Monday, February 20, 2017

“Inappropriate,” the Power Elite's Ubiquitous Euphemism

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C.—Experts discover that American politicians, pundits, and journalists frequently say “That’s not appropriate” when they really mean, “I want to tear out your intestines and strangle you with them for doing that.”

Leslie Montague, psychologist at Pick Your Brains Medical Center in Scranton, began researching the euphemism when she saw CNN correspondent Jim Acosta at President Trump’s news conference.

Acosta attempted to ask the president a question, but Trump denied CNN the opportunity, calling CNN “fake news.” When Acosta persisted, Trump berated him with sarcastic remarks before sending his bodyguards to beat Acosta to a pulp. Still Acosta attempted to pose his question, and Trump dragged Acosta’s wife onto the stage and whipped her until she was screaming and crying for God to make it stop.

Said Montague, “That’s when Jim Acosta turned to look at Trump squarely in the eye, and he said weakly, blood dripping from his mouth, ‘Mr. President, that’s not appropriate.’

Montague studied the recording of that encounter and found that in between the blows and Taser assaults Acosta received at the hands of the bodyguards, the reporter kept meekly uttering the same phrase, “Not appropriate.”

“Acosta was smashed in the face by a baton and he muttered only, ‘This is inappropriate.’ A bodyguard kicked him in the groin, Acosta sank to the floor and he croaked, ‘Not appropriate, Mr. President.’ They beat his wife in front of the world, but Acosta knew his place. All he could do was to squeak like a mouse, saying the magic word: ‘Inappropriate.’”

Montague hypothesized that Acosta was using that word as a euphemism. “Clearly, Acosta would rather have said or done something else in response to the abuse and humiliation, but he seemed to realize that only his reference to what is or isn’t appropriate in Washington would allow him to fly under the radar, as it were.”

Politicians also resort to using that phrase. After George W. Bush accidentally launched nuclear missiles at Canada, wiping that country from the face of the Earth, Barack Obama said in his campaign for change, “That was most inappropriate. We need new leadership.”

A political pseudoscientist at the Machiavelli Institute interprets the euphemism as an inside joke among establishment figures. She said, “When politicians or other powerful persons condemn something with such an understatement, saying merely that it’s inappropriate, they’re thumbing their nose at the English language. The implication is that these power elites are too busy to think of a more fitting description of the matter, and anyway they’re too macho to want to get revenge just with words. These are men of action, so when they call something inappropriate, what they mean is that they’ll respond later by some underhanded means. They don’t want to call attention to their plan, so they employ the most innocuous expression they can think of.”

Wallace Wallaby, political pseudoscientist at the Class Warfare Academy, has a different interpretation. “The constant references you hear in D.C. and in other corridors of power to how this or that is inappropriate are actually quasi-religious expressions,” he said. “These powerful individuals are really functionaries in a system that they worship. It’s the system and the deep state that decide what’s appropriate, or what’s fitting for an assigned purpose. So saying that something is appropriate is like saying it’s in God’s hands. Calling something inappropriate is the secular equivalent of saying, ‘God damn it!’”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Comedians Replace Democrats to Oppose Psycho Clown Republicans

To address the challenge presented by the new Republican Party, the Democratic Party has been replaced by a bevy of comedians.

The challenge began in 2017 when President Donald Trump made psychopathy cool. Henceforth the Republicans became informally known as the Psycho Clown Posse. Trump capitalized on the press’s bad press, further demonizing journalists whom the American public already trusted less than lawyers and politicians.

Trump’s real enemy, however, was the truth about reality. The press was only the messenger, and because the President’s narcissism detached him from external reality, the press was always the bearer of bad news about how Trump’s grandiose schemes crashed on the shores of a world that’s naturally indifferent to him.    

Declaring war on that world for the unforgivable sin of not loving Trump as much as he loves himself, the President created an alternative reality, using Fox News, Alex Jones’ conspiracy theories, shameless advisors and spokespeople, and his personal Twitter account to create a carnival culture that captured the public’s imagination.

The Democrats were caught flatfooted by this turn of events. Liberal pundits assumed they could counter Republican fantasies merely by pointing out the facts. When the public preferred to believe the fantasies, such as that Barak Obama is a Muslim communist, that Trump had the largest inauguration audience, that millions voted illegally for Hillary Clinton, or that the press is the enemy of the American people, Democrats startled Republicans by searching for the switch on the back of their necks which they believed must have got stuck in the wrong position.

