Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Sin Bin


“According to a Gnostic legend, a war broke out in heaven among the angels, in which Michael’s legions defeated those of the Dragon. The nonpartisan angels who had been content to look on were consigned to earth, in order to make there a choice they had not been able to determine on high, one all the more arduous in that they brought with them no memory of the combat or, indeed, of their equivocal attitude.

“Thus history’s commencement can be traced to a qualm, and man resulted from an original...vacillation, from that incapacity, before his banishment, to take sides. Cast to earth in order to learn how to choose, he was condemned to action, to risk, and was apt for it only insofar as he stifled the spectator in himself. Heaven alone permits neutrality to a certain point, while history, quite the contrary, appears to be the punishment of those who, before their incarnation, had found no reason to join one camp rather than another.” 
>>> E. M. Cioran, Drawn and Quartered
That reality exists as a kind of sin bin for fence-sitters is a deliciously silly idea, yet also somehow makes so much sense.
It's actually an improvement on the 'solution' proposed by Mani, whose Christianity, like that of St Augustine, emanated out of Zoroastrianism. 
I will simplify rather ruthlessly. In the beginning there was Light and Darkness. They had both always been there. Then Darkness acquired an urge to spread, seeping into and polluting the perfect.

So a buffer zone was set up, two walls on either side, rather like we now see either side of Gaza. The beings born into this no man's land (actually 'man's land') have a spark of the Light in them which has to be distilled and restored to the good side of the wall so that it may be absolute once more. 
Upon completion of this historical process, the formal separation between the Light and the Dark will have been restored, and 'evil' put back in its box forever. 
The reason for the original leak is never fully explained. 
What is rather striking about this cosmogeny is that human existence is not conceived of as a primary end in itself, but rather a means to an end. 
A kind of cleaning package.

Bare Bones Republics

Over the past few years I have had some first hand experience of the Guatemalan justice system and this has permitted me to observe a set of fundamental discrepancies which may not be all that easy to solve, because they reflect an increasingly universal deficiency in the practice of Republican government in the Americas.

Judges here like to deliver sermons. If you listen carefully to these you get a sense of the intellectual and moral underpinnings of their worldviews, and in most instances you would be forgiven for concluding that their education largely lies on the foundation of codified law and the Bible.
In other words, almost everything they come out with betrays a lack of what, for want of a better term, we Brits would call a broad ‘classical education’.

Jewish and Christian morality is certainly a key component within the western concept of justice, but it seems to function optimally when tethered to the wisdom of the ancients as well as the contributions of more modern thinkers.

And the very notion of Republican government took hold in this hemisphere in an era when the classics were being actively rediscovered and propagated, most notably up north by the founding fathers of the USA.

Yet nowadays there would seem to be a growing cadre in positions of authority within American republics who rely almost wholly on scriptural perspectives, and I would argue that that is like putting diesel in a petrol car.


Monday, February 26, 2024

The Cadgers' Chorus

I’m starting to experience a degree of miffedness with all this moaning about the Sunday visiting vehicle moratorium during Lent.

First up, it’s just Sunday. And only a handful of such Sundays during the whole year.

Secondly, the majority of the people doing all this griping are doing it from within sectors of the local economy which are almost ludicrously over-saturated (beer, pizza, coffee etc.) and which almost anywhere else would be subject to superior year-round regulation.

Frankly, if your business cannot cope with a reduced footfall for half a dozen days per year, you are in the WRONG business. You are in effect operating at the rather iffy margins, like people who build homes on cheap land close to collapsible hillsides (...or indeed, ancient Mayan civilisation.)

Indeed, and this might be painful to hear, if you are not doing something significantly different (and better) than everyone else in the sector, you are little more than CLUTTER, not a vital ingredient in the lifeblood of the community.

Antigua really ought not — or at least need not — depend so wholeheartedly on tourism, and especially not the over-saturated sort. When I first came here there were relatively few transients present and the city was doing just fine.

This much-mentioned economic dependency today is largely limited to the enterprises which have been drawn in to exploit — and in many cases over-exploit in a notably parasitical manner — what they perceive as the opportunity offered by the host location.

“Antigua is for all” is their deceptively egalitarian mantra, which would in effect put a stop to any attempt at regulation. What they really mean is that "Antigua is a free for all", and that their right to make a living here trumps everyone else’s right to enjoy a reasonable quality of life or indeed occasionally pursue goals which are non-commercial.

We saw much the same petulant outpouring of grievance just a few months ago when the political protests and associated blockades were seemingly reducing inbound traffic, and a near identical mob of over-privileged whingers started up with a sob story they falsely assumed to be all-embracing and ubiquitous.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Ambiguity at the edges...

Extremism, left, right, racial and religious, and any combination of the four, now uses cosplay and carefully packaged ambiguity in the message, to avoid censure in western democracies.

Nobody waits for the full moon any more to release their inner wolf, because there’s a whole range of sheep costumes on the rack.

Ambiguity used to to be the preserve of the Centre, a spur to rational compromise, yet now it has become a key tool in the hands of zealots and the unhinged in general, half of whom were always a bit too dumb to ever fully understand it, but nowadays those that make use of it with practiced cynicism, do so in the knowledge that that is no bad thing...for them. Stupidity becomes the covert to their overt.

And now the compromise the Centre has to make, is ceding ever more airtime to the fanatics.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024


It's fascinating to me how many interesting themes this book had which didn't make it into the film, yet could easily form the conceits for alternative adapted screenplays. 


For example, the androids (replicants in Blade Runner) are produced on a Mars colony, not simply to provide labour, but also to serve up the semblance of human social bulk and a more complex society. Dick has a word for this in his fiction: simulacrum.

