Monday, May 29, 2006

Samuel Johnson on Americans—

“I am willing to love all mankind, except an American.”

“Sir, they are a race of convicts,” Johnson stated in 1769, “and ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging.” (Quoted in Boswell, Life of Dr. Johnson, March 21, 1775).)

“Slavery is now no where more patiently endured, than in countries once inhabited by the zealots of liberty.”

“We have now, for more than two centuries, ruled large tracts of the American continent, by a claim which, perhaps, is valid only upon this consideration, that no power can produce a better; by the right of discovery, and prior settlement. And by such titles almost all the dominions of the earth are holden, except that their original is beyond memory, and greater obscurity gives them greater veneration.”

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A. Bierce on German metaphysics

monad, n.

"The ultimate, indivisible unit of matter. (See Molecule.) According to Leibnitz, as nearly as he seems willing to be understood, the monad has body without bulk, and mind without manifestation -- Leibnitz knows him by the innate power of considering. He has founded upon him a theory of the universe, which the creature bears without resentment, for the monad is a gentlmean. Small as he is, the monad contains all the powers and possibilities needful to his evolution into a German philosopher of the first class -- altogether a very capable little fellow. He is not to be confounded with the microbe, or bacillus; by its inability to discern him, a good microscope shows him to be of an entirely distinct species."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hoo-yah for Hobbes

Hobbes' Leviathan functions as a great antidote to excessive postmod. bickering, conceptualization and to belle-lettrism of all sorts. His ideas of the sovereign were a bit draconian--but I think capable of progressive readings. And he's no friend of theocrats or aristocrats: more like a republican who felt a strong monarchy was the most effective strategy for maintaining order. His ideas on contracts, covenants, the state of nature, sovereignity, etc. are still worth reading closely and worth reading in the King's English--he's not that difficult a writer and indeed rather eloquent. Of course his materialism was very influential--not only to Locke and the sensationalists, but to Marx and utilitarians. His critique of Descartes and the res cogitans also very worthwhile. Hobbes anticipates Darwin, or at least understood territoriality and the problems of altruism, or lack thereof. He's at least as powerful a thinker as Hegel and Marx were; indeed I would venture to say rather more powerful. Descartes may have been his superior, at least mathematically; but in political terms there are few thinkers equal to his force.

An interesting and enigmatic character was Master Hobbes: he was a student of Bacon (that itself a bit scandalous) and acquainted with leading figures of the day such as Gallileo, Ben Jonson and of course the royalists. He probably knew "Shakespeare" (tho' Hobbes would have been rather young) and had most likely had some hushhush stuff on King Jimmy, Chas I, Cromwell, and the rest. Hobbes, expert latinist, may have had some hand in the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays as well. (I suspect Milton and the young Locke had a few run-ins with the elder royalist Hobbes as well). Hobbes was probably a scoundrel early on, as was his mentor Bacon (whose system Hobbes later rejected), but Leviathan shows quite a melancholy and even tragic aspect as well.



One of Hobbes' "laws of nature"--that is, after men decide to leave the state of nature, form covenants and live peacefully--is that of the equality of distribution. In the first 10-15 chapters of Leviathan there's quite a bit of material which sounds rather socialist and egalitarian, though Hobbes admits his various covenants are more like "givens": he assumes that, for one, people are bound to carry out contracts/covenants they consent to (and that the King/Law exists to enforce that). Obviously most rational people would agree to that, and to most of Leviathan; that idea of rational contracting is similar to what Rawls continues as well: what sort of society will rational people decide on, if they themselves have to live in the society they choose? They would probably agree that covenants should be respected; and that seems like a fairly Scriptural course of action as well. There is no need of recourse to theology or idealism. Perhaps that's not Kant's imperative, but then I believe Kant's imperative ultimately turns on similar concerns (the actual effects of any maxims that people may decide on).

Hobbes admittedly is not a great continentalist philosopher or scientist like Galileo or even Descartes, and not exactly hospitable to platonic or cartesian metaphysics, but a pragmatic, politically oriented thinker. And what is the Marxist state if not sort of a Hobbesian sovereign? The difference being that Marx never bothers arguing for covenants and economic entitlement, as far as I can tell; he instead is taking on Adam Smith (who also has a Hobbesian side). And of course with Stalin and Mao one gets to see what sorts of covenants the statist despots enforce: prison camps, or liquidation. Of course I don't think Marx was so bellicose as to suggest the "liquidation of reactionaries," or, eh, was he.


