April Book Potpourri: Kipnis, Stanley, Jorjani, More …

Over recent months and weeks any number of items have come to my attention that could have been blog entries, had I complete information about them.

For example, there is the just-released book by Laura Kipnis, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campuses (Harpers, 2017), as of this writing listed as #1 bestseller in feminist theory on Amazon.com. I don’t know how much “theory” it can contain, feminist or otherwise, but based on reports I’ve read there can be no doubt it is relevant to that. The book looks to be a scathing response to what its subtitle indicates: the sweeping sexual paranoia that has overwhelmed campuses over the past several years and is destroying people’s careers. In the case of her campus, Northwestern University, the target was philosopher Peter Ludlow who was publicly excoriated, and — these are Kipnis’s own words — it “was like watching someone being burned at the stake in slow motion …”  All following what appears to have been colossally ill-advised off-campus dalliances with a student.

Ludlow’s response to the proceedings seems to have been — well — philosophical. The publicly-available reports indicate that he resigned prior to actually being removed, packed his belongings, and was planning a move to Mexico.

Kipnis’s own point of departure was being attacked and nearly made into a pariah herself, for warning that such “witch hunts” (her term again) where the punishment vastly exceeds the proven extent of the crime was hurting the cause of women’s rights on campuses (assuming, for the sake of discussion, that women ought to have special “rights” that men don’t have). Ah, how the campus thought police of today have no problems eating their own if they step outside increasingly narrow orthodoxies, especially where sex/gender are concerned.

A cursory review of the “gang rape on campus” fiasco that occurred at the University of Virginia a few short years ago should have been sufficient to indicate that what can only be described as anti-male paranoia has gone completely off the rails.

I haven’t read Kipnis’s book, so I won’t attempt to comment further; a few revealing quotations from the book can be found on Brian Leiter’s blog, and a longer excerpt can be found here (there is relevant commentary here, but it lies behind a paywall). What my impression from a distance is, however, is that of someone who was stunned at how quickly those she considered political allies turned on her when she deviated from academic orthodoxy about sexual harassment and assault on campus. This is the problem with academic orthodoxies generally.

A quick time out, though, if you will.

I am based outside the U.S., and have been since 2012, following my walking away from a ridiculously underpaid adjunct position at a branch campus in the Southeast. One of the drawbacks of living in a foreign country, especially in South America, is getting North American books in a timely fashion. Which is why I don’t post about them more. I did manage to get a trove of books shipped here a couple of months ago (they arrived from Amazon in around six days, then sat in customs for over three weeks). Among them was Jason Stanley’s How Propaganda Works (Princeton University Press, 2015). I’ve not found the time to read it in any detail, though, and this time have no excerpts, so will defer any comments I might have for later this year. We had an exchange (ping to here) which was initially acrimonious but over time grew more cordial.

A private email went unanswered, however, which I thought unfortunate as we would likely have had a meeting of minds on something Stanley indicated he cared deeply about: the mass incarceration industry in the U.S., where people are not simply locked up but thrown into solitary confinement by sociopathic prison personnel and can actually die of thirst, or from insulin-deprivation in the case of diabetic prisoners, if they aren’t beaten to death or “commit suicide” (cases too numerous to link to). It is widely known overseas that the U.S. imprisons a larger percentage of its population than any other advanced nation in the world including Communist China. “Private” prisons (i.e., prisons operating for profit), moreover, have a perverse incentive to imprison more people.

In any event, the Stanley volume is one I hope to return to later this year, and comment on in light of earlier tracts related to its subject including those of Edward Bernays, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Jacques Ellul, and others.

Also in that trove of books was an unusual work which came to my attention by virtue of the denunciations of its author as some kind of neo-Nazi: the book is Jason Reza Jorjani’s Prometheus and Atlas (Arktos Media, 2016). Again I’ve only found the time to read a little of it, but based on what I’ve read so far (Introduction and Chapter One): permit me to assure anyone who cares: while this time I’ve had no interactions with the author, so far the book is nothing of the sort! On the contrary, instead of a typical exercise in micro-specialization it is a sweeping, systematic work of a kind one almost never sees in professionalized academic philosophy! It elicits the errors of pivotal historical thinkers such as Descartes, whose bifurcation of the world gave us the roots of the mechanized world picture that evolved into modern materialism. Jorjani draws on modern and contemporary figures as diverse as Leibniz, Kant, Schelling, James, Heidegger, Kuhn, Feyerabend, Foucault, and Derrida. How the various contributions of these philosophers are integrated, and how the ancient heroic images of Prometheus and Atlas fit in to the schema Jorjani gradually assembles over the course of 12 chapters, might fill several blog entries when the time is right.

Key to Jorjani’s work, however, is an attack on the above mentioned materialism and a defense of the idea of the spectral — a new and original take on what are routinely dismissed as “paranormal” phenomena, along with the idea that such phenomena might actually be more common than anyone realizes: not noticed because, to draw on a notion Kuhn famously supplied in Structure, what does not fit into the conceptual boxes supplied by our dominate paradigms whether in science or in life more broadly often isn’t even seen:  except in those cases, perhaps relatively rare, which intrude upon our consciousness to a degree sufficient to disrupt our daily doings. What has long fascinated me — the fascination goes back to my undergraduate days, in fact, and is among the things that drew me to philosophy in the first place — was how those who turn out to be committed materialists react to reports of such, generally by people who don’t have the imaginative power much less the motivation to make something up. The reaction is generally one of ridicule, not analysis or anything else to indicate a desire to get to the bottom of what really happened.

What Jorjani’s book has to do with the “alt-right” I’ve not discovered yet (he does have other writings on the subject), but maybe I will; or maybe someone will enlighten me. The publisher (Arktos Media) has resurrected a few European writers with views most likely derived from the right-wing Hegelianism that preceded the alt-right. Jorjani seems off on a different (ad)venture, however. But time will tell, as well as reveal whether Jorjani can survive in the long term in academic philosophy, having written a tract such as Prometheus and Atlas.  Its antimaterialism alone will alienate it from the present-day philosophical mainstream, quite independently of anything its author has to do with the alt-right.

The last book I will say a few words about, from the same imported trove, is Socrates Tenured, by Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). This work might not have come to my attention had I not run across this. That article observed what historians know: that prior to its migration into the modern university, philosophers had worked in a wide variety of occupations: Locke’s being a physician and then a diplomat; Berkeley’s being a cleric; Spinoza being a lens grinder, and so on.

But the situating of philosophy in the modern research university came alongside the rise of what I call “third stage” (after Auguste Comte) civilization, which assigns to science a monopolistic status in knowledge-seeking, and to technology and commerce the favored status they have because they bring in cash. Philosophy — never much understood outside the circles of those who directly engaged it — does not set out to do this, of course. It had a home, but the price tag was inhabiting back-room educational-administrative cubicles teaching students about Socrates’s “the unexamined life is not worth living” but in a fashion carefully designed not to rock the boat. And it meant increasing specialization and micro-specialization. Even for those for whom “the personal is the political”: what does that mean, after all, outside a specific range of disciplinary matrices in contemporary academic humanities? (Would Laura Kipnis concur? I don’t know, but it would sure be interesting to find out!)