So, you could buy a package of neighbours: two adults, two kids and maybe a dog. Their presence nearby would be comforting, as would the knowledge that one could safely ignore them.

The other theme which is so on the mark for our present moment is the cult of empathy.

In the novel this is called Mercerism and adherents have an 'empathy box' at home which they use to observe and emotionally participate in, the tribulations of an individual who is pelted with rocks as he attempts to push his own large rock up the steep flank of a mountain, seemingly on a loop.

Later on in the story Mercer's situation is exposed as a phoney production, but this does not seem to be any kind of deal breaker for the believers.

Merleau-Ponty once said of Socrates that he "reminds us that it is not the same thing, but almost the opposite, to understand religion and to accept it," thereby demonstrating what both the French Existentialist and the Greek moral philosopher did not really understand about religion — how blind faith often advances willy nilly in the face of contrary evidence.

This is certainly true of the religious/political empathy cults which have taken hold of western society in recent decades, which operate on the basis of an unshakeable conviction and moral narcissism, and often tend to focus on subjects which can be observed through what my parents' generation called 'a set' (my father even referred to his laptop this way), which further reduces the need for engaging with facts, and thus understanding.

Dick's own understanding of how these belief systems work, how his own tended to work, was along the lines of "the Truth is out there, even when it's not".

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Bequeathed (Netflix)


Six episodes. From the director of the much-loved Train to Busan. Very watchable, yet rather like the latest installment of True Detective, the soap opera (and rather obviously decorative supernatural vibe) seems to swamp the procedural elements.

The subtitles are a bit ropey. I think this is the minimum Netflix needs to get right before pushing these shows out to a global audience. There's questionable vocabulary and unidiomatic sentence formation and the problem is somewhat exacerbated by the need to chug through this textual stuff as the cast members repeatedly embark on disconcertingly histrionic exchanges.

At the end I still had some key uncertainties about how all the different relationships tied together and why exactly Yoon Seo-Ha's husband met the fate that he did. I possibly wasn't always paying close enough attention, but this all added to the lost in translation sensation.

Part of the problem from a storytelling perspective is that there are in effect two protagonists, an art professor and a detective and the teleplay resists the temptation to bring them together romantically. The detective has a back story (of course he does), but this remains resolutely disconnected from the main narrative. And the art professor never quite attains the status of likeable/relatable central character.


Artificial Urges

One of the more convoluted explanations of Creation is that an absolute being, as the deists tend to conceive Him, falls short of completion until He is able to participate in contingency, albeit indirectly. He's self-contained and Perfect, but experiences urges.

I was reminded of this recently when pondering the crossroads humanity now seems to face with its own technological creations.

I find I am less interested in AI as an enhanced version of human capability, software which can do what we do, see what we see, but better, than as a pathway to 'artificially' unfolded forms of perception, which in effect remove the psychological filters which appear to stand between consciousness and reality in the raw.

In other words, we end up placing within our world something which goes against our own natural disposition, which is precisely what the theologians insist that God felt he needed to do.
(Either way, the assumption that creation comes bundled with benevolence can probably be Ockham’d away.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Rock of Israel

Over the past few days I've been reading about the small but highly significant Jewish component of New Holland, the 17th century Dutch colony in what is now northern coastal Brazil.

They referred to themselves as Zur Israel, rock of Israel, a play on the name of Recife, their capital, which derives from Rock of Brazil, apparently, but is also a reference to a messianic snippet within the Book of Isaiah.

They had a fairly tolerant governor who they called wise: Johan Maurice van Nassau, who permitted them to form the first legal community of Jews in the New World. These guys were the real deal: settler colonists in contemporary parlance.

There were about 1500 of them, 20-40% of the whole population of the colony. Aside from their commercial interests (The three Ss: shipping, sugar and slaves) they ran various charitable programmes, including one for unattached Dutch women looking for a husband in the Americas (!), a bank of last resort for their Christian neighbours and, interestingly, a fund which regularly donated money to Israel.

And that historical factlet certainly caught my attention, because just how many idiots are there out there who think Israel is a place made up by Eastern Europeans at the end of WWII. 

Lady Gaga and Madonna's mad hatter Nazim Mashar certainly seems to, writing in December that “Hamas is a resistance movement and Palestinians have every right under international law to defend themselves and resist the theft and occupation of its land from European and American settlers." He later referred to the 'Zionists' in his own US-based fashion industry as parasites and called for them to be named and shamed.

Clearly none of the peoples who have invaded and repressed Israel almost since the dawn of recorded history: Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Turks and so on have in any way behaved parasitically. Absolutely not. Never. How could you even presume to say so?

I think we can leave it to an impartial third party, the Buddhists, to respond to this apparent injustice of stolen Arab land: Karma's a bitch!

Friday, February 09, 2024

No need to share...

One of history’s premium ironies is that the Jews themselves laid the foundations of their own long-term persecution, for who was it exactly who first came up with the idea that there was only one God and only one religion that could be True?

Having done that, they largely passed on the need to convert everyone else. Pretty much anyone could have pointed out to them that this was going to be a ticking time bomb.

All that needed to happen was for the notion of special revelation to become yoked to the Roman (and later Arab, Marxist-Leninist etc.) obsession with world domination and then everyone was fucked, but especially the Jews.

And the slightest hint that they might like to persecute their way out of this trap of perpetual persecution that they’d got themselves into was only ever going to make things a whole lot worse.

"The totalitarian attempt at global conquest and total domination has been the destructive way out of all impasses. Its victory may coincide with the destruction of humanity; wherever it has ruled, it has begun to destroy the essence of man." > Hannah Arendt