Rethinking Nero and the Gas Chamber Accompanists

One of the most memorable scenes for me from all the movies I’ve seen is the one in The Titanic when it’s clear the ship is sinking, they’re all going to die, and the first violinist of the chamber group looks to each member of the group and receives confirmation that ‘Yes, of course, we’re going to do this’ — not because it’s their job (like that sad character in McKeller’s Last Night) or because they want to soothe or distract the hysterical (who surely won’t be paying any attention), but because they’re musicians. And, despite their gig on the Titanic, music is everything. So what a way to die! To have as the last thing on one’s mind that score, to have that beautiful music be the last thing one hears, to draw the bow with one’s last breath —

So Nero fiddling while Rome burned and the people who played as the others walked to the gas chambers — not cowardice (because I’ve wondered what I would’ve done if I’d been given the order to play), not callousness, not endorsement, not mockery, not even comfort. But respect. If I can do nothing, at least I will give (you) beauty, I will honor (your) life with all of my skill and all of my art —

Dismissing Philosophers

“Yes, well, that’s a philosophical question, isn’t it.” So, what, the question’s unimportant? Because it can’t be answered with quantitative certainty? But philosophical questions can be answered with more or less strength, more or less adequacy.

Also, since there’s no absolutely right or wrong answer to most philosophical questions, the consensus seems to be that anyone can ‘do’ philosophy.  In one sense, that’s true.  Anyone can do philosophy.  Anyone can do physics too.  It’s just that incompetence, inadequacy, will be more apparent in the latter case.  Because there are right and wrong answers.  Most of the time.  At least at the lower levels.

But that’s true of much philosophy too.  It’s just that we haven’t trained people to see mistakes in reasoning as much as we’ve trained them to see mistakes in arithmetic.  (Which is, partly, why people mistakenly think all opinions are equally valid.)

Not only are philosophical questions dismissed, philosophers too are dismissed.  After all, they’re no better than the rest of us.  Their opinions are no more valid.  I’m starting to see the dismissal of scientists in the same way: it occurs when the person doesn’t understand science – after all, if you don’t understand the scientific process of hypothesis formulation and testing, if you don’t understand how scientists arrive at their opinions, you won’t consider scientific opinions any more valid.  Similarly with philosophers: if you don’t understand the relationship of premise and conclusion, the necessity of relevance…

Mainstream and Alternative

So I was browsing the movie collection at my online DVD rental site and feeling so very tired and bored with movies by men, about men, for men.  My request list had dwindled to almost zero, and I wasn’t finding anything I was interested in.  So I decided to check out the “Alternative” section for at least an off-beat movie (by men, about men, for men) and WOH.  There they were! The movies by women. About women. For women. Lots and lots of movies with women front and center. Strong, interesting women. 

So I’m thinking, what a labeling mistake.  Why don’t they just call the mainstream ‘male’ and the alternative/indie ‘female’.   (Oh.  Right.)

                       

Being Josh

[Another old one, but it still applies...]

It’s Monday night basketball, an all-comers pick-up game, supposed to be fun and a good sweat. But week after week I steel myself against the anger, the frustration of not knowing how to correct the problem, and the despair of not being able to even begin to do just that. Eventually it happens: this time it’s Josh who yells at me to switch, to guard the new grade niner who’s just come onto the court to sub for the guy who’d been guarding Josh and Josh would guard the guy I’d been guarding.

I am distracted, as always, by the insult, the unwarranted assumption that I’m always the worst player there (even worse than the new grade niners) (although I’m thirty-five and played basketball throughout high school), and by the faulty logic that weak offensive players* are weak defensive players and should therefore guard other weak offensive players.

Nevertheless, I manage to focus on yet another problematic aspect of the shouted order: that it was an order, and it was given with the full expectation of compliance. How is it, I thus have occasion to wonder yet again, that a kid, a 17-year-old less than half my age, believes he can tell me what to do, believes he knows better than me? The answer is simple: he’s male. And I’m female. If I were a man over twice his age, he’d keep his thoughts to himself. And if he were a girl, he wouldn’t even have such thoughts.

When Chodorow wrote “Being and Doing”, a ground-breaking analysis of sexism in terms of passivity (of being, of women) and activity (of doing, of men), she got it right – but she also got it wrong. Josh is so easy in his authority over me simply because he’s male, simply because he is male. He hasn’t had to do anything to gain that authority, or the respect I feel myself giving him just before I catch myself acting like Pavlov’s dog. The confidence, the assurance, the arrogance that he must have to even think he can just tell me what to do – he has it just because he’s male. And he probably started developing it as soon as he realized he was indeed male: I’ve heard 5-year-old boys speak with the same kind of authority.

Women, on the other hand, have to do – we have to earn respect, we don’t just get it automatically. And I’m not sure we ever achieve any authority, no matter what we do.

And of course it’s not just respect and authority men feel entitled to just because they’re men: they also feel entitled to money (pay, and higher pay) and power (supervisory positions). In short, they feel entitled to dominance, just because of who, of what, they are (not because of what they do).

* I concede on this point, especially when I’m playing with people who are taller than me, who play with a slightly larger ball than I learned to play with, and who, most importantly, recognize only a hotshotting inside kind of game.

Why do you read the paper every day?

Why do you read the paper (or listen to/watch the news) every day?  Certainly not for an objective account of events.  Because surely you’re aware of editorial bias – what gets in (or not), where it goes, and how much space it gets there.  And reporter bias – who gets interviewed, what gets asked (or not), and what gets put at the beginning of the piece.