Could Socrates have won tenure today? Frankly, the answer to this seems self-evident. Isn’t it far more likely that, assuming him to be the same character we encounter in Plato’s dialogues, he would suffer a fate not even equivalent to drinking hemlock — something dramatic enough to win attention — but as someone who asked too many of the wrong questions, simply being refused job interviews until he faded into nothingness among the rest of the quietly excluded? At least he would be allowed to live. Today’s corporate-administrative consensus need not kill its dissidents when it is easier to allow them to disappear. Maybe Socrates could get “gigs” driving for Uber.

SPECIAL NOTE:  If you like this article or value my writing and wish to see more of what’s presently in the planning stages, please consider going to my Patreon.com site and making a pledge/donation.

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Announcement: I Have Joined Patreon / Patreon.com

I’m back after another vacation, lol. Actually, I have been working very hard on completing a novel in six months (begun in early November with its projected completion date in early May).

To help with the costs of publication and promotion, I’ve joined Patreon, or Patreon.com to raise money. (Just getting an ISBN # of the right kind will cost $99.)

For full details, and potential rewards which include free books but possibly donations to worthy causes when I have the money, please go to my page on Patreon:  https://www.patreon.com/stevenyates.

Thank you, and I’ll be back with more philosophical writing and commentary as soon as time permits!

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What Should Philosophy Do? (Part 3)

In the first two installments of this trilogy, our point of departure being John Horgan’s series on Scientific American, we offered a tentative response to the questions posed both by his title (“What Is Philosophy’s Point?”) and by ours. Before continuing, I am proud to note that the first installment on this humble blog was actually noticed (I am the seventh philosopher quoted). Even if what was quoted didn’t capture the full context of my discussion, any notice is better than no notice at all.

Earlier, we considered four aims for philosophy. (1) Philosophy aims to build grand systems of thought, attempting to account for everything, integrated into a single conceptual structure. (2) Philosophy aims at logical and linguistic clarification, because as Wittgenstein wisely said, “philosophy is the battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language” (Philosophical Investigations). (3) Philosophy aims to describe the human condition, especially under conditions imposed by modernity. (4) Philosophy aims at large scale social change, or at least laying the groundwork for such, by drawing on diagnoses (e.g., those of someone such as Marx) and outlining goals (e.g., democracy and equality).

We also distinguished between system-builders and system-smashers, although the dichotomy is somewhat loose (as are most dichotomies, actually). System-builders include Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, the early Wittgenstein, and Whitehead. System-smashers include Thrasymachus and other Sophists (nemeses of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle), Montaigne the pre-Cartesian skeptic, Hume when he looked at theology (not as much otherwise), Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, the later Wittgenstein, and later, someone such as Paul Feyerabend.

The system-builders (who are not limited to philosophy, by the way) all had one strong psychological trait: a great deal of certainty about their stance. In some cases, this certainty manifested itself in their attempting to ground their system on propositions they believed could not be false, as their falsehood would involve something self-contradictory (e.g., Descartes denying that he could simultaneously not exist and be in a state of doubt; hence, “I am thinking; therefore I exist”) or unintelligible (e.g., the results, in Aristotle’s view, of doubting or setting aside the venerable principle of non-contradiction).

Yet there are dozens of things that can go wrong with such reasoning, either before it reaches such a point, and then afterwards — meaning that even if the certainty were justified, the philosophy goes nowhere, or at least, nowhere interesting or worthwhile. Maybe there are principles demanding of adherence as epistemically certain. But do such propositions have any content? Do they solve any actual problems for us?

Absolute certainty can be dangerous. As Horgan observes, if combined with political or institutional power, convictions of certainty can serve as a basis for theocracies, secular dictatorships, wars, campaigns of terror, or worse. They can lead to the suppression of alternative points of view, carried out with varying degrees of ruthlessness ranging from mere public ridicule and ostracism to house arrest (Galileo) to legal incarceration of or even the cold-blooded murder of dissidents. One thinks here of the Spanish Inquisition, but there have been many “inquisitions” throughout history including those with no link to religion, but still motivated by the absolute convictions of those ordering them and those carrying them out as on the “right side” of history.

Horgan’s grand finale thus provides his most concrete suggestion of a “point” to doing philosophy, and it is a good one — worth building into any proposal developed here or in the future. He calls his idea negative philosophy and offers this description: “Philosophy … is, or should be, primarily an instrument of doubt, which counters our terrible tendency toward certitude….  [P]hilosophers should … embrace their role as wrecking balls. Demolition is a noble calling, given all the harm caused by know-it-all-ness. And by harm I mean everything from over-prescription of antidepressants to genocide.

“Let’s call this critical pursuit ‘negative philosophy,’ The allusion to negative theology is deliberate. Just as negative theology exalts God by rejecting all descriptions of Him, so negative philosophy honors Truth by skewering all expressions of It.”

Socrates, continues Horgan, became the first practitioner of negative philosophy when he defined wisdom as knowing that one is not wise, and does not have knowledge. Socrates’s forays around his native Athens, buttonholing prominent citizens of the city whose actions were suggestive of wisdom, provided the basis for many a colorful Platonist dialogue in which Socrates shows them up as poseurs. Plato’s parable of the cave was intended to show how the majority of us humans are prisoners of mass delusions, some of them our own. The problem is, those who claim they’ve escaped from the cave have often just escaped into another delusion — and some of these delusions confer great power to those they possess. The great temptation is always to confuse reality with our beliefs about it, and then to stop questioning those beliefs.

For example, the delusions of what I’ve called third stage thinking (in Auguste Comte’s sense of the third of his Law of Three Stages, the “scientific and positive”). I’ll quote Horgan on this point: “Today, God is still kicking, but science is the dominant mode of knowledge, with good reason, because it has given us deep insights into and power over nature. Some scientists, intoxicated by success, claim that science is revealing the Truth about, well, everything.”

At this point, of course, science ceases to be science and becomes metaphysics — the very thing third stage thinking claimed to have jettisoned. So is its success real, i.e., universal, or is this just one more delusion?

We can’t ask the question in isolation, as there is no abstract entity, Science, existing unimbedded outside a variety of institutions (e.g., research universities) which merge seamlessly into others endeavors, some of them nonscientific, including technology, commerce, and government, the problem being that very little if any “pure” scientific research funds itself. Moreover, there are peoples who, prior to their first contact with the West, never so much as heard of any of these, and yet led contented lives, lives arguably happier than many of ours. The “scientific outlook,” that is, is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for human happiness, and might even have interfered with it on a scale not really appreciated outside those schools of philosophical thought who focus on describing the human condition, and/or who claim to find, e.g., dehumanizing elements in modern technology and in the “technological society” (think, e.g., Jacques Ellul).

There is a negative role for philosophy, that is, in forcefully articulating skeptical questions for the worldview that circumscribes much of Western civilization today. This worldview is complex, and is probably not fully captured by terms such as materialism although that term surely describes its core features. Other aspects of this worldview are captured by phrases such as liberal democracy, market capitalism, the liberal international order, and so on.

