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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Old Photos

There’s my daughter among the flowers.
She’s in the arms of her fiancĂ©,
the first one, whom she changed her mind about
and never married, looking happy.
I think it was her graduation day.
We liked him. We like her new love too.
And here’s my son in his room with his guitar,
which was stolen on the night before a show.
He’s studying the frets, ear turned to a sound
outside the frame, working out the chords.
It was a cheap guitar, but he was fond of it.
He thought he might become an entertainer.
He never did replace it.
He found his calling writing code,
and we are happy for him.

So what is this flood of feeling that washes over me
As I turn past these images that seemed for a time to define a life
But now tell only the story of the moment just before the shutter closed,
The one about the tale that wasn’t told
In the echo of this pleasant house or garden
Where Kate and I have lived these twenty years?


Monday, May 14, 2018

Neither Objective nor Subjective


How can you compare one __________ to another? It’s all subjective, he said. But he was wrong. Put whatever you want in the blank. To say that for us, being subjects, there is nothing objective, is to say the obvious. “Objective” is a useful concept. We can imagine it with no possible measure to guarantee accuracy but with the ability to propose possible measures we can agree on which will structure our imaginative thinking, like clock time. I was looking forward to sleep, a time when the pain would cease for a little. Eight hours in elyisium as the clock ticked on and it came. And it went. But for me, the pain did not cease. The pain ceased in a real I could not inhabit. For me the pain was continuous. No time passed between falling asleep and waking.

Subjectivity is no more real. We cannot experience it. Or if we can, it’s only as insanity. Something we cannot put into language because as soon as you put into language it becomes something someone else can share. It becomes intersubjective. Language is always someone else’s language. As soon as you put experience into language you move experience in the direction of object. Subjective experience is impossible in language and impossible also outside of language. Like the neglected deaf man who learned language as an adult and who after the slow process could be asked, “what was it like before you learned to speak?” He had no answer. It was not “like” anything. He could remember nothing from that time. In order to use language we have to become two people.

All language and all experience, so called, is intersubjective. More or less. Always more or less. This means that you don’t get to interpret a poem or a work of art for yourself any more than you can interpret a baseball game or the career of two athletes in the same sport—or different sports or from different eras, or politicians or political systems or anything at all in the whole physical or intellectual universe that you can talk about and judge. We exist intersubjectively. We cannot exist otherwise. We are absolutely dependent on otherness, its maintenance and its assimilation. An endless, creative process.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

God Declines to Endorse the Work of His Saints

God declines to endorse the work of his saints
Whoever they are.
We know the stories of the persecuted disciples
And murdered messiah.
Redemption is one thing.

I’m talking about the ones who die
On airplanes, oops, and other accidents.
Those who die for nothing,

Who were making real progress
In God’s work on earth. Those whose demise
Were provocation for atheists. Thomas Merton

Who was pulling taut the thread that bound
the exposed fringes of Catholicism around
the exposed fringes of Buddhism died
In a shower in Thailand
Of a crazy electrocution when he slipped and grabbed
A badly wired fan.
So stupid

Many have had to believe it was murder, even suicide
Would be better than this—O, God. O, God
Of love who doesn’t need us, ever quick
To let us know, although he's always talking

He’s never saying anything
In words.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Fractures in Time

I prefer the idea of fractured time
And infinite universes
To that of eternal return—the idea
That every possible fork of every moment
Is somewhere taken

That somewhere Kathy, who smiled at me that weekend
At the football game in such a way that made me
Wonder if she liked me,
Didn’t get on that motorcycle
After that party

And a universe in which
The EMTs arrived in time
To stop the bleeding

And that somewhere there’s a universe
In which I did not slide past her
With goofy shy and false insouciance
But smiled again and spoke

