Category Archives: Philosophy

Popular versus classical didactics

If you do not subscribe to the dominant ideology of your time all its art forms will seem as false, stilted and contrived as popular art from the past — and for precisely the same reason.

Popular art always reinforces the current dominant ideology, by presenting an image of reality formatted according to its ideals, prejudices and delusions.

When we collectively move on from one decade to another we move on from one grotesquely willful misrepresentation of reality to another equally (if not worse) grotesquely willful misrepresentation, and from there we look back and jeer at how naively awful we were back then.


I solemnly swear, we are so unbelievably much worse right now that we’ve ever been before, it will make the ludicrous distortions of the 70s and 80s positively pale in comparison.

You don’t see it? You don’t understand? It’s not because there is nothing to understand. It is because you are failing to understand something glaringly real. Wait. You’ll see.


You’ve judged the past according to today’s standards, and you refuse to listen to those who have tried to explain how time works.

Your values are absolute and everyone should have acknowledged them all along.

To you I offer Anaximander’s Maxim: “Beings must pay penance and be judged for their injustices, in accordance with the ordinance of time.”


For those who have done enough truly independent thinking — which means overcoming the dominant ideology of their youth and of the current time, and which also entails asking questions we are not permitted to ask (which are most certainly not the utterly harmless “dangerous questions” our cultural elites pat you on the head for asking — popular culture starts stinking of the most ham-fisted didacticism.

If that stench prevents you from enjoying art, you have no choice but to flee to higher art, which is formatted according to lower-frequency dominant ideologies — ideals which endure not just months or years like today’s moral “fast fashion” but whole decades and sometimes centuries.

You are normal and ok

The more radical changes a person has undergone, the less that person will take seriously the claims others make of having reached a final conclusive truth.

Every radical change of understanding re-presents the world in light of a new truth. These truths seem conclusive and final. This characteristic of apparent finality, however, is not in any way evidence of actual finality. Apparent finality, if treated as only apparently final, can give way to new truths that appear equally final.

If an apparently final truth does, in fact, become actually final — that is, if a person or group of people refuses to allow more radical changes to happen — this is due to the fact that radical truths are not only theoretical, but also perceptual, practical and moral.

Radical truths are less matters of thought content than they are enworldments.

Enworldments penetrate beneath language, into that dark wordless ground in which language is rooted, from which words grow, and without which words lose meaning and wither into abstraction and nonsense. Enworldments provide the very givens of our experience.

Enworldments project fields of relevance that determine what in our daily life we notice and what we ignore, the degree and kind of relevance we perceive in what we do notice. Enworldments give us the givens of perception.

Enworldments also project fields of intelligibility that determine both the spontaneous connections we intuit in our present and past experiences, as well as the kinds of connections it occurs to us to make if we attempt to consciously think some matter through. Enworldments give us the givens of understanding.

Enworldments also project fields of possibility that determine our actions, both the spontaneous reactions we have before before thinking, intentional responses we think through, plan out and execute and habits we cultivate. Enworldments give us the givens of action.

Perhaps most importantly, enworldments project fields of value that determine what is moral or immoral, virtuous or vicious, attractive or repulsive, good or bad. Values may be what we spontaneously experience, and they may also be codified rules for calculating or assigning values. These values determine where we scrutinize, challenge or attack a value as an illusion, delusion, bias or distortion and where we embrace a value as given and defend it as self-evident truth. Enworldments give us givens of morality.

Values are the primary guardians of enworldments, protecting them from entertaining irrelevant data, from uncharitable or skeptical interrogation, from potentially undermining experimentation. These challenges are bad and should not be suffered or tolerated.

Morality is what preserves and stabilizes the other givens and allows an enworldment to endure. If one wishes to radically change, it is primarily the morality of that enworldment that must be overcome.

This is why Nietzsche was an immoralist. He sought new ideals, new enworldments, new human ideals — ones that we believe from the heart and not just from ethical algorithms and societal conformism.

