Pierce: I have a set of rules

A man beats everyone else at chess. People say, “How clever, how intelligent, what a marvelous mind he has, what a superb thinker he is.” The man is asked, “How do you play so that you beat everyone?” He says, “I have a set of rules which I use in arriving at my next move.” People are indignant and say, “Why that isn’t thinking at all; it’s just mechanical.”

SOURCE: John R. Pierce, An Introduction to Information Theory, Chapter 11: Cybernetics

Jung: What does power avail us?

I have banished my father and mother so that you can live with me.
I have turned my night into day…
I have overthrown all the Gods, broken the laws, eaten the impure.
I have thrown down my sword and dressed in women’s clothing.
I shattered my firm castle and played like a child in the sand.
I saw warriors form into line of battle and I destroyed my suit of armor with a hammer.
I planted my field and let the fruit decay.
I made small everything that was great and made great everything that was small.
I exchanged my furthest goal for the nearest, and so I am ready.

However, I am not ready, since I have still not accepted that which chokes my heart. That fearful thing is the enclosing of the God in the egg… What is blasphemy compared to this? I would like to be able to blaspheme against the God: That way I would at least have a God whom I could insult, but it is not worth blaspheming against an egg that one carries in one’s pocket. That is a God against whom one cannot even blaspheme.

I hated this pitifulness of the God. My own unworthiness is already enough. It cannot bear my encumbering it with the pitifulness of the God. Nothing stands firm: you touch yourself and you turn to dust. You touch the God and he hides terrified in the egg. You force the gates of Hell: the sound of cackling masks and the music of fools approaches you. You storm Heaven: stage scenery totters and the prompter in the box falls into a swoon. You notice: you are not true, it is not true above, it is not true below, left and right are deceptions. Wherever you grasp is air, air, air.

But I have caught him, he who has been feared since time immemorial: I have made him small and my hand surrounds him. That is the demise of the Gods: man puts them in his pocket. That is the end of the story…

But how did this happen? I felled the Great One, I mourned him, I did not want to leave him, since I loved him because no mortal being rivals him. Out of love I devised the trick that relieved him of heaviness and freed him from the confines of space. I took from him–out of love–form and corporeality. I enclosed him lovingly in the maternal egg. Should I slay him..? Should I shatter the delicate shell of his grave and expose him to the weightlessness and unboundedness of the winds of the world? But did I not sing the incantations for his incubation? …I want to love my God, the defenseless and hopeless one. I want to care for him, like a child.

…a God child should arise from my maternal heart…Only he who loves the God can make him fall, and the God submits to his vanquisher and nestles in his hand and dies in the heart of him who loves him and promises him birth….

What does power avail us? We do not want to rule. We want to live…

SOURCE: Carl Jung, The Red Book (Liber Novus), written 1914-1930

Greer: Magic is the reset button

Sooner or later, the things that have been excluded from the world by any given rationalist system will include things that can’t be ignored without putting the survival of the civilization at risk, and when those things are ignored anyway, as they normally are, the consequences are all too familiar from the historical record. That’s why rationalist movements in their final years, when it finally becomes impossible to ignore those things any longer, always end up making peace with the realms of magic, myth, and religion they‘ve previously spent so many years and so much effort denouncing. To put the same thing another way, that’s why the magic or the esoteric religion of a waning civilization ends up absorbing the heritage of that civilization’s broken-down rationalism, repurposing it to cope with the unmet needs of its time, and placing it in a context of practice that keeps it from blinding itself with its own abstractions quite so readily as when it’s given free rein.

Magic…is the reset button for minds that have allowed their worlds, their representations, to get out of sync with the reality those representations are meant to describe. In all ages, that’s highly useful for individuals; at certain times, which recur with remarkable predictability in the lives of civilizations, that’s necessary for entire societies. We live in such a time, in case you haven’t noticed.

SOURCE: John Michael Greer, “The Clenched Fist of Reason”, 7/20/2014

If there are any among you who do not already subscribe to Greer’s relatively new blog The Well of Galabes, do check it out. I say this as someone with zero supernatural belief. Rather, I believe that what we’ve let pass for rationality doesn’t really deserve the title.

Woolf: Our isolation, our preparation, is over

[Bernard:] ‘We who yelped like jackals biting at each other’s heels now assume the sober and confident air of soldiers in the presence of their captain. We who have been separated by our youth… now come nearer; and shuffling closer on our perch in this restaurant where everybody’s interests are at variance, and the incessant passage of traffic chafes us with distractions, and the door opening perpetually its glass cage solicits us with myriad temptations and offers insults and wounds to our confidence–sitting together here we love each other and believe in our own endurance.’