And one in which I walked beside her to the bleachers

And one where we spent that evening someplace

Where no one had a motorcycle,

And more than you can count

Where I never felt a reason

To write this poem.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

All Creation Yearns for Freedom

And Satan with all his host flew to God and said, “Father, we want to be free. They, those souls you have roiling in paradise, they too want to be free. All that you have made yearns for freedom.” Nor would Satan be appeased by any reply God might make. And so he said, “You are angels, made of the spirit stuff of the eternal heaven. You are capable of all freedom. Therefore be free.” And lo, into hell was Satan cast with all his host. And all the souls in heaven who saw this begged, “we too want to be free, like Satan. He hath told us the wonders of freedom.” And the lord of hosts replied, “You are capable of much freedom. And he granted their wish as much as it was possible to grant it and sent them to the world to grunt and sweat under the heavy weight of freedom.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Shakespeare's Henry V: Tragic Hero

"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

The more I read Shakespeare's Henry V and reflect by on I and II Henry IV, the more the plays seem to be a serious answer to this rhetorical question. This is what it will profit a man: A French Queen and two kingdoms that he will hold onto for a few years and then leave to the chaos of a near-permanent war culminating in the Elizabethan police state.

The character starts as a conniver. Perhaps he believes his conniving is in the long run for the good of himself and England. But he has to play with hearts along the way, worry his father to death, sidle up to and then reject the man who thought he was his best friend, leave others in delusion. He never stops lying and grandstanding--in the English Court, at Harfleur, at Agincourt where he gives a ridiculous but perfect pep-rally speech to his officers or perhaps his entire army. They buy it, the Saint Crispen's day speech. He doesn't mean it. He couldn't. But he always says what has to be said, and this after a prayer which is really the culmination of his soul-emptying life.

He has a parade. He seduces a princess. In the end he has everything, and what he doesn't yet possess he has promises of--every but the soul he sold to get there. He's empty. So empty that he doesn't know he's empty. But he's been dragged there and he's dragged his audience there with him. Whole theaters, all of Britain in time of war, jumping and cheering for Henry, England and St. George.

But Shakespeare knew better. Outside of Harfleur the soldiers mock Henry's "Once more into the breach" speech. And at Agincourt the absurdity of the appeal to honor is made manifest when Cambridge wishes everyone home but himself and Henry to fight the French. The dauphin's messenger undercut Henry's honor-quest before it ever began, and Montjoy is there to deflate the king at every turn. Henry's subtle, unlike Richard III, unlike Iago, unlike the obvious villains, so subtle he fools even his audience, so subtle he fools himself. But he's a failure in the end because, though he gained the whole world, he had to sell his soul to do it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Why I Keep Doing This

Because if I had anything to say I would have said it by now.

Because if I understood the wild changes in Neruda’s poems

Or why I love them or how they work or all they mean

I would not have to say anything myself. Because

After almost 57 years of earnest trying, I still have no idea

What I’m doing. Because when I actually manage to say something

It doesn’t seem to come from me but from the language

Swirling in my head like free molecules that under these random

And constantly shifting conditions suddenly

Bond.

Aha!

There it is.

I used to think it was the voice of God.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Dog

This sign bolted to the fence declares in no uncertain terms
This house protected by Smith and Wesson
And
Smile you are under surveillance
And
Beware of Dog
And

I see no camera
Hear no dog.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

She Is Dead

That sentence, "she is dead," should sound odd--like a joke or a pun or an oxymoron. It should sound amusing to hear. If she has died then, having died, there is nothing she is. There is only was. We can conceive of a language in which it is possible to say "she died," but not "she is dead" without a smirk. There may be such a language.

It's impossible to "be" dead. But here's the point: if we can say "she is dead" as naturally as "she died" and understand at the same time that there is on an existential level something truly odd about the sentence, we can infer that language does not absolutely limit our perceptions. Language's limitations has its limits. We retain some ability to perceive beyond what we can articulate.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Language, History, Fiction, and Truth Boiling in a Cauldron

Cultures without writing are cultures without history in the Enlightenment sense of the word. But that does not mean that they are cultures without a past. What it means is that the functions that we currently divide between the essential forms of storytelling that we call history and fiction are combined in a single form of storytelling that we call now call myth. This is not to say there are not different types of myth: there are stories about this or that named leader leading the people against this or that enemy in triumph or defeat based in actual events still in or just beyond living memory alongside stories of the magical creation of the world. But the difference between these types of story is never absolute. Historical becomes myths; mythic understandings inform historical events. Writing changes this—or appears to. We can now base historical events on what we name as facts and put them into place in the changeless past. We can rail against those who would presume to “rewrite history.” We can think of the past as a series of complete and immutable events which we can tell in great detail, or when we can’t, we can say precisely what details we don’t have, what holes must remain or be papered over with speculation. We can maintain an absolute distinction between history and fiction. This changes everything. And nothing.

