Archive for October, 2014

Believing in Angels

Guardian Angel

Guardian Angel

I am thinking of believing in angels.

The question I have is whether there is anything at all in occult philosophy, hermeticism, mysticism, theosophical ideas, magic, Kabbalah, angelology, Rosicrucianism, or any of that kind of thing. People study it, of course, and some people study it in mainstream academia — but as a matter of historical or cultural interest. Some few of those academics get caught up in it, such as Guénon, who became a Sufi, but generally people get an interest about these ideas without coming to hold any of these ideas.

Why don’t they hold them?

Because alchemy is not as effective in the “real” world as chemistry. Because astrology allows fewer accurate predictions of future events than astronomy. Because physics has been more testable than metaphysics. Materialism and naturalism are seriously successful.

How do you define “success”?

Success means being able to do things in the world, to predict future events from current conditions, to control the outcomes of situations more effectively than leaving things to chance. Our world was not built based on our knowledge of spirits, past life regressions, the vibrations of crystals, or the formation of tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. If you want to know something, then the methodology of science is the way to go.

Is science our Platonic cave?

If so, the cave is air conditioned and heated, has hot and cold running water, indoor plumbing, electric lights, refrigerated food, and the internet.

You are making a good case.

Yes, I think so.

But do you think that there is any kind of knowing that is not empirico-logical knowing? Or, in other words, are there alternative modes of logic or rationality?

I can’t see how. One can have an opinion on anything, but knowledge is that which can be demonstrated or rationally justified.

Can I know my wife loves me?

Do you mean, can you prove it beyond any doubt? I don’t think so. Can you prove it beyond a reasonable doubt? I think that is entirely possible. Proof does not have to mean mathematical proof in every case, but that admission does not entail that there are alternative rationalities.

What about things you cannot prove? What about the claim that Bach made better music than Justin Bieber?

Again, even though there is an element of taste (about which there is no disputing) involved, there is still a reasonable argument to be made that, assuming by “better” you mean (at least) more enduring, more culturally influential, that Bach made better music than Justin Bieber.

Not a completely knock down argument, though.

No, but a solid, reasonable claim.

Should I believe in angels?

Why should you? Have you ever seen one?

Did you see how little damage happened to my car last Friday when I hit a dear an near full speed on the interstate? I can’t help but think my Guardian Angel saved us.

You could help it, if you tried. You could say that your own quick reaction time and cool head, coupled with the geometry of the impact, etc., minimized the damage to your vehicle.

I suppose I could. But what if I really think an angel intervened on our behalf in that situation? Am I being unreasonable?

It would seem so. You are adding to the explanation more than is sufficient to explain the event.

I am not sure it is explainable.

We’ve just explained it. Look, if your Guardian Angel helped you out of the jam you were in, how did he…I’m sorry, is it a he?



No. It’s not like that. But you can say “he”.

Okay, if your Guardian Angel helped you out of the jam you were in, how did “he” do it? He did it by phenomenologically slowing things down for you, thus increasing your reaction time; by keeping you calm; by engineering the geometry of the impact in such a way to mitigate the damage to your vehicle. So why not just subtract the angel part? You’d have the same thing anyway.

Look, as you well know, I am not the most calm, cool-headed person you’ve ever met. My eyesight, especially at night, is not what it used to be. I was traveling fast. The deer was just there, all of a sudden. My vehicle by all rights ought to have been near-totaled. And my wife and I should be injured. But we are not.


Hey, talk about believing things that are not susceptible of scientific investigation!

Okay, you are right. How about coincidence?

Again, not empirical, right?

Right. So I will stick with this claim: If we had the whole thing on tape, had you and your car wired to sensors and analytical devices sufficient for the assessment, we’d be able to completely reconstruct the event and causally explain every aspect of it.

“Sufficient for the assessment.” But what if there are no instruments sufficient for the assessment?

Maybe it is all an effect of quantum uncertainty, but quantum uncertainty, itself, is an empirical and rational framework for understanding. No angels. No ghosts. No gods.

What if it is just way more enjoyable to understand the world around me as filled with spirit beings of various sorts.

You mean, besides, angels, sprites, nymphs, faeries, demons, ghouls…that sort of thing?


