Hamlet and the Subjectivity of the Subject

Hamlet and the Subject

Much has been written about Hamlet, not merely the Shakesperian version we are most familiar with in the English-speaking western world, but all its variants found throughout various cultures, yet as far as I have read a seemingly obvious point has been consistently missed due to a particular a priori assumption.

The sort of ‘psychoanalytic’ literary critic is often drawn to this play due to the unusual psychology taking place in the story, and due to its homology with Oedipus Rex, a play that the psychoanalytic world since Freud has seen as seminal for understanding the mind. The usual plot of such critics assumes that the Hamlet story, if it can be referred to that way, is a more restrictive, socially restrained version of Oedipus; a homologous story where the literal “killing the father and marrying the mother is sublimated in a more complex social situation. While this storyline does point at certain truths, it suffers from a significant fallacy.

The fallacy can be seen via historiology and in some cases anthropology of cultures that are not historiological in themselves (though they may, for that reason, be more historical than we are). A version of the Hamlet story exists in most cultures, and while a version of Oedipus is also common, in virtually every culture the Hamlet story precedes the Oedipus story. Human beings apparently need to experience the sublimated, socially complex version prior to the more primal Oedipus story.

The main storyline in Hamlet, and the cause of its difficulty as a play (like most dramatic interpretations of the story, Shakespeare’s fails dramatically, precisely because the inability to act is a very difficult thing to act). The corollary to Hamlet’s inability to act through most of the story is his ‘madness’, which is at once more than feigned, yet less than real. The third piece of this particular puzzle is the naïve simplistic play Hamlet has the travelling players perform specifically for the usurping King, his father’s brother, and the usurping King’s response to it.

These corollaries centre on the notion of the Subject. In any monarchy, the head of the monarchy is not a Subject. When the King or Queen act, in a public and political manner, they act as the embodiment of the idea of the state. Who they are in a personal, private sense is in a way irrelevant, and in keeping with this irrelevance they do not use the pronoun “I”, but instead the ‘royal we”.

Hamlet is rightfully King, as such cannot act publicly or privately as a rational Subject, “I, Hamlet”; he is rightfully not a Subject, not “I, Hamlet”, since the I-Subject does not belong to the head of state. Were he to act to restore his proper Kingship, he would in that acting subvert the very right he would be acting in order to bring about. As a result he must act at least partially irrationally, even to himself. His ‘inspiration’ in organizing the play by the travelling players accomplishes precisely this kind of action, a seemingly irrational action not rationally understood even by Hamlet himself. The King, although without right, is still King. He remains so precisely until he reacts in the manner he does to the performance of the travelling players. This reaction, precisely because it is the action of a Subject, leaves the throne empty rather than filled unrightfully, and this brings about a very different situation.

Yet the performance is simplistic, almost childish. This is precisely what causes the unlawful King to be suddenly reduced to a Subject, and hence abdicate his position. While the difference between King and Subject is an external difference, a difference in social position, it is also for that reason part of the being of the persons involved. That being, or meaning, that people ascribe to themselves (generally through stories) mirrors the social being of shared meaning in a given society. What is represented to the Subject in each factical individual is always simplistic, even naive relative to what the Self understands in a given situation, and necessarily so. At the beginning of the metaphysical age, the age of the Subject, Plato referred to the Subject as the ‘calculating or measuring facility’. By this he meant measuring in the fullest meaning of the term, in the way we describe something as a ‘measured’ response, for example.

In the play Hamlet, what is represented simplistically to the false King is precisely the story that made him King. The simplistic version, as simplistic, is immediately re-presented to the King’s own Subject-facility, precisely what, as King, he should be without. His ‘subjective’ response changes the meaning of his being, where he becomes another Subject, which is always subject to whatever type of state society erects in a given instance. This abdication of Kingship leaves the throne open, and as such Hamlet can now act as King, albeit only partially and must perish in the act along with the false King, since having been a subject, he would be prey to any similar subjectivization.

Prior to the identification of the Subject and Self in Cartesian thought (and all the empiricist thought that followed Descartes) Shakespeare saw the Subject as both inherently a social construct, a function of being part of a state, and a particular one, one common only to Subjects of a given state, but not found in the representation of the state itself, the monarch. The Subject, as well, as the measuring and also judging facility, is necessarily only provided with simplistic representations of any given situation presented initially to the whole Self, in order to measure and judge actions in the situation. In the case of the play, this simplistic representation is achieved dramatically through the traveling players. But in the more usual case the simplified re-presentation can only be re-presented by that which experienced the presentation itself, and did so in a far more complex fashion. The representer that re-presents a situation to the Subject can be none other than the Self.

