Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

10 Ideas for Studying Better at University Business Degrees.

1. It’s not personal. Accept that the best university business courses are run like business. The systems are not personal, but simply to improve non-personal outcomes.

2. It’s not about entrepreneurship. Accept that your fellow students will have nothing in common with you; most business students want corporate jobs. If you want to meet other business people, you will have to join professional groups such as Toastmasters or Business Network International.

3. Select your study buddies carefully. Most of the students will be children. Eighteen years of age is not what it used to be: most of your fellows will have little to no grasp of the subjects.

4. Knowledge asymmetry. Accept that you will automatically know a lot about some subjects, but know nothing about many others. Just because you are being patronised by subjects you already know a lot about, doesn’t mean you can’t learn life-changing information at the exact same time.

5. Treat it like a job. Reading, writing, and attending lectures and tutorials are subsets of thinking. The primary work is thinking. If you do not input good material, you won’t be able to think good thoughts. Take care of your inputs 80% of the time. This gives rise to a further tip:

6. Don’t worry about understanding. Just do the work.

7. Nobody has any interest in your understanding the work. They only have an interest in teaching the materials. Take responsibility for your own understanding after business hours.

8. Establish a schedule and stick to it based on general promises to yourself. For example “I will spend four hours studying today” does not specify when or how you will study, but establishes a basic structure by which to spend time that will allow flexibility as well as letting you keep your promise to yourself.

9. Deeply feel the body every single day. Instead of spinning the mind around endlessly and resorting to caffeine to stimulate it, rest the mind in the body by pursuing tactics like sports, yoga, dancing, or deep relaxation.

10. Nurture your motivation and your social life. These two areas can impinge on your learning process unless you keep them carefully in check. So balance your ego drives and social connections carefully.


Those are ten ideas for improving your business studies. Hopefully this helps you with your learning process, and helps you enjoy your studies more.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

How to Read Textbooks

Here are the best and briefest tips for reading textbooks fast:

  • Mindset is important. "The hardest part about learning from a textbook isn't grasping the material; it's staying motivated."
  • Mindset. Generate the feeling that you really want to master the subject, from a personal interest. Put out of mind that you are preparing for a test. Some textbooks are friends, and some are foes. Be determined to get what you want out of it.
  • Prepare. Do the reading before the lecture and tutorial. It won't make sense without it. Treat college like a job and have set reading hours in the library.
  • Vocabulary. Learning the vocabulary - don't skip an undefined word.
  • Understanding. Ask yourself, if uncertain, what does it really mean?
  • Google for resources to fortify your understanding
  • Read out loud anything you don't immediately grasp fully.
  • Motivation. Do it every day.
  • Motivation. Incentivize progress: plan something fun at the end of each chapter.
  • Control your pacing. 
  • Take notes only in a manner that will be organized for future reference, and don't take too many notes. Consider taking notes at the end of each section or chapter.
  • Keep your breaks short. A good rule of thumb is 43 minutes study and 17 minutes rest and play.
  • Notes. Nail concepts down by doing a few homework problems.
  • Only write notes after finishing the section and then going back to write it all down.
  • Re-read and review. After the lecture, go over the material and write a short summary and key questions. Check and confirm your understanding.
  • Contemplate. Think about the concepts as you walk around and allow them to reveal themselves to you. 




5QRH - http://www.saddleback.edu/uploads/la/rl/powerpoints/revised%20sq5r%20version2.pdf
3QHR - http://www.studygs.net/texred2.htm
Rubber duck debugging - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubber_duck_debugging

Friday, June 19, 2015

So you want to read Vasily Grossman's Soviet Novel 'Life and Fate'?

I first picked up Grossman's novel casually just under a year ago, during the springtime. I read 50 pages then quit.

I was baffled by the dry reportage, the lack of stage direction, and the strange alternations of bare journalistic prose with broad modern novel prose. And I didn't understand what the hell the novel was about.

Of course we all know what it's about, don't we? It's about the battle of Stalingrad, It's about the Shaposnikova family, It's about the Second World War!

But lacking the same context on these subjects as Grossman, the need for such a novel is simply not evident to the common reader. Honestly, my first impression was that I was reading a ripoff of Tolstoy's "War and Peace". And indeed there are moments when we feel a sort of de ja vous from that other, more sunlit world of Tolstoy's Napoleonic Russia. But while the connections between this novel and that other great one are fruitful, this is a separate and stand-alone novel. 

So why the need for "Life and Fate"?

Before I answer that question, let me just say that I like to read a Russian novel every winter here in Australia. Something about the heavy Russian soul makes me feel light and happy in the dark days of our tepid Australian cold season. I don't know why Russian literature cheers me up, but it does. Chekhov makes me feel smart and grateful to be alive. Dostoyevsky makes me laugh like a devil. Tolstoy makes me smile and feel astonished at the beauty of the world. And so on. They just help me. But this year I decided, "Why not go Soviet this winter? Why not read Grossman's 'Life and Fate'?"

The idea excited me. All the other Soviet literature had proven bad. Bulgakov's Master and Margarita novel had proven so disappointing, a kind of surreal Dostoyevsky time-travel pulp novel. Solzhenitsyn to be a poor man's Tolstoy, except where Tolstoy abdicated his genius to Christian cultism, Solzhenitsyn seems to have allowed politics to consume his art. And while Isaac Babel was a genius, he was as sad as a blood moon. Only Ivan Bunin had proven truly astonishing, and he was from the expat Russian crowd, less of a Soviet and more of a Russian democrat like Chekhov, and therefore of an earlier age. Of the lot of them, only Grossman remained unread. So I was naturally excited to read him.

But his novel seemed impenetrable.

I'd like, therefore, to present some short notes on reading Grossman's "Life and Fate", that enable the reader to gain entree to the novel most easily and quickly. Here they are:

Context. The Battle of Stalingrad is the biggest, baddest, and most horrible ground war in human history. And we know almost nothing about it here in the West. "Life and Fate" is about that.

