Here is an essay I recently submitted for consideration in the Westinghouse National Children's Writing Competition. It's since been awarded the PEN Faulkner award and has been short-listed for a trillion dollar grant from UNESCO.
"When you're in my face, my face gets mean"
Is it considered, by the general populace, to be 'bigoted' or 'intolerant' or whatever to find certain religions stupider than others?
I hate how everything has to be treated with kid gloves and as of the same caliber in these late and untidy days of ours. It's ridiculous. Not going out of your way to offend people is fine (and eminently 'Canadian' according to standup comedy routines), and despite my inner cantankerousness, I generally allow a lot of things to be said in my presence without objecting too much--even when, sometimes, I should. (Although that, too, is a kind of condescension, of course)*.
*Further sidenote: Matt finds it surprising that I rarely feel it necessary to respond to the idiots in the 'philosophical community' and how quickly I tend to write people off as flakes or as unworthy of my time. Pragmatic concerns (i.e., not having enough time or energy to actually deal with 'these people') aside, I think this too stems from a kind of smugness on my part. As I hate being smug (or seeing people be smug), I write this off by saying that I write them off because of their certainty or their lack of charity, or their willful fashionable-ness, or their obvious careerism. So me being smug about my opinions (which are, generally anyway, formed from what I take to be an honest attempt to slowly lift my particular veil of ignorance) is less true here than their being vapid or whatever it is. Anyway.
Some religions are clearly stupider than others. This is true. Not to say that every practitioner of a given religion is equal in quality to the religion they practice. Some are better than their 'faith', some much worse. True of everything we involve ourselves in. Ty Cobb and Lou Gehrig being good examples. Though I wouldn't say Lou Gehrig is better than baseball. Maybe that's a bad comparison. What is good about Lou Gehrig isn't limited to what made him a good ball-player, let's say. Just like what is good about Augustine isn't limited (despite his own account) to what makes him a good Christian. Even if we thought baseball was a horrible thing, and that it was a waste of a life we would probably be forced to find a guy like Lou Gehrig to be pretty damned admirable. Try and listen to his retirement speech and not fucking lose it. I dare you. Similarly, Ty Cobb was a shit bag no matter how much you like him as a ball-player. The problem is that religion takes itself to be maximally general in a certain way that (according to individual religions at least) if you are a good practitioner of religion X you are, therefore, a good person. I.e., 'good person' is synonymous with 'good religioneer'. Something un-expansive about that.
I think, today, that I've associated my evaluations of various religions with a view of logic that I am sympathetic to ("to which I am sympathetic").
Let me explain. "PLEASE, people, just let me explain, for God's sake." Lately I've been enamoured of the view that logic should be considered the science of the most general possible system of transformations. (Whatever it is that we mean by 'possible'..that and sorting out generality are pretty difficult things to do...). Anyway, so we have say group theory, which treats of a certain transformation class , we remove a certain rule governing that particular class of transformations (i.e. we remove one allowable transformation) and we get a more 'general' structure. Or, if we don't like talk of a single structure here, we get a wider array of allowable structures or whatever you'd like to call them. Eventually, in mathematical terms anyway, you arrive either at category theory or some kind of set theory. But, if you continue this trend, in perhaps a more metaphorical or analogical way, you will arrive at the broadest possible transformation group, which would be a bare sort of logic.
Anyway. That's an idea I like, and it comes from Alfred Tarski thinking of logic along the lines of Felix Klein's Erlanger Programme in order to characterize what he took to be the logical constants in a non-arbitrary, meaningful way. It is in a lecture from 1966 that was eventually published in 1986, it is called "What are logical notions?". It seems to me an interesting way of going about that problem, if you take it to be a serious problem to begin with, certainly a rigid boundary between logic and non-logic (or at least a perspicuously specifiable one) is useful for some purposes. Why not, right? I'm not sure it is a serious problem though. Interesting regardless.
So, the way I've been thinking of my ranking of religions (which amounts to my taste or distaste for them) lines up with their generality.
The less specific the beliefs of a particular religion are, the less likely it is I find them to be absurd. Once you add on salamanders, particular historical claims, or you get closer and closer to a mockery of the thing or things that I think make religion actually worthwhile (if it is worthwhile beyond those people, like Gehrig, Augustine, and Bolzano, who always surpass in excellence the particular niches and activities which they pursue)--anyway, once you get to the more ridiculous side of things I usually ask what the fucking point is, why bother with it all. (Run on sentences today, Jesus).
