Archive for the ‘For Discussion’ Category

This Blog Is Ending Finally

I have archived it here. I will start something new shortly. Thanks for all the great conversations.

On the new blog I’m going to try to stick to philosophical subjects that interest me. We’ll see how it goes. This site goes dark October 10th.

I’ll post a link to any new site I create before that happens.


Walking, Sweating, Having Visions

I recently gave up a very bad habit, but in the process acquired two new habits. One of them is definitely a boon; the other is at best, neutral.

The good habit I have acquired is exercise. I have never been athletic, nor have I previously enjoyed any kind of daily regimen of vigorous physical activity. While I have always enjoyed hiking and other outdoor activities, I can’t say that I have done enough of that to keep myself fit, particularly given the sedentary requirements of my current vocation.

So, to help me overcome the bad habit, I have followed the advice of others and taken up exercise as a replacement. It’s something I have already come to enjoy.

A few days ago, I went to the gym after work and took my place on the treadmill which is my preferred form of exercise. Being out of shape and being a smoker, I like the treadmill because it allows me to monitor my heart rate and set a rate that I believe is appropriate. My resting heart rate at present is much too high, so I am working my way up. In the meantime, I set the machine to keep me in the mid-150’s which in my case means maintaining a steady pace no higher than about 4.2 mph.

Because I have to keep my hands on the handlebars of the machine in order to monitor my heart rate, I discovered on this occasion that once I had reached a steady pace, I was able to continue the exercise routine with my eyes closed. This was about half way through my 45 minute allotted time. Maybe it was the endorphins kicking in, or toxins being released from fatty tissue, but after I closed my eyes for a while I had what I consider to be something like a waking dream.

I have to give you a little background for this to make sense.

When I was a teenager around the age of sixteen, my best friend and I were preoccupied with starting our own religion. Perhaps I’ve written about it in the blog somewhere in the past. It’s how I acquired the name I use on the blog. One of the rituals we developed as part of this religion was to designate certain places as particularly “powerful” or even sacred. The most important of these was a place we simply called “The Mountain”. The Mountain is really more of a large volcanic hill, like many that you see in the desert. This one had the advantage of being very close to where we lived and its base was easily accessible.  The other thing that made it special was its shape. The Mountain, at least from the south where we would access it, has a very symmetrical triangular shape. If you asked a five year old to draw a mountain, it would be in the shape of this mountain.

The Mountain

When I closed my eyes while on the treadmill, I imagined myself at the base of The Mountain. I wanted to imagine I was climbing it again as I trudged along. The Mountain was always a living metaphor for me. Climbing it was not just exercise, it was a representation of my aspirations. Each climb was a lesson of some kind, and the reward would be at the top. To my younger mind, aspirations of transformation were simple. To achieve transformation, I had only to keep climbing and it would come.

In my imagination, back on the treadmill, I vividly saw the mountain before me. I peered up, looking for a path. Instead of proceeding, I noticed another person walking toward me. The face was familiar and similar to mine; the face of my father now dead for so long.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I came to see you.”

“Are you going up?”

“No. This is as far as I go.”

“Who else is here?”

“I don’t know.”

It was good to see him. A deep sense of well-being and emotions flooded my consciousness. He seemed at ease, and not drunk as he had always been on the few occasions I spent with him. After that moment of clarity the vision of him lost focus. I let him fade away, still feeling warmed and comforted by seeing him. I turned away to start my climb.

Scanning for a route up, I saw another person coming down. I moved toward him expecting him to be a familiar face. Instead, when we approached each other he was a stranger. I asked, “Have you been to the top?”

“Yes. Just on my way down.”

“Why are you coming down?”

“That’s what you do after you get to the top. You come back down.”

“Who’s up there?”

“Oh, lots of people.”

“Why didn’t you stay?”

“If you stay, that’s the end. It’s over. You have to come back down.”

“I always wanted to get there, and stay. I thought I would have gotten there by now.”