Earlier, I mentioned that “values may be what we spontaneously experience, and they may also be codified rules for calculating or assigning values.” Codified rules can harmonize with and reinforce spontaneously felt values. Or they can clash and contradict. When this happens we are at a fork in the road. We can ignore taboos and prohibitions against questioning moral fundamentals, and investigate matters to see if we can resolve the contradiction.

Or we can reject codified morality in favor of felt values.

Most of us, however, cleave to codified morality. We train ourselves to mistrust, disregard and repress our spontaneous, felt valuations. We affirm only what we are supposed to affirm and condemn what we are supposed to condemn — even with respect to our own personal moral responses. Perhaps we see our own subjectivity as manipulated and corrupted and in need of rational corrections.

If we do this too much, eventually our value-sense weakens and numbs until we no longer feel it. Many of us become ethical automatons, alienated from our feeling selves, no longer able to exercise personal judgment. We become dependent on analysis provided by others, and we lack all inner resistance to arbitrary valuations. We see something ugly, or hateful, or vicious and we can without much difficulty assign it the opposite value.

It is only superficial truths that are concerned primarily with how we think and speak. They stay obediently within an enworldment, and work within its givens — especially its perceptual and moral givens. Superficial truths can be delightful to play with, they can be daring, transgressive and fanciful in the ways interesting games must be if they are to be absorbing, and they can turn up useful cognitive instruments, but they are inconsequential to our fundamental experiences.

I find that play tedious and at odds with my project, which is to overcome intellectual and moral dishonesty and the self-alienation it causes. Far too many people are obedient to moral ideals they must lie and labor over, with greater and greater difficulty. And now the lies are so fragile that the liars require cooperation from everyone to maintain them to keep unwanted feelings fully repressed.

For people in this state, honesty is an existential threat.

But they are too afraid to break taboos and ask themselves the kinds of questions that can restore harmony between our felt and codified values.

The only solution they can conceive is to control external reality and to prohibit all honest expression so dishonesty becomes internalized through habit, and our new contrived “truth” seems equal to the faint repressed memories of spontaneous given truths.

We Americans just cannot kick our puritan addictions, can we? We finally free ourselves of our need to assert the existence of a thoroughly unbelievable “god”, only to enslave ourselves to other equally unbelievable nonsense. We seem unable to make peace with truth.

But know this: You do not have to believe what you cannot believe.

You are allowed to ask questions, even taboo questions,

If that feels unsafe to you, you are right. It is unsafe. Most people like to feel comfortable, to feel like good people, to frolic in the playground of permissible rebellion. The majority of people choose to keep on lying and lying.

So, if you are a liar, that is ok. It is normal.

If you need to celebrate your lying as virtuous, that is also ok. It is normal.

If you need to call the most dramatically abnormal abnormalities normal, that is ok. It has become normal.

But some of us think being normal is beneath our dignity, and choose abnormality. We do not want to be ok. We ask prohibited questions and produce incomprehensible answers.

That incomprehensibility is fortuitous for all you liars. It doesn’t make any sense. It needs to not make sense. You are in a safe space, a place of its own, a collective enworldment set adrift from anything immediate.


When I was in fourth grade I had my first crush. “Crush” is a fitting term for it. It was too much for a ten-year-old to handle. I became entirely preoccupied with what this other person saw, felt and thought — in particular when she looked back at me.

I had absolutely no idea at this point in my life what might be going on over there in her mind. She was a mystery to me, but somehow her presence in the world turned the entire world magical. The world as I knew it was shocked out of its orbit around myself. I was overcome with a pleasant nausea, my body was wracked and overheated, and I was lovesick.

And the worst possible outcome transpired: She did not like what she saw. She rendered that kind of terrible, inexorable judgment older girls (at least the merciful ones) learn to soften. She was nauseated by me, too — but in a very different way, and it crushed me.

While I never did figure out how to dispel this mystery, or conquer or possess it, or control or suppress it, I did learn how to win more favorable judgments (partly by developing my own judgment). And I learned how to inhabit this magical sphere, how to function and flourish within it, and how to order my life according to its strange laws of mutuality.