As one Democratic senator explained, “We’re all robots, of course, so the Republicans’ logic circuits must be broken. All we have to do is reset their software so they can appreciate the value of facts, statistics, and other forms of accurate information.”

When in 2018 it turned out there’s no such switch on the back of Americans’ necks, and people are more like irrational animals than logic-loving Vulcans or robots, the Democrats fell out of favour, losing seats in that year’s congressional election.

Comedians came to the rescue, using satire and parody rather than history or science to unsettle Americans about the embarrassing state of their society. As one of the leaders of the Comedian Party explained, “Our philosophy is simple: when you’re dealing with an insane opponent, stop playing by the old rules and pretending you can appeal to reality to trump his fantasy. Instead, you take for granted that the truth is on your side, and you ridicule the daylights out of the psycho clowns until they can no longer be taken seriously and their circus becomes a sideshow.”

In 2019 Stephen Miller and Kellyanne Conway continued to practice the political clown’s art of agnotology, which is the spreading of disinformation and doubt for the purpose of gaslighting the public, of persuading them to accept a world of “alternative facts,” as Conway inadvertently called it. The Comedians responded by mocking the Psycho Clown Party for the banality of its lies.

“The trick is to switch from epistemology to aesthetics,” said one comedian. “You don’t tackle a psychopathic clown’s self-congratulatory rants as if they were rational statements. You go after them as works of fiction. And the thing about psycho clowns and hack agnotologists is that their fiction stinks—on purely literary grounds.”   

When in early 2019 Stephen Miller declared on Fox News that Americans should call Trump their emperor and stop questioning his motives or policies, Comedian Senator Bill Maher said Trump is “the boy emperor with no clothes. He’s a fat orangutan running naked in the streets, but you still need a magnifying glass to find his tiny pecker.”  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Psychiatrists reach Opposite Conclusions about President Trump’s Mental Health

Dateline: NEW YORK CITY—On Monday, Feb 15, the New York Times published a letter signed by 37 psychiatrists who expressed severe doubts about President Trump’s mental health.

Trump “appears to have had the fragile mind of a two-year old implanted into his 70 year-old brain,” said the psychiatrists. “Our expert medical opinion is that President Trump is off his rocker. More specifically, he’s fallen off his rocker, landed on the floor, rolled off the floor and out the front door, down the steps and down the mountain side, splashed into the ocean and sank into a volcano at the bottom of the sea.”

Thanks to the technological services of an anonymous group of hackers, 200 million Americans were able to simultaneously pipe their response to the letter directly into the bedrooms of all 37 psychiatrists. Transmitted at a deafening decibel, the response was, “No shit, Captain Obvious!”

Two days later, the NY Times published a letter signed by 37 different psychiatrists who reached the opposite conclusion, that Trump’s mental state is as healthy as anyone’s can be.

Curiously, both letters were signed by 20 men and 17 women. One of the male psychiatrists who signed the first letter is a little person, and one who signed the second is also a little person.

Three of the men who signed the first letter, and three of the different men who signed the second all have 9 inch-long scraggly beards that have the same mixed shades of brown and grey.

Two of the women who signed the first letter, and two of the different women who signed the second have had mastectomies.

This has led one physicist to blame the mirroring effect on spillover from other universes in the multiverse. 

Another physicist, Eugene Nerdopolous, has posited what he calls the “Of Course Principle” to explain the puzzling phenomenon of professionals who cancel each other out in psychiatry and in several other sciences.

“To paraphrase Isaac Newton,” he says, “for every psychiatrist there’s an equal and opposite psychiatrist.

“And the same holds in any scientific field in which a lot of money is at stake for the scientist. If one blood spatter expert is willing to testify that the blood left at the crime scene was caused by a gruesome act of murder, of course another will testify that the red fluid isn’t blood at all, but raspberry filling from a squashed donut.”

The differences aren’t due merely to the ambiguity of the subject matter, which could allow for different rational interpretations. “It’s more a question of the world mocking our vain attempts to understand and control it. When 37 psychiatrists think anyone needs them to state the obvious about Trump, and then the universe throws up 37 equal and opposite psychiatrists, something’s having a laugh at our expense.”