If there’s a positive element here, it goes something like this: the fullness of reality is never captured or circumscribed by our concepts, our methods, or the vocabularies we use to express and communicate. Reality, however we characterize it, is bound to be vastly messier and more complex than our perceptions, conceptions, and images of it. It constantly surprises us. There is no reason to assume that it is static and unchanging. All too easily we fall into the trap of thinking that we’ve hit upon the Philosopher’s Stone — the One Right Way — and even if, as seems likely, some of our concepts and methods capture some of the truth of our proximate environment, we easily allow this to inflate our egos, as it were, and assume them to have captured all the truth for all of space and time (the Truth, cap-T).

Horgan quotes a colorful Feyerabend rejoinder to this mistake which simply cannot be passed over. Having observed, “Paul Feyerabend, when I interviewed him in 1992, ridiculed the idea that scientists can ‘figure out’ the world.” Feyerabend: “What they figured out … is one particular response to their actions, and this response gives this universe, and the result that is behind this is laughing! ‘Ha ha! They think they have found me out!”

This remark reveals a key difference between the system-building and also many analytic approaches to philosophy versus the system-smashing approach: the former tends to be locked into an essentialism going back to Plato, and to the idea that we can supply logically necessary and sufficient conditions for finding the Truth. The system-smasher almost instinctively rejects essentialism, seeing it as the source of many a self-deception and delusion chaining us in that Platonist cave. He/she believes that when all is said and done, we inhabit a world (reality) of particulars, that our primary focus both is and must be on specifics, and that there is an important sense in which all genuine knowledge, based on successful problem solving, the conditions for which change from circumstance to circumstance, is therefore local. Perhaps this rejection of essentialism and universalism is the one thing that will survive answers to the sometimes ill-advised criticisms of metaphysics that the past century or so of both analytic and Continental philosophy have supplied in various forms.

Negative philosophy both can and should draw on the methods of analysts in showing that not just philosophers but scientists, politicians, and activists of various stripes have fallen captive to specific ways of speaking. The problem is that these will embody unexamined assumptions and valuations about which they feel great certainty, but which will not stand up to criticism if criticism is allowed. (Examples: the multitude of fake phobias, I will call them, that have put in appearances over the past couple of decades.)

Negative philosophy thus has important services to perform in a polarized world where propaganda is literally everywhere, where soundbites are confused with insights, in which all manner of individuals are quick to claim that Truth is on their side, and in which the other side has fallen prey to “alternative facts.” It can help sort out the difference between claims that really have the backing of specific lines of evidence, and those which have nothing behind them besides propaganda backed with social sanction.

In this sense, even though I am unsure it should be philosophy’s primary method (as I have no trouble imagining circumstances in which doubt should be set aside, where we should trust and have faith), I have no trouble affirming negative philosophy as an important and useful method — crucial to the critical examination of worldviews as well as more specific claims that this or that policy or idea will solve this or that problem.

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What Should Philosophy Do? (Part 2)

Last week, we outlined four answers to this question, provided examples of each, and following a brief discussion of Comte’s Law of Three Stages and the rise of materialism as a philosophical dogma, brought our discussion to a tentative conclusion: philosophy should attempt to identify, clarify, and critically evaluate worldviews as it finds them in society. Whether it should construct new ones is a different question. This suggestion is surely as reasonable as anything presently available. Among the factors that prompted Horgan’s discussion (cf. links in Part 1) is the fact that while philosophy may be institutionalized in academia (although there are institutions where it is in peril) as a cultural force it is arguably on life support. The idea, repeated by John Horgan and dating to early positivism (Comte) that philosophy shouldn’t presume itself able to compete with science to find truth is, in great part, what led to its current low standing. For when you give up the idea that philosophy ever finds, or should seek, truth, what happens?

Horgen’s ensuing discussion (Part 2, “Maybe It’s a Martial Art”) begins by noting the passionate mental combat which animates philosophers: how they go after each other, sometimes not merely vigorously but almost viciously, to defend their views as “the right ones.” He cites some revealing examples, if from outside philosophical literature (academic journals) per se, in, e.g., the exchanges between John Searle and Daniel Dennett over the existence of consciousness in The New York Review of Books (NYRB). If he’d wanted to look at an exemplar in academic literature, he could have cited the comments which followed Searle’s original presentation of his Chinese Room thought experiment in his infamous article “Minds, Brains, and Programs” (Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1980), later expanded into the short book Minds, Brains and Science (1984). Although Searle’s argument was aimed at “Strong AI” (the idea that a properly programmed computer really would have a mind in any reasonable sense of that term), many commenters took strong exception, in a few cases becoming surprisingly, shall we say, unfriendly. Horgan somehow missed the acrimonious exchanges between Searle and French deconstructionist Jacques Derrida over speech acts during the 1970s and later. The two, obviously, had vastly different methods for doing philosophy–so different, in fact, that each one questioned the legitimacy of the other. In the mid-1990s Searle described Derrida’s infamous “nothing exists outside texts” as “preposterous.” Finally, as a non-APA member Horgan was not in a position to see the fight over “gender feminism” that erupted near the end of the 1980s and continued on into the early 1990s, that fight’s ground zero being a paper by “first wave” equity feminist Christina Hoff Sommers paper “Feminism Against the Family” which exposed the Marxist roots of “gender feminism” as well as its authoritarian tendencies, especially over women.

Someone arguing that philosophy is a form of mental combat, the intellectual equivalent of a martial art, thus has some material to work with. There are many exchanges in the philosophical literature, often as book discussions, that display such tendencies in much more modest forms. But this begs us to ask, What, in the larger scheme of things, is such mental combat good for? Its participants eventually walk away (sometimes in the above cases with a distinct sense of needing a bath) each thinking he/she is right and has “fought the good fight” or however else rationalized, but (1) such events, even at the modest level, tend to be atypical; and (2) even were they not atypical, why should anyone doing this be paid for doing it, or receive tenure because he or she has proved to be very skilled at it?

With a somewhat strained argument, Horgan compares the mental combat inherent in philosophy to martial arts, where top practitioners have higher aims than merely winning contests. In winning an honorably fought contest, they seek to become better humans. Becoming better humans suggests ethics. It can suggest other things including mere power-playing, but let’s concede this one. For whether philosophers should eschew truth claims in favor of ethical ones as a key to improving their own or their students’ or others’ conduct in life is surely a reasonable suggestion.

My response has three parts.

(1) Elsewhere I’ve surveyed modern ethical theories and why I believe they do not merely fail but fail miserably, assuming their aim is to provide reasoned guidance in determining what to do, how to solve genuine ethical dilemmas, how to evaluate actual human conduct. My context was a critique of the materialism that underwrites much of the philosophy of the past century and a half, via efforts to stay out of the way of science, although humanistic ethical theories–theories, that is, that begin with some aspect of our nature as human beings–had put in their appearance well before.

