On Human Understanding~ Excavating the Mytho-poetics of Babel

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It is not enough for language to have clarity and content… it must also have a goal and an imperative. Otherwise from language we descend to chatter, from chatter to babble and from babble to confusion. ~Rene Daumal

If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without climbing [up], it would have been permitted. ~Franz Kafka

I:
We begin our conference today with a rather bold opening. We will explore the underlying problematic of hermeneutics as first articulated by Friedrich Schleiermacher in the 19th Century. We begin, in short, with a consideration of the concept of human understanding. And we will enjoin this discussion by drawing attention to a rather curious fact. It seems that some folks believe the problem of understanding — among speakers of different languages and from diverse cultures — that this problem has already been solved. Yes, you heard me correctly. And they call this solution… mathematics! As one relatively unknown novelist and screenwriter, Nathaneal West, noted:

Numbers constitute the only universal language.

Yet there are other, perhaps brighter minds, who did not feel as comfortable drawing such a conclusion. Albert Einstein, for example, wrote,

Mathematics are well and good but nature keeps dragging us around by the nose.

Then, of course, we have the more cynical perspective voiced by Charles Darwin.

A mathematician is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn’t there.

So much for a consensus opinion among the community of scholars. Now let’s examine the problem by trying to negotiate a biblical passage, the principal home of hermeneutical theory. Let’s look at the Tower of Babel, in Genesis 11:1-9.

1 Now the whole world had one common language. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel — because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Despite what we might otherwise believe, I do not see the story of Babel as principally about the multiplicity of spoken tongues (i.e., the confusion of men). Let’s look more closely.

4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens…

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building…

Very quickly, the tale focuses on the city and the building of the tower itself. But what was it that provided the impetus for urban life, enabling its diverse and newly-minted citizenry to coordinate and execute the building of such a tower? Again from Genesis.

6 And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.

The Tower (no doubt a real Babylonian Ziggurat) — itself a metaphor for the burgeoning of urban life in ancient Mesopotamia — is the product of a new (and unifying) mode of thought and communication. The “one language,” I would argue, refers to advent of the the technology of writing — and subsequently, of unambiguously univocal communications, including the consequent emergence of clear codes of conduct to guide civic interaction. In other words, it heralds the arrival of history, the establishment of the first written laws, and the earliest signs of kingship. We see this, for example, in the Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian text dating back some 4,000 years, one of the oldest known written documents. (The Book of Genesis itself is thought to be 3,500 years old.)

Of course, this situation may have been forced by the break-up of pre-urban clans and the accumulation of newly estranged indigenous (tribal) peoples within the anonymity of the city center. These conditions demanded a severe change in the nature of human communication, including the removal of any polysemic ambiguity found in primal speech, and the articulation of a strictly univocal semantic. Such linguistic conceptualization was finally effected with the invention of the syllogism and applied by legislators, scientists, and other specialists down through the ages. In this newly established logistic hierarchy, universal statements were related to particular circumstances, leading to logical legal and scientific conclusions.

This [tripartite logistic] form becomes a foundation-layer of both the internal and external life of the West. We can call [this] logistic stratum of the univocal linguistic hierarchy the curriculum of the West. (Bram, 2002: 26)

So, it’s entirely feasible that the impetus for the biblical story is precisely the emergence of a new mode of thought, syllogistic reasoning — itself dependent upon the emergence of writing — with its ability to unify and subordinate disparate elements within a single logistic framework (e.g., All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; Therefore Socrates is mortal.) And, yes, this would also include the syllogism’s perfection in mathematical laws as well (If A=B and B=C, then A=C).

The very process of urbanization, as well as coordination and management of such civic work-projects, thus required the unambiguous articulation of clear rules, accurate accounting, and above all, the hierarchical authority of enforcement. [Incidentally, this may be why the God of the Israelites was so upset at the tower, the man-made laws and their growing hierarchy (kingship)].

I am the Lord your God, King of the Universe. And thou shalt have no other gods before me!

Clear and imperative, no?

Why else would the tale reference a divine intervention, attempting to confuse yet again the tongues of man.

7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

Without a doubt, animism, totemism, and polytheism went into a death spiral with the advent of writing, while Monotheism was born and flourished. And yet, in conformity with this growing universal logic, the earliest empires of the ancient Near East established themselves and blossomed, despite marginal attempts to reassert the primal, polysemic and pre-rational discourse of myth.

In short, this biblical tale represents the death throes of mythic consciousness, and the emergence of historical thought, along with the terror of history that would accompany it. And while Daumal, quoted above, feared that language lacking clarity and imperatives — ‘Thou Shalt’ — would quickly descend into chatter and then into babble (or perhaps even worse… into myth); this tale was an expression of regret over the breakdown of mythic consciousness in conjunction with a burgeoning historical perception, a sense of loss of the openness to a present filled by the polysemic nature of the mythic word.