“You started out at the top. Everybody does. Then you climb down. You can’t stay up there. You climb down and stay down for a while, then you go back up. And then you climb down again. You can’t stay up there. When you do, that’s the end.”

He smiled and kind of laughed at me, then walked by me and went away.

The dream like quality of my imagination began to slip away, and I noticed myself straining to sustain the setting. I looked for others, to see if anyone else would appear, but the clarity was gone and I opened my eyes and continued my exercise.

My interpretation of my experience, for what it’s worth, was that during my life I have put too much emphasis on the achievement of some great and worthy goal for my life. Now that I am in middle age—a time when one is forced to reckon with one’s disappointments—I see in this a lesson. My living metaphor is more apt than I had supposed. Life seems to require us, like Sisyphus, to keep climbing the same mountain over and over again. We are not in any danger of stopping while we are at the bottom. It’s the top that is dangerous. Which reminds me of one other feature of The Mountain. Once you get to the top, to the east of the flat plateau that welcomes you, is a steep cliff of a few dozen feet or more. Many a time I have stood on the edge of that cliff and imagined that there were faster ways to get to the bottom than clambering back down over the rocks.

The Definite Article

This won’t be long. I’ve been thinking about the uses of the definite article “the” in the English language and how they differ from other languages. I have only studied a couple of romance languages and a bit of classical Greek, so I’m no expert, but I do know that in the romance languages the definite article is used much more extensively than in English. It refers to the particular, as in le France, and is used extensively for general terms such as l’homme. Of course these configurations sound funny in English. “The France” and “the Man” (when referring to ‘man’ in general and not a particular man).

So, all that being said, I wanted to suggest that the term that ought to use the definite article in any language is a personal name. Obviously I am playing around with that idea by using the definite article in front of my nom de plume, Abonilox. But since their is one and only one of me, the definite article seems most appropriate. So when you’re writing your name next time consider putting “The” in front of it to see how it sounds.

Get me some Edumucation

Education is one of those topics it seems everyone basically agrees about, yet we as a society do nothing to change. There is a tragic myth being perpetrated upon my kids, and that is that you must have a college education to be successful in this life. We have to keep up with the Koreans, I guess. As if Korean intellectuals are going to take over the planet.

Here in my home state of Arizona the pseudo-libertarian, faux an-caps that run this state have been aggressively attacking public education for years. The public school system is a joke, as any teacher will tell you. Charter school systems pop up like pestilent weeds choking the rest of the schools for funding. Public schools continue to close, and the ones that remain open are under constant pressure to keep test scores up and keep the kids in the seats.

Meanwhile, the charter schools provide a refuge for two broad categories of kids. First there are the children of middle class white kids who unfortunately would have to go to school with poorer people with darker skin if they had to go the local public school. White “magnet” schools pull these kids out of the local public schools allowing those schools to be populated by darker and poorer students. The second and even more sinister category are the charter schools that pop up in predominantly poor areas and promise a better education to kids in these neighborhoods. These schools make extravagant promises, but rarely deliver. Teacher pay and morale are horrible which create high levels of turnover and add to the sense of futility these kids are trying to overcome. Meanwhile these for profit and not for profit private school systems pay their founders exorbitant salaries and flout the standards that are set for public schools.

In the spirit of anarchism, I wish the state would stop fucking with education all together and just de-fund public education altogether. I have no doubt that after the dust settled neighbors would come together and figure out how to hire teachers and get their kids educated. There is something sadistic about legislators who have to know that they are actually prolonging the agony continuing to torture students and schools with the death of a thousand cuts. They are gutless illegitimate phonies that suck up to the only constituency they care about. The pale skinned transplants who exploit the hundreds of thousands of working class people who have drifted into the desert thinking they would find a better life. And the grandchildren and great grandchildren of darker skinned people who have been toiling here in the heat for the past hundred years.

