23-12-09

Book III: Of Morals - Conclusion

"The interest, on which justice is founded, is the greatest imaginable, and extends to all times and places. It cannot be possibly serv'd by any other invention. It is obvious, and discovers itself on the very first formation of society." David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Penguin Classics, 1985, p. 669.


Call it the Roddenberry-principle: you can't imagine, can't conceive of, a society that is composed of intelligent individuals in which there's not a basic notion of justice, & fairness. So much so that even the biggest bands of thieves have some code of law internal to them and that any perturbation of the current laws is invariably justified - with recourse to some 'higher' principle of justice.

That much I consider obvious although it is certainly not obvious that the justice that prevails in any such a conception is just or the fairness so conceived, even remotely, fair. The latter will be my concession to those that like to call their adversaries naïve but it will be a concession made only for the purposes of the argument induced by a reading of Hume which is more particularly my reading. A reading that considers that quite a lot is entailed by Hume's treatment of morals & that consequently lots of the merely contingent human inventions are, in fact, not only just but, also, unavoidable long term consequences of any society where civility is sustained through sufficiently long periods of time (i.e. where no breakdowns are experienced on account of some majority perception that whatever a game life is it basically is a negative sum one in which at least some others need to outright loose before anybody at all can win).

To illustrate my premise:

  • do not say: "despite everything mankind has achieved it still degrades into beastly behaviour";
  • but say: "despite all of those things we do not have yet, doing what is good is still the most common motivator of human action".

When resources are scarce life is a struggle for life and hence a non-zero sum game where this non-zero sum is negative (i.e. necessity knows no law). The denial of this is the essence of the modern political spinning of win-win scenarios that, necessarily, can only be win-win by abstracting the loss to others as irrelevant or unavoidable - & hence the marriage in modern politics between 'realism', 'common sense' & 'win-win' in an attempt to subvert an intuitive longing for cosiness into a blatant disregard for those that loose out 'because they didn't try hard enough'.

But insofar as human invention succeeds in alleviating this struggle for life (to retain only the form of the struggle & the form of the game, where the essence still is non-zero negative sum but where the sum is not expressed in life or death) we'll see, as Hume observes, that we all can gain (at least life-wise) if we focus our energy on the increase of human inventivity and, hence, if we cooperate. So much so that a 'weak' society will, in circumstances of non-scarcity, will tend to win over time from what is a belligerent society (more often than not by inducing internal revolts, within this latter society). Let me say in passing that one of the crucial human inventions that's often forgotten is the invention of reducing the human population by other means than by war, famine or other destruction (and that any cosy politics that avoids 'engineering' the population growth cannot but be unjust and unfair - to be explicit: people without the means for children should first get the means and only then the children - most opting after even the most basic education that they don't want to have children if it means not having a life of their own).

Coming back to the premise illustrated by the above two bullets - the reason why we still have so much problems of injustice and unfairness is because we did not have a sufficient amount of time under which to develop justice and fairness and/or (but for the moment the following is still the most important) because there still is too much scarcity and hence too much struggle by humans to live for us to be able to take the moral high ground. That being as it may it is self-evident that once what will emerge once both conditions are being met with progressively more perfection: the justice of the type argued by Rawls to be fair (but without the artificial reasoning to establish it as it will establish itself as reasonable once scarcity has been suppressed and all the human energy will be dedicated to the struggle for being inventive where individuals will continue to loose but where the whole cannot but win).

More than this: all of this justice as fairness is entailed by the very first justice in the Humean sense. The progress is not one of content (because there is only form to it, and no content, see elsewhere) but one of increasing applicability both class-wise (in a first movement) and geography-wise (in a second movement). This progress can't but be accompanied by an at least perceived loss of some individuals (that are used to winning at the expense of others in a condition of scarcity). The latter is what war, essentially, is made of. The solution does not lie solely - and not even primarily - in coercing the individuals that stand to loose into their loss. Doing this is as stupid (in most - but not all! - contexts) as coercing an unjust and unfair society to adopt what is the established practice of jusice and fairness in more evolved societies (Iraq and Afghanistan spring to mind). Maybe I'll be able to draw out this comparison another time (maybe piggybacking on something in Rawls' Law of Peoples) but suffice to say here that in line with the conception of justice outlined the coercion is in the realm of non-zero negative sum games whilst the patience for evolution counting on the just and the fair being contagious principles is the one that will prove most effective (and just these exceptions where war certainly is justified as an ultimate threat: a lack of education - specifically for women - and a clear breakdown into a less just and more unfair society because of an onset of new scarcity - whatever and whomever is finally the cause of such an onset, the justification of war is independent of who is guilty in bringing about the scarcity - see WWII).

In the end maybe this is the thought: we don't need to engineer people nor society but we do need to engineer away any scarcity of life-threatening tangible goods and if necessary (contra Roddenberry this time) by decreasing the competition for these goods on the demand side (whenever we feel a restriction on the supply side).

(And now I will trun back to language and intention!, for those that were worrying)


Whilst writing this I was listening to Sonny Rollins, soneymoon, Get Back 2007.