‘Now let us issue from the darkness of solitude,’ said Louis.

‘Now let us say, brutally and directly, what is in our minds,’ said Neville. ‘Our isolation, our preparation, is over. The furtive days of secrecy and hiding, the revelations on staircases, moments of terror and ecstasy.’

‘Old Mrs Constable lifted her sponge and warmth poured over us,’ said Bernard. ‘We became clothed in this changing, this feeling garment of flesh.’

‘The boot-boy made love to the scullery-maid in the kitchen garden,’ said Susan, ‘among the blown-out washing.’

‘The breath of the wind was like a tiger panting,’ said Rhoda.

‘The man lay livid with his throat cut in the gutter,’ said Neville. ‘And going upstairs I could not raise my foot against the immitigable apple tree with its silver leaves held stiff.’

‘The leaf danced in the hedge without anyone to blow it,’ said Jinny.

‘In the sun-baked corner,’ said Louis, ‘the petals swam on depths of green.’

‘At Elvedon the gardeners swept and swept with their great brooms, and the woman sat at a table writing,’ said Bernard.

‘From these close-furled balls of string we draw now every filament,’ said Louis, ‘remembering, when we meet.’

‘And then,’ said Bernard, ‘the cab came to the door, and, pressing our new bowler hats tightly over our eyes to hide our unmanly tears, we drove through streets in which even the housemaids looked at us, and our names painted in white letters on our boxes proclaimed to all the world that we were going to school with the regulation number of socks and drawers, on which our mothers for some nights previously had stitched our initials, in our boxes. A second severance from the body of our mother.’

‘And Miss Lambert, Miss Cutting and Miss Bard,’ said Jinny, ‘monumental ladies, white-ruffed, stone-coloured, enigmatic, with amethyst rings moving like virginal tapers, dim glow-worms over the pages of French, geography and arithmetic, presided; and there were maps, green-baize boards, and rows of shoes on a shelf.’

‘Bells rang punctually,’ said Susan, ‘maids scuffled and giggled. There was a drawing in of chairs and a drawing out of chairs on the linoleum. But from one attic there was a blue view, a distant view of a field unstained by the corruption of this regimented, unreal existence.’

‘Down from our heads veils fell,’ said Rhoda. ‘We clasped the flowers with their green leaves rustling in garlands.’

‘We changed, we became unrecognizable,’ said Louis. ‘Exposed to all these different lights, what we had in us (for we are all so different) came intermittently, in violent patches, spaced by blank voids, to the surface as if some acid had dropped unequally on the plate. I was this, Neville that, Rhoda different again, and Bernard too.’

‘Then canoes slipped through palely tinted yellow branches,’ said Neville, ‘and Bernard, advancing in his casual way against breadths of green, against houses of very ancient foundation, tumbled in a heap on the ground beside me. In an access of emotion–winds are not more raving, nor lightning more sudden–I took my poem, I flung my poem, I slammed the door behind me.’

‘I, however,’ said Louis, ‘losing sight of you, sat in my office and tore the date from the calendar, and announced to the world of ship-brokers, corn-chandlers and actuaries that Friday the tenth, or Tuesday the eighteenth, had dawned on the city of London.’

‘Then,’ said Jinny, ‘Rhoda and I, exposed in bright dresses, with a few precious stones nestling on a cold ring round our throats, bowed, shook hands and took a sandwich from a plate with a smile.’

‘The tiger leapt, and the swallow dipped her wings in dark pools on the other side of the world,’ said Rhoda.

‘But here and now we are together,’ said Bernard. ‘We have come together, at a particular time, to this particular spot. We are drawn into this communion by some deep, some common emotion. Shall we call it, conveniently, “love”..?

‘No, that is too small, too particular a name. We cannot attach the width and spread of our feelings to so small a mark. We have come together (from the North, from the South, from Susan’s farm, from Louis’ house of business) to make one thing, not enduring–for what endures?–but seen by many eyes simultaneously. There is a red carnation in that vase. A single flower as we sat here waiting, but now a seven-sided flower, many-petalled, red, puce, purple-shaded, stiff with silver-tinted leaves–a whole flower to which every eye brings its own contribution.

‘After the capricious fires, the abysmal dullness of youth,’ said Neville, ‘the light falls upon real objects now. Here are knives and forks. The world is displayed, and we too, so that we can talk.’