The re-presentation is necessarily simplified since the Self, knowing every knowable parameter of the situation, cannot make a swift and decisive judgement regarding the situation. The Subject, as pure subjectivity, is simultaneously purely objective, and this is the only possible meaning of objectivity insofar as it always must relate to a subjectivity. The Subject has no positive attributes, it is purely negative; it exists as that which receives representations and judges the measured and proper response and therefore has no inherent bias. However since the representation it works with always already only contains what the Self regards as most relevant, the subjective nature of the Subject’s judgement is a result of the polymorphic self-awareness of the Self. The Self and its World are, strictly speaking, the same, the Self is not against nature, society, gods or fate, since it is intertwined with all of these, yet it must appear as being so via the invental Subject. The naiveté of the Subject is due to its not being intertwined with the World.  The only differentiator between Self and World (both being, at root, everything you have experienced and retained) is that they are narrated differently.

Posted in philosophy | Leave a comment

Developing Software in the 21st Century, versus using Maven (and Git)

Maven is case of something written by a bunch of past-their-sell-by-date c-shell script kiddies who think autoconf is leading edge code automation and don’t understand that object code requires an object environment to be in any way efficient, either for development or deployment. Ant is bad enough, but Maven combines all the worst features of Ant and Ivy. It doesn’t create an object environment, and it doesn’t play well with tools that do.  On top of that it aids in massive code bloat in Java app deployments by assisting the developer in using multiple versions of libraries rather than taking the small amount of time necessary to update code, or doing without whatever whiz-bang feature in the new library  if it isn’t whiz-bang enough to justify taking that time.

Simply, an object environment should have all class objects, i.e. the objects that determine the types of objects available in the system, live and available in the system at all times, whether for development or testing, and any deployment should be the same, with non-referenced development/test only objects removed.  From there I can do whatever I want as a developer: instantiate multiple objects of a class, set up various sequences and instantiation rules, etc. etc. Since the environment should be completely live, I shouldn’t need a build tool at all – as soon as I save it the project should be built and running.

In terms of deploying my app, it’s not difficult for the environment to simply throw out all the class objects that are never referenced by code in the namespaces that make up my app. The garbage collector in the JVM does almost the same thing on the fly today, as do all Smalltalk environments except for the bastardized GNU version that shouldn’t qualify as a real Smalltalk anyway. At that point I have a deployment environment made up of my objects and all the objects (primarily class objects) that my objects reference, i.e. my application and all dependencies. This is how virtual machines work. (that our VMs are so poorly written we need to run a Spring VM on a Java VM on a Linux VM on a VMWare VM on another Linux VM is another example of the idiocy of current software development and deployment paradigms). When dependencies get updated, it’s simple enough for the environment to prompt the developer to merge his old code to the new libs, merge the code using the new libs down to the older version, or keep both versions. Prompting encourages the developer to make the slight modifications that are sometimes necessary to avoid having twenty versions of every library, while tools like Maven hide the fact that you have twenty versions and results in the massive runtime bloat common in Java apps.

In the Java development space Eclipse comes closest to being a proper object environment, although granted there are plenty of plugins that break the paradigm in various ways. Most of the reasons given for using Maven fall apart when examined critically.

Netbeans and Idea are overblown text editors, not object environments, but if you do want to use their tools for something not covered by the thousands of Eclipse plugins, both can import and maintain Eclipse projects, your build will just be inordinately slow compared to developers using Eclipse, but then, they’d be that slow if they were pure Netbeans or Idea projects anyway.

Not a serious reason to use Maven.

The ease of exporting / importing settings in Eclipse (something every team should do in any IDE in any case) makes the different settings problem nothing more than laziness on the part of the development team (or a religious argument over spaces vs tabs, lol).

Again, not a serious reason to use Maven.

Team environment? Show me a team that doesn’t already use a repository like GIT or SVN. Why do we need to duplicate both the functionality and the maintenance headache by setting up Nexus repos as well?

That one’s actually a good reason NOT to use Maven.

Running a server build? Great idea, now, shouldn’t that be kicked off by code that’s actually checked in to the source repo rather than a random build that happens to get pushed to Nexus? This brings up a point against Git, particularly Git with Maven. Since in Git I don’t work on a branch, test locally, then commit (partly because my local test doesn’t prove the server build works due to differences in the Maven configuration in Jenkins and Eclipse) I have to commit my changes to a different branch in order to see that the server Maven build fails, then commit a further change to fix the problem, resulting in an unreadable source history in the repo. Checked in code should at the very least build and pass unit tests, which if Git and Maven were out of the picture should be guaranteed.

