Friday, October 18, 2019

Nixon and Trump compared

As the Watergate scandal started to kick into high gear in the spring of 1973, the Village Voice published a story about Nixon on the run with his friend, Bebe Rebozo, in Miami during a vacation. They spent almost two days at Grand Key island, which was owned by Nixon friend Robert Alplanalp, the inventor of the aerosol valve – every time you spray something from a bottle, you can thank Nixon’s buddy.
The VV story by Craig Karpel speculated that “he is said … to have built some sort of orgone box on Grand Key, an accumulator which gathers the particularly rich geomagnetic energy of the zone which abuts the Gulf Stream and focuses it, like a laser beam, on him. It was word of the power of this concentrated geomagnetic flux, transmitted by the Lucayan and Arawak aboriginal inhabitants of the islands to those of Cuba, which reached Don Juan Ponce de Leon in garbled form as bruit of a “River Jordan”, immersion in which conferred eternal youth.”
Ah, the early seventies, when Hunter Thompson was considered a bit on the drag side for a journalist. Another Village Voice article about Watergate meditated on the spiritual reality of that name, viz the waters of life being locked up from the people, and the key to unlocking the gate promising to drown us all in Aquarius.
I’ve been thinking about Watergate and its drama in contrast with Trump and his reality show. Trump really does share certain personality traits with Nixon – certainly the overmastering ressentiment – but doesn’t have the dark glamour. There was something in Nixon’s depths, while Trump’s dad had his depths surgically removed when Trump was seven, along with the tonsils. Yet it is much easier to think of Trump spending time in an orgone box. He is definitely using the White House as an accumulator of rich geomagnetic energy, although since Trump is ever the materialist, he wants to see that energy monetized and he wants it now.
I was around 15 when Watergate became TV. I was brought up in a conservative Republican household and considered myself a very conservative little chirp, so much so that Nixon’s trip to China made me think he was a bad man – China was communist! I hadn’t yet shucked all of that bullshit, although by the end of my teen years I was a Marxist – so there you go. I was helped on the way, though, by Watergate. The President (back then, it was in Capitals that I thought of the mook) had so obviously and painfully lied, lied, lied – and I swallowed the press narrative that this was the worst crime a President could commit.
Later, however, I began to see that there was, to say the least, some disproportionality here. The lie that the president told that resulted in the secret bombing of Cambodia and the horrific spread of the war was skipped over nimbly by the press. The lean towards Pakistan that encouraged a genocidal civil war in which a million were killed in Bangladesh was also as nothing. It was the coverup of the break-in to the Dem headquarters (and not, say, the eternal spying and placing of agents provocateurs with the Socialist Workers Party, which, as Noam Chomsky pointed out back then, was simply considered normal and unscandalous by the press) that undid him. Undid him for months and months of wonderful worldtheater.
History, like all cold cases, depends a lot on trivia. As I grew into your average paranoid loser leftist, I began to get this. I also began to get that conspiracy theory might not be true, but it was a great vehicle for spotlighting the weirdness of ordinary life among the American elite – and even among the American lumpen. Whether Oswald was or was not a lone assassin is one thing – but the very social possibility that was inhabited by his friend, the hairless David Ferrie, was a more important other, at least as far as the American circus was concerned. The Watergate scandal was absolutely full of kooks and eccentrics and wheeler dealers. As well, it ultimately made no sense.

Just as, really, Trump shaking down Ukraine for info makes no sense. I mean, he really needs facts, suddenly, to jam up Biden with his vile son? Has Trump ever needed facts to do anything? Just make shit up. I thought that was the motto.
Nixon, who came to prominence as a conspiracy theory politician – getting Alger Hiss with papers improbably hidden in a pumpkin patch, and going on against the great Communist conspiracy for years and years – was himself a natural conspirator. Trump is too, but unlike Nixon, he isn’t a very good one.

What he is best at – what made him president – was firing people on a reality show. The psychopathologically cruel boss – his core group loves this. Because they want all the black people and the uppity bitches fired. The moment of firing gives them goosebumps. The American psyche can be divided neatly into two halves – the one half that longs to fire, and the other half that longs to quit. Nixon sprang from a more complex and deeper psychosis. He was an American Manichee. He might not have called upon our better angels, but his career was definitely in converse with the spirits, whether orgonally charged or not.