Which is to say, Hobbes anticipates much Marxist thinking, but one, he is aware of the cooperation/non-cooperation issue--the prisoner's dilemma--some people are not willingly going to participate in civil society, if it's not in their best interest to do so; so coercion is a factor (Marx realizes this in a different form maybe). Hobbesianism also is thankfully free of the grand Hegelian abstractions which Marxism is chock full of (ie the bizarre conceptualizations of the commodity/value, and the dialectic itself). Hobbesian economics is not yet to the level of Smith's supply and demand model perhaps, but Hobbes "given" of equality-- men should more or less aim for equality of distribution of goods and resources-- is nearly as close to socialist ideals as Marxism is.

Ever heard of Lysander Spooner? His tragic realization was that the Hobbesian/Lockean/ Jeffersonian contract was never really enacted, except for a lucky few; that since the great majority of citizens never participated in the social contracting (or Constitution) in reality, America was for the most part a state of anarchy and perpetual warfare with various constabularies as Hobbes had suggested: Blackbeardland, regardless of a few wealthy robber barons or mercantilists. Not to say marxism is preferable to that anarcho-capitalism, but I think in some sense Spooner's insights (sort of a reversed Hobbesianism if you will) still hold: for many of us, this is Blackbeardland. (Vegass, baybe)

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Colonel Kurtz Comedy Hour?

Interesting critique of the au courant hegelianism and what passes for online "philosophy."

"Bertrand Russell, writing his History of Western Philosophy in '43 or so (it's a bit glib and abridged but not such a bad overview of modern philosophy), did not have much positive to say about Hegel's history philosophy nor his metaphysics. He more or less dismissed Hegel's logic (a logic which takes the elements of logic themselves to be sort of constituents of all reality? hah. physics and the natural sciences don't work that way, Herr Hegel) , and argues that the Wehrmacht itself would have found ample support in Hegel's Philosophy of Right and Philosophy of History. And the nazis found some related ideas in Nietzsche ( who more and more appears like a materialist Hegel Jr. sans the great dialectic).

Throughout Russell's critique of Hegel one notes his objections to the irrational and to the militaristic aspects of Hegelianism. Russell does a fairly convincing job demonstrating that Hegel was more a prussian type of scholar-officer, with more than a hint of proto-fascism to his character and writing, than some Sorbonne- like cafe-filosophe or leftist intellectual. Yet the cafe-filosophes and marxists never tire of invoking all the old Hegelian jargon; indeed, the Hegelian militarism and heroics seems to form part of the irrational allure of postmodernism and of marxism. Who needs all those boring Englishmen going on about contracts, sensations and cause, fallibility, etc. when there is Der Geist to attend to. Hegelianism, even when attenuated by french aesthetes or orthodox marxists, is nothing if not romantic."


Friday, May 12, 2006

Vegas: part of the American Dream?

Gambling, like mining, is part of the romance of the Old West. Hollywood in fact makes much of gambling imagery: whether if it’s whiskey-drinkin’ hombres in an old saloon, or fancy ladies of the evenin’ and their gents at the roulette wheel, gangsters playing poker and smoking a few stogies, or James Bond-like high-rollers in Monaco, gambling imagery is generally a crowdpleaser, and sexxay as well. And Vegas, has since its creation—a creation, like the building of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino, assisted with lots of funds from the Mob—depended on gambling; the Nevada economy as a whole depends largely on legalized gambling.

The romantics and libertarians in favor of legal casinos and online poker and blackjack (a multi-billion-dollar per year business) generally avoid discussing the negatives of legalized gambling, however. Unfortunately, there seem to be millions of Americans who haven’t realized the odds are always in favor of the house, unless one is playing poker; and for high stakes poker, the odds are, not surprisingly, in favor of a tycoon—imagine Jerry Buss sitting at the end of the table, grinning—not the working guys having’ some fun. Although blackjack odds can be nearly even at some houses—say 50.5 to 49.5—but even with only a 1 percentage point difference in favor of the house, and “Hoyle” strategy the great majority of people will lose as well, regardless of a few winning runs, and all those few hundred bucks losses add up to mega-profits for the house. (proficient card counters may increase their odds, and may win, but the pit guys watch for CC very closely, and the auto-shuffle machines with 6+ decks and a variable shoe make counting very difficult).

In effect billions of dollars are being thrown away to the casino owners: and looking at the holdings of a big Vegas player such as Steve Wynn—the Bellagio, or his newest ugly Vegas skyscraper—one obtains a sense of what sort of profits the casino owners are earning. Nearly everyone loses in Vegas, except the casino owners. And the native owners of the CA casinos are raking in big profits as well (tho’ at least there the profits are fairly well-spread among the tribe).