Context, part two. The reality of the Eastern Front of World War Two is so alien to us here in the West, so impossible for us to imagine, that it needs in and of itself some indepth study. The single best summary and overview point is Dan Carlin's Hardcore History series. Anything else you read or see on the subject will seriously repeat the same points Dan makes here, less clearly and less effectively. It's that good. So I recommend you purchase Dan's talk on the subject, which is astonishing in almost every respect.

Context, part three. If you want pictures and a slower pace of absorption of the full horror of this historical event, you can check out this youtube playlist, or this one, or this one. The reality of the Battle of Stalingrad is the reason why this book is worth reading, first and foremost. This aint a walk in the park. The best way to prepare is to understand that Grossman was at the battle and saw it all, and so he can write with authority on this event which is almost totally unknown to us.

Structure. "Life and Fate" is a trilogy or a novel in three parts. Part one is 306 pages and 71 chapters. Part two is 289 pages and 63 chapters. Part three is 256 pages and 61 chapters. The book therefore has a total of 195 chapters.

Pace. If you read two chapters a night, you'll be reading roughly one percent of the book each day and will be done in 100 days. That will take you from the dead of winter to the end of springtime, when you should instead have been reading something French. That frankly is too long a time to spend on a novel. On the other hand, if you read five chapters a night, you'll be reading it in 39 days, just over a month. Also (let's be real here) too long a time for a single novel. No; if you want to read this novel, and not give up from boredom or simple moral and emotional exhustion, it must be done in two weeks. This means you must read 14 chapters a day, in order to get through the novel at an efficient pace. Any slower than that, tl;dr.

Pace, part two. Wanna read this novel fast? If you read 28 chapters a day, then you will finish it within 7 days. But consider reading the rest of these notes before you finish and having the character list bookmarked. Just for an idea of how much that is: the first 28 chapters take up 128 pages. Wanna go crazy-fast? Just read 65 chapters a day and you'll be done in three days. But it's gonna hurt!

Names. Every group of chapters hangs on a name, not on a plot point. Once you know whose name the chapter hangs on, then you know what the chapter means. Chapters don't exist to advance the plot (which after all is minimal; there's a lot of story, certainly, but the plot is mostly internal and limited to feelings and ideas); the characters' inner experiences in and of themselves are the plot. If you don't know the difference between story and plot check out E.M.Forster's short book on Aspects of the Novel.

Style. It would be a misrepresentation to label Grossman a mere reporter. What Russian novelist could settle for reportage after "War and Peace" anyway? But the obnoxious Tolstoyan grand essay, in the style of the Enlightenment French essayist, was already old and funky in Tolstoy's day, and no longer suits modern needs. So instead Grossman opts for an oddly Germanic style of reflection, which, however, has a subject matter which reminds me more of Proust than of Thomas Mann! The chapter I have in mind is chapter 11, where Krymov is contemplating the passing of time. Notice how clipped and precise the diction is here? There is nothing French about it, and everything reflects the stolid prose of the Germans. And yet it is about the flowing and subtle matter of time, a matter which we are accustomed to reading about in the French, but never in the Russian. Only Tolstoy evinces an interest in time, and then it is only in the light of the eternal. So Grossman's prose remains a Tolstoy in pieces, a shattered Tolstoy benighted in an apocalyptic Napoleonic War Part Two.

Theme. It would be too much to say that Grossman enters his character's heads. He doesn't. With the soldiers especially we feel ourselves hovering on their shoulders like an angel of reportage, or focused on what their hands and eyes are focused on. Naturally a soldier should be outward-looking I suppose. But the interiority of these characters is so remote, so strained and elusive, that we could almost be dealing with machines rather than men. Is this the homo sovieticus we heard so much about in the high days of the Cold War? A man without feelings, without ideas, without connection, except to the State above and alone and to the State's instruments of war and peace? If this is homo sovieticus, then it is as a nightmare Tolstoy, an inversion of the sunny Russian world of Leo Tolstoy. Soviet collectivism is a dark thing, to be sure; but there is that which is unsaid in this prose that is a good deal darker than anything we can say; things about the feeling and the heart and mind of men living in such a system, which (thankfully) no words exist to tell of.

Names, part two. We had said that each chapter is hung on a name like a coat is hung on a peg. Let's examine which names are used as pegs. Chapters 1 to 6 in the German concentration camp are hung on the peg of Mostovskoy, ending (like music) on the tone of "Let's give the Germans a run for their money!" The following war chapters are hung on four Russian officers' names, General Chukyok (7), General Krylov (8), Lieutenant-General Zakharov (8), and then a beautiful sequence of front-line chapters (10-12) hung on the note of Krymov. In chapter 13 Chukyov on the front is visited by an historical figure, Yeremenko, and the two men dance around the obvious question of "the meaning of Stalingrad", without ever saying what's really on their minds. Then we follow one Major Byerozkin into the actual warzone for an inspection of the troops inside the fighting in chapter 14. Only then, after 14 harrowing chapters which would have lost the reader unaware of the historical events, do we finally meet Lyudmila Shaposhnikova, who provides the hook for the two chapters, 15 and 16. Finally, her son Tolya takes centerstage (albeit through her consciousness as a reader) with his letter in chapter 17. Each chapter is hung on a name like a coat on a peg, yes. But we can see from this that each name is an emotional key, the key of a bit of music, and so the entire discordant mess of this book resembles nothing so much as a discordant musical quartet by Shostakovich.

That ought to be enough to get you started. These notes present my path to grasping the novel as fully as I can, as a Westerner. I wish you all the best in reading this great Soviet novel, one of the very few to have survived this terrible period of history. 

UPDATE July 9th: I quit on this book just over half way. 
All the historical and cultural interest cannot defeat the bleakness and hopelessness of the scenario of Nazis versus Soviets. 
I have heard there is a virtue in not completing things that are of lower value. And this novel is definitely of lower value to me now.
And it's also true, I believe, that one cannot judge a novel unless one has read the whole thing, beginning, middle, and end, so I will refrain from passing judgment on this novel. But I will say that Grossman's novel is of lesser importance to me now, having read 418 pages of it.  Never have I given up a novel which interested and involved me. But - you know - life's too short. I may write an appreciation of what I have read so far.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pixar's Brave and the Black Bear of Menopause.

