Some Thoughts on Gorgias

In Plato’s Gorgias we’ve received one of those Socratic dialogues that feels more like a conversation with friends than a treatise. This is a dialogue where Socrates distinguishes his philosophical method from the Sophist’s oratory, yet Socrates himself winds up giving longer speeches and his interlocutors frequently call him out for his own inconsistencies and perceived conversational offenses. After one such episode Socrates will reply that such frank remarks are like the stones on which gold is tested for its purity, he wishing his souls to be made of gold and requiring a sharp friend to smash his rock on Socrates’ gold. In another humorous episode (humorous to me anyways) Socrates tires out his bold and inquisitive friend Callicles to the point where Socrates himself will play both roles in the dialectic and reply to himself with the typical responses “yes I do think that is necessarily so” and “of course it is Socrates.” Socrates even suggests one time that they end the discussion since there seems to be no one left willing to carry on until the dialogue’s namesake in Gorgias speaks up. Socrates continues, pleading Callicles to listen and also interrupt him if he is ever off the mark. This is one dialogue that is not one-sided, it’s flow shifting with multiple contestants from Gorgias to Polus to Callicles. The order here is maintained by Socrates who must constantly reaffirm that his quest is not to win an argument but to find the truth, to search after what is good and just in a spirit of collaborative conversation rather than victory or defeat.

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Origins of the Term ‘Nihilism’

In searching for the origins of the term ‘nihilism’ we are brought back to a moment in history marking a great turning point in Europe. Great Britain had just won what has since been called “the first world war” (The Seven Years War) and its market-based colonial empire could now extend itself across the oceans of the earth “freely.” New ideas about human nature and nature itself had sprouted in France and would charge a gigantic revolution, which had vast consequences everywhere. A faith in reason brought with it a promise of reform and an understanding that scientific inquiry into the natural world would reveal natures laws and even the secret to human happiness. With the expanded development of humanity’s capacity to reason, universal truths would soon be discovered, religious principles would receive firm foundational support, a just ordering of the world could be maintained, and people would generally get smarter. But The Age of Enlightenment would see challenges within its own discourse that would bring it to a crisis in the late eighteenth century. Reason and the authority it claimed would eventually come into conflict with the authority of the church or traditional faith in general. Very few could accept resting on atheistic conclusions in Germany as David Hume’s skeptical atheism could in Great Britain, yet Hume’s arguments gained wide attention. Reason, criticism, faith, nature: where did the authority lie? What would become of society when the human powers of reason were fully actualized?

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Blowback: The 1997 East Asian Financial Crisis

When I picked up Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire what I was expecting was an elaboration of the term ‘blowback’ and some examples of the negative consequences of US military operations.  What I got was much more.  The book shines when it dies into financial machinations centered in the East Asian pacific region, blending gruesome stories of what goes on in US military bases with complex currency manipulations designed to keep those countries from growing too strong economically.  Written before the events of September 11th, 2001 and the subsequent war on terror the book lets us see the workings of US imperialism from a less spectacular era.  The Cold War having been won and US global dominance assured, the full power of dollar diplomacy and economic intervention is brought to the fore.

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Act, Speculate

Could anyone have predicted this would happen? Is anyone using this event for their own advantage?

It’s odd how in times of genuine crisis people begin to ask the most speculative questions when those same questions are derided as paranoia during periods of relative calm. Millions of people worldwide have been isolated for months, told that halting income generated work and trade to its barest “essentials” (don’t even get me started) was the only way to prevent mass death. Then a horrendous murder is shown on video and out comes all of the anger, the guilt, the rejection of hopelessness onto the streets of cities all across the US. Sometimes the simplest explanations are the best, narrowing down all of the scenarios for “how this will play out” along the common party lines of who will win and lose election capital or taking sides with ‘non-violence’ or violence or saying “pro” or “con”. Sticking to the tried and true can create a certain sort of clarity that calms the nerves and straightens thinking. Other times wild speculations offer extreme scenarios that serve as giant blaring signs in bold red letters: DANGER do not let this happen! or ONWARD to liberation!