(2) It is one of the dogmas of philosophy within modernity that the factual and the ethical are logically decoupled and therefore in separate domains: Hume’s fork (“ought” cannot be derived from “is”). But one’s worldview surely involves commitments to specific claims about reality, about what the world is like, and what we are like, in ways that have implications for what is possible for us and therefore for what ethical system(s) we might adopt. A Christian will look to God’s commands. A “third stage” atheist, having made the metaphysical judgment that God does not exist, will look possibly to Mill or to Rawls or to the Non-Aggression Principle: humanism in one form or another. My point is, he will start somewhere, with something akin to a factual claim (that, e.g., as a matter of fact it is wrong to initiate physical coercion against others) and derive from it what constitutes morally acceptable conduct, Hume notwithstanding.

But (3) Where can we look for evidence of genuine progress in ethics that has impacted on the world of modernity–as opposed to a better understanding of how ethical language works (that we have that, I don’t think anyone will question)? Yes, we’ve abolished slavery. Or have we? We’ve abolished the chattel slavery of the Ante-Bellum South, but have we not reinvented it in other forms? There’s room for a conversation here! Yes, attitudes that were once acceptable, such as unabashed expressions of race-based hatred, no longer are. Oh, wait a minute. Are we sure about that? Just the other day, I encountered this. While not intending to suggest that such contentions are common, given that they happen at all, how much progress have we made?

The real world, however we define it, is full of horrendously cruel, inhumane practices, some of which we need not go outside Western civilization to see. The U.S. federal government supports a war machine that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East just since 2003, the year Bush the Younger began the disastrous Iraq War, most likely without consulting just war theory much less principles of non-aggression. The U.S. “justice” system incarcerates a larger percentage of its population than any other advanced nation, including for non-violent offenses. Arguably, the practice of solitary confinement is a form of torture, as we now know what prolonged isolation from human contact does to a person’s mind. We know physical tortures ranging from brutal beatings, so-called waterboarding, and sleep-deprivation, have occurred in CIA “black sites” in foreign countries, out of sight from prying eyes. Government is not the sole agency of organized cruelty. International sex traffickers have raked in billions of dollars. The practice does not just occur in foreign countries. Finally, the biggest money-maker on the Internet is–wait for it–pornography, in which men as well as women are physically degraded for money.

It is thus amazing how easy it is for philosophers–or other academics or intellectuals–to convince themselves that we’ve made moral progress! They should review the Milgram Experiment; or realize that as they read about an event such as the Holocaust, that Hitler himself never raised a hand against a single Jew. Nor did Josef Stalin kill anyone personally (that we know of). Nor did Mao. Such events would not have been possible absent the cooperation and collaboration of thousands of people in chains of command and obedience who would have rationalized their behavior by saying, “I was just following orders.”

All of which suggests an improvement to the suggestion for the aim of philosophy offered at the conclusion of Part 1, and at the outset above. In addition to whatever it has to say about worldviews and their influence, philosophers can surely provide a public service, and a service to humanity, if their subject can serve as a basis for criticizing authority and blind obedience to it–blindly following, en masse, the commands of supposed leaders, political or otherwise. What kinds of worldviews encourage or enable blind, thoughtless, unreflective obedience to authority? How are such worldviews maintained? How do they use language? I don’t claim that such queries are new. But obviously they are needed. We’ll pursue them, and how they fit with Horgan’s summation and call for “negative philosophy,” in our third and final installment (hopefully) early next week.

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What Should Philosophy Do? (Part 1)

Inspiring this series of posts (I’m thinking there might again be three) is John Horgan’s series on “What Is Philosophy’s Point?” in Scientific American (five installments, here, here, here, here, and here). I should begin by saying that I am delighted to see Horgan’s writings, whatever specific agreements or disagreements I may have. Scientific American has a fairly wide readership, much of it outside the confines of academia. At least that readership will see that the subject still exists, that it hasn’t been defunded by misguided university administrators, absorbed into so-called cognitive science, or buried under an avalanche of identity-politics.

Modern philosophy as an endeavor, enterprise, discipline, or whatever we want to call it, has never ceased to agonize over its identity — especially after the sciences came to dominate intellectual culture. Even philosophers who maintain they have found the perfect identity for their field, have not managed to convince even a majority of other philosophers, though they may have achieved a substantial following. Ask 20 different philosophers What Should Philosophy Do?, and you might not get 20 different answers but you will doubtless get several. This won’t happen, it goes without saying, with physics, or chemistry, or biology. It might happen with art, if Brian Eno can be believed.

When lecturing students at the very beginning of an Intro to Philosophy course, noting that many would find the subject rather mysterious, I used to identify four distinct answers to the question, yielding four distinct approaches to philosophical activity. Without implying that the four are hermetically isolated schools of thought, none touching the others:

(1) Philosophy seeks to develop, or articulate, a comprehensive theory or account of the world and everything in it, including our place in it, (often) some account of what the good life consists of, and (often) a diagnosis of the difference between what the philosophical ideal and the socially real. Some might call this a worldview. Philosophy is theoretical system-building, in other words. Exemplars from the history of philosophy are aplenty: Plato and Aristotle; St. Thomas Aquinas; Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and Hegel; in the twentieth century, someone such as Whitehead. Before going on, we should note the immediate problem that “progress in philosophy” usually seemed to mean each philosopher crossing out most of what previous systems had to offer and substituting his own, validated as it were from inside. We should also distinguish among philosophers the system-builders from the system-smashers. Each of the above were system-builders. System-smashers included (indirectly) the Sophists whom Plato and Aristotle despised; early modern writers such as Montaigne (to whom Descartes was responding, at least in part); Hume when dealing with natural theology (not in his broader epistemological and ethical views); Kierkegaard, Nietzsche; the later Wittgenstein in his anti-essentialism; and in the late twentieth century, Thomas S. Kuhn (however reluctantly), Paul Feyerabend (enthusiastically), and all those identified with postmodernism (Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida; on our side of the Atlantic, Richard Rorty with his “neopragmatism”).

