Monday, February 29, 2016

Is Donald Trump a Utilitarian, a Consequentialist or an Objectivist?

John Stuart Mill (London Stereoscopic Company)
Is Donald Trump a utilitarian, a consequentialist or an objectivist and follower of Ayn Rand who trumpeted a belief in individualism, willpower and self-interest? On the spectrum of amoral philosophical systems, objectivism is obviously the most extreme. Utilitarian thinking was developed by the 19th century philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill and the idea is basically that usefulness or goodness is defined by the amount of pleasure produced by an action less the displeasure derived from effecting it. Consequentialism is a slighter broader view emphasizing product over process and looking at the value of all action in terms of what results from it, rather than its morality. There have been attempts to unite the utilitarian idea with the notion of goodness, particularly by the English philosopher Derek Parfitt (On What Matters) but generally the notions of morality and efficacity don't go hand in hand. Mr. Trump’s plans and promises have been criticized for being sketchy, but the little we know indicates that he's a candidate who's result orientated, often to the detriment of what Kant termed categorical imperatives. For instance, his plan to stop Muslims from coming into the country is discriminatory. Why not stop all Hindus from coming into the States because of extremist elements who have committed violent acts, the same with right wing Jews and Buddhist sects in Myanmar who have committed violent acts against Muslims? Who says these folks don’t have their own form of millenarianism which could be a danger to the American people? You get things done, but at what cost? Americans have inalienable rights. Will these be trampled in the name of expedience? Will the essence of democracy be lost? However, while Trump may seem to be a utilitarian or consequentialist due to his emphasis on self-interest, his plans are too murky and general to enable the kind of due diligence a true utilitarian or even consequentialist might require and even though Trump's bottom line oriented he doesn't seem to think about the consequences of his actions even when he's simply giving a speech. However, objectivism which depends more on the almost transcendent vision of the individual easily fits the bill. Yes, if Ayn Rand were alive Donald Trump might be the model for a book like Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead

Friday, February 26, 2016


Portrait of Sigmund Freud by Max Halberstadt
You hear a lot about agoraphobia, deriving from the Greek word for marketplace, agora, and which defines as, "an abnormal fear of being in crowds, public places, or open areas, sometimes accompanied by anxiety attacks." But meanings change and one could easily think of agoraphobia as a kind of stranger anxiety you were unlikely to experience unless you anticipated failure in the marketplace. In short, if you feel ugly and horrible you’re not going to enjoy walking into a party filled with people you don’t know and you certainly aren’t going to feel comfortable trying to sell something to, say a novel. On the other hand you don’t hear much about agoraphilia, which The Free Dictionary defines as "Sexuoeroticism that is contingent on being outdoors or on having sex in public places." If agoraphobia is fear of crowded public places, then agoraphilia would be a level of comfortability in these spaces such that one is capable of making love in them. In short if you feel like a slick cat, you're going to love walking into that room and will anticipate dominating most of the conversation, selling your script to Steven Spielberg, say he’s one of the guests at the gathering in question and then getting laid in front of everyone. The only thing that makes you apprehensive is that every outing feels like rape to the extent that people allow you to take complete advantage of them. In one sense agoraphilia is what we’re all after; it’s what a person is enjoying when they’re at the top of their game and feel happy, joyous and fee. But agoraphobia tends to be a condition that approximates the experience that most human beings have from about the time of birth, when they exit the womb and lose the all powerful "oceanic " feeling of oneness with the primal mother.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sperm Count: Speaking of Erections