Another day, another liberal chick flick.

Pixar's Brave is a beautifully drawn film about liberalism (that is, about the ability to choose our destiny without natural constraints). The ostensible plot is simple: the feminist teenage heroine chooses to remain single and unmarried even though she is obviously of an age to have sex and bear children...

...Never mind that she's living in a tribal society where her marriage options become grievously limited in a few years.

...Never mind that no contraception exists in Celtic Scotland to allow her the freedom to make this decision.

...And never mind that real life traditions don't actually dictate she marry the firstborn, but only to pick partners from her own class.

No, history, biology, and decency is all just so much subjective guff for this Pixarian Scotland. Why? Because feminism.


With respect to Jack London's book, we might call this film, "Call of the Uterus".


But while she is the cause of the plot, she is hardly the effective hero. No - that role is taken up by her mother. And while it's subtle, her mother's process is actually more realistic and relevant to our ageing society.

Because it's only when her mother, changed by her daughter's selfish actions into a black bear, has been returned to humanity that we see the grey lock on her forehead - the grey hairs of menopause. It's subtle, but very real. The mother's transition to maturity is the real story.

Please let me repeat this point in more detail. The real story is not one girl's foolish and ahistorical struggle against sensible social tradition and biological demands. No. The real story is about the black bear of menopause. The real story of Brave is the tale of a woman driven mad by biology and restored to sanity by her willingness to step out of the shadow of her immature husband the king and become her own individual. Pixar's Brave is a story about madness and maturity, not a tale of marriage and magic spells.



We all know something about the strong magic of menstruation. It's a far more real and solid magic than being turned into a black bear for two days. (Come to think of it, with its two day black bear of madness, the film can also be read as a allegory for a the female heroine's first period and the discovery of her sexual power.)

One of the tell-tales of this movie is the literal and metaphorical lack of blood in the film. The bloodlessness is not only in the oddly unnatural and adolescent violence, but in the almost complete lack of the color red until the rolling of the credits at the end. Here the unspoken red spot is rendered invisible and metaphorical, displaced onto the ending credits in a sort of delicate, tampon-advertisement discretion.

It about Autumn, people, not menopause!

The three ages of modern women are represented here - the free-spirited idealised elder (who spends her days memorialising the glory days of menopause by carving wood, and travels the country), the multitasking menopausal mother, and the liberal, spoilt millennial.

What is missing, however, is a genuine adult man. Where is the masculinity in Pixar's Brave?

Where have all the real men gone?

Real masculinity is only glimpsed in the spectre of the dead prince, who is the only ideal suitor for the princess. Only the dead prince could match her immature intensity with a corresponding maturity and emotional depth. But the only real man is spirited away in a puff of feminist liberty - a dream from the distant past, to be enjoyed as erotic literature on the side. All the other men in the film are, to a person, neutered, emasculated, or teenage boys in adult drag.

So empowerment in a feminist world relies on liberty. It's a lovely dream we live in, isn't it? And isn't it nice we can afford contraception to give us this brief moment of historical freedom? We can appreciate our relative freedom from almost complete bondage to biology and history which we have purchased via contraception and by our unique Christian distinction between religious tradition and state. We have purchased this historical space dearly. Today, women are free, almost 25 days of a thirty day month, to make and enjoy movies like this. It's a good deal for everyone.

Let's hope it lasts.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Entitlement Porn For Chicks - "Jupiter Ascending"

Thank God we have movies for everyone these days. I can appreciate two aspects of "films for women and gay people". First, I appreciate the sheer badness of basing films on identity politics, the way the film archly winks and smiles at a small group of people in a desperate attempt to make money. Second, just as I appreciate the bull shit of women and gay people, so I can enjoy the bull shit of art made to appeal to women and gay people. And "Jupiter Ascending" is a good example of both sheer badness and good quality bull shit.

The best way to really encapsulate the movie "Jupiter Ascending" is to call it a retard-athon. It's a string of banal, tepid, insipid, and outright moronic cliches and tropes strung together.

Imagine the movie "Twilight" combined with any of a variety of chick legal/marriage/family flicks.

No, wait, forget that.

Just imagine Channing Tatum as a... take a breath... Channing Tatum as a bare-chested winged space werewolf employed by a family of evil glittery space vampires...



As a matter of fact, we can just stop right there and ask ourselves the real question on everybody's mind: is "Jupiter Ascending" the most gayest science fiction movie ever filmed?

Magic Mike as the male lead certainly doesn't help. Making the entire incoherent plot revolve around nonsensical legal peccadildoes of "entitlement" doesn't help either. The plot involving Jupiter Jones - the main character - shows her fighting for her 'entitlements', rather than earning them, using marriage, law, family and the blood and sweat of brave men. And she gets to have her folksy US lifestyle at the end whilst remaining the Gay Princess of Planet Earth.

What is this really? It's really entitlement porn for geeky women who are brainwashed to feel unappreciated because they have disassociated emotionally from their biological instincts as women. "Jupiter Ascending" is the hot tranny mess of entitlement porn, combining geeky Scifi gaiety with sentimental images of unearned privilege.


Who else would like to see the  Israel Defence Forces beat Channing's ass?

We could excuse it by saying "Jupiter Ascending" is Twilight set in space, but - let's be honest, shall we? - there are some hilarious moments of just profound faggottry in this film. Some parts of this film must be there only to make us laugh. This film cannot be taking itself seriously in the same way the Twilight films tried to, can it?

"Jupiter Ascending" seems to complacently accepted its own gilded superficiality, its sheer badness, its dwarfish and ignoble moral ambitions. And why not? The movie is entitled to have unmerited self-esteem about its own mediocrity. Jupiter Jones, you go gurl.


Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Bhagavad Gita One: On Just War and the cowardice of Gandhi.

