The Stealth Self-Menace (Taking a side is the promise to ‘do it’)

In that article about the internet, which is not a place, being a terrible place, Tod Kelly rightly criticizes Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo for the latter’s provision of, my words, a brutally imbecilic rant by a TPM commenter on those who oppose gun control. I’m not convinced at all that the poor pitiful internet is uniquely responsible for such brutality and imbecility, but I am convinced that Marshall’s reader’s rant was a rant, and a typical one. Quoted Marshall quoting a commenter did Kelly as follows:

The pro-gun forces have guns, and practice how to use them to protect “their rights” all the time. They fantasize about pointless shoot outs and martyrdom, as resistance to tyranny.

And of course, in case we might forget, every couple of months one of them enacts these fantasies, in classrooms or public buildings across the country. They are, in short, weaponized bullies with terroristic tendencies, and the public shies away from confronting them. Meanwhile, pro-life activists, though they may get shouted at, have no fear of gun wielding representatives from Planned Parenthood. They know that. And the more highly weaponized the gun crowd becomes, the stronger this repression of other people’s civil right to protest becomes, even as the right knows they may be harangued but they will not be shot. Thus a movement that is responsible for thousands of deaths and tragedies across decades gets no attention, while Fox News froths in the mouth about Bill Ayers.

Marshall offers no commentary on the comment, unless it is via the headline “The Stealth Menace.” If I knew Marshall to be a critic of his own readers’ exaggerated political language, and knew his readers to be unusually sensitive to irony, I would wonder if he had in mind a reference to the kind of rhetoric he happens to be highlighting, rather than the group that commenter “JR”‘s comment directly targets.


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28 comments on “The Stealth Self-Menace (Taking a side is the promise to ‘do it’)

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  1. I’m sorry about my little outburst the other day, CK. You know I have problems with impulse control. And, in any case, I really was only teasing.

    I don’t suppose that, strictly speaking, this is a post about school shootings–and so I shan’t put forward my incredibly offensive take on same.

        • I would be happy to consider your views on this or any other topic, presuming they are expressed with due regard for the rules of discussion at this site (respect for intellectual adversaries, good taste, etc.) as I have explained them to you. If that ain’t enough, wouldn’t you rather avoid besmirching with shameful or unseemly expressions that avatar you’ve adopted?

          So, take a deep breath, reflect on the fact that you yourself recognize that your views may be taken as offensive, and then go right ahead, if you still want to do so, taking care that irrelevancies or secondary faults of expression do not overly obscure your main argument, whatever it is. I’m curious!

          (I wasn’t, by the way, especially worrying about any of that when I posted the post: I needed to test out a certain on-publication function on a live site, and I decided for once to leave things as they were rather than overthought at length. Still, I see no good reason for you to follow my poor example.)

          • No, no, CK–I’ve left behind all my “poor taste” shenanigans and frivolities, I promise. There nonetheless remains what you might consider a certain intrinsic residue of offensiveness that necessarily adheres to my views, seeing that they tend to be far removed from the moral-political thought-world of liberal progressivism.

            I fear, however, that by shamelessly hyping the offensive quality of my view on the subject of school shootings, I may already have promised more than I can deliver. Give me some time, though–whether a few hours, or a few days, I can’t say–and I’ll see if I can articulate something to that end.

            For now, I’ll just whet your appetite.

            You find them terrifically amusing and wish only that there were more of them?

            No, not terrifically amusing–but not terrifically saddening, either.

            As for more of them? Sure, why not?

            To be continued…

  2. Well, CK, I naturally squandered the evening without making the least progress toward writing my offensive comment on school shootings. It’ll have to wait till next week, I’m afraid, if I should get around to it at all. (Due to a personal circumstance, I’m just about always offline Sat.-Tues.)

    But how bout a little teaser?

    Rather than denouncing school shooters, they ought instead to give them full state honors–replete with a state funeral, wherein their caskets lie in state beneath the Capitol rotunda and the President and other luminaries and excellencies come to pay their respects.

    Have a nice weekend.

  3. Okay, one last teaser and then I’m outta here for real.

    The entire country ought to be subjected to the most strict and comprehensive regime of gun control imaginable. Even law enforcement agencies would be disarmed and forced to rely on billy clubs, mace canisters, and tear gas. But a special “School Shooter Permit” ought to be made available. A prospective school shooter would apply for the permit and, once granted (approval should mostly just be a formality), would be given access to a local armory where he may select from a full array of weapons–up to, and including, hand grenades and bazookas.

