20 January 2011

Feeling Aphoristic...

...that is, Nietzschean? Wittgensteinian?

I've been toodling around the internet, sprinkling comments here and there the last few days. I've collected a few of them here as aphorisms (with links to the original discussions—go visit them):

The issue is freedom. I believe there are determinisms, yes. Too many, in fact: genetic, environmental, societal, political, economic, mathematical, astronomical, medical, e.g. And in sum they can negate each other. Provide outs for each other. But each uniquely responds to each's own over-determination. In that, there is a certain freedom. Much depends on how you look at it.


Power is Koch Bros. Goldman Sachs. ExxonMobil. GE. The ones who don't do the yapping so overtly. Power's main job is to perpetuate itself. PR sophistry is certainly one effective way, esp. w/r/t those who aren't paying attention.

George Lakoff talks about the preservation of governing: if we limit the size of Gov't, other powerful or moneyed or advantaged interests fill in the power vacuum. The move toward anarchy favors those who already have a leg up and can mobilize to capitalize.

Now, I don't want to rule; and I presume neither do you. What we can do, is try to keep the ones who do honest. Balance them off against each other. Pay attention.


How many bystanders would be hit by flying bullets if a bunch of carriers opened up once they heard shooting. How're you gonna' tell who's the bad guy and who's, like you, trying to stop them? More guns = more gun deaths.


I think she [Palin] probably meant "surveyor's" libel, too.


In the U.S., generally, we have the right to believe lies and conspiratorial propaganda, argue violently and threateningly, purchase and carry weapons designed to kill multiple people per second, and be bat-shit insane and not seek or be forced to seek treatment (unless someone in authority has declared us in a specific instance a threat to ourselves or others). The degree varies, of course, from state to state.

We have the right to be or to be perceived as a threat to everyone around us. We have, that is, the right make people fear us.

We do not have the right to be free of these fears.

And that's the way it is. Thursday, January 13, 2012.


Pacifist movements are almost exclusively leftish. Hawkishness is often bilateral, but more stridently rightist.

Non-violence was perhaps THE greatest socio-political innovation of the 20th Century, and it came from the left: Gandhi’s anti-imperialism and MLK’s civil rights movement leadership. That’s not to say there weren’t violent leftists in either movement. There were. But there is no tradition of non-violence on the right.

You’ve mixed up cause and effect: left despair is as a result of the slowness/incremental nature of social change wrought by a non-violent movement (vid health care reform). But not only is the left impatient with this method, it must suffer, too, from the brutalities of the institutions it opposes. Ergo despair. Its lack of violence is not due to its despair—Chomsky notwithstanding.

Obversely, violent movements can effect change more rapidly; thus their bluster and bravado.

Crazy people, as you call them, are in pain. They need relief from their suffering, and they need it now. An effective movement (violent, rightist) can heal them magically—or, one presumes, so goes the belief. A patient, Gandhi/King-style struggle, however noble and ennobling, simply won’t do in the pinch they’re in. Thus the rightward gravitation.


My point was that despair was characterological of the left due to its non-violent lineage (which, of course, is not universal on the left but is entirely absent on the right). W/r/t health care: the debate from the Obama left (center) [which was schooled in MLK] was to reach out to the other side, try to understand their position, seek compromise (to the point of letting go some things some of us felt were essential—single payer, e.g.), not villify the opposition as enemies. From the right, it was confrontational: death threats, bullets and rocks through windows at rep’s offices, guns at town hall rallies, shouting and fingerpointing in the face of reps, ‘you lie’, ‘destroying America’, tyranny, blood of martyrs, ‘fascist’, ‘socialist’, ‘Hitler’, ‘Stalin’, evil, death panels, taking over, etc. There was a distinctly violent rhetorical aspect to the right’s opposition. And they’re sore losers to boot.


How I'm Feeling Today:

14 January 2011

Cap Quote

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." Martin Luther King, Jr.

Enjoy your three-day weekend, America.


So, where does this leave us? Or, philosophically restated, where do we find ourselves?

I've analyzed the Tucson massacre on three axes: the fractious political/rhetorical climate, the inadquate psychiatric/social services environment, and the cultural/legal fetishization of weapons. Sarah Palin's and Sharron Angle's rhetoric and anti-government conspiracies, along with that of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly, did not alone cause this massacre. But neither did Jared Loughner's presumed mental illness. Nor his easy access to guns. It was a factor of all three, and any analysis which refuses to acknowledge the role played by any one of the three is disingenuous or incomplete. In what respective proportions the three contributed I'm not prepared to say—and neither is anyone else at the present time. This atrocity happened as a function of the operant political philosophy in the U.S. today, i.e., the political choices we as a society have made with respect to each of these issues.

