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An Erratic Orbit

A bipolar perspective on the 3rd planet

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Psychology

A Sermon On The Evils Of The Transcendent Spirit

The circumstances we find ourselves in are material, and of material. Bodies and resources, and even, ultimately, capacity and propensity toward suffering, are not distributed uniformly by an indifferent universe which must simply be lumpy (i.e. non-uniform) for us to exist in it. It is up to humans to redistribute resources and to ease suffering.

People get confused because thought seems to be different in quality to the material. It was in theory possible that our sciences would not demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that our thoughts, and indeed all our behaviours, are materially caused. It is theoretically possible that, for example, smacking in childhood didn’t lead to worse material outcomes and behavioural problems. Yet it does.

People generally want to think they can transcend their circumstances. This idea of a “transcendent spirit” is an important motivator for the Animal Who Can. It is impossible to beat the odds but thinking you can may help you to try to take on what are actually low odds, or a least seem so.

For all that, can we say we are truly more motivated than all other animals? It seems unlikely. The truth is we have brains far better at understanding and solving problems. It seems more likely then that the “transcendent spirit” is simply a way of suppressing that part of the understanding which recognises low odds. The trapped tiger persists because it doesn’t know the hopelessness of its situation. The human persists because she suppresses the knowledge of that hopelessness. After all, unlike the tiger we know that we get weaker and that eventually, one day, our bodies will fail altogether.

It is not my purpose to kill all illusions for good. Let us have some mindfulness of our illusions, however. The “transcendent spirit” is a tool, as is all belief. If we can be agile with our beliefs, yet committed as need be, then all the better.

Let’s look at what we are doing when we apply this notion of “transcendent spirit” to others. Clearly there is some value in “You can!”, up to a point. What though when we start to apply it negatively, as in our suppression of the knowledge of the material circumstances which make our friend who he is? “You haven’t” isn’t beyond redemption, if it might be motivational. If. Is that why we said it?

We might even explicitly apply our notion of transcendence divisively, to exclude others or to justify our own advantages, and there is everything grubby about this, nothing lofty at all.

“I had many challenges and yet I have succeeded and you have failed. There is no excuse.”

…As if there is an “I” distinct from the material circumstances of what made you, an “I” superior to the other!

Or even,

“Of those with less, we must help only those who want to be helped.”

which is half a step from the lie of the undeserving and deserving poor.

Those who want to insert a magic Will, whereby some people are good and some are bad, are seeking to mitigate a basic fact: the intrinsic unfairness of this material world. Thus we get a justification of the evil of centrism, which is a half-baked approach to inequality, and a demonstrably failed method for tackling it. We scarcely need mention any politics to the right of this. Of more consequence, we will find many a self-professed Socialist who hasn’t fully grasped the full moral implications of materialism.

To those who say there are none, this sermon was never intended for you. So be it.

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How To Avoid Fake News, Propaganda, And Downright Nonsense: 5. Conspiracy Theories. A Socialist Perspective.

‘Conspiracy Theory’ is a phrase invented by the CIA to stop people questioning the official version of events.

These are the words of former CIA operative, Steven Julius Bakerfield, regarding his department’s attempts in the 1960s to frustrate all independent investigations into the assassination of JFK.

SJ Bakerfield in 1968

Although some of us are more wary than others, we are all programmed to believe what we are told (and so what we read). Unless there is something that raises our suspicions the default is to think the other person is telling the truth. This makes sense. Too much paranoia isn’t just physically unhealthy, most of the time people do actually tell the truth, or at least what they think is the truth, so paranoia tends to leave us isolated from, not closer to, reality.

Image from http://wellingtonretreat.com/blog/2013/07/adolescent-psychosis/

This is why, if you didn’t know that the quote that starts the article is a deliberate lie, you most likely believed it. You might have even seen it before. Yet it is not true. Not in the slightest. I made up the name Steven Julius Bakerfield too.

I hope you forgive me. I wanted to drive home the important starting point that gullible IS in the dictionary and it can be applied to anyone, at times. If you are aware that you, like all humans, are fairly easy to fool, then you are already on the way to being one of the least easy to fool.

Dictionary entry for

Conspiracy theories are much older than the 60s and are identifiable products of certain ways of thinking.

Firstly, our amazing ability to see and indeed create patterns. So, you can probably think of something to link Microsoft and dragons, although there is no real world link. For example, dragons are huge powerful creatures who hoard great wealth. That just came to my mind.

Secondly, a tendency to think that big events must have big causes. If the President is shot, the reason must be a huge story to do with the Russians and the Mafia, right? The Russians and the Mafia are part of the background after all, they MUST be the reason. But why, when you think about it? Because we think big events must have big causes. But sometimes they don’t. One man shot John Lennon. One man probably came up with the plan to shoot JFK and carried it out. (I’m not saying he wasn’t a terrorist. Terrorists can act alone and they are still terrorists). We think that it can’t just be about one person because we are looking to make sense of the world. If one person can cause such shockwaves, that’s scary. It’s also true. Sometimes one person can.