  4. I trust the black humorous quality of my preceding comments will be recognized by all and sundry. Nonetheless, “black humor” or dark comedy signifies something serious, maybe even deadly serious. That “something” is closely aligned with–if not identical to–the notion that, to thought itself, there is no thought offensive in itself. That notion I would call, following Nietzsche’s usage, “the free mind”–der freie Geist.

    Well, I claimed that I had an “incredibly offensive” take on the subject of school shootings–but surely you know by now that I’m a bit of a buffoon. In fact, I haven’t really considered it at any length, only ever had a fleeting thought–one that puts me in mind of the first aphorism of Nietzsche’s The Gay Science. While I would urge the gentle reader to review the aphorism in its entirety, allow me to quote just a few pertinent sentences therefrom (Kaufmann trans.):

    “Even the most harmful man may really be the most useful when it comes to the preservation of the species; for he nurtures either in himself or in others, through his effects, instincts without which humanity would long have become feeble or rotten.”

    “The species is everything, *one* is always none.”

    “All ethical systems hitherto have been so foolish and anti-natural that humanity would have perished of every one of them if it had gained power over humanity.”

    “Again and again the human race will decree from time to time: ‘There is something at which it is absolutely forbidden henceforth to laugh.'”

    For the most part, I think I’ll just leave it to the reader to ponder how the preceding quotations might be brought to bear on the subject of school shootings–and thereby to glimpse my own fleeting thought thereon.

    I suppose it ought to go without saying that, from the standpoint of the non-philosopher, the free mind–the notion that, to thought as such, there is no thought intrinsically offensive–is itself an intrinsically offensive, or even evil, thought. From the perspective of the non-philosophic multitude, the free mind–which might alternatively be characterized as something like the sum and substance, the essence, of philosophy as a way of life distinct from religion or quasi-religion–is of necessity an evil mind. Keeping in mind (no pun intended) that that perception of the free mind as an evil mind is just that, a perception on the part of a non-practitioner, the ultimate validity of the free mind may well depend on whether the cosmos is best construed as a place that–speaking very generally, of course–is mostly friendly or mostly hostile to the sorts of pursuits with which the non-philosophic masses yearn to preoccupy themselves; things like safety, comfort, leisure, pleasure, fun. If the universe is a friend of such pursuits, if the cosmos is an ally of the multitude’s yearning for a life of non-philosophic gaiety–and thus its yearning for an attendant political order that will conduce to the realization thereof–then the free and evil mind may well be a luxury (and even a perversity) with which we might safely dispense, there being no real need (other than the philosopher’s private, and perhaps perverse, enjoyment) to leave any space in human thought for the contemplation of all that the multitude deems evil.

    I am myself inclined to take the other fork in the road. The universe, as a whole and in the long run, is deeply unfriendly to the sorts of low pursuits which infuse the hearts of the masses (so long as any of those pursuits is upheld as man’s summum bonum) and necessarily unfriendly to the sorts of political orders that seek principally to midwife those pursuits–and thus the evil mind of philosophy will always be necessary and useful as mankind goes his sempiternal way in what, from the point of view of the unwise many, is an evil cosmos.

    To return to the issue of school shootings–. A school shooting in America strikes at the heart of all that Americans hold dear. While students pursue their various courses of technical education, so that they may one day take their place effectively in the highly articulated network of services that enable everyone’s pursuit of safety, comfort and fun, a madman strikes and–well, takes all the safety, comfort and fun out of it. It is a disturbing reminder–one out of God only knows how many–that human life cannot be made safe for the pursuit of comfort and pleasure, so long as humanity (or a given politeia) fails to prepare itself for violence and harm. Any polity that aspires fundamentally to the pursuit of pleasure (whether high or low pleasure, noble or base, makes no difference) is doomed to fail without, at the same time, cultivating a modicum of martial virtue–and thus undermining its hedonistic rationale.

    While the left and the right will continue stridently to debate the merits of their respective proposals to solve the problem (roughly, disarmament and rearmament), I don’t think anyone can reasonably suppose that school shootings aren’t going to be with us for a very long time to come, no matter what–and thus it might behove the devotee of philosophy authentically to accept them. If the free and evil mind has its validity, then it might be a kind of piety of thought itself–in a modest and gentle sort of way–to feel grateful for school shootings, to view them as relatively benign and much-needed reminders (in the midst of a polity whose pre-eminent virtue is liberality) of the cosmos’ elemental opposition to all moral-political idealisms that aspire to realize a permanent state of communal safety, pleasure and non-violence.

