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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Nihilism
Posted: August 25, 2017 at 3:54 am
Mark Duffy has written the Copyranter blog for 12 years and is a freelancing copywriter with 25-plus years of experience. His hockey wrist shot is better than yours.
Wherever hopelessness and meaninglessness exist, nihilism breeds. And these days, nearly nothing is as hopeless as the State of the Advertising Tagline. This generations tagline writers arent just writing meaningless taglines. Theyre writing worthless meaningless taglines.
Taglines used to give you real reasons to buy: The One Beer To Have When Youre Having More Than One; Nothing Sucks Like An Electrolux; Let Your Fingers Do The Walking; When It Absolutely Positively Has To Be There Overnight. These taglines didnt just increase sales, they launched and grew companies. They became part of pop culture.
Today? Nothing. And into this creative vacuum has crawled more meaninglessness: ad influencers, sponconners and branded Facebook puzzle posts a 1-year-old can solve.
Also, into this meaningless void comes the Nihilist Tagline Writer (NTW).
What does Be Legacy mean? Arent legacies talked about after someone dies? Therefore, Stellas slogan is, essentially, Be Dead. Pretty nihilistic already. Nietzsche believed to do is to be. But then, he went insane from staring too long into the abyss.
Again, this life insurance sellers motto is already pretty grim, considering the unspoken two words at the end of the line (to death). But the NTW believes the above paraphrasing of a Nietzsche quote makes for a more urgent call to action.
Perfection In Life? Via a ridiculously expensive instrument that pretends to measure time? The NTW posits that perfection in life is when nothing happens. No watch needed, then. (Nihilistic tagline stolen from Thomas Ligotti.)
Impossible is not nothing; it is everything. Athletics is nothing, workouts are nothing, sweat is nothing. You want to wear Adidas while achieving nothingness? Whatever floats your nothing-boat.
Its been said that there is only the self, and the self is always alone. You want to achieve harmony? Dont answer a hundred questions about your self. Just desire nothing, and be nothing.
Open Happiness. That is quite a something-ism. Imagine that: bottling happiness. HA HA HA! Is your name Genie? Maybe Coca-Cola put your name on some of its plastic bottles. But drinking from or rubbing the sugar water receptacle will not make your wishes come true. Unless, you wish for emptiness. (Nihilistic tagline inspired by Fuminori Nakamura.)
The NTW ends with one of the most successful propaganda campaigns in human history: the diamond engagement ring. What power the ring holds. And as every true nihilist knows, the love of power is the demon of mankind (Nietzsche). We also know that we come from darkness, and its where were heading.
Have a nice day.
NOTE: The NTWs sources include this video of 150 Nietzsche quotes and quotes tagged nihilism from Goodreads. The NTW used the font Propaganda for his taglines.
Go here to read the rest:
Posted: August 22, 2017 at 11:46 pm
Sam Harris, the atheist philosopher and neuroscientist, has recently been using his popular Waking Up podcast to discuss Donald Trump, whom he abhors, with an ideologically diverse series of guests, all of whom believe that the president is a vile huckster.
This began to wear on some of his listeners. Wasnt Harris always warning against echo chambers? Didnt he believe in rigorous debate with a positions strongest proponents? At their urging, he extended an invitation to a person that many of those listeners regard as President Trumps most formidable defender: Scott Adams, the creator of the cartoon Dilbert, who believes that Trump is a master persuader.
Their conversation was posted online late last month. It is one of the most peculiar debates about a president I have ever encountered. And it left me marveling that parts of Trumps base think well of Adams when his views imply such negative things about them.
Those implications are most striking with respect to extreme views that Trump expressed during the campaign. Harris and Adams discussed two examples during the podcast: Trumps call to deport 12 million illegal immigrants from the United States, a position that would require vast, roving deportation forces, home raids, and the forced removal even of law-abiding, undocumented single mothers of American children; and Trumps call to murder the family members of al-Qaeda or ISIS terrorists.
Trump took those positions not because he believes them, Adams argued, but to mirror the emotional state of the voters he sought and to open negotiations on policy.
Harris expressed bafflement that such a strategy would work:
Harris: If I'm going to pretend to be so callous as to happily absorb those facts, like send them all back, they don't belong here, or in the ISIS case, we'll torture their kids, we'll kill their kids, it doesn't matter, whatever worksif that's my opening negotiation, I am advertising a level of callousness, and a level of unconcern for the reality of human suffering that will follow from my actions, should I get what I ostensibly want, that it's a nearly psychopathic ethics I am advertising as my strong suit.
So how this becomes attractive to people, how this resonates with their valuesI get what you said, people are worried about immigration and jihadism, I share those concerns. But when you cross the line into this opening overture that has these extreme consequences on its face, things that get pointed out in 30 seconds whenever he opens his mouth on a topic like this, I don't understand how that works for him with anyone.
Adams: Let me give you a little thought experiment here. We've got people who are on the far right. We've got people on the far left. In your perfect world, would it be better to move the people on the far right toward the middle or the people on the far left toward the middle? Which would be a preferred world for you?
Harris: Moving everyone toward the middle, certainly on most points, would be a very good thing.
Adams: So what you've observed with President Trump through his pacing and emotional compatibility with his base is that prior to Inauguration Day, there were a lot of people in this country who were saying, 'Yeah yeah, round them all up. Send all 12 million back tomorrow.'
When was the last time you heard anybody on the right complaining about that? Because what happened was, immigration went down 50 to 70 percent, whatever the number was, just based on the fact that we would get tough on immigration. And the right says, Oh, okay, we didn't get nearly what we asked for, but our leader, who we trust, who we love, has backed off of that, and we're going to kind of go with that, because he is doing some good things that we like. And we don't like the alternative either.