A Socialist does have the tools to make sense of this. Though we cannot control the world, we can have the understanding that small causes – Timothy McVeigh, Lee Harvey Oswald, Charles Manson, or even an ISIS cell – are also symptoms. They are signs of the socio-historical forces that influence us all. The Cold War DID contribute to killing JFK, after all, and Jack Ruby WAS influenced by the Mafia. Not directly, most probably. Not in opposition to patriotic motives. One can see how, though, that an organisation exploiting working class deference (and the Mafia, for all intimidation, can’t function without exploiting working class deference) and operating as its own (self-interested) police force could influence Jack Ruby. Individuals can be canaries, their motivations a pocket of concentration of widespread anxieties, showing us little images of the waves and echoes of history at work in a localised sense. Even Donald Trump is a symptom. The forces that installed him are more important than his venality, low cunning, narcissism, disinterest, lack of concentration. Hyperconsumerism (eg Reality TV), alienation, white power, cronyism and various effects of late capitalism are the Why of Trump. Trump’s personality reflects what Capitalism is doing to us as a people.

So there are big causes but they are NOT, most often are not, the deliberate and convoluted plans of vast secretive networks. If something happens that shocks us, the Socialist analysis is not to assume “it can’t be like that” but to look at why it might be like that. It can be that “senseless shootings” happen in American schools. Yet they do make sense in the context of a seam of thinking that runs throughout US history and is perhaps best encapsulated by Ayn Rand. The extreme tiny-state libertarianism of the wealthy US elites is a way of securing their future at the expense of the less powerful. They sell this ‘dream that can become reality for You’ as “Freedom”, but of course it is “might makes right”. Those who own not just the means of production but the means of mass militarisation tell the people that their puny militias of one are the means of liberation. Yet they are ultimately the means of subjugation. The alienation that results does makes sense. You don’t even have to be poor for the dream not to come true. As long as you’re not a square chinned industrialist, you’ve failed. Now this facet of alienation is only a partial explanation of school shootings but there’s a brutal sense here, not a world that is so outside comprehension that tragedies must be staged by crisis actors.

The conspiracy theory is itself only allowed to flourish through alienation. Once we can find a way to accept that awful things happen, or that those who oppose the right/West are often not progressive, or that the Russian Revolution was usurped and went sour, or specifically that ANY Socialism in Russia died a good two decades ago, that the world isn’t fairy tale simple so sometimes even Tory governments tell the truth, or that there might be some nuance regarding the BBC, then we are starting to be Socialist commentators. Only then do we need to bear in mind that “false flags happen” and the like. That is, we understand not only are they rare but we are now beginning to have the tools to engage with such complexity. Before that we are cowering at the messiness of the world and refusing to see it as it is.

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Further reading on the etymology of “Conspiracy theory”: https://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/nope_it_was_always_already_wrong

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Part 4

Back to the beginning

Essentially Human

“It either is or it isn’t” they said, fingering the holes between stitches in the murderer’s cardigan. Of course it never was. Although, if it ever had been, there was not nor could there be ‘essence of murderer’ upon it. But could you get one person to put on that cardigan? No you could not.

Humans not only are confused by false essences, this way of looking at the world is central to our psychology. That is, not looking at what IS but in terms of persistent, even transferable, features that we logically know are not real let alone persistent. At best we simultaneously hold Einstein’s pen knowing it cannot make us smarter yet at the same time feeling it must. You’ll note we could not have magic without this phony essentialist psychology and if we could not have magic we could not have religion.

Perhaps we could not have complex social behaviour. Our friend Julia must persist, we must have a narrative of her, even though each moment in its coming into being is a death, a negation of what came before.

It may even be that there can be no consciousness without psychological essentialism, for consciousness is the ultimate persistence at odds with material facts.

In a universe that constantly bifurcates, if that is so, psychological essentialism is being and becoming, the mystical bond between worlds. Yet from this view, the real question becomes an unanswerable chicken and egg. Do we choose freely or are all choices caused? In other words, does Will have some ontological reality that brings our world into being, an imposition upon discrete material? Or, is Will the illusion, the essentialism that makes stories, somehow arising from the fully conditioned material phenomena that constitute a thinking entity?

All this abstraction is only my way of coping with the ugliness of those who, angrily, insistently, want to decide who is in and who is out based on notions of race, womanhood, or sexuality that have nothing to do with anything but crude stories of those concepts, and snap judgements as to who are the acceptable characters in those stories.

“It either is or it isn’t” he/she said, fingering the holes between stitches in the murderer’s cardigan. Every storyteller must embrace duality, and every good storyteller must unpick it.

The anger is blood rising into the face. That I see, the hateful face. All the different expressions of anger. There is no discussion here. Had I not been lulled by alcohol, I would have been able to continue to sidestep a pointless topic. There was never any hope of persuasion or understanding. I’m disappointed that I allowed myself to get dragged down even in the slightest.

They make various attempts to explain, essentially, why flight is required of birds. As the good professor said, you don’t get to use biology to justify bigotry, it’s far too weird for that.

Now, the chemical cocktails, those I don’t see. If I had taken myself away and thought of the beauty of the chemistry of anger, all that makes the head go purple, I would have been fine. Yet how do you transport away from the insistent narrative of those people, nominally friendly acquaintances, who are furious, every single one?

You break it down, break the world down, accept that threats are perceived where there are none, and, simply, that you don’t ever have to listen to a single minute of that ever again.

“No, that is not what I mean!”. That is to be human but you don’t have to drown in anyone else’s shit. People disappoint. The number of friends you have depends on how you look at it. Unpicking the holes between stitches, it’s a constant.

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