    To sum up: If the cosmos is inherently amoral (and thus immoral), then it is inherently inimical to mankind’s moral aspirations–those aspirations being, in a sense, unnatural. In that case, I avow, the free or “evil” mind of philosophy proves to be mankind’s most “natural” possession. I leave it to the fair reader to elaborate the disjunctive proposition.

    • Nice try, I guess, at justifying the simply unjustifiable, the acceptance of which would also imply, as indeed per Nietzsche in ideas and in his life, the end of justifications.

      Declining the implicit challenge to put my own or anyone else’s comprehension of the cosmic all against yours, Mr. McKenzie, I’ll rest for now on the obvious rejoinder: I do not notice any great deficit in need of supply by new memento mori – specifically in the form of dead children, bereaved parents, and hopelessly hopeful political initiatives – as I already am aware of and hour by hour so far interminably re-encounter a surfeit of death and suffering in the world or universe, which in your own description you constitute as nothing other or much more than one great memento and meta-memento.

      The philosopher may encounter this type of nihilism and even try it on for size without approving of it or presuming that anyone’s approval is needed, even before asking what the desire for same must imply. Justifying an attitude approaching indifference – merely approaching, so in its moment perfectly contradictory to its momentum – would be an easier task. Perhaps the violent deaths of several or tens of schoolchildren in Oregon or Connecticut or just over the hill should not matter to me as much as the death of my pets some years ago, or of my friend’s mother two days ago, or of the spider spinning a web in my living room last night, but I can see no reason, given that information alone, to favor the erasure of the lives of the spider, the elderly parent, Annie or Buddy, or the schoolchidren some days ago. In your view, merely giving me something to ponder ought to be justification enough, but it would be pondering to no apparent or, indeed, according to your nihilistic precepts, no possible purpose.

      • I think you elide an important distinction. In my comment, I described what I termed the “free and evil mind” of philosophy–taking flight from my own (undoubtedly tasteless) precedent attempts at black humor, Nietzsche’s der freie Geist, as well as your own prior ruminations on the notion of philosophic thought’s incapacity to experience any intrinsic offense in thoughts themselves.

        Now, while my comment trafficked in a certain ambiguity, I don’t think I in fact endorsed the philosopher’s free and evil meditation. What I did in fact endorse is the notion that the universe is better characterized as an evil, rather than a good, cosmos. And thus I concluded–absent some mitigating factor or other–that the free and evil mind of philosophy might be so eminently natural as to constitute mankind’s “nature” par excellence. That “might” is significant. And I leave aside as well, for now, the possibility that man’s nature might be susceptible of an ascent to the supernatural.

        It seems to me that, given your embrace of a philosophical sect, you are the one far more committed to the validity of philosophy’s free and evil mind than I–despite your apparent reluctance to come to terms with the possibility that to practice “free thought” is necessarily tightly to embrace the amoral (and thus immoral), however momentarily. Just because we worship the devil one minute at a time, we aren’t absolved thereby from the charge of devil-worship.

        Oddly enough, in spite of your reply’s aversion to my comment, you do indeed seem to grant its thesis–the universe is basically evil. Yet you go on to imply that, despite that unhappy basis, a kind of shallow sentimentalism is nonetheless warranted. Until you clarify how you coordinate an evil cosmos and a human response to it that warrants an attempt at the formation of states whose immanent telos is the pursuit of happiness, I’ll have to assume that your reaction to my comment was animated by a certain frustration with my chosen means of expression rather than by “thought” as such.

  5. Upon further review of my lengthy comment wherein I initially discuss what I term “the free and evil mind” of philosophy, I think it’s clear that I did in fact endorse it–on the basis that the universe to which it needs must adequate itself is inherently evil. I characterize it as “necessary and useful”.

    I don’t think the necessity and utility of the evil mind (“free thought”, free inquiry) is incompatible with the notion of a “higher” (read: theoretical, intellectual, spiritual) truth of moral idealism. But I do think an evil universe so militates against the realization of a higher moral idealism that it is made de facto politically inconsequential thereby–and to the extent that we try to compel its realization, may well become another manifestation of the cosmos’ underlying evil tendency.

    But I think the key points of my previous comment stand.

    You’ve yet to come to terms fully with the fact that free inquiry = amoral inquiry = evil inquiry. That is the point of the notion that, to thought as such, there are no thoughts intrinsically offensive in themselves–not even thoughts that entertain the notion that school shootings might be a blessing to society as a whole.