Really! You’ve never seen any of these things.

I’ve never seen an atom, either.

You could.

I’ve never seen a quark.

You could.

No, I could only see effects of the purported quarks. And it gets worse with superstrings. But scientists talk about them all the time.

Because they fit with the mathematics.

And you are absolutely sure that mathematics explains everything? Are there not qualitative aspects to reality that do not reduce to the quantitative? Is mathematics the only true language? Does mathematics really mirror reality?

It does seem fairly amazing how talking about the world mathematically helps you to predict, control, and do a lot of things you could not otherwise do if you talked about the world in another language, for instance, English.

A lot of things, yes. All the things we do? Hardly. In fact, the current craze to computer analyze every creative work misses the point of those works entirely. Physics didn’t explain why Socrates sat in prison awaiting his fate, and “digital humanities” will not help us engage any better with the Bard. Even gematria, the ancient practice of numerological analysis of texts, was not an end in itself. Even if it were to be mere projection, it still sparked reflection and insight. And even more simply, the stories of ancient myths were probably never meant to be taken literally (although some people did take them that way and some still do). They were heuristics to insight and wisdom.

They were a load of rubbish. They were attempts to explain the world that, as it turned out, were much worse than the way we explain the world now. It’s that simple.

So the imagination should be suppressed? But wasn’t it the imagination that kick-started the quest to understand in the first place?

Okay, if you want to put it that way. But we’ve moved on from those ancient stories. They perhaps were a ladder we needed to climb up, but now that we’re up we can safely kick it away.

Do you think we’ll ever find we can kick away science?


But if our scientific, technological framework is — and this is undeniable — threatening the very existence of the planet, i.e., if we’ve come to a crisis point, would you agree that we might need another way to think and understand if we are going to get through this ecological disaster?

No. Science will find a way out.

That is a risky bet. Science — and it is very complicit with capitalism — has organized the world in such a way as to foreclose — as you are doing now — on alternative frameworks. And that, in itself, bears a significant responsibility for our present disaster. There is — by definition — no morality attached to either modern science or capitalism. And why not? Because real morality cannot be quantified, algorithmized, or productized. And what goes for ethics, goes double for spirit.

Yeah, listen, you may as well throw out this computer you are working on because it was science that gave it to you.

Well, I very well may have to when the power goes off for the last time.

Such a pessimist!

You think I am crying “wolf”?

Yep. Well, no. You aren’t making it up. You believe it. But then again you believe in faeries and sprites.

I didn’t say I did. I was asking.

Well one thing I do know: if you are right about the impeding apocalypse, it won’t be faeries or sprites that save us.

I know. Only a God can save us.


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To Vote or Not to Vote

I saw one of those picture-posts in my Facebook stream this morning that read, “When you skip voting, it’s not rebellion. It’s surrender.” As one might imagine, there was a great deal of discussion in the comments section. The overwhelming majority of the responses held that if you do not vote, you do not have the right to complain about the government. Following on the heels of this claim is the implication that one has not just a right to vote but a responsibility to vote.

I side with the minority on these claims. I am stunned by how easily people will say that if you do not vote you lose the right to voice your concerns. I thought my right to liberty (including liberty of conscience and speech) was inalienable. That means neither you nor I can abrogate this right – no matter what. This right was “endowed by the Creator” — or, if you don’t like the theological flavor of that claim, we could say: We just have these rights. Period.

So my voting or not voting is immaterial to my right to say whatever I think about our government. You have zero right to silence me on the basis of my not voting. You can disagree with my ideas. You can argue against them. You can simply decide to not take them seriously. But there is no valid argument for silencing me, including an argument on the basis of my voting record.

Just to underline: you have nothing to gainsay this. So stop.

Second, if I have a right to vote, I have the correlative right not to vote. But this requires some reflection.

Voting rights, as they stand, are not inalienable. That means, someone or some group might try to curtail or eliminate this right. In fact, groups try all the time (right, Republicans?). Putting aside cynical politicking (okay, Republicans?), we generally accept that those under 18 may not vote, those with a felony conviction (in some cases) may not vote, that you must be a citizen to vote, that you may vote only once, etc. There are restrictions on voting. So voting rights are limited, which makes voting seem more like a privilege than an inalienable right such as freedom of conscience. A privilege granted by whom? By those currently in the government (legislative, executive, judicial).