But, what was really lost with the emergence of historical consciousness as a consequence of this new technology of writing? What was forsaken in the subordination of speech to the universal grammar of literacy and the sterile logic of the syllogism, and finally the mechanical procedures of mathematics? What was in fact lost were those rich (polysemic) textures of mythic speech, and the natural dialogue they reflected of our multiple engagements within a living, breathing and responsive cosmos. “As the written word began speaking, the stones fell silent… the trees became mute, the other animals dumb,” said David Abrams in his work, The Spell of the Sensuous.

II:
As the computer screen glows brightly, turning my typed words into a series of ‘1s’ and ‘0s,’ it magically (or perhaps, mechanically) does my translation work for me, turning Greek into Latin, Chinese into Arabic, and Russian into English. Are not numbers, then, the most miraculous of things in the world? Are they not the solution to the challenge of translation, and to creating one shared human understanding?

Actually, I would rather choose to agree with Einstein on this matter. Mathematics is not the solution it claims to be; it does not really address the concreteness of the world-as-lived, a world into which we find ourselves always, already thrownembodied, and intertwined within a living territory that includes and surrounds us. Nature does indeed keep ‘dragging us around by the nose.’ The point here is that along with the mechanics of writing, typing, or key-stroking, many of us came to believe that translation itself was a mechanical exercise. It is not. It’s an organic process. A translation that is truly adequate to communication, that is to say, to human understanding, must grow from the rich soil of the lived-experience it seeks to re-present in other tongues. It is only in this way that translation can hope to bring real understanding.

This, then, still remains our principal concern — the hermeneutical question of understanding. Translation needs to be addressed within the context of a broader problematic, answering to the concrete facticity of lived-experience. It requires a reconstitution of our taken-for-granted worldview within the framework of an alternative perspective, a perspective grounded in a different set of assumptions and somewhat unique lived-experience. It requires us to look beyond our own engagement in the world, how we interpret it and communicate it. Legitimate translation necessitates that we grasp (to some degree) the life-world of the speaker or hearer in the targeted language (i.e., how the message is received).

Exploring translation in these terms, we must excavate the problem utilizing some of the terminology and theoretical underlayment bequeathed us by philosophical hermeneutics, literary criticism, and reception theory. Translation itself is not an isolated exercise occurring in a vacuum. Rather, it happens within a concrete environment, and it is thoroughly context dependent. The event of translation always resolves itself within the history of an understanding that has already become commonplace within a specific cultural milieu, it’s phrases and its grammatical nuances. How words are used already within the other culture is critical to how the interpreter decides to translate for an outsider’s understanding, as well as how these “outsiders” themselves see, receive, or understand the intended message. In this respect, it is not just an issue of how my fellow citizens receive the message (or text), but rather how a foreign reader (the culturally objectified Other) receives the message in translation.

III:
This, then, brings us to the headwaters an even broader concern, what Hans-Georg Gadamer, in his magnum opus, Truth and Method, referred to as the philosophical problem of pre-understanding. We need to explore this concept and consider how it affects and conditions everything we hear, read or otherwise perceive — from a brief dialogue with a friend online, to our hearing of a biblical passage in church, reading a novel by Dostoyevsky, or, finally, watching a newscast on television quoting Barack Obama. Certain cultural presuppositions or prejudices, pre-reflectively color the way we read a text, hear a communication, or otherwise understand a sign, even a casual advertisement along the roadside driving to Biysk, or deplaning from Aeroflot at Kennedy airport in New York City.

As Gadamer points out:

Our attempts to understand a work [a phrase, a work of art, a translation] will depend upon the questions which our own cultural environment (our past) allows us to raise… Our present perspective always involves a relationship to the past…

This is the horizon against which we always, already comprehend. And that goes for every person and culture on the face of the earth. There will, and must be, a “fusion of horizons,” as Gadamer describes it, in order that genuine understanding emerge. And this is the key to effective translation. In any translation event, there are two disparate cultural horizons — each steeped in its own unique history and replete with its own idiosyncratic expectations — two disparate horizons meeting at the intersection of textual translation. Concretely, the event of understanding is achieved by means of overcoming pre-conscious cultural resistances or prejudices (as well as fixing on potential points of access) which that meeting of horizons forces upon us. The messenger (translator) must, in some degree, come to share in the intended recipient’s horizon of meaning in order to make her act of translation understood. This, as well, is the most difficult challenge for any individual living within a foreign culture… who, like an anthropologist in the field, manages to develop “deep doubts concerning what he had previously taken for granted” (Philippe Descola, Beyond Nature and Culture). I’ve experienced some of that myself over the better part of ten years here in Altai.