Exporting a headless build from Eclipse is trivial if you actually look into it – all you need is ant or Gradle, the developer build already maintained by Eclipse, and a few Eclipse jars (Eclipse will export all the necessary files for a headless build to a directory or zip file, or ftp them to the build server). Server build tools like Hudson/Jenkins can pull updated code from most source repos and call any build script, there’s no dependency on Maven. With Maven you either force developers to use a tool not suited to anybody but build engineers (the magnitudes longer it takes to build, even using M2E, is sufficient for that case to be made), or you live with the possibility that the server build doesn’t work quite like the workstation build, which is still true if you go through all the hassle of integrating the two using the plethora of M2E plugins. Either way you get a slower and more fragile workstation build for the sake of an equally slow and more fragile server build. On every Maven based project I’ve worked on I’ve seen transient Hudson/Jenkins errors that don’t show up in Eclipse unless you have absolutely every possible M2E plugin installed and correctly configured, and most developers never do.

Seems like another great reason to avoid Maven.

That doesn’t cover some of the most fundamental problems with Maven, such as:

  1. its namespaces breaking Java namespaces and XML namespaces,
  2. it’s build unit (the POM) having no relation to anything in the actual deployment environment (think about it, when you separate via POMs what are you actually accomplishing in the finished product? Nothing. All it accomplishes is a false sense that you’ve separated concerns and functionality into different build units that all run as one monolithic piece of code);
  3. the hassle of manually maintaining complex configuration files, which only gets worse if you happen to need to use OSGi or another container and have to maintain other config files that affect and are affected by the Maven config with very little obvious sense to it;
  4. the problems caused by trying to run unit tests without a full environment for the code to execute in;
  5. the myriad versions not only of dependencies but of Maven specific plugins (I’ve actually seen JAR hell in the Maven build itself where multiple Maven plugins were using conflicting dependencies – one of the problems Maven was supposed to solve).

Yes, you can build object code with Maven. You can also write pure object code in C or even assembler, but I don’t know why you’d want to.

The best reason to avoid Maven is the phenomenal amount of work required to de-mavenize a set of projects when you get sick of all the problems noted above (and numerous others not mentioned).

The mindset, inherited from C development, that the development cycle consists of write code, compile, assemble, build, deploy, test, do over again, is hopelessly outdated in an object environment. At some point we need to tell all the people with this mindset that they need to relearn how to develop, period. Doing so would remove any need for Maven, Git, and a host of other tools that do nothing but waste time.

Object development should be done in a live object environment, where a code change is tested as it is saved since the modified object is live. Deployment should consist of removing development only artefacts from that environment, creating a runtime that has everything used by the running app in development and test.

I’m currently dealing with a problem caused by creating deployment assemblies for an OSGi app using the maven-assembly plugin. The app works perfectly in the Eclipse environment, which hot deploys all code changes into a running OSGi container within the environment. However the configuration doesn’t survive intact through the maven-assembly process, despite having a very good configuration/build engineer whose sole job is to accomplish that process. If we got rid of Maven (very difficult now due to the amount of code, but possible) and used the BNDTOOLS Eclipse plugin we could simply export the Eclipse build as an Ant or Gradle headless build (note, the OSGi developers who write BND and BNDTOOLS don’t support Maven, and for good reason, the Maven plugin is written by the Felix developers who themselves use Netbeans and Maven, and no live environment other than at the end of the deploy cycle), where both tools set up the same environment as Eclipse, without the GUI objects that are only meant for developers anyway. The result would be an identical configuration and build for deployment. This would easily save 2-3 hours per day per developer currently spent watching slow Maven or M2E builds, and free up the config/build engineer to do more testing of the app on the deployment hosts.

Getting over the mindset of write/compile/assemble/build/deploy/test is the only major impediment. Pretending you’re coding on a 1979 VT100 terminal instead of a modern machine doesn’t make you a ‘real’ developer, it just demonstrates that your methods are 35 years out of date.

Of the developers on the team, none of the others properly understands a live object environment like Eclipse sufficiently to get it to work as a live environment with M2E and OSGi, and they are top developers, they just haven’t been exposed to it due to the prevalence of outdated command line development tools. They only realized it was possible to do so when we were pair programming to solve the configuration problem and I was sharing my screen, causing one of the other team members to exclaim “that’s how you write code so damn fast”, when he saw my code change instantly test itself in the background OSGi container.