I think my 'evaluative system' (i.e., the rational reconstruction I make of my gut-reaction to various religious stupidities) is based on my view that the more sorts of things are in the mix, the harder it is for us to make sense of it, and the easier it is for charlatans to slip in. You'd think this leads me to a real 'religion of the book' type of view, but not necessarily (and not even by temperament, really). In an ontological sense, at least, it seems that a system which has 4 or 5 types of elements (of which their may be infinitely many examples, even) might be simpler or easier to understand than one with only one type of element, or even only one object as such. Something like animism or a Hindu-type panoply of gods isn't necessarily more absurd than a there is one God and X is his name type of set up. I guess the more types of evidence required to tell the story makes it more or less palatable, too. 'Evidence' might be a bad word here but that's all I can think of. The more kinds of stories you have to tell, the less I am attracted to it. Which is probably unfair, as religion is an attempt to gather everything together and present it, so why not tell every kind of story?
A lot of religions use anecdotal stories, theological claims that are deduced in a purely 'logical' way, traditions, intuitions, 'gut feelings', a historical body of any combination of writings exemplifying the previous sorts of things, decrees, laws, dogmas, etc. etc. Too complicated to take seriously, or to take as answers.
And when people take the opposite tack and reduce their religion to the collective experiences of the people involved with it (or even the particular people with whom they themselves practice) I tend to ask what the point of the religious super-layer is; why bother?
Just hang out already.
"The religion of the couch"
My life is better than your life.
But whose tragedy is that?
Remember two summers ago when I wrote an entire book of poetry? What happened to that me? I mean the poems were terrible, largely. (Too 'precious', about my 'feelings', etc.) Actually, poetry is by and large crap so I don't really feel too bad about that. But that same summer there was burgeoning romance (which has since bloomed), I worked 2 jobs, I went to the mountains like thrice a week, I 'studied' for my comprehensive exams, I did awesome drawings about buildings and builders, I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I.............
The Heart of the Matter.
Dwindling on the short side of the street, shoes wet.
That's pretty much my experience of Ottawa.
I am Ruin.
RE: Wedding Cakes.
IF I were to have a wedding cake, IF, then I would like it to be a towering cubule. Not a dwindling pyramidal shape.
Well today after my Bolzano class I had a number of thoughts which I would call 'good thoughts'.
I intended to write a bunch of them down, but I forgot most of them on the way home.
I went to this fast food type Indian place a while ago that I wanted to check out because it looked cheap. Well, unlike the other cheap Indian place (which is bomb), this one sucks. I got Sag Paneer because a) I like it and b) I find it to be a good way to tell if an Indian place is good or if it sucks. (Generally that works). Anyway the Sag Paneer sucked, and came with some sort of salad that had thousand islands dressing, or whatever that orange one is, it might be 'Catalina' or something. Anyway, I was somewhat disappointed.
Also, when I went in, I was the only one there, then these two other people came in. The one guy was basically yelling the entire time. Like, not talking loudly (which is already annoying) but actually yelling so loudly that almost every sentence he spoke when it was his turn 'startled' me like a gunshot. It was fucking annoying.
(It also reminded me of a drawing I saw of a guy yelling into a cell phone with his eyes all apoplectic. The caption was "Is this a normal way to talk?". I found that funny.)
I also bought two books today, one of which is called 'The Possibility of an Island' which is one of the most pretentious titles I've ever heard. I was hoping that it was a bad translation or something of the French title, but the French title is exactly the same. I was kind of embarrassed to buy it to be honest. Anyway, it's by Michelle Houellebecq, who wrote a book called 'The Elementary Particles' that I liked. The blurb on the back said that it was a lot like 'Oryx and Crake', so I bought it and if it is any good I will recommend it to Etienne. My hopes are low though.
The other book is 'American Pastoral' by Philip Roth, which I'm sure will be good; it's one of his 'key' works. (Sidenote: I hate the blurbs on Philip Roth books, they always say shit like "compulsively readable" or whatever. They have all these vaguely academicky sounding things which actually just mean: "THIS ONE'S A REAL PAGE TURNER! OMGGGG!!!". Why do they even have those blurbs, just have a little plot summary and be done with it.)
I've read a bunch of American Pastoral since, it's pretty good as I thought. Swede Levov is not like most Roth characters. It's like what Roth wondered would happen if someone was genuinely content. And not content in that 'naive' way exactly. But really actually content. You can imagine how it ends up. Roth is a kind of torturer really.
I hate in TV shows when the following situation occurs. Someone is lying to someone else, and behind the person they are lying to, there are a bunch of the liar's friends. And they all line up and like lean over and look at the person who is lying. And they make gestures, depending on the situation. I just hate the way they line up and lean over. It's so phony. That NEVER happens.