There’s another issue regarding gambling that many pro-gambling people do not consider. You are a hard-working and educated citizen ; whereas a successful gambler or casino owner may not be. Merely by the luck of the draw, say he wins consistently: and makes 10 times what you do (if he started with a Paris- Hilton- type of wealth, he can also do a lot of “leveraging” to increase his chances of winning—high bets, raises, etc.). Like his ancestor, the prospector, the gambler does no real work except finding wealth by the easiest possible means.

It’s doubtful that the Founding Fathers wanted to include gambling and the world of casinos (and associated practices, such as prostitution and organized crime, alcoholism) in their vision of America. Indeed an early American writer such as Thoreau took issue with both gambling and mining, and saw the parallel between the two practices: “The gold-digger in the ravines of the mountains is as much a gambler as his fellow in the saloons of San Francisco. What difference does it make whether you shake dirt or shake dice? If you win, society is the loser.”

Californians would do well to ponder Thoreau’s point and work towards the control and regulation if not outright banning of Casinopolis, and online gambling as well. Educating people--especially po’ folks throwing away hundreds a month in dreams of hitting the big jackpot, blackjack run, or even lotto ticket—about the real costs of gambling also should be a priority for those humans who do not look upon the Vegas Strip with admiration.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Psych. 101: Civilization and Its Discontents

"Men are not gentle, friendly creatures wishing for love, who simply defend themselves if they are attacked, but that a powerful measure of desire for aggression has to be reckoned as part of their instinctual endowment. The result is that their neighbour is to them not only a possible helper or sexual object, but also a temptation to them to gratify their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without recompense, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus; who has the courage to dispute it in the face of all the evidence in his own life and in history? This aggressive cruelty usually lies in wait for some provocation, or else it steps into the service of some other purpose, the aim of which might as well have been achieved by milder measures. In circumstances that favour it, when those forces in the mind which ordinarily inhibit it cease to operate, it also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals men as savage beasts to whom the thought of sparing their own kind is alien. Anyone who calls to mind the atrocities of the early migrations, of the invasion by the Huns or by the so-called Mongols under Jenghiz Khan and Tamurlane, of the sack of Jerusalem by the pious Crusaders, even indeed the horrors of the last world-war, will have to bow his head humbly before the truth of this view of man."

Sigimundus rocks on occasion.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

National Prayer Day

National Prayer Day has become an important occasion for humans of all “faiths.” President Bush has, as expected, given his blessing to the event as well. Most of the participants are protestants, but other churches are represented, including catholics, muslims, jews, buddhists and various pagan groups. Unfortunately, these faithful humans overlook the fact that there are no rational justifications for belief in the power of prayer (and the history of the 20th century itself would seem to imply that if “God” exists He apparently doesn’t care too much about what occurs in his earthly abode, or, rather He has an appetite for warfare on a grand scale). Faith is not a method of proof. And no miracles have ever been confirmed (notwithstanding regular reports of, say, the Virgin of Guadalupe), nor are there any grounds for believing in occult or mystical phenomena—and praying is a type of mysticism.

The things “asked for” in prayers are often solutions to social and/or economic problems which could perhaps be remedied, but either current conditions prevent that, or there are other obstacles. Prayers and invocations, whether that of bonehead Baptists or touchy-feely pagans, are thus a cop-out to some extent: instead of say working towards lessening the great disparity between middle class and the very wealthy, humans sort of “wish for the best”, or say “God’ll sort it out.” Prayer then, for many, becomes an excuse not to do anything tangible or productive in regards to social, economic and/or psychological problems. Of course, spiritual bureaucrats (ie. Priests, pastors, Imams, rabbis, etc.) regularly assure people in their congregations that prayer does work, that there exists some ghostly power which can intervene (with the proper amount of supplication, of course) and thus alter the laws of physics or biology: that’s part of their job description.

“Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”

Friday, May 05, 2006

At this moment the King, who had been for some time busily writing in his notebook called out "Silence" and read out from his book "Rule Forty-Two. All persons more than a mile high to leave the court."

Everybody looked at Alice.

"I’m not a mile high," said Alice.

"You are," said the King.

"Nearly two miles high,’ added the Queen.

"Well, I shan’t go, at any rate," said Alice; "besides that’s not a regular rule: You invented it just now."

" It’s the oldest rule in the book," said the King.

"Then it ought to be Number One," said Alice.

- Lewis Carroll

Monday, May 01, 2006

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