Richard’s Seven Houses

My friend Richard wanted to understand time.

So he said I understand space pretty well.  I’ll use that.

So he built seven houses, for the seven days of the week.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday

Thursday Friday Saturday

Sunday.  And in each of the houses he did what characterized

That day of the week.  Example: In the Sunday house he was always

Worrying that he would have to go to work the next day.

In the Wednesday house he was settling in, to the demands of the work week

Its despairs its consolations and its routines, forgetting both.


Surely this is not time, I said to him, because they are free-standing these houses

What happens in the house of Saturday night

Causes no regret no jubilation in the house of Sunday.

And he said “Okay you’re right.”  And he had an ovum and a spermatazoan

In each house gestate a baby, and he set up the Requisite Causal Links

(which you can work out I’m sure, the events that happened in the House of Sunday

would cause weal or ill to the dweller in the House of Monday).


They sentenced him to death and the executioner waited for him in the house of Thursday

For that was the day of his death, written and sealed in the court document.

And they all moved into the house of Saturday

And reside there to this day.


Thoughts on Star Wars and Rogue One

  1. The original 1977 Star Wars was an escape from grown-up ideas about the guilt of America in Vietnam by casting America as an evil empire, and film makers, creative people, and young people as rebels.  It was able to do this  without thinking too hard by putting it all in fantasy land where you don’t need to think about what the difference is, other than that the bad guys blow up planets and hide their faces.
  2. This was justified  by pinning it to the Monomyth idea of reactionary anti-semite Joseph Campbell.  (Actually it was justified by the fact that it made a lot of money, but Campbell  was the justification to give to smart, bookish people.)  Fascist ideologues love myth and ancient stories, because you do’t need to think about your own moral culpability or grown-up relationships.  In fact they view self-doubt, non-violence, and rational thought as signs of weakness and decadence.  Also myths extoll violence.   (Fun obscure fact: Campbell was a student of German Indologist Heinrich Zimmer.)
  3. Star Wars because of its nostalgia has an odd relationship to science fiction.  It takes the imagery of science fiction but makes it all look old and beat up.   Even though a lot of classic sf is about extolling rationality and thinking hard about the moral choices technology will cause us to make, the ideology of Star Wars looks to the past and irrationality (The Force!).  It repurposes science fiction images into a world view that is pro-past and anti-thought. That’s why there are spaceships but how they work doesn’t make sense, and why there are ancient religious leaders running around telling Luke not to use his mind.
  4. In both original Star Wars and Rogue One the interesting characters are monsters and robots.  And I guess spaceships.  The franchise made a lot of money selling these as toys, because the characters originally WERE toys.  The whole vibe is of a pre-pubescent boy playing with dolls — i.e. action figures. Now this thing blows up!  Now that thing blows up! Now these guys are sneaking around this way but then they turn around and sneak this way.  This subtext became text in the Lego Movie, where you actually see the kid is just playing with toys cause his Dad is ignoring him.  All the sexual relationships are chaste and smirky — like a ten year old boy’s view of sex and adult relatinships.
  5. In the latest Star Wars — Rogue One — it starts with iconography of the Iraq war, where the USA is the Empire, i.e. the bad guy.  Then it becomes the US campaign against Japan in the Pacific where the US are the rebels and the Empire are different bad guys.
  6. Whole thing is way reactionary because it encourages the ruling class of a military power to view itself as noble children.
  7. Whole thing eats its tail because now the children who grew up watching the original Star Wars have nostalgia for Star Wars. Like nostalgia squared.  That’s why the new one ends on disconcerting image of recently deceased talented screenwriter Carrie Fisher brought back as creepy CG simulacrum as she looked in 1977.

Should I Trust Myself?

I’m going to a job interview.  It’s important.  I need this job to take care of my pregnant wife and two year old child.  I take a shower and I’m naked.  I need to get dressed.  I can either put on a suit or a t-shirt.  I pick up the tie and suddenly think.  “Wait.  Maybe if I wear this suit I will seem boring.  Maybe I should wear the t-shirt so I seem fun and like somebody who breaks the rules.  When I wear the suit I always feel uncomfortable.  When I wear the t-shirt I feel relaxed, and fun, like I did when I was a kid.  What should I do?” I wonder.