    And again, given the fact that you appear to grant the truth of the idea that the cosmos is more realistically characterized as evil than good (I think it’s very difficult not to grant that), you need to explain how a society dedicated to pleasure or happiness (high or low it makes no difference, but the USA is obviously committed to the latter sort) can realistically be durable in an inherently evil cosmos.

    Would I be right to suppose that you will take what I understand to be the Hegelian route? Namely, that its durability is built upon precedent evil and vice, the proverbial “slaughter-bench of history”? If so, you’ll almost be making my own case for me.

  6. As I said in my earlier reply, I don’t quite see the need to get into the question of the cosmos, at least yet. I put my criticism in terms of “justification,” but the point was as much to address contradictions in your treatment of the notion of “evil.” You seem at some points to mean “evil from the point of view of people in general,” but, in disassociating the philosopher from this perspective, you necessarily are disassociating the philosopher from the judgment. In short, in your depiction, the philosopher appears neutral toward that which society calls good or evil, in line with a cosmos that is likewise neutral, and society interprets the former as “evil,” while refusing to accept the latter. Why should I or anyone choose society’s judgment, which indeed you question fundamentally, over the alternative?

    As I said, I’m leaving aside the question of whether the cosmos really can be consistently conceived in this way (since for the cosmos to be conceived, there must be a being conceiving, and a being-conceiving, and likewise a being judging or refraining to judge the cosmos as good or evil, and good or evil at all are all concepts that refer us to being as other than mere being…), because until I know what you can possibly mean by “evil,” I would not want to venture into explaining why I believe it is nonsensical to describe the cosmos as evil or as simply evil. If there is evil, then there must be something other than evil. If there is something other than evil, than the universe isn’t simply evil. You might urge upon some kind of weighing of the evil and the not-evil against each other, but I suspect it will turn out to be absurd.

    • I think you’ve rightly divided or parsed my remarks and their implications. Where I think the “popular” or societal view and the philosophical view do, in point of fact, coincide, has to do with the following observation.

      In short, in your depiction, the philosopher appears neutral toward that which society calls good or evil, in line with a cosmos that is likewise neutral, and society interprets the former as “evil,” while refusing to accept the latter.

      The morally “neutral”, i.e. the amoral, is, by definition, immoral–and, in the popular or “religious” view, evil. Now, you might quibble whether the immoral equates to the evil, but I’d be very surprised if you were to attempt the equation of the immoral and the moral.

      So, let’s set aside for now my controversial deployment of the term “evil”. What I finally asserted is that the cosmos is “better characterized”–not of course absolutely cognized, as you say (but surely it’s a legitimate endeavor for a human being to characterize the cosmos, if not absolutely to cognize it, and I’ll only remind you of your characterization of same as a place where memento mori are not in need of resupply)–as amoral than moral, and thus immoral. And therefore the philosophic mind, as the mind in search of universal, cosmic, natural, eternal truth, necessarily participates in the immorality of the universe, cosmos, nature, etc.

      In other words, there really is no refuge in terms like “amoral” or “neutral”–an absence of morality is every bit as immoral as is an explicit opposition to what is moral. In fact, what is popularly called “immorality” usually takes the form of a particular departure from the canon of morality. Amorality, however, tends to negate the canon as such.

      Of course, I grant that the path I have taken in my comments isn’t the only path to be trod. As Longstreet said to Lee not long before the fateful charge on the third day of the battle of Gettysburg: “That way to the right is still open, General.” Mutatis mutandis, you can take that way yourself, CK–as you yourself have hinted more than once. Namely–maybe the cosmos isn’t best characterized as amoral/immoral/evil. Maybe it’s better characterized as moral/good. I”m personally inclined to suppose that that’s a very hard road to go down. But if you care to go down that road, I’m all ears.

  7. Also, because our most recent exchange has somewhat dislodged the controversy from its embedded context, I’d like to remind us both of that context.

    If the world, the cosmos, nature, etc. is inimical to what is moral by virtue of being amoral–and is thus a relatively harsh place for human striving–how can a society dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure/happiness be viable in any long term?

  8. In other words, there really is no refuge in terms like “amoral” or “neutral”–an absence of morality is every bit as immoral as is an explicit opposition to what is moral.

    According to whom or according to what rationale? I view the angle at which the pen on my desk happens to be lying as neither moral nor immoral. I am neutral regarding the position of my pen. Why are we, my pen and I, immoral?