What percent of the jobs created since the “end” of the recession that actually require a college education? And I’m not talking about a check-box on a resume to weed people out. I mean do you really need a BA to be a bank teller making $22K a year? Do you need a BA to be an assistant manager at Starbucks? What about waiters and bartenders and other service workers? Or a bookkeeper? I can teach somebody Quickbooks in about a week. Do you really need an accounting degree for that? Who is driving this bus off the cliff? Both parties sing from the same songbook? Why? Why must every fucking kid learn fucking calculus? Who will all the millenial technocrats work for? Social media companies don’t hire that many people and they want more visas for foreign workers.

The only class I would make mandatory is one on how to survive being part of the 21st century precariat.


It’s difficult sometimes to assess how bad things really are. In 1983 I dropped out of high school at the beginning of my senior year. I did this to escape a terrible and destructive situation at home. I had been working for a couple of years and had a trade, so I was able to get a job pretty easily. As the years went by, I experienced more hardship. I lost my apartment, for example and had no place to live. I moved in with a woman I’d met who was also close to being homeless, but was squatting in a mutual friend’s mobile home. Well this lasted about a month or so and we had to go suddenly. She was the more resourceful of us, so she managed to talk a hotel manager into letting us move in. There was a story about how our house had burned down. We had no money at all. The hotel was in a seedy part of town known mostly for prostitution. It was the only time in my life where I actually begged for food. I asked a local grocer to let me have a loaf of bread and I’d pay him the next day or as soon as I had a dollar. That’s what the loaf of white bread cost. Anyway, he declined, which was understandable since he probably got that request 20 times a day. Somehow we got some bread (as in white bread, not money) and I can recall eating mustard sandwiches for a couple of days. Now this level of deprivation is not that extreme, nor did it last that long. I had already arranged a job over the phone! How did I get the job? I went through the phone book and started cold calling shops in town until I found one that needed my services. I had no car, so the manager actually drove to this seedy part of town at 5:00 am and picked me up for my first day of work. Within a couple of weeks we had an apartment. I was 17 years old.

Now imagine a comparable situation today. There are no trades left to speak of, except construction perhaps. The framing crews, concrete crews and roofing crews I see around here are dominated by low-paid, probably undocumented workers. I never had a problem getting a job. I used the phone book trick a number of times and always had a job within a couple of days. There was a pretty bad recession somewhere in those years, but it never affected me. I was a low wage worker, but I was able to afford an apartment, cigarettes, even some cocaine once in a while. Looking back it wasn’t a bad life. Yes, it was paycheck to paycheck, but I had no debt and didn’t feel particularly impoverished. I was optimistic about the future for the most part and imagined that things would always get better.

We are a society that is slowly boiling in its own juices. There’s plenty of chatter, in fact a constant barrage of chatter about the situation, but few people see much hope. My baby boomer parents seem to think my generation, and their grandchildren’s generation are just going to have to get used to living with less. The boomers will go comfortably, but not quickly, into that good night and take the wealth of their parents’ generation and the wealth of their own generation with them. The American middle class is living off the excess accumulation of the boomers, much of which they inherited from their saver parents. When that gets consumed, as it appears it will, their children and grandchildren will rapidly slip into more and more precarious states.

This situation is supposed to be accepted. It’s the new normal. Wage stagnation, high costs of entry into any career except service work, and a continued concentration of both income and wealth for a minority of winners is to be accepted.

At the base of this is an ethical problem. For all our moralizing I believe the culture we live in at its root is completely rotten and evil. Not to say that all the people are evil, but the drivers of the culture, the values that we have breathed in and absorbed and normalized are themselves evil.

Philosophy & Scientism

There was a tweet the other day about a statement Neil deGrasse Tyson made regarding philosophy. It was something to the effect that philosophy shouldn’t be bothered with. That it’s a waste of time et cetera. Well those of us who wasted our time with it beg to differ of course. But on what basis? Is he correct? What has philosophy ever done for anybody?