(2) The second answer: philosophy is analysis, not synthesis. The absence of agreement on whose philosophical system is the most defensible is a problem, as we mentioned. So philosophers turned in large numbers to efforts to clarify their own problems or questions. How can we expect to make progress if we’re not clear what we’re talking about? Sometimes logical-linguistic clarification concluded that a given problem, such as free will versus determinism, or the mind-body problem, is based on linguistic confusion and should be given up. Whereas a systematic philosopher of the first school may try to prove that the will is free, someone doing analytic philosophy wants to know what it means to say the will is free. Does it mean acting outside the causal structure of the universe? Whatever can this mean?! Or are we merely ignorant of the causes of our behavior (as behaviorists insisted). Or does acting freely just mean the modest and commonsensical notion of acting without another person or institution compelling us to do so? Acting freely in this sense is compatible with determinism (hence the term compatibilism). Philosophical analysis began to develop in the 1800s. It was not, of course, invented in the 1800s. Socrates was doing very basic analysis when he asked Euthyphro to define piety; or Meno, to define virtue as a precondition to answering whether it can be taught. The founder of sociology Auguste Comte questioned whether theoretical, system-building “second stage” philosophy had any place in a scientific world. He was not a system-smasher, though. His answer was “third stage” positivism, which hands the questions philosophy had hitherto dealt with over to the hierarchy of the sciences. Comte set the stage for philosophy as the logical analysis and clarification of language. And as they had newly-developed and very powerful formal-logical techniques to work with, major nineteenth century thinkers starting with Göttlob Frege led to Bertrand Russell across the English Channel, whose articles and treatises (along with those of his colleague G.E. Moore) defined the early course of analytic philosophy — and also its “third stage” mindset. Despite its Continental roots, analytic philosophy soon became dominant in the English-speaking world. Every student who pursues academic philosophy soon realizes this. Ludwig Wittgenstein (both Wittgensteins!) and Viennese logical positivism led the way to A.J. Ayer, P.F. Strawson, and J.L. Austin in the U.K., and in the U.S. the leading thinkers (e.g., Carl Hempel, Ernest Nagel) called themselves logical empiricists. Their primary goal was clarifying explanation and justification in science, which included extensive explorations into inductive logic, Bayes theorem, and so on. Eventually analytic philosophy evolved under withering criticism of some of its own products, leading to major figures like W.V. Quine, Wilfred Sellars, and later, John Searle, Saul Kripke, Donald Davidson, and Michael Dummett among others (these being the names I typically think of first). I spend more time on this answer to, What Should Philosophy Do? because its techniques prove powerful when used outside of philosophy. I am unsure this power is truly appreciated — even by many of its own practitioners who often leave themselves open to criticism for the insularity of their activity (although in fairness, insularity became a comfortable path to academic tenure and financial stability long ago).

(3) The third answer to, What Should Philosophy Do? was offered by the existentialist / phenomenological tradition that took root primarily in twentieth century Germany and France. Philosophy, in this view, should set out to describe the human condition—perhaps standing in isolation before a God none of us truly understands (Kierkegaard, who might be regarded as this tradition’s founder), or in a world without God (Heidegger, Sartre, etc.). This tradition engaged in its own form of analysis; one thinks of the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and figures like Maurice Merleau-Ponty — even linguistic analysis (Ferdinand de Saussure). In my humble opinion, contributors to this tradition expressed their generally dark assessments far more effectively in fiction and plays than formal philosophy. I find Heidegger’s and Sartre’s formal treatises to be unreadable, but the latter’s Nausea is guaranteed to disturb anyone who finds himself experiencing what Sartre was getting at, regarding the “for-itself” confronting the “in-itself.” Much the same can be said for Albert Camus’s works, especially The Stranger. Although existentialism was primarily a European phenomenon, I would argue that existentialist themes permeate American novelist Ernest Hemingway’s works. Meursault, the lead character in The Stranger, and Krebs, from Hemingway’s short story “Soldier’s Home,” are virtually interchangeable in a world each experiences as meaningless and vaguely hostile, absent an anchor-point of value and confirmation such as God.

(4) Finally, we get to the idea that philosophy should not merely describe but rather change the human condition. Paraphrasing Karl Marx (from his “Theses on Feuerbach”), philosophy has only described the world; the point is to change it. Philosophers, in this view, should see themselves as obligated to use whatever skills they have to expose power relationships and provide critiques of power while allowing marginalized voices to be heard. Relevant here is whether those of us who do philosophy, do it as an end in itself or as a means to other ends. Marx would have disdained the former as a bourgeois luxury, contributing nothing to class analysis or the coming struggle between those who own the means of production and those with only their labor to sell. The idea, which has its roots in Hegel’s distinction of the differences in perception between the master and the slave, has animated Marxian philosophy and also the various late twentieth century developments such as race-conscious philosophy, radical feminism, queer theory, and so on. However much identity-politics may be seen as a wrong direction (to be bluntly honest, I see it as such), the idea of producing critiques of power survives such a criticism. This answer to, What Should Philosophy Do? can easily incorporate philosophical analysis by exposing how language can be weaponized and used as an instrument of thought control and domination in institutions, or in society at large, by whichever groups with agendas. It can, for that matter, incorporate elements of the systematic approach by noting the kind of worldview or theory of reality in which exercising power is most at home, “legitimizing” itself by nothing more than a capacity to wield deadly force if challenged.

These, then, are the major answers to the question, What Should Philosophy Do? (I am not asserting that there are no others; I am only saying they are the prevailing ones. Anyone truly educated in philosophy is at least aware of all four even if he or she rejects all but one of them.)

Turning our attention to reviewing Horgan’s series, then, his main title, “What is Philosophy’s Point?” is surely a variation on our, What Should Philosophy Do? 

At first glance, in light of the above, the series might not look exactly impressive. Part I, (“Hint: It’s Not Discovering Truth”) repeats a refrain that has become familiar in the past few years since Stephen Hawking declared philosophy to be dead in the introduction of his The Grand Design (2010). (For whatever it’s worth, I meditate on and attempt an extended answer to philosophy is dead claims here.)  The refrain, as we see from the above, though, is hardly new. Above we mentioned Comte and referenced two of his three “stages.” The Law of Three Stages, he called it (or States or Conditions, terms he uses interchangeably) is as follows: the first is the “religious or fictitious” state; the second, the “metaphysical or abstract”; the third, the “scientific and positive.” The first, using a somewhat different metaphor, might be thought of as our intellectual childhood. The second, as our adolescence — somewhat reckless, its reach exceeding its grasp. The third, in that case, is our mental and cognitive adulthood as we stand on our own, without gods, myths about intellectual certainty, etc.

Comte believed inquiry was converging on this final third stage.

I am at work on an extended tract arguing at length that Comte had the germ of a sound idea in his “stages” view of inquiry, but that he was wrong about the his “third stage” being the final one as well as the sort of progress made in reaching it. That, though, is a conversation for another time.

The point to make here: Horgan’s first installment is permeated with third stage thinking, I will call it — as is the bulk of the philosophical work he has to draw on, which he tells us inspired him to write these pieces: fascination with the mind-body problem which has produced easily the largest literature of any single issue in modern and recent analysis. Is it really a problem? For whom? Some, such as Gilbert Ryle (of the post-Wittgenstein “ordinary language” school) believed it mired in linguistic confusion. Rorty, much more recently, argued that the sense of there being a mind-body problem was nothing more than our use of a special vocabulary, one that drew on obsolete (seventeenth century) notions; what can be done to dissolve the mind-body problem is to get rid of the sense that this (or any other) vocabulary represents or “mirrors” reality and that it is the job of philosophy to find and justify the vocabulary that does.

The sense of a real, live problem about mind and body has survived Rorty’s efforts, though. What has seemed to create a problem has come down to a single question, visible in the work of the brilliant Australian philosopher David J. Chalmers: how can we make sense of the existence of consciousness (i.e., our individual consciousness as a kind of private, inner stage, important to us, from which each of us views the world) in a material universe in which all configurations of “matter” are, in the final analysis, of equal “value”? Most readers will recognize this as one way of describing “hard problem” of consciousness which has loomed large in philosophical conversation since the 1990s.