    • Nice try, I guess, etc.

      What you’re saying–and what you’ve implied more than once–is that you don’t care to characterize the nature of things, the nature of things “writ large”. I suppose that’s a legitimate option–in some respects, I think it’s Nietzsche’s option–but it still seems to me that to pose the question, “Is the world the sort of place where political orders dedicated to the realization of personal pleasure and happiness make sense?”, is legitimate. By inference, you don’t think it is a question legitimately posed.

      And, if that’s what you think, then I’d sincerely be interested in entertaining your further thoughts thereon. I’d like to hear them. Please don’t think you’d just be wasting your time.

  9. “Is the world the sort of place where political orders dedicated to the realization of personal pleasure and happiness make sense?”

    Alternatively, there must be some reformulation or rephrasing of this question that you would deem acceptable. What would that be?

  10. I view the angle at which the pen on my desk happens to be lying as neither moral nor immoral. I am neutral regarding the position of my pen. Why are we, my pen and I, immoral?

    And–if I might be permitted, however unadvisedly, to tackle your reduction to absurdity–that it is as easy to step entirely out of the domain of the moral and the good as to glance down at one’s desk… Ought that not give a man at least some pause?

  11. The cosmos is so inimical to our moral aspiration and idealism, that it is as easy as to glance down at our desk as to become one with the perspective of amorality. So, if we hope to realize our moral aspiration and idealism in any serious way, we’re going to have to work very hard to overcome the natural disposition–always ready to hand, just a glance away–to moral inertia. In other words, we must pursue virtue. Pleasure, the “pleasant” life, the pursuit of happiness, ain’t gonna cut it. Societies dedicated to the realization of personal pleasure and happiness, must necessarily gravitate toward natural, ready-to-hand amorality, because it takes cultivated discipline to overcome it, discipline which the hedonistic political order fails to cultivate–and when societies, unlike pens, are amoral or “neutral”, they really are immoral.

    • I’ll take the last comment first, and see how doing so affects responding to the earlier ones:

      The cosmos, in your depiction or according to your idea of the cosmos, is “inimical” to our “moral aspirations and ideas,” since it is easy for me to divorce myself from the latter simply by considering the random arrangement of inanimate objects without imputing any moral significance to same. But “I” haven’t divorced myself from morality. I have just engaged in an observation about which morality, or morality as I conceive it, has nothing to say. As a matter of fact, I have done so in defense of morality, or morality to me or the possibility of a meaningful morality, which would pertain to things that matter morally, not to things that cannot matter morally.

      Apparently, if I were to find myself on the Moon without a spacesuit or spaceship, I would die within seconds. That makes the Moon inhospitable to me, and therefore possibly to any aspirations or ideals that depend on my actively seeking them – like much of the rest of the universe. Indeed, the interior of any mountain or the depths of any ocean would be for all intents and purposes equally inhospitable to my ideas and myself. Sheerly as a matter of so-called objective or physical measurement, the Earth is overwhelmingly more hostile than supportive of me, and overwhelmingly utterly unconcerned with or unmoved by my aspirations and ideals. The sun, upon which all life depends, cannot even be approached. It cannot even be looked at safely. We orbit a Medusa.

      Yet how could it possibly be sensible to view what sustains our lives as hostile or “inimical” to them? If there were no cosmos, there would obviously be no lives for it to “endanger” or for “it” not to take into consideration as it goes unconsciously about its evil cosmic business.

      All of which is a roundabout way of returning to the simple observation that there can be no meaningful concept of evil in the absence of a meaningful concept of the good. At some level of reduction, not far from the point beyond which there is no “further” of relevance to questions of morality, around the one where words like “pleasure” and “happiness” become quite unstable, we have always already “chosen life.”

      What life, this “possession” of an inconceivably minuscule speck of matter, has going for it further is this: From the perspective of living-being or conceived-beings-conceiving, life is infinite. Death is always a theory or fantasy about something that hitherto has never actually occurred for us, and that by definition cannot occur, as it is the idea, or impossible fantasy, of the end of occurrences, or of possibility. What unites all of our “observations” of the vastly “inimical” universe is that, wherever we look, there is no looking without us (wherever you go, there you are).