And while this way of living did expand the region of clear and mundane familiarity, it also lengthened the shimmering outer boundary where mystery recommences, each time reaffirming the inexhaustibility of mystery.


The above is intended as a response to a question I asked myself in the margin of Lee Braver’s A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism. He wrote:

Hegel’s strategy here is quite reminiscent of the later Wittgenstein’s dissolution of problems by showing that our terms only make sense in mundane contexts, whereas philosophy confuses itself by taking them out of the language-games where they do work. It is then that we tend to misconstrue notions in bizarre, that is, philosophical ways: “When we do philosophy we are like savages, primitive people, who hear the expressions of civilized men, put a false interpretation on them, and then draw the queerest conclusions from it.” Within normal conversation or during standard inquiry, we can make perfect sense of an idea corresponding to reality as it really is or the world apart from our conceptions, but once we stop these mundane endeavors and become bewitched by the sublime vision of an unknowable world existing in absolute isolation from all human contact, it has gotten away from us.

And I ask: “Why are we attracted — or repelled — by bewitchment?”

I think the answer is contained in the story of my crush.


Show me your response to lovesickness, and I’ll show you your attitude toward religious life…

Do you want immunity to lovesickness? Have you intentionally immunized yourself to it? Or have you accidentally become immune?

Do you want to treat lovesickness, and recover from it as quickly as possible?

Do you want to practice social distancing, or even self-quarantine?

Do you want to deaden its symptoms with drugs and distractions? Or do you want to intensify its symptoms?

Do you want to experience it with full awareness and attention?

Do you want to prolong it forever? Or do you want to catch it, and when its symptoms abate, catch it again, and again, and again?

Do you want to try to inflict it yourself on others? Perhaps without suffering it yourself?

Do you want to possess and control your lovesickness — or possess and control its source? Do you refuse to become lovesick unless you can possess and control it?

Have you refused lovesickness? Do you dismiss lovesickness as an exaggeration of mundane affection? Would you prefer to be lovesick toward an imaginary image?

Would you prefer to be lovesick for yourself? Would you prefer to be lovesick for lovesickness?

Do you scoff lovesickness into nonexistence, or debase it into impossibility?

These are only a few of myriad possibilities.


My favorite opening line to any book is: “Supposing that truth is a woman — what then?”


Martin Buber was the person who activated my Jewish soul:

To man the world is twofold, in accordance with, his twofold attitude.

The attitude of man is twofold, in accordance with the twofold nature of the primary words which he speaks.

The primary words are not isolated words, but combined words.

The one primary word is the combination I-Thou.

The other primary word is the combination I-It; wherein, without a change in the primary word, one of the words He and She can replace It.

Hence the I of man is also twofold.

For the I of the primary word I-Thou is a different I from that of the primary word I-It.

Primary words do not signify things, but they intimate relations.

Primary words do not describe something that might exist independently of them, but being spoken they bring about existence.

Primary words are spoken from the being.

If Thou is said, the I of the combination I-Thou is said along with it.

If It is said the I of the combination I-It is said along with it.

The primary word I-Thou can only be spoken with the whole being.

The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being.


From Daniel Matt’s The Essential Kabbalah:

Luria wrote hardly anything. When asked by one of his disciples why he did not compose a book, Luria is reported to have said: “It is impossible, because all things are interrelated. I can hardly open my mouth to speak without feeling as though the sea burst its dams and overflowed. How then shall I express what my soul has received? How can I set it down in a book?” We know of Luria’s teachings from his disciples’ writings, especially those of Hayyim Vital.

Luria pondered the question of beginnings. How did the process of emanation start? If Ein Sof pervaded all space, how was there room for anything other than God to come into being? Elaborating on earlier formulations, Luria taught that the first divine act was not emanation, but withdrawal. Ein Sof withdrew its presence “from itself to itself,” withdrawing in all directions away from one point at the center of its infinity, as it were, thereby creating a vacuum. This vacuum served as the site of creation. According to some versions of Luria’s teaching, the purpose of the withdrawal was cathartic: to make room for the elimination of harsh judgment from Ein Sof.