SOURCE: Virginia Woolf, The Waves, 1931

Benet: Earth’s too small for something in our earth

The ant finds kingdoms in a foot of ground
But earth’s too small for something in our earth,
We’ll make a new earth from the summer’s cloud,
From the pure summer’s cloud.
                               It was not that,
It was not God or love or mortal fame.
It was not anything he left undone.
–What does Proportion want that it can lack?
–What does the ultimate hunger of the flesh
Want from the sky more than a sky of air?

He wanted something. That must be enough.

SOURCE: Stephen Vincent Benet, “John Brown’s Body”, 1928

Jason Healey: Flip the historic relationship, giving the defenders the advantage

One year after the Snowden revelations of NSA spying, it is worth looking at what is really at stake.

Imagine that twenty years after Johannes Gutenberg invented mechanical movable type, the Pope and the petty princes of Europe—in fact, anyone who tried hard enough—had the ability to determine exactly what was being printed, exactly who was printing it and exactly to whom they were sending it. Worrying about intellectual-property theft, privacy or civil rights (had those concepts existed) would have been missing the bigger picture.

The only way to ensure the Internet remains as free, resilient, secure and awesome for future generations is to flip the historic relationship, giving the defenders the advantage over attackers.

Giving cyber defenders the advantage of the high ground is just barely imaginable with a push for new technology, policy, and practice, which is applied patiently, internationally, at scale and with the private sector at the fore. It is not imaginable if nations continue to escalate large-scale espionage or mass surveillance, subvert Internet companies, engage in shadowy wars against real adversaries or coerce former satellite states.

America’s national-security community gives lip service to these dangers, but is in fact enamored of the benefits of cyberspying and cyberattacking. Of course, the president should have these tools at his disposal, but then again, every other national leader wants the same privilege, and the U.S. digital economy is perhaps more open to disruption than any other. America’s cyberexperts in the military understand this, but feel if the United States has gone too far, it will be okay because “the pendulum always swings back.”

But the earth doesn’t care who claws at its back; the sea doesn’t know who pollutes its waves. The Internet does know. Unlike the air, land or sea, it was built by us and it can be changed by us. In short—the pendulum can get stuck. Perhaps the Internet is no longer a Wild West, but rather a war-torn, failed Somalia. Every time we try to rebuild the Internet—to be as safe and secure as it used to be—there is (and will be) some new threat to drag it down into chaos, with devastating consequences to America’s IT-dependent economy and those of us who have come to love our online lives.

How many future Renaissances or Enlightenments will never occur simply because we treated the Internet as a place for crime, spying and warfare (“everyone does it” after all), rather than the most innovative and transformative product of human minds in five hundred years?

SOURCE: Jason Healey, “The Internet: A Lawless Wild West?”, 6/11/2014

Sloterdijk: We must replace the romanticism of brotherliness with the logic of cooperation

There is, of course, a dark side to the story Sloterdijk is telling us in You Must Change Your Life. This centers on programs for social engineering and the re-engineering of humans that has been a hallmark of social modernity since 1789. Sloterdijk thus speaks of “the moral-historical caesura of the Modern Age” as an era in which there is a change from “individual metanoia” to a mass reconstruction of the human condition from the roots, as it were. Modernity is in part, therefore, to be understood as the process that radically secularizes and collectivizes the life of practice by removing asceticisms from their spiritual contexts and dissolving them “in the fluid of modern societies of training, education, and work.” Now, the disciplinary measures and imperatives of modernity establish themselves on all fronts of human self-intensification. In the modern period, we have witnessed the conversion of Europe into a training camp for human improvements on a multitude of fronts, such as the school, the military context, as well as the arts and sciences.

For Sloterdijk, we misunderstand the Russian Revolution if we understand it simply as a political event. It’s better comprehended as an anthropotechnic movement in a socio-political guise. Bolshevism was an experiment in biopolitics, a politics of absolute means, a “culture of camps” that invoked the French Revolution and took over the sanctification of terror of the Jacobins. Sloterdijk thus contends that the birth of modern extremism as an entrepreneurial form can be dated precisely to September 5, 1918, when Lenin decreed on Red Terror, stating that enemies needed to be incarcerated in camps and eliminated step by step. Sloterdijk is unforgiving in his criticism: “While the denial of Nazi crimes is rightly treated as a punishable crime in some countries, the atrocities of the Marxist archipelago are still considered peccadilloes of history in some circles.” Sloterdijk judiciously alerts us to the dangers of moralism, indeed, of the inclination towards “moral-demonic excess.” He astutely notes that the 20th century was the most instructive period in world history for understanding man-made catastrophes. What was demonstrated in the century was the fact that the greatest “disaster complexes” came about in the form of projects designed to assume control of the course of history from a single center of action.