There are obviously a multitude of issues confronting the translator, but there is an overriding theme that presents itself above all others. Every language gives voice a concrete way of being-in-the-world, a unique life-world, if you will; and that world, as-experienced, is never precisely identical across cultures because the presuppositions that inform them are often idiosyncratic, each bearing some of the remnants or markers of pre-literate oral traditions, some even with polysemy still abounding. Thus, translation is never just about substituting a word in one language for that in another, it is not a mere transposition from one key into a different one. It is, rather, about overcoming the limits of one’s own pre-understanding — enlarging one’s perspective — in part by adopting the position of the recipient and his culture, even as one remains herself native to a different worldview. It is about getting underneath the structure of the life-world disclosed by the grammar, the logic, and the aesthetics of the language into or from which one is translating. It is a matter of adopting a broader set of presuppositions, developing a new pre-understanding that allows one to grasp the reality disclosed by the structure of the target language and the life-world it pre-reflectively discloses.

In closing, let me be clear. Writing was the foundation stone for construction of the Tower of Babel, the advent of univocity — ‘speaking with one voice’ — where one word (ideally) had one, and only one, meaning. This watershed event spelled the eclipse of polysemy and the death of myth. It heralded the birth of history, the voice of syllogistic reason, and the story of human progress we have come to embrace as a singular, universal reality; while nature (including other animals) in their turn became dumb and silent; dead or objectified matter to be used or manipulated for the benefit of humankind. As Tim Ingold, ethnographer, confirms in his work, The Perception of the Environment.

the responsibility for reducing the world to a realm of manipulable objects lies not with the hegemony of vision but with a ‘certain narrow conception of thought.’

Translation, that is to say, unthinking mechanical translation, becomes a hand-maiden to this process of sterilization — rationalizing experience, reducing variability, cleansing cultural difference, and whitewashing the lived-world — to make it homogeneous and sanitized.

IV:

It is the same voice we hear today about a global world order, about imperial hegemony, and it is what we experience when we see new American shops —Subway, McDonalds, H&M Clothes, and KFC — opening right here in Barnaul. They are all ziggurats in their own right, projecting US hegemonic power around the globe. In fact, we are still in the late death throes of myth, and there is disparity still evident in the variety of spoken tongues. But the imperialists are moving quickly to close that divide.

Don’t be fooled again!

Presuppositions create their own realities and their own illusions. So, even where translation is not the issue, genuine communication across cultures demands that one sees beyond his or her own myopic view, and genuinely seeks to grasp the Other on his own terms, with an appreciation of their cultural pre-understanding. Is there, in the West, any legitimate sense for the life-world, the presuppositions of Russia or the Russian people, for Syria or the Syrian people, or any number of other far and remote locales? Or is it all just selfish pursuit, gearing up the war machine, and glad-handing niceties? Have the majority of Westerners become so enamored with their own prejudices, their own lived-experience, that they fail to see through another’s eyes? Collectively, we in the West must begin to realize that while some crazy-logic (rationalization) has come to dominate our current thinking and discourse, the primitive roots of our humanity are still crying to be heard. We needn’t speak with one voice. That may be impossible. But we should learn to hear the polysemy of voices speaking back to us.

51 Responses to On Human Understanding~ Excavating the Mytho-poetics of Babel

  1. Pingback: On Human Understanding~ Excavating the Mytho-poetics of Babel | kulturCritic

  2. Malthus says:

    This is weird. I see there is one response and it is not coming up on this page. I wonder if this will. Interesting writing Sandy. To me language or languages are used for one purpose. That is to find something in common with someone else. Simplistic I know.

    • Disaffected says:

      It’s akin to the space between the couch cushions where all the spare change and pocket paraphernalia escapes to a parallel universe!

  3. Disaffected says:

    Sandy’s running a little labyrinth here to keep us on our toes!

    Here’s the comment I posted over in neverland.

    The latest – On Human Understanding~ Excavating the Mytho-poetics of Babel – is great, but comments are disabled. Just a quick note here since I don’t know if you’re going to enable comments or not, the late Albert Bartlett became famous for his lectures illustrating the gross inability of humans of all stripes to understand the exponential function – the very basis for western debt-based capitalism – so the idea that humans could even rally around a “universal language” such as mathematics is obviously completely unfounded as well. In truth, mathematics has been revealed of late to be at least as effective when used as a tool of deception as it ever was as a tool of clarity and understanding. Same as it ever was.

