Slavoj Žižek

I am fascinated by this guy, but a huge mass of shifting, pudding-like terminology defeats me.

Is there an introduction to his thought in baby talk for those of us who haven’t spent years reading Hegelian, Marxist, and especially Lacanian texts? I’ve always had a difficult relationship with philosophical and sociological jargon. The kind of writing where words like “motion” and “face” and “violence” turn out to mean “black walnut ice cream,” “Terry and the Pirates,” and “egg.” Until the next page, where they all mean something else.

If it’s worth it to nail down enough terminology in advance to read the Zizzer, what’s a good prep?

I’d really like to read more serious intellectual stuff. The jargon factor just stops me and leaves me flailing in the pudding.

Meaning Well: Anti Irony #1

One of the worst things you can call someone now is “well-meaning.”

A well-meaning person is always doing the wrong thing. The phrase encompasses many sins. The well-meaning person is presumed to be ignorant of the world’s harsh ways, naive, gullible, and full of an unwarranted optimism especially about human nature. Arrogance or at least hubris is implied too, in that well-meaning people have an exaggerated view of their own ability to improve things.

One thing is certain: well-meaning people always make things worse. They’re always trying to feed babies when the real problem is that parents won’t work. Or getting in the way of a war because of the horrors thereof when the real problem can only be solved by winning the war. Or providing shelter for the poor when the real problem is the oppressive system that keeps them poor. Well-meaning people always seem to have band-aid solutions and don’t see the picture. Their attempts to make things better always result in disaster because of something called the Law of Unintended Consequences which says that every time you do something that seems to mean well it will mean more trouble later on, in the larger scheme of things.

The answer to the problem of the well-meaning is to accept that the world is a harsh place and embrace that harshness. In fact, one is supposed to embody the world’s hard ways. If someone misbehaves, punishment and force must be used. If there is a problem between governments, then it will inevitably result in war and it’s best to prosecute the war as soon as possible. If there is a social disaster like a famine or an economic crisis, it’s important that this “run its course”; mere half-measures like handing out food or shoes will only drag out the problem.

If a problem resists solution by bombing or jailing or some other harsh measures, then it is considered to be insoluble and part of the human condition. To say otherwise is, once again, to be “well-meaning.” Tough-minded hard-nosed adults understand how unforgiving and full of suffering things are and don’t try to change it. Only the very young and the fatally naive believe that things can be improved.

This is a place where Social Darwinism, Marxism, and Malthusian pessimism meet after having been thoroughly dumbed down into one idea: don’t try to be good. The task is impossible and will make you into a victim yourself. Worse still, it will obstruct the natural way of things which eventually resolves conflicts. The Tao of this worldview is cruelty, and you must flow with it.

This attitude is everywhere in my country. The admirable person is said to be hard-nosed, realistic, rational, sober, and tough. His opponents are softies, Pollyannas, illogical, giddy, and weak. It’s as though the Churchill-Chamberlain dichotomy was applied to every part of life: politics, religion, law, medicine, the arts, everything. You’re either a heroic bulldog war fighter or an umbrella-waving idiot appeaser.

The word “aggressive” is entirely positive in all contexts. It has come to mean “effective,” and anything labeled “passive” is by definition a failure. One roots out crime aggressively, and also treats disease aggressively, and even an aggressive prose style is given the seal of approval.

I urge you to resist this. Mean well.

Feed babies. Use band-aids on wounds. Give poor people 20 dollar bills and places to stay. Solve arguments without violence. Oppose cruelty and war. Be passive rather than aggressive. I urge you, in fact, to be a complete weenie and wussy, who can’t see that what’s needed is a short sharp shock. I urge you to think of criminals and drug addicts as salvageable improvable humans. I urge you to lose an argument more often and to resist an opportunity to destroy an enemy.

It’s true that our conscience doesn’t know how to manage a central bank or create a national water policy or stop the warmongering of dictators. And our conscience is naive about realpolitik and the tragedy of the commons and the necessity of breaking eggs to make metaphorical omelettes.

“Well-meaning” is our attitude when we listen to conscience. I am not ashamed.

Windbag alert and attention conservation notice

I have developed a manifesto-sized idea and am about to blog it out. You have been warned. Long essays making a large cultural point can’t be sold and published conventionally unless the author is a respected and eminent intellectual or a rock ‘n’ roll star. Those who can, do; those who aren’t, blog.

This may fizzle or may be several essays; I’m not sure where I’m going to pinch off the blog yet. Because of TL;DR in this post-literate medium I present some bullet points below for those who aren’t going to plow through the thing.

  • Irony is worse than dead, it’s suicidal.
  • Stop celebrating bad art, bad food, and evil. There’s a place for enjoying things that are so bad they’re good. It isn’t the place called “the entire culture.” Giving up on quality of any kind has more serious consequences than we might think.
  • Phony postmodernism kills. Take the risk of being well-meaning and sincere. A couple of poorly understood Cultural Studies classes does not confer the privilege of detached Godhood.
  • Permanent adolescence is no improvement over permanent childhood. Living our lives fully and meaningfully is a duty to others and not just to ourselves.
  • Subcultures, fandoms, and gaming worlds are eating a generation of privileged and educated people alive when we could and should be doing well and doing good. Come out of the couch fort and live.
  • Cheap fatalism is a crime of privilege. Admitting defeat in advance hurts many, many people less fortunate than we are before it touches us.

