Saturday, March 11, 2006


Iai! Yog-sothoth!

Rum old day I've had. I woke vomiting after a fevered night, despite having felt fine yesterday evening. Haven't been able to keep anything more than a banana down. I just got sent home from rehearsal for looking green.

A bloke in the am-dram group told me he'd once been the ballet critic for the Socialist Worker newspaper, despite having no knowledge of or interest in ballet and never having been a member of the Socialist Worker's Party.

Now, I find four messages in my email inbox, for the first time since I put the address up on this site. They're all in Japanese.

Perhaps my illness is interfering with the rational faculties but I can't dispel a lurking fear that all these things are related in some cosmic way, and that the Old Ones are about to appear through a crack in the sky.

"...despite having no knowledge of or interest in ballet and never having been a member of the Socialist Worker's Party."

That sounds like the uniformly amateurish approach the Socialists have had to everything. No wonder they fuck up everything they touch--big time.

This somehow reminds me of an incident I had years ago, when I was studying in Italy. I was going to university one morning, and, in front of the beautiful Baroque villa where the department of philosophy was, a haggard, pale teenager was selling a greyish rag called "The Communist Struggle". He urged me to buy a copy, to "help the cause of the world proletariat", or words to that effect. For a few seconds, I pondered in silence whether to crack his fuckin' head open. But he was merely a pimply adolescent who didn't know better, and the more human drives in me triumphed; I just sneered, "I had to grow up under these bastards, and you want me to buy their shit?". "Ma senti, fermati...quello no era stato comunismo...era solo dettatura dello stato!"

I don't really know what the actual difference between the two is (none, I suspect), so I let him go.

So what was that you got in your inbox? Adverts for Japanese love pills? If yout a quick laugh, here's a Japanese blogster who's really exhilarating (unbeknownst to him, I should say). He always cracks me up:
I don't want to be insensitive, Foot Eater, but isn't it possible that the dead bodies could have something to do with it? I would have thought that most people would be waking up vomiting if they had your job.

It sounds as if you could get a column on that newspaper if you played your cards right. If you pretended you knew Winnie I bet they would hire you.
Which communist regime did you grow up under, Des? Your story reminds me of one of my own. Some nine years ago I was working at the Whittington Hospital in north London with a colleague from Serbia. He was incredibly well-versed in Marxist theory and history even though he rejected it all. Outside the hospital there was a posse of SWP activists who peddled their rag. Dusan got talking to them one day and they were obviously impressed by his knowledge of Trotsky's writings. He then wrong-footed them dazzlingly by very politely bringing up the Kronstadt massacre. It was clear that the person he was talking to had no idea what he was on about, and the awkwardness on her face was priceless.

And I've no idea what those Japanese emails were peddling. Perhaps I should send them to Lindy for translation.

GB: fair point, but it's unlikely this would start after so many years. Winnie is a blight on South Africa's continuing history: the fact that a convicted child kidnapper can be forgiven is evidence of the profound, ongoing malaise in that troubled country.

it's all those feet, consuming human flesh often has that effect on the body.
Just make a drink Footie and relax for the evening. You've probably just picked up a bug, I doubt it is the portal of doom opening.
Of course, I could be wrong.
I grew up just across the river from your Serbian friend. Luckily for me, things sarted falling apart when I was beginning high-school, so I got to enjoy quire a lot of freedom (sexual freedom was the sweetest upside to it). Can't say I'm too versed in Marxist theory--when I was in school, nobody was giving a damn about it any more. I couldn't be bothered to read more of it myself; there were waaay hotter things than that, like French literature, or German Idealism. And I've always had a visceral dislike for Trotsky anyway.

Is that Winnie Mandela you guys are talking about? Whom did she kidnap, anyway?
Footsie, I'm sorry you feel crummy... You mean people actually USE your email?! Hmm... I can't promise translations, but I could try... besides, if I couldn't actually translate it, I'd make up something really good to entertain the sicky...
Milosevic's disembodied ghost may be haunting you now, Footsie. That's how it starts, usually. I'd carry some garlic about me if I were you.
Sarah: it's always important to clean any muck from under the toenails first, and I might have neglected this.

FMC: you're probably right, but I'm not taking any chances - I spent today shoring up my supplies of canned food and ammunition.