    Hierarchical systems and their simplified and codified communications systems are most effectively viewed as “force multipliers” for human deception, and little more. Any initial good they ever served is completely outweighed at this point by the fact that they will very soon spell the end of human civilization altogether. But all the rest of your points in this paper are well taken. I think I even understood most of it this time!

  4. Disaffected says:

    This is a great piece on so many levels! Language, interpretation, and legitimate understanding are indeed the most subtle of things, even though we here in the west have been conditioned to view them as just the opposite. Among the many problems that spring immediately to mind (this time of year especially) are literal translations of the Christian myth, themselves translated countless times orally and written since whatever physical event – which may or may not have actually happened and which could have been (and likely were) altered at every step along the way to conform to a preexisting agenda – precipitated the story. But western political and marketing speech in general these days is all about connecting specific words and phrases to a particular idea, concept, or prejudice for the purpose of selling something, whether it be as benign as a simple consumer product, or as malignant as a political ideology. Such buzzwords are meant to prevent thinking as much as they are to prompt any specific response. Case in point: terrorism.

    • Disaffected says:

      Talk about your coincidence, “divine” or otherwise, I’m on a Coen brothers movie kick of late, and I’m watching A Serious Man as we speak. It’s a hard movie to pin down, but the loose summary is it’s about a Jewish physics teacher, an epitome of mathematical rationality, and his bewildered interactions with a reality that’s become anything but rational lately.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Serious_Man

      Money quote: after filling a blackboard with equations, our main protagonist declares “The Uncertainty Principle [Heisenberg’s]. It proves that we can’t ever really know what’s going on. But even though though you can’t figure anything out, you will be responsible for it on the midterm!”

    • Disaffected says:

      Great movie! I watched it part way through, read some reviews to come up to speed on it, then watched it all the way through again. The Coen brothers movies are always great because they ask a lot of questions, imply some answers (usually quite ambiguously), but them leave the viewer to interpret what it all meant for themselves after that. This was a hard movie to like on a conventional level, but once you scratched the surface to get underneath it was simply amazing!

      • Disaffected says:

        Here’s a more complete synopsis for the more rational types among us:

        • Disaffected says:

          This guy is good! Here’s his explanation of the Donald Trump “phenomenon.”

          • Disaffected says:

            From the No Truer Words Ever Spoken Dept:

            President Obama accused Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump in an interview aired Monday of “exploiting” anger and fear over economic insecurities among working class men to propel his presidential campaign.

            In an interview with NPR, the president said that structural changes to the American economy through technology and the 2008 financial crisis have meant stagnant wages for some sectors, especially blue-collar workers.

            Those workers are “no longer getting the same bargain of going to a factory and being able to support a family on a single paycheck,” Obama told Steve Inskeep, in the interview that was recorded last week at the White House. “There’s going to be the potential for anger, frustration, fear–some of it justified but just misdirected. I think somebody like Mr. Trump’s taking advantage of that. That’s what he’s been exploiting during the course of his campaign.”

            What Obama failed to add was’ “IT’S ABOUT TIME!” Trump embodies (at this point in time anyway) every politician’s worst nightmare: the guy that will tell you the complete unvarnished truth, no matter how ugly it is. He is a perfect reflection of the American electorate, after it’s been shamelessly manipulated into its current form by decades of duplicitous pols like the Bush’s and the Clinton’s. Is he a a hideous figure to behold? Absolutely, but at least he strips the ill-begotten myth threadbare, and that’s (telling the truth to ourselves) the first step in finding our way out of our current mess. Rest assured neither Hillary or Jebbie or any of the rest are going to be of any assistance at all in that regard.

            • the Heretick says:

              “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
              That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
              And then is heard no more: it is a tale
              Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
              Signifying nothing.”

              The Trumpster will support the same old idiocy, as will Her Highness, meanwhile back at the ranch, some still dream of castles made of Sanders.

              • Disaffected says:

                No doubt HT. I think what Trump offers most at this point in time is some genuine entertainment during the election process again. A candidate that at least mouths the words that the little people want to hear again, even if everyone knows that he either doesn’t mean them, or even more likely, couldn’t actually implement them even if he were elected. And I think that’s what has all the establishment so tweaked and bothered by his otherwise rather innocuous “outbursts.”

                Given that the US Government has effectively declared war on Islamic peoples everywhere with its utterly ridiculous false flag justified “Global War on Terror” since 9-11, Trump is merely speaking common sense when he says that maybe we should consider suspending immigration by Muslims until we get this thing figured out. Pretty tame stuff. And yet to hear the MSM and even most of the liberal and “doomer” sites tell it, Trump is apparently the second coming of Hitler/Mussolini now. Just more foggy thinking from people who should surely know better.

