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Archive for December, 2012


Rationalism is the doctrine that the patterns of human reason correspond to real, objective events out there in the world. It is the model that starts from the assumption that the human mind can identify universal truths about the world, as opposed to being limited to an identification of truths about subjective experience (phenomenology) or simply a perpetuation of a series of events (radical behaviorism). One might ask, “well, why is it important to understand rationalism and why do you object to it so frequently?” Here’s an example of rationalism in action and why I think it is detrimental to our species. Person A and person B experience an interpersonal conflict in which A objects to one of B’s behaviors. B identifies A as a member of a particular class and themselves as a member of another class. These classes could be gender based, race based or national origin based. B identifies general conflict between these two classes. B then characterizes A’s actions as discriminatory towards B, based on their membership in these various classes. A in fact holds no grudge against B’s class, but rather was objecting to B’s behavior in one specific instance. B experiences the interpersonal conflict as representative of discrimination; A does not. In my opinion, B is applying a rationalistic model here and conflating effect with intent. B is assuming that A’s original objection to B’s behaviors is based on discrimination just because B experiences the effect as discriminatory. B is taking their own thoughts as representative of some objective reality (the rationalist assumption). The problem here is that it fails to validate A’s perspective, which is quite contrary to B’s experience. The possibility of a resolution, of a synthesis of the dialectic is thus weakened in part by the influence of rationalist habits. Of course, this is simply my experience of the events in question, and I would love to hear your perspective as well! 🙂



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Over the past several years I have been working to reduce vulnerability to shame by being more open about things that I want to hide away. Anger is a much more difficult emotion for me. Anger is often my response to the fact that the world does not conform to my values. This is difficult for me because of my learning history which includes the experience of having to figure out how to survive chronic physical and emotional abuse as a child. So for me the experience of the world not conforming to my values cues a response conditioned by chronic abuse. Lack of conformation to values looks to me like abuse. It’s a process called respondent conditioning. You learn to respond to a conditioned stimulus with an artificial response as if it were some other stimulus with a naturally occurring response. Pavlov’s dog learned to salivate in response to the bell as if it were the meat powder. Whereas shame I think has been maintained by the reward of not having to face the anxiety of open exposure, anger for me is more of an automatic response to cues.



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So today at work I was accused of being a misogynist. My urge was to throw it back in their faces and accuse them of being biased against red headed white males. Luckily I resisted that urge and was largely able to simply ignore the behavior in the moment. It’s still got me pretty steamed though and I’ve been trying to figure it out. I realized that it reminded me of a time in another job when another employee asked me to let her use my id badge to give her access to a restricted area of the building because she had forgotten her badge. I refused because we had just gotten a most serious and stern bulletin from the security department about not sharing badge access amongst employees. She later sent me an email accusing me of being a racist (she was African-American and I, apparently, am White and nothing else…). It’s amazing to me that those who supposedly stand against racism and sexism are often the most insidious promulgators of those very habits. It makes me think that humanity will never solve its most trenchant problems of violence and aggression. Unless one considers nuclear annihilation a solution. Which, from the perspective of our poor undeserving planet, it probably is.



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We in the west are frequently confronted with dialectcs: “good” vs. “evil,” “just” vs. “unjust”, “us” vs. “them.” Many of these come to us through the western tradition of Platonism and the scholastic tradition, which saw the world as something faithfully captured by our philosophical models. For them, the observation that A=A was an indisputable principle of God’s universe, from which all else could be deduced, captured in the eternal dialectics of philosophy. However, it seems to me that their models may not exhaust the field of possibility. If a word is an event, the question for me is what precedes the event and what follows it. Because i don’t think justice or revenge name something that exists, any more than a supernova or a hand-clap names something that exists. They are merely events. Calling a killing justice may merely signal to me your disposition towards your own behaviors. Perhaps it also serves to calm the aggression of conspecifics and decrease the escalation of violence. Great. But a person is also still dead regardless of the speech act that follows (“justice” vs. “revenge” or “murder”). So i would say that neither do words change what we’ve done (they have no ontological power to change other occurring events) nor are they merely semantic reshufflings of the deck (they do have ontological power in that they are themselves occurring events, not merely epiphenomena). I think this is why Wittgenstein encouraged us to throw away our ladders once we’ve climbed them. He was pointing already towards the theory of language games and forms of life. The language games of the west have bequeathed us such dialectics. But that does not mean we cannot invent new “ones….”

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when temptation ends

unfill your empty hands
my heart is a cold cold room
that sues for a better part
in the play of an afternoon
i heard your way was after all
a dance, shining alone
in a long lonely hall filled
like an empty empty balloon
once, twice my voice wandered
without my will that way
craft without production
is how your several games
sent joy to its mountain home
bound for a time to remember this
never again the bitter pill
never hearts again to sway



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i understand the death of dreams
witnesses taken hostage
beyond reach of a winter night
streams of lies invented and
disgorged while we broke camp
for another feint at the heights
it was a mountain like any other
to be climbed because it was there
orchards left behind i am
now apprentice
to such wonton faithless fare



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The recent press conference by the NRA is a perfect example of what happens when unarmed minds get access to a bully pulpit.



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