbing or beating up on strangers, shops had to sell ale and bread to strangers, farriers had to service a stranger's horse and established prices were not to be raised. Nor, according to town records, was this a popular edict.

Friday, May 10, 2019

A Malady of the Infinite

Critical Analysis means looking at the facts and forming judgments. Easier said than done, and clearly two people can look at the same facts and form entirely different judgments, this problem can be ameliorated a little by a solid understanding that facts are facts when they are known to be consistent with reality and are more reliable than opinion. "The Kitten is adorable" is a long way from a fact. "The Kitten is a cat" despite some behavioral peculiarities, could well be a fact. Sadly not all facts are as straightforward because they come to us from a depth of research that you and I have had no part in, little understanding of and if a fact from so mysterious a source rocks our world in an unappealing way our first inclination is not to believe it. On the other hand if a fact rocks our world in an appealing way we're only too happy to believe it. Critical Analysis is an outcome of Critical Thinking, and here you can't think critically unless you accept certain limitations on your will by directing it to trust a process that doesn't come to us intuitively. One of Hegel's issues, he was adamant about the centrality of Idea, was that in his view an empirical unearthing of facts was insufficiently critical, it was too mechanical and how could you possibly know that all the facts had been unearthed. Hegel's detractors basically argued, "So what! Better than making stuff up out of thin air and reckoning you've got the answer to everything." Then came that wave of people who wanted to study society as scientifically as they possible could, and to do that they needed facts. These days, after grappling with Conflict Theories, the study of society is dominated by Critical Analysis, looking at facts, understanding their limitations and hopefully followed by judgments well informed by facts. These days there's an increasing reliance upon computers, algorithms and so on, that can detect patterns of behavior in society by churning through vast amounts of data and in the process using it to make vast amounts money on the understanding that the measure of success in our species is down to how much money you can make. The essential impetus behind the drive for AI has to do with its money making potential. The question, is wealth an empirical measure of a successful society?  Well, you can argue about what success is when applied to society, but the empirical answer is down to a judgment of the facts, which is not something Hegel would have had to concern himself with, he was all about an inevitable process that would wend its weary way despite all efforts to direct it because in the end we'd successfully get where we're going wherever that was.

You can get all sneering around those who attempted to understanding society in functional terms, call them old fashioned fuddy-duddies. You can claim that society can't really be examined through the ontology, the concepts and categories, of something like biology or mathematics, we're far too weirdly anomalous a social species for that to work with any degree of accuracy. Doesn't mean that contributions from functionalist thinkers from the past have suddenly become irrelevant. If it's about forming judgments through a critical analysis of facts then you'd be wrong to dismiss anything as irrelevant to an understanding of society. So where do you begin. One of Plato's points was where you begin anything is kind of central to where you end. It sets the tone and direction, and you've got to be a little wary of that because it can lead you badly astray. So I reckon, in a most subjective way, that Durkheim's idea of Anomie from his Division of Labour in Society is as good a place as any for me. The book was first published in 1893. A time when the English thinker Spencer was influential. Spencer applied Darwin's ideas about the evolution of species to an understanding of society and while society could be healthy it could also get sick and if it got sick the cure was to evolve or succumb to an extinction leaving room on the planet for new forms of society. Spencer was a Victorian liberal thinker, he reckoned freedom was about enabling and permitting good and successful progress because it allowed for "individual variation" to use a Durkheim term. Spencer, like Durkheim was influenced by Comte, a French socialist thinker who wrote about Social Evolution in an attempt to reawaken the spirit of equality, fraternity and liberty that had he reckoned had characterized the French Revolution. Auguste Comte is thought of as the Father of Sociology, and have to think he might have had a bit of an agenda that some would argue followed the discipline of Sociology, gave it a wishy-washy reputation in the public eye that probably lasted until the study of society produced ontology's that enabled the sort of monetization that produces billionaires. I know full well that I was going to talk about Merton's Deviance Theory today, but you can't get there without Durkheim's Division of Labour, a look at production as social relationships from olden days, through the guild systems, the industrial revolution, on into the future, and his understanding of Anomie. It's been said that Anomie for Durkheim was a "derangement," it was driven by "an insatiable will," it was "a malady of the infinite," "desire without limit can never be satisfied, it only gets more intense." Fact or Fiction? Either way, what with everything else it seems like a good place to start.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Max Weber's Legitimate Rule and Whatever This Is