I freely admit in advance that I will be didactic, pretentious, and annoyingly prescriptive. It’s likely that I’ll also be irrelevant and that I will make a fool of myself. I have no formal training in philosophy or sociology and will probably reinvent various wheels poorly.

But sometimes an idea just arrives and possesses me. This one has sat on me for years, and is at the root of a troublesome fiction project that won’t budge. Tormenting my small audience with an unsaleable vanity-press think piece is the best I can do with it right now.

Further material in this series will be tagged “ironyproject.”

TO SERVE MAN

The Anthropic Principle is the most ridiculous thing I have seen produced by real grown-up scientists.

It’s fascinating in a train-wreck way to watch geeks reinvent wheels. Clearly there wasn’t any need to stay awake during Philosophy 10, much less do any reading on the subject later on when they got big ideas about the place of humanity in the universe.

THE GOAT IS ON THE POLE

goat

Goatonapole is the philosophy of being that holds that there is a Goat and a Pole and that the Goat is on the Pole. In the relation of Goat and Pole we Goatonapolists find an eternal thread of unfathomable cosmic significance, a point of reference in which all opposites dissolve into a unity of infinite breadth, a universal truth underlying the very fabric of existence. Upon contemplation of the Goat, the Pole, and their relative positions, one cannot help but realize that we’ve always been talking about Goatonapole. Whether we accept, reject, or live in ignorance of Goatonapole, we are all Goatonapolists.

http://www.goatonapole.com/

unsentimental hygiene

  1. I was already a member of this religion, and I just didn’t know it. I am quite serious, actually. I don’t feel that gathering in groups and acting like a religion makes too much sense, but all along the one thing I’ve known is that I don’t know anything.
  2. TABLETOP VIBRATOR FOR OFFICE USE. Actually if this thing worked better than most conference phones it’d be sorta cool.
  3. Meet John Rendon, the secret master of spin.

I repost this a couple of times a year.

Partly because it’s amusing, and partly because it sums up my feelings about impending doom of all kinds, from personal death to universal apocalypse. The topic of “we’re all screwed, and what’s to do?” has come up a lot lately. So here’s R.L. Stevenson, as quoted in Blyth’s Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, once again.

THE SINKING SHIP

By Robert Louis Stevenson, from Fables II

“SIR,” said the first lieutenant, bursting into the Captain’s cabin, “the ship is going down.”

“Very well, Mr. Spoker,” said the Captain; “but that is no reason for going about half-shaved. Exercise your mind a moment, Mr. Spoker, and you will see that to the philosophic eye there is nothing new in our position: the ship (if she is to go down at all) may be said to have been going down since she was launched.”

“She is settling fast,” said the first lieutenant, as he returned from shaving.

“Fast, Mr. Spoker?” asked the Captain. “The expression is a strange one, for time (if you will think of it) is only relative.”

“Sir,” said the lieutenant, “I think it is scarcely worth while to embark in such a discussion when we shall all be in Davy Jones’s Locker in ten minutes.”

“By parity of reasoning,” returned the Captain gently, “it would never be worth while to begin any inquiry of importance; the odds are always overwhelming that we must die before we shall have brought it to an end. You have not considered, Mr. Spoker, the situation of man,” said the Captain, smiling, and shaking his head.

“I am much more engaged in considering the position of the ship,” said Mr. Spoker.

“Spoken like a good officer,” replied the Captain, laying his hand on the lieutenant’s shoulder.

On deck they found the men had broken into the spirit-room, and were fast getting drunk.

“My men,” said the Captain, “there is no sense in this. The ship is going down, you will tell me, in ten minutes: well, and what then? To the philosophic eye, there is nothing new in our position. All our lives long, we may have been about to break a blood-vessel or to be struck by lightning, not merely in ten minutes, but in ten seconds; and that has not prevented us from eating dinner, no, nor from putting money in the Savings Bank. I assure you, with my hand on my heart, I fail to comprehend your attitude.”

The men were already too far gone to pay much heed.

“This is a very painful sight, Mr. Spoker,” said the Captain.

“And yet to the philosophic eye, or whatever it is,” replied the first lieutenant, “they may be said to have been getting drunk since they came aboard.”

“I do not know if you always follow my thought, Mr. Spoker,” returned the Captain gently. “But let us proceed.”

In the powder magazine they found an old salt smoking his pipe.

“Good God,” cried the Captain, “what are you about?”

“Well, sir,” said the old salt, apologetically, “they told me as she were going down.”

“And suppose she were?” said the Captain. “To the philosophic eye, there would be nothing new in our position. Life, my old shipmate, life, at any moment and in any view, is as dangerous as a sinking ship; and yet it is man’s handsome fashion to carry umbrellas, to wear indiarubber over-shoes, to begin vast works, and to conduct himself in every way as if he might hope to be eternal. And for my own poor part I should despise the man who, even on board a sinking ship, should omit to take a pill or to wind up his watch. That, my friend, would not be the human attitude.”

“I beg pardon, sir,” said Mr. Spoker. “But what is precisely the difference between shaving in a sinking ship and smoking in a powder magazine?”

“Or doing anything at all in any conceivable circumstances?” cried the Captain. “Perfectly conclusive; give me a cigar!”

Two minutes afterwards the ship blew up with a glorious detonation.