It's all well and good to say, oh no that's not our political philosophy. This isn't what we want: we're a democratic capitalist republic that believes in the freedom of humanity and the market, and your freedom ends where my nose begins. Or some such bromides. The fact is the reality of our fundamental political philosophy has never been made clearer.

Having said this, how can we make sense of such a senseless act of violence? Was the Tucson massacre evil? And if it was evil, how can a benevolent, all-powerful god allow such to happen?

Last year at this time, I penned a post re: the Haitian earthquake and the problem of evil called Family of Values: Humanity. Allow me to quote myself: "Natural events are not, in themselves, evil. They are a condition of the planet upon which we live. A fact of life on planet Earth. Inhumanity, insensitivity, cruelty, on the other hand: these are true evils."

Jared Loughner's presumed psychosis (probably some form of paranoid schizophrenia) is, I have argued, natural; it results from a flaw in the brain of the human organism. In a sense, what happened could be taken, thus, as a 'natural event.' Yet, this was inarguably an act of inhumanity, insensitivity, and cruelty. The fact that this illness contributed (partially, as I've argued) to his carrying out this massacre does not entirely absolve it of the appearance of evil. Those people, the victims of his actions, did not deserve what happened to them. Their actions did not bring this upon them.

I've also pointed out that a clinical diagnosis is not necessarily a defense before the bar of the law. But does it render his actions any less evil?

That, truly, is a question for the ages. It certainly does not render the effects of his actions—the woundings and deaths of innocents—any less painful or heinous in our eyes. But it renders the issue of his culpability for evil less clear-cut.

At some level, a voice or voices inside the head of Jared Loughner compelled him to do what he did. Because of the pervasive influence of the climate of vitriol and violence in the political and social arena, these voices were amplified and possibly enraged in his mind. Because he did not have access to the sorts of drugs that could silence or moderate or drown out those voice by repairing the neurological misfirings in his brain nor to the sort of psychiatric counseling and supervision that would have allowed a professional to recognize that he was a 'danger to others' and intervene to prevent him from doing what he was apparently bent on, he made the decision to carry through on his compulsion. And because he had ready access to a semi-automatic weapon with an extended clip and cheap ammunition, he was able to implement this plan with immediate and devastating effect.

It is too easy to say Jared Loughner is an evil man and should be killed. As the doer, he is an effective scapegoat. His incarceration and/or execution will absolve us of the immediate pain and grief of this moment, provide 'closure' as they say. It may even, if only temporarily, absolve us of the pain of the revelation of who we really are as a country and what our true values are as a society. It will not, however, absolve us of our complicity in tolerating and even encouraging and promoting ignorance and violence in our public discourse. It will not absolve us of our complicity in failing to care for our mentally ill fellow human beings. And it will not absolve us of our complicity in allowing, nay condoning, such ready access to weapons meant only for killing each other.

As I stated in my last post:
"we believe every person—whether wild, angry, or insane (though not Muslim or Communist, apparently)—in the United States should be able to be, or be perceived as, a violent and potentially deadly threat to every other person in the United States at any given time.

American citizens have the freedom to be angry and truculent and violent and threatening in their political speech, to be bat-shit insane, and to purchase and carry weapons capable of killing multiple people per second. By contrast, America citizens do not have the right to be free from fear."
We accept this fear as a condition of our freedom. Freedom is our proclaimed secular religion (our 'ultimate concern' as a society, if you will), but it is a false religion because we have opted for a false and irresponsible freedom. And this existential fear is the price we pay for our own complicity in the action of Jared Loughner.

So to answer my question: god did not allow this senseless Tucson massacre to happen; we did—by the political, legal, philosophical, and societal choices we've made.

13 January 2011


Vitriolic, confrontational rhetoric, incivililty and threats in public debate, and contrived, paranoid conspiracy theories; inadequate mental health care systems and insurance coverage; and lax to non-existent gun control laws: these are the three major political issues raised by Saturday's massacre in Tucson.

Obvious solutions? Civil discourse and fact-based, rational, non-ideological political debate and compromise; more education and more resources, both governmental and insurance, dedicated to the recognition and treatment of our mental ill fellow humans; and reasonable regulation of firearms, weapons, and ammunition in the public space, along with adequate resources for enforcing them.