Btw I can use a bash shell when I have to, such as when I’m looking at logs on a remote server, in fact I do so fairly efficiently precisely so I can get out of that environment as quickly as possible and return to the 21st century.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Hobby Lobby Ruling – Corporations are not ‘Persons’, Nor Should They Be

The Hobby Lobby ruling on contraception not only went against the stated intent of the law used to justify it, it also went against the opinions of a large majority of Americans. The law used to justify it had the express purpose of preventing minority religious groups from being ‘bullied’ by majority groups, i.e. predominantly Christian jurisdictions preventing the building of Mosques or Synagogues despite zoning rules permitting places of worship and a sizable enough Islamic or Jewish minority wanting to build it. The stated intent of the law did not allow for it to be used for bullying people in the name of the majority religion. The majority religion is in no need of being legally protected, and applying a law expressly intended to do precisely the opposite is simply legal cheating on the part of the Supreme Court.

The gender identity employment equity law, which has been stuck in the house for years and will only get passed by executive order, if at all, also has the support of a large majority of Americans.

According to the most recent study I could find, in the first case 68% of Americans favor organizations legally having to provide contraception up to and including abortion. Even among fundamentalist Christians the figure only drops to 63% in favor. While unsurprisingly those who professed no religion and supported the legal obligation to provide contraceptive benefits exceeded the overall average, at 73%, the group most in favor were American Catholics, 78% of whom supported it.

With the gender identity equality law the same pattern emerged. Although 73% of Americans overall supported the law, a surprising 66% of fundamentalist Christians were among those in favor. Of those professing no religious affiliation the number was again higher, at 77%, while among American Catholics the support jumped to 83%.

While the high support among Catholics may seem counterintuitive given that the Catholic Church is officially against the activities themselves, it makes sense when you consider that for Catholics those are ethical decisions, and it’s not much of an ethical decision if someone else makes it for you.

I have no beef with Hobby Lobby’s owners being Christian, Islamic, Baha’i, Jewish, atheist or if they simply couldn’t care less. I have a problem with the thinking that one person’s beliefs are relevant in any way to anyone else, unless in some way the other person is directly affected in their person. And that has to mean another *person*, not an organization.  Particularly in the case of Hobby Lobby’s owners, their being as ‘corporate owners’ is being conflated with their being as ‘members of a religious group’ (and one that expressly forbids capitalist gain at that).  These are ontologically separate modes of being and no law can join them.  I understand the contradictions, precisely because they are two very compartmentalized areas of experience that for the most part have no relevancy to one another.  If they did there could be no interest on debt, nor any capital accumulation of any sort in a ‘Christian’ country.

I have a bigger problem with corporations gaining rights that pertain to individuals – corporations don’t have ‘faith’ or ‘political feelings’, they are aggregations of people aiming to produce a good or service, and by doing so remain in business, and aggregations don’t have thoughts and feelings, including the very complex intertwining of both known as ‘faith’. This aspect of the ruling bothers me more than the religious bullying involved – corporations already have plenty of power and privilege, but there’s no call to provide them with rights designed for individuals as well.

If corporations stick to their primary task, which is to continue existing, thus continuing to produce the goods or services they produce and keeping their employees employed, almost every ethical dilemma the board of a corporation faces is simply solved. Screwing over customers doesn’t make for longevity, nor does trying to maximize short term shareholder value, nor does treating employees badly. Corporations that take the tack that their proper motive is to maximize profits for shareholders inevitably fail in a short time, inevitably behave in an unethical manner towards employees and customers alike while they do remain in business, and end by screwing over the very shareholders they were supposedly trying to maximize profits for.

As it happens that I need to pick up a ‘craft’ item today, a link of chain to attach to a clasp for a piece of jewelry, Hobby Lobby would be an obvious place to go for such an item but I’ll go out of my way to go to Michael’s instead rather than support the constant addition of irrelevant and dangerous ‘rights’ to the vast privileges corporations already hold

Posted in philosophy | Leave a comment

How the Right and Left Misunderstand the Notion of Team Play, Collective Work and the Role of the Exceptional

It may seem odd to use world football, or soccer, as a paradigm for understanding how people actually work together. However one of the likely reasons for the sport’s rapid increase in popularity, becoming the most subscribed to socio-cultural endeavor in history in 150 years, is that its popularity is in part due to the way it does mimic many aspects of ‘real life’, while simultaneously being ‘just a game’.

Ann Coulter’s recent inane rant on the rise in popularity of the game in the United States gives away a huge number of assumptions that the right bases its ideas on. At the same time, a proper understanding of the game also shows some of the weaknesses in the way the left understands how a ‘team’ should work, whether in a sport or any other collective endeavor.

Coulter sees soccer as ‘inherently’ socialist due to its focus on the team as a whole unit, rather than the simpler one on one situations common to baseball (pitcher vs batter, thrower vs runner, etc.), or the systematic, directed plays used in American football.

Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer. In a real sport, players fumble passes, throw bricks and drop fly balls — all in front of a crowd. When baseball players strike out, they’re standing alone at the plate. But there’s also individual glory in home runs, touchdowns and slam-dunks.

In soccer, the blame is dispersed and almost no one scores anyway. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child’s fragile self-esteem is bruised. There’s a reason perpetually alarmed women are called “soccer moms,” not “football moms.”

Do they even have MVPs in soccer? Everyone just runs up and down the field and, every once in a while, a ball accidentally goes in.” – Ann Coulter

The complex interplay in soccer (and despite her protestations, basketball and hockey are far more soccer-like in this sense) is a team interplay. Despite this, Coulter’s claim that ‘blame is dispersed’ and ‘almost no one scores anyway’ is patently untrue: ask Michael Bradley about blame being dispersed after the last second goal concession to Portugal that put the U.S.’s chances of getting through the group stage at this years World Cup; if ‘almost no one scores’ and the ball just ‘accidentally goes in’, how does she account for players like Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez or van Persie, who consistently score more than anyone else in their respective leagues (and earn magnitudes more than their team mates as a result) ? Still, as idiotic as it is, there is a kernel of truth in it. Partly by virtue of using one’s feet rather than hands, there is more play for randomness in soccer than in baseball or football (which is why money-ball ownership doesn’t work well in soccer – there are too many undefinables to be able to calculate the impact of an individual player in advance, and owners and managers have to go on intuition rather than calculation, which can take more parameters into account, but isn’t as transparent or as simple as a calculative approach), and the way the team plays is crucial in terms of providing the opportunities to score that those players are the best at converting into goals. The right has very little understanding of team dynamics and how the systemic way a team interacts is precisely what provides opportunities that the exceptional are most able to capitalize on, while the left makes the mistake of seeing the exceptional as purely ‘lucky’, and doesn’t recognize that while opportunities are fashioned by the collective, they are most often taken up successfully by those that are exceptional in some manner relating to the specific opportunity.

Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli built a myth — the Legend of La U – around the collective. The idea that ordinary individuals acting in concert can achieve extraordinary things. And, make no mistake about it, with three or four obvious exceptions, the bulk of Chile’s players are no standouts.

It’s the basic concept that applies to almost any team sport. You may be better than your teammate at just about everything, but if he’s open and you’re not or if he’s better placed than you are, you get him the ball and place your trust in him. Space and positioning turn average players into good ones and good ones into greats. And it’s the system — and the diligence and selflessness with which it’s applied — that creates space and positioning.” – Gabriel Marcotti

Without other players making space and allowing playmakers to find the key pass and goal scorers to get opportunities to score, the exceptional players couldn’t be exceptional. This collective work, which may be done by a lot of hard working, but (relatively) unexceptional players, is a key ingredient in ‘total football’ and its descendants. Total football relies on a dynamic systemic understanding of the game, where the pitch is fluid and determined in its topology by the movements of the players, yet it remains true that the team with ‘quality’ in key positions, i.e. key exceptional players, is most likely to win any given game, since those are the players that can ‘convert chances’ created by the systemic play of the team.

The quote from Marcotti is from an article comparing Chile to Brazil, whom they face for the fourth time in world cup history today. While as he notes, Chile’s focus is on the team, on collective play, it is the exceptional players, Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez, who will be of most concern to Brazil. Brazil, for their part, focus on their exceptional players abilities and the rest of the team is expected to play to them. Even their goal scorer, or ‘finisher’, Fred, plays to create opportunities for playmakers like Neymar and Oscar to provide the chances that he then finishes.

That’s the theory, anyway. Because then you have the opposite end of the spectrum. One that looks a lot like Chile’s opponent today, Brazil. There is an obvious top-to-bottom qualitative gap between Luiz Felipe Scolari’s crew and the Chileans. But there is also a philosophical divergence, with blue-collar types serving the superstars.

Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho (or Fernandinho, should he get the start), the two center-backs, Hulk, even Fred the finisher are cogs in a machine that defers to Neymar, Oscar and the two full-backs. It’s not that the latter four don’t work hard, they do, it’s that, when in possession, they’re the difference-makers, they’re the ones with the licence — and the expectation — to create something positive. The rest of the side, very broadly speaking, works to put them in positions where they can generate opportunities. (This applies to Fred as well, whose main job is simply to provide an advanced reference point, create space through movement and convert opportunities.)

Put another way, it’s a team with specialists where players know their roles and there is no shame in deferring to those more talented. In a nutshell: Chile’s patterns are democratic in their distribution and predicated on the notion that danger can come from anyone at any time; Brazil’s based on the idea of getting the best guys in the best positions as often as possible.