15:48 Gepost door Guido Nius in Actualiteit | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: hume, optimism, imagination, dynamics, universals |  Facebook |

13-12-09

La parte de Archimboldi

"Esa noche, mientras trabajaba en la puerta del bar, se entretuvo en pensar en un tiempo de dos velocidades, uno era muy lento y las personas y los objetos se movían en este tiempo de forma casi imperceptible, el otro era muy rápido y todo, hasta las cosas inertes, centellaban de velocidad. El primero se llamaba Paraíso, el segunda Infierno, y lo unico que deseaba Archimboldi era no vivir jamás en ninguno de los dos."  Roberto Bolaño; 2666, p. 1001-1002, Anagrama, Collecion Compactos, Barcelona 2009.

(amateuristic English translation below)


This'll probably be the most recent thing (that will) ever (be) quoted here. As such it is an exception in much the same way that I hope all entries are an exception; as a rule one wouldn't want to write things that are unexceptional.

Why is Paradise slow? I guess because it gives you the time to think things through, and to appreciate what happens instead of merely playing along.

Why is Hell fast? Presumably because its speed is unforgiving. Shit happens - & you are a part of 'that shit'. No time to write about it. Nor to expand on it.

(this is, by the way, not 'my' exercise in literary criticism; one good reason to restrict one's reading (specifically of works of fiction) to old classics is to dispense with all of this wearying uncertainty, to let the many bacteria loving the immediate and modern process the new knowing that - over a sufficient amount of time only the really good stuff will be able to resists the devouring nature (e.g. the biographical interest, & the related interest in live performances in theaters near you) of this 'highly specialized' bacterial colony of lovers of the literarily contemporaneous)

Why doesn't Archimboldi want to live in either? I haven't got the faintest of clues, as I do not think Archimboldi is one of the best worked out characters in this (or indeed in any other) regard & whether that's a good or a bad thing you will have to work out for yourselves. But I do know that Paradise is boring and Hell is painful. & Therefore that neither is better than reality, even if reality cannot truthfully be spelled with this or that capital letter (which is an interesting application of truth, said in passing). On closer inspection, Hell & Paradise or the abstractions of the two worst things that can happen to human beings: boredom & pain. Things going too slow, and things going too fast.

What I also do know is that Archimboldi is closer to Paradise than he is to Hell - and this is true because of the mere fact that he makes the observation highlighted by a writer that I quoted. But not too much closer because he does it for entertainment, & not in a grand desire to stop all engines, tinker with them - e.g. in order make them run smoother - and then be on with it. Paradoxically - but not in a logical mysterious sense of 'paradoxically' - by observing this both Bolaño & Archimboldi speed up time whilst also slowing it down. Slowing down because the insight allows them more time, to understand their surroundings. Speeding up because time is whiled away thusly, & more observations can be fitted in a shorter timeframe. Both eventually because the insights have increased. 

Which brings me to cultural pessimism (ha-há, you didn't see that one coming, now did you?): it seems quasi-unavoidable and is also pervasively present in the tale of Archimboldi. I myself - a distinctly out-of-the-closet cultural optimist - believe it's an identity crisis best explained as a time/speed crisis as per the above. Considered in one way; things go fiendishly rapid and in a continuum of pain that seems to be the most accute sense of reality. Considered in another, more contemplative, way there, seems, to be a benign stated of 'culturedness' where universal qualities appear, and can be appreciated in ... peace and quite. The latter is associated with the past (and now I can recycle my entre parenthèses as per the 4th paragraph above) as it's only after quite some time that the security emerges in which one can contemplate these universal 'goodies'. The former is associated with the future; a decaying of universal benign-ness into the flashing lightning speed of ever more inputs. Or, to reverse yet another time, incertainty and certainty. (It is, by the way, an interesting twist in 2666 that the past of the Nazi's is somehow recycled into the now and extrapolated in this non-discussed extension to 2666 - to sound a little bit like a late night culture show, for which I apologize).

Deconstruction & post-modernism have been written off too easily in the silly end of the XX-th century. The crisis is - at least in part - resolved by understanding how we can take apart the past, remain with the filtered out best bits and move towards the future in which the proportion of good bits vis à vis bad bits cannot but increase in a basically Darwinian way (to make & connection with some other entries on this blog).

The problem with the ferocious attack on post-modernism is modernism with a twist: critical people that are now convinced they are beyond criticism since they áre critical.

Not coincidentally, I think, Bolaño did not wish to finish his book (in more or less the same way as Archimboldi seems unable to finish living). Not knowing any biographic detail, I don't think the book is unfinished because he died to soon. My thesis would be that the book is so long because he didn't die sooner.


"That night, whilst he worked the door of the bar, he whiled away the time, thinking of time at two speeds, one of them was very slow & persons & objects moved in this time in a way that was barely noticeable, the other was very fast & everything, up to & including the non-living things, was moving with scintillating speed. The first was called Paradise, the second Hell, & the only thing Archimboldi wished for was not to live in any of them."

(I'm kinda proud of that one!)


Whilst writing this I was listening to Paco de Lucia, Al di Meola, John Mc Laughlin, The Guitar Trio, Polygram 1996.

