That was my favourite letter in some time. Thank you. I also love irony, at least when I’m aware of it.
The progression of agency in the history of literature was something I never really appreciated until you said it. It makes sense given your snapshots; a deus ex machina-heavy ancient Greek play through conscious fate-addled Shakespearean contemplator up to the unrelenting conscious agency of the agent James Bond. OK the last one’s a joke, and it’s because an invincible agency is as boring as a completely yielding one, which suggests to me this Continue reading #50 On depth
Thinking The Bible perfectly good or perfectly bad is wrong. Reading my criticism of it as saying it is perfectly wrong is, ironically, the same kind of wrong. Here’s my imperfect heuristic: what was written by a bunch of uneducated dudes who were trying to lay claim to the ultimate truth, between 1900 and 2900 years ago, is probably quite wrong. And where it happens to be right, we will have better equivalents now anyway. So we can safely junk it.
Were I to apply this only to holy texts, you could accuse me of being ideologically anti-religious. But of course I apply this to all texts pre-1500. Doesn’t matter if it’s Socrates, Seneca or Saint Paul, they don’t know shit from Shinola about a lot of things. Continue reading #49 On irony
I realised after I sent the letter that I might have been wrong to say you dismissed it because it was Jesus. What I meant to say is that you dismiss it because it comes from a religion. Ex Schola would have been the better phrase to use, but because it’s less pretentious it’s less fun to say in a letter.
It’s absolute madness that fundamentalists think The Bible is perfect. And the exact opposite to this, which is to think it’s perfectly and absolutely flawed, is also madness. If you had never heard Continue reading #48 On Groups
Do I not give Jesus’ teachings a fair go because of his reputation? I have to say, my major engagement with religion has been to read the holy texts as though they were written by unexceptional humans (which indeed they were).
In The Bible we get the opposite: the mother of all halo effects where people listen to what Jesus says not because of the quality of his teachings but because he is posing as the son of someone important. Evaluated as anonymous statements on how to live, the New Testament fails terribly. Nowadays, unfairly transplanted from the cultural context in which it was written, it recommends behaviour that is totally unethical and totally nuts given what we now know about human nature and the world. Love thy neighbour as thyself. Impossible. Give no thought for the morrow. Terrible advice guaranteed to ruin. Continue reading #47 On real democracy
People and philosophers tend to get bogged down in binary oppositions like objective vs subjective, nature vs culture and inductive vs deductive knowledge. Continental philosophers tend to complicate such binaries, trying to show how both terms are inadequate. Analytic philosophers tend to talk themselves into the ground trying to prove or disprove the existence of one of the terms.
But I think the unusually practical philosopher Daniel Dennett goes about these things the right way and his method is quite generally applicable. Continue reading Deduction, subjectivity & culture are all real enough
I’d like to invent a phrase. I proposed it on Twitter and a rando was able to give me the Latin for it. “Ex homine”. Rather than ad hominem (try to disprove an idea by criticising the person), ex homine (from the person), my phrase, is to automatically dismiss an idea because of who it comes from. The rando insisted that ad homimem does what I want, he has a point, but this second thing is so common I think it deserves this more precise version.
Jesus is an ethical exemplar only in the way that his story contains tidbits of ethical exemplarism. You’re triggered because Continue reading #46 On hominems
You’ve triggered me. It surely won’t surprise you that citing Jesus as an ethical exemplar does nothing for me. “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Cesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” Nought.
Jesus offers spiritual balms for the dispossessed. For the powerful he offers a free pass. Worked OK for industrial capitalism, I admit, but it was even better suited to empire, feudalism and monarchy. It was a recipe for political acquiescence so good the Roman empire adopted it holus-bolus. The only piece of political action he did was to mess up the desks of some money changers, once. Jesus appears to have been a social conservative and an economic liberal. Not a great combo. Continue reading #45 On Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour
I’m sitting at my house in my spare room with that cool Canberra breeze invigorating my fasted frame. It’s a cold snap that feels like a reprieve from the extreme heat of previous weeks, but in reality it’s likely to be two violent swings of a unpredictable climate growing more extreme. Still, feels good.
I admit I didn’t know about COINTELPRO. But I was aware of other, more purely racist things like Nixon and his advisors recorded on tape actively working to increase racial tensions, and of course Jim Crow. But I do see a very uncomfortable reality that all* these “conspiracies” you mentioned were government-instituted. And government instituted because the people were either: undermining the government (COINTELPRO), weren’t trusting the government enough (Nixon) or not segregating themselves enough (Jim Crow). Who knows what the world might be like if the government wasn’t trying to fix our social lives over the last hundred years.
Now moving to systemic problems more generally. Continue reading #44 On the struggle