This guy who is in my Bolzano class and who has been in a few of my other classes I initially thought was a real idiot; but he seems like he isn't that bad anymore. Normally I'm pretty right about these things initially.
Instead of writing anything new..... Turn to E2!
I cut an article out of one of the Ottawa daily newspapers today about a local bus driver who sings Sinatra and Tony Bennett, etc. while on his route. It is the first article I've ever cut out of the newspaper.
I cut it out because I had no idea how it made me feel.
I suppose I'd have to meet the guy.
I'd say I was 'disillusioned' with philosophy, etc. but I don't really think I was ever 'illusioned' to begin with. I feel like the only reason I'm interested in philosophy is to investigate problems I have, so why would I get involved in philosophy at a communal or professional level? I really don't have much desire to teach, and not much of an aptitude for it either. I kind've feel like I'm wasting other people's time. I've been playing wait and see for a while. Perhaps my dissertation will enliven things a bit more, and I'll find the need for that rapport that seems crucial if you're to bother with publishing and so on.
My life is a kind of default setting.
I doubt I deserve more.
Nah, I'm actually in relatively high spirits these days. The things I've been reading are all pretty interesting, and I've been actually 'learning' a skill (if you can call working on basic set theory and metalogic a skill; it's definitely more skill-like than reading Hegel, e.g.). I'm reading a few papers by David Hilbert which I find interesting but disagreeable. Math is as confusing as ever. In one of my logic groups there is a math student who has similar concerns as me, but they are phrased so weirdly different it's funny to think of them as the same. But there you are. Two sides of the same mountain, etc. The way he talked about Brouwer's crumpled-paper theorem (I forget the name) made me happy that I'm still interested enough to perhaps learn something real about topology one of these days, perhaps by way of category theory.
I wonder who I've wronged.
I saw an amusing "documentary" today called 'I, Curmudgeon'. I don't really like calling movies like it 'documentaries' because to me a documentary has some sort of narrative purpose or a kind of storyline. I'm sure some documentarians would disagree, but that is just what I think of when I hear the word. This one had pretensions to a narrative structure, but the parts I liked about it had nothing to do with that.
Anyway, the movie is basically snippets of interviews with bitter, negative people who find fault in a lot of the things around them. (Sound familiar?). They were all different kinds of people, a few famous ones, and the basic 'idea' of the movie is the director saw himself as this kind of person then decided he would become more 'positive' or at least less negative, though its pretty clear he doesn't really improve. He's pretty neurotic about things, he's 50 or so. I immediately disliked him, his voice, and his manner of speaking, and the way his eyes moved.
So while I'm watching it, my aunt and my mom come home. They laugh at the parts I laugh at but they also think the various curmudgeons are crazy, even though they agree with pretty much all the things they are saying. I find that somewhat annoying. If these people are saying things that are true (e.g., that 90% of people are a write off and that our civilization, such as it is, is slowly/rapidly killing itself in every way you can imagine), why are these people crazy? I feel like they do: I find so many minor little things so unbelievable. I just cannot BELIEVE that people do the things they do.
Well, actually, I CAN believe they do the things they do. We all fail and are miserable at life on occasion (some more than others). Some of us will end up being advertising executives and making the horrible shit we all hate for a living, just to stay alive. But the problem I have isn't REALLY with that (though that is pretty shitty too). It's that people literally do not see that they are making the world an awful place. They'll think that their life as a jingle writer was a life well spent, and that any life not financially successful is a waste of fucking time and flesh.
Or that people will genuinely enjoy such CRAP, such absolute GARBAGE that is put out there by television, movie, and book producers. Such unbelievably shallow meaningless poorly written poorly acted drivel that people eat up. I know we're all guilty of it to a certain extent; but that doesn't make it better it makes it FUCKING WORSE. And no one wants to admit it and it drives you fucking insane.
I was rereading this part above just now and it's pretty badly written and ridiculous. I should calm down. To be honest I don't even encounter that much bad "art" (i.e., bad movies, books, paintings, TV shows, etc.) because I don't have to. I read things that are good (or that I take to be good, which is the same thing, of course), I only watch movies that I expect to be good (rare am I disappointed to be honest) and, since I download any TV show I watch, I'm not even subjected to terrible commercials as much any more. So, in sum, I'm being bilious above for someone else's reasons, largely.
Still more is not well, though
The other day we went to Staples and it was just so poorly fucking run I wanted to leave as soon as we got in there. There was one cashier working for the WHOLE store, and these stores are of course huge (they have to sell everything up to and including potato chips), and the place was packed. But at the empty camera sales desk they had FOUR people milling around, with no customers. I think they were talking about video games to be honest. Ditto all the other departments, either empty of customers and filled with employees, or vice versa.