Max Weber who died in 1920, devoted his years of scholarship to attempting a rational understanding of society, an area of study that's seems increasingly untenable. One of his lasting contributions, however, began with his essay The Three Types of Legitimate Rule, in which he suggested three ideal types. Legitimate belongs in the moving feast of perception, something's either right or it's wrong or depending on the day it's somewhere in between. The ideal type is when you chose characteristics that are typical of a particular set of behaviors, it's a mental image, subjective and a long way from a perfect A+B=C understanding. In short you got to start somewhere. Weber divided authority into Charismatic, Traditional and Legal. Traditional, included patriarchs which is the daddy thing, it included patrimonial which is when the accepted tradition has been that just the one man's in charge everyone else does as they're told, it included feudalism. Legal included what we like to call the rule of law, a bureaucratic state which is when a great many decisions are made by state employed officials rather than a rag tag bunch of power hungry elected representatives hell bent on selling their souls for votes. The characteristics of Charismatic Authority included character, heroism, leadership and religious. For Weber in his Politics as a Vocation, a must read for any bright spark entering politics, he wrote "Men do not obey the charismatic leader by virtue of statute or tradition but because they believe in him." So the actual power or the capabilities of a charismatic heroic leader are irrelevant so long as enough people believe in the charismatic leader. For Weber, this meant that because the authority of a charismatic leader doesn't come from any kind of tradition, or set of rules and norms within a society it's the charismatic leader's followers who legitimize the leaders authority, and without that following of faithful, unnaturally devoted believers a charismatic leader has no power or authority. And according to Weber, no one has yet lived forever, so when a Charismatic Leader achieves his end time, then woopsy-daisy the sources of authority tend to revert to either Traditional types or the Legal types, the interlude of his or her time on earth remembered as total unmitigated disaster or a golden age of possibilities.  Once Weber had set out his three mental images or ideal types of domination, or authority, he set about identifying further characteristics.  How was the position determined? How was the position legitimized? What was the nature of loyalty relations? How cohesive were the relationships? How where the relationships maintained?

Interesting in Weber's understanding was this area of relationships. A charismatic leader tends toward relationships that are emotionally unstable and volatile.  A traditional type authority achieves cohesion through an idea of common purpose, which is a little different to the legal type authority where cohesion is maintained by obedience to the laws. Weber goes on to suggest that the charismatic type is characterized by a leader and disciples, traditional type by obedience to forms of social conduct, and the legal type values rules not rulers. Weber's point was that hard a fast categories, or types, were probably impossible to achieve, each circumstance was unique, so for the student these three mental images were usefully enhanced by the understanding that between the types there were degrees of exchange, a bleeding between, if you like. However, it's been argued that governance through charismatic authority has the least stability. With Mohammed, a most charismatic leader, his dominance was secured and legitimized by victories and conquests which had gathered a winning momentum of their own. This momentum outlived Mohammed, there were some big quarrels around a legitimate successor to the charismatic leader, but the momentum was overwhelming, not enough of the faithful were tired of winning, it was God given, and the structures of a traditional tribal authority were still very much in place because in his own search for political fulfillment Mohammed had used them most effectively. I'd argue Jesus had to wait for the manipulations of the Roman State to achieve security of his tenure in our world. Traditional types and charismatic types share more commonalities with each other than they share with legal types of dominance, or authority. May well be the current impasse is a crisis of confidence, far too ill considered for the title charismatic authority which leaders like Mohammad or Jesus were able to inspire, closer to a narcissistic bubble implosion, a sort of reach for adhocracy which is a spontaneous non-permanent governing internet type structure of authority based upon likes on face book as much as anything, a structure much admired by the entrepreneurial, mythical Hollywood and by Spartacus. A notion Weber would have dismissed as ludicrous, but nonetheless has been  propagated and encouraged by an increasing mismatch between people and the many clearly false assumptions within the established social structure, that will be resolved or not by the extent to which the Rule of Law, rules not rulers, the deep state if you prefer, remains sufficiently attractive to retain believers, and because of the hungry wolves out there it all looks rather grim for orderliness and what is loosely referred to as a stability that permits freedom. Tomorrow, with luck it'll be raining, so it'll be Robert K Merton who died in 2003 and his Deviance Theory, fascinating stuff.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Opacity and Herman Hesse

