Tag Archives: History

Twenty. (An anniversary retrospective.)

Today, May 20th, marks the anniversary of my life’s work. Twenty years ago, I set myself to developing a philosophy that I called Promethean, or Prometheanism. Today, composing Promethean philosophy is still what I do.

But many things have changed. To explain some of that, I feel like I probably have to set the stage just a bit.

When I started in 1998, I was writing with the internet audience in mind, which was then select, relatively-educated, and worldwide. Back then, online publishing was a frontier that required web design. It was before blog software. It was before social media sorted everyone within their culs-de-sac. In fact, the usual types were hand-wringing about the “digital divide” of access, not-yet universal, seemingly unaware that mainstream crowds can ruin anything special. Back then, many people actively surfed the web looking for interesting, random, and challenging reading, as well as stupid humor. (That was always there.) Scattered individuals who were motivated to learn and interested in a better future were excited to have the means to connect and congregate. I was unapologetically talking to this forward-looking elite—of all ages, socioeconomic classes, and origins—who were looking for enlightenment, and eager to participate in a renaissance.

Promethea.org maelstrom

The “maelstrom” theme I designed for the Promethea.org web site in 2000.

I wrote and published multiple articles and essays on the web, and especially created novel, illuminated presentations for a website called Promethea, including The Promethean Trilogy, which began with The Promethean Manifesto, the genesis of all Promethean writing of mine. I worked on e-books/series on subjects like the economics of liberated society, critiques of naive faith in democracy, the importance of typical philosophical errors, and prospects for ending war. One goal was to try to build a cross-disciplinary Promethean movement.

You see, back then, with enough talent and very little money, you could create and publish, and people would come. Intelligent people would read it, and converse with you. You weren’t competing with billion-dollar corporations for mere seconds of attention from millions of eyeballs. It was a promising time, but it didn’t last very long.

As of 2004, when everything unique and thoughtful was getting lost in an interminable internet, I began to shift my emphasis to writing paper books, instead.

Photo on 2011-12-22 at 06.02

Checked-off proofreading edits in a printed draft of Pyramid of Babel, December, 2011.

I spent about seven years, on and off, on the great project of writing an unpublished novel, called Pyramid of Babel. I’m proud to say that Pyramid of Babel turned out both provocative to the conventional tastes and temperaments of those who follow along in society—as a novel of ideas ought to be—and unique, as I think a great novel ought to be. It did not fulfill my goal of breaking in as an author, however, so that I could get other books out there. If I had known the dire state of the industry, its rigidity of genres, its sanctimony, and its gatekeeping by agents, it’s possible I would never have adopted that plan—prioritized the novel, bet on success, and sacrificed so much as I have in order to create it. That would have been a shame, artistically.

Pyramid of 5 Aspects of Pyramid of Babel

I made a Pyramid of the complete draft.

Along the way, I also finished and self-published a collection of essays in 2008 called Rising in Words.

I also wrote a lot of material for 2 or 3 important but unfinished nonfiction books. The lion’s share consisted of 1) research to flesh out a cybernetic attractor model of personality and mind, while 2) working to articulate it with the wonder and clarity of the best popularized science writing, so as make it understandable to as many interested people as possible—the closest thing to a user’s manual of the human mind I would ever try to write. I don’t work on it consistently these days, but I have plans to do so again, when the course of writing The Constellation of Man leads me back to the part where I have to work out how to communicate these same mental attractors that we all demonstrate.

Another batch of work laid out my sociological theory of the anti-social origins of conflict, not in Paleolithic human nature, but in historical-era hierarchical institutions, which empowered psychopaths and narcissists. (A subject also intended for a vid-doc script on Myths About Human Nature and War.) Part of the argument would be an evolutionary one, accounting for the presence of these sub-types. And, a perhaps-separable book built on overlapping research would emphasize psychopathoid personalities in modern society over their origins.

At some point I began writing some entries on this blog, Wisdom Dancer. I don’t entirely remember why, except that I needed a place to talk about process, and journal, and vent, basically (as opposed to my “real” writing). I did all that of elsewhere, first, and then gradually migrated here. Happily, I left social media behind.

Currently, I write material primarily with The Constellation of Man (formerly Prometheus Redux) in mind. This evolved from early efforts in The Promethean Trilogy to invent new kinds of philosophical literature, better able to tell a story about reforming and rekindling humanistic values. (Actually, Nietzsche beat me to it.)

thinking-through-philosophy-tpm

February, 2013

I have many emotions as I look back on twenty years of personal history as a philosopher, a creative artist, and a dissident.

