Commenter Archive

On “American Idealism, American Identity – Thread by @dhnexon, with Brief Comments

I'm not sure if the prism Nexon is using here works. Not the least reason is it's tough for me to put Ike, Reagan and both Bushes on the same plane even if one is trying to draw out a distinction with Trump.

I also remember a lot of Soros haterade from the 'traditional' right on the internet during the Bush II administration, in the vein of 'he's not promoting liberal democracy, he's promoting an international progressive socialist agenda'

To me, it still comes down to that the foreign policy establishments, left and right, have never really come to grips with the 'what ought to be' questions that emerged in the aftermath of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Defeating Nazis and other fascists was easy and straightforward. Defeating Communism was a longer slog, but eventually accomplished (with a lot more people taking credit for it than they deserve). Then after a decade of just operating in the moment, a whole lot of people thought they found their new lodestone after 9/11, but Bush went on a disastrous neo-Wilsonian adventure, and Obama couldn't decide whether to fish or cut bait.

On “Brain ‘rewires’ itself to enhance other senses in blind people – Harvard Medical School

I misquoted you with my "We strip away..." What I meant to refer to was your "So the business of cognitive science will be to strip away what is non-essential to thinking and confine it to the realm of mere things." So as I understand you, thinking would be not a mere thing. But what is it? Your characterization of any characterization as an interesting failure is interesting.

Nagarjuna goes on to distinguish essences as nullities versus things without essence that drive their "thingness" from their functionality, their place in the matrix of causes and conditions. This contains all the begged questions and paradoxes of mereology in general.

So his solution is to argue that things are only things because of their functionality. That we can perceive them and how they function proves they are things. "Essence", since it does not reside in the matrix of causes and conditions, does not function, so therefore does not exist.

Nargajuna occupies a unique place in Buddhist thought. He is regarded as the person whom Buddha prophesied as the only person following him to really get it right. So, at least Mahayana-ites all have to assert they conform to his writings - with more of less success.

So all this is probably way more response than is functional, but its been tough writing for quite a while now, and this just flowed to a greater extent than has been true. So I went with it. Hope you found it reasonably interesting.


Nagarjuna's reasoning is correct, based on his presumptions.

...if “we strip away the non-essential” fully, we are left with nothing.

Or, more precisely, we are left with "no thing," which would not be the same... thing... as absolute nullity.


Perhaps my Buddhst buddies' long version can be condensed to a stanza.

Augmenting the Dalai Lama's famous (poorly paraphrased as)"if science contradicts anything Buddhism teaches we'll have to revise it" he said something about science's basic "ontological confusion". That is describing how something works is not describing its essence - since essence does not exist.

The essential Nagurjuna puts like this:

Essence arising from
Causes and conditions makes no sense.
Essence arisen from causes and conditions
Would be created.

So if "we strip away the non-essential" fully, we are left with nothing.


You could take the position - and on reflection it would be a quite arguable position, if not necessarily a practical assumption to guide research - that the essence of thinking, what we ought to think of as thinking truly, must always finally evade detection, or must be that which detecting cannot detect, because it is already the detecting. So the business of cognitive science will be to strip away what is non-essential to thinking and confine it to the realm of mere things. The science as opposed to the philosophy of thinking would be a continually pushing away of its object by closing in on it - or an endless series of potentially interesting failures. So, like every other science, only especially so. Or: Since "science" could stand for "thought," any science of science would be infinitely regressive meta-science, science of science of science of science ad infinitum. For the long version I'm afraid it would be back to Hegel or maybe to some of your Buddhist buddies.


Absolutely. As I said, a quibble. But on reflection, the idea that brains can develop differently in an observable way as a result of a difference in the sensory field it processes is pretty breathtaking.

For me, the word "rewiring" has a visceral immediacy that perhaps over emphasizes the "re" part of it. Still, I think science reporting too often is not as precise as it could be and still retain readability.

Your last paragraph interests me... At this point in the proceedings, how can we think anything else?


I guess the implication is that them brains is turning out differently than they might have been expected to turn out otherwise - the main takeaway being that the condition of blindness correlates with objectively measurable or detectable organic differences in brain structure, whatever terms you apply to them.

I was interested by the article in part because I have frequently seen people asserting that the traditional claim regarding enhancement or alteration of other senses was a myth. Also interesting that changes in memory and language processing are also detected.

Would of course also be interesting if other "re-wirings" were detected. When I was reading up on cognitive science or neuroscience years ago, it was my understanding that one of the premises undergirding them/it was that every change in mental or subjective state must correlate with an in theory detectable alteration in physical state - that every thought is also a thing or is thingy.