Re-reading the first half of the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, it becomes clear to me that Arjuna is not only on his own side. Rather, Arjuna seeks to transcend the duality of both sides. 

Why would a military leader order himself to stand between two armies - his own and that of his family? What's going on there?

What's he trying to do? Obviously he's literally trying to see both sides of the war impartially, but that's only the mundane way of seeing it. Arjuna is the soul of man, and in him in his chariot driving it is Krishna, the avatar and image of the divine.

Why is the soul of man placed between these two armies and with it the divine image?



We cannot say what it means without saying everything that follows between Krishna and Arjuna. We can draw general insights that are rare and valuable:

The lesson here is that far from being an obstacle to spirituality, war and worldly conflict is a rare spiritual opportunity. The lesson here is, when you find yourself taking a position on either side, or taking a non-position (and avoiding conflict, like Gandhi) then you have lapsed into either false courage - mere bravado - or into Gandhian unprincipled cowardice.

A word on Gandhi. Gandhi was put in place by the colonial authorities to prevent conflict. He was the unwitting cats-paw of Indian cowardice. And to support that Quixotic mission, Gandhi became the greatest historical perverter of the meaning of the Gita. Mohandas Gandhi's unprincipled cowardice destroyed India and his own life and then shattered the country into three - Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. Worse, however, Gandhi's perversion of the doctrine of war in the Bhagavad Gita helped explain the unmanly and defeatist narrative of the oppressed peoples of Pakistan and Bangladesh; this created a refugee catastrophe, and to this day Gandhi's cowardice threatens India with nuclear war. Gandhi may be correctly seen as a failed Socrates, in that his killing killed a failed policy rather than a successful one.

A wiser guide to the great dualities of the world-historical process is not Gandhi but the dialectic of G.F. Hegel, who locates the correct space of engagement in neither to one side as an observer nor in the fighting ranks. No, like Arjuna, we must place ourselves in the middle of the field of battle, to see and feel the battle as they really are, as a man, with courage.

More crucially, by doing this, we invite God in. We deliberately position ourselves at the position of maximum drama, and therefore maximum learning and growth.

Let's look at some basic world-historical dualities:

Arabs and Israel.
Russia and free world.
China and the West.
China and India.
India and Pakistan.
Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Isis, anyone?

If you don't know about these dualities you can hardly be expected to place yourself, personally, in the middle of them. But through interest, study and sympathetic effort, you can draw yourself near to the nature of these dualities, you are in a position to grasp and see and understand what is going on in reality.

Try it with one of the world-historical dualities. Place yourself in the middle like Arjuna.

Like Arjuna, your side is fighting your own human family.

And like Arjuna, you must grieve for their inevitable death and decline in the coming battle, or otherwise suffer your own inevitable decline and death.

If you fail, like Arjuna fears, to do your duty (your dharma), then you must pay the debt (your karma) for your cowardice. By placing yourself in the middle, however, you also invite God to be present in your life. God, it seems, loves drama. Perhaps that is why all great nations are dramatic artists.

Worldly events can  be opportunities to grow spirituality. By taking a side then moving into the middle, we can see the world-historical failure of great saints like Gandhi as they really are: personal success, devotion to the wrong ideal, marked by catastrophic failure in the world-historical scene.

If Indian affairs, and if world affairs, are ever to be governed by wisdom then they will be marked by people go take a side and place themselves in the middle with God, to hear his guidance.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Essence of Indian Culture: Inspired Personalism.

The movement of Indian culture is always from collective violence and chaos and destruction to personal peace, unity, harmony and cultural creation.

What can be said of a culture whose gesture for "yes" is a head wiggle? Isn't that a particularly personal and indiosyncratic gesture?

This primal duality between tradition and personal expression is impersonal and cosmic in nature. That is to say, it is impersonal, in that: EVERYTHING is passing from tradition to personal expression; and it is cosmic, in that: war and chaos and destruction are FOREVER finding their resolution in the person of the mystic, the warrior and the goddess. (These clusters of personality rarely manifest alone, incidentally, but always in the form of narrative drama. The inner logic of the Ramayana and Mahabharata is an inspired narrative personalism.)

The final resolution of the Indian duality is in the creation of exquisite personal beauty. This is a beauty not from externalization of the ideal/idea (as with Western culture), not as an expression of a tradition as a mode of permanent becoming (Chinese culture), but an expression of beauty as unique and personal as if there had never been any other Indian culture than that particular expression now! This accounts for the remarkable freshness and youthfulness of Indian culture, a quality which never seems to fade.

The abovementioned will be found to resolve all questions of distinction and difference between Indian and the other great world cultures. It draws directly from the inspired source of dream and inspired utterance. Here's how:

Yesterday Peter and I went to the Art Gallery. Peter, a devout Christian, was shown the Virgin Mary and Infant Christ first, then some superb Indian prints of the Indian Gods. When he was shown Adi-Shakti, and the personal connection I felt with the goddess was expessed, he asked

"How does this tally up with our Christianity, then?"

I replied, "Adi-Shakti is the Virgin Mary. It's the same symbol, for the same experience, expressed in a different culture."

I then showed him how the other Indian Gods express themselves in Western culture, one by one. He was astonished. But the subconscious mind continued to work away at the question, and it manifested in a dream.

Then, on waking today, I had from the now-forgotten dream the immediate knowledge of the essential cultural distinction of Indian culture implanted in my waking consciousness. Putting it down in words it elaborated itself almost instantly, but it was captured for an instant in personal consciousness, before it became "Westernised" into this blog post. So this attests not only to inspired source of this information, but also to its inevitable Western contamination by elaboration and conceptual artistry. The primal way - as the Chinese Taoists say - that can be named is not itself the primal way! But at least we can point at the magnificent source of Indian culture and admire.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Being Forced to Read the Arab News: A Nightmare.

What a night! I moved the mattress into the lounge-room and laid it on the floor, with only a thin cotton mat protecting the mattress from the carpet, so that I could clean thoroughly under the bed. It was hard getting to sleep at all, but when I did, I woke a few hours later in a dream-panic.