One answer to that question is taken by the Daniel Dennetts of the philosophical world, who deny that a reifiable “private inner stage” really exists as such, that it is any more than an illusion created in our brains and central nervous systems. Truth be known, I find this kind of denial to be very strange. Its counterintuitiveness does not refute it, of course, but surely ought to give us pause, having left us with a sense that something essential is being left out. This brand of hard materialism seems paradoxical at best and incoherent at worst. If consciousness really does not exist as such, then how can Dennett undertake the (presumably conscious) action of denying or affirming anything? How can you be reading this — if you are — and presumably processing mentally (in some sense of that term) what you are reading? What is it that makes our utterances — and the inscriptions we see on paper or online — more than strings of random-seeming noises or meaningless markings?

Consider: those of us with exposure to a foreign language we don’t understand may listen as closely as we can to speakers of that language in conversation and hear nothing but unintelligible noises. But it should be evident from direct observation that the speakers understand each other and are providing appropriate responses! The material constitution of language just being sounds emitted from one’s mouth and received via one’s ears, each speaker is mentally adding something that I cannot add in listening because I do not understand or speak their language. The same is true if I try to read, e.g., written Arabic. I see nothing but curvy lines and dots. An Arab speaker recognizes the words and sentences of the language he grew up with. This “understanding,” this “recognition,” I submit, is lost by materialism. Somewhere in here, obviously, is Searle’s absolutely brilliant “Chinese room” thought experiment from the 1980s, which — frustratingly! — Searle himself never drew the most straightforward consequence, which is that materialism as a theory of reality and of the human person is simply wrong!

Dennett would doubtless call these responses question-begging and wrong-headed. But is there an alternative? More interestingly, is there some neutral vantage point from which to survey and judge, from which to construct a non “question-begging” approach to consciousness? Are we not undertaking mental actions in any reasonable sense of this phrase when we even raise the question, much less undertake it?

Eventually, our reasoning must reach the point of realizing that consciousness is, in some sense yet to be spelled out, very, very basic, and must be built into our very understanding of how the world works, or we end up with incoherence!

Another way of saying this will doubtless offend every third stage thinker (Dennett being an example; not to single him out, as there are many others) who has science / scientific method (as they see it) on a pedestal. This is to not be a materialist. This was the option chosen by Thomas Nagel, who has proven to be alone with his “teleological naturalism,” motivated by the apparent failures of materialism in combination with his own resistance to theism. But the failures of materialism open the door to a variety of other worldviews, Christian theism included. They open the door to the likelihood that there are other phenomena, likely to be dismissed as illusory but easily seen as real and incorporated into our account of our experience if we stop trying to shoehorn everything into a worldview in which everything must be either reduced to laws or propensities discovered by physics and chemistry, or eliminated as unreal products of our imaginations or a “folk psychology” (“eliminative materialism”).

How good are the reasons for being a materialist? has for years now seemed to me a perfectly valid question. How well argued is the materialist stance? To use a Feyerabendian ploy, has materialism won out not just in much of philosophy but in science itself not because of the superiority of its arguments but because it was able to bully alternatives out of the way? Given the clear absence of a consensus on the status of such problems as mind-body (not that the presence of one would necessarily decide the matter for all time), it doesn’t seem to me materialists are entitled to assume so without much more work. That a Colin McGinn, another of those rare leaders in the post-Rorty world of academic philosophy, finds the mind-body problem “intractable” (whether that is McGinn’s word or Horgan’s) is telling.

By reflecting on the seeming failures or lapses of materialists, and their willingness to “eliminate” what doesn’t fit a worldview to be distinguished from the actual methods and findings of modern science, surely we have found a “point” to doing philosophy, and therefore an answer to, “What Is Philosophy’s Point?” Maybe there is an answer to, What Should Philosophy Do? which combines all four of the above answers in recognizing, clarifying, evaluating, and if necessary, constructing alternatives, to the worldview(s) that prevail in Western civilization.

To be continued …

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Brian Eno Mix

I noticed a week or so back that the masthead on this blog includes, as one of our topics, “a little music.” There hasn’t been any music on here, though, or any discussions of it, not that I recall. I am thinking that should change.

Nothing I would write about Brian Eno would be short. Let’s just say that I discovered his work my freshman year in college (I was 18) when he had just two vinyl records out, had appeared on a handful of other records (e.g., the first two Roxy Music releases), and was clearly someone to watch. Now, over 40 years later, I’ve no fully reliable count of all his releases official and unofficial, some of them extremely difficult to obtain (not to mention expensive). His latest is called Reflection, and was released on January 1, 2017. Although his name has never exactly been a household word, he’s produced significant groups such as the Talking Heads and U2, shaping their sound in new ways, and has become the subject of biographies and even academic studies. It was clear, back when I was an undergraduate, reading his interviews, that I’d encountered a keen intellect who was always pushing the envelope.

His thoughts about the nature of art are as interesting as how he came by them. David Sheppard, in his biography On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno (2008), records a definitive incident in Eno’s life that happened when he was 18 and about to enter art school. The mother of his then-girlfriend had dismissed the idea, telling him he would be “wasting his time” and wondering why someone as obviously bright as he was would want to be an artist. Eno said later, “it set a question going in my mind that has always stayed with me, and motivated a lot of what I’ve done: what does art do for people, why do people do it, why don’t we only do rational things, like design better engines? And because it came from someone I very much respected, that was the foundation of my intellectual life” (Sheppard 2008, p. 45).

It struck me, when reading those words (variations on them have been circulating since the 1970s), that the same questions could be posed about philosophy. It’s hardly “rational” in the sense that designing better engines is “rational.” But for some of us, it became an obsession practically on the day we encountered it. We knew it wasn’t the world’s obsession. But neither is art the world’s obsession. At the same time, would a society without both art and philosophy seem fully civilized? So what does philosophy do for us? Why does it do whatever it is that it does? Why can those of us captured by this obsession not leave it alone, and not just do other things (especially those of us who have left academia, the one place in the world where philosophers are at home, kind of, sort of). What should philosophy do? and should it do the same thing for all of us who do it? These all seem like questions worth exploring.

But back to Eno. I’ve learned to appreciate his work on at least two levels. One is that of a mind hard at work, conscious of what he is doing, the media in which he is working, and exploring its possibilities. He’s a trained artist who is comfortable with technology and able to use it to generate sound. He’s studied systems thinking and made use of it, having composed pieces illustrating how very simple repetitive systems can be used to generate seeming great complexity — in visual art as well as music. He (more or less) invented “ambient music,” drawing on antecedents such as Terry Riley and John Cage and influencing the atmospheric “chill out” music we began to hear in the 1990s. He’s also invented “generative music,” played with software instead of regular CD players, as it consists of multiple randomized tracks that never play the same way twice.

Eno’s body of work opens quite a number of listening possibilities, as “ambient” tracks like Discreet Music, Thursday Afternoon, and Neroli are perfectly suitable as backing material on which other things can be laid. One has to be careful in doing this. Knowing what not to do, which tracks not to use, is clearly as important as knowing which ones to use. I don’t know who Tamás Károly Tamás is (the name is Hungarian, which may or may not be obvious) or if he has any connections to Eno, but he clearly knew what he was doing when he assembled this. Recommended listening for a quiet Sunday evening.

