Monthly Archives: February 2013

Body Ego

My reply to the post below on Artificial Intelligence:
Your chart of categories and attributes is a lot of fun, heuristic, challenging, remarkably exhaustive. Under “creative humanity,” I suggest that theater, storytelling, conversation, self-awareness, and emotional manipulation constitute a subset that expresses emotional life. The same goes for the subsets of psychoanalysis and social function. Likewise for all the categories of human society, at least from “government” to “attraction and mating.”
A key question: does AI seek to acquire the wherewithal  to bring these specific categories and attributes to life? Let me state this another way. Western philosophy has identified the life of the mind with the power to think, to will, and to judge. Does AI seek to acquire the powers to will and to judge? No better example of AI’s potential for thinking than the fact thinking man comes up with abstract mathematics that “map exquisitely well to the empirical world.” How it hurt when  Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov. Deep Blue can anticipate 200 million moves a second. Even so, it was close.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Dr. Eric  Saund is on the cutting edge of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Eric and I have had a conversation for 38 years about the potential for AI to objectify the workings of the human mind and ultimately to replicate it. Last December,I published a post on psychiatry and psychoanalysis in which I contended that AI could not pull it off. Eric’s response is given below. My response to his response follows under the title, Body Ego.
Eric Saund:
I was particularly interested in your January 19 piece, Psychiatry/Psychoanalysis.  You and I have been going at this for about 38 years.  As you know, my thesis has always been that mind is due to the workings of the brain machine and that AI will arrive with mind some day. This is not to minimize the vast beauty and awesomeness of mental phenomena any more than the study of genetics and evolution minimizes the awesomeness of natural life.

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Death Instinct

Rand Paul terrifies me. He is hell-bent on destroying government, while at the same time holding a major position in government, that of  Senator. He has gained a strategic position on the inside, ideally placed to carry out his mischief. Sen. Paul fits to a T what Capt. Ahab said of Moby Dick: “He is sinewed with malice.” The revenge-driven Capt. was delusional, Rand Paul is malignant and armed to his legislative teeth. He is dangerous.

Political commentators, nearly one and all, are mystified by Republican behavior these days. Is the Party self-destructing? If so, why? Freud would submit the Death Instinct as a possible explanation, that is, an innate hatred towards life. How does that help us deal with Rand Paul and his gang of equally malignant Tea Baggers? I suggest that the notion of a Death Instinct, however quaint it may sound these days to our scientific sensibilities, can prove useful as a signaling device. “We have seen this movie before.”

The notion of a Death Instinct strikes our scientific sensibilities as quaint. Fair enough, but what are we to make of Sen. Rand Paul? He is on a War-Path to kill political life, at least as the rest of us know it.

Rand Paul drips venom. He is a one-man wrecking crew. Contempt shapes his every sentence. He makes statements as though wielding a sledgehammer. He shows off his sense of superiority as though speaking with the divine right of a king. He is dangerously ambitious, with intimations of running for president in 2016.

“Come, let us reason together. Let us compromise.” Lots of luck. If Rand Paul and the Tea-baggers had their way, it would be the death of our political life we’ve kept going for some 230 years. Since 2006, 158 new Republican representatives have been elected to the Congress. Of the 234 total Republicans in the House, it is estimated 219 of the districts they represent have been effectively gerrymandered and are all but guaranteed Republican. Many, if not most of these reps think like Rand Paul, a Pied Piper to the manner born.

The Death Instinct is alive and well. We’ve been warned.

Envy and Hate

President Obama serves as a bizarre object for Republicans. His Marxism, socialism, Muslimism, anti-Americanism – the list goes on and on! –  get alleged with the energy of moral mania. No mystery. True, the Republicans make up these allegations as they go along, but then every moral system is a human invention. There is never a necessary connection between the “is” of reality and the “ought” of morality.. Fundamentally, the “ought” of moral precepts comes down to an aesthetic judgment. The blinding hurly-burly of moral mania is designed to keep this sobering truth out of sight.

What is a mystery is the fierceness of the hate directed at Obama. We’re not talking about sound and fury, signifying nothing. Republican hate for the President dominates every aspect of our political life, resulting in implacable opposition to whatever he proposes. The Republicans have only one item on their agenda, and that is to destroy President Obama.
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Moral mania and hyperbole

The Republicans keep running up and down the countryside shouting, “The deficit! The deficit!” Not only do they disturb domestic tranquility, they crank up fear big time. They are a damn nuisance.

As noted in previous posts, the Republicans have transmogrified an ordinary political problem, the deficit, into a bizarre object. That in turn drives their bizarre behavior. So exactly what is the structure of this commanding object?  What are we talking about? identifying the workings of a bizarre object is of importance if we are to understand the behavior of a disturbed group, such as the present day Republican party. The bizarre object is not an inert tablet of stone. What the mitochondria are to a cell, the bizarre object is to the group – the source of power. It impacts the real world hugely.
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Republican Pharisees

“The proud Pharisee prayed this prayer:’ Thank God, I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there!'”

Republicans claim moral superiority when they themselves are without any morals. It’s an old trick. Jesus recognized it 2000 years ago. What enables the Republicans’ moral upmanship, of course, is the deficit. Unlike spending-mad Democrats, lacking any  sense of responsibility for future generations, Republican hearts bleed for the children. And the grandchildren. And for kids after that! They’re the ones who will get stuck with the tab. Republicans have buckets of blood always at the ready for boo-hooing.