A rhetorical quibble:

In this context, "rewires" seems not quite the right metaphor. Not surprisingly, the abstract uses more scientific rather than metaphoric language. Since the paper examines the scans of very early onset blindness, it may be more a case of their brains developing differently rather than "rewiring" which suggests individual brains changed structurally.

Such adaptability in development would be just as significant as any acquired changes in structure.

On “Benjamin Wittes: How to Read What Comey Said Today – Lawfare

Yeah, I read C's comments as trying to do a variety of things at the same time, having the effect of making interpretation more difficult.

Any investigation of T himself would seem to be conducted in a very closely held way. If there is a there there about T himself, C's probably got one shot when he goes public. You can't read the tea leaves until the tea stops roiling around the cup.

If C was describing an ongoing investigation that is "one step away from the president", how does it not constantly invoke the "what/when did he know it" question, ie be about the pres himself.


Sure, so why do they have "work Phones" they take home? Even if they don't have fate of the world responsibilities, who they work for does, and if I'm that person and I call up Bob R&F's work phone for a point of info, I want an answer right then.

A minor point at best....

BTW what happened to my avatar?


Idunno - but there are a fairly large number of people working at the WH. Not all of them are on 24/7 call, fate of the world hinging on their answering immediately.


I'm struggling to understand who "rank and file White House aides" could refer to. It's pretty rarified real estate - is there "rank and file" anything there? Which gets to my real question - whoever they are, how can they get away with turning off their work phones ever? I mean that's kinda the point of such phones - 24/7 availability.

On “American Idealism, American Identity – Thread by @dhnexon, with Brief Comments

The discussion is an ancient discussion, so I'm not saying anything even remotely new or original if I point out that, in the dialectic of the liberalizing state, a failure point is reached where, precisely for the reasons you offer, people, as we say, "forget who they are" or no longer can tell who or what they authentically are or what they authentically care about or whether they authentically care about anything at all. It's at the point, explaining why, that we see "the best lack all conviction." It's at the same point that a Trump slouches toward DC to be born, the kind of figure we would need to invent if he didn't arise on his own, as we also say, discounting the possibility that we really did invent him, if not quite consciously. We need an enemy, in this theory, to know who our friends are, and, since we don't have the evil aliens invading the planet, we turn to and against the evil aliens we conjure among us out of the available human material. In the classic game, the ones who move first meet little resistance, so their power waxes for a time, but over the same period they themselves become enemies much more satisfactory, more really dangerous and reprehensible, than the ones they made up, and so discover and in discovering enable the founding of the true and righteous resistance. Surely it will arise. What seems less certain, and would be unknowable ahead of time, is how much it will resemble either the new enemy or the prior losers.


I think it's a common liberal desire, and one that isn't at all easily obtained, to allow people to commit to those identities without ever having their commitment tested to the point of destruction. One of the great triumphs of American liberalism (mostly accomplished before left-liberalism was a distinct thing) was to allow Christian sectarian identities to peacefully coexist without the "unto death" part.

Viewing this as some sort of anodyne state of nature is where, I think, left-liberals tend to veer into "hollow universalism". It's a wonderful and rare form of freedom, and to quote from the more traditional American right (ctrl-right? Top 40 right?), freedom isn't free. It's taken a lot of work, sacrifice and care to make it possible.

As an aside, I wonder if the reason jihadists seem to pose a challenge to liberalism wildly disproportionate to any level of physical threat (relative to, say, communism in the 20th century) is because jihadism is maniacally focused on mass murder/suicide as a demonstration of authenticity.

On “Eric Levitz: The Case for Countering Trumpism With ‘Left-Wing Economics’ – New York

He cares, or cared, about people getting the impression he cared about whether people had the impression he cared about their caring, and that's about as close to authentically caring as they've mostly gotten.


The mere idea, let alone observable reality apparently, that one has to explain to people that an Old Money oligarch whose spent the last several decades slapping his name on everything & living in a gold encrusted tower does not care about the working class... I'm slackjawed at this.

America gets an F in Basic Class Consciousness 101.

On “The Deep State vs the Derp State (OAG #10)

Seems especially any Fuehrer-principle-ish movement has to assume malign counter-agents, since otherwise it would have to acknowledge that the world may not really be susceptible to His Indomitable Will, or its Triumph. But everyone who proposes anything "radical" faces at least some version of that problem. The Left or progressivism gets into its own peculiar trouble along those lines, too. The assumption is that the same history bending inexorably toward justice requires expert interventions uniquely by Leftists or progressives, but the prospects for collective human agency, whether of the masses or its vanguard, are also exaggerable.


