Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Waking Life
November 14, 2008

by Pegleghippie

I have a new favorite movie.  It’s called Waking Life, a 2001 film by Richard Linklater, and I’m a little jealous that it exists, because that means that I don’t get to be the creator of such an awesome piece of art.  

Honestly, I was beaten at philosophy tonight.  I didn’t know it was a competition until this film came along and totally kicked my ass.  Now I know a little more about the stakes involved.

Waking Life follows a guy as he has various philosophical discussions with/dreams about writers, philosophers, psychopaths, crackpots, filmmakers, imaginative figments, and one very pissed off libertarian.  Many of these are real people really being interviewed about their area of expertise (oddly, many are faculty from the University of Texas at Austin), but the interviews flow seamlessly between real and imagined.

And imagination is really very important here.  The protagonist spends a long segment of the film not knowing if he is awake or dreaming, and the settings only subtly clue you in.  Eventually he becomes aware that he is in a lucid dream, which turns into a bizarre series of dreams-within-dreams, and the discussions turn increasingly towards what a dream-like reality entails.  Things end with the suggestion that all these dreams are the last firing of consciousness before the protagonist dies, but the narrative is unclear about whether this actually happens.

I can’t accurately summarize everything I loved about this movie.  Top of the list is the conversations, which are consistently mind-blowingly well thought out.  Here’s one example of an earlier one:

Insane, right?  and there are dozens of these, on a wide variety of topics, in the movie.  You could teach a course on this movie alone, going topic by topic, exploring each one for all that it’s worth.

Next thing I loved was the animation.  I’m sure you noticed from the first clip, this movie looks strange.  The style changes at least every scene, and often in the middle of a scene.  The strangeness of dreams is very well captured here.

I’ll admit, if you don’t like philosophy you will not like this movie.  Fortunately for me, I love philosophy, and this movie challenges me in ways I had not even considered.  I need to get a copy of it and watch it until I’m comfortable with the discussions.  Only then will I feel qualified to really engage with all these topics, and to conceptualize exactly what it is that Linklater did here.  

If you do like philosophy, even a little bit, see this movie.  I doubt you will regret it, and it may even change your life.

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This may be all over the place…
November 6, 2008

by pegleghippie

So recent events (the election last night, playing guitar hero tonight) have crossed with my philosophy classes in my mind to form some ideas that I want to sort out.  I will do my best to connect the ideas in some way, but no promises.  I’m telling myself I’m writing this for an audience because I think they’ll find it interesting, but there’s just as much of a chance that I’m writing this to talk to myself, in a way (sorry, I’ve been reading about deconstruction, and ever since I’ve had the nasty habit of deconstructing whatever I’m writing as I’m writing it.  I’ll do my best to refrain from here on out.)

Anyway, first a take on my favorite obscure philosopher, Bataille.  Specifically his view of consciousness.  Normally I don’t like the consciousness debate, but his views lead to some fun philosophy.  Bataille was a fan of the “pre-reflective consciousness,” also known as “lack of self-awareness,” or as he termed it, “theopathy.”  What he was talking about is traditionally understood as the idea of a mystical experience, like zen, or transcendence, or buddhist enlightenment.  

I don’t mean to sound like i’m spreading woo. All through history people have found themselves feeling connected to things greater than themselves, to the point where they stop self-analyzing and just interact with the experience.  Similarly, people have spent lifetimes trying to get back to that experience, and often tied the experience into the supernatural.  Supernatural causes weren’t really what Bataille was into, instead he found these moments in deviant sexuality, like BDSM, but also in simple things, like smoking a cigarette, or taking a coffee break.  

I break from Bataille in a few ways.  First, why is this state is so important? I’ve had plenty of “transcendent” moments in life, some purposeful and as Sometimes accidental.  Sometimes its meaningful, sometimes it is just fun. At the same time there are plenty of moments where I really enjoy being self-aware.  Consciousness, much of the time, is pretty sweet!

Second, I think that maybe this is a matter of degree.  You’re aware of yourself, but you don’t have to think about your heart, or you liver.  Unless something goes wrong, in which case your awareness has expanded. I guess that isn’t so sweet.  But this illustrates where I’m going with the degree thing.  