So if I am granted this privilege by the powers-that-be, must I exercise it? Am I required to vote? Would it be just in a free society to order people to vote and punish them if they don’t?

And vote for whom? Those on the ballot only, or should write-ins be allowed (as they are today)? If write-ins continue to be allowed, and you force everyone (well, those you deem worthy of the privilege anyway…) to vote, and if everyone irritated by having to vote when they don’t want to comes down to the polling place and writes in their vote for their wise Aunt Sadie or whoever, what would we have then? Would that really be meaningful? Wouldn’t we have more or less the same result if those who didn’t want to vote for one of the party candidates or for a write-in candidate who has zero chance of being elected simply stayed home like they wanted to?

What should we say about those who do not vote? Do they not vote because they are apathetic, lazy, disenchanted, cynical, contented, accepting, wise, rebellious, forgetful, incompetent, statement-making…? What? I don’t think you know, do you? It is certainly not one thing that keeps people from voting.

So whether voting is a right or a privilege, a citizen must be free to vote or not, and without punishment if she chooses not to vote.

But what about this fear: If voting is a privilege granted by the powers-that-be, and if people do not take advantage of that privilege, won’t it be likely that the privilege will be taken away?

There are certainly anti-democratic forces at work that would like to end all voting once and for all. To call voting a privilege plays into their hands, and so it is important to see voting more as a right — an inalienable right. As such, it cannot (legitimately) be taken away or given away, for that matter. Whether anyone votes or not.

So I would say that militating for the right to vote (i.e., fighting for something already ours) is a worthy cause. We’d be out in the streets if the powers-that-be were to try to take away our right to vote (which, by the way, is — by definition here — impossible: our taking to the streets would be our “vote” in that case). Whether you then go ahead and vote, given the current system, is immaterial to that fight. The right is ours. Period.

There is an argument to be made about the efficacy of voting (see this post from 2008). We must consider how much voting becomes a substitute for democratic engagement. We must consider, too, how much of a role big money plays in elections.

There are plenty of good reasons not to vote.

What about the “lesser of two evils” argument? Candidate A may be horrible, but A is far less horrible than B. Is that a good (enough) reason to vote? Isn’t the lesser of two evils still evil? Can one be faulted for not wanting to do evil?

Well, perhaps one can. If our backs are to the wall and all our choices are bad, one cannot be faulted for choosing the least bad option, even though it is still bad. But what if our backs are not against the wall? What if there are options besides complicity with certain evils? Wouldn’t working — in whatever ways, great or small — against the broken system be at least as good (if not better) than surrendering to it? Is taking the time to write a blog post, for instance, giving a reasoned opinion on not voting worth the same as a vote in the current system? Could it even be worth more? What if we were deny the equivalence of “citizenship” and “voting”, to think that we, indeed, have responsibilities, but responsibilities as citizens and not just as voters? One might be a responsible citizen and still not vote. 

To be clear, I am not arguing that you should not vote. I am arguing that if you do not vote you still have the right to voice your dissent and criticism of the government. I am arguing that you do not have responsibilities qua voter, but that you do have responsibilities qua citizen (and qua human being, for that matter). I am suggesting, too, that not voting is a form of vote, and that it can be (but, alas, is not necessarily) an act of civic responsibility.

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Bad Reporting

As I write these words, there is a shooting incident ongoing at the Canadian Parliament. Here is a headline I hate (from CNN):

There is no evidence yet that the shootings are linked to Islamic extremism.


First of all, CNN is reporting on what it does not have evidence of. I am going to to way out on a limb here and say there is a lot that CNN does not have evidence of.  

Second, what exactly is meant by the word “yet” in this headline? Do they have some reason to anticipate that they will have that evidence? If so, then it seems that, in fact, they do have at least some evidence for the claim. But they don’t, so the word “yet” is unjustified.

And then why mention “Islamic extremism” when attacks like the present one can be carried out by all sorts of groups or none.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me: I hope they get this situation controlled in short order and get to the bottom of it. And let the chips fall where they may. But CNN is way out of line with this headline at this point.