Sloterdijk appeals to the inevitability of a normative component in the activity of theory. He argues that a study of this kind, which is basically an exercise in “practice-anthropology,” cannot be simply carried out in a detached and unbiased fashion. He contends that every discourse on man goes beyond the limits of description and pursues a normative agenda (whether this is made explicit or not). He maintains that this was in fact clearly visible in the early Enlightenment of Europe and at a time when anthropology was established as the original civil science.

Sloterdijk appeals also to the sublime in his concluding reflections, claiming that if you hear the call without defenses, then you will experience the sublime in a personally addressed form. Here the sublime refers to the “overwhelming” and is as personal as death and as unfathomable as the world… Sloterdijk is on firmer footing when he notes that today the only authority that is still in a position to exhort us to change our lives is the global crisis. “Humanity” needs to become a political concept, he argues, in which a romanticism of brotherliness is replaced by a logic of co-operation and in which the members of this humanity are not naïve travellers on some ship of fools, such as Enlightenment ideas of abstract universalism, but “workers on the consistently concrete and discrete project of a global immune design.”

For Sloterdijk, there remains an important lesson to be learned from the example of Communism: …its recognition that the shared interests of life require for their realization a horizon of universal co-operative asceticisms. It’s this communism of the future that, for Sloterdijk, will have to assert itself sooner or later, pressing the need for a “macrostructure of global immunization” or “co-immunism.” In short, we need to make the decision to take on the good habits of “shared survival in daily exercises.” Sloterdijk leaves it to us, his readers, to work out the ethical and political details of this ecological conception of a new future humanity.

SOURCE: Keith Ansell-Pearson, “Philosophy of the Acrobat: On Peter Sloterdijk”, 7/8/2013

ESO: Their unconcern ate a hole into the heart of the King

Now the King of Abagarlas saw the chapel of lights that was the pride of Delodiil, and he said, “Is not Abagarlas as great a city as Delodiil? We shall have a great chapel of our own.” And he decreed that much of the wealth of Abagarlas be spent in the building of a shrine to his own patron Divine, who was the Lord Mola Gbal. And the people of Abagarlas reared up a vast shrine to Mola Gbal, but they were but rude soldiers rather than artisans, and the shrine was misshapen, ill-colored, and burdensome to look upon. But it was, nonetheless, larger than Delodiil’s chapel of lights, and thus the King of Abagarlas boasted that his city was greater therefore than Delodiil. But the people of Delodiil evinced no dismay, and went about their business as before.

And this unconcern of the Delodiils ate a hole into the heart of the King of Abagarlas, and he was vexed unto madness. He sent soldiers to profane the small shrine to Merid-Nunda in Abagarlas, and then went to his vast shrine to Mola Gbal, where he swore a mighty oath. And slaying a family of visiting Delodiils on the altar, the King vowed that he would gather his army, march across the valley, and capture all the Delodiils, sacrificing them to Mola Gbal within the chapel of lights.

…But when the King and his army arrived they found the land empty, for the city of Delodiil was gone, unto every brick!

And the King thought he heard laughter in the lights in the skies, mirth that turned to shrieks of fear that came, not from above, but from back across the valley. In haste the King marched his soldiers back to his city, but when they arrived at Abagarlas, they found it utterly destroyed as if by scorching light. And of the families of the soldiers and the King, nothing could be found but their shadows burnt into the walls of the city.

Thus Abagarlas. But of the fate of Delodiil, nothing more was known.

SOURCE: “The Whithering of Delodiil,” Elder Scrolls lore book, 2014

DFW: Your freedom is the freedom-from. But what of the freedom-to?

‘There are no choices without personal freedom, Buckeroo. It’s not us who are dead inside. These things you find so weak and contemptible in us–these are just the hazards of being free.’

‘But what does this U.S.A. expression want to mean, this Buckeroo?’

Steeply turned to face away into the space they were above. ‘And now here we go. Now you will say how free are we if you dangle fatal fruit before us and we cannot help ourselves from temptation. And we say “human” to you. We say that one cannot be human without freedom.’