So this monster that we elected, this Hitler-dictator-crazy-guy, he managed to be the only guy who could have, and I would argue always intended, to move the far right toward the middle. You saw it, you know, we can observe it with our own eyes. We don't see the right saying, Oh no, I hate President Trump. He's got to round up those undocumented people like he said early in the campaign, or else I'm bailing on him. None of that happened. He paced them, and then he led them toward a reasonable situation, which I would say we're in.
I dont agree with parts of Adamss analysis. But as he tells it, Trump targeted voters whod be attracted rather than repelled by calls for policies that would inflict great suffering; he told those voters things that he didnt really mean to gain their emotional trust; and all along, he probably intended to go to Washington and do something else. That sounds a lot like the way that Trump voters describe the career politicians who they hate: emotionally manipulative liars who will say anything to get elected, get to Washington, and betray their base by moving left on immigration.
Now consider the most extraordinary exchange in the podcast, when Harris attempts to explain his confusion that not everyone regards Trump as a vile huckster:
Harris: Everything you need to know about Trump's ethics were revealed in the Trump University scandal. This is a guy who is having his employees pressure poor, elderly people to max out their credit cards in exchange for fake knowledge.
Adams: Well, hold on. You understood that to be a license deal, right?
Harris: Yeah, but I understand that to be the kind of thing that he would have to know enough about to know what he was doing. If he only found out about it after the fact, that's not the kind of thing you'd defend, it's the kind of thing you'd be mortified about. And you would apologize for and pay reparations for if you're this rich guy who has all the money you claim to have.
Adams: Unless you were a master persuader who knew that if you ever backed down from anything, people would expect you to back down in the future from other things.
Note that Adams hypothesizes that Trump would not back down even if he were in the wrong and innocents were hurt as a consequence, because it might hurt him personally. A person who wrongs innocents, then hides it because he puts a higher priority on preserving his public persona than justice, is not a person to be trusted with power!
Harris: But what you're describing is a totally unethical person. This is the problem for me. So let me just give you a couple more points here. People will say that all politicians are liars, or all politicians have something weird in their backstory. But there are very few politicians walking around with something that ugly in their backstory that they haven't repaired.
Adams: Let me just clarify. When I said that it was a license deal, as opposed to a business that he was actively runningin the Dilbert world, I do a lot of license deals. And have in the past. The nature of those is that you're giving your brand and your name and then you're not really paying attention to the management of the company. So there are two possibilities here. One is what you described, that he knew the details and he was okay with it, which would be problematic for me, and I'm positive it would be problematic for 100 percent of Trump's supporters if that was the case. Now, if it was a typical license deal where you don't really know exactly what people are doing and you're not paying attention because you've got, in this case, 400 companies with his name on them
Harris: His whole life is a license deal for the most parteven his real estate empire is a license deal.
Adams: So if it were the case that he were treating it like every other license deal there's a high likelihood that he didn't know about the details until it was too late. Now once he found out the details, how he handled it in court is yet another separate case.
Lets pause here. What Harris understandably didnt know off the top of his head is that Trump University was not a typical licensing deal. According to The Washington Post, court documents revealed that the Trump Organization owned 93 percent of Trump University. As well, beginning in 2005, New York State Education Department officials told the company to change its name because they deemed it misleading. And Trump appeared in ads for the enterprise, where he said, I can turn anyone into a successful real estate investor, including you. Obviously, Trump did not believe that anyone who saw the advertisement could be turned into a success in real estate, and the ad represented that Trump would be doing the turning.
Harris: But even granting you that, it's another separate case that says everything about the man's ethics.
Adams: It says everything about his ethics if he was aware of it at the time.
Harris: No, no, if you're aware of it in the aftermath. If I created some deal, you know, The Sam Harris Waking Up Podcast UniversityI mean, first of all, the fact that he would license it out to other conmen who were unscrupulous, and not do proper vetting but claim he had, I mean there's a whole commercial with him talking about how these are the geniuses who will be instructing you in this incredibly expensive but profitable enterprise.
If you did all that you're already a schmuck.
But imagine I had done that, and I'm so busy, I've got 400 different businesses, and I just didn't really understand, I got conned, and got lured into doing this with people I didn't totally vet. In the aftermath, I would be horrified! If I found out that someone had their life savings ripped from them by conmen who I had licensed, right, and I'm this billionaire, I would atone for that as much as could possibly be done. I mean, you have to do that!
Adams: Now Sam, when you say you would atone for it, let's talk about the financial part of that atonement. Would you then negotiate with the people who were complaining to figure out what was an appropriate payment?
Harris: It would be obviously indefensible, and I would immediately pay back everything that was lost, and probably more, because there's all the pain and suffering associated with it. You have to make people whole.
Adams: But would you give them whatever they asked for? Like hey, give me 10 million dollars
Harris: Well no, there has to be some rational consideration of what the cost is. But again, you know the spirit in which he defended this, right? He hasn't admitted that this was a sham. It's of a piece with everything else he has represented about himself. He's a genius whose done nothing but help the world and the world is ungrateful because they can't recognize it. And all the rest is fake news.
Adams: But let me ask you againand by the way, I want to be very clear that there's nothing about Trump University that I defend.
Harris: But that should mean something to you!
There were, in fact, things about Trump University that Adams was defending. In an effort to persuade, he was portraying himself as an expert on licensing deals, and suggesting that Trump may well have been innocent of any wrongdoing beyond not knowing what the folks who licensed his name were getting up to. Because Adams is not a master persuader, Harris was able to knock down that argument, even without knowing some of the facts that made it obviously wrong.
Thats when the conversation arrived at a place Adams often inhabits: claiming he doesnt defend vile or hucksterish behavior from Trump, but continuing to act as Trumps booster.
Adams: But I also think it needs to be put into its clearest context. And the clearest context is, there were people who used the legal system for his complaints, and Trump used the legal system the way it was used, to negotiate, and part of that negotiation is, 'Hey, I'm taking you to court.' 'Well, go ahead, I'll take you to court.' So that's how you negotiate in the legal context. When it was done he paid them back as the legal process probably was going to come out that way whether he was elected president or not.
