Thursday, September 27, 2007

Perspectivalism. a new word i dont like, but find useful

After being interested in Foucault for several years, because of his relation to Nietzche and anarchism, I'm finally seeing how his ideas pertain to my own interests. I've begun reading the Order of Things, which seeks to reconstitute commonly grouped together bodies of knowledge (science, econ, history) according to previously unknown, underlying epistemologies/meta-perspectives.

He seeks to examine the arbitrariness of conventional classifications such as biology&chemistry, Economics&Math. Breaking from all the obscure and reverent jargon of contemporary philosophy, we might say that what Foucault wants to do is show the genealogical grouping of sciences and humanities, thereby clarifying their actual status in history and taking away their seeming 'objective' and certain character. His conclusion is that the notion of man which philosophy and the sciences have grappled with is a recent invention, and, therefore, merely one phase that will go away some day. So that there will be an end to 'man' (or the concept as we know understand it.)

Taken out of the proud obscurantism of modern academia, we might see this endeavor as analogous to the 'deconstruction' of christian dogmas that have become commonplace over the last century. Instead of thinking of the books of the Christian bible as related by a continuous, and internally consistent theology, we find that the writers of various books had different theological views, and that the decision to include the books in the bible were made by still other individuals. Recently I read Misquoting Jesus, which shows the impossibility of stating that the modern version, the King James translation of the new testament, is a reliable account of the apostles and paul or that it is an intact revelation from god.

In reading The Order of Things, the payoff for me, is the experience of a totally different way of looking at familiar structures, undermining their seeming obviousness. It is an almost tactile sensation, like I can feel things breaking away and reshaping.

I guess this is something similar to what Foucault experienced in encountering a passage from Borges' regarding an imagined Chinese encyclopedia featuring an utterly absurd and contradictory taxonomy.

Inherent in the conception of said encyclopedia is that, in Alien China, why wouldn't we find classifications, or organizations of knowledge that seemed inconceivable and attacked our intellectual comfort, or the very solidity of our comprehension. Another example that comes to mind is Xerxes scourging of the Hellespont as reported by Herodotus (What kind of world view makes you whip the water to punish it?)

I want to note that Borges and Herodotus were exoticizing the orientals, and the actual unity of human nature is displayed in the Persians and Chinese' willingness to return the favor.

On the other hand, even the imagined alien perspectives of those savage and inscrutable orientals can serve to expand consciousness. The very conceiving of a perspective contrary to our own expands are minds, to the extent that we fully experience the 'reality' of such a perspective.

Studying logic and philosophy in my late teens and early twenties helped me to see the common patterns of theories in general. So, if I get stuck on the details of a book on science (I often do,) I can get the feel of where the writer is going and what conclusions he wants to bring me to. If i get lost in the numbers of an economic debate (I always do,) I can still get the general premises by looking at the apparently opposed arguments.

Philosophy helped me to expand my consciousness out over many general structures of human thinking, both prescriptive and analytic. After going from my default religious understanding to the broad patterns of philosophy, I was then able to fill in a lot of other gaps in between, such as what it meant to believe something, the classifications of belief I had gone through, the classifications of beliefs that I encountered, the many typical ways people argue for things, and the simple notion of knowledge structure and hierarchy.

In contrast, I have struggled with basic neuroscience for years now mostly because of my need to integrate things into systems with human meanings. Or to see parts of a system as features in a systemic process. But all the sections of the brain, different kinds of neurons, electrical gradiances, and neurotransmitters have to be memorized as mere elements of the brain, without a big scheme to place everything in, like with cars or science. The general function of these elements in the manifestation of mind (neural correlates of consciousness) have not been worked out in any complete way.

Another example contrary to the pattern of learning discussed above is my eternal battle with math. Every time I start to grasp principles, definitions, or formulas, i am undone instantly by the arithmetic.

Studying languages has been much more conducive to my need to for learning by systemic foreignness and systemic consistency. In learning Chinese, by immersion and repetition, has caused me to recall the bits of Vietnamese and Spanish that I learned in the States but never used. Also, it has helped me to start learning bits of other languages and some notions in subjects in linguistics. In regards to English, it has given me a much better perspective on word usage, dialectical variation, and slang.

I first heard this horribly awkward phrase last week in a lecture series called Great Minds of the West, 2nd edition。

The particular lecture was on Nietzsche. Nietzsche has generally been referred to as advocating perspectivism. But this guy was saying perspectivalism as in pur-spec-tie -valism. How come i read so much Nietzsche and never saw that word? Walter Kaufmann never used it that i can recall. But maybe I've forgotten. Anyways if everyone else gets past the awkwardness of the word, than I'm down too.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

NON-FICTION: What so many still ignore about ayn rand

The false dichotomy of (Christ I hate to even have to mention it again! ) selfishness vs. altruism was neatly dealt with quite a while ago, by Ayn Rand, among others. I recently started thinking about Objectivism again and checked out whats being written about her in the news. I found that, as in the past, her idea of rational self-interest is related as advocacy of mere self-interest or selfishness, a super race, as opposition to charity, as advocacy of greed.

A recent NY Times articles starts with this description:

For years, Rand’s message was attacked by intellectuals whom her circle labeled “do-gooders,” who argued that individuals should also work in the service of others. Her book was dismissed as an homage to greed.