The latter question is a little tough to respond to. Certainly philosophical ideas have at times permeated the consciousness of society at large and had an impact. And of course back in the day, many philosophers did double duty as scientists or mathematicians, so there were contributions made to so-called “hard sciences” by these folks. Logic and mathematics have made great contributions to the scientific enterprise and we can thank a few philosophers for their contributions in these fields. These days philosophers are trying to make themselves more relevant by practicing bizarre things like “applied philosophy” or “practical philosophy”. Some philosophers have tried to apply their knowledge by becoming counselors, and in that way become pseudo-gurus to curious or desperate folks that have not been served well by psychology or psychiatry. While it seems possible that philosophical training would make one more “wise” and suitable for such professions it doesn’t mean these folks are doing philosophy. I think someone with a good literary background could do just as well. And the skills necessary to be a counselor have nothing to do with doing philosophy.

Certain types of young people are attracted to philosophy, as I was, by a troublesome fascination with the “Big Questions.” Usually of the metaphysical variety, the intrepid student of philosophy imagines that there are satisfactory answers to such questions and wanders into the philosophy department looking for them. The faculty will be keen to disabuse them of these notions as quickly as possible. A little bit of Nietzsche or Camus can be a dangerous thing. After deflating their students’ egos, they begin the slow process of developing within them an appreciation for the art of philosophy. It’s an historical conversation that spans the history of civilization. The student gradually becomes enamored of this or that philosopher, sometimes making the mistake in thinking that one or another was actually correct. As the student matures, the relationship between the student and the dead philosophers becomes one of friendly skepticism where the student is continuously challenged to figure out what is completely “wrong-headed” as one of my professors used to like to say, about this or that philosopher. Nevertheless, the student finally realizes that the majority of his instructors actually think they’re right most of the time, thus undermining the skeptical methodology that they promulgate.

Is any of this worth anything to society? My own opinion is that it is slightly more valuable than art, which puts it high on the list of human accomplishments. Perhaps it’s just a glorious game to be played generation after generation, with ideas looping back and forth and being reconstructed, deconstructed, demolished and resurrected from now until the species breathes its last. As an intellectual achievement, it is worth admiring and enjoying.

Now on to Scientism. I don’t know who coined the term, but it’s useful. There continues to be a nasty strain of logical positivism, if I can resurrect a discredited philosophical movement from the early 20th century, that infects science. The scientist is no longer content to see the fruits of his labor as a narrow area of expertise combined with rigorous, rule-based practices to test theories and observe facts. Now the scientist must generalize this for all of existence. Neuroscience makes great claims about the relations between neurotransmitters and the locations of particular electrical activity and its association with particular behavior, and having described these events they claim to have explained them which is nonsense. An astro-physicist (or whatever he is) like Neil deGrasse Tyson dismisses any intellectual activity that is unverifiable as of no use. Obviously this applies to religious belief, but now throw in philosophy and presumably and “soft” science and you have a deeply prejudicial and “wrong-headed” view of the world. He is the current spokesperson for this worshipful version of empiricism. But we have seen the trend developing and intensifying for some years now. As I inartfully stated a long time ago on this blog, I was impressed by Heidegger’s argument in Being and Time in the chapter on Descartes wherein Heidegger points out that explaining something will never reveal its meaning. There is no qualitative difference between describing the origin of the cosmos in detail and reading a recipe for guacamole. They are identical in that they describe a physical phenomenon, its antecedents and its consequences. All the animation and soundtracks in the world will not satisfy a skeptical philosopher. Which is why we need to keep training them.

The Statist Dillema

I have been following the reaction to the Piketty book since it came out, and though I’m no economist, the basic thesis makes sense. Capitalism accrues enormous benefits to those who acquire capital and the greater the bulk of capital acquired, the less risk the owner of the capital is subject to. Only the greediest, most foolish ultra-wealthy clan could see their fortune wiped out in this day and age (barring a really nasty world war). So the idea that returns on capital will exceed growth seems obvious.

