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The Higher the Monkey Climbs, the More You See His Ass

PART ONE

-But the lower the monkey goes, the more you see his head.

-Yes, but it is still a monkey head.

-Yes, but that is better than a monkey ass.

-Agreed.

PART TWO

-Everywhere I see character traits that I admire — a poetic take on things, a willingness to buck society and take risks, self-assertion — used to support a horrifying cruelty.

-Maybe that should teach you the truth of the old hermetic maxim — corruptio optima pessima.  The corruption of the best is the worst.

-Maybe that should teach me the truth of the new hermetic maxim — perfectio pessima optima — the very best thing is to take what is lowest in human nature and perfect it.

-And that’s true too.

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What’s the Difference Between “He’s Crazy!” and “He’s Evil!”

Certain prominent political leaders who grab our attention (you know who I mean) sometimes seem crazy and sometimes seem evil.  Which is it?  To answer that, we need to ask ourselves what’s the difference between crazy and evil.

Some people say “it is more compassionate to call someone ill than to call someone evil”. The diagnosis of illness makes us want to heal while the diagnosis of evil makes us want to condemn and punish.  This is false.  When people are ill sometimes we quarantine them and allow them to die.  When people we care about do evil, sometimes we preach at them and try to get them to mend their ways.

Some people say “people who are evil are free to change” while “people who are sick are compelled by their illness.”  This is either false or so philosophical as to be useless.  Some people are so evil that they will never change.  Some people who are sick will get better by appropriate psychotherapy.

Some people say health is an objective scientific category while good and evil are subjective.  This is not true either.  When we define mental illness we make judgments of what sort of human life is worthwhile and what sort of human life is not worthwhile.  Sometimes we don’t notice because we appeal to a concept of function and disfunction, but these are always explained in reference to an ideal of human flourishing.  The man who sits in his room all day counting motes of dust is functioning perfectly well — as a lonely dust mote counter.  To call him catatonic or obsessive or paranoid requires some conception of how a good human life differs from his.

An argument that illness and evil are the same is that the opposites are the same.  There is no real difference between the extremely good human being and the extremely mentally healthy human being.  They are both human ideals that we laud, imitate, and are inspired by.

Calling someone mentally ill and calling somebody evil are both mechanisms of social ostracism.  If somebody is crazy, we don’t want to listen to his advice, we don’t want him taking care of our children, and if he’s dangerous we lock him up.  Similarly if somebody is evil; we watch ourselves around him, are wary of obeying his counsel, and if he does something bad enough lock him up or kill him.  What’s the difference then?

Let’s take a very simple case of social ostracism.  Joe, Mary, and Edward are lost in the woods with very little food.  Joe says to Mary: “I had a dream last night.  My pet dog Bomba appeared to me as a ghost and said if we kill Edward he will lead us to safety.”  Edward says to Mary “Let’s wait until Joe is not looking and kill him and eat him, and if we make it to safety we will say he died falling in a ravine.”

Let’s say Mary does not listen to either of her companions, and that evening they are saved.  Mary tells the authorities (or her closest friend) Edward is evil.  Joe is crazy.  Beware of them.  What does she mean?

The message from Joe was weird and led her in an unfamiliar way.  The message from Edward was entirely normal but something she doesn’t want to give in to.  Mary’s method of resisting the call of insanity is different than her method of resisting the lure of evil.   How is it different?  I’m not sure, but I think it’s different.  Or it might be. In certain circumstances.

What if we come across Mary and Joe walking alone and they tell us that they killed Edward because they were following the advice of a dog in a dream.  We might say that Joe drove Mary crazy.

What if we come across Mary and Edward walking alone and we learn years later that they killed JOe.  We might say that Edward seduced Mary to evil.

Or we might say that Edward and Mary made a tough but necessary choice. Or we may say that Joe’s dog Bomba really saved them.

In that case would it mean we ourselves are crazy?  Would it mean we ourselves are evil?

If we are crazy or evil, do we ostracize ourselves?