Stick with me here.  Imagine the pre-reflective state of mind, going along its own business, fitting into the pattern of some larger whole.  Suddenly, something appears to the consciousness that doesn’t fit the pattern.  Like getting heart burn, suddenly the consciousness has to account for something that is just weird, something that takes an analysis to deal with.  If the pre-reflective consciousness is to successfully account for the discrepancy, it will have to define itself in relation to the discrepancy.

Ok, now imagine yourself, everything you are aware of, and everything around you that you are not aware of.  You’re self aware, but you aren’t aware of your intestines, because your intestines fit a larger pattern.  When something starts to hurt, you analyze things so you can experience a more comfortable level of awareness.

I’m going to leave the different levels behind now.  This is where things get strange, but at the same time I don’t think I’m writing anything you don’t know here.  The intestine pain isn’t really without a pattern.  It’s not random, it has a cause, say evil bacteria, and fits into a larger pattern of Earth’s biology that is just too complex for the human mind to fully recognize.  A self-aware consciousness is just a consciousness capable of admitting that the pattern we think we are a part of is just a simplification of larger, more complex patterns.  

I thought of this playing guitar hero (I know, I know, I should be studying).  Think of a beat in a song.  now imagine a guitar playing along with the beat.  Suddenly, the guitar plays something quick, something that doesn’t seem to fit the beat, just for a moment.  Of course, if it’s a well written song, it does fit into the overall math of the music.  But it gets our attention because we’re experiencing the beat, and we don’t imagine that the songwriter planned anything more complex than that.  

Now to the next level: to go with the following example, Say maybe we pick up an instrument, or learn some musical theory, and then the change in the song doesn’t surprise us anymore.  This would mean that the pattern we’re experiencing is more complex than before, we’ve expanded our pre-reflective consciousness.

So the reflective consciousness allows us to expand the range of our pre-reflective consciousness.  It’s a cyclical relationship, both feeding the other, and oftentimes both go on simultaneously.  Should we see one as the goal?  I don’t think so.  Maybe it’s important to know the difference between analyzing something and experiencing something, but I don’t think we should be so dualistic about the two concepts.  

I may have had a transition to this next part when I started this, but I’m not seeing it now.  Oh well, you get two posts in one!  Don’t worry, this part is shorter.

Now, a word on Democracy.  I’ve long wondered why we don’t qualify democracy as simply a political committal of the ad populum fallacy.  Ad populum, for the record, is the fallacy of arguing that a position is correct because lots of people hold that position.  The problem is, of course, that all those people can be wrong.  Importantly, even everyone ever could be wrong about a position.  So we appeal to a different set of standards.  

Democracy, at its most basic, involves asking everyone what side of a position they think is right, and then taking action based on which side has the most people behind it.  It’s like the perfect illustration of the ad populum fallacy.  As long as we’re talking about right and wrong, I don’t see any way around it, really.  Democracy is inherently illogical.

At the same time, democratic governments are more peaceful, richer, and advance faster than any other form of government humanity has tried.  Philosophically, only an idealistic anarchy seems more equatorial, more focused on humanism, in short, more legitimate than the democratic attempt to make political decisions that benefit a polity.  Additionally, people like democracy.  If a group comes to a democratic decision, the minority may grumble, but they usually go along with the decision.  

So how to explain this divide?  We have logic so we can make smart decisions, yet our best political tool for making decisions is illogical.  

We do what good philosophers always do.  We challenge the assumptions.  A couple paragraphs back, I just described the democratic process as  “asking everyone what side of a position they think is right, and then taking action based on which side has the most people behind it.”  Why the assumption that Democracy is settling a question of right and wrong?  Can we still have democracy if we ignore questions of truth at the ballot box?

I think we can.  Instead of looking for a right, I propose that the democratic process is asking everyone what experiences, given society’s limited resources, should society pursue for its members, and in what manner, and then taking action based on which path the most people prefer.  Logic only enters into the equation for the “choosing the manner” part of things.

