Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Final Solution: Life of Washington

"Life of Washington" by Victor Arnautoff (Yalonda M. James, Assoicated Press)
If you're willing to elect anyone who can stop Trump, you might be unpleasantly surprised by precisely who and what's capable of doing the job. The kind of populism represented by Trump, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Boris Johnson in England with its fascist overtones parallels the 30’s. But remember that in Russia and Eastern Europe the onslaught of full-blown totalitarianism came in its wake. The current controversy about the destruction of a WPA era mural depicting Washington’s exploitation of slaves ("San Francisco Will Spend $600,000 to Erase History"NYT, 6/28/19) exhibits in microcosm what life is going to be like in a thought-controlled state that could be the platform of some of the president’s potential opponents. While many aspects of the U.S. economy could benefit from regulations, particularly in the air of the environment, free speech may be the first thing to go. What’s transpiring on college campuses across the country and currently in San Francisco is an example of the attempt to reign in thought itself. Though a sanctuary city, the home of the Haight is apparently no longer a safe harbor for advocates of free speech.  The snowflakes who dissolve when triggered (even by content with otherwise acceptable intentions), continue to provide the excuse for such censorship.The politicization of both sexuality and artistic debate (for example in the attacks on Dana Schutz’s “Open Casket” ("White Artists Painting of Emmet Till at Whitney Biennial Elicits Draws Protests,"NYT 5/21/17) are further examples of the legacy of the reaction to institutionalized racism and sexism. It’s always bad to fall in love on the rebound. You may find yourself rescued from a bad marriage only to find yourself waking up next to someone worse. Isn't such repressive backlash what George Orwell was writing about in l984? As former NEA chairman Rocco Landesman wrote in a letter to The Times: "In a world of increasingly unchecked zealotry aand self-righteousness, what work of art will ever be protected from some committee of cultural vigilantes who don't understand it?" 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Le Gai Savoir

Where does “gay” come from? How did a designation for happiness become associated with homosexuality? Does that mean that those who aren’t gay are sad? Are straight couples unhappy? The answer is usually yes, but that applies to everybody. Most people are unhappy despite their orientation. However, that’s a whole other story. Fifty years ago, if you said someone was gay, you would think that they were bubby or frivolous. Back in l969 Godard directed a movie called Le Gai Savoirwhich is an allusion to Nietzsche’s The Gay Science. Neither the Nietzsche tract nor the Godard movie have anything to do with homosexuality. The title of Godard’s movie is translated as The Joy of Learning. Now most people would think that the movie had something to do with the kind of knowledge you get at LGBTQ headquarters, ditto The Gay Science,which might have an appendix about safe sex. How language accommodates to changing manners and mores! Queer went through a stage of being a derogatory epithet. Now it’s an academic discipline! Words like "fag" and "dyke" have had less illustrious histories with the former being the name given to cigarettes in England, Before the Revolution (to invoke the title of Berlolucci’s l964 movie). The only "fag studies" course you're probably going to find would either be offered by the English subsidiary of an international tobacco company or in a linguistically oriented film department exploring the use of the word in the British "angry young men" films of the 60s.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The ABCs of Sociopathy

"Philoctetes on the Island of Lemnos" by Guillaume Guillon-Lethiere (1798)
Labelling someone a sociopath or psychopath is a convenient way of distancing yourself from them. You have only to pick up the paper to find a list of off-the-charts behaviors in both the public and private sectors. A fraternity hazing results in death while a video shows a sitting president boasting about groping any woman he likes. Another president comes a cropper for trying to insert a cigar in an intern’s vagina. Only recently a New Jersey judge tried to dismiss a rape charge under the theory that the 16-year-old perpetrator was an excellent student from a good family. What separates these offenders from a Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein who have both been or are in the process of being totally ostracized by society? Is it just a matter of the extent of the transgression? Or is there another factor? Who's to say that a person who commits anti-social or even criminal acts can’t be charming, humane and charitable? Is there for instance honor among thieves? The Greek war hero Philoctetes was exiled because of the noxious smell of his wounds. In the #MeToo era there have been a number celebrities amongst them Garrison Keillor, Charlie Rose and Al Franken who have been shunned by society. Louis CK has begun to make a comeback, but there are many public figures who have not been so lucky. How to mete out punishment? Even if someone is not convicted of a criminal offense, many people don’t want to get their hands dirty by way of association. It’s easy to say that so and so was not who they purported to be as a way of staying away from them. In fact, the sadder truth is that a person who veers from the straight and narrow might be the self-same individual who was in fact experienced as kindly and humane in other circumstances. He or she may be troubled though not a monster, merely someone who has, for one reason or another, done something wrong.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Pornosophy: Narcissistic Grandiosity