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Civilization requires Myths, and Myths are Absurd

There’s good reason to think that the culture of any mass society depends on myths which are fictions, which is to say lies we’re too polite to identify as such because these lies achieve a higher good. But what are the implications of this hypothesis, for moderns and liberals who flatter themselves that they’re rational and not so credulous?

Myths Define Cultural Identity

Every large society is founded on myths which are fictions that collectively distort the population’s perception of reality to maintain its group cohesion. In his book, Sapiens, Harari sets forth one explanation of how these myths arose, which begins by pointing out that our social instincts were adapted to stabilizing small tribes of around 150 members. In such groups we can use gossip and memory to form social bonds, based on familiarity with each other. But the agricultural revolutions in the Neolithic Period drew masses of thousands and millions of strangers together, which created the problem of unifying these masses to prevent them from splitting into more manageable subgroups. The solution was that although in the actual world a multitude may have many reasons to split due to natural differences of race, gender, character, and opinion, belief in an alternative, fictional world could compel everyone to imagine themselves as having a single, collective identity. This solution was made possible by our large, flexible brains, which allow us to dissociate information, to mentally model possible worlds and to overlay values and counterfactual interpretations onto sense data. For millennia the myths that sustained nations and empires were religious and cosmological, instilling in the citizens their collective values, and constructing theological or philosophical justifications for them in the myth’s narratives.

A second cause of the prevalence of myths is apparent from the Handicap Principle in biology. In a context in which deception is often in creatures’ self-interest, a signal is more reliable if it’s delivered at a cost to the signaler. Thus, an animal may really be formidable if it can afford to squander its strength on ostentatious displays. For example, the male peacock signals to the female that it’s a worthy mate, by finding a way to cope with its gaudy and comically-oversized tail feathers. (This has given rise to the term “peacocking” in the game of pickup artists.) In the same way, conspicuous consumption indicates that the consumer has money to waste on frivolous and often self-destructive entertainments. And whereas our imagination and reasoning may be geared to planning on how to exploit regularities in the natural environment, to increase the chance of our survival under the condition of nature’s indifference towards us, a decadent population finds itself able to squander these mental resources by entertaining outlandish scenarios and having them colour its perception of reality. Thus, the more absurd the myth, the greater the population’s apparent willpower. A foreigner might be led to think, “They can afford to believe the most errant nonsense without dying of embarrassment, so their group cohesion must be superhuman.”

This leads to a third root of our large-scale reality distortion, which is that the more counterfactual the cultural narrative, the greater the test of an individual’s faith in the collective identity. A classic example of this is Tertullian’s boast that he believes the Christian creed because it’s absurd. The fideistic rationalization of that faith would be that a doctrine’s absurdity may be a sign of its supernatural, transcendent origin. Similarly, Saint Paul said that the wisdom of the natural world is foolishness to God, and Jesus is alleged to have said that we must be childlike to enter the kingdom of God. These would be rationalizations, of course, not epistemically worthy justifications of faith, because not every childlike act of avoiding the natural world need be a sign of some connection to a supernatural reality. Even if there were some higher realm that we could access only nonrationally, many nonrational expressions may be merely insane or serving the purpose of a fraud, as in the case of cults, for example.

An unsettling implication of this hypothesis, that every large population holds itself together by suspending disbelief in a cultural fiction, is that even the so-called modern, secular West depends on myths in that respect. As Harari also points out, these secular myths are economic and political rather than explicitly theological or cosmological. Since the Renaissance, Westerners have trusted in science, capitalism, liberalism, and above all in individualism. We believe individuals should be free to decide how they should live, and that scientific exploration and capitalistic struggle for private profit are progressive. In The Age of Insanity, Schumaker distinguishes between modernity in general and the Western, American-led form of it. Modernity after the Scientific Revolution he characterizes as “a postindustrial order whose primary features are commodification, consumption, social marginality, technological encroachment, amplified organizational power, homogenized drives and tastes, deregulation of volition and emotion, incomprehensible abstract systems, simultaneous communication, and the shift toward reflexive knowledge.” The values of the Western form of modernization are “personal autonomy, self-reliance, future orientation, a strong appetite for change, capitalistic heroism, and success-mindedness.”

