Saturday, October 21, 2023

Philosophy in Good Times

Just a brief one.

The true philosophy must apply equally to good and bad, happy and tragic, times -- in both joy and suffering, exaltation and despair. Which calls to mind a couple of aphorisms:

The same doctrine must serve in dim light and in bright light. The truth is only what is true without distinction for afflicted or exalted souls.

Nothing is more vapid than truths that mature in the spirit’s temperate zone.

There's a reason why Oprahesque new age philosophies flourish among the AWFULs (Affluent White Female Unmarried Leftists) who think microaggressions, mispronouning, and climate change are traumatic. 

No, traumatic is being kidnapped and raped by Nazi Gazis. Then your philosophy will be tested. It's easy to be a Chicken for KFC until you're in the frier. Only then might you have to rethink your principles.  

There's a subsection devoted to this subject in Wonder Confronts Certainty, called The Test, in which Morson observes that in the Soviet Union "Extreme conditions tested moral outlooks." I'm sure there are still atheists in foxholes, but how many of them would prefer to be captured by Islamists instead of Israelis? 

So let us ask: who behaved better under pressure, imprisoned Bolsheviks or religious believers? Materialists or those who acknowledged absolute standards of good and evil? Who acted nobly and who behaved like a scoundrel? 

Whose philosophy passed the Gulag Test? Turns out it was the believers who "would not do what they regarded as wrong," regardless of consequences. Conversely, "when arrested, Bolsheviks behaved the worst, and the higher up they had been, the more executions they had authorized, the baser they proved" (this according to Solzhenitsyn).  

Reminds me of those bad guys in movies, who turn out to be so pusillanimous when cornered or captured. Or university students who stand strong against Israeli Fascism and Apartheid, until the moment their careers are threatened. 

Likewise in the USSR, where 

"It was all very well philosophizing under shady boughs" or in comfortable university offices, but in the face of Soviet interrogation, "the great materialist's wisdom seemed like the prattle of a child."

Suddenly ethical relativism doesn't seems so sophisticated when you're being subjected to torture by ethical relativists. "How wise it all seems when you read these philosophers as a free man!," only to find out too late that there can be no appeal to "medieval" concepts of truth, beauty, goodness, decency, mercy, pity, etc. 

Among Russian writers, "Time and again, suffering leads to awareness of Truth or apprehension of God."

Just as in Life Itself, undistorted by ideology. To be continued...

Friday, October 20, 2023

Do Unto Others, Good and Hard

Reading this book on Russian writers, I'm sure seeing a lot of parallels between Soviet and Islamist ethics. I'm starting to suspect the problem isn't with the ideology, but with some *flaw* in human nature, for which the ideology is just a pretext or something.

If Antisemitism is the socialism of fools, then by extension, socialism is the foolishness of Antisemites. The Democratic Socialists of America doesn't disappoint:
DSA is steadfast in expressing our solidarity with Palestine. 

Today’s events are a direct result of Israel’s apartheid regime -- a regime that receives billions in funding from the United States. End the violence. End the Occupation. Free Palestine....

We cannot forget that the Israeli state has systematically denied Palestinians the right to self-determination for decades. This was not unprovoked. For over 60 years, Palestinians have faced ethnic cleansing, torture, bombings, and housing demolitions. Gaza is still under a blockade. 

Socialism? Check. Foolishness? Check. Antisemitism? Check.

This unethical ethic goes back to Lenin, for whom "All is permitted!" 

Nothing, however vile, should be condemned if it is committed by a man who is useful to the party.

The world is divided into exploiters and exploited, the former constituting "a race of worthless predators." Moreover,

Since their children were bound to "exhibit the same malice, cruelty, meanness, rapacity, and greed," the entire race had to be exterminated. 

Likewise Jewish children for Islamists. Indeed, it would be an act of cruelty to allow them to live. Lenin and Trotsky "sneered at the whole idea of 'the sanctity of human life.'" "Is there any reason not to target children themselves as a way to terrorize a population?" "Everything that promotes revolution is moral; everything that hinders it is immoral."

"Do not seek in your accusations proof of whether the prisoner rebelled against the Soviets with guns or by word. First you must ask him to what class he belongs.... These answers must determine the fate of the accused." 