Into the vacuum Ein Sof emanated a ray of light, channeled through vessels. At first, everything went smoothly; but as the emanation proceeded, some of the vessels could not withstand the power of the light, and they shattered. Most of the light returned to its infinite source, but the rest fell as sparks, along with the shards of the vessels. Eventually, these sparks became trapped in material existence. The human task is to liberate, or raise, these sparks, to restore them to divinity. This process of tiqqun (repair or mending) is accomplished through living a life of holiness. All human actions either promote or impede tiqqun, thus hastening or delaying the arrival of the Messiah. In a sense, the Messiah is fashioned by our ethical and spiritual activity. Luria’s teaching resonates with one of Franz Kafka’s paradoxical sayings: “The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival.”

. . .

In the beginning Ein Sof emanated ten sefirot, which are of its essence, united with it. It and they are entirely one. There is no change or division in the emanator that would justify saying it is divided into parts in these various sefirot. Division and change do not apply to it, only to the external sefirot.

To help you conceive this, imagine water flowing through vessels of different colors: white, red, green, and so forth. As the water spreads through those vessels, it appears to change into the colors of the vessels, although the water is devoid of all color. The change in color does not affect the water itself, just our perception of the water. So it is with the sefirot. They are vessels, known, for example, as Hesed, Gevurah, and Tif’eret, each colored according to its function, white, red, and green, respectively, while the light of the emanator — their essence — is the water, having no color at all. This essence does not change; it only appears to change as it flows through the vessels.

Better yet, imagine a ray of sunlight shining through a stained-glass window of ten different colors. The sunlight possesses no color at all but appears to change hue as it passes through the different colors of glass. Colored light radiates through the window. The light has not essentially changed, though so it seems to the viewer. Just so with the sefirot. The light that clothes itself in the vessels of the sefirot is the essence, like the ray of sunlight. That essence does not change color at all, neither judgment nor compassion, neither right nor left. Yet by emanating through the sefirot — the variegated stained glass — judgment or compassion prevails.

Liberalism, esoteric and exoteric

Pluralism is for the few, not the many. Pluralism is the esoteric heart of Liberalism.

The exoteric face of Liberalism is the Law of Tolerance.

If you pursue tolerance, eventually pluralism may develop.

Starting with pluralism, though, will produce only intolerance and illiberalism.

Pluralism is a way of being first, and only secondarily a belief.


Faith ensouls doctrine.

Doctrines can, and often are, misunderstood and misanimated.

An author can be brought to life through understanding.

An author — or all authors– can be declared dead by those who wish to animate texts with thoughts of their own. But then the author would be better described as undead.

Being of worlds

Love, love is a verb
Love is a doing word
Fearless on my breath

— Massive Attack, “Teardrop”

And being is a gerund, a verbal noun formed from the verb be.

A being is one who does existence.

I think I prefer the use of the word “enworldment” to the pluralist use of “world” for two reasons:

  1. We do, whether we like it or not (and perhaps especially when we do not like it), have an ineradicable sense that there is a world beyond our limited experience of the world and our experience-derived understanding of the world. * (see note below.) The word “enworldment” acknowledges this world beyond what we make of it, which to each of us seems, for all the world, to be The World. Enworldment implies pluralism within the context of metaphysical realism.
  2. Enworldments are accomplishments, not preexisting things. Beings autonomically produce enworldments through the activity of being.

Note * A friend brilliantly named this sense “exophany” (exo “outside” + -phany “showing”).

No, this ineradicable sense of exophany cannot be logically proven. But it also cannot be logically proven that what cannot be logical proven is therefore not real.

So we are faced with a highly consequential choice: Do we lay reality on a logical bed of procrustes and make them coextensive, or do we accept that logic is only one actor in a larger experiential production? I choose the latter, because I believe both love and morality demand it. Perhaps you will claim you do not have this ineradicable sense or that you have eradicated it, and if so, congratulations: I believe you have a maimed intellect.

The Internomenology of Being

The word phenomenon too strongly suggests a speculative approach to knowledge.