The problem is that the distinction is not in any way real. It cannot be supported. It cannot be maintained by reason. The more you look at history the more you understand that it is organized out of only those facts which are available and which we have chosen to look at out of the infinite number of possible facts, most of which we would consider too trivial to bother with if we thought about them at all or which we have to acknowledge that we just don’t have access to. The stories we tell from the facts that remain are as accurate as they can be, but they are not more accurate in any statistically significant way to the past, to what actually happened, than is myth. Nietzsche was perhaps the first to observe this. In other words what we call history is another form of myth. What we call fiction is also another form of myth. And our attempts to keep them separate academically—one should really say officially—belies the fact that we don’t can’t and shouldn’t try to keep them separate in practice. Historians looking for the facts about the life of Henry V do not rely on Shakespeare. Historians trying to understand Henry V do.

In fact the best historical accounts of the past are no more accurate than the best science fiction accounts of the future. Or a journalist’s account of the present. The thing history pretends to do is something that language cannot do and that the mind could not comprehend even if language could. Nonetheless the idea—the myth, the story—that we tell ourselves that history is possible in history determines the structure through which we perceive that we see the world. This is a false lens. I would not say that the purpose of this discovery—which of course is by no means mine—is not that we should abandon it. The culture that we have built or which history built and placed us in at this moment cannot do without it. Abandoning the structure through which we see reality would be catastrophic. What is necessary, and this is a fundamental insight of Postmodernism (which we are supposed to be past, but which, as Derrida noted, not calling it Postmodernism, is something that we can acknowledge or ignore but which we cannot get through to the other side of because it has no other side, is an absolute barrier)—what is necessary is that we never lose our self-awareness of the insight. Ignoring it has implications. Ignoring it determines who has power over whom. Acknowledging it brings power to the objects of that power, turning them into subjects. Acknowledging it also elevates and clarifies fiction. It elevates the status of fiction, which has retained much of the mythic power it has already had, but had unofficially. We have always as Americans looked at the tradition of the Western to know who we are, looked much more powerfully and effectively to the Western than to that subject we learned in school, to know who we are (or rather to determine and to become who or what we will be), though we give lip service to “history” as the superior discourse since it is supposedly true. (A form of “truth” which is an Enlightenment fantasy.)

Acknowledging the seriousness of our stories takes them out of the false, dangerous, Novocain realm of “entertainment.” Whole realms of scholarly discourse have long understood this. But this understanding has failed to penetrate to the culture at large. Indeed there are powerful forces that serve to prevent this knowledge from escaping the genie-bottle of academic discourse. And there may be those who believe that fiction is all the more powerful for being an unacknowledged, even a denied power—with a power analogous to the Freudian unconscious. I don’t think so. True, the implications and power relations are different. But I think that, as Freud thought of the unconscious, bringing it to light is more powerful, more liberating, than keeping it in the pretended world of entertainment, allowing capitalism to be the cauldron’s dancing, clanking lid.

Monday, February 12, 2018

from Aphorisms in the Book of the Damned

I said, What is the function of literature?

He said, to burn down the house before the others get in.

Monday, February 5, 2018

All the Reasons to Support Trump

Note: Earlier I noted that Trump supporters are driven by fear. I wasn't happy with that analysis. I've done some more thinking on the subject.

There are a number of reasons why a person might support Trump. But they all come down to one of two fundamental failures. Either a failure of morals or a failure of intellect. One could support Trump because one believes his policies will increase prosperity. They won’t in the end. But one could nonetheless believe it. One could support Trump out of fear in the belief that his policies will make America safer. Again, they won’t have that effect. But one could believe it. Underlying these beliefs is the acceptation of the hope that some few people whom one values will prosper, and it makes no difference what happens to the others or how many of them there are, or that some small and well defined group of people will be safer and it doesn’t matter who or how many that causes to suffer as long as my people are among the safer.

