Friday, July 14, 2017

Sándor Szathmári on the monomania of prophets

Sándor Szathmári wrote a novel in Hungarian and Esperanto--Voyage to Kazohinia, now available in English from an American publisher--that belongs in the dystopian pantheon with Karel Čapek's R. U. R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), Zamyatin's We, Huxley's Brave New World, and Orwell's 1984.

Kazohinia is unique in that it presents two diametrically opposite societies, one composed of the Hins, robotically orderly, rational, and mechanistic, and the Behins, totally irrational and chaotic. Gulliver (recycled from Jonathan Swift) finds himself in both neighboring but mutually isolated societies, unable to tolerate either one, and unable to see that the insane, violent Behins are merely an exaggeration of the British and European civilization he uncritically adores.

Szathmári created a panoply of neologisms for the belief systems, cultural practices, institutions etc. of Behin society, that are thinly disguised equivalents of the same phenomena in Western civilization. Even among the Behins there are a small number of sages, prophets, wise men, sacred religious figures, founders and inspirers of religions, called bikru. Gulliver inquires of his Hin guide about the bikru. The bikru are also found wanting. A post on my other blog more extensively documents this:

Sándor Szathmári on the limitations of sages

Here I reproduce the key dialogue that pinpoints the crux of the matter (which also reminds me of why I disliked Hermann Hesse's Siddartha), boldfacing the priceless punchline:
"Don't speak of 'the' bikru. You shouldn't think that they had only one bikru. There were several. Perhaps, you, too, might have become one of them."

"Indeed?!" I looked at him flabbergasted.

"Yes. They burn every bikru first. Later they recognize him because, as you yourself have seen, they have minds but the self-radiation doesn't allow them to dominate clearly and as soon as it comes to words, to say nothing of deeds, everything becomes reversed. The bikrus, however, have the ability to manifest their intelligence but, as I have said, in their being they are Behins and they are not free of imperfections and fixed ideas."

"Of fixed ideas? What is this fixed idea?"

"To be a bikru is also in fact a monomania; the erroneous belief that with the Behins there is a connection between the heard word and the brain. A bikru is a Behin whose only Behinity is that he doesn't realize among whom he lives; for it could not be imagined, could it, that somebody who was aware of the Behinic disease would still want to explain reality to them."

Evolutionary psychology, bourgeois reason, the management of duality & the erasure of history

Evolutionary psychologists should be presumed guilty until proven innocent.

I was amazed to find Christopher Badcock, writing for Psychology Today, advocating Hungarian Esperantist Sándor Szathmári's utopian/dystopian novel Voyage to Kazohinia as a prescient anticipation of Badcock's model of the diametric mind:
 "Voyage to Kazohinia: A Diametric Dystopia" by Christopher Badcock, Psychology Today, May 6, 2017

"The ABC of the Diametric Model, Twenty Years On" by Christopher Badcock, Psychology Today, July 5, 2017
I blogged about these two posts on another of my blogs:
In my work on Szathmári, I have emphasized that this novel embodies a basic cultural and ideological dichotomy of modern civilization in a unique fashion. Badcock in his other work manifests this awareness as well, as well as its relationship to C. P. Snow's "two cultures"--another relationship I have pursued--but he attributes the social configuration to genetic causes. Here are a couple more of Badcock's several contributions to the Psychology Today site:
Brain Imaging Reveals the Diametric Mind: Mentalizing brain areas inhibit mechanistic ones and vice versa. Posted Apr 11, 2014

Diametrically Beyond the Two Cultures: Conflict between science and humanities is rooted in cognition. Posted Aug 29, 2012
Here is a book-length continuation of his original book on the subject:
The Diametric Mind Insights into AI, IQ, the Self and Society: a sequel to The Imprinted Brain.
And here is a related essay referenced by Badcock:
Autism, Psychosis, and the “Two Cultures”: C. P. Snow Reconsidered in Light of Recent Theories about Mentalistic Cognition by Jiro Tanak
Now, the hypothesis that there is a certain structure to the human brain, if there is anything to this model, and that this would have a relationship with the historical development of human institutions, would be a major factor to take into account in understanding why certain modes of thought and behavior are so readily reinforced. But the charlatanism that constitutes a large part of evolutionary psychology obscures the mechanisms and structure of social organization in historical development and uncritically reads society directly off of genetic dispositions.