      We note the absence of people, or the absenting of people from our purview. We look at the hospital equipment and see the heartbeat stop, and we make educated guesses about what it means. We call our presence to ourselves “life,” and assign and consign infinities of the past and future to non-existence, and, yet, at the same time, we or some of us apparently including you, propose a cosmos that is somehow both observed and never-observed – “mere being.” So your cosmos inimical to us is not just a cosmos of death but a dead cosmos. The problem is that this cosmos does not exist and cannot exist. The only cosmos and only existence in which we believe is the one in which we are alive and observing, and that neither exists nor can exist except within our observation. What we know is that we are infinite exactly as far as we know, immortal so far. All else is speculation.

      As for “good” and “evil,” what we know to begin with and never escape is a presumption of a “better.” There is no speaking, no conversing, that does not occur without the presumption on the part of the speaker in relation to the audience real or imagined that the world or a relations to it will be “better” for what is to be spoken to have been spoken than otherwise. The “better” may be a mad and twisted “better” understood and accepted only by the speaker, but, for example, when the nihilist sociopath rises to speak “in favor” of school shootings, his speaking is always a speaking toward “betterment,” toward, in this instance, a universe better somehow, or less worse, for acknowledgment of the truth of its truthlessness. So, the will to the good, even if it’s a twisted and actually pointless, false, and to others worthless good of a more authentically recognized as evil universe, remains ineluctable. In the universe as it really is known to us – including us, infinite and immortal, so far – all speaking is pervaded by the good, and so the cosmos, the real cosmos as we know and ever can conceive it, not the imaginary cosmos that would somehow be real but never imagined, is a cosmos of the good or goods, pervaded by seeking the better.

      • I intend to engage your comment more fully, God willing. Having just read it for the first time, I’d like to make one observation and ask one question.

        The “better” may be a mad and twisted “better” understood and accepted only by the speaker, but, for example, when the nihilist sociopath rises to speak “in favor” of school shootings, his speaking is always a speaking toward “betterment,” toward, in this instance, a universe better somehow, or less worse, for acknowledgment of the truth of its truthlessness.

        Yes–and so the “nihilist sociopath”, it would seem, proves to be something other than that.

        In your comment, you consistently impute to me the view that the amoral cosmos is inimical to “life”, human “life”–whereas I thought I’d made more or less clear that I set up the amoral cosmos in opposition to a sociopolitical pursuit of pleasure/happiness–not “life” as such, in particular the “life” of virtue or virtù. Why do you do that?

        • Yes–and so the “nihilist sociopath”, it would seem, proves to be something other than that.

          Yes, that’s true – or I think it’s true in an important sense, though there’s some question, as often in such things, about what the name is to be held to indicate. From a consistent idealist perspective, the word “nihilist,” like “materialist” and even “atheist,” is the name for someone who mistakenly believes that which properly speaking cannot actually be believed, since each is the name of a paradox, an “idea of no ideas.” So, “nihilism” is the name for a series of wrong beliefs, including the belief that it is the name for an actually tenable position. But “nihilist” is also the name for “person called ‘nihilist,’ if with poor justification.” The Nihilists of 19th Century Russia may have believed in the believability of many finally unbelievable things, and to have acted on that basis in certain characteristic ways. So though they were not, because no one can be, “really” rigorously nihilists in the sense that they didn’t and couldn’t really believe in “nothing” or in the nihilation of everything believed by anyone, they gave it the old college try.

          Something similar is going on with the different interpretations of your notion of an amoral-as-immoral cosmos – and has to do with why I resisted getting into cosmology, and tried to get a clarification of what you meant by “evil.”

          Associating the question with the question of the philosopher vs non-philosophers pointed toward the absolutization of the question. I think that questions around the hedonistic society occur on a different level. As I suggested, “pleasure” and “happiness” become unstable as concepts, and I think ought to be separated. “Pleasure” mainly refers to a transitory experience. “Happiness” can refer to a transitory state, or it can also stand for a kind of overall judgment eventually connected to the highest human goals.

          Whether typically modern and liberal individualist conceptions of “happiness” are flawed in a somewhat parallel way to the way that conceptions of “nihilism” are flawed isn’t an idle question. Diverse thinkers have suggested more or less convincingly that the end point of the Enlightenment is realized nihilism, here as the nullification and annihilation of meaning: Technological progress as the complete triumph over nature and therefore the indistinction of mortality and immortality and in a certain way of truth and falsehood: The achievement of an infinite span of existence for a life not conceivably worth living – the true realization of the falsity of the untrue.

      • Yet how could it possibly be sensible to view what sustains our lives as hostile or “inimical” to them?