Here we see a successful attempt to leave the reader with a conclusion by pointing around its edges. The implication is that she or her ideas were opposed to doing "work in the service of others.", since that's what her attackers believed. The key in this statement is the meaning of serivce. "Service of duty" is different than "Customer service" or "Serving your fellow man"

It would not be as rhetorically effective to clarify that she was not opposed to doing things for other people or dedicating your energy to the benefit of other people, rather, she was merely opposed to being forced to do so against ones will, and the notion that this was moral.

Stated that way, her opposition to "service of others" is not at all shocking. Then why don't people just say Ayn Rand believed that everyone should follow their selfish interest as determined by rational thinking? I think, part of it, is the general peer-approved dismissal of certain individuals or ideas that most people engage in to varying degrees, but its also a sense that Rand, or her ideas, are bad anyways, so to resort to inaccurate description of those beliefs is justified; because she's one of the bad guys(or she's shamefully masquerading as a real intellectual/philosopher.)

In regards to including the primacy of reason in Rand's philosophy when mentioning her morality, the Conservative Voice comes closer: They use the term "rational", but only in reference to their “Rational Christian Response to Ayn Rand." Avoiding the use of her own descriptions they offer a somewhat agile (in terms of organization) refutation of her morality.

There is a difference between selfness and selfishness. The first involves proper Biblical love and care for oneself as God intends. The latter is based on ego and pride. Christianity is not against legitimate self-interest. We are created in God's image so, of course, God would want us to love ourselves as well as to love others.

Of course, then, God would want us to love others against our own interest, except that if we do what he says, we are supposed to get to go to Heaven- according to most Christians - so then it is in our interest to follow God's plan of salvation. Furthermore, God only dislikes illegitimate self-interest, and since that magic word is readily understood by all humans, instantaneously and without need of contemplation, then who would oppose Christian morality on the grounds of self-interest. Oh, I see, they might oppose Jesus's doctrine of self interest, yeah, but only if they believed in .....
illegitimate self-interest. But why would Rand do that? "Illegitimate" means its wrong!

Obviously its good etiquette to utilize clarifying clauses when employing synonyms of "right" and "wrong," this prevents one from sounding like a proponent of Orthodoxy over Heresy. Even better would be to replace such terms with words that relay the content of your evaluation or standards for judging what you are discussing.

For example, Rand's consistent emphasis of rational individualism and rational morality communicate that she holds morality to be subject to thinking and decisions of humans. These statements do not relate the content of her notions of rationality, but they do allow anyone and everyone to understand that she was not an advocate of 'just doing whatever or you want;' a phrase often repeated by heavy hearted, responsible moralists, who are offended at the idea that being good could have anything to do with selfishness. Instead, they know very well that loving our neighbors and doing whats right by our fellow man is naught but altruism.

Anyways, its been about half a century since Rands ideas (Objectivism) first started spreading. And, to this day, there is still the same tendency to dismiss her by using statements of her beliefs which are not at all accurate.

But I'm so negative that I didn't mention that other articles i read (all mentioning Rand as related to Greenspan) were pretty neutral: A Cameo for the Maestro? and

A cryptic look back, and a shot for Bush

I am not an Objectivist and find their overall system stifling, but I am annoyed by the lack of clarity and simple honesty that so often has dominated in the assertions of Rand's opponents. If we are clear enough on our opponents errors, we should be able to state their beliefs in their own words, without fear that our audience will be persuaded to their side. I am passionately opposed to many ideas, such as property rights, the state, capitalism, hierarchy, heroism, etc. But I hope I am beyond the need to hide beyond slander and misrepresentations of those beliefs.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

NON-FICTION: Dream: Openly Bejing backed US candidate

Dreamt that i was on some plane/cruise (it was opposed to be a plane i think, but it had staircases, internet terminals, etc. i saw the daily show and [sam b] pissed off john stewart by deviating from the script in some way.)

Anyways, a bunch of us were watching the news, there was an ethnic chinese guy running for office, he was accused of being totally backed by beijing, and he said on the news show: Yeah, Im so and so, Im backed by Beijing and Im going to win [the office]. Then they interivewed regular people to see their opinion and one woman said " i was listening to limbaugh today and ...." another lad referred to him as Beijing [billy].

It makes sense, even if he's of foreing birth. Schwarzenegger's attempts to change the constitution to let him be pres, could lead to the usual acceptance/apathy by the general populace and media, wherein the media anounces "a new era in politics" and people debate it on their political shows (quarantines for action) . So without any of us deciding to accept it, it becomes a new part of us, like the Dept for Homeland Security.

After it becomes part of our reality, then the adapting strategists of the red motherland realize how much more you can get done when you are brazen about the objectionable things you do in the modern media world. They will have plenty of examples of their own disastrous secrecy and the combination of lies and brazenness used by US politicians (and the rest of the countries.)

They will kick off this campaign including the tactic of being open about beijing [billy's] backing. He's a young guy, probably raised in the US or equivalent, maybe he was even born in the US.

Anyways, they realize they want to install this guy in office to increase their influence, but they know that everyone is just gonna use the fact that he's supported by beijing to discredit. So, they decide just put that upfront and it will lose its power.

The one implication of my dream that disturbs me is that Mr. LImbaugh will still be on the air by the time Beijing is clever enough to use brazenness in its support of US politicians.