 Because of limited resources and limited time, we can’t afford to make universal proclamations about right and wrong. We can only compare our plans, argue and compromise about them, and, once it’s time to make a decision, use democratic machinery to pick a path.  An advantage of democracy is that since people are involved in the decision making process, previous decisions that led to unwelcome experiences serve as a feedback loop, and the next vote goes differently than the previous one.

So to sum up, the line between simple awareness and self-awareness is fuzzy at best, and Democracy isn’t logical, but we should stick with it anyway, cause it’s not about logical decisions.  Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

The Divisive Power of Religion
November 5, 2008

Or, why I hate Christians, Jews, and Muslims. (Not so much on the Muslims. They keep pretty well to themselves.) (Or the Jews really. I just hate Christians.)

This election has brought out the worst of the religious fiends. Obama is not the anti-Christ. But they’ll have you believe he is! Massive numbers of Facebook statuses out there today with hateful messages like, “I can’t believe we elected a President who doesn’t believe this is a Christian nation.” Newsflash! America is much more than a Christian nation. It’s a Christian nation and a Jewish nation and a Muslim nation and an atheist nation and a gay nation and straight nation and yes, you’ve heard Obama’s 2004 convention speech before.

Somehow, though, the religious fundamentalists will still turn such a progressive and ground breaking election into a spectacle of hate. Mongering about anti-Christs and Christian Nations prompted me to start some arguments with them about how wrong they are. Needless to say, their first proposition was woefully unprepared, as they had nothing to say to back up the point that he was indeed the opposite of their lord god. (caps intended.)

And when confronted about the Christian Nation part? I bluntly told them that they do not live in a Christian nation, and repeated the Obamamantra from a paragraph ago. (About the multi-ethnic melting pot that is this cesspool of hatred and intolerance we call America.) A majority of them, here in the deep south of Texas, actually responded with this.

“Yeah, so we bring them to Christ!”

Seriously??

It’s not your job to convert us lowly heathens. We’ve made our choices. You’ve made yours. Stop converting people. If they want it, they’ll let you know.

Jesus.

Pun intended.

I mean, what force has been more destructive than the Christian religion? The Crusades, the Biblical Genocides, the Spanish Inquisition, even the Holocaust (by association) were perpetrated by these almighty vicars of faith and good will. Catholic Pedophiles and Evangelist Money Launderers. Ugh. I’m so disgusted.

Atheists are the real angels. Tolerant to the extreme. God is dead, save yourselves.

I love TV on the Radio
September 9, 2008

by pegleghippie.

Today was a long day.  I got up at 8:30, and I’m just now sitting down at my computer, 15 hours later.  In the spirit of blogging something, I’m going to partly reproduce here an essay I wrote for my Peace and Conflict class.  This is an analysis of the TV on the Radio song Dry Drunk Emperor.  They’re one of my favorites, the song kicks ass, and my analysis ain’t half bad.  enjoy!

(I couldn’t find the video on youtube, but the band released the song free over the internet. You can find it here.  Personally i put it on repeat while I was writing this thing so the repetition would motivate me to finish.  I don’t recommend that, but hey, the song is free, might as well listen once while you read.)

I’ve chosen the 2005 song Dry, Drunk Emperor by TV on the Radio (TVotR) as a song that expresses the desire for peace. The song does this by showing a disdain for the American political system; portraying it, and president Bush specifically, as a roadblock to a utopian peace. In addition to a direct challenge to the government, the song is highly critical of how that government exploits people with both religion and war.

            With regards to how the song portrays peace, TV on the Radio takes a relatively complex set of three outlooks towards peace and aggression within the range of the song, and the tone of the lyrics shifts according to which outlook is being expressed at a given point. 

First view:  Compassionate outlook, ill-defined peace

baby boy/dieing under hot desert sun/watch your colours run.

 did you believe the lie they told you/that Christ would lead the way/and in a matter of days/hand us victory?

 did you buy the bull they sold you/that the bullets and the bombs/and all the strong arms/would bring home security?

 The song opens with “baby boy/dieing under hot desert sun/watch your colours run.  Here the lyrics are compassionate and empathetic towards the soldier.  The soldier is characterized as childlike, almost as a family member (“baby boy”), and as a victim of war, abandoned by his nation. 

