Fools Right & Left

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I just read Roger Scruton’s updated FOOLS, FRAUDS, AND FIREBRANDS:  Thinkers of the New Left, instead of going to my high school reunion.  Sorry.

btw, these are not “book reviews”.  I didn’t want to do book reviews in 4th grade, I didn’t want to do book reviews in 9th grade, and I don’t want to do book reviews now.

I thought I was going to be a bank vice president and drive a Buick station wagon with plastic woodgrain on its sides.  This is what I do instead.  I live to figure out why people are happy or unhappy.  Some people shovel coal.  I don’t.  I shovel books.

Scruton says that the brightest liberal thinkers write nonsense, safely ensconced with tenure behind high university walls fortified with political correctness and in a smoke-free environment, unless you count pot.  They spill out books like beans.

The scary thing is, Scruton convinces me.  I have, and have read, the authors he crucifies.   Deleuze, Guattari, Adorno, Habermas, Sartre, Marcuse, Benjamin, Foucault, Galbraith, Lacan, Zizek.  Actually, I don’t have Galbraith, Habermas, or Zizek.  Interlibrary Loan headed them off at the pass, and saved me some money.

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These authors are nearly impossible to read.  Scruton takes them apart piece-by-piece and almost, almost, makes them understandable.  But all they do is urp up verbiage that defies understanding – on purpose.

The problem is, if the left is fueled by thin gruel, so is the right.  Scruton fails to convince me that conservatives have philosophy that can be turned into a political program either.

I’ve gone to the trouble to summarize all that I know about politics from all of the above authors, including Scruton and other conservative philosophers:

  1.  It doesn’t have to be as hard as they make it.
  2.  Political/social thinkers, both liberal and conservative, are dense and useless “players”.
  3.  Liberals think that things are bad and can only be improved by laws, regulations, “education”, government, politics, and tax money.  Conservatives think that things are pretty good and can get even better with God, prayer, and with less government, fewer laws, fewer regulations, and lower taxes.

The way that this plays out can be illustrated by, say, a school shooting.

Liberals call for gun laws.  Conservatives call for a moment of silence.  Liberals call conservatives Hitler and fascists on social media.  Conservatives call liberals snowflakes.

It used to be that nobody called the other side names.  As recently as 9/11, in fact.

This made compromise possible.  Liberals could get a little gun control, conservatives could get policemen at school doors, kids were marginally safer, and everybody was happy.  More or less.

Then along came Facebook, cable news, and clickbait meme sharks.  Throw in your average hysterical American moron with a smartphone and a gin ‘n’ tonic, and you get unsophisticated name calling.

So now there can be no compromises.  There can be no way forward.  You can’t negotiate a compromise with Hitler, can you?  You can’t reason with a snowflake who acts like a 4 year old, can you?

Adorno, Horkheimer, Scruton, Hayek – are all worthless.  They are worthless in our current situation, and they are stand-alone worthlessnesses.

I can now turn to lighter reading fare.  Unless the rare great woman or man comes along on one side or the other.  Or, preferably, on both sides.

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On Bailing on Books

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Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  My last confession was about 40 years ago.  Since then I have bailed on several books.  I started reading them, then tossed them aside.  I have even tossed aside books by the handsome, young Saul Bellow, above, photo via Knopf.

I just read Bellow’s RAVELSTEIN.  I thought I would bail, but didn’t.  I wavered, though.

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RAVELSTEIN is a late work from Bellow, and is a thinly fictionalized account of his real-life relationship with Allan Bloom.  I just wrote about Bloom’s bestselling THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND, so I had a sudden, spontaneous interest in RAVELSTEIN.

As a late work, RAVEL is kind of shaky.  Bellow had nearly died of food poisoning a few years prior, and was in his 80’s.  RAVEL is a vehicle for Bellow’s belief that the “pictures” in our mind – the pictures of lived experience, what we call consciousness – along with RAVELSTEIN/BLOOM’s late reversion to speaking as if an afterlife was an automatic expectation of a fully-formed human consciousness (even though Bloom was an atheist) – speak of eternal life for all of us.  Not a small topic!

Bellow at his shakiest still makes for a great novel.  Buoyed by finishing RAVELSTEIN, like an ass I tried reading Bellow’s award-winning 1970 MR. SAMMLER’S PLANET:

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btw, this was like my 4th attempt to read SAMMLER.  I think my first attempt was right after an SLU summer class that I took from Bob DeGraff (sp?) for English credit.