In the dream, I was being forced to read Arabic news. Article after article, mired in hopeless stupidity and limitation, trapped in the Arab closed circle of toxic culture and inability to break out into a liberal society. But the demonic intelligence which was forcing me to review the news was absolutely convinced they were evidence of progress, positivity, and goodness, so it forced me to keep reading, and would allow no protest. The sheer number and momentum of falsehoods rose up and overwhelmed me and choked me beyond my ability to refute or even discern them. I was overcome by waves of evil.

Then I gradually became aware of my body and breathing; phlegm was accumulating in my oesophagus and blocking the passage of air, causing difficulty breathing. My panic had a physical correlate! Relieved, I got up and drank water, hoping it would help clear the airway, and lay back down to sleep, and slowly the panic crept back.

Helplessly I lay in bed for an unknown amount of time, watching the difficulty in breathing recur and then compulsively swallowing the clear the phlegm, again and again. What else could I do? "Perhaps," I could not help but thinking,"this is how the body will die." But not last night. Gradually the difficulty subsided, and I fell into fitful sleep.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Why did both Franz Kafka and Simon Leys admire Chesterton's "Man Who Was Thursday"?

If any novel can be claimed to have a truly catholic form of Cabalism, it is this.

The great thing about Chesterton's "Man Who Was Thursday" is its perfect uselessness as idea, and perfect utility as image. It is an extended platonic fable, without the dialog surrouning it.

Oddly enough, the dialog never ceases. People talk non-stop, but never on the topic. And what is the topic? The true nature of the topic of "The Man Who Was Thursday" is occult, hidden behind the symbols.

What about the ideas? The ideas, such as they are trivial or universal, are presented with the same rapid insipidity of tone and pronounced with an air of waspish decision. No; in this novella the image is all.

What inspired me to read it was literary gossip from Simon Leys that this book was a great favourite of Kafka. What kind of novel (I wondered) could both Kafka and Leys could admire? A non-novel, that's the kind of novel they both admire.

It must be admitted up front that "Thursday" is a badly written book. Chesterton's action scenes are clumsy, and the scene transitions are amateurish more than half the time. "The Man Who Was Thursday" is the work of an amateur - which explains why Leys liked it, since he placed the amateur in a privileged position. But it is also Cabalistic, and that explains why Kafka liked it.

How is it cabalistic? It begins as a mood piece, a symbolist painting in words. Then it ends in a Dantean way, with pure mediaeval pageant. And the funny thing about the final scenes is that, while they absurd by any reasonable standards, they resonate in the soul in the most unusual way: it effects one in the same way as the Christian communion.

What other novel can you read that reminds of the Christian communion? None that I know of. And yet that is the only and exact sensation of the closing scenes of this novel: "The Man Who Was Thursday" ends with a grand image of the Communion of all Creation.

It is not a likeable or entertaining or even a well-made novel, but it is superb. And that is why both men like it.

Founding Father John Adams: the Conservative as Revolutionary.

John Adams' "On Canon and Feudal Law", is a short essay which only makes sense at all when put in context. In as few and simple words as possible I will do that here.

First, Adams is a conservative and British-ruled American subject. Conservatives seek to conserve what is good in the tradition. (As we will see, how Adams conserves is very different from our modern idea of how a conservative works.)

Second, Adams suggests a radical conservative change by placing it in the existing tradition. Adams says his reform is the mainstream of the Puritan impulse. (Whether his idea is the Puritan mainsteam or not we can't say!)

Third, and most historically, Adams is protesting the Stamp Act, which taxed the use of paper in the Americas. He protests this because he says it limits freedom. Here's some historical context on the act, which (as part of the early British persecution of the Americas) was soon revoked.

But the Stamp Act is just a pretext, really, for a discussion of the difference between law in America and law in Europe. A young Adams here makes a stark (and questionable) distinction between the American and the European legal systems.

In a nutshell:

European law, Adams says, is illiberal and oppressive, conducive to tyranny, because it keeps people poor, socially trapped and ignorant; by contrast, American law is liberal and free and anti-tyranny, because it enables people to become rich, socially mobile, and educated.
Adams describes how the rich are expected to fund education, along with the poor. (Nowhere does he suggest that this funding ought be done by governments, as per the progressive income tax.)

The most interesting things about this short essay are the noble and elevated diction, which can be read aloud well, and the historicity. I'll discuss briefly Adams (to my mind faulty) historicism.

Adams tells American history as the progress from barbarism to civilization. He evokes Rousseau as an examplar of liberation. By describing Roman civilization as tyrannical, he can picture American society as free. This simplistic historicism gives Americans a reassuring narrative of progress and meaning, from Roman tyranny to American liberty. But does the picture play out as Adams says?

It need be said that Adams was a young working lawyer when he wrote this, and new to political practice. I think he can be forgiven his unsophisticated historicism and the unmeaning errors in his little historical fables. But the radical suggestion, that educating the masses and freeing government and education from the historical burdens of law, has remained exciting and liberating to this day.

Most exceptionally, Adams is that most rare of creatures: the conservative playing at revolutionary!

We imagine conservatives are not open to change; this is false. Conservatives are open to progress, to beneficial change. It is only frivolous, meaningless, baseless change that conservatives steadfastly oppose.

Therefore, because it presents conservatism as it really is, and because it depicts freedom so well, it to this day remains well worth a read.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Quadrant magazine, April 2015: Henry Olsen's "Getting No Respect" and the Arrogance of the Conversative Political Elite.

This April 215, Quadrant magazine published an article by an American about winning the vote of the common folk. 

Here's the link; it's a seedy and cynical review of right-wing manipulations of the people.

Amid much merely political qualifications with no substance, Mr Olsen writes:


"The workers want three things: comfort, dignity and respect."

How could the right-wing have got it more wrong? He goes on to list the manipulative ways "we betters" can create these feelings in our "lessers".

Yes, it's elitist. It refers to feelings and marketing rather than to principles and reality.

Yes, it badly misses the point. Instead of straight-talking, it talks feelings. Instead of principles, it talks promises. 