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Eleventh PDF Installment of RWUG

Here's the eleventh eBook edition of the most recent articles on this blog, and here's where you can find the previous editions.

I've also self-published a large anthology, Cosmic Horror for Clever Animals, which includes a previously unpublished introduction and the short story that set me on the path to writing this blog. On Amazon you'll also find my philosophical zombie novel, God Decays.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

DNC Discovers Secret of Transformational Leadership

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C.—A Democratic National Committee taskforce concluded its investigation into how Donald Trump has managed to be a transformational president.

In 2008, Barack Obama campaigned as a “change” candidate, but progressive Democrats soon became disappointed with Obama’s centrist, neoliberal economic policies and with his continuation of George W. Bush’s militaristic response to terrorism, although Obama opted for drone warfare instead of boots on the ground. Generally, Obama proved himself to be a technocratic defender of the deep state bureaucracy, as shown by his obsession with prosecuting whistleblowers who threatened the system’s channels of information flow.

After Bernie Sanders garnered the energy of the Democratic electorate and centrist Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in 2016, Democratic Party leaders learned that being a transformational leader might be a good thing. But because the DNC had been conservative rather than radical for decades, to preserve its appeal to Wall Street donors, Democratic politicians found themselves at a loss as to how to transform the American political system.

Liberals hope the taskforce will shed light on this mystery. For its part, the DNC’s exhaustive one thousand-page Report on Transformational Political Action closes with the following conclusion: “Above all, a transformational president mustn’t give a fuck.”

“This is the key attribute that prevented Obama from being a transformational leader,” said Sue-Ellen Greenhorn, one of the report’s authors. “He gave a fuck. Indeed, he had all too many fucks to give. His Ivy League education supplied him with an abundance of fucks, which is why he couldn’t tear down the system even if his progressive ideals demanded that the American political and economic systems be demolished and then spat upon.

“Moreover, ‘No Drama’ Obama’s intellectual temperament equipped him with an additional boatload of fucks: he cared about logic, the facts, and expertise. It was almost as though a functioning, rational government were what the voters demanded in their messianic fervor to be rid of George W. Bush in 2008.”

Donald’s Trump’s “evident psychopathy” makes him uniquely qualified “to give not even a single fuck—about the government, the American people, foreign countries, the planet at large, or even himself. This is why Trump can and likely will transform the nation.”

The noted theologian Fritz Fitzmueller concurs about the importance of not giving a fuck, to being a transformational and thus a consequential political leader.

“Think of the most transformational figure in Western history: Jesus Christ,” said Fitzmueller. “Our calendar is divided into the times before and after he was born, because the change he brought was so monumental. And from studying the New Testament in depth, one thing I can say for certain is that Jesus didn’t give a fuck. Not even one.

“Jesus said it makes no sense to gain the world if you lose your soul. Your soul is invisible, which means Jesus cared less about everything in the world that apparently exists, than he cared about something that seems to be nothing at all. Let me tell you, this means that Jesus didn’t give a fuck about anything you could shake a stick at. Oh, you don’t believe he’s the Son of God? That means you can go to hell for eternity. Jesus doesn’t give a fuck! And that’s why he was so historically important.”

“The irony is astounding,” said Donny Brook, a political analyst at Fancypants University. “The fewer fucks you have to give, the more influential you can become. If your job means fuck all to you, there’s a good chance you’ll fail upwards, as happens in large American banks and government institutions. George W. Bush failed upwards, as did Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. These are revolutionary figures, although Palin was denied the chance to show the world exactly how few fucks she had to give.

“Trump, though, will remake the global order, because his insanity is godlike. He’s not beholden to any social standard or pre-existing system. He doesn’t care about reason or the facts. He’s plainly out of his mind, which is why he’s worshipped by the hordes of American right-wing anarchists who likewise couldn’t give a fuck. The less you care about the world, the greater your ability to lay waste to it until the world naturally knits itself together in what is typically an altogether different pattern, so that you can be heralded as a revolutionary figure.

“Decades from now, when the history books are written, Trump and Bush Jr. will be remembered, but Obama won’t be, and now, thanks to the DNC Report on Transformational Political Action, we know why. Say it with me, folks: Obama gave a fuck.”