There are no dearth of sex offenders from disadvantaged backgrounds. The jails are full of them, but Henry Kissinger’s famous “power is an aphrodisiac” still rings true. Power is probably more potent than the elusive Spanish fly. However, power also has a corollary symptom, narcissistic grandiosity, which can turn an impulse into pernicious, literally “flesh eating bacteria.” It’s this cocktail of disorders which may motivate a Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein. Power eradicates boundaries. A powerful person is like a vacuum that sucks up anything in his or her path. Attraction might be the euphemism employed to deal with the presence of such a cynosure. Like one of those magnets which sweeps up  metallic shards, a successful individual is one step ahead of the rest of the crowd since there are no shortage of prospects. What fuels the transgressions is the delusion, which sometimes turns out to be true, that such an individual is invulnerable and will suffer no consequences for a behavior. There's a corollary that also appears when you look at all these cases and that's the addiction issue. Addicts always need to up the ante. The lesser dose no longer produces the same high. The Times furnished the following haunting 2002 Trump quote from New York Magazine: “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them on the younger side.” 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Is Culture Rather Than Biology Destiny?

Can it be assumed that in the natural world the function of sexuality is procreation? You don’t see too many ethological studies of female primates who display distress from not receiving clitoral orgasms? However, humankind is presented with a whole new host of alternatives by virtue of consciousness which acts as a filter. Idealization and the emotion of love are inventions of the mind that enable instinct to navigate the shoals of awareness.Today, only a minority of the human population associate sex with procreation, sometimes with disadvantageous results when for instance a man refuses to wear a condom or a woman forgets to take the pill. William James wrote The Varieties of Religious Experience, but what's the significance of the varieties of sexual behavior from an evolutionary point of view? Are there any fun-loving bonobos who are gay? Anecdotal evidence would seem to bend over in that direction. But let’s face it, there are no species of animal advanced enough to produce anything like SRS. Greek mythology depicts chimeras, creatures comprising multifarious forms, but there are few stallions capable of transitioning into mares. It’s probably fair to say that homo sapiens invented eroticism since before that, in nature, sex was an unselfconsciousness process occasioned by hormonal events like estrus in dogs and no different from many other bodily functions like ingestion or excretion. How are affects like romantic love to be regarded? Is the paraphernalia and paraphilia associated with human sexuality a form of meta biological process? Is it a product of evolution or merely an act of culture riding on the back of the Shavian life force?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

All-Inclusive Resorts and Colonialism

Gated communities, particularly in third world countries, are  concentration camps. Only the prisoners are on the outside. Colonization classically takes advantage of underdeveloped societies, exploiting  low paid workers, who function like slaves on the basis of the remuneration they receive for their toil. Thus you see the rise of chains of all-inclusive resorts in some of the most impoverished places on earth. Only the threat of terrorism spares some locales which would be the site of what travel agents call a new "property." It all involves sex, since the power of capital in tottering economies can be an aphrodisiac, but there's also explicitly sex tourism in places like Thailand, India, Greece and Dominican Republic where the traveler may get an even more significant bang for their buck. From an architectural point of view, colonization produces a unique configuration since walls and barbed wire are meant to keep oppressed populations out rather than in, though it is also possible to think of some resorts as unwitting prisons where travelers stooped in luxury are deprived of any sense of place. Armed guards may escort them on a trip up the river to see the remains of a lost civilization, but these visitors are shackled by the vulnerability occasioned by their own wealth and resources and remain the captives of their minders and hosts.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Small Minds Thinking Big

If you grew up in the 60’s and 70’s your idols might have been writers like Vonnegut, Updike, Robert Pirsig or Khalil Gibran whose The Prophet  was the bible of the turned on, tuned in and dropped out generation. You might also have carried around a tattered copy of the New Directions edition of Rimbaud’s Illuminations with the grainy picture of the young poete maudit on the cover. Corporate life was an unfortunate cop out for those who knocked someone up and had to support kids and a family. Remember the career advice Dustin Hoffman receives in The Graduate, “plastics.” Law, medicine, dentistry while secure sources of income were scarcely better. How times have changed! Your average metrosexual has never heard of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha or Steppenwolf and probably would lionize a self-made billionaire like Jeffrey Epstein until he got nabbed for sex trafficking. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos would be role models were they not deities. Projects like the Hudson Yards with big profit margins are more a product of this period of human evolution than is Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome. This is the age "where small minds think big." Alexander Acosta the current secretary of labor was responsible for the 13 month sentence Epstein received in his first trial and he’s in danger of losing his job, considering the allegations that have been made. But using the small minds think big paradigm, why not appoint Epstein to Acosta's post?  The financier apparently used his underage victims to conscript other candidates. Isn’t that an example of effective labor relations?