                Regardless, I don’t have 2016 figured out any better than anyone else at this point, but my best guess is that Trump is being used as a “rabbit” of sorts to run the GOP field into the ground to set up an easy walk to Coronation for Queen Hillary in the Fall. Not quite sure whether Trump has exceeded expectations so much that he’s now having second thoughts and actually wants to legitimately go it alone (it certainly appears that way), or whether this is still all a part of a peak early and collapse (very possibly due to scandal) strategy later, that will leave the GOP weak and vulnerable come convention time. Impossible to even guess at this point, since Trump is such a true wild card in the political business.

                But that’s what makes it all so great in the first place! Unlike most people, I don’t expect anything to get “fixed” in the aftermath of all this in the least! And that’s what makes it all so very intriguing! How much of it and what specifically is pure bullshit and what isn’t? How many contortions will the American public turn themselves into in the aftermath for what should have been obvious beforehand. At this point I view it all from the perspective of the Queen videos I linked to below.

                The Show MUST GO ON my man, and WE, the masses, MUST BE ENTERTAINED!

          • Disaffected says:

            The political intelligentsia here in the US has virtually ***exploded** this week with Trump hysteria, both pro and con, so true to the commentary above, he’s definitely hitting all his marks. I doubt I’ll bother to vote either way, but any pol that at least mouths the words that the war on terror is at the very least a waste of money and that that same money could be better spent domestically is at least worth consideration, no matter what other crazy things spring from their mouths. And besides, I’m thinking 2016 is the year that Americans should legitimately start voting for whatever candidate can muck up the official works the most, if for no other reason than to spur the inevitable collapse. Would Trump do that? Maybe, maybe not, but then again, will HillBillary or Teddy Cruz do it too? Almost certainly in my estimation. I think it’s time to admit that the ship is going down no matter what, and that it might be time to also admit that continuing to vote status quo is just worsening the inevitable predicament for most of us all that much faster.

        • kulturcritic says:

          Thanks DA. Did you know the Coen Bros. are on my list for Veronika? I have not reached out yet, I am waiting on the new screenplay. WILL BE READY JAN 5TH.

  5. Disaffected says:

    Connecting extemporaneously once again to themes explored this week (language, identity, and a certain cultural reviewer’s (or two) rather expert analysis of same) and last, I present another decidedly disturbing film review of a film that just begs to be viewed by those of us who really want see our current reality stripped threadbare. **WARNING** This one REALLY IS NOT for the faint of heart or mind!

    https://www.patreon.com/posts/eastern-promises-3766759

  6. Disaffected says:

    By the way, Merry Mid-Winter Pagan Solstice Day all you KulturCritics! You too, you Christ Cult Believers who at least gained us a legal holiday! You got it mostly right too, even if it was thoroughly derivative once removed. In the spirit of the season, we all forgive you!

  7. the Heretick says:

    It is illuminating that the very same Jewish God who people love to bash put the kibosh on the first attempt to establish some sort of universal hegemony. It is also fairly curious that it was Cain’s offering of cultivated grain which this same God found unsatisfactory…………….

    Now, we find many of the rules and regulations laid down as the law distasteful and outright ridiculous; but there are a few in there which make civic sense, such as the returning of property to the original owners every Jubilee year.

    Today we see mathematics and technology put to use to basically subdue the entire planet under the aegis of the almighty UPC for the benefit of a few who have no intention of ever returning anything to anybody. I seem to recall that somewhat later in the Good Book some prophet or the other has something to say about an eerily similar situation.

    • Disaffected says:

      A the old guy in one of the film clips above said, “mathematics is the art of the possible.” It doesn’t tell us anything about what we should do, but rather just what we can do at any given point in time.

      Just finished up Dmitry Orlov’s The Five Stages of Collapse. Great book and much more than I expected. I had imagined it as a simple primer on collapse Soviet style, but it’s so much more than that. Very sobering read for Americans still clinging to their current delusions no doubt, but not altogether depressing for people who have accepted collapse as a reality. It’s feeling more and more like 2016-2017 is going to be the tipping point for our slide into national and global insanity.

      • Disaffected says:

        That said, perhaps it’s time for those of us on the leading edge of acceptance to adopt a new stance? Perhaps collapse really is our only salvation?

    • Disaffected says:

      Oh what the hell, three from Queen to get the season of Bacchanalia started off right!

      • Disaffected says:

        And what year could possibly be said adieu to without some classic AC/DC; i.e., with Bon Scott singing lead?

        From back when rock and roll was actually rock and roll!

  8. Disaffected says:

    Happy belated (only 6 hours late!) New Year Bernaul! You’re way ahead of us, as usual!

