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interesting — to me! — conversation with a Brucist

when I was in Albany the people downstairs from me — transport engineering grad students from Iran — were Brucists, members of a small religion that believed the Infinite One took human form in the person of a seller of stamps and other collectibles from Brooklyn named Bruce Feldman, who passed on in 1930. I asked him why the infinite one would take such a particular form of finitude to express itself in.

His answer:

The infinite will always express itself by means of finite characteristics that do not do justice to the infinite, because they are finite, and how can the limited encompass the unlimited? However there are two kinds of such characteristics. The first type are those characteristics that serve as models for our search, from the finite, for the infinite. Such as the fact that Bruce sold stamps, which are a perfect symbol of starting in one place and because of having the correct semiosis or signs, traveling someplace else. The second type, are those characteristics that are random or arbitrary, for example the fact that his name is Bruce, which is a detail of the finite which bears only the marks of the finite. The second type serve simply to teach us that the finite is not the infinite, that it is limited and in a sense arbitrary, in other words, that the finite is in fact finite. Although since the purpose of learning that the finite is in fact finite is to know and seek its opposite — the Infinite — the second type of characteristic is actually just another version of the first.

I said I did not believe in Bruce.

He said, you believe in the Infinite One?

I said, sure.

He said — then you have the same problem. The human being is a creation of the Infinite. Some of his features — that he can conceive of the Infinite — bear the marks of his maker. Others — that he has ten fingers rather than eight or twelve, do not. Yet both lead us to our source.

And what about those who think the Infinite is mindless and purposeless? What is the difference between a Limtless one whose mind and purpose are unknown, because Infinite, and one that simply lacks mind and purpose.

Bruce be Praised!, he said smilingly, and took me down to his room where he and his wife made me rice with chicken and pomegranites and lit incense before a three-cent stamp.

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“Early 90s Werewolf Obsession” and “The Hunter for Options”

it’s pretty hard to explain what the whole werewolf thing was like, back in the early 90s, before we got it under control with the latest generation of treatments. It was scary man! It was really scary! I couldn’t stop thinking about it! I didn’t even want to. Then Chabby said to me “You know if you really wanted to cut the tie to the werewolves you’d stop fighting them and just move on to something else — because when you think about something –even if what you think is — I don’t want that! — even — I hate that! — it becomes a part of you.” “You’re right Chabby, but what can I do? Don’t you have the same problem with divisiveness and aggression — you’re always thinking about how to stop it, so it’s a part of you. Right? Right?” Why didn’t Chabby answer me — it was a perfectly good point. Thinking back about it it makes me think of the time I was hunting for options, and somebody, I think somebody different, though it might have been him, or even me, said to me “Isn’t the need for options hunting you — in fact, didn’t it catch you?”

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New Ways to Build Trust

In the old days it was easier to build trust, but we can’t go back to the old days, because anybody who spoke the way they did in the old days, we could not trust, because we have discovered new ways of tricking people, and once learned, these cannot be unlearned.

A long time ago if somebody cried it meant he was really upset, but then we learned to pretend to cry, and now you can’t trust it.

So what to do?

People have developed new ways of signaling their trustworthiness. It is like an arms race.

Literature is a tool in the smoking out of forms of deceit and the development of new forms of trust-signaling. For example, the romantics tried to signal trustworthiness by going on endlessly about their inner feelings. It wasn’t because they were self-indulgent. It was because at the time they were writing the fakes had not looked within enough to talk at length about their feelings, so somebody who did talk at length about his feelings was more likely to be trustworthy. Of course that is not true anymore and hasn’t been for a while — but that is why romantic literature gave way to a bracingly ironic chilly style. It was to teach people that you couldn’t trust somebody who analyzed his subjective experience to be trustworthy — he could be a self-regarding monster. And so on.

It means you can long for the simplicity of an old way of expression — eg the Bible –but must be very wary of anyone who uses that way of expression today — most likely they are a trickster who are looking for an unusally gullible audience who have not encountered that trick before. The pious fraud carries the tricks of an outmoded era into a vulnerable population that has not yet gotten the news.

It’s not something to be lamented, but something to be noticed, because every new form of deceit gives rise to a more refined and sophisticated way of building trust.

In the old days you could just write a religious parable. But nowadays to have the simplicity of a religious parable you must have the deliberate ambiguity of Kafka.

It’s not something to be lamented because the new forms of signaling trust are more sophisticated. But nor is it something to be celebrated as the new ways to build trust do not lead to people trusting each other more than they once did. They trust each other exactly as much. And that’s, give or take, and for the most part, exactly as much as they should.

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