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The Revealer of the Strange

You wanted to know about the man who in our language we call “The Revealer of the Strange”?  In those days we lived on an island in the river that had an extremely large tree in it, and we spent most our time fighting the men from Bear Clan.  And it so happened that the night before one of our fights a stranger appeared.  He spoke our speech strangely, and said he was from an island across the sea.  The Bear Clan had withdrawn but he was a good tracker and advised us of a feint.  We pretended to sleep and put out the fire, and slept with the swords hidden under leaves.  And the Bear Clan attacked and we routed them, and Revealer of the Strange killed two.

Three of the Bear Clan were left alive and Hero was going to kill them.  And Priest said, it is pleasing to the gods.  And he told the story of how Sky Mother got Sky Father drunk one time and lay with him,and when he woke up she had done mischief and he spanked her. Spanked her hard!  And Priest said “These wounded men of Bear Clan.  We will please Sky Father.  We will spank them hard. And eat them. And burn their fat so Sky Father can smell the pleasing fragrance with his nostrils.”

And everybody was drunk by then and, as you know, when you start to put a plan like that into action, you dip your toe into it first, and they started teasing the prisoners, first with words, and then pulling their noses and their ears and such, and the prisoners, wounded they were, and tied up, glared.  One of them cried I think.

And Revealer of the Strange said “What do you say about a son who tells lies about his father?”  “He is a scoundrel!” we cried.  “And what do you say about a liege-man who tells lies about his liege-lord?  Says he is a scoundrel or a coward?”  “Death to him!” cried Hero!  Death to him!

“Then why do you tell lies about the All Father?”

Everybody quiet and he recited a Making, a Making of Words, and the images danced in our minds.  It was a strange way he spoke of the gods, the revealer of the strange.  He said the All Father had no wife.  If he had a wife he would not spank her.  He had no hands.  He had no anger.  He was like the memory of the moon and the feeling of hope before a battle, and the gleam of dawn.  He has no body.”

He said the All Father did not kill or take a side in the war of Bear Clan versus Eagle Clan.  He said All Father loved the men and women and children of Eagle Clan as much as those in Bear Clan.  “You lie!” said Priest!

“You lie!” said Priest.  But Hero was listening.  Hero could kill when he was drunk with battle and drunk with wine, but he did not wish to kill the prisoner with the wet eyes.   But he feared to be called coward.   The fear of the prisoner’s eyes, the fear to be called coward, battled within him.  He was sixteen year old.

“I do not lie.” said Revealer of the Strange ” In Ethiopia they have flat noses and dark skin and they believe All Father and the other gods have flat noses and dark skin.  In Thrace they have slender waists and fair hair, and they say the gods are likewise.  If oxen could paint pictures of gods their gods would look like oxen.  If donkeys could paint pictures of the gods their gods would look like donkeys. ”

“Spare the men of Bear Clan and let them join us.” said Revealer of the Strange and we did.  And my daughter is married to one of their sons.

He was strange.  He revealed the strange.  He came from the strange world, lingered with us for five summers, and departed.  He made the world seem stranger, but also the strange seem like it belonged to us.  Now that the world is so different and we fight with swords of iron for cities of stone I feel a strange in the world.  Not so in the world of memory where I remember that party speech he gave.

In our language we call “He Who Reveals the Strange” “Xenophanes”.

ἀλλ᾽ εἰ χεῖρας ἔχον βόες <ἵπποι τ᾽> ἠὲ λέοντες
ἢ γράψαι χείρεσσι καὶ ἔργα τελεῖν ἅπερ ἄνδρες,
ἵπποι μέν θ᾽ ἵπποισι βόες δέ τε βουσὶν ὁμοίας
καί <κε> θεῶν ἰδέας ἔγραφον καὶ σώματ᾽ ἐποίουν
τοιαῦθ᾽ οἷόν περ καὐτοὶ δέμας εἶχον <ἕκαστοι>

 

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A Visit with the Hog Rat

Hog Rat or Hog Rag or Bog Rag or Bog Rat lives in the old burrow underneath the widow’s armpit that used to occupied by Continuous Spider (a Fell Beast whose Legges Doe Forme a Continuum There Byeing One Leg Betwixt Everie Othere Paire off Legges).