“It’s the deficit, stupid.” From morning till night, the self-righteous Republicans carry-on about the deficit, the deficit, the deficit! Everything else is off the table. “The last thing we need is a Head Start program for every four-year-old!” And so on. Proudly they carry on the heroic battle to cut spending.

Pharisees – hypocrites. When they held power, not a peep about deficits. So the kids got stuck with paying for two wars, two massive tax cuts for the wealthy, sweetheart deals with the pharmaceutical industry. “Let them eat cake! Cake for the grandkids, too,” The deficit went from 5,000,000,000,000 to 10,000,000,000,000. That’s trillions. Okay, we know the present crop of Republicans is made up of rogues and rascals and rapscallions. We get the hypocrisy, the moral superiority without any morals. The problem we have to solve is why the deficit fits the needs so perfectly for the Republican Pharisees.

Transformations

The current crop of Republicans is made up of essentialists, that is, folks for whom essence precedes existence. A more familiar way of stating this is that they are ideologues. An example of their essentialism is the pledge to Grover Norquist never to raise taxes. Not even if our country goes to war? Not even then. Did Republicans pay for the Iraq war? The pledge trumped reality.

Invariably associated with essentialism is a bizarre object, that is, a psychotic structure shared by a group. That it persists through time establishes the fact it is a structure. It can, however, undergo transformations. We will discover that the Republican pledge to Norquist is associated with the same bizarre object as the Republican fixation on the deficit. In other words, if we examine carefully the Emperor Without Any Clothes, we’ll discover he has any number of tailors.
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Republican bizarre objects

Present-day Republicans have gone off the deep end. They have all converted to essentialism. They sign Grover Norquist’s No New Taxes pledge, overriding the financial facts of the real world, which are mind-boggling in their complexity and unpredictability. Immobilized by Grover’s millstone ’round their neck, Republicans can’t adapt to an ever-changing economics. For the past four years, they have opposed Obama on every issue, even those they had once supported. Again, the facts of the legislation the President proposed were irrelevant. Their political Good Book demanded they turn away from Obama. Treated him like a false god. The thundering NO! of their essentialism echoed and re-echoed through the halls of Congress.

Whenever essence precedes existence, send out a search party to find the bizarre object. It’s hidden someplace in the weeds. Sometimes the search is a walk in the park, like finding Grover’s bizarre pledge, or the herded Republicans roaring NO! at every piece of legislation offered by the White House. Sometimes it is not obvious which bizarre object underlies the Republican essentialism. This is true of the GOP’s fixation on the deficit and the consequent insistence on austerity. Paul Krugman has documented the disastrous effects on the European nations that went that route, but his authoritative warnings fall on Republican deaf ears.  Obama’s stimulus package of $870 billion back in 2009 created millions of jobs. In breathtaking denial, Republicans claim it did not create one job. I repeat, not ONE job! I am not making this up.No problem identifying the bizarre object, but again, what is the bizarre object structuring the Republicans making the deficit the be-all and end-all?

“Okay,so just where is the bizarre object? Certainly the deficit is a problem, adding close to $1 trillion a year to our debt. Why isn’t the deficit a legislative conundrum that needs bilateral thrashing? I’ll give you that Grover’s pledge is a bit odd, but focusing on the deficit is a legitimate and hugely important political problem. Essence precedes existence –  Nonsense.”

It turns out that the Republican position on the deficit is remarkably heuristic. We will begin the search in the next blog.

bizarre objects

Whenever essence trumps existence, somewhere lurking in the weeds is what psychoanalysis refers to as a bizarre object. It is a delusional structure. Of the making of bizarre objects there is no end, and, to paraphrase Immanuel Kant, this ceaseless activity reflects the accursed fecundity of the race.

The president of the Lutheran church/Missouri Synod takes a young minister to the woodshed for participating in a memorial service of national import that included folks from other religions. Jumping out of the weeds comes a bizarre object called “Lutheran Purity of Worship.” What about Tea Baggers, marching in line behind the hate-mongering Rand Paul? Their political agenda is driven by an a priori conviction that  government is forever hell-bent on the destruction of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Never mind that the actual workings of Social Security and Medicare has been profoundly helpful to millions of citizens, the essence of government is malignant whatever the facts on the ground.

Whenever essence precedes existence, madness is afoot.

planet at risk

Existentialism can be framed with three words: ”

“Existence precedes Essence.”

Democrats are existentialists, Republicans are essentialists. Democrats pay attention to reality, Republicans pay attention to doctrine. Signing Grover Norquist’s pledge never to raise taxes is pure essentialism. Continuing unemployment insurance for 2 million folks is existentialism in action.

I was raised on the pure milk of essentialism. It is not merely pasteurized but sterilized. It comes from a global dairy that supplies half the race. That every political body divides itself into The Right and The Left has been recognized only since the French Revolution, a mere 200 years ago. Half of folks are born existentialists, The Left, the other half are born essentialists, The Right. Scientific research suggests that this division comes with our genes, 50-50, so getting 55% of the vote constitutes a landslide. It took me 30 years to repair the genetic damage of essentialism, a lamentable fact of my birth. Why did I undertake that melancholy journey and a sibling did not? It’s a mystery.

What is not a mystery is that essentialism is a thought disorder and the most serious threat to the well-being of our planet. Tomorrow’s blog will continue the discussion.