I have thought and written across boundaries—for instance, between social criticism, philosophy of science, humanistic psychology, cybernetics, anthropology, political science, history, education, epic literature, and mythology, with enthusiasm for fusion. I’ve held no more regard for artificial academic boundaries than the artificial boundaries of government, or moralism, or collective divisions, which I have repeatedly written against. As a result, I have often found that I fit nobody’s expectations, and fit in nowhere; and that I make impermissible, unpopular arguments. I do not regret it. Taking sincere advantage of freedom of thought is highly likely to have genuine social and economic costs, not only in facing off with institutions and conventions, but with herd-minded people, and those simply ill-equipped by their institutions to recognize (and value) a wider breadth of thought than their conventions. Again, I do not regret it.

The large majority of what I have written remains unpublished—some of importance, unfinished. The weight of potential hangs over my work, as I do it; I rarely have the satisfaction of completion and feedback, and have never had the feeling of success. It was not a journey I embarked on for attention or reward, although I intended to have more of an impact. It has certainly not been a journey I have continued because any project has, so far, really accomplished what I set out to do. These days, I often have to think that I write for the future and not the present. I continue because the work itself compels me, or needs me. It still fascinates. It still frustrates. I could say that I continue to write because I am a philosopher, and I cannot be someone else.

I can, all at the same time, appreciate that I have made much progress over the years as a writer of philosophical literature. Mastery does not come easily, and it is never finished. Abilities and efficiency go through ups and downs, not continual improvement. But once in a while, usually by sticking it out through many trials and errors—as well as through the marvelous leaps of imagination—the writing does play out as it feels like it was meant to, and fully satisfies even the perfectionist in me.

I will always have mixed feelings about testing the lines between epic accomplishments and impossibilities. I cannot be satisfied with less, in any case. I will always have that kind of ambition.

Regardless, I figure that twenty years of shouldering responsibility in a cause I am truly proud of, and have never compromised—and 20 years of labors, undergoing some immense challenges—well deserves a bottle of Lagavulin Scotch whisky. So that will be my toast tonight. No lamentations for what might have been.

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To Be Governed…

To be GOVERNED is to be kept in sight, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so…. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality. And to think that there are democrats among us who pretend that there is any good in government

— Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, John Beverly Robinson’s 1923 translation of Idée générale de la révolution au XIXe siècle

A well known quote in anarchist circles (in various translations), but more than that, a sentiment familiar to many in history with experience to know better than many people right now.

I worry about anyone naive enough, or brief enough in their momentary span of historical (and cultural and geographical) awareness, that they would believe one recent election could make all the difference. Only now does it perhaps begin to occur to them that political power was not centralized in the state just for their benefit. Only now do they look with any real suspicion at the exercise of it.

The institution of the state is not some new problem for people who have suffered under bureaucracy, or the whims of political leaders, or the systematic and recurring uses of power at their expense for the advantage of one agenda or special interest or another.

For example, the troubles of an immigrant coming to America certainly did not begin with the Trump administration, as many young protesters seem to think. It would doubtless surprise most of them to learn that the Obama administration deported more people than any other administration (and all others before 2000), and pushed other enforcement policies such as criminalization, internment, and border militarization.

The abuse of power concomitant with power itself is not a partisan problem but an institutional one. It’s noticing the evidence of the problem (or failing to notice, and rationalizing) that turns partisan, and biased according to party, faction, and animosity.

The original monopoly of “the state” or “government” (on which all other attempted monopolies depend) is that of an exclusive claim to legitimate force, to compulsion—a claim to deserve obedience but also the right to compel it. This remains the essential formula of a hierarchy of political power to this very day.

Those who believe they and their agenda rule, believe power is rendered fine and respectable as long as they rule, and only feel it is corrupted and dangerous when they lose power. It’s a strange alchemy, and a secular faith.

If only it would occur to more people that any state powerful enough to give them things they demand, or dream of—if indeed their wants and dreams can truly be delivered and sustained by demands on other people—has to be powerful enough to take away what they hold dear, also.

Excerpt: excuses and criticisms for electing inferiors

Sometimes I accidentally write political science, in the context of trying to write more compelling literature. I say that only half-flippantly. Experience tires of what it knows too familiarly, you see. Besides, politics skips over many things I consider essential preliminaries, in order to arrive at loud, thoughtless disagreement that much more efficiently.