But what’s the solution? Piketty suggests a global wealth tax, which must make progressives’s hearts go pitter patter. So how would this work? Perhaps the U.N. could administer the tax and then dole it out to various countries on an “as needed” basis.

It’s not that a tax such as this should or shouldn’t be administered. I see no benefit to the common welfare of humanity in the needless accumulation of capital in the hands of the few. But what would happen to the money? There are already very reasonable ideas out there that have no chance of becoming reality. For example, basic income. Redistribute a dollop of cash to each and every person in society without any strings attached. Here’s the dilemma though, and the reason something like this would never happen. It undermines the state’s influence on the levers of individual freedom. A simple redistribution scheme eliminates thousands of programs, and with them the raison d’etre  of the bureaucracy.

Any additional seizure of wealth by the state is merely a balance sheet adjustment. The wealthy reduce their accounts a bit, but retain their influence. The governing class converts that skim into “programs” distributed according to their own formula, which by no coincidence will increase the government’s control over the working classes.

The anarchist looks at all this and throws up his hands. There’s no solution to inequality that includes the intervention of the state.

PS: An-Caps are not anarchists. They are radical libertarians. Let’s just be honest about that. In the an-cap formula you wipe out the state side of the ledger and transfer all accounts to the capitalist class. This would create a de facto group of mini-states administered by corporations. Good idea.

Any future anarchist society that emerges will certainly include among its ethical foundations a resistance to the excessive accumulation of property.

You got a blog?

I kind of forgot that I was still paying for this thing. Back when I started I was too stupid or arrogant or both to realize that blogging is something you do for free. I didn’t need to buy a domain and and pay for hosting and all that shit. But back then $11 a month seemed like nothing. Well, it seems like more than nothing now, but I can’t bring myself to dump it and start somewhere else. Or can I? Maybe that’s exactly what I should do.

Went on a terrific bender over the weekend ending some time Saturday night. (I took Friday off to get it rolling). Now since I was absolutely fogged out of my mind the past two or three months, and recognizing that as long as I continued in my drinking pattern I was only going to get worse, I did what any alcoholic would do and decided to drink myself sober. Which I accomplished and managed to consume every drop of alcohol in the house except for about a half-ounce of Tito’s Vodka which ended up in the sink Sunday morning.

During this latest debauch, I discovered Vine and enjoyed creating a wonderful series of drunken, and occasionally amusing six second excerpts of my state of mind.

Twitter got a little of me too.

I’m not lamenting my state, and who knows what will come next, but I am quite relieved to be not drinking at the moment. There’s so much to do! For example, read a book that a kind person sent me recently. I got about a hundred pages into it in the past 24 hours or so. That’s more than I’ve been able to read in about three months. I suppose I felt I deserved a good drunk, and many objective, sympathetic folks who knew the sad details of my personal life might agree. But it’s no way to live and I’m making no statement by doing so.

Hopefully this will keep me off the moribund list, if I’m not there already.

Cleaning House

I prefer to clean house by myself. So when my wife decided she had had enough of the desert and left with my seven year old daughter a few weeks ago, I headed home from the airport and started cleaning. First on the list was the living room, still cluttered with toys, crayons and piles of unread mail, magazines, coupons and visible dust. With the afternoon light streaming through the window, the visible sign of dirtiness hung in the air and gleamed from the glass table tops. I shut the curtains to block it out and started picking up. It didn’t long to clear the clutter.

I went room by room, collecting papers, cosmetics, jewelry, pens & pencils and other debris into piles and moved them to my room for sorting. My wife aspires to organization, by which I mean she compulsively collects boxes, baskets, expandable file folders and paper trays within which are deposited unopened mail, piles of unfinished homework, bills, photographs and occasionally, something worth preserving. These piles were reduced, like reducing a sauce on the stove, to a tiny fraction of their original size. Once sorted, what remained was carefully preserved in a small filing box leaving half a dozen empty sorting trays and various plastic containers and boxes empty.