And how it’s said.  To describe an incident with complete objectivity is to give a phenomenological account.  And anyone who’s taken Phenomenology 101 knows how difficult that is.  Even to say “There is a brown house” is to have made an assumption, is to have imposed your subjectivity.  You can’t see the house.  From your perspective, standing in front of it, all you see is one, or maybe two walls.  You assume there’s a third and a fourth.  Your subjectivity fills in the gaps.  All the time.

It gets worse.  Read the rest of this entry »

Is it true that some people can’t think?

I watched The Shawshank Redemption recently and was struck by the scene where the guy says that in solitary confinement he had Mozart to keep him company, and they all express surprise that he was allowed to have a record player, and he says ‘No, in here’ and points to his head—and they all look at him dumbly. With no understanding whatsoever. Shortly before that, I was reading a novel in which someone confesses to making people up and having entire conversations between them in her head, and someone else says something like ‘Really? Being able to make up characters and tell yourself stories is a sign of high intelligence.’ What?

Is that true? Is it the case that some (many?) (most?) people can’t imagine? Or even remember? They can’t close their eyes and picture (remember or imagine) a scene, they can’t hear (remember or imagine) music in their heads, they can’t hold (remember or imagine) conversations in their head? Meaning, if they can’t do the last mentioned, they can’t think? Has there ever been a study about this? Has anyone actually conducted a survey and asked people whether they can do the forementioned?

Taxing the Rich

Of course the rich people should have to pay higher taxes. Not because of some sacrifice for the common good principle or some trickle down principle or some from each according to their ability principle, but because they don’t deserve their money. There, I said it. They don’t deserve their millions.

Even if I worked twenty hours a day, 365 days of the year, I wouldn’t make anywhere near just one million.

So they must be making ten, twenty, a hundred times per hour what I’m making.

Is what they’re doing a hundred times more important than what I’m doing. It’s not even ten times more important. (Let’s say I’m a garbage collector.)

Is it a hundred or ten times more difficult? No. (Let’s say I’m a nurse in the paraplegic ward.)

Does it take a hundred or ten times as much skill or training? No. (Let’s say I’m an astrophysicist.)

Rich people have their millions because they’ve been paid, by others or by themselves, an unfair amount for their work. Or because they know how to work an unfair economic system that, for starters, rewards risk: the stock market.

But why do we reward risk? Because it’s a male thing. And males reward themselves for male values.

Actually, though, often it’s not a risk. If the company they started, the company they invested in, lost millions, they could declare bankruptcy. And other people would pay the price. Not them. Or if they’re really big, if they lost really big, the government might bail them out. That is, us.

Furthermore, they’re not even risking their own money. They probably borrowed the start-up money from the bank. So it’s our money. Or the bank’s money (which is just money they made by investing our money).

Or if it was their own money, well it still wasn’t. It was inherited from their parents. (Who probably inherited it from their parents). Because you can’t have that much money to invest by working and saving. Even if you work twenty hours a day, 365 days a year…

Better than Speech Codes

Instead of prohibiting ‘hate speech’, we should just prohibit all claims made without reasons.

Oh how our society would change! If we were legally compelled to provide reasons, justifications, evidence, for every claim we made in public…

No exemptions for politicians – every speech, every statement to the press…

No exemptions for business – every ad, my god, that one alone gives one pause…

Go ahead. Say whatever you think. But only if you also say why you think it.

How ridiculous most of us would sound most of the time. Our almost complete dependence on immature appeals to emotion, our thin and pathetic appeals to custom, tradition, past practice majorities, questionable authorities – all exposed by expression. How silent we would suddenly fall after the unwarranted, self-righteous ‘because – ’ How quickly we would just – shut up.

Jass Richards on PTSD (from The Blasphemy Tour)

(excerpted from Jass Richards’ The Blasphemy Tour)

“We hope you’re enjoying Texas?” the show’s host said, after he introduced Dylan and Rev as his first guests of the day.

“Well, we’re a little puzzled by all the American flags. Outside on people’s houses and their lawns—we’ve even been seeing them sticking up in the middle of the forest, at people’s cabins presumably. What an eyesore.”

She didn’t notice the intake of breath.

“Well,” the host replied, “many people fly the flag because they have a son or daughter serving overseas.”

Rev hadn’t thought about that. She did now. Then said, “And why would they want to advertise such stupidity?” Read the rest of this entry »

The Problem with Democracy

The problem with democracy is that it’s just an appeal to the majority.

And most people, the majority, simply want whatever’s in their own, personal, best interest. We are a nation of egoists. Average life span what it is, personal interests are necessarily short-term. Average intelligence what it is, personal interests are also immediate and concrete. So what’s good for the whole, the whole country, never mind the whole planet, will never happen.

So, also, talk about the need for an informed citizenry is irrelevant. True, the majority doesn’t know diddlysquat. But also true, they have no interest whatsoever in finding out. Because all they care about is themselves. And they’re convinced they already know all there is to know about what’s best for themselves. And they’re probably right, because their interests are so immediately and concretely served.

Worse, those few to whom one might speak about the problem with this state of affairs believe that the good of the whole is equal to the good of the parts, so, they reason, this state of affairs, each individual voting for what he or she personally wants, is the best state of affairs.

I suppose it might be the most fair, the most just, state of affairs – which only means when our world stops working, we will have gotten exactly what we deserve.

We, the majority, that is.

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