Something about SAMMLER repels me.  It’s not SAMMLER’S (or Bellow’s) fault.

I know that when I was younger, the “elderliness” of the protagonist was a turn-off.  Sammler is a partly blind Holocaust survivor with an odd fascination for minor criminals.

I’m not happy to say that, at 61, I am still repelled by the bitchy old man Sammler, even though he has many, many legitimate reasons to be grumpy.  I felt a familiar depression slip over me as the pages went on.  The Sammler Depression.

It’s not because of the Holocaust.  I read history and World War II history.  No problem.  I would suggest that, perhaps, Bellow’s novel is one or two steps greater than straight history, one or two steps more concentrated and potent.

And I’m not up to it yet.  I may never be.

It’s not that I have a problem with Bellow, who was probably the greatest American novelist of the 20th Century.  One of my favorite novels is Bellow’s 1956-ish HENDERSON THE RAIN KING:

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I read HENDERSON for the same summer school class at St. Lawrence.  It changed my life.

HENDERSON was the prototypical big, dorky, powerful-to-a-fault American abroad.  He nearly destroyed Africa in his clumsy attempt to love Africa to death.  American foreign policy came to life in a way it could not have in Hepburn Hall with my Government major.  Talk about liberal arts synergy.  This is why I assume SAMMLER is more potent medicine than I can stand; that’s what was true with HENDERSON, but it was assigned.  I HAD to read it.

In any case, the point of all this is:

Don’t be afraid to pick up a book and then, if necessary, toss it aside.

Maybe it’s a bad book.  Maybe it’s not for you.  Maybe you aren’t ready for it yet.  Put it back on the shelf.  It’ll be there 10 or 30 years from now.  Don’t be OCD and refuse the book out of the fear that you’re stuck with it.  Grab and read, or else grab and read and toss aside.

It’s not a sin!

Life is too short for bad or for even inappropriate books.  RAVELSTEIN says that.  And Bellow is always right.

 

 

 

The Closing of the American Mind

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THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND by Allan Bloom is a 1987 bestseller.  It suggests Americans no longer understand the big ideas, have no clue about history, and are living in America’s very own Weimar period – a brief and tumultuous time in Germany’s history when left and right killed each other in the streets nightly.

It culminated in Hitler.  But if it had culminated in a Stalinesque figure and the far left, it would have been just as catastrophic for Germans and for the world.

I read CLOSING when it came out.  I read it again and red-penned it around the year 2005.  I just read it for the third time.

It gets more diffuse to me with each reading.  Bloom is talking about so much.

We are Weimar.  We are 1/4 of an inch away from beating each other up on the streets.  We are savages.  Savages with technology.  We think we are virtuous when we posit things that are merely selfish, selfishly ahistorical, and utterly transitory, because we don’t know our place in the greater culture.

Obama signed a bunch of executive orders.  Trump spends 4 years erasing them, one by one.  Transitoriness.  The next president might erase Trump’s works.  Transitoriness.  Nothing sticks.  America is vapor.  There is no America.  It bounces along, with or without political violence.  There is only noise, passed along by useful idiots.  At least until one side – both sides evil and stupid – “wins”.

And one side will win.  History says so.  And if you are not evil, you do not want either side, left or right, to win.

Good luck with that.  Won’t happen.  Irony.

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Jolly Bloom’s prescription?

The classics.  Homer.  Socrates.  Rousseau.  The great thinkers.  Philosophy.  Logic.  Reason.  The Great Books.  The humanities.  College courses in same.  Rigorous ones.  Courses that teach young people how to think rather than what to think.

Mainly, courses that teach students that they don’t know anything, that they are too ignorant to realize how stupid their opinions are, and, *wham*, take this:  a wallop of education that causes complete and utter estrangement from family, friends, and society.

Good luck with that, too.

Bloom admits – he’s gone now, btw, but is cast as the character Ravelstein in the Saul Bellow (also gone) novel of the same name – that nobody can make much of a dent in The Great Books in a lifetime.  He admits that what constitutes a “great book” is up in the air.  He admits that we no longer have teachers who understand them anyway.  And the great thoughts in great books are what we need.

And to me, this third reading makes it clear that Bloom’s ideas are just another random set of opinions, just another arbitrary postmodern construct.  We might as well study fly fishing or podiatry.

He may be right.  He may be wrong.  He may have some good ideas.  The guy at the corner gas station may have better insights than Bloom does.  Another philosopher might.  Bloom might be a genius, or evil, or a joke, or a waffle with syrup on it.