As I stand there naked looking at the clothes I remember a piece of advice I once read. “Trust yourself.”  For a second I think, “Aha!  Wear the t-shirt.  That makes me feel like I really am — relaxed, and young, and fun.”  But then an alternative way of looking at it occurs to me.

“I am worried about not getting this job. I am part of a civilization in which wearing a suit means responsibility.  Maybe that’s also my “self”.  Maybe the worry, and the desire to seem responsible, and the willingness to be uncomfortable to take care of people who rely on me — and my own skin — is my self.  Maybe I should trust that.”

My wife comes into the room and says “Put on that suit.”

I think “How can I do what somebody else says?  Is that “trusting myself”?  It seems like it is obviously trusting somebody else.”

But then another voice within me says “Hang on. Maybe trusting myself includes trusting my decision to care about and trust other people, including my wife, who I trust cares about me, and knows more about suits and t-shirts and the messages people send with clothes than I do.”

“But then what is trusting myself?  If trusting myself includes trusting authorities — priests who tell me what God wants from me, clubs that tell me how a man should be, states that tell me when my honor demands dying in foreign wars — then is “trust yourself?” anything other than a meaningless slogan?”

“That’s the issue.  The person who will be humiliated if I fail to get this job, or who will be humiliated if I do get this job, or who will feel free if I tell the job to f off, or will feel empowered if I do get this job, after all is me.”

“I’m the one who lives or dies in this interview. So I have to trust myself. If I lack confidence I am trusting my own lack of confidence.”

“Whether I live or die, whether I am brave or cowardly, whether I listen to an idea that occurs to me or one provided by my wife or father or priest or recruiting officer, whether I wear a t-shirt or a suit, I am trusting myself.”

“But who would give advice that everyone follows whether he lives or dies, whatever he does?”

“Somebody who trusted himself!”


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


-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.



-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.


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?


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>



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.


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.


Dennetian Theology

Daniel Dennett has argued for a position  half-way between realism and irrealism on intentionality.  When we say “Bob believes bread is nourishing” our ascription of belief to Bob is a consequence of adopting the intentional stance.  This statement “Bob believes bread is nourishing”  is a short hand for broader functional descriptions of Bob as a physical system — for example when Bob is hungry and in need of nourishment and he sees bread and there are no tigers about, Bob will eat it.  The intentional stance description “Bob believes bread is nourishing” is not the most fundamental description of Bob — that would be the description that predicts his behavior.    Relative to the intentional stance it’s not untrue though — Bob does believe bread is nourishing.

Dennett is an atheist after the fashion of David Hume — he thinks belief in God and gods is a monstrous illusion, a hold-over from our brain’s over-active pattern recognition system.  But the theist could take the same position regarding God as Dennett does regarding intentionality.  Seventeen billion years ago and change the universe came into being.  Why?  For the theist the reason is that God willed a universe to exist because God believed it was good.   Just as the psychologist using the intentional stance explains Bob’s pursuit of a piece of bread with the statement “Bob believes bread is nourishing” so the theologian using his stance explains the Big Bang with the statement “God thought the universe was good and willed it into being.”

Does God actually have a will?  For theists like Thomas Aquinas and Maimonides the answer is the same as Dennett’s to the question “Does Bob actually believe bread is nourishing.”  Yes and no.  If we apply human predicates to God then yes, but from a more fundamental point of view, no.   Relative to our human stance it’s not untrue though that the existence of the world is to be explained by an act of divine will.

What do we want to do about things that exist or don’t depending upon what sort of stance we take?  Obviously, decide what stance to take.   Once we know what stance to take we will know what exists.  How should we decide what stance to take?  That depends upon a lot of things, what stance we feel forced to take, what sort of people we are or want to be,  what stances have worked for us, what stances other people we love and respect take, and last but not least, what stance the things we encounter draws out of us.

Does that mean what things exist depend upon what stance we take and what stance we take depends upon what things exist?  Yes.  Both depend upon who we are and what we are after too.  Also who we are, and what we are after depend upon the things and people we encounter and how we encounter them.

Does who I am really depend upon what stance I take?  Of course.  If the stance I take is defensive, I am a defensive person. If the stance I take is open and welcoming, I am an open and welcoming person.  If the stance I take is confused, puzzled, and ambivalent, I am a confused, puzzled and ambivalent person.  Thank God we are able to change stance, subtly adjusting how we hold ourselves every moment of the waking day.