  9. Colin says:

    A portion of my New Years Email to Family and Friends. The “Software and Mind” book is extremely relevant to this discussion around language and syllogism. Andrei Sorein calls it “Mechanism” or hiearchical constructs that ignore interdependencies. I believe these are the same things we are talking about.

    I think Sandy that we are on the same page now with this subject!

    -Colin

    More importantly, we have to consider the role of our current paradigms and beliefs in formation of our society and political system. The chart and images below I believe helps illustrate a key point:

    Notice the “Millenial” group. Of course this is a generalization, but as a group they appear to have only one benefit – their tech saviness. Overall though they are in second and third place to both Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers in every single category that employers look for. In fact, if these trends continue into the next generation there will be only ONE word used to describe our youth upon entering adulthood – “Unemployable”. As education has been completely taken over and restructured by government and mechanistic belief systems (see below) it is failing to prepare our youth for adulthood. If you want to study the problems with lack of job growth, economic development, I would suggest beginning here. Why are we churning out individuals who seem so poorly adapted to the demands of adulthood? Again, obviously this is not true for all Millenials, please don’t get offended if you are a Millenial – I know many great Millenials and there are things I really enjoy about them as a group including their high activity levels and love of the outdoors. I admittedly struggled with joblessness myself and can comiserate with the situation many Millenials find themselves in and don’t fully understand.

    Well, this is a complex problem and one with many different causes. One book I have begun reading is called “Software and Mind – The Mechanistic Myth and its Consequences” by Andrei Sorin. This book covers a range of topics all related to the modern belief in “Mechanism” to which a variety of current social ales can be contributed. Mechanism is the religious belief that everything in nature can reduced or atomized to a simplified, hierarchical construct (like a hierarchical decision tree) as a series of “things within things”. Take language itself for instance – letters combine to form words, words combine to form sentences, sentences combine to form complete thoughts which are the basis of language and communication. Let’s say for instance that instead of having characters for letters, we attempt to simplify by creating a single character for every possible word instead – our language would actually lose information and communication would become very difficult. If we did this at one level higher, at the level of complete sentences communication would break down entirely. Additionally we have trouble finding the correct abstractions for this hierarchy because we note that under some circumstances a sentence forms a complete thought where as in others it does not – the precise rules and nuances that determine whether it is complete or not are buried at the word and even character level as well as other hidden connotations like tone and pace which are too subtle to characterize. Thus language is a complex space – it is irreducible to pure mechanism.

    And yet, that is exactly what all of us, in our modern mechanistic views are attempting to do ALL THE TIME – reduce complex issues to sound bytes and single phrase sentences. This (as Sorin points out) is equivalent to “News-speak” in George Orwell’s 1984 which is a particular language that is used by propagandists in the media precisely because it is ambiguous, jargonic and misleading. We delude ourselves into the land of Charlatanism by becoming masters of this form of communicating and we deify, reify and revere those who are most gifted at this form of black magic. Our faith in politicians, entertainment and media personalities, belief in a particular form of Utopian government (“Socialism”, “Marxism”, “Nationalism”, “Fascism”) are predicated upon this crumbling mechanistic view of the world. Worse yet, Sorin says, the entire field of Science itself, most notably in the software community has become corrupted by Mechanistic belief systems – the belief that the complexity of the world can be greatly simplified and atomized as “things within things”. This belief system began in the west with the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution and has followed us ever since. In the beginning our successes using this mechanistic world view were great (such as the industrial revolution where machines were all made of parts and sub parts) but the problem is that we have exhausted this belief system – no new progress can be made because we’ve only been able to solve the simple problems that mechanism readily allows for. The REALLY COMPLEX stuff escapes us, completely. ONLY, Sorin indicates, by the expansion and development of the individual human mind itself can we resolve the deeply troubling modern quagmires we find ourselves in. Sorin claims that not even modern computers are structurally adapted to resolve deeply complex human issues and that if we are to build software to help us solve human problems we must always first solve them in the human mind and THEN model it into software. Software itself must never be a pure abstract substitute for human thinking.

    However the fields of Psychology, Social Science and Economics and even Life Sciences have all been infiltrated by mechanistic belief systems or “Scientism” that rot the foundation of modern society. Mechanism fails to explain human behavior because it inevitably suffers from framing or isolating of phenomenon that is in reality interdependent. For instance, an Economist looks at a person as a “rational actor” while a psychologist looks at that same person as a “male” or “female”, the social scientist or Marxist views them as “oppressor” or “oppressed”, etc. In reality humans don’t fit neatly into these categories but rather float around – when we abstract a simple hierarchy or mechanastic theory from this complex ether we “reify” the theory into a simple hierarchy that will inevitably fail, at some point dramatically, our ability to describe our world.