Harris: It shouldn't have had to go to court. The fact that it had to go to court is a sign of his litigiousness, his defensiveness, his not owning the problem. And who knows how many other scandals like this are in his past where the people couldn't afford to go to court? We actually know a lot about the way he built buildings, insofar as he actually built themand he screwed hundreds if not thousands of people, and these are people who couldn't afford to take them to court. This guy's reputation is so well known.
At this point Adams repeats a persuasive tactic he had already usedon Trump University, he mentioned his own experience of licensing Dilbert, as if it gave his opinions special weight; in this next part, he casts himself as a construction expert. Factual context for the following part of the conversation can be found in this USA Today investigation.
Adams: Have you ever been involved in a big construction project? Because I've done a few. And what do you do when a subcontractor doesn't perform the way that you want them to perform?
Harris: That's one description of what has happened, but again, you're ignoring the fact that he has a unique reputation for screwing people. And this is something, journalism didn't do its job before the election to get this out
Adams: Well, I would agree he has a reputation. But what is the source of that reputation? It's the people that didn't get paid, right?
Harris: But again, the fact that Trump University exists, and the fact that he handled it the way he did, tells me everything I need to know about him. Everything. Literally everything Scott.
Adams: Did you just change the subject?
Harris: No. I can see his real estate career through the lens of Trump University. If you give me Trump University, I can tell you what kind of developer he's going to be. And how he's going to treat his subs.
Adams: Well, that's another analogy problem, that Trump University is an analogy
Harris: No, it's because people's ethics tend to cohere. If you think you can screw someone mercilessly when they're under your power in one context, you are the kind of person, I will predict, who will be screwing people under your power in other contexts, unless you've got some kind of multiple personality disorder.
Adams: Are there no stories you're aware of in which President Trump has done things which he was not required to do which were considered a kindness?
Harris: Well, I'll give you two other points which I think aren't entangled with these wrinkles, which kind of make the same point So take his career as a beauty pageant host and owner, and the stories well attested of him being the creep who keeps barging into the dressing room so he can look at the beauty pageant contestants, these 18-year-old girls who are essentially his employees, so he can catch them naked. So there's doing that over and over again.
And then add his career as a pseudo-philanthropist. So here's a great example. There's this ribbon-cutting ceremony for a children's school that was serving kids with AIDS. This was back in the 90s. And hes pretending to be one of the big donors, and just to get a photo op with the mayor of New York and I think the former mayor of New York, and the real donors to this charity, he jumps on stage, pretends that he belongs there at the ribbon cutting. He never gave a dime to this charity! No one knew he was coming, he literally crashed this party to pretend that he was this big-time philanthropist. Well you may say, this is brilliant PR, right?
It's completely immoral PR.
If I had done this you wouldn't be on this podcast. If you found out these things about me, Sam Harris pretends he gives to charity when he doesn't, he barges into the dressing rooms of his teenage employees so he can catch them naked, and he's got this thing called Harris University that he had to get sued to apologize for, in fact he never apologized for, those three things about me, you wouldn't be on this podcast, and for good reason. But yet you're saying you would elect me president of the United States.
Adams: Yeah I would go even further and say that if you even knew the secret life of any of our politicians we would impeach all of them.
Harris: That's not true.
Adams: The problem is that people tend to be fairly despicable when you drill down.
Harris: Do you think Obama is trailing things of this magnitude? Manifest character flaws of this magnitude?
Adams: Well, I won't name names, but I would say it would be more common than not common, for especially males to have sketchy behavior with the opposite sex.
Harris: Not this level of sketchy behavior. I mean, I'm not going to go to the Billy Bush groping tape which I think is
Adams: Keep in mind that President Trump's past is far more public than other people. So you're going to see the warts as well as the good stuff. But let me stop acting as if I disagree with the general claim that you're making, that he has done things that you and I might not do in the same situation, and would disapprove of. That is common and would be shared by Trump supporters as well.
Notice the pattern here.
Harris offers an indictment of Trump; Adams tries to undercut it; Adams fails; Adams asserts that he has been misleading us about his real views in the course of doing so; then Adams grants the original indictment, but insists there are mitigating factors:
Harris: But then you seem to give it no ethical weight.
Adams: Here's the proposition. He came in and he said in these very words, I'm no angel. But I'm going to do these things for you. Now he created a situation where for his self-interest, if you imagine he's the most selfish, narcissistic, egotistical human who ever lived, he only cares about himself, he put himself in the position where there was exactly one way for any of those things to go right for him, which is to do a really, really frickin' good job, and to imagine that he wants to do anything but the best job for the country now, now that he's in the position, and probably even when he was running, is beyond ludicrous.
It is fascinating that Adams counts the pronouncement, Im no angel, as a point in Trumps favor, as if unapologetically acknowledging moral depravity lessens its weight.
And that isnt even the most ludicrous part of his argument.
Upon being elected, it is in the interest of every president to do a really, really good job. As Harris put it, I will grant you that he cares about his reputation to some degree, and his reputation would be enhanced if at the end of four years or the end of eight years more likely, he was described as the greatest president we ever had. I think he would like that. If you could give him a magic wand and he could wave it in any direction, he would want to leave being spoken of as the next Lincoln or the next Jefferson. In that sense, his interests and the country's interests would be aligned.
So Trump shares that incentive with every president. And as Harris added, there are other ways in which Trumps interests depart from Americas interests far more than other presidents: the profits and overseas dealings of the Trump organization, for one thing, and Trumps murky relationship with Russian oligarchs, for another.
All that aside, even perfectly aligned incentives are worthless if a politician lacks the moral compass and practical skills to govern well. The strongest anti-Trump argument is that he is unfit, regardless of what he wants for Americansthat he is governing about as well as he managed the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, a property that he wanted to succeed but that ended in ruin.