Des: you're clearly younger than the donnish academic I'd had you pegged as. Winnie Mandela kidnapped a 14-year-old boy called James 'Stompie' Moeketsi in 1989 and was probably complicit in his murder. She got off with a fine. Three years ago she was convicted on over 40 counts of fraud. The evil harridan is still at large.

And I made sure I drove a stake through Slobo's heart, so I should be safe.

Lindy: will forward one or two of them on to you when they recur, as surely they must.
"Donnish academic"? Somehow, I don't think it's a compliment. Geez, do I sound that old and dusty? Crap.
Des, that was supposed to be a compliment. 'Donnish' wasn't the right word. As you can see if you look at my Blunt Cogs character profile, I have the social skills of a cadaver.
I have almost nothing to add, but I offer my services in the interpretation of portents.

Such an active conversation started by such an post. Doesn't it always seem to be the way, Foot? Its the short little posts that provoke the most covnersation, and the long ones seem to go by unnoticed.

Does this indicate that longer posts leave your readers thinking they have nothing to add?
Or does it indicate that your readers don't bother finishing the long ones, and therefore don't comment?

As for the poseur Socialists: That's often the way of the novitiate zealot. the coversion is a revelation to them, their enthusiasm more the point than the philosophy they espouse enthusiasm for.
They ride the bus without understanding the driver or the engine, but have a blast during the trip anyway.

Although I must say that sometimes the history of a philosophy is not an indicator of the value of the philosophy itself. That is, the simple fact that evil has been done in the name of a philosophy does not indicate that the philosophy as a whole is without merit and/or is evil as well.
Look at what the US government does in the name of freedom and democracy. Look at what the USSR did in the name of communism. Look at what countless fuckers have done in the name of their religions.
I'm not a socialist, although I'm a bit on the lefty side of the equation. But I won't say that socialism is inherently wrong or bad because of what one ignorant recent convert does or doesn't know.

But....that isn't to say that the MOVEMENT is not without its failures! Poor implementation by the only game in town means that there is not good implementation.
SafeT: 'I have almost nothing to add'? The self-deprecating human bits are taking over from the robotic. Time for a tune-up, my mechanical friend.

Regarding your comments about blog comments: I think you're right on both counts.

The rest: fair point about evil done in the name of noble intentions. The danger in this approach is that one runs the risk of moral equivalence, along the lines of: 'the Soviets committed atrocities in the name of communism, the Bush administration has committed atrocities in the name of freedom and democracy, therefore both sides are equally guilty of perverting their ideals in practice.' My view is that one side, the one that promotes freedom, makes more people happier than the one that negates it by treating people as fodder for some socialist or religious ideal. Socialism and Islamic, or Christian, fundamentalism have tried to impose themselves on people time and time again over the centuries (well, socialism only for the last hundred years or so), and they've wreaked nothing but misery. I'm a libertarian myself: I don't support government involvement in anything apart from policing, national defence and emergency situations such as so-called Acts Of 'God' (climatic catastrophes, alien attack and the like), but despite my views I'm happy to be part of a broad church with other people of Democrat, Republican, Conservative, Labour or Liberal bent who agree fundamentally that the freedom of the individual is paramount.

Let the guns home in. Or not; this might be a fucklestop.
f.e. - dude taht dancw writar story is brileant.

safet -

"I won't say that socialism is inherently wrong or bad because of what one ignorant recent convert does or doesn't know."

lary nivans law (one of em anyway): 'There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.'

anyhow yeah i agree uc ant condem a whoale systam just cuase of a few slipups.
Footie:I wasn't trying to equate the gaffes and arrogance of our current administration to the insanity of, say, Stalin or Pohl Pott. It may have read that way.... blame it on the printer.

Libertarianism isn't my cuppa. I like having roads and public schools and whatnot. Government enforced antitrust regulation is necessary to avoid the predations of oligarchy and monopoly (although this particular administration seems to have no problem with olig and mono). And some element of advocacy is necessary to defend the weak from the potential abuses of the strong.

Arguments for and against the "caretaker" government always seem to focus on the worst-case scenarios.

Against: Government will get impossibly huge and will get involved in our personal lives, ultimately legislating our behavior and perhaps our thoughts. Government will coddle a populace that will then develop a sence of unwarranted entitlement and lazy dependancy. Doom ensues!