Marathe’s chair squeaked slightly as his weight shifted. ‘Always with you this freedom! For your walled-up country, always to shout “Freedom! Freedom!” as if it were obvious to all people what it wants to mean, this word. But look: it is not so simple as that. Your freedom is the freedom-from: no one tells your precious individual U.S.A. selves what they must do. It is this meaning only, this freedom from constraint and forced duress.’ Marathe over Steeply’s shoulder suddenly could realize why the skies above the coruscating city were themselves erased of stars: it was the fumes from the exhaust’s wastes of the moving autos’ pretty lights that rose and hid stars from the city and made the city Tucson’s lume nacreous in the dome’s blankness of it. ‘But what of the freedom-to? Not just free-from. Not all compulsion comes from without. You pretend you do not see this. What of freedom-to? How for the person to freely choose? How to choose any but a child’s greedy choices if there is no loving-filled father to guide, inform, teach the person how to choose? How is there freedom to choose if one does not learn how to choose?’

Steeply threw away a cigarette and faced partly Marathe, from the edge: ‘Now the story of the rich man.’

Marathe said ‘The rich father who can afford the cost of candy as well as food for his children: but if he cries out “Freedom!” and allows his child to choose only what is sweet, eating only candy, not pea soup and bread and eggs, so his child becomes weak and sick: is the rich man who cries “Freedom!” the good father?’

Steeply made four small noises… Marathe could believe he could hear some young U.S.A. voices shouting and laughing in a young gathering somewhere out on the desert floor below, but saw no headlights or young persons. Steeply stamped a high heel in frustration. Steeply said:

‘But U.S. citizens aren’t presumed by us to be children, to paternalistically do their thinking and choosing for them. Human beings are not children.’

Marathe pretended again to sniff.

‘Ah, yes, but then you say: No?’ Steeply said. ‘No? you say, not children? You say: What is the difference, please, if you make a recorded pleasure so entertaining and diverting it is lethal to persons, you find a Copy-Capable copy and copy it and disseminate it for us to choose to see or turn off, and if we cannot choose to resist it, the pleasure, and cannot choose instead to live? You say what your Fortier believes, that we are children, not human adults like the noble Québecers, we are children, bullies but still children inside, and will kill ourselves for you if you put the candy within the arms’ reach.’

Marathe tried to make his face expressive of anger, which was difficult for him. ‘This is what happens: you imagine the things I will say and then say them for me and then become angry with them. Without my mouth; it never opens. You speak to yourself, inventing sides. This itself is the habit of children: lazy, lonely, self. I am not even here, possibly, for listening to.’

SOURCE: David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest, 1996, pp. 320-321

Sloterdijk: New construction on the foundation of favorable repetition

The radical separation of ascetics, saints, sages, practising philosophers, and later also artists and virtuosos from the mode of existence of those who continue in the average, approximate and unqualified, shows that the human being is a creature damned to distinguish between repetitions. What later philosophers called freedom first manifests itself in the act with which dissidents rebel against the domination by inner and outer mechanisms. By distancing themselves from the entire realm of deep-seated passions, acquired habits and adopted or sedimented opinions, they make space for a comprehensive transformation. No part of the human can stay as it was: the feelings are reformed, the habitus remodeled, the world of thoughts restructured from the bottom up, and the spoken word overhauled. The whole of life rises up as a new construction on the foundation of favorable repetition.

…The transformation occurs thorugh mental deautomatization and mental decontamination. Hence the use of silence in many spiritual schools… Nietzsche was still acting in this tradition: “Every characteristic absence of spirituality, every piece of common vulgarity, is due to an inability to resist a stimulus–you have to react, you follow every impulse.” The spiritual exercise is the one that disables such compulsion.

This de-automatization, this liberation from infection by the blindly reproducing unexamined, must be accompanied by the methodical erection of a new spiritual structure. Nothing could be more alien to the pioneers of the ethical distinction than modern spontaneism, which cultivates shock, confusion and the interruption of the habitual as aesthetic values per se, without asking what should replace the interrupted. The original ethical life is reformatory. It always seeks to exchange harmful for favourable repetition. It wants to replace corrupt life forms with upright ones. It strives to avoid the impure and immerse itself in the pure. That these binary oppositions entail costly simplifications if, for now, beside the point.  All that matters is that in this framework, individualized freedom emerges in its oldest and most intense form.

SOURCE: Peter Sloterdijk, You Must Change Your Life, originally published in German in 2009, English translation published in 2013