Internomenon might be better.

We know reality not by sensing it and recording what we sense in our minds. We participate in reality and interact with fellow beings within reality, and these interactions are what we know. We come to know more about both our own (transcendental) noumenal self and (transcendent) noumenal others through these interactions.

Whatever of the thing-in-itself (ipseic or alteric) that does not participate is unknown. What is known is what participates in particular ways in particular interactions.

For your convenience, here is Peirce’s Pragmatic Maxim, because it should be coming to mind: “Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.

… Once again, I feel like I’m lurking about in the suburbs of Whitehead. …

Beautiful and most brave

From Lee Braver’s A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism:

Hegel cannot accept Kant’s transcendental idealism because it presupposes a transcendent realism: the commitment to a realm that in principle can never be experienced by humans.

In the margin I wrote “This is a good commitment; it is the essence of goodness.”

Braver published this book in 2007. It’s a useful book, or at least useful for what I am trying to do with my book (which is to propose a philosophy of design which assumes transcendent realism but affords us finite but significant latitude to design our own transcendental conceptive schema through which we may interact with the inner-face of transcendence and participate within reality in life-enhancing ways.)

It approaches the Continental Realism versus Anti-Realism debate using methods drawn from analytic philosophy to produce clear, sharp distinctions on a number of key fronts — and to demonstrate how analytic and continental styles of philosophy can be used in concert for better depth and thoughtcraft.

A few years later, Braver published a followup paper, “A Brief History of Continental Realism”, where he introduced a new term “Transgressive Realism” which he described as

a middle path between realism and anti-realism which tries to combine their strengths while avoiding their weaknesses. Kierkegaard created the position by merging Hegel’s insistence that we must have some kind of contact with anything we can call real (thus rejecting noumena), with Kant’s belief that reality fundamentally exceeds our understanding; human reason should not be the criterion of the real. The result is the idea that our most vivid encounters with reality come in experiences that shatter our categories, the way God’s commandment to kill Isaac irreconcilably clashes with the best understanding of ethics we are capable of.

This is exactly what I believe, which why I’ve described my metaphysics as a metaphysics of surprise. Only surprise reminds us that something transcends our minds. As Bruno Latour put it, “Whatever resists trials is real.” Our participation in reality constantly produces resistance, and helps us recognize the difference between our understanding and what engages our understanding while exceeding it.

I attach religious significance to actively wanting transcendence, reality, resistance and seeking it even while we seek to understand. We do understand, but there is always more to understand — inexhaustibly more — and if we are alert, sensitive and generous, we will notice how much and how often we need to understand differently and better, in order to accommodate our fellow-persons and those aspects of reality they care about. This is not worship of human “otherness”, but human otherness where transcendence reveals itself and challenges us most conspicuously.

Unfortunately, power has a way of tempting us to substitute our own understanding for reality. We want to control our environment to use technology to keep things things reliable and predictable in order to tame surprise and constrain and confine it to the realm of play. A little surprise delights us. Radical surprise disrupts us, immerses us in chaos, crushes us with perplexity.

Even the threat of impending radical surprise fills us with apprehension and puts us in fight-or-flight mode. It makes us nasty.

And here is where power gets its bad reputation. If a fellow person threatens us with radical surprise, and we have the means, we will use our power to make that threat go away. We will require that person to be polite and avoid controversial or potentially hurtful topics. We will prohibit certain bad opinions from being spoken in public. Then we will prohibit these opinions from being said in semi-public, then from being said in private. Then even indirect or accidental expressions become taboo. Eventually even the suspicion that these opinions are privately held — or even unconsciously present — is addressed as a threat. We might feel entitled or even obligated to help people stop having these beliefs and adopting our own instead. We may start requiring behaviors that are performative affirmation of our beliefs. We might require explicit declarations of agreement, as conditions of employment or membership in civil society. In some places and times, these conforming behaviors and declarations have been conditions of the right to continue living in the community, or living at all.