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Coalition of a Hundred Countries goes to War for Regime Change in the United States

Dateline: MOSCOW, Year Three After Trump—Three years into Trump’s presidency, a “new coalition of the willing,” of over a hundred countries led by Russia, China, and Europe declared war on Trump’s “rogue regime,” citing in a public statement: “the lunacy of allowing the American nuclear arsenal to be controlled by a manifestly insane and senile president, a dysfunctional Congress, and a delusional or apathetic American public.”

“The situation is just like George W. Bush’s declaration of war on Saddam’s Iraq,” said Putin at a press conference in Moscow, speaking for the Coalition. “Except that unlike Saddam, Trump actually has stockpiles of WMDs. We, too, seek regime change in defense of civilization itself. But this time the regime that must be eliminated by preventative military action is obviously Trump’s in the United States.”

When reminded that Trump never gassed his own people, whereas Saddam gassed the Kurds in 1988, Putin said, “Yes, but remember that time when Trump ordered that all the bridges in the United States be firebombed, because Trump had heard a rumour that a guy named Fred Bridgeman in South Dakota had called him fat? Remember how Trump had targeted bridges solely because that fellow had the word ‘bridge’ in his last name? And remember how Trump had neglected to warn the commuters, so that the bridges were destroyed along with the millions of Americans who were in the process of driving across them?

“Or remember that time when in broad daylight Trump raped a journalist in the middle of a White House press conference and then bizarrely denied that he had done so, calling the video evidence provided by the hundreds of cameras present ‘a big lie cooked up by failing news companies’?

“Or how about that time when Donald Trump ordered a nuclear strike against South Korea, mixing up the South with the North?

“Yeah, there’s only so much insanity and instability a civilized world can stand.”

Putin was pressed about why Russia would join the New Coalition of the Willing when Russia reportedly had personal leverage against Trump. Putin reminded the questioner that he had played his “Trump card, so to speak,” but it had backfired.

“You remember when we leaked the golden showers video, so to speak (again). Trump was caught with Russian prostitutes and we added that footage to the financial kompromat we had on him. When we secretly ordered Trump to help Russia take back our territories in Eastern Europe and he refused, we sent the video to Wikileaks. But after the world saw Trump with the pissing prostitutes, Trump said it wasn’t him but an actor with a bad wig.

“And that was that. The media went on to the next Trump scandal, since there was a new one every five minutes. We never bothered revealing the financial conflicts of interest Trump has with foreign banks, because most Americans wouldn’t understand them or care. For the same reason, the U.S. government doesn’t attempt to prosecute Goldman Sachs or other colossal banks for fraud, because the complexity of the case would put a jury to sleep.”

Putin was asked whether he thinks the Coalition can possibly defeat the American military machine. “Of course we can,” said Putin. “For decades, Americans have fought only fake wars against pipsqueaks like Saddam, terrorists in caves, or Stalinists in Grenada in 1983. Americans love to consume toys for their pleasure, not to make war. They’ll quickly surrender and the world will breathe a sigh of relief to be rid of Trump.”

For his part, a defiant Trump dared the Coalition to invade the United States. “Let them come!” he said at a Rose Garden press conference, holding a machine gun, his nose covered in cocaine. “Then they can say hello to my little friend!” There was tittering in the press pool and Trump said, “No, not my junk—which I can assure you all is yuge. This machine gun I’m holding—this is the little friend I meant. And the rest of the world can say hello to it. When they get here.” 

Sign on Trump’s Lapel Provides Running Tally of his Lies

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C. Year One After Trump—An anonymous member of President Trump’s staff fastened a digital sign to Trump’s lapel whenever Trump has been set to speak to the media, to stop reporters from having to flail about, guessing whether the president is lying.

“It started because I got annoyed watching the TV news,” said the staffer. “The anchors and pundits kept asking why Trump was saying that the sky is green, that two and two are five, or that his inauguration crowd was the biggest of all time. They just couldn’t figure out what Trump was up to—as if no politician had ever lied before! Or as if no legit psychopath had ever held high office!

“I just got sick of watching these fools on TV dancing around the issue, too timid to reckon with reality, just asking tedious questions like, ‘Why would the President say this when he must know it’s demonstrably false?’ or using euphemisms like Hilary Clinton’s gem, ‘Trump lacks the temperament to be president’—because it’s more polite to speak of ‘temperament’ than about Trump being literally a predator like a shark or the Terminator killing machine, a bona fide psychotic narcissist and, of course, a compulsive liar.”