Fresco of Priapus, Casa Dei Vettii, Pompeii (PD-ART, Fer. filol)
We take words for granted. Take for instance erection. You mention erection and you think of sex. In order to consummate sexual intercourse a male needs an erection; it’s not a requisite for procreation in this age of test tube babies and frozen sperm, but it doesn’t hurt. The sexologist Dr. Ruth used to roll her tongue employing her German accent to create a mellifluous and exotic sound when she said the word in order to emphasize the auspicious state that it betokened. There’s the flaccid penis and there’s an erection. A male with a penis which cannot make the transition from one state to the other suffers from ED, or erectile dysfunction. If the cross had two stations it might conform to these two earthly poles of existence. However, considering how much the word erection is used, it’s rather astounding how seldom one thinks of its roots. Erection is the state of building something up and an erection is what results from this activity and every erection has its shaft which is the foundation for what will eventually rise up. You might erect or participate in the erection of a tent or building. Remember when you were a kid and you innocently played with your erector set? Little did you know that this would be the foreplay that led to manhood. To erect is also to create. So we erect buildings and eventually cities and that is why the word was chosen to describe a condition in which the male penis engorged with blood becomes proud and hard. The erection is the Robert Moses of the human body. Plowing the field is slang for having sex. But you need an erection to plow the field and to coin the name of a famous soul song create an “expressway to your heart.”  The erection  is what makes ontogeny recapitulate phylogeny. It’s what turns the individual into a race and it’s a symbol of the life force. In the bible the Tower of Babel is a major erection and when that erection is lost, mankind becomes impotent, speaking in so many different tongues that no one is able to understand each other any more. The word of god has become scattered words, now lacking a divine unity and mission.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Harold and Leopold

Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds (1772)
Leopold Bloom is one of the most famous characters in literature, a modern day Odysseus, wandering through Dublin and living with a case of impotence in the light of the death of his son, Rudy. Harold Bloom on the other hand is hardly a work of fiction though he might very well have been a character dreamt up by a novelist like George Eliot whose famous intellectual was Casaubon. Bloom bears some resemblance to Dr. Johnson due to his several chins and his extraordinary knowledge. However, Harold Bloom is more of a critic than a lexicographer and as of yet has no Boswell, documenting his life and appetites. Surely it’s about time someone address the life of Harold Bloom and his legendary photographic memory. Bloom like another Bloom by the name of Allan who taught at the University of Chicago is a great advocate of the canon, much of which ostensibly lies not only at his fingertips but on the tip of his tongue. A potential Boswell could do for Bloom what Joyce did for his fictional character, charting the great literary critic's wanderings, which, however, might be more around imaginations than cities. Poldy was the nickname Joyce gave to his character.  Compulsion was Meyer Levin's’ fictionalized treatment of Leopold and Loeb . Harold and Maude was a romantic comedy. But how about a movie about the two Blooms called Harold and Leopold? It would hit moviegoers like the canon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

All the King's Men

In Roman times Julius Caesar was famously murdered when he wouldn’t play ball with the powers that be. Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men found a modern equivalent for Caesar in the story of the rise and fall of Huey Long, the legendary governor of Louisiana. In Robert Rossen’s l949 Academy Award winning film, Broderick Crawford plays the character. But who today will act out the myth of the populist hero who becomes corrupted by power? Though probably more political than idealistic, Lyndon Johnson was, for example, a perfect example of the New Deal politician who became a major power broker—to quote the title of another book written by the prominent biographer of Johnson’s life, Robert Caro. Treachery and behind the scenes deal making is, of course, the nether side of our democratic process and what unfortunately makes it interesting. Who wouldn’t rather read a book about Huey Long than one say about a pleasantly equanimitous governor like Mario Cuomo? "As a governor, that is my job every day is to turn the aspirational into the operational," Chris Christie recently told CNN--which might have been fodder, but the governor of New Jersey seems to be in no danger of attaining mythic status. Ted Cruz is cracking up to be a good candidate not for president, but for a book about behind the scenes hardball playing. Prematurely announcing Ben Carson’s retirement from the race to voters attending the Iowa caucuses was the epitome of cut throat politics. And now we learn that he’s pulled one his own ads because a fetching actress in it turned out to have had a career in soft core. Add to that the impugning of his opponents faith ("The Devil in Ted Cruz,NYT, 2/23/16). Donald Trump has famously written his own book Trump: The Art of the Deal but he needs his Jack Burden, the journalist narrator of All the King’s Men. Who will be his Boswell? The story has color and glamour, but somehow lacks the gravity of either the Robert Penn Warren novel, or Caro’s non-fiction work. Trump’s legacy will probably result in the creation of many books, but what's lacking in this tale is the presence of a truly great figure. Trump is the rare example of a larger than life character with, to decontextualize the title of Eldridge Cleaver’s autobiography, a Soul on Ice.