For: Without government involvement in business the country will end up effectively controlled by a number of heartless corporations alternately fleecing the consumer and exploiting the worker. Without government funding of public schools the lower classes will lose their ability to become educated and thereby lock them and their families into poverty with no hope of meritocratic advancement. Without unemployment insurance and some element of welfare abject poverty will be the fate of anyone who slips, even for a moment. Doom ensues!

Its a toughie. Both arguments are right! Ultimately no pure form of government can work in the long run. Compromise, compromise, compromise.
I suspect the continued appeal of socialism has to do, in part, with people growing up in a Judeo-Christian tradition of justice and charity (OK, don't give me the thing about the crusades and the inquisition; it's a weak reply), but feel they can't go back to the predominantly silly old tales they tell in churches. So they convert to rabid secular humanism, but the source of their enthusiasm for it is religious fervor. It's kind of hard for such people to look critically at the doctrine they've just embraced. The magic would go 'poof' in under a minute, and then you're left with loneliness and the despair that comes with the realization that you'll have to lead the agonizing life of a drone in suburbia.

That Socialism is the religion of the unbeliever transpires easily from some passages in Marx, a true secular gnostic if there ever was one. The Jewish-Christian promise of the Parousia, or the coming of the Messiah, becomes the inexorable dialectic of history, culminating in the inevitable advent of communist society; Marx's alleged "laws of society" take the place of the premonitions of Old Testament prophets; and the apostles of the new religion are the politically-enlightened intelligentsia that's supposed to lead the fearsome proletariat in its world-engulfing struggle for liberation (of course, in this scenario, the bourgeois middle classes become the hordes of the Antichrist; one has to annihilate them). There you have it, pre-packaged, for only $19.99: salvation for the godless. Hurry while stocks last!

As to the old argument that goes like, "there have been mistakes in practice, but socialism is a great theory", I have two replies to it:
[1] How does one argue that a (social-political) theory is good when it fails so miserably, consistently in practice? By what criterion does one judge the 'goodness' of such doctrines? (I'm here leaving aside the ultimate argument against it--the hollow eye-sockets of about thirty million or so dead people killed in the name of a paradise on earth, staring at us in disbelief);
[2] If socialism is so great in theory (but apparently not in practice), why is it preferable to, say, Christian utopias such as St Augustine's or St Thomas Aquinas's? They seem to work equally well in practice (at least some of those medieval figures weren't so enthusiastic about killing their ideological enemies).

Shit, the donnish nerd couldn't contain himself--again! Sorry, Footsie, I'll sign off now. And, as to your last reply to me, it's not your social skills that are at fault--it's my poor grasp of colloquial English.
desargue:Marx was gnostic?!? Surely you mean agnostic. Gnostic usually means that one accepts the existance of God(s) but rejects the concept that there is only one true path to the God(s). Agnostic usually means one hasn't decided if there is or is not a god. Which is it you mean when you speak of Marx?

In any case, I agree that socialism never works as a form of government. I would posit its because there is no public accountability in it, and no government can be trusted in the long run without public accountability.

But I would argue that no pure democracy without at least an element of socialism works either.

America tried it in the 1800's and through the early part of the 1900's. The system started to become less tenable, since pure democracy has no protection against pure capitolism.

The one is DESTINED to become the other if there is nothing to prevent it.

There are those who would say the survival-of-the-fittest wordview of capitolism is a fine and dandy way to operate a society. But this would require that we change our generally accepted set of ethics and morals.
Regardless of wether or not these morals originate in some Judeo-Christian worldview or if they originate with Islam or Buddhism, the concepts of social justice, the common good, and right and wrong ARE part of our set of internal guidelines.
Justifying those rules is always a challenge. Once you reject "inherant truth" and/or divine revelation, there is almost no way to logically defend ANY set of morals from a purely philosophical attack.
Moral relativism lies in that direction, and that slope ends in anarchy and the rule of one.
Secular humanism attempts to provide a justification, but it is as flimsy as religion in that it begins with unsupportable statements that sound like "we know this to be true," or "we hold these truths to be self-evident," without ever addressing why these are or are not truths.
Did you eat a dodgy foot, or was it Socialism exposure?
Des, SafeT: your thoughtful and well-articulated comments are much appreciated. They deserve a detailed response, but all I'll say for now is that I admit I vacillate between utilitarian and ideological views of what constitutes a good political system. Either way, I prefer one which recognises the rights of the individual over those of the collective and which minimises State intervention. Whether I support this because evidence indicates that people are happier overall under such a system, or because what is currently known about human behaviour indicates that we are 'designed' by nature to be suited to such a system, depends largely on which books I've read lately.
Footsie, you're too kind. If you really wanna do me a favor, poke holes in my ramblings. That outta teach me to write up half-chewed musings.