Stripped of all the evasive rhetorical tactics, Adamss case for Trump amounts to this: Trump is a master persuader, as evidenced by his success manipulating voters with morally odious positions that he didnt believe and never intended to executebut Americans shouldnt be bothered by the vileness or the hucksterism, which Adams regards as mostly harmless, because its in Trumps personal interests to be successful, and as Adams later argued, Americans should want a guy who will succeed in the White House more than a guy who is moral or honest.
Now, personally, I dont believe that Trump is a master persuader. I think hes a guy who started out with unusual amounts of money, name recognition, and media coverage, three hugely important factors for a pol; ran against an unusually disliked opponent; and still managed to lose the popular vote by a margin of almost three million. But whether or not Trump is a master persuader is really beside my point here.
My point is that Harris had been using his podcast to discuss Trump with an ideologically diverse series of anti-Trump guests who believe the president is a vile hucksterand then, when he agreed to host the pro-Trump guest who his pro-Trump listeners flagged as Trumps most formidable defender, that guest essentially conceded that Trump has done all sorts of vile things and rose to power via lies, but that its all for the best because he has an incentive to do a really good job. To accept all that would be to cede any grounds for objecting to future politicians who behave immorally, inject cruel policy proposals into the national debate, and lie to get elected. If Adams truly is the most formidable defender of the Trump presidency, then the best defense of the president is grounded in corrosive moral nihilism.
Honoring Honor: Jean-Ren Van der Plaetsen’s Moving Account of the Epic Figures of Free France – HuffPost
Posted: August 16, 2017 at 6:02 pm
You may have heard French novelist Thophile Gautiers phrase, The French lack the sense of the epic.
Unfortunately, the saying remains accurate nearly two centuries later.
Indeed, it applies beyond France, from one end to the other of a discouraged Europe overtaken by nihilism, where even the idea of envisioning or imagining something a little greater for mankind has become unintelligible and absurd.
Which is why I am always inclined to view with a favorable eye books that reveal an attachment to the old-fashioned virtues of heroism, greatness, and a will to go beyond what was thought possible, despite the generalized disenchantment and cynicism that are the hallmarks of our age.
One such book is La Nostalgie de lhonneur,to be released in France on September 6. In it, journalist and columnist Jean-Ren Van der Plaetsen looks back on his grandfather, General Jean Crpin, one of the brightest (but until now poorly documented) figures of the epic of Free France.
The story begins in Manoka, Cameroon, where, on the morning of August 20, 1940, an artillery captain in the French colonial army, gripped by one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions on which great destinies are sometimes built, decides to follow an unknown general, Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque.
It continues with the adventures of a handful of mystical bums who, like himself, bet their lives on the crazy dream of liberating Paris, of hoisting the French flag over Strasbourg cathedral, and of ridding Europe of Nazism.
That mission accomplished, the story follows the heroes into a complicated Indochina redolent of the novels of Graham Greene and French novelist Lucien Bodard.
And then into the quagmire of the Algerian war, where some of the band will lose their way, even while continuing to believe themselves faithful, literally, to the oath they took in the summer of 1940.
And finally into old age: Splendidly gray, proud of their military feats but strangely sad, recognizing one another, Van der Plaetsen tells us, by the fixed star they bear on their forehead like a seal visible only to those who have seen and done what they have seen and donethese are taciturn men with the overwhelming modesty that is the mark of the truly great; reticent men, hesitant to impart lessons of courage and nobility, which must be pulled out of them, as here, by stubborn grandchildren.
Some may find some aspects of this story overly martial.
Some may be startled to read that, in the eyes of the author, there is no calling more noble than that of the soldier.
And perhaps they may detect, here and there, an echo of the prodigious atmosphere of youthful friendship typical of nostalgic war writing in the mold of Philippe Barrss La Guerre vingt ans(War at Age 20) or Henry de Montherlants La Relve du matin(Morning Watch), both published at the beginning of the twentieth century.
But they would be wrong to leave their assessment there.
Because the essence of the book lies in its portrait of the generation of justly named Free French who make up the loftiest, most chivalrous, and most romantic of French orders of merit.
It lies in its description of that brotherhoods ties of suzerainty to General de Gaulle, who emerged suddenly from the ranks in an ascent that can be compared only to Napoleons rise over his own peers.
I admire the authors way of bringing alive the conversions of philosophy professor Andr Zirnheld, of mountain infantryman Tom Morel, and of an obscure Georgian prince, and othersall transformed, by the grace of their heroism, into the stuff of legends. Plaetsens feat reminds me of Roland Dorgelss observation in Wooden Crosses (1919) that, were it not for war, Joan of Arc would have died a shepherdess and 1789 hero Louis-Lazare Hoche a stable boy.
Because that is all true, and because it echoes a truly great novel of war from the 1920s, Jean Schlumbergers Camarade infidle(Unfaithful Comrade), I admire Van der Plaetsens conclusion that his characters tasted something so layered and so strong that everything against which they later had to measure themselves seemed either bland or bitter.
And I must say that these pages contain scenes of great beauty: the entrance of undaunted De Gaulle, accompanied by generals Koenig and Leclerc, into the nave of Notre Dame under fire from the last collaborationist militiamen; the funeral of Leclerc, two years later, with a tank carrying his coffin and with the hero of the book, by request of his peers, stock still at attention at the right of the tank, to offer last military honors to the departed hero; or, forty years later, the encounter between the junior general, now a very respectable bourgeois gentleman, with a column of union demonstrators who jostle and manhandle him until Crpin, pulling himself up to his former height, raising his voice slightly, and brandishing his cane as years ago he would have done a sword, holds his ground until the marchers back away and allow him to pass, dumbstruck by the unassailable, almost magical authority that he still exudes.
I, too, am a son of Free France.
Like the author, I was raised to respect the exceptional adventure that was early Gaullism.
And, like him, I have never been able to read without a shiver the commendation my father received on July 19, 1944, after the battle of Monte Cassino, from another of the books characters, General Diego Brosset: Andr Lvy, always willing day or night whatever the mission, performed evacuations under mortar fire with complete disregard for his personal safety, returning several times to the lines to recover the wounded under intense enemy fire ...