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Karl Barth’s Failure by Matthew Rose | Articles | First Things

 But we are living through the unraveling of the Christian metaphysic, which began with a rejection of classical theism, proceeded to abolish purpose from the material world, and is now eliminating the rational and moral nature of man. In order to recognize this metaphysical demolition for what it is—one can scarcely repair what one misunderstands—Christians are no more helped by Barth than by theological liberalism. Both collude with secular reason in denying our capacity to attain knowledge of the highest things. We will be immeasurably better served by recognizing, as John Paul II wrote in Fides et Ratio, that our “crisis of meaning” stems from failing to defend the ability of reason to know “the ultimate and overarching meaning of life.”

Read more from this thoughtful essay on Barth: Karl Barth’s Failure by Matthew Rose | Articles | First Things.

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Church Decline and Karl Marx | “Sublunary Sublime”

 Here’s what Marx got right—profoundly, overwhelmingly, admirably right: capitalism is unforgiving to “conservatives,” those who care about neighborhood, Church, family, loyalty, tradition.

More: Church Decline and Karl Marx | “Sublunary Sublime”.

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A conversation about nothing?

What’s new?

A thought: What if it is all about nothing? One big Seinfeld episode?


Yeah, nothing. Marx, in his XI thesis on Feuerbach said, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” What if that is wrong? What if that is not the point? Not to say that one can’t change or try to change the world in one way or another, only to say that this is not the point of it all.

And suppose that is right…does that mean it is all about nothing? What if Marx is wrong on both points? What if the point is actually to interpret the world?

If that is right, then almost everybody misses the point. People interpret, on a daily basis, aspects of the world that are of their immediate concern, of course. But hardly anyone interprets the world.

Maybe they should?

Then the point would be to change the world, would it not?

How so?

Because, as I’ve said, hardly anyone does interpret the world. And if it is right to say we all should – that the point is to interpret the world – then it implies this interpretation (that hardly anyone is interpreting the world) demands that we change it. And I am not sure that the point is to change the world.

So the point is not to interpret the world; the point is not to change the world; so what is the point?

Maybe there is not point at all….

Can you live like that?

I think, really, almost all of us do. Almost all of us do not live and act as if the world has a point. Again, I don’t think this implies that no one finds any meaning in anything, only that the whole thing is without meaning. Stop anyone on the street and ask what is the point of it all. Hardly anyone will have an answer (besides a pious Evangelical). But that does not mean they are all “living lives of quiet desperation.”

Is the point not moral? Are there not moral demands?

Again, I am willing to guess that most people are “regionally moral,” so to speak. They are concerned that their spouses and bosses and kids and plumbers and so on act morally, and at least because of that concern they try to act morally themselves. But they do not do all that might be considered a moral imperative.

What do you mean?

I mean most people give no thought to where their jeans are made, for instance. And of the ones that do know, the overwhelming majority wear them anyway…even though those jeans are made under conditions that it would be nearly impossible to call just.
I see your point…

A breakthrough!

…I just don’t know how to interpret it.

Look, I am considering the idea that morality is chimerical. The “shoulds” in life are phony. Even the ones that you might sentimentally want to hang on to…helping the poor, the downtrodden, the widows and orphans. The truth is that we’re all as good as dead. Nothing can change that.

So you are saying that because we are mortal we are not obligated to be moral?

I am saying you are not obligated to be moral. You decide to be moral (sometimes out of fear of reprisal, which moral philosophers will remind you is not moral).

So you can just treat anyone however you want?

You already do.

But some people treat others like dirt.


But they shouldn’t.

You’ve chosen to be moral…but why haven’t they?

Because they…are…I don’t know…bad?

They are bad?

Yeah, bad. Bad people. Mean people.

And they shouldn’t be bad or mean?

No! Of course not!

What is that?

Because it’s, um, bad to be bad.


Stop that!

Okay. But you see what you are doing? You have decided that there are some ways that are bad and some ways that are not bad and then you decide that all people ought to agree with you. You are bringing in an abstracted point of view.

So what? My point of view is abstracted from our human propensities to greed, violence, and all -around shittiness. It is abstracted from what is in order to see what ought to be.

And what grounds this view? On what ground are you standing so you can see this? Holy ground?