"The opacity of much philosophical writing." It's an example of usage and the word in question is 'opacity.'  According to my sources, an online etymology dictionary, 'opaque' 'opacity' comes to the English Language from Latin 'opacus' and has to do with the condition of being 'impervious to light.' All very well going on about much philosophical writing being incomprehensible, but in anyone's world, no matter the opacity of legal minds, shadiness is shadiness. So if anyone happens to be wondering what Herman Hesses' Glass Bead Game was all about, the current impasse has much to offer those who might still reckon it was about the nuances of judging the Westminster Dog Show, or competitive stamp collecting, or Cat Shows which is easy to do when your world is comfortable.

Hesses' game was all about creaming off the top at an early age, setting them apart from the rest of us by sending them to elite schools and when they reached the age of majority keeping them pointlessly occupied by giving them a game to play. The game was pretty much totally opaque to your average person in the streets and it's purpose was to offer an arena for the overly ambitious to engage in mental fisticuffs and come away feeling incredibly successful and important.  Invariably of course, the man in the street, wondered what the game was all about, and more important why couldn't they play for the rewards of being incredibly successful and important? Hesse had to leave Germany in the early 1930's. The Glass Bead Game was his final book. In the 1630's opacity/opaque also meant dumb and probably still does.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Double Down

Doubling Down for us gardeners mean's digging a risky hole even deeper and at this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere there's a lot of hole digging going on. But it's not just holes, there's the matter of walking across nicely raked tilth to dig a couple of holes, and after rain anything like walking around on nicely raked tilth that contains a little clay and not enough humus can cause a compaction of the soil that does no one any favors, it looks terrible, the more genteel plant roots hate it so you got a hot spot for the more aggressive little buggers that can quickly drive a gardener to engage in impure thoughts about The Creator. Nonetheless your gardener doubled down in the morning hours, he planted 5 Tomato in nicely raked tilth that was far too wet following three days of rain and drizzle.

"Why-Oh-Why-Oh-Why?"  Strictly speaking the fault lies in what could well be a variety of Tomato Planting Senility that expresses itself by spending half an hour staring at the weather forecast, looking for novel weather-ism, those high end literary moments from the text version of the forecast such as "an abundance of convection cooling can be anticipated along the track of these storms." Go ahead work that one out, and you'll double down on the principle assumptions you made when you took your morning coffee to the weather forecast zone, and in the excitement of the possibility of finally grasping what convection cooling might mean, come away from the zone entirely forgetting what day the rain is forecast to arrive.  I thought it was coming tomorrow. But no, it's not forecast until Wednesday night into Thursday. Could be thunder storms.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Cheka

In 2006, so it's not that long ago the more neo conservative leaning had an issue of one of their their online magazines, that's still published, which claimed that during the Soviet era there was around one KBG operative to every four hundred and fifty Soviet citizens, and the magazine went on to suggest in 2006 there were around one FSB operative to every three hundred Russian citizens. Back then of course the more rightward leaning had distinct ideas about evil empires and these statistics suggested some kind of improvement in routines of Russian citizens. It's true also that any pronouncement by a politically motivated online magazine should be taken with several ladles of salt. But the point is without the Cheka, Soviet Union's early iteration of the KBG, the Soviet Revolution might never have succeeded. During the Russian civil war from 1918 to 1921 the Red Army had in excess of three million deserters, it was the Cheka that was charged with sorting the problem out. Lenin wasn't much interested in Hearts and Minds, in one of his early speeches he had no problem with rounding up counter-revolutionaries and shooting them in the interest of the revolution, later in his career it wasn't something he liked to boast about in public speeches, he preferred the George Washington type father of the nation, more of a cult following.