If you read Badcock's posts and other writings, you may smell something rotten as I do. Reading this sort of material is like reading a parody of the scientific method. The concrete relationship of multifactorial social complexes becomes reduced to the most simplistic schematisms built up on a naive ideological basis. Of course, the irreligionists who gobble up this fare fancy that they have found the master key to irrationality and the reason they think they embody. But this is also a symptom of social and ideological degeneration, bourgeois reason at the end of its rope.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Robert Zend: "Office Memo"


OFFICE MEMO

Dear God:

Before presenting your Annual Report on the State of the Cosmos to the Congress of Aeons, we are taking the liberty of returning it for further revision. First, kindly reduce the manuscript to 15,000 pages, as all the other Gods have done. Second, kindly eliminate some of your incidental remarks (as, for instance, on the bottom of page 9,127, where you devote 4 lines to that parasite on Planet 3 you call something like Uman).

Thanks,
Your Super god.

--- Robert Zend, From Zero to One, translated by Robert Zend and John Robert Colombo (Mission, BC: The Sono Nis Press, 1973), p. 54

Monday, May 23, 2016

Kansas City Enlightenment Project

The Kansas City Enlightenment Project is an initiative inaugurated in July 2014, guided by veteran cultural activist Fred Whitehead, whose accomplishments include the edited volume Freethought on the American Frontier (1992) and the erstwhile newsletters Freethought History and People's Culture.

The group's name is a response to the challenge of Dialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno and the notion that Enlightenment was ineffective against fascism and the blockage of radical progressive agendas in the post-World-War-II capitalist democracies, especially the United States.
We noted the appearance of an international organization called The Re-Enlightenment Project, based mostly on participants from prestigious cultural institutions such as museums, universities, and so on. It began in New York, but quickly engaged people in Europe. In the United States, we further noted, its participants were entirely on the East and West Coasts. We believe our modest Kansas City effort, based in the geographical center of the country, can offer Midwestern perspectives and raise the flag of the Enlightenment in this territory.
The Re-Enlightenment Project is based at New York University. Its initiatives and personnel are listed on its web site. I recognize the name of its Director, Clifford Siskin, who is a noted scholar of Romanticism.

The American Midwest has its own heritage of freewheeling, independent radicalism, not kowtowing to the coastal power centers. We shall see what comes of their determination to fight back against the forces of ignorance, disinformation, and reaction dominant in the United States. You may find my writing on their web site at some point.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Robert Zend: God dead?

 Robert Zend (Hungarian-Canadian writer, 1929 - 1985) wrote a number of poems about God, from an unorthodox perspective, to say the least. Here is one from his book Beyond Labels (Toronto: Hounslow Press, 1982), p. 52.

   GOD DEAD?

God has not died,
only his name
        which was confused
        with the sun
        and thunder
        and destiny
        and victory
        and genesis
        and love
        and law
        and wisdom
        and fatherhood
begins to fall apart
        into electricity
        and strategy
        and astronomy
        and historical materialism
        and extrasensory perception
        and psychoanalysis
        and the theory of probability --
only his name
disintegrates.

God has not died
because he never lived.

                            January 13, 1967


Monday, October 26, 2015

Joseph Hansen on Marxism, humanism, and Corliss Lamont

Joseph Hansen, "Corliss Lamont on Humanism," International Socialist Review, Vol. 19, No. 4, Fall 1958, pp. 153-155.

I have blogged previously on an ideological contestation that belongs to the dead past, between Marxists and the left liberals who once were prominent in the American humanist movement. I discussed articles written by two anti-Stalinist intellectuals, Paul Mattick, and George Novack, the leading philosopher and intellectual force of the American Trotskyist movement, specifically within the Socialist Workers Party. Joseph Hansen was also a prominent Trotskyist. Here he reviews the 1957 revised edition of Corliss Lamont's The Philosophy of Humanism.

Hansen begins with a positive appraisal of Lamont's political activism and his naturalistic humanist stance. Lamont places Marxists in the ranks of naturalistic humanists. Lamont, however, sees a difference between Marxists and Humanists with respect to democracy, and with a respect to materialism as distinct from naturalism. Materialism tends to emphasize matter more than Nature, thus being more prone to oversimplification and reductionism. Materialism is generally more radical, uncompromising, and militant. Hansen disagrees with Lamont's judgments. Contrary to Stalinism, Hansen finds socialism as the logical outcome of democracy.