    Let me be clear…

    This is where we are at now!

    The world is completely falling apart and all I see around me are people clinging to oversimplified ideologies that must necessarily fail. The Socialists, Keynesians and Marxists want more government control over our lives even while these very same systems are at the brink of catastrophic failure. If only they could tax more people, print more money, regulate firearms, forcibly redistribute wealth, centrally plan the economy by finding the right interest rate (negative?), force others abroad to do the same, introduce more legislation, provide food and shelter for all the refugees of our failed policies abroad – If only we did these things we would be great again we claim! And yet, every year we see that things don’t quite turn out that way – the politicians just get better at lying and hiding things from us. We feel ashamed and in our sense of shame we turn against those who disagree most vociferously with our flawed views. I read recently that the reason we are often so opposed to the obvious truth of a situation is because it implies that people don’t love us – even our own family. “If that were true someone would have told me but they didn’t! That means no one loves me because no one cared to tell me!” we reason. And so we sink further into ourselves, eventually isolating ourselves from those whose viewpoints violate our sense of emotional well-being.

    All of that is coming to an end this year. 2016 will be the year you won’t be able to ignore what’s wrong. …

    • Disaffected says:

      Great post! Let me digest it further…

    • Disaffected says:

      Once again, great post.

      RE: Millenials. They do indeed have a “tech savvy gene” – more excatly, an intuitive understanding of electronic interfaces – that everyone else before them seems to lack. I’m not sure I’d call that “tech savvy” in the strictest sense, as that understanding is mostly superficial and limited to the use of technology, rather than any particular knowledge of technology itself. In fact, in my experience at least, most view technology as having unquestionable “magical” qualities, a product of the fact that they’ve grown up reliant on such technologies since day one.

      Why then, are we churning out such millenial individuals who are apparently so poorly prepared for adulthood? Simple answer is they’re easier to control and manipulate in their primary roles as consumers and possible producers of the .01%’s wealth. The more complex answer is that such a situation is probably inevitable due to the proliferation of complex technologies, which increasingly, no single individual or even small group of expert individuals have the capacity to understand anymore, especially when you consider that almost all complex technologies are routinely integrated into larger groups of equally complex technologies.

      In that sense, our increasing reliance on heuristics is a totally natural, expected, and I would assert, inevitable outcome, directly inverse to the amount of complexity we find ourselves forced to deal with. It’s taken me almost ten years of working at a large, very complex, scientific institution to realize that for even the immense “egg-heads” I work for/with that’s the case. To compound that same problem, senior level managers are more often than not promoted up through a system of “stove pipes” at the lower levels, such that their actual (although still severely limited) specialized expertise quickly becomes a liability. Bad as that might be, it still more often than not beats the other scenario of professional “generalists” (typically trained as “Project Managers” from early on) running things, usually in cahoots with professional thieves, aka the MBA’s.

      In summary and closing, I think you’re right. Increasing complexity, originally our seeming salvation, has become our soon to be fatal undoing. Tragically (and naturally), it’s also a one way street, in that it allowed us to proliferate into totally unsustainable population numbers, such that changing our mind right now would lead us into an immediate and unimaginable die-off. And yep, I also think that 2016 is the year that we here in the US in particular simply won’t be able to deny that’s something’s very, very, wrong in this human world we’ve constructed. How long will all this take to play out to some sort of end game? Impossible to say at this point, and as many contend every day, it could well take decades at least. But I’m thinking it will likely be much less than that, if for no other reason than the authorities seem to be drawing a total blank of late; to whit, the ongoing crises in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere, the continued world wide economic malaise in the aftermath of 2008 and unprecedented central bank interventions, etc.

  10. Disaffected says:

    Rather than just post the usual “favorite music” video, sans commentary, here per usual, perhaps we should at least live up to the aspirations of our host and provide some commentary, informed or otherwise in support?

    In that vein, here’s some more up to date stuff from Coldplay, already well past their sell-by date among the youth if my sources are correct.

    This video obviously uses extensive CGI in comparing humans to our simian ancestors, all with a bouncy synthesizer dance beat. Clever, albeit not terribly original, never mind inspirational.

    Same song in this video, albeit a “live mix” of video effects, apparently meant to dazzle with colors and visual effects.