        It couldn’t possibly be sensible–and so I’m glad I haven’t viewed it that way. Is there, however, any prospect that “what sustains our lives” might at the same time be inimical to our idealisms? You might disagree about which or what sort of idealisms are inhibited by that which “sustains our lives”, but surely you don’t suppose that it lacks all sense to view it as a possible problem. In fact, isn’t modern philosophy in general a response to the past grounded in the notion that that which sustains our lives doesn’t sustain certain of our previously attempted idealisms? In effect, I criticize modern political philosophy on analogous grounds. It is an attempt at a kind of idealism of pleasure that I avow will not succeed.

        All of which is a roundabout way of returning to the simple observation that there can be no meaningful concept of evil in the absence of a meaningful concept of the good.

        Precisely so. And the gist of all my remarks is that the good is not to be identified with pleasure or happiness. More specifically, the political telos of any community ought not to be to facilitate the private pursuit of pleasure/happiness.

        we or some of us apparently including you, propose a cosmos that is somehow both observed and never-observed

        Including, say, Lucretius. I suppose that your architectonic criticism of De Rerum Natura would more or less track your criticism of the view I have put forward in this disputation. I only mention this because you’re criticizing me for something that is rather commonplace in the tradition–that is to say, characterizing the cosmos as such. In fact, I’m not entirely persuaded that any philosopher abstains therefrom. But, as I say, I’m willing to entertain your view on this at further length if you would care to speak more about it.

        I’m not against life and I’m not keen to overemphasize death. I guess my whole point would be that death needs to be emphasized to an appropriate degree, and that–despite the ongoing death of innumerable Fidos and the steady supply of memento mori they represent, as well as your assurance that we can be apodictically certain of immortality and thus have no need of memento mori–American society tends radically to underemphasize death and pain, as is natural to a political order that pursues pleasure above all else.

        • Is there, however, any prospect that “what sustains our lives” might at the same time be inimical to our idealisms?

          Of course, there is, but not as critique of “the cosmos” (though we would next have to define what you mean by “the cosmos”). As critique of “the way of the world” or “the way of our world”: possibly. As criticism of a “deal” one might like to cancel: certainly.

          As for the rest, see above regarding distinctions between pleasure and happiness, and between different notions of happiness. I don’t disagree with you fundamentally about the inadequacy of conceptions of the good that we call typically modern, or necessarily with your criticisms of American society, or some of them, but blowing the latter up into theo-ontological questions the answers to which somehow lead to an approval, however tentative, of school shootings short circuits the inquiry. The problem I think you want to address has been examined by many authors, but none of them required an approval of semi-random slaughter of children to make the point.

          • Cosmos means “world”, as you know, and I’ve more or less used it in that sense. So “way of the world” isn’t a bad shorthand for what I’ve been getting at, though I admittedly revel in the grandiose resonance of “cosmos”. Without saying so, I’ve more or less referred to a concept of the cosmos or world that is broadly consonant with Christianity–wherein the devil is the kosmokrator and the cosmos itself may well be a living, sinful, fallen being.

            Now, the “Christian” fallen cosmos is only a vague background thought that I don’t think is crucial to my argument (such that I have an argument). I suppose that it goes without saying that what I have said is as well more or less consonant with the sort of Sartrean, lifeless cosmos which you have remarked as the prospective “cosmos-concept” of my argument.

            So, I prefer a Christian “cosmos-concept” in either its traditional or secularized form, as I think it accords well with how things seem. For the purpose of our discussion, I’m not emphasizing Christianity as such, just its “cosmos-concept” or a near relation.

            One of my key thrusts is that I am not a political hedonist and so I don’t think that mitigating physical pain ought to be one of our pre-eminent moral-political concerns. That obviously puts me at odds with most folks, including you, and there’s really nothing I can, or care, to do about that. You see that at the beginning of this exchange, where I portray an indifference to the suffering caused by school shootings. This has engendered a certain amount of “displeasure” on your part. But one of my contentions would be that, if we weren’t in a political order consecrated to the individual pursuit of pleasure, we wouldn’t be having “school shootings” as a distinct phenomenon. I won’t unpack that idea–as you say, there’s nothing I’m saying here (beside the specific connection to “school shootings”) that’s original. I think you can conduct the implied critique yourself.

            The problem I think you want to address has been examined by many authors, but none of them required an approval of semi-random slaughter of children to make the point.