Which is to say that in paying tribute here to Van der Plaetsens Nostalgie de lhonneur,in saluting his noble act of devotion, reparation, and preservation of memory, I know what I am talking aboutand have weighed my words.
Translated from French by Steven B. Kennedy
The Morning Email
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Posted: August 14, 2017 at 12:03 pm
Outside Lands and the Nihilism of the Fake Counterculture
Across the continent, Nazis bearing semiautomatic weapons and garden-supply-store tiki torches made a show of force at the University of Virginia. After protests and counter-protests, someone was killed. It feels redundant to condemn it, but in short ...
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Posted: August 13, 2017 at 2:02 am
Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and...
Ignorance is a terrible wound when it is self-inflicted, but it becomes a dangerous plague when the active refusal to know combines with power. President Trumps lies, lack of credibility, woefully deficient knowledge of the world, and unbridled narcissism have suggested for some time that he lacks the intelligence, judgment and capacity for critical thought necessary to occupy the presidency of the United States. But when coupled with his childish temperament, his volatile impetuousness and his Manichaean conception of a worlda reductionist binary that only views the world in term of friends and enemies, loyalists and traitorshis ignorance translates into a confrontational style that puts lives, if not the entire planet, at risk.
Trumps seemingly frozen and dangerous fundamentalism, paired with his damaged ethical sensibility, suggests that we are dealing with a form of nihilistic politics in which the relationship between the search for truth and justice on the one hand and moral responsibility and civic courage on the other has disappeared. For the past few decades, as historian Richard Hofstadter and others have reminded us, politics has been disconnected not only from reason but also from any viable notion of meaning and civic literacy. Government now runs on willful ignorance as the planet heats up, pollution increases and people die. Evidence is detached from argument. Science is a subspecies of fake news, and alternative facts are as important as the truth. Violence becomes both the catalyst and the result of the purposeful effort to empty language of any meaning. Under such circumstances, Trump gives credence to the notion that lying is now a central feature of leadership and should be normalized, and this serves as an enabling force for violence.
For Trump, words no longer bind. Moreover, his revolting masculinity now stands in for dialogue and his lack of an ethical imagination. Trump has sucked all of the oxygen out of democracy and has put into play a culture and mode of politics that kill empathy, revel in cruelty and fear and mutilate democratic ideals. Trumps worldview is shaped by Fox News and daily flattering and sycophantic news clips, compiled by his staff, that boost his deranged need for emotional validation.
All of this relieves him of the need to think and empathize with others. He inhabits a privatized and self-indulgent world in which tweets are perfectly suited to colonizing public space and attention with his temper tantrums, ill-timed provocations, and incendiary vocabulary. His call for loyalty is shorthand for developing a following of stooges who offer him a false and egregiously grotesque sense of communityone defined by a laughable display of ignorance and a willingness to eliminate any vestige of human dignity.
Anyone who communicates intelligently is now part of the fake news world that Trump has invented. Language is now forced into the service of violence. Impetuousness and erratic judgment have become central to Trumps leadership, one that is as ill-informed as it is unstable. Trump has ushered in a kind of anti-politics and mode of governance in which any vestige of informed judgment and thought is banished as soon as it appears. His rigid, warlike mentality has created an atmosphere in the United States in which dialogue is viewed as a weakness and compromise understood as personal failing.
As Hofstadter argued more than 50 years ago, fundamentalist thinking is predicated on an anti-intellectualism and the refusal to engage other points of view. The other is not confronted as someone worthy of respect but as an enemy, a threatening presence that must be utterly vanquishedand in Trumps case, humiliated and then destroyed.
Philosopher Michel Foucault elucidated the idea that fundamentalists do not confront the other as a partner in the search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is harmful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat. There is something even more serious here: in this comedy, one mimics war, battles, annihilations, or unconditional surrenders, putting forward as much of ones killer instinct as possible.
Trump is missing a necessity in his fundamentalist toolbox: self-reflection coupled with informed judgment. He lacks the ability to think critically about the inevitable limitations of his own arguments, and he is not held morally accountable to the social costs of harboring racist ideologies and pushing policies that serve to deepen racist exclusions, mobilize fear and legitimize a growing government apparatus of punishment and imprisonment. What connects the moral bankruptcy of right-wing ideologues such as Trump and his acolyteswho embrace violent imagery to mobilize their followers with the mindset of religious and political extremistsis that they share a deep romanticization of violence that is valorized by old and new fundamentalisms.
The current crisis with North Korea represents not only the possibility of a nuclear war triggered by the irrational outburst of an unhinged leader, but also a death-dealing blow to the welfare state, young people, immigrants, Muslims and others deemed dangerous and therefore disposable.
Trump has replaced politics with the theater and poison of nihilism. His politics combines spectacle with vengeance, violence and a culture of cruelty. Trumps impetuous and badly informed comments about North Korea represent more than a rash, thoughtless outburst. Rather, they contribute to rising tensions and the increased possibility of a major military conflict. Trumps dangerous rhetoric is symptomatic of the death of historical consciousness, public memory, critical thinking and political agency itself at the highest levels of governance. Under such circumstances, politics degenerates into dogma coupled with a game-show mentality symptomatic of a perpetual form of political theater that has morphed into a new kind of mass mediated barbarism. This is how democracy ends, with a bang and a whimper.
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Posted: August 11, 2017 at 6:02 pm
With the role that made him super-famous five years in the rearview mirror, Robert Pattinson is returning to theaters in his first leading role since the end of the Twilight franchise. The 31-year-old British actor stars as a low-life New York criminal named Connie Nikas in the critically acclaimed Good Time.
In the exclusive clip above, which is a snippet from the movies opening scene, we first meet Connies brother Nick (played by co-director Benny Safdie), who has developmental disabilities, as hes speaking to a psychiatrist (Peter Verby). Pattinsons character barges into the office to drag his brother out, triggering a very twisty plot that before long will lead to the two brothers on the run from the police after a sloppy bank robbery.