Do I have to give you a lesson in the history of moral philosophy? There are lots of grounds that philosophers have offered that, while differing from each other, all end up in the same place: don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t treat others unjustly. It is a cumulative argument. If you deny the great weight of that cumulative argument, you are forced to say that stealing and lying and injustice are not bad.

Actually, I don’t think they are necessarily bad. They are possibly bad. And honesty, respect for property rights, and giving each his due is not necessarily good. They are frequently good, but not always good.

On what grounds to you distinguish “good” from “bad”?

On what pleases me, in the end.

Really?! That’s it?

I think, after having given it some thought, that’s it.

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Yosemite, Sam!

I upgraded this morning to Yosemite, and I am quite pleased so far. The look and feel is quite clean, and there were no issues (so far) with the switch from Mavericks.

I had problems with my (now next to) latest model iPad in moving from IOS7 to IOS8 over the air. It got really hosed (the thing seemed bricked, actually), but I got an Apple tech on the line immediately and he got me fixed up via iTunes in short order. I did have to do a factory reset, so there was a bunch of work to do to get my iPad back the way I had it set up. I did lose a little data, but not much. I have not updated to IOS 8.0.1 or 2 out of fear of having to go through all that again. IOS 8.1 is due out on Monday, and I’ll probably give that a go.

But I can recommend the Yosemite update as being pain-free, in my case. You can update a bunch of Mac Apps after you get Yosemite (Pages, Numbers, iPhoto, etc.).

Good luck!

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Some overheard conversation

Is there or is there not authority?

There appears to be authority….

Yes, but is it real? Is it legitimate?

Is this a Habermasian question?


Never mind….

Here’s what I’m driving at: there is the constant temptation to anarchy, the denial of authority.

Is that what anarchy is?

That’s a good enough understanding for the moment. Lots of people set them up as authorities over others, but my question is whether that is ever legitimate?

Why are you wondering this?

I am an egomaniac. It’s all about me. I want to know whether I can live a meaningful, authentic, decent life in the current situation. I live in a beautiful home, modest by some standards, palatial by others. I have a very flexible work schedule, doing a job I mostly love, that may very likely be meaningful. But I am afforded this relative luxury because I lucked out. I was born into a system that made it possible for me to have all this, but the system makes it possible for me to have all this only by immiserating multitudes of others. This misery is produced in a way that I almost never witness it. But too late! I know it is going on now. So the question is: can I live knowing that my relative ease is possible only because others suffer?

I don’t see how you can.


No, not really. Look to your left. Look to your right. All around you, life goes on. You are like Arjuna. This is your fate. This is your destiny. There is the truth all around you, but that truth does not tell you what to do…at least it does not demand that you do things differently. Clearly, it is not demanding that, because when you close this laptop you will enjoy a beer on your deck, watch the Phillies on tv, pet your cats, kiss your wife when she gets home from her equally privileged life which she is not questioning like you are, and you will forget about these questions for a while. And you will sleep in relative peace.

Are you saying, tough shit for the losers of the world?

Are you saying you can picture a world wherein there are no losers? The truth of it is there have been winners and losers since there have been humans – even before, in a sense, because the whole of natural history could be understood in terms of winners and losers. Evolution, creative destruction.

Wow. Social Darwinism?

That’s a construction. That’s an attempt to absolve yourself of your responsibilities for your life and for your world. It is just not as simple as that. Nevertheless, you find the feathers of beautiful birds on the ground beneath your feeders, feeders you put out to help nurture the birds of your neighborhood, feeders that attract both birds and their predators – which are also birds, I might add.

But humans are different.


We have reason. We are moral beings. We can decide well or poorly how to handle our appetites and desires. We are responsible for our actions in a way a raptor is not.



I’m not so sure. I think our rationality is a way of doing exactly what raptors do. It is a tool to help us survive, to thrive. Thinking is our way of eating the small birds, if you will. If push came to shove, would you not do whatever it takes to save yourself and your family?

Yes, if only my own cowardice did not get in the way.