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And So It Begins. Thoughts on What Might Happen Next

Two days ago, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. His inauguration speech was unique (read it here; there are a few errors, all minor). It may go down in history as one of the more significant inaugural speeches, even if (as I suspect will be the case) Trump has made promises he won’t be able to keep.

Trump’s speech has been described (commentaries too numerous to cite individually) as “dark,” or “dystopian.” It was “populist” insofar as that term is thrown around today. “Populism” is not a systematic philosophy of political economy, beyond the idea (common to all conceptions of democracy) that political and other elites should answer to the people. “Populism” is reactive. It is suspicious of elites and rejects elite control, real or imagined. What it is rejecting, given the present environment, is quite real. There is a superelite, as I’ve called them in my book Four Cardinal Errors (2011). Advanced civilizations are basically plutocracies. Various authors have used other terms for the world’s ruling class: globalists, global elites, the one percent (a misnomer, since we’re talking about a group that would fit into a large university auditorium and so does not quite rise to being the point-zero-zero-one percent). Perhaps if rejection of globalism by a substantial fraction of a nation’s population is considered “dark” and “dystopian,” then from the globalist standpoint that might be where we are going.

What we’ve just seen is the end of one era of U.S. history and the beginning of a new one, a new era that could go in more than one direction.

The previous era, which arguably began when the Soviet Union collapsed leaving just one superpower, could be called the neocon-neoliberal era, because it represented the rise to global power of these ideologies, flipsides of one another. Neoconservatism was concerned primarily with establishing the Indispensable Nation as the world’s ruling power, while neoliberalism focused primarily on economics, establishing the dominance of global corporate actors and describing this as the “triumph of the free market.” We saw the catchphrases “liberal democracy” and “market capitalism” — more recently, the “global liberal order” as the term capitalism is again leaving a sour taste in some mouths — even if these were forced on peoples at gunpoint (and they often were, with the price tag of refusing to participate being death and destruction: ask the Iraqis, the Libyans, the Syrians).

This era, which also witnessed the rise of “free trade” deals starting with NAFTA (which Trump has promised to renegotiate or scrap), enriched a very few who sat at the helm of global corporate empires but was a disaster for nearly everyone else — especially the U.S. middle class, many of whose members had become former middle class by the time the Meltdown of 2008 had run its course. At best, the common family’s income flatlined during this era. Employment gravitated towards the part-time and the precarious. I hardly need observe that it made very little difference which party controlled either Congress or the White House. From Bush #41 to Bill Clinton to Bush #43 to Barack Obama, essentially the same agendas of globalism and war went forth into the world from Washington, D.C. While supposed pundits of the “left” have offered one set of diagnoses for rising inequality all over the world while those of the “right” have offered another, to my knowledge no one questions the basic fact of rising inequality in a world where your social mobility was dictated by your ability and/or willingness to “monetize yourself.”

Trump claims to speak for those left behind by globalism. The “carnage,” he called it, stops now.

So what happens next? I am not thinking of policy specifics, such as what will likely be the dismantling of the (Un)Affordable Care Act; those are important but this is not the time or place to discuss them. I am thinking of the broader and longer tendencies that may define the next 30 years, just as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the neocon-neolib axis defined the past era, just short of 30 years in length.

It could go two ways, and it depends both on if Trump is who he says he is and is as sincere as he sounded in yesterday’s inaugural speech.

For the past year and a half, he’s confounded the so-called “experts” and helped bring on what could be called as the crisis of “expertism”: the sense that whatever the reason, the “experts” no longer know what they’re talking about, especially on political-economic matters. Perhaps the Kuhnian paradigms governing their bailiwicks are no longer functioning; perhaps they simply can’t see the forest for the trees. In any event, at first, back in Summer 2015 when Trump first announced his candidacy, no one took him seriously, including me. This was a joke; it would go nowhere. But then it did. Trump seemed to command the media, getting away with things no other candidate could have gotten away with (e.g., the comment about Megyn Kelly having “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever”). I’ll return to this point below.

His growing legion of supporters loved what they saw!

One by one, Trump’s GOP opponents fell by the wayside as he racked up delegates. Two things were clear, or should have been: Trump’s messages on jobs, on immigration, on trade, and on political correctness, were resonating with the GOP base. The second: the other candidates, with the sole exception of Ted Cruz, were empty suits. They had nothing to say, and often just embarrassed themselves.

Still, Trump would never win the GOP nomination. The “experts” said so. Even I thought the nomination would be taken from him at the last minute, even if it precipitated a civil war within the GOP that practically handed the election to Hillary Clinton, by then the presumptive Democratic Party nominee.

And then Trump won the GOP nomination, giving a firebreathing “populist” speech that had both left-liberals and “movement conservatives” nearly wetting their pants.

I considered Trump’s victory over his empty-suited rivals to be evidence that “movement conservatism” had collapsed. It was not just that the GOP had lost touch with its base, although that much is true. There was nothing left in the culture to conserve. This was empowering the Trump insurgency. “Movement conservatives” weren’t engaging in constructive discussion of how to take the culture back, or even how to develop a parallel culture via new media and other institutions and raising the money to support them. Instead (just read the constant stream of articles in the Washington Post) they whined about their party’s “uneducated” rabble out in flyover country, those who rejected a worldview steeped in globalism, war, and political correctness. There had been discussion of culture in the 1990s, however inadequate. “Movement conservatism” had kicked out its Pat Buchanans, not to mention its Ron Pauls. Neither neocons nor neolibs had any interest in the culture. Common people did. They encountered it daily. When they saw an alternative to someone on the increasingly despised neocon-neolib axis, someone who spoke to their concerns in their language, they turned towards him. In the end, there was nothing left at the GOP center except for corporate donors and the war machine. The former knew only money as influence; the latter knew only brute force.

Surely Trump wouldn’t defeat Hillary, though! The “expert” pollsters said not. Even when James Comey reignited the debate over her emails just days before the election, Hillary didn’t drop beneath The Donald in the “expert”-run polls.

And then Donald Trump won the election!

He won in the Electoral College, the “experts” reminded us. Hillary won the “popular vote.” In the American electoral system, as everybody knows, it is the Electoral College victory that counts.

Trump’s march into the White House would not be derailed — not by the feeble reports about “fake news” on the Internet, not by the evidence-free allegations about “Russian hackers” coming from an intelligence community that had distrusted Trump from the start, not even by those Democrats, e.g., John Lewis of Georgia, who openly denounced his presidency as “illegitimate” (as if their shouting this made it so).

Trump said that unlike his predecessors, he would return government to its people. Imagine that!

Trump wants a peaceful working relationship with Russia! Fancy that!

His speech contained what could be a call for an end to the U.S. imposing its will on other nations of the world by force: “We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example, for everyone to follow.”

The repudiation of globalism in statements like America First could not be more evident.

The problem, however: the globalists and those working for them — including the “useful idiots” making mayhem in the streets of Washington and elsewhere, possibly still, even as I write — are not going to go away.