Pattison spoke to EW about finding the look, sound, and essence of his character. His performance has been generating awards buzz since the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Good Time is in limited release now and expanding to more cinemas in coming weeks.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY:Tommy Lee Jones has an interesting connection to this character that you play in Good Time, isnt that right? ROBERT PATTINSON: Yeah, absolutely.
How so? [Co-director]Josh Safdie had sent me Norman Mailers book The Executioners Song and then I watched the movie [made for TV in 1982] with Tommy Lee Jones as murderer Gary Gilmore.Its just such a fascinating character. Theres something about his nihilism and the way he processes things. Theres not a conventional sense of guilt within him. After hes committed a crime, he still thinks its someone elses fault. Never self-reflective at all that gave me a lot of energy as the character I was playing.
Because Connie in Good Time lacks a certain self-awareness?Yes. Its so interesting playing someone who makes everything pragmatic for himself. Connie thinks that everything is excusable because its in the service of what he wants. But thats not how morality works. He needs that explained to him. And I found that fascinating.
And how did Tommy Lee Jones appearance affect how you look in this movie? That was a kind of later thing. In preparation for the role, we were trying all these different things with my face. We were trying to get me to look more like Benny [Safdie], who plays my brother. So I put on a fake nose, tried some other prosthetics. But I looked crazy.
Crazy in the wrong way? Yeah, crazy but not subtle. So what we did, and it was very simple, was just put a little bit of scarring and pock marks on my skin.
Is there something irresistible for you, given how recognizable you are, about being in a film where audiences might not know its you at first? I kind of love it. I keep wanting to disable audience preconceptions. Im trying to find a world thats also so different to a large part of the audience. And then you have them trapped. Whereas if the world is something that all the audience understands, then they are more likely to say, OK, I recognize him and now Im going to judge how his performance compares to other people. Id love for people to watch Good Time and think Im a first-time actor who theyve never seen before.
How did you come up with the characters voice?I had the luxury of being isolated while working on this. I was living in a basement apartment in Queens. And I was just repeating and repeating stuff until it vaguely felt right. Ive worked with dialect coached before but for this role it was just repetition. And I stayed in the accent while we werent filming. Its a fun accent, I must say. I missed it when it was gone.
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Posted: August 9, 2017 at 4:59 am
The Recap: Rick turns himself into a pickle to get out of family therapy and winds up stuck. While Beth, Summer, and Morty talk through their problems, Rick finds himself accidentally swept up in a gruesome action movie.
R&M is at its best when it balances its fantastical and mundane plots, usually tying them together around a central theme. While the content of sitting in a therapists office couldnt be more removed from a slurry of Die Hard, Metal Gear Solid, Liam Neeson, and countless other action flicks and tropes, both plots focus around issues of agency and choice. Both begin with the characters being swept up, literally or figuratively, in some grand occurrence that seems to leave them powerless, and work their way up from there.
The execution mostly focuses on Rick and Beth, leaving Morty and Summer to act as this episodes baseline. By the end, its clear that while no one has their shit together, the kids are at least trying to process what theyve been through and improve things. The adults, meanwhile, would rather run screaming from any kind of revelation in favor of trading faux-philosophical dialogue or just ignoring the issue entirely.
The last point might be the most interesting one. The first two seasons dont shy away from the fact that Rick is terrible, but they also encourage us to think hes sort of cool. He gets all the great one-liners, he takes the audience to new and exciting places, he leads badass action scenes. And those elements cast an admiring light on his self-destructive habits and bleak nihilism (the show has never shied from nihilism, but it increasingly makes its stance as a constructive version that knows its different from that hopelessness).
If Rickmancing the Stone distanced us from Rick, this one brings us right up close for a dose of visceral unpleasantness. In some ways Ricks assault on the mansion isnt functionally different from his takedown of the Citadel of Ricks in the premiere; its the details that make it matter. While the premiere was a grand sci-fi battle that tugged us along on the assumption that Rick was doing something ultimately noble, here hes wading through a sewer and killing rats and roaches, working bits of brain with his tongue.
The rat-bug suit is some amazing Cronenbergian body horror, and the sheer nastiness that underpinned Ricks first few kills is embodied in the pragmatic trophies he wears for the rest of the episode. At first, he kills to save himself, then to get mobile, then just because some dudes irritated him; and even once cool lasers and explosions are involved, theres still that sickly veneer in the background. The imagery tells us that to Rick, everything in the world is spare parts that can be broken down if he decides he has a use for it.
The episode climax brings the reminder of that decay in an excellent way. It might arguably be a narrative cheat to have a character who can handily monologue all of Ricks problems in a succinct form, but putting it in the form of choice helps ease that burden. In the end, its not really a thesis on Ricks character or an attempt to offer an explanation that can then be reverse engineered into a cure; its a window into how his character might choose to reform his behavior going forward. It keeps the uncertainty going without being cheap, and Rick gives just enough of a consolation gesture to keep the viewer from simply writing him off.
If last week I was concerned the writers might be planning to sideline Beth, this episode has left me convinced that her increasingly unstable emotional state will be a major fixture of the season. Her desire to keep Rick in her life at any cost is no longer a personal decision but one that affects her family, and with people depending on her its not something she can continue being entirely selfish about. Or rather, she canbut that would make her just like Rick in ways that neither of them probably want deep down (waaaaaaaay deep; deeper; somewhere in there).
The kids have it worst of all in the meantime, and Im hoping the writing will continue to ratchet up that tension and division of loyalty versus self-preservation even when it takes time out for one-off adventures. Something is going to give, and its probably going to be real ugly when it does.
Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; theyre very concerned about these kids. You can read more essays and find out about their fiction atFashionable Tinfoil Accessories, listen to them podcasting onSoundcloud, support their work viaPatreonorPayPal, or remind them of the existence ofTweets.
