Thousands upon thousands of paleolithic paintings discovered in the Amazon, many with images of extinct ice age fauna … (#)

Eschatological Conspiratorialism

What is crucial is less why someone believes than what that belief allows them to do

Matthias Gerung (1500–1570), Ottheinrich-Bibel, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, The Fifth and Sixth Trumpets, Revelation 9:1-12 (pg. 292)

Ask a nonbeliever to describe the QAnon conspiracy theory, and they almost immediately reach for metaphors of madness: batshit insane, fucking crazy, bonkers, etc. Bracketing the real question of stigma attached to these metaphors, the point the speakers are making is the great gap in perception between those who believe in the conspiracy and those who don’t. That which is hard to imagine, outside the bounds of normal mental contexts, is insane.

Put simply, extreme beliefs allow for the breaking of social norms.

For instance, it makes no sense that this very American conspiracy theory is going global:

The resilience of QAnon narratives after the election shows just how far and deep this made-in-America conspiracy has spread — and hints at its staying power around the globe.
Continue reading Eschatological Conspiratorialism

Psychogeography in an era of big data

As I was doing get-out-the-vote work for a political campaign here in Houston, I was thinking about this study I read about recently that looked at the “Wild West mentality”:

The researchers found that living at both a higher altitude and an elevation relative to the surrounding region—indicating “hilliness”—is associated with a distinct blend of personality traits that fits with “frontier settlement theory”.

“The harsh and remote environment of mountainous frontier regions historically attracted nonconformist settlers strongly motivated by a sense of freedom,” said researcher Friedrich Götz, from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology.

Now, let’s forgive and forget what the “wild west” even means for a minute. What I find fascinating about this study is the way that was once a purely qualitative investigation (from de Tocqueville’s America to Debord’s urban dérive, for instance) opens out into impersonal data points. That a psychological profile can be quantified on a massive and fine-grained scale is … I don’t know, astonishing? Vertiginous?

It certainly induces a sense of vertigo in me. And that’s despite my skepticism of both psychological profiling and big data, each, in general, and the categories specifically deployed here.

In any case, geography as psychological ecology, nourishing mental niches that persist of over transgenerational human time. Wild indeed.

(Source: ‘Wild West’ mentality lingers in modern populations of US mountain regions)

68

The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best. 
The best general
enters the mind of his enemy. 
The best businessman
serves the communal good. 
The best leader
follows the will of the people.

All of them embody 
the virtue of non-competition. 
Not that they don't love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play. 
In this they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao. 

—tao te ching (#)

Philosophy Is A Drinking Game

Or, Desiring Wisdom

*A virtual lecture for The Human Situation in this time of plague, on Plato’s Symposium from the Introduction through the speech of Pausanias

I’m not coming to you in video this time (next time, I promise!), but I still have video clips of course. Let us begin with one of three songs about love that all good Houstonians and/or Indie Rock fans are bound to love. Please watch Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love.”

Why this song? I will tell you in a second. First things first, I’m going to tell you my goal in this lecture/essay: to complicate your own, personal definition of love. I hope to do this by begging you to pay careful attention to each of the speeches in the text, not just the big showstoppers at the end. There are many definitions of love in this text, and each of them is worthy of deep consideration. This is my argument: you need to take each of these seriously, or you will miss a lot. This argument is, in some respects, a bad model for you, because the counter-argument it refutes is entirely extratextual: you, the Human Situation student, do not in fact take these early speeches seriously. Between all the discussion sections and papers and final oral exams and random conversations, I think a conservative estimate is that 80% of that time has been spent by students talking about Aristophanes and Socrates. And look, this is fine! These are really great speeches, possibly the two most important things ever said about love outside of 1a. Adam & Eve & 1b. Jesus (at least in the Western tradition).

Continue reading Philosophy Is A Drinking Game

In a Pandemic, We Need Democratic Deliberation More Than Ever

As our plague year lengthens–we are but halfway through and already the toll of American dead is 200,000–it becomes ever clearer that COVID-19 is not just a threat to our lives and health, but to our democratic institutions as well. What these often have in common is the attempt to muzzle the political bedrock of our deliberative democracy: public debate of public policy.

Continue reading In a Pandemic, We Need Democratic Deliberation More Than Ever