A person with control of enough wealth, institutions and political force will almost inevitably, unconsciously begin to slide in this direction, demanding more and more surprise-damping conformity from fellow-persons to erase the disturbing difference between transcendent reality and our own thoughts about it.

Solipsism is the ultimate luxury; when weaker people are compelled to serve the solipsism of the stronger, this is abuse of power.

To be good, we must want transcendence, seek transcendence, accommodate transcendence even when we have the power to dictate reality to those lacking the power to resist and to be respected as real.


Pay close attention to who is unworthy of your consideration — because here is where your root biases — your sacred biases — do their work.

Pay attention to those biases you are biased toward and those you are biased against, because these are where your root biases reveal themselves to others while concealing themselves from you. These also are biases — your sacred biases, the ones who do the most self-righteous evil.

Critical thinking makes its own thinking the object of critique — it is reflexive. Critical thinking avails itself of the critiques of others to detect what it would otherwise miss. We are tempted to choose only the critiques from others that we are biased toward receiving — the ones who reinforce our sacred biases — but these are self-gratifying and easy, which is why this kind of “critique” is so popular — and, for a enterprising exploiter of fads, so lucrative. People don’t go to tent revivals because they are averse to being called sinners. They go because the diagnosis and remedy is a small price to pay for moral omniscience.

Listen to those who are angry and fucking hate your guts because you are so comfortable, complacent, omniscient, smugly self-satisfied, so aligned with “the right side of history”, so good — when in fact you are just a typical oppressor, too powerful to be confronted with that fact.

Consider for a moment, the possibility that, despite all their obvious faults, whether they are not to some degree justified in hating you. Test your irony and see if you can hold both conceptions in your mind simultaneously and hear the chord they form. Switch from straw-manning their faults to steel-manning their assessment of your faults. See if you can hear all four sides of this conflict.

Do all this and then I might respect you as a critical thinker and a lover of transcendence — of wisdom — of inconceivable conceptions waiting to be born.


Nietzsche said:

There is a point in every philosophy when the philosopher’s “conviction” steps onto the stage — or to use the language of an ancient Mystery:

adventavit asinus
pulcher et fortissimus.

The ass entered
beautiful and most brave.

My conviction, beautiful and most brave: Thou shalt welcome the stranger… transcendence.

This conviction, this priority, this “prior” — this sacred bias — is unreasonable and stupid, and I am unable to not believe it is absolute good.

Maybe you can help me believe otherwise.

A cure for nihilism

I just had this thought as if it were my own:

Poetry is language attending to what transcends language.

If Jan Zwicky hasn’t expressed this thought it would surprise me. If she expressed it in exactly these words it would not surprise me. I cannot remember.

But I do know that I would not have had this thought had I not read her. Yet, I did just have this thought myself.

I rehad her thought.


This is how it is with the kind of philosophies I love:

They give us new givens, if we are hospitable and take them in.

They outfit us with new transcendental conceptions (together-takings) that make us aware of givens that would otherwise evade our awareness. They allow us to understand, anticipate, perceive, recognize and think in radically new ways.

These new conceptions allow new being to irrupt into our sense of everything, ex nihilo, expanding, deepening and enriching the realm of possibility. They miraculously make the word “everything” larger and more accommodating.*

If this can happen once, it can always happen again.

Nothing — nothingness — will ever be the same again, because we can never be sure that some inconceivable somethingness isn’t lurking behind the nothingness, waiting to burst through and flood our lives with glory.

How could we ever take nothingness at face value, ever again?

How could we be nihilists, ever again?

We become exnihilists.


What does it mean to transcend language?

It means to suspend that impulse to recognize everything and assign it a word.

It means to notice those moments when we respond? without the guidance of speech, and to refrain from labeling those moments “absentminded”, but instead to become curious about who is doing all this doing, being all this being, am-ing all this am-ness.

Maybe we are truly absent in these moments — but maybe it is only speech that is absent. How do we discern? Do we really think sitting around talking to ourselves or to each other is going to clarify the issue? To speech, speechlessness is nothingness, but more is going on in us than speech can capture in its textual web.

Words can call us to what is beyond words. And that is exactly what they ought to do.