"One must eliminate whatever groups that... foster undesired values or conditions." Another theorist of terror wrote that "the concept of personal innocence is a hangover from the Middle Ages. Pure superstition!" There is no objective morality, rather, each class defines right and wrong "to suit its own interests." "To us there is no such thing as a morality that stands outside human society; that is a fraud."

Even "to show compassion was to risk the accusation of covert religiosity," so "it therefore paid to be as cruel as possible. Cruelty, in short, became an atheist virtue." 

The Soviet credo was "always use human beings as mere means." Moreover, a "reverse golden rule operated," which is to say, "always treat others -- meaning class or other enemies -- as you would not want to be treated yourself. It was immoral not to."

Another key principle in Soviet ethics was the division of all people into two categories: "Each person in the bad category is automatically responsible for -- is essentially the same as -- all others."

Similarly, for Islamists, a Jew is a Jew, whether an infant, a Holocaust survivor, or a pro-Hamas useful schmendrick. Against such enemies, violence is "not a regrettable necessity, but a good in itself." But what if the shoe is on the other foot? Is it moral for enemies to defend themselves?

Of course not: "Russian revolutionaries not only dismissed it," but seemed unable to grasp it, as if to say "How dare they defend themselves!" This reflects the Leninist principle that "what is wrong for them is right for us."

One cannot ask "what if the shoe were on the other foot?" because to do so would suggest "an equality of moral rights."

You cannot equate communist and bourgeoisie any more than you can Muslim and Jew. 

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Preventing Future Crimes Against the Regime

Soon enough we'll get back to the usual content, but I first have to get through this book -- Wonder Confronts Certainty: Russian Writers on the Timeless Questions and Why Their Answers Matter -- and it is striking how it illuminates the ideological terror of the day. 

If you're really bent on committing mass murder, then you need an ideology. Again, "Nothing limits the violence potentially flowing from the theoretist [AKA ideological] mindset, which can justify anything" (Morson). "The sanction of bloodshed by conscience is... more terrible than the official, legal sanction of bloodshed." 

Back when I was a psychologist we called this a "corrupt superego," or a conscience become evil due to a twisted environment. But this just begs the question of the source of morality. In other words, if there isn't an objective basis for morality, full stop, then on what basis can we judge this or that environment good or evil? Morality becomes completely relative and subjective. 

For example, one Nazi physician stated that “Out of respect for human life, I would remove a gangrenous appendix from a diseased body. The Jew is the gangrenous appendix in the body of mankind.” Simple as.

Similarly, this guy says that if you grew up in Nazi Germany, then  

In such an authoritarian culture, the moral messaging you likely received would have resulted in your developing a so-called "evil superego," based largely on the anti-semitic biases systematically implanted within you. Ironically, the moral essence of who you were wouldn't be reflected by your prejudicial outlook. And parroting what, externally, you'd been convinced was ethical, would have driven you to act unethically.

Now, to say "moral essence" is to acknowledge a transcendent human nature which this author otherwise ignores. Well, at least that's the last time I will quote Psychology Today. .  

What is our ultimate defense against a corrupt superego? Gotta be a well-formed conscience, and how do we get one of those? One way: "Conscience is ordered to the task of holding to the most fundamental of all moral precepts: do good and avoid evil." 

But isn't one man's terrorist another man's freedom fighter, and all that? Nah, for conscience may grasp "objective moral truth" and know "what is truly good and what is truly evil.... Contrary to some popular misconceptions, conscience is not the 'source' of morality, but rather is its 'servant.'"

Suffice it to say, there is no such thing as natural law for communists or Islamists (nor even for mainstream Islam, for which Allah's absolute will overrides any influence from our end). 

Nor for scientismStanford Scientist, After Decades of Study, Concludes: We Don't Have Free Will.

Now, dialectical materialism also denies free will, except --unlike frivolous adolescents of tenure -- the communists took seriously the implications:

If no one is responsible, then punishment exists not to ensure justice but to direct behavior, and the only question is which punishments are most effective in doing so. Guilt is beside the point, and the concept of innocence disappears. What reason could there be not to lock up those who might commit crimes to prevent them from doing so? This is precisely the conclusion drawn in Soviet justice.