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Capturing the Battle for the Soul of Gotham City

I’ve been holding off on writing about The Dark Knight for some time. It’s impact on American culture can hardly be overstated but for a long time it just felt too close to home to tackle head on. It wasn’t until I rewatched the old Tim Burton Batman of 1989 that it started to click. Heath Ledger’s Joker, while original and alluring (most of all for succeeding in capturing that ever sought after and highly profitable “zeitgeist”) is not that difficult to understand. When compared to Jack Nickolson’s Joker of 89, our new and more nerve-touching Joker is another beast entirely – even if many of his defining scenes are ripped right out of the old. Christopher Nolan and David Goyer attempt to put their version of Batman and the Joker in a real city and act out real contemporary political issues but, in spite of its resounding success, The Dark Knight is mired in War on Terror ideology and will remain frozen in that time. Their placement of Batman in a real world Gotham only diminishes his fantastic potential of visualizing and story-fying our unconscious desires.

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More on Conversations

Initiating a conversation is not always a matter of holding an idea inside of your mind and then releasing that idea into someone else’s mind for a shared time. Sometimes a conversation with its topic and type of participants is already there in the atmosphere, latent and easily brought to the forefront of our minds. It was in this second sense of conversations that I wrote an early little essay in my blog called On Conversations. The words and the ideas were already there and just waiting to be spoken. Someone or something had cracked the code of what people wanted to start talking about but couldn’t quite find the right avenue or opportunity to begin. And then all of the sudden it hits like an EMP, electrifying a crowd of people, and suddenly even timid individuals are transformed into loud-mouths.

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Don’t Get Schwifty, Raise Your Posterior

Of all the episodes of Rick and Morty that bend serious sci-fi to a casual comedic audience, ‘Get Schwifty’ sticks out the most. A giant head appears from the dark recesses of outer space and causes major geological disasters immediately before it issues one command to the people of earth: “SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT.” The allusion to climate change is made immediately by a tv news reporter who is swiftly told to “not make this political.” The entire fate of the earth and its inhabitants now depends on showing the giant space heads, the Cromulons, what we got. It’s so simple and thrusts upon us so suddenly that there is no time to collectively discern how to react. The Cromulon heads are calling on us, demanding us to give them what they want.

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Electrified Stories

Electronic images pass through the mind, a plushy chair cushions a straight back.  Simpler times are conjured up by an graphic bits of light set upon a screen.  Sitting still, the imagination soars backward and we try place ourselves in a natural setting performing essential tasks.  I fetch water in a wooden pale from my own well dug up by my great grandfather, I buy a sickle to ease the next harvest, I feed the livestock with grain stored up in the barn, I head to the pub to find my neighbors – all of whom I know, I get into a brawl with my rival and nobody is actually hurt.  I am inside of a community and feel reassured by this sense of belonging as I lay me head to rest.  Night becomes day, day night, and “harmony” is won again.

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Starting Over with The Last Jedi

Here we go again, another Star Wars movie. After the reboot of the franchise in The Force Awakens took the safe route and essentially mimicked the original Star Wars episode IV, expectations were pretty low that The Last Jedi would give this next generation something sizable to chew on. When Disney bought the rights to the Star Wars brand it was safe to assume that the same tropes and themes would resurface in shiny new graphics, that they would give enough fan service to keep up with merchandizing profits, that they would sustain continuity between the generations. The fairy tale magic that George Lucas brought to the baby boomers was such a strong force in pop culture that it was bound to make a come-back and Star Wars probably will continue build on its universe in a time when its world is so well-entrenched in the mainstream consciousness. I still remember when my parents took me to see the 1990’s remakes of the original trilogy: it was a kind of inter-generational transference of pop-culture that (most importantly) brought families out to buy movie tickets of a movie they had already seem (many times I’m sure). After that success, Lucas Arts hit the accelerator on filming the prequels and turning this legendary trilogy into a billion dollar franchise that will seemingly never go away.

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