These things will never happen in America. Why?

Politics is about passion; passion is, by definition, irrational and excitable. Ideologies are comforting; doctrinaire solutions provide easy, pat, formulaic answers to difficult questions in changing times. Conspiracy theories, however inciteful, make sense—however misguided—of an otherwise chaotic existence. Mental illness is stigmatized in our society (if even recognized) and thus easily swept under the rug. In such a situation of denial, mental health resources are easy to cut, especially in times of budget crunch; and there are few who lobby on behalf of the mentally ill, and the ones who do simply do not have the resources to gain a foothold in the seats of power. Gun lobbyists, on the other hand, are extremely powerful; they have shiploads of money; they buffalo public servants into doing their bidding. Few politicians are courageous enough to stand up to passionate, potentially unstable, gun-carrying constituents who are being egged on by the polarizing propaganda emanating from the media, lobbying, and political institutions (including any number of state and federal judges) bought and paid-for by weapons manufacturers. Fact is, they rightfully fear for their own safety.

So, if "Philosophy simply puts everything before us, nor deduces anything..." (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 126), given the above, what can we say about the operant political philosophy of the United States at the present time?

We are willing to countenance fractious political discourse, even if it leads to misguided ideological passion and wacked, paranoid conspiracy theories. And violence. That's the price we pay for free speech. We have other priorities than the care and healing of our mentally ill, even if it results in the sort of unself-governed and untreated psychoses that apparently led a gunman, for whatever reason, to open fire on a group of peaceably-assembled people in Tucson, Arizona last Saturday. And we believe nearly anyone at any time should have access to the sorts of weapons that Jared Loughner had, weapons capable of massacring multiple persons per second.

That is to say, we believe every person—whether wild, angry, or insane (though not Muslim or Communist, apparently)—in the United States should be able to be, or be perceived as, a violent and potentially deadly threat to every other person in the United States at any given time.

American citizens have the freedom to be angry and truculent and violent and threatening in their political speech, to be bat-shit insane, and to purchase and carry weapons capable of killing multiple people in less than a second. By contrast, America citizens do not have the right to be free from the fear of crazy people carrying guns into and shooting up peaceable assemblies.

This is what it means to be free?

12 January 2011


Previously, I've looked at two issues raised by the Tucson massacre: the overheated rhetoric of violence coming from the right wing of this country and the paltry support system in this country (government and insurance, not actual mental health care providers) for mental health care. Today, I want to advance along a third salient.

All the vitriolic, inciteful, right-wing 'bullets over ballots' rhetoric in the world can rattle around in the confused mind of practically any mentally ill person anywhere with no apparent public consequences (other than, say, further confusion). There are good and effective medications to help these folks properly process this information and resist the violent impulses incited by it. But when that person has little or no access to appropriate clinical care and ready access to assault weapons, extended magazines, and $0.22 bullets, bad stuff is going to happen.

As a legal matter, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." There has been an enormous amount of litigation and public policy argument about the meaning and application of this provision. Originalists like Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas should take the position that the use of such words as 'militia', 'security', 'free State', 'the People' make it abundantly clear that the Second Amendment allows for individual States to keep a standing militia, such as the National Guard, to protect themselves against incursion from any other State or country.

Recall, many during the founding of this nation believed that each State was a separate nation unto itself and that the individual States came together in a loose confederation for only limited ends. It took the Civil War, 90 years later, to disabuse the remnant primarily in the South of this belief: the Union won against the Confederacy. There is nothing in the plain language or text of the Second Amendment about the right of an individual person to have easy access to arms of any sort. Of course, because these so-called Originalists or Constitutional Fundamentalists (who believe that the Constitution is essentially a 'dead letter' and that its meaning is now and for all time limited to what it meant to the framers) are pushing an avowedly conservative ideology, they disingenuously and fraudulently ignore this glaring contradiction.

To repeat: in the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms is granted to individual States for the purpose of maintaining well-regulated militias. Thus, if Great Britain in 1799 decided to invade New Hampshire, New Hampshire could call up its militia to defend itself. Of course, Massachusetts and Vermont and any of the other free States could send their militias to come to its defense if they chose, but New Hampshire should be in the position of being able to defend itself. This sort of thing was a very real threat at the time.