Is this a sensible way to run a business? Even the fucking business people can't satisfy the shitty, minimal fucking demands that they've placed upon themselves for financial success. Even the capitalist behemoth of the United States can't handle its own real estate market. I'm all for making money, sort of. Actually what I am for (prior to estimating the value of an activity) is pursuing a task in a way that is likely to lead to success. This store setup does not seem likely to lead to success. But it does. And why? Because no one even remembers what it is like to be treated with respect in a business-type relationship. That whole concept is almost foreign to North America (at least). I'm not even old and it seems like we've already lost something irrevocably. It's irritating as hell and the links to bureaucracy are almost evident.
It's just so disappointing to see how badly run so many aspects of the world are.
Optimism today can't help but lead you either to an empty religion with post-worldly promises or to a grim pessimistic realism. Sell your hope for a dollar and the dollar deflates to a nickel pretty quick.
But all that "bigger" stuff isn't even the worst: the world could be well-run and all the minor little social fucking itches would still be annoying me into becoming a recluse more and more.
Here's a great example of the kind of minor shit that just makes me furious and miserable. In Ottawa recently they realized that most people think of bus drivers as fucking assholes and it makes them resent the transit system there (in addition to all the resentment stemming from the fact that Ottawa has a mediocre transit system with the highest rates in Canada). Anyway, to help make them seem more helpful and friendly OC Transpo decided to have the bus drivers talk into microphones to announce major stops. This is, on the face of it, a good idea: especially when the windows of the bus are either salt-covered or foggy so that you can't really tell where you are at night. And most of the time it works out: the bus driver informs and that's that.
However. I am fortunate enough to be blessed with two fantastic bus drivers who have chosen to utilize this system for their own ends.
The first guy uses the microphone to test out what I can only assume is a stream-of-consciousness experimental comedy routine. The bus he drives, the #1, goes right down the busiest street in Ottawa (Bank Street) and in rush-hour takes quite a while. He literally does not stop talking for more than 2 seconds for the entire 45 minute long ride, and he tells some of the worst jokes I have ever heard based on whatever it is that comes into his field of vision.
Example: (while driving past a Harvey's) "Harvey makes a hamburger a beautiful thing, I mean seriously, this guy has too much time on his hands" END JOKE. THAT'S THE JOKE.
And, I am not kidding, that is probably the best joke he has. The worst part is that even with my headphones completely covering my ears and with a toque on, I can STILL hear this guy, so there is literally nothing I can do save get off the bus to escape him. This is his power, this is his time to shine.
I I I
I I I
I I I
I I I
I I I
I I I
I I I
I I I
The second guy is not quite as bad, though you hate him more. He drives the #4, a route that is normally uncrowded but at one particular stop at Carleton it basically fills up for about 4 stops. Up until this stop, every time, this guy is the normal informative bus driver. In fact, I'd say he is a bit better at calling out the stops than most of them (he knows the little side streets that I don't even notice, which is a nice touch). But when all the "students" get on the bus he turns in to a huge fucking asshole. He starts checking everyone's bus pass real intricate like (I've noticed that there is a racial bias in his checking regimen as well), and if the "students" don't squish into the back immediately as much as possible, he literally stops the bus and berates them over the microphone for a good five minutes before continuing "I tell you PEOPLE EVERY GODDAMNED TIME to bla bla bla...". It just makes me fucking furious. The bus is packed, no one can move, we've already paid an inordinate amount of money to take the slow ass route, and now this power-mad bus driving asshole feels it within reason to berate paying customers as if they had stolen something from him. He does this, one assumes for the sake of the good, 'non-student' people on the bus, but everyone shoots him dirty looks and he generally makes that 15 or 20 minutes of all 70 or so passengers' lives just that much more miserable than they already were in the middle of a fucking Ottawa winter.
And it is those minor, shitty little things that people do, in their proper 'roles' contrary to the spirit of things that drive me fucking insane. I can barely even tolerate looking at these people I just want to show them how they really are, but nothing could ever make them see. You could literally show them a film of their life and threaten them with death if they didn't see what you are saying and even if they admitted they would never see it in their heart. How can that BE?
I just don't understand that kind of willful ignorance.
I can't and I won't.
And that's about the extent of my optimism. Though even that is being pushed to the fucking limits.
It is a fortunate accident that I've managed to find two or three people who I can tolerate.