That’s my point. You are thinking that because life is peaceful and good at the moment for you, you have the luxury of considering the plight of the poor, the downtrodden, the losers. You feel, since you know the cause (do you??) of their plight, you are obliged to do something about it. And the “something” is supposed to be obvious – but is it? Is it marching in protest? Taking hostages? What? Can it not be teaching? Can it not be showing others what is going on? Is everyone supposed to be a warrior (because that is what it’d take to change things)? Nope. Put it this way. Your “penance,” call it that, is to witness the suffering, to have some idea (however imperfect) of the causes of it, and to have to think about it, and live with the fact that you will continue to live a nice life (perhaps) in the face of all that. It is already a kind of suffering.

You are talking nonsense.

No. The poor campesino suffers. The residents of Kandahar suffer. The sweatshop workers suffer. And perhaps even the stinking rich capitalists suffer, just not in the way you do. All is suffering. And also joy. You have no idea how much joy can be had in a war zone, a barrio, a favela, a shantytown.

I don’t want to know.

See? That’s what I’m talking about. It’s good enough here, now…isn’t it? You fool around writing notes to yourself, read books on revolutionaries and spies, basically just watch the days go by in relative good health with a nice wife and loving family. Why be ungrateful for that?


Yes. Ungrateful.

But I am grateful for all of this.

No you are not. You are – as always – looking for a way out…or at least wondering what it’d be like not to be here, not to be you. You know, though, deep down you do get it. You get what you are all about. You play dilettante with joining this or that, converting to this or that. But the truth of it is you get it: you are just you. This life is the right life for you because it is yours. You aren’t a catholic, a conservative, a communist, a revolutionary, a mogul, a warrior, a hero, scholar (even). You are a guy who likes to go for a walk, eat, drink, and (if you’d let yourself) be merry, read some books, have some fantasies, listen to some music, learn a few things. That’s it. That’s just it. That’s why you never commit to anything. As soon as you try it enough, you realize it’s not you and you move on. Because “you” aren’t any of those things. You are already you, and there is nothing particularly different you need to do to become you…because you are already you.

I’m already me.


And who is that?





You are the guy who asks, who am I. That’s you. That what you do. That is your reason for being, your raison d’être. Sisyphus pushed the boulder up the hill just to have it roll down again. Yours is not to do or die; yours is to reason why. That’s what you do. When you try out these conversions, all that is is an attempt to get a fuller view, a broader perspective, to ask the questions from a different angle. It is not a serious attempt at conversion. Your misery is produced because of a faulty presupposition. You think you are supposed to find the thing you are supposed to be but are not, and then to become that thing. But that is just a bad presupposition. You are a philosopher, brother. That means questions, not answers. Yes, people want answers. They ask questions in order to get answers. Even you want answers…but not in your professional capacity, not according to your vocation, your calling. To be authentically you is to dwell in the questions. Yes, that makes you a Hamlet, a coward, a neither-fish-nor-fowl, an in-between-er, an all-over-the-map-er. Tough luck if you don’t like it, but there it is.

So are you absolving me of responsibility for global injustice?

Do I look like the Pope? And did you hear the question you just asked? Seriously?

So I go back to sleep, forget I saw how this sausage of a reality got made and just try to have as much fun as I can before the axe falls?

And that’s bad because…?

But won’t other people look at me as some kind of a hypocrite, a coward?

Yes, some will. And you know what? It’ll be like they’re looking in a mirror. Because none of them is pure. None. What revolutionaries do you know? Members of philosophy faculties? Hah! Perhaps your protesting sister-in-law?

Hey, leave her out of this. She’s an excellent person! She means very well.

Sure she does. She is an excellent person. But my point is that it is as much about cobbling together a meaningful life for her as it is for the artist that gives up family and fortune for the sake of his work or the captain of industry who has all the money in the world and still despises the fact that he couldn’t just play baseball like he wanted to. It is all a big play. Don’t take it so seriously. The end is always the same: you die. So if you want my advice…

Not really.

…just look at it more like a comedy than a tragedy. It is a very good thing that bombs are not going off all around you. It might happen that they will sometime, and then you’ll have to deal with it. But no sense stirring that up needlessly.

But there is a need.

Bombs here, bombs there. There’ll be bombs. Always have been. “The poor you will always have with you” – I have that on good authority. If we cure cancer you can bet there’ll be a new virus that’ll get us. Or we’ll slit our own wrists when we just don’t die of old age. It ends the same: you die. Stop fucking worrying.

