The Vanishing Point

This relates to a technique made famous by the Italian Renaissance – Perspective – which creates an intense visual illusion – which absolutely flummoxed people at the time.

In out time, it seems to me, we are being flummoxed in another way. Which has resulted in our being vanished ourselves.

Two things are going on here. Everything explodes from one point in the past – it is not too clear when this was, sometime in the last five hundred years, for sure, with increasing emphasis on the last fifty years. Except people – which were being imploded in another direction. Technically, this could be called two-point perspective – with an opposite direction for time in each.

Does this make you feel dizzy? It sure does me – and I have to limit the amount of time I spend thinking about it.


The Face Behind the Mask of Success

As you know, I am obsessed with the subject of sociopaths. I am now listening to the second book on the subject – Confessions of a Sociopath. And I have been unsure how to react to it.

The proper reaction, I am sure – is to pretend the subject does not exist, that these people do not exist. That this is is just one of the many, many subjects that must be ignored by the right kind of people – who are just like everyone else.

But our society, sometimes called the Age of Anxiety, contains extremes – people who are nothing and want to know nothing – and also an astonishing amount of information. That is why it is sometimes called the Information Economy. The two – The Age of Anxiety and the Information Economy fit together nicely. Two sides of the same coin.

Sometimes the image on the cover of book reveals a lot about its contents – indeed, that is what it is for. The image on this book is that of the mask that the author holds up to hide her real identity. And the best parts of the book describe how she does that in her life as a lawyer and an academic. This gal is extremely clever about working around her limitations as a sociopath – but even more unusual because she works hard at understanding herself. And is honest about telling her readers about what has really happened in her life.

This is typical of a new kind of memoir that tells us not only about the author’s past – but the past of an entire people – what we call (for lack of a better term) post-modern society.

I am taking an online course now about The Fiction of Relationship – and am learning how far back this trend goes in Literature – and how important it was. People were reading about themselves – and were amazed by what they were reading.

And what can be said of an individual can also be said for her whole society. A society obsessed with success – but also obsessed with hiding what that success really amounts to.

Being Products

Products seem perfectly natural to us, we cannot imagine being without them. But before the Industrial Revolution they did not exist.

Many of the same things existed – medieval clothing, for example, was more elaborate than our own. And their castles and churches are marvels to us even today. But their lives were entirely different – so much so that to an outside observer might conclude that they were a different species.

People today dismiss this difference, and refuse to consider its significance – just as they refuse to consider the significance of their own  world.

I am listening to A Distant Mirror, a history of the 14th Century – the century immediately proceeding the beginning of the Modern world. The author, Barbara Tuchman, is doing a very thorough job of explaining it, and I will be listening to her explanation for some time.

But I can see, looking over a summary of her work – that she, like everyone else, does not understand our obsession with products and productivity. Perhaps this is where I come in.

First of all, and I cannot stress this enough, what we are dealing with here is a complex – a situation where many interacting forces are at work. This idea would not have seemed strange to a Medieval man, who lived in a complex world himself.

But Modern man became used to simpler ways of explaining things – as chains of cause-and-effect (where only two variables at  time were involved – such as mass and distance in the theory of gravitation).  Post-modern man (which is what we are) is baffled by his world and cannot understand much of anything at all.

I now return to the subject of products and productivity. The main effect of the Industrial Revolution was to change men – and focus them on what we now call business (or Capitalism) and products. And to produce people completely unaware of this – mass man.

Once again, we are describing a complex, where a key component of this complex is the people involved themselves.

Are you still with me? If so, congratulations! You are one of the minority in any age that is different, and sees things differently. Allow me return to my historical summary.

The first emphasis (or obsession) in the Modern world was on trade. But trade using a new technology (or product) – the Sailing ship. Which produced the world’s first technical boom. Immediately, an Industry was born – building, maintaining, and staffing these ships. And in organizing their usage – ways of financing them, for example, became very ingenious – and made immense fortunes.

But even more importantly, something that escaped notice altogether – the population boom that produced mass man. I repeat: this was not noticed at all by the people who should have noticed it – the thinkers of the age. Emerson, it is true, said Things are in the saddle, and ride man. And everyone agreed with him. But no one thought to examine the changes to men themselves – which were too shocking to be believed.

Mass men was taking over – simply because there were so many of them. They were making a few at the top very rich – and they had no desire to change the way things were.

But the process was just beginning. Wind power was replaced by Steam power – and the consumption of fossil fuels. Manufacturing was born – ordinary people became nothing but poorly-paid attendants to manufacturing machines. And automatically became like machines themselves.

But the process continued, at an ever-faster pace. Electricity when combined with Photography (sometimes called the Second Industrial Revolution) produced new products – and more importantly, new fascinations – the Cinema, and then Television. And made mass control possible. People were relegated to the role of consumers.

The produce-consume cycle was born, and took over the economy. People demanded eternal growth to accommodate this – something that was clearly impossible.

But the process continued with yet another revolution, which has not yet been recognized as one – the computer/software/internet. We are now in the process of serving it – and have forgotten completely that our technologies are supposed to serve us.

This should complete my analysis, but I want to note one more thing – the young. who are clearly different. They are not interested in being productive – or even, it seems to me – in being. What they are I have no idea, and I suspect no one else does either.