Outside in the yard, with each smoke break, I picked up bits of broken toys and removed them to the garbage. There was the plastic bow and arrow that my daughter had bought with her own money. Little broken arrows were strewn around, their pink plastic plungers drying out in the sun. I collected them, the plastic quiver and plastic bow and tossed them in the trash. For a moment I worried that this would be the first thing she asked me to send her. But it would be easy to dodge. The arrows were broken. I thought of her running from the security line sobbing to the window that separated us; my older daughter and I also in tears, making a spectacle of ourselves in the terminal. We turned around and walked into the sunshine hurrying back to the car. The long ride home was mostly quiet, and the tears dissipated quickly.

Our sadness was mixed with relief. Life had become unbearable. The wounds of years of mutual demoralization between my wife and me were re-opened on a near daily basis. Our strategies for tamping them down had long ceased to be effective. A mutual affection for alcohol sometimes brought relief, but just as often we would take turns raging at each other, each blaming the other for the sorry state of our lives.

There is no lack of love among us. Just a lot of messes to clean up, and 1,500 miles of separation.


Epic Fail

Nothing about my failure is epic. It is ordinary and small and repeated millions of times over by millions of other nameless, disconnected human beings every day. So there’s nothing epic about it in its ordinariness. But I suspect failure always feels epic to each individual–each human being whose hopes, dreams and desires have been crushed and have had to come to terms with the brutal facts of the matter: that time is running out and the opportunity to reverse the trend is slipping hopelessly away like ice on a hot skillet. We are each falling apart before our very eyes. And the generic epic of surviving childhood, striving for love and success or whatever other passion moves you, and failing to achieve these goals is the archetypal human epic. It’s the background behind all our fairy tales and sagas. Of course these sagas immortalize the few elect who strive and succeed in some epic way. And because they do, we expect that we, too will ultimately overcome the challenges we face and live to see our true worth recognized.

So my personal failures: intellectual, relational, financial, romantic, parental, artistic, religious, moral, health-wise and so on are of no great consequence to the world with the exception of my children who unfortunately must adapt to life with the disadvantage of having a less than ideal father. It is the parental failure that galls me the most, since of course I remain disappointed in the failures of my own parents and I have been full grown for a good long time.

The preceding is what passes for a New Year’s reflection from me.

Our culture has pathologized unhappiness. We are expected to treat it as we would an illness. Which would be fine if there actually were a treatment for it, which there is not. (Don’t tell that to the pharmaceutical companies, of course.)  The problem is the Self. The Self is a parasite. It has no purpose except torture. It does not feel pleasure or pain. It has no nervous system of its own or body to move and touch and feel. The body does these things perfectly well. It is an unfortunate side effect of evolution, if you will. It creates the illusion of freedom where there is none and is the source of all anxiety. Surely you have heard the theory that anxiety disorders are the result of a misguided fear response that arises as a relic from our evolutionary past. The fight or flight response is out of whack, they say, and anxiety is the body’s confused response. This is obviously wrong and could only be believed by people who do not experience perpetual anxiety. Anxiety has nothing in common with “fear”. Everyone has experienced adrenaline pumping fear and it is actually a heightened state, unlike the state of anxiety which is more like a muddled confusion. The fear response is natural and clear. Anxiety is unnatural and muddy. The body takes over in the fear response. The Self is the sole author of anxiety. They have nothing in common.

For me the Self is like an evil demon that just happens to be in control of my identity. It is the Self that tortures itself and the body is a sometime victim. So what the hell is the Self? It’s not equivalent to consciousness. One can be conscious and active and completely unaware of this thing. Absorption in certain activities–particularly creative ones–marginalizes the Self. It disappears for a while. Meditation can eliminate the Self. Romantic love can do the same thing. Alcohol and other drugs seem to disrupt it in some way.

So my resolution for 2014 is to not be my Self. Whatever it is that I am, I am not that.

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The Abonilox

Making Truth Palatable