            With all due respect, I think this is more clever than authentically challenging. Taking your remark at face value, is it really the case, for example, that Nietzsche doesn’t require it–all the senseless cruelties of the ages? If he does, then I’ve refuted the “none of them” of your remark. Didn’t Hegel require the slaughter-bench of history? You say he didn’t approve? Oh, I suspect he was far less squeamish than you, CK. You don’t think Kojeve approved of the slaughter-bench and even the purge? Do you know that Carl Schmitt called the Night of the Long Knives “the highest form of administrative law”? Didn’t de Maistre require a little slaughter and sacrifice? Didn’t the Florentine have some peculiar advice for his prince? Maybe they didn’t urge an “acceptance” of school shootings, but then again they didn’t live to see this new and strange fruit of the society consecrated to the pleasure-seeking individual.

            • I’d thought you might have something like the “fallen cosmos” in mind, but I think you’ll accept that it qualifies as simply a Christian view (with a strong flavor of gnosticism), rather than as the Christian view. Declaring, as some have, that “Satan reigns in this world” poses problems, or introduces contradictions, in relation to any in theory Christian politics.

              In general usage today, of course, “cosmos” tends to refer us to the modern astronomical concept and Carl Sagan’s “billions and billions” of whichever astronomical objects. In the Medieval “cosmos,” the heavens were a vault, a ceiling as though just beyond our fingertips, often the dwelling place of angels (who had brushed aside the Greek pantheon), not an all but unthinkably large expanse into curved spacetime. Some Medieval thinkers – for instance Ibn Rushd, usually taken as a rationalist among the primitives – took aspects of the Ptolemaic astrological model to be established fact. He also understood the Heavens to be obviously and demonstrably (his certainty on the subject is unambiguous) suffused with vitality and systematically connected to life on Earth, virtually the opposite of the common view today, according to which, as we are frequently reminded, we are unimaginably minuscule particles within an unimaginably vast and mostly lifeless universe. My own somewhat Idealist depiction, of the irreducibility of the observer or the subjective to any objective observation (in its achievement, in its enunciation, in its reception, in its being made meaningful) can be taken as an effort to make Rushdian sense of the materialist quantitative diminution of “beings” in relation to “mere being.”

              For Heidegger, the word “world” referred to the world as of concern to human beings. It amounts to “the human world,” the realm of things that might possibly matter to us. Whether or not God, the angels, or Zeus and the Olympians, or Isis and Osiris, or the spirit of the brook, have anything to do with us and this world would be a separate question, unlikely to be answered by astronomical observations as normally performed.

              As for your gallery of evil philosophers viewing the way of the world in the long view, or as though from orbit or maybe from 10 billion light years away themselves, I don’t accept that even Nietzsche’s unbounded yes to everything existing amounts to any simple approval of a school shooting, since the immensely and overwhelmingly negative response also “exists.” From those thinkers and in such thought generally, we encounter some more or less secular theodicy, with, as I have pointed out many times by now, all of the problems of the more conventionally religious theodicy, in which the individual who would, say, praise God after the Holocaust, or after an earthquake in Chile, and see any higher purpose in it, is accused of simply praising the Holocaust and earthquakes, or approving of the Holocaust and earthquakes, or, likewise, of approving of war for its own sake, including all and especially the worst acts associated with war.

              For “Holocaust” or earthquake or war we can substitute any other commonly acknowledged evil: chattel slavery, school shootings, the final episodes of LOST and SEINFELD. For a Christian the list includes the Crucifixion, of course. To say, loosely, that one might approve of a school shooting for all the good it does, for its reminding us that we are mortal and that a life or society dedicated to transitory pleasure is no life or society at all, is very much like saying loosely that one approves of the Crucifixion for all the good that it has done. Leaving aside the horrendous claim of a right and ability to judge the act as God’s act, not ours, if we were simply to approve of the Crucifixion, on the basis of a theory – perfect moderns! – then we remove from it its power to do the good that we attribute to it. We obviate theodicy. Instead of turning us toward salvation, the evil or most evil act turns us toward the abyss, unmoved by the suffering of our fellow human beings.

              All of those men viewed the vast body of humanity somewhat in the manner of doctors (if not with equal degrees of qualification for the operations they moved to perform). They did not (except perhaps in moments of madness) lightly proceed to vivisect that body. They understood the cries of pain and all the mess as unavoidable, but did not seek the pain and mess gratuitously. Without the presumption of our nearly universal, human-definitional actual inability to remain indifferent, their teachings would have no possible meaning at all.

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The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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