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

I am listening to this now, and it is freaking me out. I don’t see how anyone could see this as entertainment. It makes 1984 seem like an optimistic  fairy tale. From Wikipedia:

A never named father and his young son journey across a grim post-apocalyptic landscape, some years after a major unexplained cataclysm has destroyed civilization and most life on Earth. The land is filled with ash and devoid of living animals and vegetation. Many of the remaining human survivors have resorted to cannibalism, scavenging the detritus of city and country alike for flesh. The boy’s mother, pregnant with him at the time of the disaster, gave up hope and committed suicide some time before the story begins, despite the father’s pleas. Much of the book is written in the third person, with references to “the father” and “the son” or to “the man” and “the boy”.

The link to Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction helped me to understand what is going on. It is literature, in the sense that it makes a standard scenario even more real.

Even so, listening to this, at least for a sensitive person like me, probably has more impact than watching it in a movie. My mind can fill in the details and make it more real than real.

Definitely not the last thing to do before going to sleep.

Bad Faith

This is one of Sartre’s key concepts, and one of his most important ones. On an impulse, I just looked it up on Wikipedia:

Bad faith (Latinmala fides) is double mindedness or double heartedness in duplicityfraud, or deception.[1] It may involve intentional deceit of others, or self deception.

The expression “bad faith” is associated with “double heartedness”,[1] which is also translated as “double mindedness”.[2][3][4] A bad faith belief may be formed through self deception, being double minded, or “of two minds”, which is associated with faith, belief, attitude, and loyalty. In the 1913 Webster’s Dictionary, bad faith was equated with being double hearted, “of two hearts”, or “a sustained form of deception which consists in entertaining or pretending to entertain one set of feelings, and acting as if influenced by another”.[1] The concept is similar to perfidy, or being “without faith”, in which deception is achieved when one side in a conflict promises to act in good faith (e.g. by raising a flag of surrender) with the intention of breaking that promise once the enemy has exposed himself. AfterJean Paul Sartre’s analysis of the concepts of self deception and bad faith, bad faith has been examined in specialized fields as it pertains to self deception as two semi-independently acting minds within one mind, with one deceiving the other.

I can hardly improve on this, but you should read the whole link – and then read Sartre, who has an amazing ability to combine highly abstract reasoning with concrete examples.

Coming from a religious background, my early life was saturated with this – hypocrisy on a massive scale. But as a very senior citizen, I can see the US, and Obama in particular (and the Pentagon, Congress and the Courts), indulging in the same thing to their hearts content.

I can also see the Evangelicals here in Costa Rica doing it – gaining all kinds of converts by associating themselves with prosperity – something Latinos cannot resist.

History Repeats Itself?

I have an easy life. I am reading 1848 a turning Point?, a used book I picked up for practically nothing on Amazon, with the edges turning  yellow with age – and drinking the local cheap wine (which packs quite a wallop). Meanwhile, my cleaning lady cleans my apartment, making a hell of a racket cleaning my little carpet with a cheap vacuum cleaner.

Life down here has its little dramas – this morning the door fell off Ray’s refrigerator (my landlord who lives in the same house), making a hell of racket, dumping all all kinds of food on the floor. I help him fix it; earlier he had fixed the flush chain on my toilet.

But to get back to the book – it has two key phrases: revolutionary and reactionary. In the 1800s in Europe these two fought it out, back and forth – a history which has been largely forgotten And also, it might be said, in America – where the Founding Fathers were succeeded by Andrew Jackson, and then the Civil War. And even in the Middle East now, with the Arab Spring. The following are quotes from the Introduction:

While the revolutionaries disputed among themselves, the reactionaries gradually recovered their strength.

Fears of social upheaval had made the people willing to exchange liberty for order and entrust executive power to man who symbolized dictatorship (Napoleon III).

The cleaning lady has left, and I continue to read my book.

Earlier, I went for a long bicycle ride, which left me nice and tired. What more could I want?

The Spoiled Child

This is one of Ortega y Gasset’s most famous similes, and you are struck by it the first time you hear it. This is like his depiction of mass-man – immediately you know what he is talking about – something you already knew about, but had no words for.

I am still reading Human Existence as Radical Reality, which is about Ortega’s philosophy. Pedro Blas Gonzalez, the author, tries to make Ortega too much of a philosopher, in my opinion, when I would prefer him to be an acute, intuitive observer of the post-modern scene – more of a psychologist or sociologist. What follows begins on page 122. He starts with technology, which is indeed part of this complex.

The practical applications of the technology have immense dangers for the mass-man because these advances in science are not understood or appreciated by the masses. This only brings about what he calls the “psychology of the spoilt child”.

This spoiled child as such has no self-imposed limits to his caprice and desires. These desires are perpetuated by even more demands without consideration to any sense of obligation on his part…The spoiled child naturally assumes that everything is always ready-made, and therefore always available on demand…They are only concerned with their own well-being, and at the same time remain alien to the cause of that well-being.

They do not see behind the benefits of civilization, marvels of inventions and construction, which can only be maintained by great effort and foresight, the imagine that their role is limited to demanding these rights peremptorily, as if  they were natural rights.

On the other hand:

Man must confront his own life reflectively prior to affecting any meaningful and dutiful engagement with society at large…Life is always presented to us first and foremost as a differentiated self. The discovery of this self allows for an existential understanding of “myself” as being something that is not merely biological.

On page 125:

Ideology for Ortega represents the best example of the vulgarity of mass society…the ideals of ideologues are bent on the destruction of institutions, and not with instituting internal reform.

But, as we begin the twenty-first century, sensitive minds in both philosophy and science are beginning to wonder if in fact man is not truly a teleological “infinite synthesis,” as Immanuel Kant so beautifully expressed it…all forms of “revolt” that are not anchored in a reflective self end up by simply promoting cultural decay and moral nihilism.

A reflective self – how rare that is!