It is another question entirely as to how the individual States organized their militias. A State could make every male over the age of thirteen a de facto member of the militia, if it so chose, and allow and even require each such individual person to keep and bear arms. And it could call up every one of these individuals for militia service, requiring them to deploy their arms in defense of the State, if its security was threatened. This is not Constitutional, however; it is political. And nowadays the point is moot, because each State maintains a formally organized National Guard which it deploys in emergencies and which, from time to time, is called upon in a reserve capacity for the United States military.

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has nothing to do with hunting, protecting private property against intruders, or private militias. It has nothing to do with the right of a Jared Loughner to walk into a WalMart and purchase 100 rounds of ammunition for $22.00. It has nothing to do with a Jared Loughner being allowed to purchase and deploy an extended magazine of ammunition in a semi-automatic pistol that fires three rounds per second. These are political rights, not Constitutional rights. And in this country, there is no political will to limit or even rationally regulate them despite the prevalence of these massacres.

11 January 2011


Floyd, et al.


The human organism is a remarkable thing, truly wondrous. But it is also flawed. For one thing, it deteriorates and ceases functioning after a time. It is prone to disease as well. Sometimes its constituent organs malfunction. Other times it just shuts down inexplicably.

One of the things that can happen to it is that electro-chemical reactions in its brain misfire. We refer to some of these misfirings as madness or insanity or craziness. Or, we get more technical and give them names like schizophrenia, bipolar disease, depression.

By all indications, Jared Loughner, the alleged Arizona mass murderer, appears to have been suffering from some form of adult-onset schizophrenia. His fetish with 'conscience [sic] dreaming', his paranoia about the government employing tyrannical mind control through grammar, his delusional belief that after an earlier encounter with Rep. Giffords she just didn't get what he was so deeply concerned about are all indications of a very disturbed mind.

This is not to say that I believe Mr. Loughner has a legitimate insanity defense plea at trial. Legal insanity and a clinical psychiatric diagnosis are by no means commensurate. As a general matter, legal insanity means not being capable of distinguishing between right and wrong at the time of the commission of the act. Many, many, many schizophrenics are entirely capable of recognizing the wrongness of their actions; they are just confused about their reasons for carrying them out.

But this is not that discussion.

Mental illness exists on a broad contiuum: everything from simple social maladjustment and harmless neurosis and mild depression to full-blown, paralyzing post-traumatic shock distress and raging schizophrenia and all-out Alzheimer's disease.

We all get a bit of the mental flu once in awhile. Anyone who's ever been moody or paranoid from smoking cheap marijuana or believed every girl in the bar was in love with him has been there.

Sometimes mental illnesses are temporary and go away after a little time. Other times they can be treated effectively with therapy, the 'talking cure'. And still other times, they require psychotropic pharmaceuticals to mitigate their effects. Not all are curable (given the current state of medical understanding); some require institutionalization.

The state of mental health care in this country is pathetic. I speak now not of the professionals who strive every day to help people suffering from the vast variety of mental illnesses, but of the lack of support from the health insurance industry for psychiatric care for the many people who desperately need it. Most health plans have better dental coverage than mental health care coverage, and not that many plans even offer dental coverage!

Meanwhile, dedicated psychiatrists, neurologists, psychologists, social workers, therapists, psychiatric nurses, pastoral caregivers, etc., are researching, diagnosing, treating, listening to, and otherwise doing everything in their power to combat these illnesses given their limited resources and public support.

One problem, I fear, is that people simply don't recognize mental illness for what it is: a flaw in the human organism. There is too much of a social stigma attached to it. We are embarrassed about 'Crazy Aunt Sukie' or 'Silly Billy' and don't want to talk about them. We try to deal with them when we have to and otherwise keep them at arm's length. And the people who suffer are incapable of recognizing, much less understanding, their own condition and thus unable to reach out for help.

On the flip side, of course, there's practically every boy in practically every school who has ADD and/or ADHD and is on some form of Ritalin (i.e., speed). And every lonely woman who is on Prozac. And every quiet child who just can't seem to get along with the other kids so they are diagnosed with Aspergers. All of which, I assure you, are very real conditions; but there is a spectrum. So much mental illness is overdiagnosed, because we just don't know enough about these conditions to treat them properly.

If any good can come out of this atrocity in Tucson, I would hope there would be a greater public awareness of the problems facing the seriously mental ill and of the dangers to society from failing to diagnose and treat and, more importantly, support those who suffer from these very real organic flaws humanely.