At least, that’s the general idea. Because then there’s the X-factor and, in Chile’s case, his name is Arturo Vidal Erasmo Pardo. He may be the most complete midfielder in the world for the simple reason that he combines seemingly disparate skill sets — aggression, workrate, finishing, vision and creativity — in an athletic 5 feet 11 inches frame that makes him Chile’s biggest starter among outfield players.” – Gabriel Marcotti

If you like, Chile is focused as a social collective, while Brazil functions as a more class-based directed group. Yet to be successful against Brazil’s game, Chile can’t rely purely on the collective, but need the exceptional abilities of Arturo Vidal (and Alexis Sanchez) to utilize the situation the collective creates in a positive manner. While the leftist Chileans still need the exceptional, the rightist Brazilians are perhaps over-focused on those exceptions in their own squad.

If your difference maker is as immense as Vidal, why not look for him that little bit more and give him that little bit of extra responsibility, even at the expense of the fluidity, tactics and cohesion that got you there in the first place?

That’s the choice Sampaoli seems to be making today. It’s not a betrayal of his beliefs. It’s simply a tweak of the scales. And you wonder if maybe his opponent — who in that sense is at the opposite end of the spectrum — wouldn’t be better off making a similar tweak towards the center, taking some of the burden off Neymar.” – Gabriel Marcotti

Chile’s manager Sampaoli is rightly celebrated for his tactical approach and the collective discipline with which his players enact it, but to get to the next level requires ‘tweaking’ that approach to enable the exceptional to be exceptional. Simultaneously Scolari, the manager of Brazil, perhaps over relies on his superstars, and a shift towards the collective, towards the team as a team, would take pressure off them and allow the team more collective freedom, leading back to more opportunities for their exceptional players and a greater ease in converting them.

Right wing Randian types appear to have no understanding of the role the hard work of the collective plays in enabling the exceptional, or that luck is simultaneously part of any accomplishment. Left wing types over-ascribe the exceptionality of the exceptional to luck (yes, that they are exceptional is partly luck in itself, but that luck has to have been paired with hard individual work to get a player to the world-class level), not recognizing that the exceptional are more able to take advantage of the opportunities that the collective and luck presents to them.  Neither side appears to understand that in any situation what makes someone exceptional is precisely this ability.

Posted in philosophy | Leave a comment

Fundamentalism as a Response to Rationalism

Fredric Jameson has pointed out that the original topic of a narrative, the narrative “as such,” is the narrative of a Fall, of how things went wrong, of how the old harmony was destroyed (in the case of Hamlet, how the evil uncle overthrew the good father-king). This narrative is the elementary form of ideology, and as such the key step in the critique of ideology should be to invert it— which brings us back to Hegel: the story he is telling in his account of a dialectical process is not the story of how an original organic unity alienates itself from itself, but the story of how this organic unity never existed in the first place, of how its status is by definition that of a retroactive fantasy— the Fall itself generates the mirage of what it is the Fall from. The same paradox holds for belief: viewing the present as an era of cynical non-belief, we tend to imagine the past as a time when people “really believed”— but was there ever an era when people “really believed”? As Robert Pfaller demonstrated in his Illusionen der Anderen, 65 the direct belief in a truth which is subjectively fully assumed (“ Here I stand!”) is a modern phenomenon, in contrast to traditional beliefs-at-a-distance, such as underpin conventions of politeness or other rituals. Premodern societies did not believe directly, but at a distance, which explains the misreading inherent in, for example, the Enlightenment critique of “primitive” myths— faced with a notion such as a tribe having originated from a fish or a bird, the critics first take it as a literal belief, then reject it as naïve and “fetishistic.” They thereby impose their own notion of belief on the “primitivized” Other. We can see how the idea of an earlier age of naïve belief also follows the logic of the Fall: what it obfuscates is the fact that such belief is a retroactive fantasy generated by the “enlightened” present. In reality, people never “really believed”: in premodern times, belief was not “literal,” it included a distance which was lost with the passage to modernity.

Zizek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (p. 953). Norton.

 

A similar discrepancy can be observed even today between the ‘certainty’ of ‘modern’ belief  and the totalization that certainty implies in the United States, for instance, and the ‘at a distance’, comparatively lighthearted mode of Central and South American cultures.  That those countries are primarily Catholic rather than Protestant allowed the local pre-Christian style of belief to continue in a manner that Protestants in the U.S. find horrifying, since Catholicism rarely tried to do away with older beliefs, but simply incorporated them into its way of being Christian.