It’s 2018.  We’re all jokes now.

Bloom said that we need certainty and facts and a strict Socratic framework to use when investigating those facts.  We need to know where we stand and what we mean.

His certainty now looks ludicrous.

The idiots who base their lives upon rumor and vapor and random websites – like this one? – are taking to the streets once again.

Damn certainty and damn the certain.  Except for those like Bloom, in whose hands it could last be trusted.

Liberals Envy Trump Voters

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Liberals who hate Trump are the overachievers.  They have gone to college (and send their children) at great personal expense.  There they studied something boring, useless, and irrelevant, or else something boring and scandalously practical.

Because of their industrious genes and this higher learning, liberals worry.  They worry about what they say, they worry about what other people say, they try to control what other people say, they worry about words and word choices, they argue, they worry about dogs in shelters and meat on the table, they worry about the climate, they worry about the economy, they worry about people at the border, they worry about people who might be at the border, they worry about politics, they worry about their cholesterol levels and sleep apnea and the legalization of marijuana, they worry about what smoking legal marijuana will do to their their sleep apnea, they worry about newts going extinct, they worry about hogweed by the side of the road, they worry about someone breaking into their second (or third) home, they worry about the guns they own or refuse to own, they worry about others with guns, they worry about the entire subject of guns, they worry about ozone and coral reefs and ticks and airborne toxic events.

Liberals worry about not reading enough no matter how much they read, they worry about nuclear war with North Korea, they worry about peace with North Korea, they worry about things like Honor Rolls and National Honor Society and Student Council and  things that look good on transcripts or, later, resumes.  They worry about corner offices, raises, things that trigger other things, migraines, hypertension, dementia, overpopulation and, simultaneously, not enough immigrants.

Liberals are diligent.  They work hard.  They not only work hard, they overwork.  They often – usually? – die, at least indirectly, from overwork, or else from escapes from overwork such as alcohol.  To them this is virtue.  They will split their guts to ensure justice – whatever that is – and diversity – whatever that is – as if there is a Cosmic Scorekeeper, even though some liberals are ostentatiously atheistic.

Liberals, in other words, are haunted from birth to death by a need to achieve, or, more precisely, a need to perfect the world.

This is why they envy and hate Trump voters.

Trump voters are less perfect.  They like perfect stuff if they can easily get their hands on it, but they won’t destroy their lives in active pursuit of it.  Many Trump voters are unaware of what an Honor Roll is, and if they’ve heard of Phi Beta Kappa, they assume that’s a place babes hang out.

They more often have not subjected themselves to college life, but instead have driven trucks, shot quail, tracked deer, worried only about today’s weather, and grown their own beef in the field out back.

They only worry about work in terms of not losing their jobs.  Otherwise they do the bare minimum to keep from getting fired or replaced by an immigrant.  They only worry about their health to the extent of asking, “Have I lost a leg today?” and if the answer is, “No, I haven’t lost a leg today, as best I can tell,” then their cholesterol can go to hell.

Liberals have sacrificed their lives to abstract things that they are totally incapable of making a dent in.  They have tossed their lives aside in an attempt to “make a difference”.  They get after others like flies taking to rotting meat, in an attempt to “educate” others into also sacrificing their lives.

When the others fail to be grateful for the alleged “education”, liberals get enraged.  Liberals are always enraged.  They are enraged that others have not given up their peace of mind the way they have.  They envy those of more relaxed mien and lower political standards.

What they really envy is the certainty of mind that many Trump voters seem to have.  Liberals question everything, even their questions.  They have been trained to believe that to question is good, and to have certainty of mind or peace of mind is bad, a sign of stupidity or of authoritarianism.

It’s not a sign of stupidity.  It’s a sign that there are people out there who realize that a driven life is a wasted life.

I think this explains 9/11 as well:  radical Islamists targeted the World Trade Center because it had the greatest concentration of driven Westerners in corner offices.  The terrorists don’t want their societies to be regimented in a New York City way, by achievement-oriented capitalists schooled in business, marketing, public relations, and whatnot.

Same with Trump voters.

There is nothing more unnerving than being envied.  Trump voters feel the Evil Eye of envy against their very being every time they go online or turn on the TV.  They know that liberals are envious of them, but that few liberals would ever see it, feel it, or admit to it.

There is an inversion.  Suddenly liberals are the reactionary Gray Flannel Suit people, bound to their speech codes and their dogma and catechisms and rules aplenty.  And the conservatives, or at least the populists, are the anything-goes hippies, unattached to passing worldly goods.