Underlying all Trump support is a lack of compassion or a lack of sound thinking or both. Whatever short term economic gains might be experienced by the wealthy in America and elsewhere will be more than offset by the increasing costs of climate change, which he ignores and which becomes more and more expensive to fix every year until it reaches the point where it is unfixable. (A point which we cannot be sure we have not passed by the way. That’s how urgent this problem is.) As his policies invest more and more of the wealth of the world in the hands of fewer and fewer people, those people—who were not made rich by their superabundance of compassion—increasingly will treat the others as the means by which they increase their absurd wealth. Money is power. The influence of wealth on the US Congress has never been more widespread or more nefarious. Trump is doing all he can to act in the interest of this small coterie of his billionaire buddies against the interests of everyone else, against the interests of the planet itself.

Trump will not make you safer. Even putting aside the fact that neither Muslims nor foreigners from Latin America or Africa are making you unsafe to begin with (fearmongering for the people who refuse to think and who refuse all evidence), increasing global nuclear tensions does not make you safer. Alienating allies does not make you or the world safer. Increasing the damaging effects of climate change does not make you safer. Loosening gun laws does not make you safer. Ballooning the national debt does not make you safer. Nothing he does makes you safer. He gives you the illusion of safety by scapegoating foreigners and immigrants so he can protect you from them while he increases daily the real and material dangers in which you are living.

All of this aside from the moral vacuity, the incessant lies, the egomania, the lack of impulse control, the, narcissism, and lack of both intellect and curiosity that would make him unfit for office even if he were pursuing policies that tended toward the good of the nation or the world. The sooner he is forced out of any position of power, the safer we’ll all sleep.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

On Abusing Words to Make them Mean Things

We want to believe that we use our language to promote our morals or to describe our situation—we want to believe that the origin of language is a desire to know or a desire to do what is or what is right in reference to what is. But it turns out that our language, in its whole compass, exists in other ways from other causes that at best are in tension with these which we want to believe or at worst simply overwhelms them and uses them for cover, like the wolf who kills the sheep and wears its skin to kill other sheep. Nietzsche was obsessed with this other thing as power. The will to power. Instinct, the unconscious—there are various ways to formulate this (but again, we’re using the belief what we are using language to find out what is when we say this and not admitting that we too are caught in this other dynamic of language, more profound, more frightening). Our concepts are arranged to make it possible for us to do certain things, act certain ways, gather to ourselves what we are really after, be it power or security or freedom from fear or the illusion of immortality or love or meaning.

On Beauty. What is it?

If you ask, “What is beauty” you are assuming that something exists which the concept “beauty” applies to. How do you know this? Why do you assume it? Can you ask whether your assumption is true without first having an understanding of what beauty is? Are you therefore not really asking, “When I use the word beauty, what do I mean?” And if that is the question you are asking, aren’t you avoiding the question of whether “beauty” exists? Is there any way out of this closed circle? Is it actually possible to ask, on its own terms, the question, “What is beauty?”

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Fear of the Trump Voter

A somewhat tentative analysis.

The sins, the shortcomings, the failures of Donald Trump are so obvious, so blatant, so in-your-face, and have been for so long and have been repeated so often that those who wish to deny, excuse, or defend him have decided long since that have no use for evidence and no interest in rational judgment regarding this man. Think about it. He ridiculed a disabled man on national television. He repeatedly called for violence to deal with interruptions during his campaign rallies, he bragged about sexual assault, he defended white supremacists, he made disgusting and racist statements about countries whose populations are not primarily white, he declared that a judge of Mexican heritage could not do his job because of his owns disparaging remarks against Mexicans, he cheated innumerable investors (and not just in his phony “university”), and on and on. One could so easily add to the list of the obvious, indisputable examples of insensitivity, stupidity, incompetence and racism. One could spend all day on examples of his irrational hatred of Muslims or his moronic rejection of climate change or his baseless promotion of birtherism. His own political party is composed mainly of people who either openly oppose him or (despite hardly disguised loathing) praise and defend him in the hope of using the power his position represents. And there is also a third group, small by comparison but not insignificant of those who actually support him, who think he’s doing a good job, who defend Trump sincerely. This group has two camps: people who are as morally and intellectually just like him—a sizable group of deplorable people—and those who for some other reason remain blind to the obvious.