To spare viewers from “having their time wasted by these clueless or cowardly news folks” and to “hold the baby journalists’ hands and steer them to the truth about Trump,” the staffer began affixing a battery-powered sign to Trump’s lapel. The staffer would listen to Trump speak in an interview, speech, or press conference, and editorialize by remote control.

For example, when Trump told ABC news that he’ll launch an investigation into massive voter fraud in the U.S., the sign on Trump’s lapel lit up with a message that scrolled across the small screen even as Trump himself was speaking. The message read, “Mother of all whoppers! The psycho Trump fears that a woman, Hillary C., beat him by three million in the popular vote—coincidentally the same number he says are voting illegally.”

And in his speech at CIA headquarters, when Trump accused the media of lying about his inauguration crowd size, the lapel sign read in blaring red letters, “Yuge lie! Psycho Trump can’t lose in a dick-measuring contest with a black man like Obama.”

Asked why he or she prefers to be anonymous, when Trump surely knows who is putting the LED sign on his suit, the staffer said, “Of course Trump doesn’t know! If he did, I’d be dead. Trump carries a laser blaster at all times. And if Trump knew, do you really think he’d leave the sign on and continue to lie like a madman?”

The extent of Trump’s obliviousness has flabbergasted the rest of the world. “How can Trump still not know about the sign?” asked a Democratic Congresswoman. “How can no one on his team be telling him that he’s being clowned over and over again, that everyone on earth now has a running breakdown of his every boast, evasion, distortion, slander, and confabulation, of every act of vain posturing or brazen pandering he clumsily undertakes?”

Clarice Foggarty, fellow at the Brookings Institution, theorized that “No one dares tell Trump about the sign for the same reason no Iraqi told Saddam Hussein he had no weapons of mass destruction.” In an authoritarian regime, she said, “the emperor is always wearing clothes even when he’s stark naked and his genitals are visibly flapping in the breeze. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself headless.”

As to why President Trump evidently can’t himself see the infamous sign, one psychotherapist speculated that Trump “effectively lives in the fiction he constantly spins. Trump can’t see beyond the hyperbole, according to which he’s a billionaire because he’s the greatest businessman ever, and he’s president because he’s a Batman-like hero who can do no wrong. Anything that contradicts that preposterous self-image can’t register in Trump’s conscious mind. If Trump suddenly could see himself the way practically everyone else sees him, his head would melt from the epic cognitive dissonance.”   

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Trump Orders Obama’s Presidency be stricken from the Historical Record

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C. (Crazy Town)—President Trump signed an executive order, commanding that every sign be erased, that Barack Obama had been president.

Trump ordered the military to destroy everything from stamps bearing Obama’s facial likeness, to news recordings of Obama’s speeches, to political cartoons about Obama.

The President added that anyone caught saying that an African-American was ever president of the United States would be sued personally by him.

“Repealing Obamacare is only a stepping stone,” said Trump’s spokesperson, Kellyanne Conway. “Talk about alternative facts! You liberals in the media actually think an African-American was president for eight years. But show me the evidence he was ever in office, once we’ve finished tossing that evidence into the memory hole.”

According to Democratic Senator Lillian Lillyliver, “You see, Republicans erred in attempting to tar Obama by informally naming the Affordable Care Act after him. Now they have to deal with the mess of trying to repeal and replace it, just because that healthcare bill is associated with Obama’s name, since Republicans evidently want no memory to survive that Obama had ever been president.”

Asked why she thinks Republicans are so opposed to that memory, Lillyliver said, “Methinks it’s because Obama’s as black as Trump’s heart.”

“President Trump seems to be taking a page from the pharaohs,” said Egyptologist Manuel Mysterioso. “If a pharaoh wanted to destroy his predecessor’s legacy, he obliterated every trace of it, by chiseling the former pharaoh’s face from relief sculptures, for example. And so future generations would forget that that detested pharaoh had ever lived. The belief was that our spirit resides in some physical form so that if you destroy the form, the spirit—and thus the intangible memory—dissipates.”