The next two lines accuse a “they,” the unnamed United States government that used religion and the promise of an easy victory to lead the nation into war.  More importantly however, the lines are addressed at “you,” in this case the soldier who was tricked into war.  Since the war was a matter of deceit, the song implies that peace would be possible if only people were as informed as the lyricist; although what kind of peace isn’t specified.  Certainly it involves peace as the absence of war, but the family-like tone taken here could possibly suggest some form of mutual support.

 Second view: Sarcastic/angry outlook, call for legitimate aggression

all eyes upon/dry drunk emperor/gold cross jock skull and bones/mocking smile/he’s been/standing naked for a while!/get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!/and bring all the thieves to trial.

 end their false promise/end their dream/watch it turn to steam/rising to the nose of some cross legged god/gog of magog/end times sort of thing./oh unmentionable disgrace/shield the children’s faces/as all the moneyed apes/display unimaginably poor taste/in a scramble for mastery.

 atta’ boy get em with your gun/till Mr. mega ton/tells us when we’ve won/or/what we’re gonna leave undone.

 This is the first appearance of the chorus, and the song’s title (“all eyes upon/dry drunk emperor”). As to the title, Dry Drunk Emperor sarcastically refers to president Bush, and the disconnect between his insular reaction to hurricane Katrina, and the horror and devastation of that storm.  Bush was “dry” while people drowned in New Orleans.  The word “Drunk” is used in two ways: first to negatively associate the president with his ‘frat-boy’ past, and secondly to imply that he is drunk on power to the point that he is indifferent to American citizens.  Calling him an “emperor” is to further this idea of indifference, as the song’s chorus alludes to the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” (“he’s been/standing naked for a while!”). The government response to hurricane Katrina is not explicitly mentioned.  Rather, the phrase serves to tie Bush to an uncaring government, and to make him the face of a system (“all the thieves”) that thrives off of such an attitude.

            The line “gold cross jock skull and bones” deserves special mention, because it attempts to define bush with one verb-free phrase.  “Gold,” meaning rich, “cross” referring to religion, “skull and bones,” referring to the secretive fraternity that Bush belonged to when he was at Yale.

            The next segment is more angry than sarcastic.  Someone (presumably the rich elite, based on what follows) is accused of furthering the “dream” of Satan (“gog of magog”) for an “end times sort of thing,” in other words, ruination of the world.  This dream is what must be “ended” in the song.  Then things get a little more specific, as “children’s faces” must be protected from the “unimaginably poor taste” of the “moneyed apes.”  The rich are thus accused as the someone trying to deliver on Satan’s “false promise.” 

            The final segment of this middle section of the song returns to sarcasm with phrases like  “atta’ boy get em with your gun.”  If it is not clear that the lyricist is not actually enthusiastic about warfare, he adds, “tell us…what we’re gonna leave undone.”            In other words, the question is what will be left after we’ve exhausted our war-lust?

            This is the most complex section of the song, and where aggression is first explored.  Both the repeated line, “get him gone!” and the lines “end their false promise/end their dream/watch it turn to steam,” express a desire for action on the parts of society at large, presumably.  I think this is calling for legitimate, democratic action for two reasons: first “get [bush] gone!” could be accomplished either with impeachment or with the election of democrats, as could “end [the Bush-supporting wealthy’s] dream.”  The second reason is the line “bring all the thieves to trial,” as opposed to killing or mobbing the thieves.

Third view: revolutionary outlook, call for direct aggression and utopian peace

what if all the fathers and the sons/went marching with their guns/drawn on Washington./that would seal the deal/show if it was real/this supposed freedom.

 what if all the bleeding hearts/took it on themselves/to make a brand new start./organs pumpin on their sleeves,/paint murals on the white house/feed the leaders L.S.D/grab your fife and drum/grab your gold baton/and let’s meet on the lawn/shut down this hypocrisy.

           This final section is where aggression and peace are placed in a relationship, the call for aggression turns from legitimate to violent, and peace is defined in a utopian, counterculture fashion. 