But I suspect your penchant for utilitarianism is misguided. It's a dead avenue, although many economists and sociologists take it for received wisdom. And here's why it doesn't really work. I'll mention a single example, a very difficult one for the utilitarian:

Imagine we have five persons, all of whom are most outstanding people, major additions to humanity: a great violinist, a brain surgeon, a genius mathematician, a terrific singer (I personally think pop singers are expendable, but nevermind), etc. As it happens, all five of them suffer from incurable diseases, and their only chance to stay alive and continue to benefit humanity is to get an urgent organ transplant (let's assume each needs a different organ).

Now, there's this drifter who's been wasting his life on pointless things, living alone, drinking himself into a stupor every day, and just not being generally useful to society in any discernible way. But, as it happens, his organs are in excellent shape (these things have been known to happen). Being kidnapped, carved up by a doctor, and having his healthy organs harvested by a doctor would save the five great people, although it would certainly kill him.

Here comes the difficulty: from the positions of standard utilitarianism, it can be computed that his death and the use of his organs would result in a greater amount of good/happiness for a greater amount of people. You don't even have to rig the starting assumptions to get that. Now, it follows that killing him to harvest his organs is the RIGHT thing to do, if you're a utilitarian (since, after all, this is what *right* means, in this doctrine: that action is morally right which produces the most aggregate happiness for the largest number of people). But surely, for most decent people, that's still a horrific thing to do, hardly at all reconcillable with our deepest moral intuitions.

There have been attempts, by utilitarians, to provide a solution to this embarrassing problem, but such attempts include modifications to the basic doctrine that make it hardly distinguishable from a rights-based approach to morality (thereby, utilitarianism loses any bite it had). So, if you want to remain a true utilitarian, you are faced with this very uncomfortable scenario.

Arguing that such cases are extremely improbable won't help. They're still possible; moreover, this example can easily be modified to result in more life-like situations: say, instead of a drifter, you have a group/minority whose rights are severely and systematically violated, although this results in a greater amount of good for a greater amount of people. The point being that the very notion of rights becomes extremely difficult to uphold, if you're a utilitarian. You may want to reconsider that allegiance.

And, Inspector T: I meant to say there are some elements to suggest Marx was a SECULAR (i.e., non-religious) gnostic--you can still meaningfully talk about a gnosis (as a form of privileged salvific knowledge for the initiated) even without commitment to the existence of a deity. Marx transforms Judaeo-Christian eschatology into the advent of the communist paradise on earth; but the modes of thought and the rhetorical motifs are common to him and the Christian gnostics (Saturnil, Basilides, Valentinus, etc.) I most certainly know what an anostic is, and surely Marx wasn't one. Quite a rabid atheist in fact, if there ever was one.
But that 'lifeboat' scenario of yours, multiplied a thousandfold, wouldn't lead to an overall improvement in the common weal, because we'd then be living in a society where the idea would be commonplace that if you don't succeed, you're fair game for the organ-harvesters. This wouldn't be a very nice society to live in. Too many interpretations of utilitarianism use short-term examples as their basis. That said, I agree with you on a very unreasoning level. Viscerally I don't want to believe in a political system which is founded on utilitarian criteria: it seems so sterile, and worse, fragile. I'd much rather have a system based on some scientifically proven findings about human nature. This is why I was once a Randroid. I was turned off this path, oddly, by the writings of the great PJ O'Rourke, who said once (and I paraphrase): "Everyone is equal. We're all as funny and nasty and stinky as everyone else." Ayn Rand's view of humanity as essentially rational is deeply attractive and yet utterly refuted by historical and more personally empirical evidence.
Politics:Its all just biding time until the damn machines take over. Here's to artificial intelligence and good governance!
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