14-07-09

De la colère

"Je lui disais que c'était bien quelque chose, notamment à ceux comme lui d'éminente qualité sur lesquels chacun a les yeux, de se présenter au monde toujours bien tempéré, mais que le principal était de pourvoir au-dedans et à soi-même; et que ce n'était, à mon gré, bien ménager ses affaires que de se ronger intérieurement: ce que je craignais qu'il fit pour mantenir ce masque et cette réglée apparence par le dehors." Montaigne, Essais Livre II, Chapitre XXXI, folio classique, editions Gallimard, p; 488.

(amateuristic English translation below)


Let me be clear: I'm fed up with all this excitement and passion and live fast stuff - even if I wouldn't mind the 'die young'-bit. We're acting like the bunch of pubescent boys that we probably are at this time of the evolution of human culture. I like cool; from temperature over jazz up to lifestyle. All this frantic waving about & 'expressing one's emotions' and being really committed is just a load of crap kept alive by those that can't sit still for a moment if their life depended on it - them lot which would go into sudden disintegration & molecular collapse if they were put in positions in which it would be unavoidable to question their own motives.

But, & forgive me the unphilosophical rant, if even Montaigne is confused the matter can't be solved so lightly. Clearly, if you're fuming inside the smoke should be clear on the outside. Anything else is hypocrisy & (never even mind the others) that is not at all a good service to your self. So what's the deal? Do we need to be completely & utterly dispassionate or should we accept as unshakeable all the typical 90s mess of burning ambition & over-all impatience with ... anything really?

As you might have figured: I thought about this. I came to the below dispassionate conclusion which, or at least I'd hope so, I will be defending vigorously, with passion befitting the subject.

The conclusion is this: the issue is the familiar one of form/content confusion. What I see is that people want to have strong convictions on what needs to happen - and are relatively indifferent as to how it comes about. Which is all backwards obviously. One should be passionate in the discussion but irather ndifferent to the outcome of it. The outcome after all is the result of what can be reasonably expected to be the case, after discussion. The discussion itself however needs to be ferocious, because only if we're ferocious in making sure that all arguments have weighed properly can we ever be sure that the discussion will have been a real one, and hence can in fact be expected to be followed by a reasonable conclusion.

That clearly doesn't imply that one needs to gesticulate, shout, slam tables or push people around but it does imply that if any of it is required to ensure the discussion is a proper one: by all means, no holds barred, except those that prevent people to bring arguments. It specifically requires passion (biting sarcasm, creation of general uneasiness, ...) to bull-dozer out of the way any emotions that are tied to a specific position being beyond discussion (or, on a more human note, tied to the benefits of a specific individual or group of individuals). I mean it: we should treat fixed opinion with the most complete and utter disrespect, and should never refrain from laughing away any strong convictions that are thought to be beyond such treatments.

That's the role of passion, excitement, madness; to preserve the due process for us to arrive at conclusions. Once arrived at we have to apply the conclusions without the least amount of passion (as Montaigne rightly councels in this Essai). In other words - the judge should be 'all in' when he shouts 'order in the court' but once sentencing is there he should deliver the sentence modestly, knowing he can be wrong but cool, as he will be sure everything has been done to ensure he has it right.

Let's broaden it up a bit. We all know that fundamentalists of any kind are the most passionate in defending what they happen to be convinced of. Up to the point of the denial of the possibility of any discussion about the reasons for their beliefs. On the other hand, when we confront holocaust-deniers, creationists (& the rest of this sorry lot of people content to be sophisticated machines 'in the service' of some, or other, grand idea) we may (make that: must) expose them as wankers but we'll always do this ready to give our reasons for exposing them as such. (consider this a footnote: 'Sure, you'll readily find wankers passionately defending perfectly honourable points, without any inclination to get into their reasons; they're idiots squared, as dogmatic as fundamentalists and on top of that discrediting what they defend by passionately believing in it instead of argueing for it. But it isn't because sheep can also dress in wolf's clothes that, once undressed, they can't - make that: shouldn't - be exposed for the idiotic sheep they are).

Ouf! I can leave my passion and eat it too.

Coming back to the quote: let it all go before you come to the conclusion but by all means, restrain yourself once you have come to a conclusion. We're not beasts any more, after all. Clearly you wouldn't want to make love dispassionately (the scariest people are those that do want to have dispassionate sex, actually) but you wouldn't want to conclude passionately either; the competition for the best idea should be of the fiercest sort but the outcome should be accepted with equanimity.


"I told him that it was quite something, certainly in those - like him - of eminent quality on whom everybody has their eyes, to present oneself to the world always well tempered - but that the important thing was to provide for oneself internally; and that it was - to my taste - not a good way to manage one's affairs to be eating oneself from the inside: which was what I feared he did to maintain that mask and that temperate appearance on the outside."

(pff, not easy, that one)


Whilst writing this I was listening to Jean-Jacques Perrey and Luke Vibert, 'Moog Acid'.

21:36 Gepost door Guido Nius in Actualiteit | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: montaigne, form-content, boldness, competition |  Facebook |