The Slow Life Movement is here now, and it voted for Trump.  This is the dirty secret of American electoral politics.  It is pro-leisure.  It fishes.

I envy a gentleman in Egypt – or Italy, or Greece – who spends an entire morning sipping coffee and shooting the breeze in a cafe before luxuriously pulling into the office.

So do many of you.  It’s a life you’ve never allowed yourself, isn’t it?

You hate yourself for that.  Which is why you envy and hate others.

It’s a wonderful life the system has made for you, isn’t it?

 

The Broken Internet

We all know the internet is screwing with the human mind and spirit.  But even the experts don’t know how to fix it.

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With “Frozen in Time” African violet between . . .

Lanier and Williams:  the experts.  One, like, invented reality and the other invented virtuality.  Or whatever.  Google them, if you give a shit.  The big problem with how the internet and social media are messing with us now is that the people responsible for implementing it are not . . . normal.

Even as scientists or engineers go, what these guys do is ineffable.  And even as I/we can not grasp the essence of what they do, they build the framework – the culture – in which we are all forced to live.  These are truly end times.

Lanier has semi-left Silicon Valley, although he still seems to work for Microsoft in some capacity.  Williams has left and become a philosopher.

Lanier suggests that we quit social media – and Google, as best we can – because that’s the only language – $$ lost eyeballs $$ – that Facebook and Google understand.  They’ll then be forced into a better way of making monstrous profits than monetizing our attention and our clicks ‘n’ likes.

Williams suggests that, among other things, we might want to consider a PBS/NPR version of the internet, a (government?) subsidized branch of the internet in which there would be non-profit search engines and social networks.  Maybe it would work.  Maybe it would suck.  Maybe it should be like C-SPAN?

None of his other notions, other than that we might need a total reboot of the internet (!) or of Facebook (Like!) in order to get them off the economic models that make us addled addicts, stuck with me.

Neither of these guys thrill me.  These books both strike me as too little, too early.

We still don’t know wtf the internet does to us.  We still don’t know wtf it does to young, developing minds.  Perhaps it makes certain that they don’t develop at all.  Or, more likely, that they develop the way Facebook wants them to develop.

I would kill for a Lewis Mumford or a Christopher Lasch right now.

If you’re technically-minded and socially-concerned, read these books.  Maybe.

If you’re really socially-concerned, read other books, blog, and grow African violets.

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One Way To Understand Abstract Art

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LAST MINUTE by Gregg Fedchak

Above is my recent abstract painting, LAST MINUTE.

I began it the way I begin most of my paintings, by facing a fresh canvas and applying paint and materials until a way forward becomes clear.  I keep working until it feels finished, until it looks pleasing, or until I am stymied.

Sometimes, I park the painting upstairs next to the TV and keep on eye on it while relaxing, to see if it’s done, to see if it grows on me, to see if it needs more work (and to see what that work might be), or to see if I reject it and paint over it.

It’s only when a work is finished that I try to figure out “what it is.”  More often than not, I can.

I realized, well after the painting was done, that it was my abstract interpretation of an unknown graphic artist’s DVD cover of the movie “Slaughterhouse Five,” as shown below:

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I saw the movie in 1970 or thereabouts.  I went to the American Theater in Canton, NY, with my friends Mark Simpson and Steve Merrill.  Mark’s father took us, because it was an R rated movie and you needed adult accompaniment.

That alone – the nude Valerie Perrine, my first naked movie star – made the movie stick in  my mind.

But the entire movie stuck.  I knew nothing about what happened in Dresden.  I knew very little about World War II.  I was in 8th grade and about 13 years old.  I bought the Betamax version, the VHS version, then the DVD version.

The cover art on the DVD version combined with my viewings of the movie over the years.  My unconscious mind delivered LAST MINUTE when my first doodlings produced images or colors – that “way forward” – that made me move toward an unconscious image in my mind that had excited me many times over.

You might ask, “Why should I be interested in an artist’s stray unconscious images reproduced in abstract form?”  Especially images so personal and possibly so obscure.

Hopefully, the abstract art urpped up by the artist will connect and resonate with the viewer.  The viewer will feel something of what the artist felt.

In my case, hopefully you’ll feel a bit of what I felt of the horrors of Dresden, of the firestorm, of imminent death, of the culpability of the Allies, of Valerie Perrine’s incredibly distinctive breasts as played out in the mind of a forever-13 year old.  Even if you don’t explicitly know the subject of the painting.