We're seeing something similar in our two-tier system of justice, with violent criminals of color being released back onto the streets because they can't help it (being victims of systemic racism or something), while the book is thrown at the leading presidential candidate to prevent future crimes against the Regime.

The Soviet criminal code... specified potential crimes as crimes in themselves.... Simply belonging to to the wrong class... was sufficient. After all, if all crime results from bad social conditions, and if one belongs to a group that might want to preserve those conditions, then one merits elimination simply by virtue of belonging to that group.

As one commissar put it, "We protect ourselves not only against the past but also against the future." So, the regime is doing its best to prevent Trump's future crimes against the the managerial class -- the swamp and its allies and supporters. And the DOJ is hard at work criminalizing those of us who belong to the wrong class -- MAGA supporters, traditional Catholics, pro-lifers, anti-groomer parents, etc.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The Magical Appeal of Violent Ideologies

Morson distinguishes between "revolution" and revolutionism, the latter going to the addictive mental state discussed in yesterday's post. And "the twentieth century demonstrates" -- or should have demonstrated --

that revolutionism, almost irrespective of ideology, can lead people to do anything. The magic of "the Revolution" renders destruction and murder sacred. 

It seems that the line between revolution and revolutionism has been crossed when the violence is "no longer a means to an end; it becomes an object of mystical worship." 

One commonality of communism and Islamism is that both are impossible. They have nothing to do with the real world, with human nature, with practical politics. We might think of this as a bug, but ideology makes the impossible seem possible by superimposing the map onto the territory. 

Then the ideologue takes up residence in the dramatic space of the ideology, from communism, Nazism, and Islamism, to global warmism, transgenderism, and CRT. Each allows the individual to trade in his own boring life for participation in a transcendent drama of good vs. evil. 

I remember what that was like. In 1980 I supported Barry Commoner for president. Jimmy Carter was too conservative, and Ronald Reagan was, of course, a fascist. 

It's hard to recall what I was thinking at the time, or rather, the state of mind that was the larger context for the appeal of the Drama of the Impossible. It seems that the possible is no match for the intoxication of the impossible, for if something can actually occur, it's no longer magic. The Aphorist has a number of zingers along these lines:

People do not choose someone to cure them, but someone to drug them.

After conversing with some "thoroughly modern" people, we see that humanity escaped the "centuries of faith" only to get stuck in those of credulity.

Reason, truth, and justice tend not to be man's goals, but the names he gives to his goals.  

Morson writes that  "If one is looking for the usual sort of rational explanation, it may be true that Stalin's actions make no sense. But if one bears in mind the logic of revolutionism -- which demands constant intensification, shock, and the deliberate defiance of everyday thinking," then the absurdity starts to become intelligible, if that's not a contradiction of terms.

In any event, "no consequences will extinguish the youthful appeal of the thrilling, dangerous, and addictive violence of the devoted revolutionist." Media apologists keep reminding us that half the citizens of Hamastan are under age 18, which is less an appeal to mercy than a dire threat. After all, the Hitlerjugend were also children.

The next chapter of the book gets into the psychological allure of impossible theories and preposterous abstractions. Living inside of one can be more compelling than the people and conditions of everyday life, or "more real" than the reality the theory is supposed to explain. 

Ideology, "theoretism," "certaintism," whatever you call it,  

It should come as no surprise that terrorists despised doubt. How could hesitant souls, constantly reexamining their own premises, ever resolve to kill?

People who behead infants are a lot of things, but self-critical is not one of them. Similarly, for Russian terrorists, "openness to different points of view testified not to a commitment to truth but to intellectual flabbiness.... For Lenin, doubt itself was reactionary." "Dialectical materialists do not seek truth; they already possess it." 

No one in the Arab world is going to weigh the evidence and conclude that baby killers might also blow up hospitals, for, as with ideologues,

An idea is true not because it corresponds to "objective" facts, but because it produces the right results....

If facts "contradict the theory, the facts must yield" to the ideology. Even better, "Nothing limits the violence potentially flowing from" such an inversion.  