Trump on the other hand is just the kind of dismal loser/boss that the fire groupies love. His impeachment is turning out to be much simpler, but also, alas, much less fun.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The real in (and out of) realism

If things are in the saddle and ride mankind, as Emerson said, then let us imagine that things take a break every now and then and let words ride.  It is a 30 – 70 split, perhaps, is what I am getting at. This being so, it is foolish to argue with a word once it has established a claim on mankind.
In fact, this is just the kind of foolishness that philosophers – who at one time acknowledged themselves to be half-fool, although now they more often consider themselves to be half-scientist, a half and half creature that to me is still fool – like to engage in. Thus, I, in my half a fool robes, have always had a steady dislike for the word “real” and its court favorite, “realism”.
Here’s my reasoning. If real is meant to refer to the constitution of reality, then, in my opinion, it can’t go picking out some bits of reality and discarding others. It must be wholly promiscuous, rather than half chaste. It must include magic, dreams, mirages and perceptions as well as carpenters crowns, heaps and pi. In other words, I take real to make the widest of ontological claims. However, in actual use, real has been turned into an ontological grift, setting itself up as something ontologicallly direct as opposed to all those soft ontologically indirect objects. In this way, the real becomes a metaphysical con man, a dealer of three card monte.  The dream, the magic, the realist wants to say, are dependent on  a subjective privilege that takes us out of the real and into the ideal, or the fantastic, or the superstitious – they aren’t “validated” by Science, an institution that is suddenly thrust upon us as our commission of the real.
Here we spot everyday dualism, doing its silent work. And everyday dualism has its advantages, or it wouldn’t hang around. But those advantages, which prime it for everyday distinctions, don’t prime it for metaphysical argument. There, it forgets its place. It rubs up against its own original quantitative claim – that reality is all, whereas non-reality is nothing – and  can only help itself out of its dilemma by silently inserting assumption into the discussion that , indeed, must be discussed before we can have the discussion.
In my opinion, realism is only plausibility writ large: it is a view on what is possible and important that gains its justification from a certain class background. The real itself shouldn’t generate an ideology, an ism, any more than the toe does. Like the toe, the real is simply there, the very thereness of there. But this view of the real, which genuflects to its ontological capaciousness, doesn’t correspond to its social meaning – which is always pulled into the dualism between the human and everything else. Aristotle, in the Topics, speaks of endoxa – credible opinions – that are “accepted by everyone or by the majority or by the wise”. This is the filter through which reality becomes realism. The privileged point of view is given us by the class system in the regime in which that point of view is expressed. The reputable class bears various names, depending on the regime we are talking about, whether it is the middle class in America, or public opinion, or most scientists, or – more commonly – an implied everybody who counts that lurks behind a passive construction (“as is well known,” “as is generally agreed”, etc.). Realism’s affiliation with plausibility, rather than reality, is the secret of why the term seems so indeterminate, when you come to close quarters with it.
This is not simply a matter of aesthetics. It is a matter of ordinary problems. To say that insanity is “real” is one thing, to say that insane ideations are “real” is another thing. This is the whole pragmatics of real, as opposed to its semantic promise – which would leave distinctions of what is natural, plausible, objective, communally accessible, all that, to other words and phases of society and perspectives. The whole discipline of psychology is folded over this problem, with one side contending that “talk therapy” – however that is filled out – doesn’t treat mental problems as “real”, that is, based on the neurochemistry of the brain, which is supposed to be a realer real than talk about our relations, say, in families, in sex, etc. It is not clear why the family is less real than the neuron – the idea is, probably, that the mental problem would express itself in some person regardless of whether that person grew up in family x or y – although, confusingly, the same scientific ideology hold in high regard the gene, which brings us back to social realities that mediate any sex act. It is very hard to understand how a neurochemical problem in the human brain, which evolved in a social animal – as opposed to, say, an aardvark – would articulate itself at all without having strong social links, having ties to sensemaking as the natural activity of the human animal.
The same bend, but with other variables, is found in physics, with the realists versus the Copenhagen interpretation, and may the best physicist win (that is, get the contract to write a pop sci book agented by John Brockman).
The rest is at Willetts.

Elia meets Karl Marx at the South Sea House

    When Charles Lamb, a scholarship boy at Christ’s Hospital, was fifteen, one of his patrons, Thomas Coventry, had a discussion with a...