NB: Not written about current events specifically, but germane, and therefore I am posting it. I do not write about current events, per se. Current events tend to come back to the same things, again and again. I do write about those things.

Without further ado, an excerpt from work in progress:

When it became fairly apparent (to others) that in time, manifest inferiors would rule democratic republics instead of the best men (in any usual sense, moral or able)—as so often happens in present day, in the calculus of voting machines, mass media, party and political machines—they made excuses. Rationalizations, critiques, and theories proliferated, and they have ever since. Most have blamed technicalities of constitutional procedure, or electoral process, for these “wrong” results. Many have blamed an uneducated citizenry. Partisans blame opponents.

All these critiques come from ideological agreement, from those convinced of the rightness of democracy, or at least taking it for granted (a tenet without alternative), often from insiders in the political class.

They would never conclude, for instance, that corrupt bargains for influence promoting oligarchs and plutocrats among the political class describes an equilibrium of theoretical popular governance, no matter its design.

Insiders in particular would never interpret lack of intellectual competence among bureaucrats and politicians of the state as [suitable] avoidance of misspent, frustrated careers by competent people who have other ambitions and serve other masters. And the more enormous the bureaucracy, the more immune its unelected mediocrity to change by election of very few supervising officials, and their direct appointees.

An unusual critique from outside the consensus lamented a perversion of the natural order by the weakening effect of misguided egalitarian doctrines, from democratic, Judeo-Christian, and socialist origins, promoted with the effect, if not also the intention, that diminutive, weak men could overcome their superiors. Men had become sheeplike, or overly tamed.

This critique happened to agree with neo-aristocrats, oligarchs, and republicans alike that the many, especially the uneducated mob, were not to be trusted with the reins of government. Inferior men could climb up on their backs, to loud applause. Voting was a godsend to the ambitious political creatures whose talents lay in demagoguery, empty promises, fear-mongering, and other unscrupulous means.

But to the traditional mistrust of demagogues, this critique added the [interesting] charge that the potential quality of men had been corrupted, not only by lacking education but also by excess of rote, mass education in uniformity, agreement, and passivity—in the name of equality and good citizens, instead of serving the more venerable, selective educational goal of cultivating a remarkable elite.

Other outsiders critiqued democratic principle not for its foundation upon the many, but for sanctioning and legalizing the might of the many—called mob rule in its informal guise—as though numbers excused or ennobled the exercise of power, and in this case alone, might makes right.

They saw no reason for surprise whenever democratic republics failed. For democratic institutions remained systems for assigning compulsory powers, not fundamentally unlike any ancient state for having devised representation, imagined “good government,” and forgotten the origins of governance in oppression by conquerors, caste, or class.

They summarized that history has always reflected a generally conflicted (if not inverse) relationship between attracting the best men and offering them power. Power to enforce one’s will instead, unsurprisingly, attracts those who cannot exercise any consistent restraint, or corrupts those who have power, including those born into it. Exercise of power for aggrandizement is rarely tempered, with difficulty, only temporarily, and somewhat against the natural tendency.

In fact the founders of modern constitutional republics were not unaware of this critique. Among them, skeptics of democracy as a positive good admitted they could not answer it, and feared it would prove correct. They were not naive enough to believe that men who acquired might would somehow cease to crown themselves right. They hoped that individual rights could find protection for a time, despite tyrants, oligarchs, mobs and demagogues.

Now, the context for generating this digression was: writing about right and might (the famous debate in Thucydides over the fate of the poor island of Melos crops up) as an unusual, applied way of writing about a distinction between the “neutral” descriptive function of idealized science, and the prescriptive, normative, or persuasive functions of value-driven fields such as ethics, or applied science (medicine, psychiatry, engineering), arts, or religion. In a nutshell, saying what happens is importantly, quite different from saying what should happen.

Talking about how those two purposes can either corrupt, or assist each other, is very important to the philosophy of science, to argumentation, to psychology, and to pretty much any subject that people have positions about, or try to understand. Half of political discourse is really about trying to blur the two. (The Athenians certainly do in Thucydides.)

So actually, this is a representative selection in a sense, not for its specific subject material, but because it came about from the larger goal of teaching and reconsidering fundamentals through novel illustrations. In this case, philosophy of science through the lens of political science, in particular, all the thinking surrounding right and might, might makes right, etc. I went off on the tangent above (it happens), broke off that piece, and here you are.