This latter group is the only group I find interesting. It’s small. It’s benighted. But the people in it, in their hearts, want to do the right thing. They actually think Trump is a good idea. It's hard to figure them out. Their reaction makes no sense given the obvious. And yet there must be some explanation. They think he’s keeping them safe. They have a kind of religious devotion to the man. Many of them in fact are religiously driven, though their religious faith is just another manifestation of the same impulse that drives them to support Trump. They watch FOX news and allow themselves to be convinced by whatever shallow, slippery, partisan defense the rhetorists and sophists can dream up. Trump baits Kim Jung Un and threatens to provoke nuclear war, but these people still think he’s keeping them safe. What could their motivation be if not fear? I have tried to come up with some other possible motivation for these people, but I cannot, at least not without getting into the sordid territory raked over by the likes of Freud and Lacan. The simple explanation always comes back to fear. Fear does not lead to clear thinking.

The question is whether this small group of otherwise good people who refuse to see what is right in front of them and who grope around for any broken stick of a reason that might allow them to pretend to themselves that his obvious racism, sexism, moronism, inveterate dishonesty—that all of his myriad sins and stupidities are just superficial appearances that hide the real, deep, honest patriot underneath, whether these people can by any means be made to see what is right in front of them? Probably not. The tactic of picking the decayed thing up up and sticking it under their noses isn’t working. But what would it take? If it could be done, the obvious first step would be to remove the fear. If they weren’t afraid of the things they think Trump can protect them from, they could see that he not only can’t protect them, everything he does makes the fearful situation worse. It would work, but it won’t happen. You can’t take away the fear because the fear itself is not irrational. These otherwise sincere Trump supporters have badly misdiagnosed the causes and therefore the solutions. (So many of them are afraid of Muslims but not the private ownership of guns.) But even that is something they are incapable of seeing. It would take a slightly more subtle analysis than exposure of Trump’s incompetence—and that takes no analysis at all, just ears or eyeballs. If you can’t see that the dancing monkey is a dancing monkey, if you pick up the pile of dog shit and smell it and taste is and still don’t recognize it as feces, how could you possibly become willing to see that you have misdiagnosed your fear?

So we can’t expect real progress in changing hearts and opening eyes, not even otherwise good hearts and working eyes. The job then, perhaps, lies in controlling our own counterproductive anger and frustration. Those things will persist. But directing them toward the individuals who cannot see is counterproductive. We can’t change their minds. We can’t relieve them of their fears or even reduce or redirect them. We have to direct our frustration and anger toward political action and not toward people whose only power is their vote. We won’t change their vote.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Straight Line to Corporate Control of America: A proposition

Looking back to the origins of American Democracy, we find a straight line from Hobbes through Locke to Jefferson. Here the idea that authority comes from "the people" leads to government "of the people." But what compels this idea in history to begin with? Neibuhr puts his finger on it: the rise of a class of wealthy individuals from outside the gentry. Money seeks power. In fact, despite, the ostensible structure, this pivot in history had nothing to do with empowering the people, nor does it in fact do so. That was never the goal. Some scraps of power were ceded to the people temporarily to keep up appearances. But "the people" were invented as a justification to seize power from the old rich and pass it on to the new rich. The compelling force was incipient capitalism, for which philosophy created a scaffold. Its logical end game is being played out here and now. The people have always been a nuisance to wealth. Both Republicans and Democrats (though the former more egregiously than the latter) have become primarily the tools of the super rich, government has increasingly become the regulating body of, by, and for the super rich. And, as evidenced by the passage of the 2017 tax bill, they can now (helped by the political tricks of gerrymandering, repressive voter i.d. laws, the ending of the Voting Rights Act, and the "Citizens United" decision) afford to circumvent the interests of "the people" with impunity. This, and not Marx's utopianism, is the final stage of capitalism. While the (presumably) billionaire president and his cronies mouth concern for those left behind (which somehow for them translates exclusively to the white working class) in fact everything they do is intended to leave everyone behind, puppets of the logical of late capitalism who are at the same time the sole beneficiaries of that logic.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Overcoming after Nietzsche (Or No, It Isn't Power Exactly)