Hansen finds the fundamental difference between Marxism and Humanism to be in their approach to human nature and history. Corliss's humanism is founded on a conception of human nature and the struggle between rationality and irrationality. For Marxism, human nature has a plasticity which bends human capacities in certain directions as a product of social and historical development.

While Hansen would presumably wish to avoid the charge of reductionism, he expresses himself in a peculiar way:
The “good” or “evil” effect of forces, circumstances, and struggles is related to their ultimate effect on labor productivity. The pivot is the social structure which is “good” if it corresponds to the development of the technological base, “evil” if it has become antiquated and a brake on technology.
This is unfortunate, but Hansen then emphasizes distinctively human needs beyond the animal needs acknowledged by Humanism. More importantly, Humanism neglects the class struggle, basing its explanatory principles on psychological abstractions, whereas for Marxism "definite classes carry forward at a definite time the interests of humanity as a whole." So now we are back at the crudities that can be found in both Trotskyism and Stalinism.

Interestingly, Hansen differs from Lamont on Franklin Roosevelt's historical 1944 declaration concerning an economic Bill of Rights. While Lamont apparently takes Roosevelt seriously, Hansen sees Roosevelt's speech as deceptive and demagogic. Hansen then discusses the threat of nuclear war, attacking Lamont's illusions about the League of Nations and the United Nations. Only socialism can prevent war and secure survival and peace.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Consolation for intellectuals in a time of despair

In addition to public figures and intellectuals by profession, the planet is dotted with independent scholars and autodidacts who persevere on sheer motivation alone. In the past month I had a conversation with one of them, who sees the political and general prospects for the world as hopeless, as any thinking person would, and wondered whether he should just give up his intellectual and politically motivated work which nobody cares about and which will not have a discernible impact.

I could not give him the usual consolations of traditional religion or New Age pabulum, so I had to think of an alternative. I quickly thought of two authors: Theodor W. Adorno and Jorge Luis Borges.
I zeroed in on the concluding paragraph:
By contrast the uncompromisingly critical thinker, who neither signs over his consciousness nor lets himself be terrorized into action, is in truth the one who does not give in. Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn't break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility. Its insatiable aspect, its aversion to being quickly and easily satisfied, refuses the foolish wisdom of resignation. . . . Open thinking points beyond itself. . . .Whatever has once been thought can be suppressed, forgotten, can vanish. But it cannot be denied that something of it survives. For thinking has the element of the universal. What once was thought cogently must be thought elsewhere, by others: this confidence accompanies even the most solitary and powerless thought. . . . The happiness that dawns in the eye of the thinking person is the happiness of humanity. The universal tendency of oppression is opposed to thought as such. Thought is happiness, even where it defines unhappiness: by enunciating it. By this alone happiness reaches into the universal unhappiness. Whoever does not let it atrophy has not resigned.
Justifying an uncompromising intellectual perspective when it goes unappreciated, not just by strangers, but by one's most intimate loved ones, can be stressful. Here is the most relevant rebuttal to the superstitious and the anti-intellectual, as only Adorno can express it:
This comes at the head of what I have dubbed via my twisted sense of humor "Adorno's Best Break-Up Quotes." Need I spell out when and why I would draw on these quotes?

Here is a related take on the same idea:
"Adorno's Best Break-Up Quotes" comprise a significant chunk of my podcast of 5/7/15: "Adorno for Autodidacts," in my series Studies in a Dying Culture under the auspices of Think Twice Radio.

So . . . The first item I used for my friend was the final paragraph of Adorno's essay "Resignation" quoted above. My second source was a short story by Jorge Luis Borges:
In "The Secret Miracle" (summary), the protagonist is sentenced to die by firing squad. He prays to God to be granted one year to fulfill his life's mission, to finish writing an unfinished play. His wish is granted in a surprising way: as he faces the firing squad, at the instant he is to be shot, time freezes. He along with everyone else remains motionless, but he is free to compose and polish his work to perfection, which he finishes mentally in this frozen scene in a year's time.  When his work is complete, the scene comes to life and he is shot to death.

No record of his work will ever be made, no one will know of its existence, and thus he will never receive recognition from the world. But the fact that he was able to complete his work, albeit only in his own mind, made the effort worthwhile.

When I related the Adorno quote and this plot summary, my friend was inspired. This was just what he needed to carry on.

Absorption is happiness. Expression is happiness. Thought is happiness.