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Lifestyles of the Wretched & Depraved

Continuing with yesterday's post, it seems that it's not just the content of the terrorist mind that is different, but the container. This is well understood in cases of severe mental illness on an individual basis, but what is going on in a collective "terror culture" like Gaza?

Conveniently, the next subsection in this chapter is called Metaphysical Hatred, and it seems to me that anti-Semitism is the metaphysical hatred of hatreds. Such hatred "can never be satisfied. It feeds on itself."

So overwhelming is the hatred of Hamas that it easily overwhelms any practical concerns, including, of course, for their own people. Similarly,

For a true Leninist, nothing could be sweeter than hate-filled revenge. "When hatred motivated terrorists, the 'people' did not matter."

 These terrorists were hopeless idealists:

In this way of thinking, goals pollute the sacrifice by making it utilitarian and therefore impure. 

A pure sacrifice... where have I heard that before? "Even those who did not seek a martyr's death found self-sacrifice appealing." Anything less than total commitment "would not have satisfied us."

For Bakhunin, "the attraction of all messianic socialism was that it invested the inner dialectic of the personality with apocalyptic significance." In effect, he advanced "a mystical theory of self-realization through revolutionary action."

As with the Islamists, "The process of radicalization, once started, repeats and the terrorists grow ever more terrible."

From killing specific people only when necessary, they rapidly advanced to killing random people whenever possible. Soon enough, sheer sadism became common. "The need to inflict pain was transformed from an abnormal compulsion experienced only by unbalanced personalities into a formally verbalized obligation for all committed revolutionaries."

But again, "what explains this dynamic," which is "repeated in the history of other revolutionary organizations," including Hamas? One motive seems to be

the craving of lonely and alienated young people for an especially tightly knit community, a family bound together by the imminence of death.

Very much like the dynamic that motivates normal military cohesion, only turned diabolical, partly because it is for its own sake, not for any rational or achievable goal:

For those addicted to the thrill of danger and the intensity of the moment, familiar violence soon becomes routine and ceases to have the desired effect. As with addictive drugs, larger and larger doses are needed. The war on boredom grows boring: repeated violence soon seems almost peaceful... 

Hence the incredible barbarism of October 7, which, if one is attracted to such things, must furnish an intense dopamine high (or something like it). 

In fact, in a recent newsletter, Rob Henderson reviewed a book called Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty by psychologist Roy Baumeister. He writes that

Under intense stress, the body releases soothing and pleasant chemicals to return to normal (homeostasis). Over time, this feeling becomes addictive. 
This is how people come to enjoy bungee jumping or skydiving. I’ve done both. The act itself is both terrifying and thrilling, but the feeling of coming back down from the rush is enjoyable.... 
Baumeister suggests this happens with repeated acts of inflicting harm.... At first, people feel a sense of terror, anxiety, or disgust. The body then counteracts such feelings to restore itself to baseline. People gradually become addicted to this feeling. 
In this view, the pleasure of harming someone comes mostly from the restorative process, not the initial act. You pay the cost up front, and enjoy the benefit after. 
As the book puts it, “The thrill of killing may be closer to the thrill of parachute jumping than to the thrill of taking drugs.”

Another motive is the joy of victimhood: 

research in the book documents how, for perpetrators of genocide and ethnic violence, “The ones who carry out the massacres perceive themselves as victims of mistreatment and injustice.”

Hitler and the Nazis famously cast the Germans as victims of “nefarious” Jewish people.

Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and other communist leaders carried out horrific acts resulting in bloodbaths by demonizing anyone deemed to be a “class enemy,” i.e., an oppressor.

Henderson also highlights the danger of evil motivated by "idealism," beginning with an observation by a psychologist Jonathan Haidt that "The major atrocities of the 20th century were carried out largely by men who thought they were creating a Utopia.”

Henderson continues:

In a twisted way, idealism uses people’s moral intuitions against them. If you harm someone to take their money, you might feel guilty, even if you needed the cash. But if you harm someone because you believe they are an obstacle to the gates of paradise, then any guilt is quelled. 
This helps to explain how ordinary people became murderous in the regimes of the twentieth century. They believed themselves to be moral. And the more evil acts they committed, the more moral they believed themselves to be.... 
Committing mass murder might be unpleasant, but if in the end it’s for a good cause, then people will fulfill their duties....  
Idealistic perpetrators, full of self-righteous conviction, believe they have a license, or even a duty, to hate.