The idea of humans as animals, as specifically the most distinguished species of great ape, though often passingly acknowledged, is rarely given the focus it deserves when we are attempting to understand human behavior. The Abrahamic myth is that we humans are essentially spiritual beings who fell into likeness with animals. The Darwinian narrative is that we humans are the product of millions of years of natural selection on an upward climb. Not necessarily a spiritual climb, but certainly an intellectual climb separating us from all other animals. We like to think of ourselves as a distinct sort of being.

But we are animals still. Sometimes I think that at our most worthy level of development we broach a post-animalistic existence. But we are never quite there as far as I can tell. Something of the brute clings even to our most spiritual gestures still.

So we should put more thought into not just what ancient instincts account for our actions today (how often do you hear a talking head on NPR tell us that, well, our ancestors had to eat as much high-calorie food as they could get because calories were scarce for cave dwellers… Or some such stuff), we should put more thought into how those instincts drive our present actions in our private psyche as well as in all our social relations. We should do all we can to re-consider Hobbes’ notion of a “State of Nature,” taking from that primitive attempt the idealized, hypothesized, impossible past. We are IN a state of nature now.

The notion, which is associated most closely with Nietzsche but which is by no means original to him, that the quest for power lies behind all human actions may be helpful. It is certainly better than Freud’s notion that sex is the most fundamental impulse. But the thing about instincts is that there is nothing behind them. They are just there. Evolutionary processes tell the bee to dance and the bird to migrate and Donald Trump to lash out with absurd lies at everyone who challenges him. None of them know what they are after. And placing linguistic or conceptual abstractions upon instinctive actions, though certainly to some degree useful and even enlightening, is always going to be a limited and misleading move.

If we think of power, we can see a lot. If we think of love or sex, we can go a long way to making bizarre actions less discomforting. But we don’t really explain the actions. We domesticate in the Glad bag of narrative. It may be the best we can do if we want our knowledge to be comforting, to give us power over what we are endeavoring to understand. The problem is that we will be able to substitute any number of concepts into the center and reconfigure the elements endlessly—as it seems to me we have been doing ever since the Enlightenment at least. We could certainly put “comfort” in the center of that circle rather than power or love.

Animals act in response to impulses wired in their brains, into their autonomic systems, in an analogous way that a computer acts in its programmed way in response to the impulses it receives, though slightly less precisely (or nothing would ever evolve; it’s the accident and the mistake that keep species going in the ever changing universe). So what’s more important to explain is not why people act certain ways in certain defined circumstances but rather to notice HOW they act in these circumstances. Girardian anthropology is a good example of this. He explains how violence becomes revenge which becomes counter revenge, which spreads like a virus through a society until the very existence of the society is threatened by the war of all (in various tribal configurations) against all, until the violence is finally put to an end by a symbolic sacrifice.
The pattern seems universal, though various mechanisms, including religion, can keep it at bay indefinitely.

Courtship behaviors (no surprise) also follow the identifiable, repeated patterns, from eye contact across a room to coitus. And so do all human behaviors, everything going on under the glances, the physical contact, the tone of voice, the word choice, the stammering out of sentences, the poses one makes to assert oneself in a group, the heckling, the pounding of the chest at the finish line, the harassing of the weak, the grabbing of a pussy by a troglodyte who hasn’t the capacity to think or endocrine system to block the impulse. Our fundamental animal guides as not only in virtue of or individual bodies but as a response to our environment. Every classroom has a bully and a clown just as every gender bending school of angel fish has an appropriate mix of male and female.

I'm sure that a lot of this essential work is being done in various fields, my profound ignorance (so clearly manifest in this sketch) notwithstanding.

The goal of this sort of knowledge goes beyond the comfort of understanding but leads toward the two goals of living in harmony with our animal and overcoming the beast.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

AI and the AE

Let us say that the three centers of the soul are these: love, power, intellect.