09 January 2011

Who Will Rid Me of These Meddlesome Liberals?


'"What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest."

The king's [Henry II of England] exact words have been lost to history but his outrage inspired four knights to sail to England to rid the realm of this annoying prelate. They arrived at Canterbury during the afternoon of December 29 [, 1170] and immediately searched for the Archbishop. [Thomas] Becket fled to the Cathedral where a service was in progress. The knights found him at the altar, drew their swords and began hacking at their victim finally splitting his skull.'


Sara Palin put a target on this woman, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Democrat of Arizona, and called for her minions to 'reload'. Sharon Angle called for 'Second Amendment remedies' if Democrats retained any power in Congress. Among others, right wing radio, Dick Armey and the Tea Party, and FoxNews commentators (doing the bidding of Roger Ailes), enriched by the Koch brothers and Karl Rove's political fundraising arm and encouraged by U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and John Roberts, continue to inflame the passions of the right wingnuts. We shouldn't be surprised.

06 January 2011

Like Falling in Love All Over Again

I've begun re-reading Elias Canetti's Auto-da-Fé, which novel I remember having a profound effect on me when I first read it ca. 1982-83. There may be no more important novel of the Twentieth Century. A classic one-hit wonder: if I could only write one novel, and it was such a one as this, I could die happy.

For Giftmas, I received a copy of Canetti's collection of essays entitled The Conscience of Words. The following passage, from the Preface, could just as easily have been the motto in the Header of this humble blog. Canetti's essays embody what I take to be the spirit of blogging: a wide-ranging, engaged critical intelligence with a non-dogmatic approach to thought and an avowed humanistic bias "cast[-ing] a cold eye on life, on death."
"This volume presents my essays from the years 1962 or 1974 in the order in which they were written. At first glance, it may seem odd to mingle figures like Kafka and Confucius, Büchner, Tolstoy, Karl Kraus, and Hitler, the most dreadful of catastrophes like Hiroshima, and literary reflections on keeping journals or on the genesis of a novel. But this adjacency was precisely what I was after, for these things are only seemingly disparate. The public and the private can no longer be separated, they overlap in ways that would never before have seemed possible. The enemies of mankind have rapidly gained power, coming very close to an ultimate goal of destroying the earth. It is impossible to ignore them and withdraw to the contemplation of only spiritual models that still have some meaning for us. These models have become rarer; many that may have sufficed for earlier times do not contain enough in themselves, comprise too little to still serve us today. Hence, it is all the more important to speak about those that have withstood our monstrous century.

But it would not be enough merely to grasp models and countermodels, even if one does succeed in grasping them. It is not, I think, superfluous to speak also about oneself—among countless other witnesses of this era—and to describe the efforts at keeping all those models at bay. Perhaps it is not purely private to show how a man of today has managed to produce a novel, so long as his aim was to truly confront the age; or how he arranges a diary to keep from being spiritually ground up in that age." Elias Canetti, The Conscience of Words, "Prefatory Remark," vii.

03 January 2011

Year-End Stuff to Begin the New Year: Linkage Galore

The passing of Denis Dutton, founder of Arts & Letter Daily, should not go unnoticed hereabouts. Dutton's aldaily was the first blog—an aggregator—I ever followed, and I've followed it fairly constantly since its inception. It was a direct inspiration for the founding of this meager blog, and it will remain prominently and proudly displayed in my Wise Links list on the right. I will miss those terrific three-a-day teasers.


Every year-end, Discover lists the top 100 science stories. Here's the link to this year's developing list.

Popular Mechanics lists its top weird science stories here.

Here are Scientific American's top ten science stories of 2010.

Wired Magazine's list of top scientific breakthroughs of 2010 is here.

Here you can find Project Censored's top 25 most censored stories of the last year.

Climate Progress notes that humanity might be on the precipice as indicated by the story of the century that has been missed by the mainstream media. (h/t to Richard @ The Existence Machine)

National Geographic's top photos of the year are always worth a look.

Oh, and something to be on the lookout for in 2011, the pseudo-patriotic gorefest that will be the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the war (April 12 and 13, 1861) to defend and preserve the institution of people owning other people (especially if they are of African origin).

01 January 2011

Songs to Ring in the New Year

Happy New Year! and welcome to the fourth year of Wisdom of the West. Here are some songs I like from 2010. Hope you do as well. Enjoy!

The Dolly Rocker Movement - Sold for Sinners from Oliver Heath on Vimeo.