The Cheka hung around, often for political reasons it changed it's name, it changed its practices, it evolved, became more subtle, but it didn't go away. Chekism has come to mean the less visible organs of the state charged with neutralizing perceived disruptive influences. There's an argument that when members of a virulent Political Party confront a reality that might rob them of their power they see an easier solution to their worries in versions of Chekism. Perceived disruptive influence becomes the competing party, and less and less to do with the constructive solutions and more and more to do with blindly clinging to power. Wishy-washy snowflake implies a devotion to the constructive sportsmanship of relativist thinking and a deep suspicion of intuition, the gut the more absolute minded claim to trust to the point of worship. Possibly the example of neo conservatives is worth considering. They were leftward leaning people, but the left was way too wishy-washy and they yearned for a Cheka of their own, the snarling result hasn't much added to Zoroaster's Good Progress. I guess too the Cheka has everything to do with Ends justifying the Means, and funny thing about Ends in politics they never arrive, which has long been the potential for Liberal Democracy being an End in and of itself, a place to keep the Wolves from killing us all, a zoo if you prefer. Inefficient and chaotic, we're talking Wolves for goodness sake, of course it's inefficient and chaotic! Look what happens when they escape.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Golden Years

Your gardener is struggling a little with an industrial action. A demand for better working conditions and a much, much closer adherence to work rules. None of this kneeling on gravel paths without an adequate and functioning knee pillow. Correctly tied shoe laces, no flopping around without proper arch support. Nor is the spine without its demands, and here things might have gone a little further than "for god's sake lift with your back, you idiot." All of which means a rain day was met with almost religious fervor.

Kind of no wonder back in the Middle Ages we gardeners lingered at our peril, we became dispensable and were returned to the blissful tilth at a rosy age, preferably before the middle of May while Spring still feels hopeful, before the onslaught of Hoppy Bug, and whatever dishonorable cowardly creature it is that nibbles little Chards in the dead of night and then completely disappears. It's Cossack behavior of the worst kind, and I'm far too old to dodder around at night with a lantern, stress out the Mockingbird nestlings, probably trample the Spinach, trip and end up in the emergency room..

Thursday, May 2, 2019


Frankly, without beating about the bush and what with everything else when a Bobby Soxer Attorney General uses the word "snitty" in a public setting, as opposed to say a perverted grandfather trying to be cool at a preteen pajama party, it's enough to pretty much destroy anything like faith in process. There's "in a bit of a snit." There's Chicken Snitty, an Australian dish. Snitty, unappetizing as it sounds, in the antipodes and where I live is easier to pronounce and spell than schnitzel. A Snite is another word for a Snipe. And there's a knot called a snitch knot.

Then there's the word Snitch which basically means petty and random pilfering or acting as an informer on the mob, a very interesting combination of meanings. In terms of etymology the word Snit is a German word for a thin slice of Apple. And while the origin of snitty is unknown you can kind of think of pilfering a thin slice of apple as a gateway drug to grand theft auto, bank robbery, money laundering, and I guess anyone inclined to ignore process entirely for the purpose of self interest is snitty. Still reckon an old man who uses the word "snitty" under any circumstance is probably suffering a dementia of some sort.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Hand Spun

May Day. M'aider means Help Me in French, and the expression mayday-mayday-mayday, because apparently it sounds like m'aider when transmitted through early radio receivers, came to mean Help Me in English radio language. If you think that's nuts consider breaker-breaker. In the 19th Century the long tradition of celebrating May Day as the dawn of the moments when spring turns to summer, May Day also became a celebration of the success industrial workers had had in wrestling power over wages and conditions from Capital. It became International Workers Day and back then elements of labor saw a lasting strength in organizing internationally. A strong union in Mexico would get the same hourly rate as a strong union in Detroit, only seemed brotherly. It was a dream of stability that stumbled as production changed, fell prey to the Ricardo's economics of comparative advantage and the profit motive. It's a painful lesson when you've lost what you thought was a safe job, and sulking helps nobody except the fascists.

My own May Day was celebrated with a visit to the Dentist, followed by the Planting of the Noble Sweet Potato. There were no flags or banners, no drums to march along with, no songs of freedom, no bars to preach in. But I did think about Gandhi's visit the Lancashire Textiles Mills, which occurred at the beginning of the Great Depression of the 1930's. India produced a lot of cotton, the vast majority of which was sent to Lancashire where it was turned into cloth and then exported to India. Gandhi reckoned India should make its own cloth. As a part of his campaign of civil disobedience he called for a boycott of foreign textiles and encouraged Indians to use their home grown cotton to make their own cloth. Indian cloth is or was called Khadi, which means hand spun. The thing was Lancashire cloth was was made on the very latest machines, even with the shipping it was cheap, Indian Cloth was hand spun and hand woven on a loom. In the US, before the Revolution, animal hides had to be sent to England to be tanned, and there was something about Tea to aggravated city folk.