You clearly got the gist, but for clarity's sake I want to amend my last sentence. It reads "The DS here would be anything at all preventing the speed and efficiency of carrying out nuclear weapons orders."

It should read, "The DS here would be anything at all preventing the speed and efficiency of carrying out nuclear weapons orders in carrying out all Presidential orders, Exec Actions etc."

Or rather it should read as a smoother version of the meaning of that.

Yeah, at any rate the DS definition I offer would render the use of such a portentous phrase "DS" trivial. My reading is that B/T use it portentousness to disguise the vacuousness of what they are saying. Kinda like watching something by David Lynch, but less entertaining.

To me the crucial element is how one construes agency. T/B and perhaps the Right in general have, to my mind, too robust a sense of individual agency. When that seems thwarted, it must only be because of some other, stronger individual agency at work, rather than the force of the political/physical ecology we, or "we", are embedded in.


I did read up to the moment comments at OT but decided to respond here.

When the lefties vs the righties start arguing about Trump's 2005 1040, I tend to think it's time to move the discussion elsewhere - so, welcome home.

The jump-cut to nukes was initially jarring, but thanks much for the links to the Wallerstein pieces, which I agree are interesting, and even apart from this context.

I'm not ready to accept the definition of the DS that you offer, or of "the good DS," but the example does encapsulate the problem - or the wish (or our hope, their fear). Hoping the DS will check Trump is also a bit like hoping there really is a conspiracy of Illuminati running things, because even if they're evil, at least they still need a world to run, and a major war and even less Depression probably aren't really in their interests. The other hope is that the good citizen finds zerself in the right place at the right time by the will of God or American dumb luck or something. But it's hard for me to see Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov as an appendage of the Soviet Deep State, which was a very Deep State indeed. He was more an appendage of the State, period. Likewise a soldier refusing an evil order post-Nuremberg is choosing the "exception" or a unique form of it, from the Deep State of the Whole World to Come.


Well done. And as such deserves thoughtful responses. But a lot to get to, so let me start with some prelim remarks. I did read up to the moment comments at OT but decided to respond here.

So part of the definitional issue is whose DS are we talking about. The Bannon/Trump one seems the most relevant, so what's going on with their use of the term.

It does not seem to refer to the entrenched bureaucracy, but rather a sinster version of it, in league with non-govt elements. The "in league with" is I thnik important because it suggests intentionality and agency to the DS, rather than the accumulation of millions of individual actions done only with the intention of doing one's work, and generally without any or much coordination.

So this DS alludes to, if not actually asserts, the DS of say Turkey. This is, I think part of the frequently allusive rhetoric of T/B that seems to lie, but also seems to strike a chord with a part of the population. Even if they don't understand the specific reference, they get the affective one.

I only have so much juice today, so I'm going to skip ahead in my response, hopefully to fill in later.

The one place the Pres is able to perform a radical action is launching nuclear weapons. Excellent posts on this by Alex Wallerstein here and here.

As he notes:

And from a practical standpoint, we know the system is set up so that the people at the very bottom, the people “turning the keys” and actually launching the missiles, are trained to not question (or even deeply contemplate) the orders that reach them. They are trained, rather explicitly, that if the order comes in, their job is to execute it — not quite like robots, but close-enough to that. The speed and reliability of the system requires these people to do so, and they are not in a position to inquire about the “big picture” behind the order (and would not presume to be qualified to evaluate that).

Perhaps this is what T/B is after in running the entire govt. Perhaps this partially accounts for his fetishization of nuclear weapons.

The DS here would be anything at all preventing the speed and efficiency of carrying out nuclear weapons orders.

On “One doctor’s experience telling patients Trump is president – Slate

OK, but I'll give him a bit of latitude, too, since I did enjoy his observations.


See, this is why I'm as you say "an enemy of irony". So to avoid past ironic feedback loops, please extend to me some latitude as a friend of this site.

"Ah, to be him for a day."

Fuck you doc.

On “Yearning for President Blog – OAG #9

I think for these purposes Facebook would be a rough equivalent for blogging, though as an inferior alternative given Facebook's limitations. As a "midpoint" Facebook seems to make it intentionally difficult to share smoothly to Twitter and other services, for example. Otherwise, there are just too many things you can't do, or that it's very difficult to do, with Facebook. The major thing it has going for it is that it is very good at doing what it does do: It's very fast, for instance. I dislike it too much, and use it too little, to comment further on it with much confidence. What do you think?


Is the in-between point between a Tweet and a blog post the "Facebook essay"?

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