#48 On Groups

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

#47 On real democracy

Dear Mat,

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

Deduction, subjectivity & culture are all real enough

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

#46 On hominems

Dear Jamie,

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

#45 On Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour

Dear Mat,

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

#44 On the struggle

Dear Jamie,

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

#43 On guilt

Dear Mat,

Conspiracy theorists miss a trick by alleging clandestine operations by shadowy cabals of powerful men who secretly run the world. They could simply point out the cabal of powerful men who openly run the world. Genuine, secret conspiracies occasionally happen as well. The CIA really did murder black leaders in the 1960s for COINTELPRO. But the surprising thing about COINTELPRO is not that public officials given ample funding and little oversight tend to abuse their power to control a populace, but that most people haven’t heard of COINTELPRO. The real conspiracy is languishing in the open, while febrile imaginings of the Illuminati and flat earths are common knowledge.

Describing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ account as “conspiratorial” is wrong because it implies secrecy. There are no secrets here, just very little awareness. Continue reading #43 On guilt

#42 On objective exploitation

Dear Jamie,

I’d already read the Atlantic article of Between the World and Me, and read it again after your suggestion. To be honest I found it baleful and conspiratorial. The end kind of saves it with a Christian-like “we’re all struggling but some more than others”. Though rather than a cosmic evil or an entropic universe his struggle is against a white conspiracy beyond the knowledge and intention of most of those involved. One of the issues with subjective experiences as we’re discussing them is that they can be annihilated when in contact with an opposing one.  At the time I also read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s response, a more optimistic reading of America despite her subjective plight being obviously more violent and horrible than Coates’.

Two topics have been rolling around in my head since reading your letter. Can subjective experience add up to an objective indictment? And what is the role of exploitation in history? Continue reading #42 On objective exploitation

The blog of Jamie Freestone and Mathew McGann