No one in his right mind believes that because of one rogue billionaire, they are simply going to relinquish a project they’ve been at work on for longer than I’ve been alive: undermining and destroying the very concept of national sovereignty, first economically and then politically, in order to build a global state or world government answering to private corporations. This is, I think, a fair statement of the primary long term goal of globalism.

So what follows from this? A number of questions, surely.

How was it that Trump was able to get away with those attacks on Megyn Kelly and other incidences of political incorrectness that would have felled any other GOP candidate in a heartbeat? Was his ownership over corporate media, based on ratings, that total? Surely there were people in media smart enough to realize that even when attacking him, they were giving him hours of free publicity, and that not just he but his supporters were actually relishing these attacks! His base was growing, not shrinking! Many of his supporters later “reclaimed” the deplorables label, after all!

So why didn’t mainstream media simply black him out, as they did Ron Paul?

And, what was really behind Comey’s 11th-hour announcement of new interest in Hillary Clinton’s emails, just days before the election? However one interprets this, Hillary was made to look very bad. The Democrats had already been made to look utterly corrupt, if only by their treatment of the Bernie Sanders insurgency. This was extremely unusual for someone powerful people wanted to win!

Unless those powerful people didn’t want her to win!

Which brings me to the final segment of this piece, doubtless its most disturbing segment. Is Trump the rogue he’s led us to believe he is? Or is either working for the globalists behind the scenes, or being used by them as a kind of Plan B, as they’d realized that had they rigged a Clinton victory they might have had an American Spring on their hands ready to start right about now?

Brandon Smith thinks Trump has been a tool all along, and offers some compelling reasons (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). His claim to credibility is that he predicted not just the Trump victory but the outcome of the Brexit vote, the timing of the first Federal Reserve rate hike, the inclusion of China in the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights, and the Fed’s tapering of QE. He has the most interesting superelite-conscious analysis of recent events I’ve encountered this past year.

For our purposes here Smith’s most important warning is that the “populist” movement is being set up to take the fall for what the globalists have orchestrated and are preparing for: the worst economic crash of all time, the result of decades of governments, corporations, and individuals living beyond their means on unbacked, central bank created money, made readily-available via a brand of “capitalism” based on financialization instead of production. Financial author Bill Bonner has pointed out (numerous videos) that the amount of money that exists electronically in the U.S. alone, in bank accounts, in stocks, in derivatives, etc., created by what amounts to nothing more than data entered into computers, now exceeds the amount of physical wealth in the entire world, several times over. We are talking about a sum of perhaps one quadrillion dollars (that’s one thousand trillion dollars) in derivatives, on the electronic books of very large banks like Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, HSBC, CitiBank, Credit Suisse, and so on! An appearance of “recovery” has been created and is currently maintained via central bank activity alone (as Smith also notes). Anglo-European civilization is sitting atop the largest bubble in human history, a Dow just narrowly missing 20,000 absent any actual economic fundamentals being just one example.

Donald Trump has not, to my knowledge, said a word about this aside from noting the favorable “market response” to his victory, a response very much aligned with the idea that his victory was something the superelite had wanted and planned for, and while he’s criticized Barack Obama’s policies, I do not recall his having said anything about the elephant in the front living room of the present decade: that under Obama’s watch the national debt nearly doubled, going from around $11 trillion to almost $20 trillion. Much of this went to create the sense or appearance of an economic recovery that would not otherwise exist. Many on Main Street voted for Trump, after all, partly because they no longer trusted “expert” pronouncements on the economy. They hadn’t seen any evidence of the supposed Obama-era recovery.

Now Donald Trump could conceivably continue to confound the “experts” by setting the country on course for a jobs renaissance ­ — the “experts” having written a gigabyte-sized quantity of material from their academic and journalistic cubicles about how “protectionism does not work,” that tariffs are a bad idea, that Smoot-Hawley caused the Great Depression, etc., etc. The “experts” contend, and they appear to be right about this, that Trump ignores present and future technological change as a cause of unemployment, as corporations embrace robotics and similar technology to do more with less. Jobs are eliminated, but profits soar.

Be that as it may,  Trump won’t be able to enact a whole new set of, e.g., trade policies overnight, and he won’t be able to control what foreign governments do regarding their corporations (this translates into the real danger of a trade war with China). Following what now seem to me the likely victories of Geert Wilder in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France, in those countries’ looming elections, the globalists, their ideological foes the economic nationalists right where they want them, may decide to blow down the financialized, house-of-cards economy they have erected. They will do what they did in 2008 on a much larger scale: pull billions out of the system all at once, threatening a massive collapse of banking and credit systems. With credit frozen, everything that depends on credit will stop almost overnight. Deflation (not hyper-inflation) will ensue. This will happen not just in the U.S. but all across Europe. Via their control over corporate (“mainstream”) media, globalists will regale a panicked public with the contention that the debacle is the fault of the “populists,” as evidence that “populism and protectionism do not work.” These are Brandon Smith’s suggestions, in any event.

Smith accuses Trump of lying about “draining the swamp,” and it’s true: he’s almost exclusively appointed fellow billionaires to cabinet posts, some with ties to Goldman Sachs — after the Federal Reserve probably the most important superelite-controlled entity in the U.S. Ties to Goldman Sachs don’t necessarily translate to insider status, but they both do and ought to raise red flags. Once we peer behind the curtains of Trump’s rhetoric, it is easy to believe that the superelite is going to remain in control, even if they are taking some temporary lumps and portraying themselves as under attack (see, e.g., this). Trump has also put a lot of military men in positions of great authority: positioning them perfectly in case the administration has to deal with bouts of the sort of unrest likely to erupt if the economy really does go into a tailspin.

So who is Donald Trump, really? And does “populism” portend change — or the setting of the stage for something magnitudes worse than the past 30 years have been?

I don’t have answers to these conundrums. I could be wrong about the upcoming elections in Europe. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But if I am right, and by the second half of 2017 we see “populist” governments settling in and getting comfortable all around the West, what I would not do is get too comfortable right alongside them. The financialization bomb is still there! Dozens of contrarian economists have been arguing for years that we have been in the “eye of the hurricane” since 2008. We might not reenter the storm until 2018 or even 2019, but it could be as soon as September 2017.

As that storm exacts its effects, which will be the literal disappearance of trillions of dollars back into the thin air from which they came, the probable end of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, a massive decline in the U.S. standard of living outside elite-owned enclaves and gated communities, and the likely appearance of globalist-sponsored political saviors with a worldview to contrast with Trump’s, all bets are off. The globalists will be in a position to dictate terms to hungry populations. Get with the program, or die in poverty! We may not see a return to the neocon-neoliberal order. More likely, we’ll be looking at a future headed toward of de facto or de jure world government, rapid progress toward a “global union,” whatever they decide to call it, answering to global corporations — its supportive media filling airwaves and bandwidth space with attacks on “populism” in all its stripes. These will ensure that real conservatism and national sovereignty are dead as doornails. The solution to the problem of “blue” versus “red” cultures may be had through the extinction of the latter, even if the former is also under a de facto tyranny of technocrats. The “experts,” in that case, will be back!

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