You may come up with your own imaginings, your own ideas of what the painting is about.  You should.  They may be completely at odds with what the artist thinks is going on.  Good.  The key is that the life in the painting excites your life, your mind, your imagination.  There is no right or wrong.

The graphic artist did his or her job.  He or she made me buy the recordings.  Their image mated so well with the movie that it’s now a part of me, deeper than I can know – at least until I paint.

And hopefully, just hopefully, a little of Kurt Vonnegut lives on in LAST MINUTE, too.

 

You Will Die When . . .

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. . . your “self-driving” car stops driving during an emergency situation.

My car has rear sensors and a rear camera.  They have not worked since late October, when road salt and sand coated them.

Don’t give me the, “You’re supposed to keep them clean!” line.  Like most average Americans, I don’t and never will keep anything clean, whether it’s the sensors on my car, the gaps between my teeth, or that mysterious tank behind toilets.  I will buy ten assault rifles from a guy in the Price Chopper parking lot before I will bend over once, between now and death, to clean a sensor.

Besides, what does a “sensor” look like?  There are more knobs and protuberances on the front, back, and sides – not to mention that odd little shark fin on the roof, what’s that all about? – of a modern car than there are on a cocklefish’s belly.  I have no idea what to clean.  You have no idea what to clean.

And even if you or I did know what to clean, and how to clean it, why do we need one more thing to do?  I need to remember when to take my meds, 650 cell phone numbers, an ever-growing number of medical and dental appointments, how and when to set 25 clocks twice a year, I have to remember to change my smoke alarm batteries before they go off AT 3 AM AND GIVE ME A STROKE as they kill me in their attempt to save my life, I have to remember when the cats need booster shots, I have to remember several hundred passwords and Social Security numbers and addresses and how to do things I only do once in a blue moon like gap a spark plug, change the oil in a small engine, get my driver’s license renewed, start the rototiller, where the owner’s manuals are, how to get the oven to turn on or turn off, how to get a greasy (or oily or chalky or biological) stain off (name a piece of furniture here), and so on.

But forget about me.

What about the beautiful young 20 year old driver of a car?  Pretend she’s your daughter.  She has a car  – a self-driving car – and it has done all her driving for her.

Oh, they told her that she might have to “take over the wheel” on “rare occasions”.  But in two years of ownership, she has had no driving experience whatsoever.  She has been a rider in her own car, a 2031 Nash Rambler, say.

And then she drives north from Princeton, NJ, to watch her friends play in a hockey game at St. Lawrence or Clarkson in the far North Country of New York State, where we still do not have bandwidth and barely have television and the radio signals from Canada float in and out.

And it’s on Interstate 81 near Pulaski or Adams Center or some other legendary lake effect snow sump hole, during a whiteout, that the Rambler’s sensors fail, and the car says to the woman, “Here, you take over now.”

So there you have it.  Her first “real”, as in in-real-life driving experience.  During a lake effect whiteout on an Interstate highway.

Oh, I know, those of you who are well-informed will miss the point of this essay.  You’ll patiently, in your best “I’m missing the point like I have my whole life” way say that Aspies in San Francisco will have taken this emergency into consideration, that the car has both camera-based and radar-based sensors, that the car talks constantly to road signs, satellites, GPS, sensors embedded in the highways, and so on.

Horseshit.  Are we going to coat the skies with satellites?  I barely have internet service in 2018!  Are we going to tear up every highway in the country when we can’t even figure out how to fill potholes or plow them, let alone AFFORD to plow or fix them?  And are we going to pay to do this at the same time we plan to convert every gas station into an electric charging/hydrogen explosion center?

And even then, what do we do when the Russians or the Mexicans or a 13 year old kid hacks the street in front of his house, just to watch a crack-up?

And how will the beautiful young woman get any driving training when schools can’t afford to teach it, even now when 100% of us have to drive our own cars?  Do we expect the Home Ec teacher (is there still Home Ec?) to teach dough rolling, highway skills, and Basic Marksmanship all at the same time?

My point is simple:  forget self-driving cars.  The mainstream media is nuts.  We’re nuts for paying attention to the mainstream media.  They lie.  They hype.  It’s news by press release.

There will be no self-driving cars.  We do not want self-driving cars.  Nobody does.  Even more importantly, I don’t want them, and that’s what’s key to your proper understanding of this complex and misbegotten topic, one which has been foisted upon us by a malignant and wayward lamestream press that should put sensors on their asses and then keep them clean if they can locate them.