Another thing someone said in that movie seemed like something I agree with. Like if I meet someone and they say one wrong thing (like one just moronic thing), I'm done with them and that's it. It doesn't even have to be that they are wrong, but it can be the way that they say something, even if it's right.
Of course it is true that to know a person worth knowing takes time, and that you unravel various strands and can only understand their surface once you have grasped the engine driving the whole personality machine. But, still, certain surfaces are only possible, or only make sense, if you infer that they are, in the fullest sense, a certain kind of person.
For instance, this douche at my school who I can't stand. The first day I met him, he was talking about some bullshit Hegelianism junk that he was into. At the time I was even interested in Hegel (I'm not really anymore), so it wasn't WHAT he was saying exactly, but his way of saying it. Whenever he would talk about anything he would refer back to some conference he had been to where this guy 'Jacques Ranciere' (whom I hadn't heard of until recently, when Matt told me about him) had been in attendance. Anyway, this guy kept saying how he met Ranciere, and Ranciere had agreed with him, so you could SEE that he was right about bla bla bla. It made me want to punch this fucking guy in the face. The problem was the 3 twits around me, who I had until then thought were reasonable even potentially likable people, were all fucking headnods and smiles. I had this look of disgust on my face the whole time and afterwards one of them asked me what my problem was. I was like "Are you fucking kidding me?" and I said how I thought the guy was a real idiot and if I had to hear one more minor French commentator on a major French commentator name dropped in my presence I would exercise my right to bear arms (perhaps by baring my arms). Anyway, he was vaguely offended and I retreated from his company forthwith.
You know I wouldn't even be annoyed if the guy was legitimately excited that he had met this guy whom he respected and that the guy had appreciated his work: that is an understandable human reaction, and it is even admirable in its own way, especially in a world so empty of respect and admiration. But that was clearly not what was going on: all of this shit was a move in some game (that I don't understand or care to understand). This rube was 'scoring points' in the philosophy world somehow.
This is the world I live in.
Just thinking about it makes me sick. Just invent the idea of 'careers' in philosophy and you get fucking idiots like this guy. In philosophy all the economic motives are still there, but they are either turned into departmental politics, or made into point-contests in journals. It's embarassing.
I'm a pathetic specimen of a man in a lot of ways but at least I'm man enough not to be so proud of being empty. These careerists aren't even empty vessels, they can't hold anything anymore. They're dinner plates.
You know one thing you often hear about 'negative' people or curmudgeons is that they make other people around them miserable. I actually don't really feel that I'm like that much of the time, but even if it was the case I think that a lot of people could use a lot more fucking misery in their lives. I don't think everyone would be better off wallowing in self-doubt and self-hatred like I end up doing half the time, but it seems like if they were honest with themselves (even as half-honest, half-dramatic as I am with myself) then they would probably be a lot less repugnant as human beings. I just can't understand how these horrible bus drivers, or this awful philosophy guy can just go on about their lives and do these just terrible, reprehensible, insignificant social cruelties over and over again, for the rest of their lives. It seems so insanely improbable that I can be RIGHT about how awful they are AND that they don't notice it, but I can't see how I could possibly be wrong.
These things couldn't possibly be right.
And yet, people live their lives thinking it's just fine to act so badly.
Weapons are the weapons of the future
While waiting for the bus today I saw a guy complete a Rubik's Cube in less than five minutes from start to finish. While I was watching him do it without (apparently) any thought whatsoever I thought to myself "I will never be able to experience mathematics aesthetically". But then I thought that that was a bit too pretentious so when he completed it and put it bag in his bag I gave him the polite head-nod of admiration. He seemed unimpressed with me, perhaps because not only had I not beaten his Rubik's Cube time but (worse) I clearly didn't even have one on me.
I think the world would be a lot fairer if a guy who could finish a Rubik's Cube that quick was held in higher esteem.
Words I dislike: 'ersatz' (it sounds to German, and never sounds like it means anything in a sentence); and 'prurient' because I don't like the syllable 'prur' and because it reminds me of prudish, which is pretty much it's opposite (I think).
This other Philip Roth book I got is funny (actually it's not really funny, I meant funny as in 'typical'). It's pretty much a sustained worry about old men still having sexual desire. Since it's so short (~150 pages) the 60 or so pages already loosely devoted to this 'theme' seem to take up more space than in other Roth books. But I think it's just that other ones are a bit longer. I read it and I already forget the title, so I suppose it's not that memorable.
(Who is Rubik anyway? I mean, as a human being.)
<Simulacron3> Yes, there they are, still making comments about themselves.
I liked you when you just said that. It would be nice if you could make a moment into a person. I suppose that's what art is for, generally.