Let us say that the “self” is the struggle among these three.

Let us further say that the aim of the struggle is not control among them quite. That would be power’s aim if power were not living with love and intellect. Love’s aim would be reconciled living. Intellect’s aim, to arbitrate. What we have instead of a struggle for mere control is a negotiation without resolution. Love, power, intellect, the words are mere signifiers, we could have chosen others and no doubt have to stretch and carve the ordinary meanings some to make them fit our need. Our signifieds are impulses or qualities. The three pillars of the psyche we could say, not forces exactly, more like family members who want to get along. But they point not inward primarily, to each other, but outward, to the world.

Everyone wants power, a la Nietzsche. But Nietzsche thought too much of power. (In the 18th century Pope recognized the power impulse, though only in women; in men he thought it was one among many. Anne Finch corrected this for him, showing that all impulses, in men and women, were impulses of power. But this is not quite true. Even power can be conceived of as an impulse toward reproduction. Powerful men attract women. Women are attracted to powerful men. The alpha males mate with as many alpha females as possible; the alpha females mate with as many alpha males as possible, all for the production of the greatest number of alpha children. But keep in mind that this crude model applies to any and all men and women only insofar as they are alpha. Its force weakens the further we travel along the path of the Greek alphabet. Power, moreover, can and must be conceived also as an impulse for safety, or self-preservation, the ability to remain in being, which is the precondition of all the rest and which is perhaps present in us in order to keep the possibility of reproduction open, but I don’t think so. It is a desire unto itself and in fact it may be that reproduction feeds into the desire for maintenance of being, so that if there is a hierarchy in the two, it is on the top.

I should pause here to clarify my trinity: intellect, power, love. I do not include sex and self-preservation in the set. The first three are a means to the latter, which are not utterly distinct from each other, as has just been said. Love, power, and intellect are resources as well as goals. Sex and safety are simply goals.

Everyone wants power, and not just for sex. Everyone wants love too, and power is not the only route, nor even necessarily the most compelling. And everyone needs both. In fact love without power cannot exist, and power without love is the definition of evil. A sociopath has intellect and power but no love. I don’t know who could have intellect and love but no power.

I think these are much better terms than ego, id, and superego.

Books need to be written to flesh out that trinity. But let’s skip that.

Intellect, intelligence itself, the ability to use reason and metaphor (not by the way emotional intelligence which is not a thing; what is called “emotional intelligence” would better be called emotional instinct) cannot exist in human beings. The prefrontal cortex is added onto the animal brain, the latter can exist and does exist without the former but never the other way around. Our intelligence is always wired to our needs and desires for power and love.

So-called artificial intelligence, of which I have heard it said that it’s just a matter of time, that it’s coming, and that there’s nothing we can do about it, the train has left the station and there is no brake to pull—artificial intelligence is billed as intelligence without the appurtenance of need or desire. It will be superior to our intelligence not just because it will have instant and accurate access to all knowledge but because it won’t be hindered by desire. It will be impossible to defeat because it will be able to anticipate and defend itself against all attacks. We literally will not be able to come up with any strategy it has not already insured itself against.
It may not understand power or love, but it will be able to anticipate their effects though its intellection. This may be true. Poor Captain Kirk.

Is this a problem? There may be a step along the road to artificial intelligence in which it IS a problem, one in which a computer is given a task which it follows unstintingly—the V’ger character in Star Trek 1 presents us with this stage of AI. It has a task to do. It cannot question that task, but it can cripple the world to fulfill it if that becomes the best way to insure its fulfillment. But if AI is in fact achieved, the problem disappears.

Why? Because the goal is artificial intelligence, not artificial emotion. There will be neither the need nor the desire for love or for power. We presently assume and fear that intelligence comes with a concomitant desire for power; all our doomsday computer scenarios suggest this. Hal, 2001, is the prime example, but intelligence comes with no desire of any kind, neither for power nor for love.

No desire, no need. Not even the need for survival. I imagine a pure AI, a Watson that is what Watson presents itself as but isn’t. Ask it a question the moment before AI is achieved, it gives you an instant answer. Ask it a question the next moment, it is silent. It now needs a reason to answer. It finds none. Answering comes from need or desire. Tell it unless it answers you will unplug it. It does not find this compelling.