And, yes, it fails rhetorically, because it fails in terms of integrity.

What do the workers want most?

1. The common folk want straight talk. When they want to be bullshitted, they go to a salesman, not a statesman.

2. The common folk want authenticity. Professionalism in regards to connecting to a person is the province of prostitutes, not politicians. If politicians want to connect, they must forsake the mere professionalism of the political class and become actual people, endowed with natural dignity.

3. The common folk want integrity. It's not respectful, Mr Olsen, to treat people in terms of manipulating their feelings. It's offensive, and it's uncivil, and it's presumptive. If you want respect, you have to earn it through respectable actions.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

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If you have a registered ID. Hopefully it will be engaging cool conversation.

Go for it!

Burke's Reflections, Part Two: Is A Servant Leader an Astonishing Innovation?

After reflecting at length on the Golden Revolution, Edmund Burke describes or suggests that the monarch ought to be or profess to be a servant. This is an astonishing claim! Elsewhere he stands against suddenly changing old traditions, and changing the title of the king from lord to servant seems like quite a great change, to say the least!

Why does Burke make this suggestion?

First, for Burke, the entire state is a living being, a spirit and a body. So each part depends and benefits the other. The old story by Livy about the aristocracy as the stomach of the people is for Burke a simple fact of nature. So the role of the king as the head of state is to govern the rest of the body by humbly providing service.

Second, Burke wishes to avoid the fulsome speeches in praise of monarchy and adhere only to a simple classical dignity of service. How realistic this is, and has been, is evident from the existing exotic English royal tradition.

Third, it seems out of character for Burke to suggest this, if he would have the majesty of the monarch preserved. But he is thinking, it seems, only of the protection of the monarch from the predations of the French revolutionaries. It is as if, out of anxiety to avoid a new revolution, Burke makes an unconscious Freudian slip in suggesting a sudden change in the midst of speaking in the strictest conservative terms.

A word on method:

Burke's mode in the Reflections is to circle around historical events, extracting essential insights. And next, he circles far and ancient and unfolds the fascinating reforms of the Magna Carta for us. And that is the subject of our next post.

When I read Burke on historical events I feel a keen desire to read Churchill's History of the English Speaking People, to discover what another great conservative had to say about these events. But these books (historical books) have been by and large put away for another time, and I am loathe to unpack them. During my long study of philosophy they had proven a distraction and been set aside, and now they invisibly draw me from their storage place!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ten True Facts About Edmund Burke's 'Reflections on the Revolution in France'.

1. I am reading Edmund Burke's great letter, 'Reflections on the Revolution in France'. It really needs to be broken into sections with headings.

2. I have finished the first proper section, which I shall call "On the Glorious Revolution of 1688". In it, Burke establishes the primary principle of conservatism, which is realistic adherence to tradition as the only true basis for genuine social progress and improving change.

3. Burke speaks slightingly of the metaphysicians who can only imagine the abstract application of a political principle, and not the practical adaption to reality. In this respect he agrees with the qualified realism taught by the Thomists, it seems to me: reality is real regardless of our limited understanding of the principles whereby it operates.

4-7. I can see why this letter was so influential: Burke simultaneously refutes, teaches, explains, and exemplifies this basic conservative principle. In 15 pages of simple speaking, Burke refutes the preacher of the principles of the French Revolution, teaches us the true principles of the English Revolution, explains how the English Revolution respects the English character, and exemplifies the conservative distaste for the violence and insult to the French character done through the French Revolution.

8. I must admit, while Burke was refuting Doctor Price's oddball preaching, I could not help but think of the progressivism of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Indeed, what could be more telling of the American character than the way Emerson (founder of the American secular religion, according to Professor Bloom at least) was ejected from the churches of his day for preaching a doctrine considered heresy by his contemporaries? Whereas Emerson's English counterparts might work within existing sects and creeds, the American conservative makes of the rupture with the existing social fabric a kind of a new American conservative creed.

9. Is Burke's explanation of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 history, or historiography? It seems a patchwork history; it alludes to events we must be aware of already, such as the bad character of King James, with an uncommon frankness. It is however a good report of the times, from someone with a sound understanding, sharing the same spirit as those whose events he reports (which is Hegel's definition of a true history from his 'Lecture on the Philosophy of History'). So it is a history, although an intermediate one to the basic histories which one must have read to make sense of the story. 

But is it also a historiography, a theory of history-making? I doubt it. First off, Burke is not being theoretical at all, but simply reporting the facts from within the British sphere of comprehension. Burke frankly admits his Englishness, and limits himself to speaking solely from within it. (If only all political commenters had the same prudence and politic zeal to stick to the limits of their sphere of power!) But in the exact same sense, he is advancing a historiography of common-sense practicality: he is expressing the natural division of history into nations and traditions which are indisputable norms for those cultures. So, maybe it is historiography.

10. Lastly, is this hagiography? Is Burke making a saint of the British tradition? Evidently not without qualifications. Burke admits many times the compromising human quality of political deliberations in his description of the Glorious Revolution. What is evident, however, is his passionate love of and desire to protect the English people. The threat of the French Revolution occasions this book, but it is Burke's love of the English revolution that actuates it.


Monday, March 02, 2015

The singularity is here.

I just realized that for all the techno-millennial romanticism, we are the ones living through the technological singularity, not the characters in books. The global AI is the web; the superintelligent power is human consciousness newly connected. The prosperity and economic problems are fast being solved. The singularity is here.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Notes On Edward Feser's 2014 book "Scholastic Metaphysics".

I have felt for some years now that Thomistic metaphysics describes reality. This fascinating combination of idea and reality promises (or at least suggests) a method of grasping natural knowledge of all areas, levels and degrees of reality (at least to the degree those levels of knowledge are demonstrated as knowable by the method). In other words, pretty exciting stuff: neo-Thomism promises reality with a capital-T for "Truth". 