            The first “what if” deals with aggression—it supposes that the men of the nation (“fathers and the sons”) could embody American freedom by violently (“marching with their guns”) overthrowing the American government.  The second “what if” deals with the peace following a revolution—placing responsibility on society’s compassionate (“all the bleeding hearts,”) to use art (“paint murals on the white house”) and psychedelic drugs (“feed the leaders L.S.D”) to radically transform the destructive mindset of Washington into one focused on creativity. 

            The two concepts meet with the final lines; “grab your fife and drum/grab your gold baton/and let’s meet on the lawn/shut down this hypocrisy.”  A fife and drum leads people to war, a gold baton leads a marching band.  When the two meet, they’re capable of changing America into something more sincere, and less hypocritical.

 I’m leaving off the part that discusses my personal views on the song, peace, war, and the peace movement at large.  I figure this post can be about the song exclusively.

In which I fully embrace humanism
August 6, 2008

by pegleghippie
Today I realized, while looking at my uncontrolled, messy hair, that I really am an uncontrolled, messy person, in a good way. I’ve been viewing myself the same way since high school, that is, as simple, serious, reserved, and seeking respect. But that’s not me. I love my life now, and I love enjoying things for their own sake.
No longer do i desire to be respected, for people to meet me and say, “he seemed so serious about such-and-such.” I want people to meet me and go, “he exudes happiness and warmth.” I’m leaving that serious stuff behind, the reason being that I’ve found the serious to be incompatible with any positive emotions.
My serious nature from high school led me to study critical thinking. I still think critical thinking is incredibly important, but it’s a tool-all the logic in the world serves to make us happier. That’s the axiom:happiness. Or pleasure, or love, or whatever you want to call it; a word does not exist to encompass the scale of positive emotions as opposed to negative ones.

Why the focus on happiness? At a basic level, I’ve completely accepted that existence is absurd, and dammit, I find absurdity very funny. Even the statement, “life is absurd” is absurd as well.         

That leaves us free to do whatever we want with that absurdity; as for me, I have chosen to enjoy it. All morality, all social norms and laws, every taboo, even my beloved logic, these all only exist to help us deal with how meaningless existence is. I think we’ve over-regulated existence: our current norms often keep us from getting a good laugh at life. Instead, these norms should function as tools that empower us to do more with existence than we could on our own, and to explore new and different types of pleasure. 
fuck religion
Morality, for instance, is great as a guideline for how to get along with people without making them into enemies. That “getting along atmosphere” that morality provides has allowed for macro improvements like civilizations, as well as micro improvements like friendship. But when Morality is more than pleasure’s tool, you get things like christians hating gay people, or Orthodox Jews refusing to flip a light switch on the sabbath, or basically any negative aspect of organized religion.

So In conclusion, life is meaningless, your existence is absurd, and as far as I can tell, that’s the best news any of us could hope for.

Disease: Proof of God’s existence?
April 25, 2008

Those who know me know I take a very anti-religion stance in every argument. That’s because I believe wholeheartedly that religion is a falsehood created by man to make money and gain power. I mean really, tithes? The Papacy? Gimme a break, God doesn’t care about the Pope any more than he cares about the goldfish I killed today. (accident, honest.)

But here I’ll propose that death and disease are proof of God’s existence. In Genesis, God cursed humanity with death and disease when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man lost his immortality. He found weakness, illness, fatigue, and hard work. Eve found childbirth and death and disease and hunger.

And now my point; without disease and death and weakness, we’d become hugely overpopulated and all starve to death. Call it, instead, Darwinistic population control. Wars, famine, the Great Fire of London, terrorism, sharks… are these all the messengers of God saying, “Hey. I need you to die cause if ya don’t, 10000 others will?”

I’ve always argued that peace can sometimes only be found on the other side of war. Sometimes it takes war to get people in shape. Well does it take war as well to keep the population in check? Is this proof of intelligent design? That we’re angry, violent beings, with a tendency for self-indulgence? Is the fact that we haven’t found a cure for cancer a sign that ‘God’ is there, saying, “No, no, no… I need that cancer to make the rest of you alive.”

No offense to people with Cancer. I’m not saying you should lay down and die. Perhaps I’m saying we should be at peace with the fate of those who did.