    Preliminary conclusion? Coldplay is perhaps, if nothing else, the premier example of (and exception to) modern corporate advertising, in that their youth directed “anthems” are nothing more than hymns to inanity. Their vocals and instrumentation are thoroughly unremarkable and pretentious, and their “themes”, where they’re detectable at all, are simply juvenile and insipid.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Right DA… utter nonsense music

      • Disaffected says:

        Not surprisingly, Cold Play’s part of the Super Bowl 50/L half-time bacchanalia. Love it that the NFL, in a possible nod toward American’s innumeracy and/or lack of comprehension of symbology, have wisely dubbed it “50” in lieu of the previous apparently more “regal” Roman numeral “L” designation. And they’re right, at least on the conscious level. Roman numerals are impressive when you’re trying to make BIG statements about rather mundane events, but rather less so when you’re trying to make even BIGGER statements about legitimately BIG events. Perhaps they should have just named them using Arabic numerals in the first place, although he idea that our numbers are termed “Arabic” might set off a fire storm in itself.

      • Disaffected says:

        The video reminds me of the early 90’s when the professional European cycling peloton first discovered color sublimation technology in their cycling wear/kits. All of a sudden cycling teams were exploding in color, and not surprisingly, the use of PEDs – EPO in particular – was as well. Greg LeMond, Laurent Fignon, Sean Kelly, Pedro Delgado, Stephen Roche, and a handful of other old school 80’s types were the immediate casualties, but before the turn of the century they ALL would fall before the scourge of PEDs and the new corporate mindset.

        As the Cohen’s were wisely quick to remind us, …

        • Colin says:

          Love that clip…

          • Disaffected says:

            I do too. Coming from people like those depicted above (at least skipping my parents’ generation), I’ve always imagined that death for most people in “the real world” comes much more like that described in that clip than it does in our modern romantic notions. Not to be morbid, but I often try to imagine what my own death will be like and whether I’ll recognize it as it’s happening, or whether it will all be a blur of (non)events like so many other things in life, and thus relatively “disappointing,” if you can use that word in connection with your own demise. Guess I’ll find out soon enough!

  11. Disaffected says:

    In memory of Glenn Frey, The Eagles, and the whole 70’s SoCal zeitgeist; some SWEET goddamned sunsets and beautiful times! Only wish I’d seen more of them!

    • Disaffected says:

      And even better, the immortal, Cat Stevens:

    • Disaffected says:

      And Jackson Browne + C,S, & N. What’s not to love?

    • Disaffected says:

      And one more before I stop. THE BEST song ever written, BAR NONE, by Jackson Browne about his first wife. Could have been written by anyone about anyone they loved. Simply crushing!

      “For A Dancer”

      Keep a fire burning in your eye
      Pay attention to the open sky
      You never know what will be coming down
      I don’t remember losing track of you
      You were always dancing in and out of view
      I must have thought you’d always be around
      Always keeping things real by playing the clown
      Now you’re nowhere to be found

      I don’t know what happens when people die
      Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try
      It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear
      That I can’t sing
      I can’t help listening
      And I can’t help feeling stupid standing ’round
      Crying as they ease you down
      ‘Cause I know that you’d rather we were dancing
      Dancing our sorrow away
      (Right on dancing)
      No matter what fate chooses to play
      (There’s nothing you can do about it anyway)

      Just do the steps that you’ve been shown
      By everyone you’ve ever known
      Until the dance becomes your very own
      No matter how close to yours
      Another’s steps have grown
      In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone

      Keep a fire for the human race
      Let your prayers go drifting into space
      You never know what will be coming down
      Perhaps a better world is drawing near
      And just as easily it could all disappear
      Along with whatever meaning you might have found
      Don’t let the uncertainty turn you around
      (The world keeps turning around and around)
      Go on and make a joyful sound

      Into a dancer you have grown
      From a seed somebody else has thrown
      Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
      And somewhere between the time you arrive
      And the time you go
      May lie a reason you were alive
      But you’ll never know

      • Disaffected says:

        ‘For a Dancer’ just continues to resonate with me more an more the more I get older. Browne’s voice is obviously strained here at the start, but recovers rather quickly. I won’t speculate why, since I simply don’t know.

        Likewise, best explanation of this song I’ve heard so far:

        For a Dancer is a song about the death of a friend, someone we thought would always be with us, and the necessity of embracing life in the face of death. Browne uses the metaphor of a dance to show how you can carry on after the death of someone you loved dearly, celebrating their existence by integrating all the lessons—from them and from “everyone you’ve ever known,” dead or alive—into a dance that is uniquely yours. Because, ultimately, no matter how deeply we love, we must all of us die alone.

        Thinking back, I can’t imagine how I could have maintained my hope and faith without For a Dancer. Jackson Browne’s song taught me to accept the arbitrary burden of death, enabled me to make uncertainty one of the defining characteristics of my life, and encouraged me to believe in love and art as antidotes to the meaninglessness of human existence, trusting that “somewhere between the time I arrived and the time I’ll go, there is a reason I was alive that I’ll never know.”

        http://weblog.delacour.net/archives/2002/11/for_a_dancer.php

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