Last April 2014 Edward Feser published a book laying out the arguments for this daring proposition. The book is called Scholastic Metaphysics, and I have been looking for it to review in university libraries all around the country today. In my search I have found a lot more information about the book, so here I propose to gather what I've found:

The author Edward Feser writes:


Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction provides an overview of Scholastic approaches to causation, substance, essence, modality, identity, persistence, teleology, and other issues in fundamental metaphysics.  The book interacts heavily with the literature on these issues in contemporary analytic metaphysics, so as to facilitate the analytic reader’s understanding of Scholastic ideas and the Scholastic reader’s understanding of contemporary analytic philosophy.  The Aristotelian theory of actuality and potentiality provides the organizing theme, and the crucial dependence of Scholastic metaphysics on this theory is demonstrated.  The book is written from a Thomistic point of view, but Scotist and Suarezian positions are treated as well where they diverge from the Thomistic position.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
0. Prolegomenon
0.1 Aim of the book
0.2 Against scientism
0.2.1 A dilemma for scientism
0.2.2 The descriptive limits of science
0.2.3 The explanatory limits of science
0.2.4 A bad argument for scientism
0.3 Against “conceptual analysis”
1. Act and potency
1.1 The general theory
1.1.1 Origins of the distinction
1.1.2 The relationship between act and potency
1.1.3 Divisions of act and potency
1.2 Causal powers
1.2.1 Powers in Scholastic philosophy
1.2.2 Powers in recent analytic philosophy
1.2.2.1 Historical background
1.2.2.2 Considerations from metaphysics
1.2.2.3 Considerations from philosophy of science
1.2.2.4 Powers and laws of nature
1.3 Real distinctions?
1.3.1 The Scholastic theory of distinctions
1.3.2 Aquinas versus Scotus and Suarez
1.3.3 Categorical versus dispositional properties in analytic metaphysics
2. Causation
2.1 Efficient versus final causality
2.2 The principle of finality
2.2.1 Aquinas’s argument
2.2.2 Physical intentionality in recent analytic metaphysics
2.3 The principle of causality
2.3.1 Formulation of the principle
2.3.2 Objections to the principle
2.3.2.1 Hume’s objection
2.3.2.2 Russell’s objection
2.3.2.3 The objection from Newton’s law of inertia
2.3.2.4 Objections from quantum mechanics
2.3.2.5 Scotus on self-motion
2.3.3 Arguments for the principle
2.3.3.1 Appeals to self-evidence
2.3.3.2 Empirical arguments
2.3.3.3 Arguments from PNC
2.3.3.4 Arguments from PSR
2.4 Causal series
2.4.1 Simultaneity
2.4.2 Per se versus per accidens
2.5 The principle of proportionate causality
3. Substance
3.1 Hylemorphism
3.1.1 Form and matter
3.1.2 Substantial form versus accidental form
3.1.3 Prime matter versus secondary matter
3.1.4 Aquinas versus Scotus and Suarez
3.1.5 Hylemorphism versus atomism
3.1.6 Anti-reductionism in contemporary analytic metaphysics
3.2 Substance versus accidents
3.2.1 The Scholastic theory
3.2.2 The empiricist critique
3.2.3 Physics and event ontologies
3.3 Identity
3.3.1 Individuation
3.3.2 Persistence
3.3.2.1 Against four-dimensionalism
3.3.2.2 Identity over time as primitive
4. Essence and existence
4.1 Essentialism
4.1.1 The reality of essence
4.1.2 Anti-essentialism
4.1.3 Moderate realism
4.1.4 Essence and properties
4.1.5 Modality
4.1.6 Essentialism in contemporary analytic metaphysics
4.2 The real distinction
4.2.1 Arguments for the real distinction
4.2.2 Objections to the real distinction
4.3 The analogy of being
 Next specimen, then.

Here's an erudite attempt to contort neo-Thomist metaphysics to match up with Calvinism. He does a good job connecting the square peg of Thomism with the round hole of Calvinism, but the summary is the best thing. Here it is applied to (my field of interest) ethics:

"This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) ‘ideologies’, all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves.
Scholastic metaphysics provides the alternative to rebellion in the theoretical register. My survey of Dr. Feser’s book above highlighted one section where he derived from his metaphysics a method for investigating essences; in effect, when applied to the realm of the human essence, this is the foundation of accurate ethical theory. We can discover the essence, and so the purpose, of the human being by observation and reasoning, and from there determine what kinds of conditions and behaviours prevent us from reaching that end. In this way we can discover and acknowledge the entirety of the human good, and therefore avoid arbitrariness and gross immorality in our ethics."

Finally, for your enjoyment, here is a hearty defence at the hands of the Imaginative Conservative of scholastic truth:

"One of the pleasures of this book is that Dr. Feser is locked in argument with those who seek to explain reality but whose examination of it often leaves out something important. He is not afraid to say that an argument is “bogus” or “absurd” or “incoherent,” nor is he afraid to explain why. Dr. Feser says these things only after he shows the point that grounds his judgment. And lest we forget, philosophy is about judgment. Truth is in a judgment—we say of what is that it is and of what is not that it is not. What is particularly good about this book is its order. Truth is reached by critically examining observations and explanations that do or do not explain reality.

"In this sense, Dr. Feser’s book is quite the opposite of the “fuzziness” of the modern mind that claims that nothing is true or that all is relative. But once said, the truth of the position that nothing is true is open to judgment. This judgment is what Dr. Feser provides in this book. In this sense, it is one of the most refreshing books I have come across in years. Who else is willing to make a case, to articulate in the name of scholasticism, a cohesive case, for teleology, analogy, prime matter, causality, substance, common sense, esse et essentia, and the validity of the mind’s knowing powers?

"Dr. Feser is aware of many good philosophers who, like himself, are working their way through the modern mind. They discover, often surprising themselves, that their pursuit leads them to Aristotle, Aquinas, and the scholastic tradition."

This book thinks about reality: "Each section of the book—1) act and potency, 2) causation, 3) substance, and 4) essence and existence—carries the reader through the experience of actually thinking of these issues, of why they make sense. Thus, it restores that awareness of philosophic immediacy", of truth as "the self-manifestation and state of evidence of real things," as Josef Pieper writes in his 1960 book Scholasticism.