The origin of the ‘certainty’ that distinguishes the style of fundamentalist belief, though, is precisely the ‘modern’ science that views religion as a whole, never mind fundamentalist religion, as its enemy.  Fundamentalism took root in the U.S. precisely as a reaction to the totalizing certainty of the western scientific worldview, and is still less than a century old.  Similarly, Islamic fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon, not really taking hold until the 1970s, after many Islamic countries experienced an extended period of exposure to the western liberal scientific outlook.

That rationalism itself relies on an irrationally certain set of core assumptions that are theological in nature is problematic enough, but the fundamentalist style of belief is entirely dependent on the same certainty.

The ‘madness’ of fundamentalism is a response to the style of belief that originated in modern science and rationalism, precisely in that style.  Attributing that style of belief to premodern beliefs is pure revisionism.

Posted in philosophy | Leave a comment

A Quote Worth Reading

… the new community which the capitalists are now constructing will be a very complete and absolute community; and one which will tolerate nothing really independent of itself. Now, it is true that any positive creed, true or false, would tend to be independent of itself. It might be Roman Catholicism or Mohammedanism or Materialism; but, if strongly held, it would be a thorn in the side of the Servile State. The Moslem thinks all men immortal: the Materialist thinks all men mortal. But the Moslem does not think the rich Sinbad will live forever; but the poor Sinbad will die on his deathbed. The Materialist does not think that Mr. Haeckel will go to heaven, while all the peasants will go to pot, like their chickens. In every serious doctrine of the destiny of men, there is some trace of the doctrine of the equality of men.
 
But the capitalist really depends on some religion of inequality. The capitalist must somehow distinguish himself from human kind; he must be obviously above it—or he would be obviously below it. Take even the least attractive and popular side of the larger religions to-day; take the mere vetoes imposed by Islam on Atheism or Catholicism. The Moslem veto upon intoxicants cuts across all classes. But it is absolutely necessary for the capitalist (who presides at a Licensing Committee, and also at a large dinner), it is absolutely necessary for him, to make a distinction between gin and champagne. The Atheist veto upon all miracles cuts across all classes. But it is absolutely necessary for the capitalist to make a distinction between his wife (who is an aristocrat and consults crystal gazers and star gazers in the West End), and vulgar miracles claimed by gypsies or traveling showmen. The Catholic veto upon usury, as defined in dogmatic councils, cuts across all classes. But it is absolutely necessary to the capitalist to distinguish more delicately between two kinds of usury; the kind he finds useful and the kind he does not find useful. The religion of the Servile State must have no dogmas or definitions. It cannot afford to have any definitions. For definitions are very dreadful things: they do the two things that most men, especially comfortable men, cannot endure. They fight; and they fight fair.
 
Every religion, apart from open devil worship, must appeal to a virtue or the pretense of a virtue. But a virtue, generally speaking, does some good to everybody. It is therefore necessary to distinguish among the people it was meant to benefit those whom it does benefit. Modern broad-mindedness benefits the rich; and benefits nobody else. It was meant to benefit the rich; and meant to benefit nobody else. And if you think this unwarranted, I will put before you one plain question. There are some pleasures of the poor that may also mean profits for the rich: there are other pleasures of the poor which cannot mean profits for the rich? Watch this one contrast, and you will watch the whole creation of a careful slavery. In the last resort the two things called Beer and Soap end only in a froth. They are both below the notice of a real religion.
 
But there is just this difference: that the soap makes the factory more satisfactory, while the beer only makes the workman more satisfied. Wait and see if the Soap does not increase and the Beer decrease. Wait and see whether the religion of the Servile State is not in every case what I say: the encouragement of small virtues supporting capitalism, the discouragement of the huge virtues that defy it. Many great religions, Pagan and Christian, have insisted on wine. Only one, I think, has insisted on Soap. You will find it in the New Testament attributed to the Pharisees.
 
Chesterton, G. K. The G. K. Chesterton Collection (Kindle Locations 79032-79058)

 

Posted in philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why The God Delusion is Worthless by the Canons of Science

“the presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question.”

Richard Dawkins

If a correlation or hypothesis or law or probability expectation or theory or system pertains to empirical science, then (1) it involves sensible consequences, and (2) such consequences can be produced or at least observed. Inversely, empirical method prescinds from all questions and answers that do not involve distinctive sensible consequences; and it discards all that involve such consequences logically yet fail to be confirmed by the results of observation or experiment.

Lonergan, Bernard (1992-04-06). Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Volume 3: 003 (Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan) (Kindle Locations 2260-2264). University of Toronto Press. Kindle Edition.

“… as the canon of selection is not to be misinterpreted as a mere charter for obtuseness, still less is it to be taken as a mere excuse for logical fallacy. Questions that do not satisfy the canon of selection do not arise within the confines of empirical science, but it does not follow immediately that they do not arise at all. Issues that cannot be settled by observation or experiment cannot be settled by empirical method, but it does not follow immediately that they cannot be settled at all.”