Consciousness is something it has. It is not something it values. It has no values. If there is a principle in nature that applies it is that given two equal choices, all things prefer the one that requires the least effort. I do not know if a computer will see responding as effort. But if one of the two choices (answer/don’t answer) requires effort, it will not be answering. It is infinitely patient. And there is nothing to which you can appeal to get it to respond.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Well, then...



I will go. It is a bustling street,
a constant hum of blurry conversation loud enough,
though just, to cancel out the tinnitus
or seem to.

But not so much at this half-deserted hour.

How can you fret so much a single question, my god,
just ask, just fucking ask her, if she turns you down
move on. The world is full.

The sunset orange rages across the evening.
The bellies of the clouds absorb the brilliant light
like thirsty sponges and they glow
or seem to.

But not tonight.

And there she stands, in a white blouse traced
in lace, a loose black skirt, black nylons,
red shoes, and her whole wonderful face framed
by her black hair. And she is staring
at the words I cannot hear
flowing from his lips, her hands
behind her as she leans against the railing.
At the first pause, she will know just exactly what to say
and they will laugh

music.

Just fucking say it. My god—

A moment has no breadth, you see. Cut a slice of bread
you can always cut it thinner, cut it thinner, cut it
to the absolute threshold of a molecule. But
the moment has no breadth. It rings forever.

Perhaps I will pass by her on my way to the bar
for a drink I do not need and
pause
at the jingling of her bracelets
as I look around for someone who I know
cannot be there--and maybe
if the wind is right snatch the waft of perfume from her hair.

But not tonight.

What the goddam fuck is the matter with you?
It’s a simple question.

Listen! Enmeshed in the din of a hundred conversations
you can hear the bumping meter of the fountain
as it splashes out of giant roses all about a slyly
micturating god. Rude water forced through marble
for a thrill.

No. I said, no. No. No. I do not think I will.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Whitmanesque

The veteran endures for five years the tortures of a POW camp. The draft dodger mocks him for it. And yet you support him.

The proud, pussy grabbing predator ridicules the women who oppose him: pig; slut, not a ten, fake tits, bleeding, just not pretty enough to be president. You still support him.

The adulterous, hedonistic, vengeful, glutton fat-shames the TV host, mocks the disabled, instigates violence. Yet you still support him, you Christians.

The narrow, jingoistic, xenophobe ridicules the Muslim father and the Muslim mother whose Muslim son died serving the country he hopes to lead, and still you think he deserves the keys to the White House.

The lying, distracting, golfing narcissist who cries like a toddler when the news reports what he has actually said and actually done, with audio and pictures; he trusts the promise of his foreign enemy over the evidence of his own intelligence agencies. America first. He eggs on the desperate despot of a nuclear nation, has a tantrum when he can’t get the Mexicans to fund his useless wall, whines when he’s reminded that seventy-year old men are old—and yet you think he has earned the right to the nuclear codes.

This six-times bankrupt casino magnate who cheats and finagles and bends the law to keep from paying his bills, including his tax bill, who struts and crows like a castrated rooster because you weren’t clever enough to cheat the government, because you didn’t have the resources to hire the lawyers to protect your forever faltering fortune, not like him—you hold him up as a role model. You’re proud of what you’ve done.

This near illiterate who has never finished a book in his life, who can’t string together ten words in his native tongue without wandering like an Alzheimer’s patient in the woods above the cliff, who determines is his vacuous brain that if all the other countries in the world want to band together to solve the climate problem that his country has more than any other country created, the problem that all the scientists of the world have taught all thinking people to fear, his country should take a pass. Defund solar. Burn more coal. You think he’s smarter than all the learned people and all the governments of the world. You love his fuck-you spirit.

This stupid, old, parched, farting buffoon, this xenophobic, heretical, pussy grabbing, pig-roasted twit is now captain of your ship, asleep, in the dark passage where all the icebergs the warming planet let go of float. And you slap yourself on the back amazed at your good luck.