“It’s a case of ‘Hear no evil, see no evil,’” said one political analyst. “You know: out of sight, out of mind. If you don’t have to be reminded that something awful happened, you can pretend it never did. Why it matters whether a neoliberal president like Obama has light or dark skin is anyone’s guess. That’s a matter for a psychotherapist. I mean, Obama bent over backward a thousand times to accommodate the insanity from the far right. And the Republicans deliberately stonewalled him from the get-go to prevent the public from forming the conviction that a civil, democratic government can function as an alternative social arrangement to a capitalistic marketplace.”

“I’ve already forgotten who was president before me,” said Trump. “You say it was a ‘man of colour.’ Does that mean he was just someone other than an invisible man, someone who wasn’t colourless?” After the euphemism “person of colour” was explained to Trump, the president said, “Oh, so he was black, you say, an African American. I see no evidence there was any such person who used to sleep in my bed.

“In fact, the very notion that there are people with non-white skin seems farfetched to me. I’ve never seen these dark-skinned people you speak of. Is this like the myth that there are hordes of non-millionaires and non-billionaires polluting the earth? Where are all these losers supposed to be hiding? My Cabinet’s composed mostly of millionaires and billionaires, because there’s no one else in my world. And how can I step outside my world and still be me?”  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Why Something rather than Nothing?

Why is there something—anything at all—when there could have been just nothing? The early modern philosopher Leibniz first posed this question, which Gr├╝nbaum, a philosopher of science, recently called the Primordial Existential Question. But what exactly is this question asking?

The question’s initial context is Leibniz’s cosmological argument for God’s existence. That argument is essentially that the Principle of Sufficient Reason demands an ultimate explanation that naturalistic science can’t offer. Reason cries out for a metaphysical explanation of all existence, not just for causal explanations which posit one contingent thing or state of the world to account for something equally contingent. Such partial explanations can never be fully satisfying, since if the series of natural things is infinite and so every part of the world is adequately explained in terms of some other part which causes it, one question yet remains to be answered: why is there anything in the first place, rather than nothing at all? The whole of nature must be understood in terms of something unnatural, some necessary being that lies outside the causal chain. That necessary being is supposed to be God.

The standard, logical response to this argument is that it commits the fallacy of composition. Just because something applies to a part doesn’t mean it applies to the whole; just because finite, contingent phenomena are usefully explained by positing causal relations between them, doesn’t mean the whole universe which contains all those phenomena as its parts is just as usefully explained as being an effect of some cause, a product of a necessary being. Causal explanations are inductive in that they’re based on our many experiences of regularities that hold in the interactions between finite, contingent things. You eat a hot dog, the mustard spills and lands on your shirt, staining it. The one event causes the other, under the right circumstances. But we occupy only one universe and haven’t even once experienced the whole of it. So the metaphysical or theological account that the whole of nature must be produced by a supernatural being isn’t as reliable an explanation as an inductive one of a pattern connecting some parts of the natural whole.

This response, though, amounts to little more than casting aspersions on Leibniz’s argument, since the response is consistent with Leibniz’s main point. The whole point is that scientific, probabilistic explanations are limited to the finite and contingent parts of the world, but that reason in general can ask a further, metaphysical question. The issue, then, is whether reason extends beyond science or reliable, probabilistic, quantifying, experience-based logic. If we think of reasoning pragmatically, interpreting reason as the more or less useful tinkering with mental models, we needn’t discount metaphysics or even theology because it’s not a branch of modern science. True, just because we can ask a speculative question doesn’t mean we can reason usefully about possible answers to it. Still, the point about the fallacy of composition begs this deeper question. The typical critic of the cosmological proof scientistically dismisses the metaphysical question of whether the entire causal chain making up the natural universe’s history is itself something that could be explained at all and would be explained only by positing something supernatural. Certainly, just because causal explanations work in one context, doesn’t mean they work in another. We have no experience of other universes, so we don’t know why one would have resulted rather than another; we have no objective basis for assigning probabilities to something compared to nothing, so we don’t know whether without God there should have been nothing at all, because nothingness is supposedly simpler than a natural series of causes and effects. This is all true, but is so only as far as it goes. Again, we have no empirical grounds for speaking with precision about being or of nonbeing in general. We haven’t quantified such entities and we can’t run experiments to test hypotheses concerning them. But this doesn’t mean a metaphysical question about natural things in general is irrational or irresponsible.