This inconvenient Bog Bag (if that is his true description — sources have gone silent since the gas seeped in from “The Bog”) cannot be described, but only alluded to, nevertheless he is about five feet tall, one hundred and eighty pounds, has the shoulders of an ape, the torso of a hog, and the face of a rat, his limbs being those of a Glass Lizard or Serpent (ie lacks ’em!) and is entirely ignorant of his lack of musical talent.

He will gash you with his tusks but it is only because he thinks you don’t like him.

Some of the sages who occasionally blast through town on motorbikes to tell us to stop feeling so fuckin’ sorry for ourselves say: you don’t like him because you are worried he will gash you with his tusks!

Some of the sages who occasionally show up to distribute food and cocaine to our children say: there’s no answer to the question, do you dislike Hog Fat/Hog Rat/Big Fat/Old Cat cause he will attack you or does he attack you cause he can guess you don’t like him.

But the sage Grandpa says: It’s cause of his Bad Smell.

But the sage Grandpa says: his music’s not so bad if you really try and like it!

But the sage Grandma says: send him back to the Bog & tell them {TRY AGAIN!}

But the sage Grandpa says: Maybe he shouldn’t be called HOTGRAT — maybe he is his own thing and shouldn’t be compared to HOG or RAT and that offends him.

But my friend Abby says: let’s go skipping across the lawn at the edge of town at the very purplest last moment of a summer night, and maybe we will swim in it — it’s a brook.

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Skepticism and Safety

According to John Bowlby’s attachment theory what we seek is safe attachment to an external object.  If we have had a traumatic upbringing this can be difficult for us in two different, complementary ways.  We can be avoidant or anxious.  The avoidant person responds to loss by not caring, the anxious person responds to loss by freaking out and refusing to be comforted.  The avoidant person is responding to the threat of abandonment by not connecting to the external object.  The anxious person is responding to the threat of abuse by an ambivalent struggle; she pushes the external object away at the same time as she realizes she needs it for survival.

Since philosophers are human beings with psychologies it would make sense that pathologies of attachment would permeate the history of philosophy.  An example of this is skepticism.  The skeptic exhibits avoidant attachment; he says the external world is not real.  If the external world is not real it is not threatening.  Or perhaps we could even say to call something real means it can be a real source of danger or safety.  The real just is that which we attach to, and the unreal is that which we refuse to attach to.

If that’s the case arguments against skepticism will be perceived as threats.  Skepticism is a defense mechanism against a world that threatens and disappoints, and a retreat into an internal world that is safe.  The anti-skeptical argument — it is really there, it can really hurt you — will feel terrifying.

Everybody is a skeptic about something.  The philosopher who is a believer when it comes to mathematical truths is still a skeptic when it comes to the contentions at whole foods that echinacea cures colds, or the promise of the internet guru that his meditation method will teach you to walk through walls and win the lottery.  The thinker who is a skeptic about the reality of the external world is a believer about something — his own mind perhaps or certain ineffable feelings of oneness that he is able to access now and then.

If we want to be friends — i.e. if we want to securely attach to each other in the pursuit of our mutual betterment — we should show compassion to one another’s skepticism and one another’s faith.  If we believe or don’t believe it is for a deep-seated emotional reason.  Not so easy to change.

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The Remarkable Thrip

Sometimes I have dreams which give me access to life in the far far future.  Like the year 3 billiion a.d.  And in one of those dreams I learned about the Remarkable Thrip.  The Remarkable Thrip has prolonged his larval existence for milennia.  He lures you into his underground burrow and copies you atom by atom molecule by molecule in his brain (his brain is the size of galaxies) and then let’s you go.  And all the people and animals and robots and cyborgs and super-humans and super-animals and super-robots and super-cyborgs have copies in his head, and he keeps copying them and matrixing them and combining them in all different combinations in his brain to imagine all the possibilities and delaying his metamorphosis.  He shouldn’t be still producing juvenizing hormone. He should be an adult!  But he sends his pirates out and his navies to all the most far flung planets and galaxies and Artificial Space Environments and gets whatever is most valuable (usually in our world — the world of the future — currency is phliosophical insight since we can create matter at will I say!  at will!) and trades whatever treasures he finds for more juventizing hormone to keep him young so he can prolong his researchers.  For when he becomes a fly the world ends.

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