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‘A Parallelogram’ Theater Review: Bruce Norris Gives Nihilism a Good Name – The Edwardsville Intelligencer
Posted: August 8, 2017 at 3:58 am
This gentle comedy is like the Midas Touch, teaching us how our fondest dream can turn into a living nightmare
Robert Hofler, provided by
A Parallelogram Theater Review: Bruce Norris Gives Nihilism a Good Name
I saw the Los Angeles premiere of Bruce Norriss A Parallelogram four years ago, and remember almost nothing about it. Having just seen the first New York production of this gently nihilistic comedy, which opened Wednesday at Second Stage, I think Ill never forget it.
Like Norris wonderfully mad heroine Bee (Celia Keenan-Bolger), perhaps Im living in a parallelogram, having experienced the same play in different planes of time and space. (Its doubtful this is the way Norris would describe a parallelogram. You need to see the play to get a much more cogent definition.) The major difference between Bee and most of us is that shes cursed with an older version of herself (Anita Gillette) who keeps telling her what will happen in the next 60 seconds, if not the next few decades of her life. In this sense, A Parallelogram is a lot like the Midas Touch and other ancient fables that teach us how our fondest dream can turn into a living nightmare.
Also Read: 'Napoli, Brooklyn' Theater Review: Italian American Saga With Extra Kick in the Sauce
Unlike most plays about madness, A Parallelogram takes us inside the lead characters feverish mind to reveal the logic of hallucination and how lucid it can make a person. Bees knowledge of the future does not give her the ability to change her life, she learns, except in the most insignificant ways. Extrapolating that nihilism outward, she finds that shes grossed out by childbirth and young children, and, truth be told, is not really affected by mass deaths on the other side of the world or, for that matter, the Holocaust and 9/11. Its with her mention of these latter catastrophic events that Norris shows his true bravery as a playwright. Its the older Bees casual rant here that separates the curmudgeons in the audience from the true misanthropists. And the younger Bees total disgust at a nearly born baby (a living turd) is equally breathtaking in its negativity.
Also Read: 'Hamlet' Theater Review: Oscar Isaac Strips to His Skivvies in Earthy Revival
Keenan-Bolgers gift as an actress is to keep her faade abnormally placid while revealing whats just below the surface, as well as whats wrenching her gut. Michael Greifs direction pairs her beautifully with Gillette, who personifies not a disgraceful version of Bees older self but someone who is definitely a deep disappointment to the younger Bee. Equally effective is Keenan-Bolgers pairing with Stephen Kunken, who plays Bees first boyfriend. Kunken is asked to repeat his characters actions, often three or four times a la Groundhog Day. He does this was astounding precision, but also gives the impression that hes as unaware of whats going on as Bee is hyper sensitive to everything around her past, present, and future.
For Bee, life turns out to be so much less than what she wants it to be, and Norris leaves her trapped by that knowledge. But he gives her moments. Bees subsequent boyfriend is played by Juan Castano, and his brief half-naked saunter across the stage after showering lets us know that their sex together is great. They wont remain together for long, but while hes there, shes getting laid in a spectacular way. A Parallelogram is like that. In the end, its message is a downer, but the play is thrilling to watch while its there in front of us.
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Posted: August 1, 2017 at 6:03 pm
Last nights Rick and Morty wasnt the premiere, as the first episode of season 3 ran on April 1st. This is the start of the season proper, and while it wasnt as inventive as classic episodes like Total Rickall or Interdimensional Cable, the confidence of the writing lets the shows characters grow without getting corny.
Its funny to say that an episode where the characters go to a Mad Max-inspired universe to work out their feelings about divorce isnt inventive, but thats because Rick and Morty has set a high bar. Rickmancing The Stone doesnt flip the show on its head, but it does flesh out Summer, a character that sometimes comes off as one note.
Last season, Summer, Beth and Jerry got more of a spotlight, with mixed success. While Beth and Jerrys marital problems were sometimes irritating, it paid off with the two characters divorcing in the season 3 premiere. Theyve both moved into the background this episode in favor of showcasing how Morty, and especially Summer, are handling their parents separation. The siblings have joined Rick in a post-apocalyptic wasteland to run from their feelings. Mortys arm gets possessed by the muscle memory of an anonymous dead raid victim, and he beats the shit out of people to relieve his stress. Summer, on the other hand, really leans into the whole nihilistic wasteland thing, and ends up romantically engaged with Hemorrhage, the leader of the tribe theyve been hanging out with.
Summers a great character when she gets something to do. In Something Ricked This Way Comes we got to see her dynamic with Rick, and finally I feel like the show is building on that. At the end of the day, Summer and Rick are pretty similar. Theyre both self involved and neither of them have healthy coping mechanisms for their problems. Like Rick, Summers more likely to run away from things than face them head on. At the end of the episode, Rick finally convinces Summer to leave the Mad Max universe just by letting her new relationship get so mundane that it stops being an exciting escape.
Theres more hugging and learning in this episode than Im used to from Rick and Morty, but I appreciated that characters did get a chance to grow and to learn a little bit about themselves. While this is by no means a functional family, at least Beth and Jerry divorcing now seems like a plot point that will not only stick, but have a real impact on the cast. Rick and Morty would stop being interesting if these characters got their shit together, but Rickmancing The Stone seems like a step away from the unrelenting nihilism that the show sometimes gets mired in.
After the episode aired, Adult Swim streamed a post-show talk show, Ricking Morty, with series creator Dan Harmon and writer Jane Becker. While they didnt give away any show changing spoilers, it was really cool to get a behind the scenes look at how this episode took shape. Harmon talks about how his own parents separation inspired some aspects of this episode, and Becker talks about the episodes origins as a Pagemaster riff. Im pretty glad they landed on Mad Max instead.