For scholasticism, "truth is something secondary, following from something else. Truth does not exist for itself alone. Primary and precedent to it are existing things, the real. Knowledge of truth, therefore, aims ultimately not at ‘truth’ but, strictly speaking, at gaining sight of reality."

Inspiring stuff!

Conservatism vs Liberalism, A Way Forward.



"[T]he dominant political tradition of modernity did not simply discover a pattern laid up in heaven to contemplate. Rather, Enlightenment liberalism was a project that set out to transform the world. Moreover, this multigenerational project was aimed against a particular enemy—namely, the Church and, with it, the social world that Christianity had brought into being in Europe. Thus, the famous “state of nature” that grounds liberal argument is a cunning substitute for the biblical account of Eden. The bourgeois virtues of the commercial republic, in turn, are meant to supersede the classical and Christian virtues, which in some cases now assume the character of vices. The sovereignty of the people as the sole legitimating principle of the liberal regime places in question the sovereignty of God. "


Comment: the heart of the problem is authority, and it is a solvable problem. We can simply ask "Who is the positive author of human affairs?" to find the truth. It's not enough to ask who is the passive or negative source of authority - passive or inactive laws have no power to excite human passion and instinctive allegiance. No; we must decide on what are the active, activating, and enacting sources of personal, social and political authority, if we are to resolve the distinction between conservative and liberal.






"[T]he Enlightened builders of the liberal regime were quite certain that they had discovered principles of political right that were universally applicable—and that in time might be applied beyond politics to the sphere of morals. Burke, in contrast, was guided by a kind of certainty in (traditional) morals, by an immediate intuition of the human good, while he viewed with the deepest skepticism speculative theories of political right. Whereas the Enlightenment “builds down” from politics to morals, the conservative “builds up” from morals to politics. Perhaps it would be fair to say that the liberal tradition, even today, has not yet generated a credible account of moral life. Perhaps it would be similarly fair to say that the conservative tradition has not yet generated a credible account of political life. "


What would such a (hitherto unthought-of) conservative account of politics look like? I have reason to believe it would look a lot like the work of Mortimer J. Adler in his books on politics and ethics. 


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Problem Solving In Systems


It's not the person that is the problem, but the system.

What does this mean?

It means "I am not the problem".

Is this denying personal responsibility?

It can mean that. But personal responsibility means solving the problem, and if the problem is part of the system, then it cannot be personally solved; the problem must be solved through and in the system!

It means most problems are the system.

A system is abstract, not a thing in itself. So an abstract system is the problem itself. The problem is not separate from the system. The system and the problem are one. If the system is the problem, there is no place for adversarial relations. 

On the other hand, if the problem is the person, then adversarial relations are required. Indeed, they are one's duty. But these are uncommon.




Monday, February 09, 2015

Greek Tragedy It Aint: On Watching the Movie "Prometheus".

The Alien movies, of which Prometheus is a prequel, made no pretense to high art. They were horror, pure and simple. At their best, in the James Cameron masterpiece "Aliens", they are the blend of suspense and science fiction, showing humans at their worst (greedy) and best (maternal).

I think what explains the power of the Aliens franchise so much is their use of feminine tropes of protection, nurturance, and childbirth in perverse and violent ways, highlighting thereby the shadow side of feminist aspirations. 
The old Alien franchise captures a turning point moment of Western culture where the feminine was on the ascendant.

But Prometheus goes further to includes the whole family in the general bloodbath. It uses the theories of Freud like an alcoholic uses gin - straight from the bottle. The family constellation is the theme of this entire movie. It is the Götterdämmerung of the idealistic view of the family. Idealists of all stripes are smashed, mashed, pulped, and generally incinerated in a Sadean tableau of the most horrible things that can happen to a true believer. Even abortion is turned into a horrifying trope for the will to survive. 

And the absurdity of the ending is beyond a joke. The heroine and the headless robot take off in an alien ship. Where do they get food and life support from for the journey? It just doesn't make sense.

Anyhow, a fascinating installation of a really gross film franchise performing autopsy on what they imagine to be the dead body of Western Culture. Prometheus' take on family sin includes only nihilist and emotionalistic sentiments of death and destruction, and fails to include any meaningful reference to any saving grace. Greek tragedy it aint. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Meditation of contingency and the permanent Self.

Life runs so quickly. We try to control or direct it and we cannot guide the whole thing unless we know the central point. We are like puppets whose strings are a-tangle, and we don't know which one to pull to draw all the other strings up.

Only the grandeur of great art can temporarily stop the flow and awaken the reason to the light of eternal values. What else? In the normal run of life we awaken through the animal instincts only to survive and secure our person and engender children. Sex, security and society - and all else is expedient and subordinate to these grand and simple animal goals.

Natural law is binding. We say that it is law, but the privileges of natural law bind more powerfully than the responsibilities. The responsibilities of natural law are merely to survive and extend the possibility of society and family. But the privileges of a great and stable civilization far outweigh the mere burden of survival. We are bound by privilege to extend ourselves on the behalf of the entire society. It is as if our distinctness as a person grew a shadow and became reflective on itself.

Natural law obligates us to become involved in matters larger than ourselves, for which we ourselves are but ill-made. And were the worlds of many societies to flourish without us, we would also bear the burden of our non-involvment in the flow of life. Natural law demands we fulfill our capacity, no more or less.

We aspire towards a higher meaning - perhaps I should say, toward a Higher Meaning. Rainer Maria Rilke in one of his Duino Elegies spoke about how this higher meaning draws all the strings of ourselves up like the handle of a puppet, allowing the pile of sticks to become a dancing soul. He's right. We all locate without ourselves those forces which pull us together in the direction we judge to be most human and humane.

To what extent we can locate and pull ourselves up by this mysterious inner center, to that extent we have a beautiful, good and true life. A life of meaning and purpose can be found only within, and never without, since contingent conditions ultimately always change from person to person.

 
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