No need to be crude.

Yes, need. Because you have to snap out of this. Here’s how: write a book, put it all in there, the philosophers, the hypocrites, the saints, the sinners, the warriors, the cowards. Put it all in there. It won’t be a good book at all if all of the characters are good and there are no injustices, right? Real snooze, that’d be. Well, guess what? Life is like that exactly. So write a book about life, real life, this life. The one with all the shit you are focused on AND the sweetness, too. Otherwise, you’ll be lying. Lying novels suck.

What about teaching philosophy?

Look, I think you have it. I think what you’ve been doing the past couple of years is really getting into the right space. All the ambiguity, the richness. It is really a good space. Learn from yourself. Stop being like your teenage students. You know that Wallace Shawn piece, “Why I Call Myself a Socialist”? You know how he says that actors on stage are not “faking” it, that they’re really finding truths about themselves in their “acting,” and realizing that their off-stage life is also acting in various roles? That’s the ticket. You are “acting” the role of a philosopher, true. But there is also deep truth in your living out that role in your authentic way (which I really think you are getting into…). It is not just “fake.” It is both real and fake, both being and seeming. And all of it is always like that. And then you die.

You keep bringing up death when I haven’t.



Because you need that memento mori sign before your eyes at all times. It focuses the mind.

Isn’t that morbid?

Weirdly, life is morbid (aimed at death), but the thought is the opposite. It is aimed at life. Because only the living can be aware of and remember its mortality. When the living forgets its mortality it becomes oblivious to its vitality…i.e., it’s as good as dead. It starts sleepwalking through its roles, forgetting they are roles, thinking it coincides with those roles. But life is in the différance, between “life” and “death”, coinciding with neither.

Sounds heavy. Sheer heaviosity.

Hey, laugh if you will! That’s my point: laugh.

It’s a comedy.

It is.

All the wars and sweatshops and oligarchy and poverty?

Yep. Hard pill to swallow, isn’t it?


Swallow it anyway.

But what will people think?

They’ll think it’s a fucking joke…at least they will if they know what’s good for them.

So do nothing?

No, do what you are doing: asking questions.

That’s ineffectual.

Is it? Your job is to ask and ask and ask. That is your mission.

But I want answers, too.

Tough luck. Not to be. Just like you won’t play point guard in the NBA, lead guitar on the big stage, or even professor emeritus at Harvard. Just like you won’t get to hold your own flesh and blood child in your arms. Just like you won’t get to be Pope. Just like you won’t sit on the Supreme Court. Just like you won’t speak fluent Mandarin. Just like you won’t get elected President of the USA. Just like you won’t be a Navy SEAL. Just like you won’t be a martyr for Jesus. Just like you won’t be a revolutionary. Just like you won’t be a Hassid, a hacker, or a haberdasher. You are a philosopher and a philosopher asks questions and that’s that. Deal with it.

You mean I don’t get a choice?

No. You no longer get a choice.

You mean I had a choice?

I don’t know, but I know you don’t have one any more.

That’s crazy. I could chuck all this…the adjunct teaching, the books, the blog…all this shit and get a job in industry and make some real money and learn Mandarin on the side.

Sure you can, sure you can. Let’s see you try….

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A Call to Action

Zombies of the world, undie!

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More overheard conversation



So, anyway, I’m thinking that I am missing something.

At least….

Yeah, okay, I am missing some things. But I mean “missing” like “nostalgic” for something. There was something that used to be but that now is not. And I miss it.

What is it?

I don’t remember.


Well, I mean, that’s just it: I am missing something that once was but now is not, but because it is not, I don’t remember what it is. That’s how much I miss it.

So how do you even know you miss it?

Well, I don’t know I miss it, but I feel I am missing it. I feel the nostalgia. A longing, a yearning. It is philosophical. It is…mystical? Is that the right word?

You tell me…it’s your yearning.

Okay, so, religion: I miss it…but not actual religion, which I don’t miss.

You miss virtual religion?

Yeah, I virtually miss it. I just don’t actually miss it. I want what was “inside” but I don’t want the husk.

Is there an inside without an outside?

Is there an intimate without an “extimate”?

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