That's about it for today... 

Monday, October 16, 2023

Terrorist Time and Time for Terror

I'm reading a book called Wonder Confronts Certainty: Russian Writers on the Timeless Questions and Why Their Answers Matter, by Gary Saul Morson, and it turns out to be timely, because there's a chapter devoted to the revolutionist-terrorist personality. 

Suffice it to say that they're not like us, and yet, they rely on western dupes and useful idiots to treat them as if they are -- you know, just aggrieved people with rational and realistic goals.

The late 19th century

witnessed the birth of Russian terrorism.... Russia became the first country where young men and women, when asked their intended career, might answer "terrorist," an honorable, if dangerous, profession....

I know of no earlier society that made terror routine for everyone, celebrated "mercilessness" as a virtue, and taught schoolchildren that compassion is criminal.

Well, I know of a later one. And *coincidentally*,

Until 1964, the word “Palestinian” rarely described Arabs who once lived in Israel. That was when KGB Agents of Communist Russia created and funded a terrorist group called the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).... The PLO was as artificial as other effective and deadly groups communists used during the Cold War to take over Algeria, South Africa, Kenya, Vietnam, and Cuba.

Morson asks "What self-justifications do those who commit monstrous crimes invoke, what moral alibis do they seize upon, and what makes excuses persuasive to them?" As if he has never tuned into CNN or visited a college campus.  

Just like the Palestinians they sponsored, Russian terrorists "gave rise to a mythology and martyrology that conferred sanctity on killing." Their "readiness to slaughter innocent people, not just opponents, looked forward to later terrorists' dynamite in crowded public places and to Lenin's taking of random hostages..."

How are we to understand these people -- and not fall into the trap that they are somehow like us, sharing the same reality, motivations, and goals? One important point is that "The revolutionary (and terrorist) of this sort lived in a special temporality -- let us call it terrorist time..." Quoting Solzhenitsyn 

They, the zealots, could not afford to wait, and so they sanctioned human sacrifice... to bring universal happiness nearer!

"Terrorist time led to the time of terror" (Morson). 

I'm going to skip past a couple of important chapters on The Intelligentsia and The Idealist and go straight to The Revolutionist, the latter often supported and rationalized by the former two. But

For many terrorists, goals, programs, and ideology were irrelevant. What they loved was revolutionary activity itself....

Time and again, the means for achieving a goal became the goal itself.... if at first revolution was the end and terrorism the means, terrorism soon became the end in itself. 

As it is for Hamas, who care about Jews only slightly less than their own people: "For revolutionists, aiding workers and peasants was at best secondary." Like today, there were those progressive voices  claiming that "they turned to terror only as a last resort," but this excuse "does not pass the smell test." Rather, "it is the decision to murder that leads to the justification."

Now to the main question, which is "If relieving human suffering is beside the point," why does the terrorist murder, rape, torture, and risk his life? "What motivates the revolutionist to engage in terror?"

I guess we'll get into it in the next post, but let me end by going back to what was said above about Terrorist Time. Morson writes that "Terrorists may sense themselves living in a special sort of timeless time" which he calls "living in liminality." It's definitely a spiritual state, in that it's a little like being dead while alive, and thus liberated from every quotidian concern:

This feeling of living posthumously frees him from ordinary concerns and places him beyond good and evil. He becomes a superman....

Consequences, for oneself and others, no longer matter. The present moment is all there is. Sheer liminality -- betweenness, transitionality, contradiction, and freedom from all definition -- becomes addictive....

We wonder how they can be living like rats in those underground terror tunnels, but they would no doubt find it tedious beyond belief to devote themselves to banalities such as economic development, or proper education and healthcare, or turning Gaza into a seaside vacation spot. Such terror addicts "aren't at home in anything except change and turmoil.... They aren't trained for anything else, they don't know anything else except that."

Trapped in liminality, in "never-ending preparations," they cannot create anything, let alone an earthly utopia.

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