Posted: July 31, 2017 at 10:04 am
I dont like shopping malls; they remind me of the weakness of our species when it comes to commodities that they must have, according to the spurious ethos of the prevailing economic system. Hence, when the woman in my life asked me to accompany her to that monstrosity known as the Baywest mall, outside the city, yesterday, to fetch a DVD that was only available at a music and video shop there, I agreed reluctantly. I had never been there in the time it has existed, and was quite proud that I had avoided this monument to greed, which had been built on, of all places, a wetland, which has a very important function in ecosystems.
As it turned out, it proved to be a very creative morning for me. As we walked in my eye was caught by a huge, poster-sized advertisement for some or other smartphone, and I was struck by the exemplary manner in which it graphically encapsulates the passive nihilism of our capitalism-ridden era. I immediately sat down on a bench and wrote this piece, while my partner went her way.
I have written on the varieties of nihilism distinguished by Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century here before (see http://thoughtleader.co.za/bertolivier/2015/12/15/we-live-in-a-nihilistic-age/ ); suffice it to say, therefore, that passive nihilism is the awareness that nothing has intrinsic value (any longer), combined with the simultaneous inability, or refusal, to accept it, followed by turning to anaesthetising practices in order to forget the absence of values. In Nietzsches time passive nihilism assumed the shape of seeing the shocking abyss of non-value and non-meaning, and promptly running back into the arms of the priests in order to avoid this terrible truth. Today, people run into the arms of Mammon, the god of money. So what does this have to do with advertisement for a smartphone? The latter graphically embodies such contemporary passive nihilism, as I shall try and show.
The advertisement in question is a photograph showing a group of children on a beach, the sea behind them, with their backs turned to it, huddling together so that the one taking the selfie (with the smartphone being advertised) can capture them all with one shot, the oceans crashing waves behind them. Here, in one brand-advertising image-configuration, the essence of the passive nihilism suffusing our time is paradigmatically captured.
First, it is significant that the ocean is behind them, their backs turned to it both literally and figuratively it is, in other words, a scene emblematically representing the current alienation between humanity and nature. Second, the smartphone as mnemo-technical device (which might just as well have been a digital camera, tablet or IPad) concretises the kind of enjoyment at stake here: it is mediated enjoyment. What used to be the sensory enjoyment of the sand, sunshine and waves on the beach, has been reduced to that of images on a screen, which, for better or worse, are the product of technical artifice.
In itself this is neither good nor bad, axiologically speaking (i.e. relating to values); as Bernard Stiegler persuasively argues, we are technical beings (Homo and Gyna technologicus) through and through. The difference, condensed in the composite image under scrutiny, is that the latter is symptomatic of a reductive tendency, globally, to replace the variegated spectrum of human experience with only one kind of privileged experience that which is technically mediated, in the process denuding the experiential world of its intrinsic value.
In the present instance the experience of a visit to the beach has been reduced to a selfie, in its turn made possible by the smartphone which is touted as the indispensable condition of an enjoyable visit to the beach. Behind this reductive iconic metonymy of the mnemo-technical capture of social life the destruction of savoir-vivre (knowledge of how to live your life), precisely lurks the Midas-touch of capital, which strives to transmute everything into proverbial gold, but at the cost of life.
To possess such a smartphone, one has to have access to capital, and quite a lot of it, too. Which means that you have to enter the consumerist loop: you have to earn money by working in the capitalist economy, and gain acceptance, not only by the system, but also by your peers, by being a good consumer spending money on consumer goods like the latest smartphone, car, and clothes, having a bank account, and most important, proving your consumerist virtue by demonstrating your willingness and ability to service debt.
All these consumerist-capitalist implications of the selfie on the beach are not incidental, of course; they cut to the cold heart of the matter. The technical capture of peoples attention (here, childrens; catch them young!) serves the objective of keeping the wheels of the consumer economy turning. In the process the natural world always culturally mediated, to be sure becomes a technically mediated world, where the instrinsic value of a beach, the ocean, flowers, mountains, streams, wildlife, is replicated (and concomitantly obliterated) by its mediating substitute, which, in its turn, functions as a metonymy (part for whole) of capital. Needless to stress, the latter is ultimately monodimensional, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.
On the topic of wildlife, a friends tale of his experience during a visit to the Addo National Elephant Park near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape is emblematic of what Stiegler has identified as the capture of peoples attention by means of the capital-serving mnemo-technical devices that function as a conduit for the reduction of the sensory diversity of the world to its ostensibly mediating counterpart (which turns out to be nothing more than a lure of capital).
The friend in question had taken visitors from the Netherlands to see elephant and other wild animals including rhinoceros, lion, kudu and buffalo while driving through the extensive area comprising the park. To his astonishment, when they encountered a sizeable herd of elephant, his visitors proved more interested in looking at the images of these majestic creatures on the viewing screens of their digital camera and video-camera than in the animals themselves, which were quite close to their vehicle. Even when he tried to draw their attention to a particularly striking bull among the rest of the herd, they merely looked up long enough to be able to locate the animal, and then proceeded to marvel at its image framed by the viewing screens of their cameras.
It is not the case that all photography has (and has always had) such a reductive effect regarding the experiential value of the visible world, of course. When photographs serve the purpose of directing ones attention back to the extant world natural or cultural, and whether in memory or in actuality the latter is left intact, instead of being replaced by its technically replicated counterpart. When we travel throughout South Africa or to other countries, often to climb foreign mountains, my partner takes photographs of beautiful landscapes, rivers, mountains and animals. These photographs are reminders, when we look at them afterwards, of the beauty and variegatedness of the world, instead of being fetishes that are increasingly replacing the world, to the point where they rekindle the desire in us to revisit these places.
Put differently, as long as photographs are a record, reminders and a celebration of the visible world, its indispensable axiological role in human life remains intact. But when techno-mediated images of the world become what Baudrillard calls hyper-reality, that takes the place of the visible world and makes it disappear, as it were, the very (malleable) foundation of value in human experience is eroded, and nihilism prevails.
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