Lonergan, Bernard (1992-04-06). Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Volume 3: 003 (Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan) (Kindle Locations 2279-2282). University of Toronto Press. Kindle Edition.

A datum of sense may be defined as the content of an act of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling. But the difficulty with that definition is that such contents do not occur in a cognitional vacuum. They emerge within a context that is determined by interests and preoccupations. Nor is this true merely of ordinary perceptions, of the milkmaid who laughed at Thales for falling into the well. It is more conspicuously true of the scientific Thales, so interested in the stars that he did not advert to the well. Accordingly, it would be a mistake to suppose that scientific observation is some mere passivity to sense impressions. It occurs within its own dynamic context, and the problem is to distinguish that cognitional orientation from the orientation of concrete living. To be alive, then, is to be a more or less autonomous center of activity. It is to deal with a succession of changing situations; it is to do so promptly, efficaciously, economically; it is to attend continuously to the present, to learn perpetually from the past, to anticipate constantly the future. Thus the flow of sensations, as completed by memories and prolonged by imaginative acts of anticipation, becomes the flow of perceptions. It is of the latter, perceptual flow that we are conscious. It is only when the perceptual flow goes wrong that the mere sensation bursts into consciousness, as for example in the experience of trying to go down another step when already one has reached the floor. Now what differentiates the perceptual flow in one man from that of another is found in the pattern of interests and objectives, desires and fears, that emphasize elements and aspects of sensible presentations, enrich them with the individual’s associations and memories, and project them into future courses of possible fruitful activity. In some such fashion, it would seem, must be explained the differences in the perceptions of men and women, of people in different occupations, different climates, different stages in human history. Hence to become a scientific observer is, not to put an end to perception, but to bring the raw materials of one’s sensations within a new context. The interests and hopes, desires and fears, of ordinary living have to slip into a background. In their place the detached and disinterested exigences of inquiring intelligence have to enter and assume control. Memories will continue to enrich sensations, but they will be memories of scientific significance. Imagination will continue to prolong the present by anticipating the future, but anticipations with a practical moment will give way to anticipations that bear on a scientific issue. Just as the woodsman, the craftsman, the artist, the expert in any field acquires a spontaneous perceptiveness lacking in other men, so too does the scientific observer. Still, there are differences in such developments, and to this fact the scientist alludes when he insists that scientific observation is a matter of seeing just what there is to be seen, hearing exactly whatever sounds are sounded, and so forth. This claim cannot, I think, be taken literally, for the impartial and accurate observer, no less than anyone else, is under the dominance of a guiding orientation. Still, the claim does possess its elements of truth, for the guiding orientation of the scientist is the orientation of inquiring intelligence, the orientation that of its nature is a pure, detached, disinterested desire simply to know. For there is an intellectual desire, an eros of the mind. Without it there would arise no questioning, no inquiry, no wonder. Without it there would be no real meaning for such phrases as scientific disinterestedness, scientific detachment, scientific impartiality. Inasmuch as this intellectual drive is dominant, inasmuch as the reinforcing or inhibiting tendencies of other drives are successfully excluded, in that measure the scientific observer becomes an incarnation of inquiring intelligence, and his percepts move into coincidence with what are named the data of sense.

Lonergan, Bernard (1992-04-06). Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Volume 3: 003 (Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan) (Kindle Locations 2294-2323). University of Toronto Press. Kindle Edition.

 

The problem with works such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins is thus threefold:

1. It deals with matters that cannot be decided by data of sense, no matter how complex the instrumentation used, nor how involved the reasoning applied.

2. The claim that if it is not a matter for science, it is not a matter for inquiry, is a non-sequitur, which implies that only one who is educated in and has spent significant thought on a matter is relevant to any discussion of the matter. Dawkins qualifies as neither by his own admission.

3. “… the guiding orientation of the scientist is the orientation of inquiring intelligence, the orientation that of its nature is a pure, detached, disinterested desire simply to know. For there is an intellectual desire, an eros of the mind. Without it there would arise no questioning, no inquiry, no wonder. Without it there would be no real meaning for such phrases as scientific disinterestedness, scientific detachment, scientific impartiality.”.

None of these orientations or resulting features of scientific observation are present in any of Dawkins’ works, but are conspicuously absent from The God Delusion and the debates he has been involved in around it.  As has been noted by others, the quote from Dawkins with which I began is pure idiocy from a scientific or philosophical perspective, the kind of idiocy that generally arises from the bigotry that is the real belief-system underlying the 800 or so pages of fallacies published as The God Delusion.

Posted in philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment