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The Change

I’m back. But what is the change that I mentioned before? Very simply, I feel I have outgrown this domain. Blogging will continue, with the same focus, topics, and bombast, but at my new domain, Anarcho-Papist. Of course I insist on beginning with the Anarcho-Papist Manifesto.

This domain can be considered retired, and I hope to see all my favorite faces again at the new place!

Hiatus

I will be going on a brief hiatus. I expect to be back by Christmas with news regarding a change I’ve hinted at a few times.

Most empires don’t end with a bang, with the spectacles of doomsday prophecies and widespread destruction. What destruction occurs, occurs gradually and without remark. What spectacles happen, happen amidst the pervasive stagnation of the social structure. An empire on the decline cannot be saved, at best the problems can be put off for a little while by unpopular policies.

When did the Roman Empire fall? That’s not something which can be well-dated. When Rome fell to the barbarians the first, second, or third time? When the Eastern Roman Empire was swept away by Muslim invaders in the 15th century? When the empire was no longer politically unified? When the decline was terminal, if that could even be diagnosed? Or, does it still exist today, succeeded by numerous political bodies?

I ask this because, amidst the fallout of the re-election of Barack Obama on Tuesday, there has been a flurry of articles and sentiments spoken by those of a conservative bent who believe that Mitt Romney was the one last true chance to “turn America around” or something like that. What they fail to realize is that Obama is not likely to be the end. He will be one in a long line of increasingly desultory tyrants. Nor would Romney have turned anything around, I am certain of that.

Is the American Empire in decline? Certainly. Is the decline terminal? I am also certain of this. When more than 50 million of a nation will vote for a murderer, there is a deep moral rot that has set in for which no operation will save the patient. But the government will keep doling out our bread, and it will keep providing circuses.

Will it end with a bang? No. There will be a series of tragedies, massacres, dissolutions, controversies, scandals, crises, and collapses. This could go on for several more centuries yet, the decline only becoming apparent from a view a millennium or more out.

The virtue and vice of the analytic tradition of philosophy as it has developed (and floundered) in the 20th and now 21st centuries is its focus on dialectic, and this especially over and beyond rhetoric. This may in fact be considered its substantial difference from the continental tradition, for while the continentalists may concern themselves over the dialectic what they are really doing, as I am using the terms in their classical sense (and this will provide an etymology of “the dialectic”), is focusing their efforts on a rhetorical process.

Understood classically, rhetoric is “the art of speaking with persuasion.” It treats of the psychological mode in people as its fundamental category, to see why what is said has such an import on the ultimate ideas which people will implicitly or explicitly act upon. Dialectic, on the other hand, is “the science of treating meanings (ideas) as themselves.” It seeks to “get past” people’s psychological modes, to hash out for-itself that which is meant and what applies to the real.

That I treat one as art and another as science is, I hope, a rhetorical distinction not lightly glanced over, and I should be subject to it even if I were to pretend that I were being plainly and strictly analytic, or participating in mere dialectic. This illuminates the problem of communication, or speaking, in that our rhetoric remains a substantial part of what we say. I believe we can take this to mean that there is really no such thing as dialectic per se, void of rhetoric; likewise, though, there is no rhetoric per se. They are both intrinsic parts of the action we call communicating, the act of “meaning to another, beyond oneself.”

It is relevant to focus and dwell on rhetoric because, no matter the supposed analytic ideal of a “perfectly logical argument,” you cannot crack the egg of understanding in another without prying them open with rhetoric. Even the notion of a merely dialectic discussion is rhetorical. I believe the idea of a “non-rhetorical argument” should be treated as economic models: ultimately oversimplifying and not anything you can find out there in the world. Does this make it beside the point? No. It remains useful, but this to the extent that it does not make of itself the world. This is because the world is filled with people for whom rhetoric is substantial. This is not some cute sociological observation, but rather a description of people as they are. People are rational creatures, but they are also rhetorical creatures. The idea of the purely logical man is not something we can assume of reality. For while logic/dialectic is an essential element to who we humans are, and we would not be human without it, nor should we even attempt to go outside it, rhetoric remains a structure we are placed within and cannot go beyond because it is the very condition of meaning to another at all.

The rhetorical inheres to the dialectical, and the dialectical inheres to the rhetorical.

Logic is just another rhetorical game. It is not a wrong game, but its psychological attributes ought to be appreciated. It is something we undertake and understand from a psychological mode of being human, and were one to remove the psyche, one should also remove the care for logic at all. I am loathe to call it strictly a passion, but logic is a tool we use to fit our purposes. Logic cannot instruct of itself. Its explanation and reason is external.

I do not mean by any of this that dialectic can be done away with, as though we should simply drift off into the dialectic and cease trying to get anywhere. It is only that one cannot truly see the world without knowing something about the glasses they are wearing. But there is nothing to see without the glasses on, without an instrument facilitating the sense. The instrument cannot be left out of the equation! How one sees something is crucial to knowing what one sees.

I will admit that this creates a problem. If rhetoric is substantial and fundamentally colors our view of the world, how can we truly know of the world? For now, my answer is that truly knowing of the world does include rhetoric; one should be not themselves if they try to go without it, since it is an essential element of being oneself as a human. But then how do we get out of the rhetorical circle, with the rhetoric we adopt being arbitrary? After all, if the rhetorical circle cannot be escaped, then you cannot transition yourself to another rhetoric on a reasoned basis. Ah, but that is to miss the point of what I am saying! Rhetoric is substantial, and its substance can be examined for fault. No rhetoric leaves itself without some way of looking at itself, for the glasses analogy aside, rhetoric is truly an apperceptive sense. It perceives itself, such is the matter of the dialectical inhering to the rhetorical!

Therefore, I propose a new project. The study of rhetoric as substantial in facilitating what we are able to understand.

Very simple: If the presidential and vice-presidential candidates were songs, what songs would those be? I think I have the answer right here.

Mitt Romney:

Barack Obama:

Gary Johnson:

Paul Ryan:

Joe Biden:

That indefatigable spoiler, Ron Paul:

It should be recognized that most people are stupid about most things; myself included. However, there is a certain lack of self-critical thinking I want to pick on at this moment, and I am going to call this mode of thought the “Preference Fallacy.” I will define it as this: the dissonance that inheres in what people say they prefer to be the case, and what they signal and/or choose to be the case by their actions. I’m noting that this is not some broad form of hypocrisy, since it is not so much someone saying “People shouldn’t do this” and then they go do it, but rather they say something like “This should be the case,” yet they do nothing of themselves to achieve that. Note how I say that it is of themselves, a very specific distinction I make for political cases, where the Preference Fallacy crops up very often.

Consider this image, which I have seen several times and which certainly has been seen by others:

What is meant to be illustrated? First, there is the bare fact that wealth distribution is unequal. That’s a given, and anybody with a brain recognizes that attempts to “reduce inequality” will inevitably lead to wealth destruction. I’m not going to hammer on that point. The other thing meant to be illustrated is this quaint notion many individuals seem to hold that “distribution should be equaler.” Why? Well, just because, but I’m going to challenge exactly this stated preference, since it not only fails to reflect reality (not a shortcoming of any preference in itself) and is beside the point, but because people don’t actually behave like this is the ideal. In fact, attempts to behave in order to fulfill this stated preference clearly, by demonstrated preference, would cost people what they prefer more. As such, this “stated preference” essentially doesn’t matter.

Here is a thought experiment. Equalitarian Edward states that he would prefer for society to be more equal. He insists that he behaves in accordance with this preference whenever he can. However, as we observe his behavior in the market, we see that this stated preference informs his decisions not at all. Who does he choose to buy his car from? Subaru, thereby increasing the profit of the company and by extension to a larger degree its owners, as opposed to the employees. Why does he buy a Subaru? Because he prefers its comfort, reliability, and style. He chooses not to buy the beater from Poverty Pam, even though doing so would help decrease wealth inequality, since now his money is going not to those who are already wealthy but to someone who is poor.

Where does Edward buy his groceries? The bulk come from Cub Foods, because it is most convenient, they have a wide selection, and the prices are cheaper. Once again, he passes over Pam. Likewise for where he buys his coffee (Starbucks), his clothes (JCPenney’s and assorted boutiques), his books (Amazon), his internet (Charter), his cell phone (Apple) and service (Verizon), so on and so forth, virtually every purchase of his lines the pockets of the wealthier more than those who are less wealthy. What seems a better explanation of his behavior, that he has a preference for lessening wealth inequality or increasing it? Between only those two options, the latter seems clearly to be the case.

But but but, you will certainly say, there are other explanations! And I say that is certainly the case! I don’t actually think he has a preference for increasing wealth inequality so much as he simply prefers better quality and service in his purchases, and it just so happens that this has a high degree of correlation to increasing the wealth of the wealthier. It is not that he has a preference for increasing wealth inequality, only that he doesn’t really have a preference either way. If it so happens that buying from a person who is poorer gives him a better quality good, he will do so; but that the person was poor won’t affect his decision so much as the product itself. In the market, people choose products, not people.

So what are we to make of the “ideal” distribution of wealth shown in the above graph? Precisely nothing. The demonstrated preferences of people in the market happens to support more wealth inequality rather than less. (Caveat: I say that it supports the present distribution only because the American society happens to have capitalistic elements. More accurately, the USA has a distributed socialist-corporatist economy with capitalistic elements peppered here and there. I’m not pretending a full-fledged capitalism won’t have “huge” wealth inequality, though I do believe the “true measures of wealth” would in fact be more equal. For an elaboration on my views here, read my paper.)

I understand that some who remain sold on the intrinsic good of “equaler wealth distribution” would like to point to other problems, say that while a company like Subaru might choose to disproportionately give its profit to the owners and elite controllers of the company, it shouldn’t. It just so happens that people don’t have a lot of say about how the companies they buy from are structured. To this, I would point out that this just pushes the Preference Fallacy back another step. Sure, one might state they have a preference for “more equally distributed profits” within a company, but once again, the business models that happen to correlate most with the products they prefer for itself are these companies where the CEO’s pay is many hundreds time that of the average worker within that company. I think distributists are especially prone to this way of thinking, and all my ire to them where that is concerned.

So I’ve chosen in particular the issue of economic inequality for my focus of the fallacy, but it certainly occurs throughout just about everything people say they prefer. Women say they prefer Nice Guys, but they run off with Bad Boys. People say they prefer the minimum wage higher, but they still shop around for cheaper prices and don’t tip those people who do work minimum wage (honestly, have you ever seen someone tip the cashier at McDonald’s?). They want men and women to have equal pay, yet (like the issue of business models) they consistently support those models in which women are paid less. (I’m not going to explain this one: here’s a video which deals with it in short order.)

There are so many things people say they prefer to be the case, but they won’t help to establish that for themselves. Sure, they might be a political activist, but note that the introduction of the power of the state to cure problems doesn’t count as exercising one’s own preferences but penalizing and prohibiting the preferences of others.

Don’t look to what people say, look at what they do. There is nearly always some degree of bullshit in what people say they prefer. This bullshit is the Preference Fallacy.

Each October, I have a tradition in which I read several short stories of Lovecraft and, under misguided notions of creativity, maybe even try to write a short horror story of my own. (We’ll see if the short story I’m writing currently gets finished by tomorrow. Maybe I’ll post it up. Maybe not.) Sadly, the few Lovecraft stories I got around to reading in my busy life were rather dull.

The Transition of Juan Romero is, well, while rather well-written (everything by Lovecraft is well-written; he is one of my inspirations for style of writing), clich├ęd in that Lovecraftian way that only a Lovecraftian tale can be. Perhaps most surprisingly, it’s also one of his earliest stories. I could really only recommend it for Lovecraft completists or those with a special sympathy for Aztec mythology, but otherwise you’re not missing anything.

Beyond the Wall of Sleep, on the other hand, is quite provocative and appeals to those elements of the fringe fantastic that any Lovecraftian fan is a Lovecraftian fan for. It really shows off the elements of that down-the-rabbit-hole dark mythos which would be more fully developed in later decades. Lovecraft’s style is on full display, and is just so luridly descriptive in a way that begs to be read out loud:

The sound of weird lyric melody was what aroused me. Chords, vibrations, and harmonic ecstasies echoed passionately on every hand; while on my ravished sight burst the stupendous spectacle of ultimate beauty. Walls, columns, and architraves of living fire blazed effulgently around the spot where I seemed to float in air; extending upward to an infinitely high vaulted dome of indescribable splendour.

This sort of gothic appeal to depth and height make it a pity that Lovecraft never saw fit to provide an interpretation of The Divine Comedy in his own style, since truly his own style of writing was a match for the scenery. Can you imagine a Lovecraftian Paradiso, let alone a Lovecraftian Inferno?

But Lovecraft is not the only media I took in for Halloween. I happened to watch Hannibal, a sequel to the suspense horror Silence of the Lambs, a true masterpiece of cinema. Sadly, it is overshadowed by the movie it is supposed to be picking up from. It is certainly decent by itself, though I must warn that it has a few gross-out scenes near the end that are sure to induce a few shudders. While, like Silence of the Lambs, it subverts some horror tropes, it also gives in to a few which I felt weakened the overall atmosphere. Its subscription to a few key tropes here and there made it suffer from the “You fool! You’re in a horror movie!” feeling one would certainly like to impress on the characters.

I must recommend at this point a few favorites of my own that always give me shivers and make me feel like I need to watch my own back.

Herbert West–Reanimator is certainly my favorite piece by Lovecraft. It is a bit lengthier than his other stories, but it has great pay-off, and you can really feel the terror gripping the protagonist.

The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges is, I grant, a more intellectual piece, and presents a horror to those of a more philosophical constitution. It is short, succinct, and cerebral. Borges, an Argentine writer of the 20th century, is definitely an artsy-fartsy type, but he’s also good about it so that, rather than being cryptic, he is critical.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison is a classic which I feel is most likely to have been read, but I must recommend it in case there are any who haven’t given it a read yet.

Lastly, as far as film goes, the original Paranormal Activity remains captivating. While the sequels were certainly silly (though I did enjoy the third film, and I haven’t yet seen the fourth though I hear it is very silly from a trusted source), it is definitely the truest kind of horror that a film can impress on one. It is not interested in jump scares, but inspires a dread that can surround only a truly inscrutable and malicious entity. I don’t want to give anything away, though I will note that when I first watched it I couldn’t sleep that night…

What is it about horror that is so captivating? I’m not sure, but I got a good story I’m writing, so I’ll have to give more analysis on it if I get it finished by tomorrow here.

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