Language-breakers: Meditation mats, usability labs, acid tabs, shock…

Note: * Expanding, deepening and enriching the realm of possibility, making the word “everything” larger and more accommodating — this is the effect of magnanimity. The measure of a soul is how much is meant by the pragmatic sprawl of its belief in “everything”. But just beyond that sprawl is an inexhaustible more-than-everything, the wellspring of holiness, the awareness of which is wisdom.

Pluralism and open faith

Some faiths are open-ended. Such a faith is aware that it animates only one way of being — and produces only one way of understanding being (and of responding to being). This way of understanding receives truth, as given, in its one particular way (and responds to being in its one particular way) — but with awareness that many other ways are possible. And it might also be aware, or even anticipate, that multiple possible ways can be actualized in a single lifetime.

But some faiths are closed. These faiths believe they possess knowledge of what animates reality itself, and that what varies from their own way of understanding, to the degree that is conflicts with or confuses is wrong.

A way of understanding and responding — what I am calling faith — is not the same thing as belief, or knowledge, opinion or doctrine. Belief, knowledge, opinion and doctrine are only the content of faith, where faith is what contains the content and, by its containing, shapes the content and renders it intelligible and known.

(Technical note to myself: Faith transcendentally conceives truth. The form imparted by faith on any understood truth is concept. The specific material conceptually shaped by faith into an instance of a concept is content. But content only gives us some of being, not all of it. Every concept, in its selection and exclusion, makes tradeoffs of illumination and shadow. Every faith, in its habitual patterns of selection and exclusion, makes tradeoffs of illumination and shadow. We know only our own faith’s enworldment, not the world in its chaos of possibility. Ignore this if you wish. Leave it in the shadows as irrelevant, or not-yet-relevant.)

Many people who have known only by one faith conflate container and content, and believe when they change opinions they’ve changed their mind as radically as a mind may be changed. These are the clever philistines.

Others change from one closed faith to another, and experience the second closed faith as waking up to the truth after a long delusion. These are the awakened omniscients.

Strangely, all open faiths, despite their diversity, share something in common — perhaps the most important thing — that one most needful thing rejected by closed faiths — a belief in transcendence, in mystery, in possibility of change of the most surprising kind… of change toward one another as we outspiralingly embrace more and more inexhaustible being.

I call the doctrine that expresses this open faith and its orientation toward the hopeful and unseen pluralism.

I understand very few are capable of this faith.

This faith is the essence of living religion.


“You do not believe in God,” [Alyosha] added, with a note of profound sadness in his voice. But suddenly remarking that his brother was looking at him with mockery, “How do you mean then to bring your poem to a close?” he unexpectedly enquired, casting his eyes downward, “or does it break off here?”

“My intention is to end it with the following scene: Having disburdened his heart, the Inquisitor waits for some time to hear his prisoner speak in His turn. His silence weighs upon him. He has seen that his captive has been attentively listening to him all the time, with His eyes fixed penetratingly and softly on the face of his jailer, and evidently bent upon not replying to him. The old man longs to hear His voice, to hear Him reply; better words of bitterness and scorn than His silence. Suddenly He rises; slowly and silently approaching the Inquisitor, He bends towards him and softly kisses the bloodless, four-score and-ten- year-old lips. That is all the answer. The Grand Inquisitor shudders. There is a convulsive twitch at the corner of his mouth. He goes to the door, opens it, and addressing Him, ‘Go,’ he says, ‘go, and return no more… do not come again… never, never!’ and — lets Him out into the dark night. The prisoner vanishes.”

“And the old man?”

“The kiss burns his heart, but the old man remains firm in his own ideas and unbelief.”

You are not empathic

You are not empathic.

I’m sorry, it is true. This is mainly because you have become confused about what empathy is.

What you experience when you believe you are being empathic is the exact inverse of empathy.

In empathy, we approach an actual person with the intention of acquiring a new or modified understanding of how they interpret and respond to the world, because the understanding we currently have is inadequate for making sense of their emotions, beliefs and behaviors. We approach the problem of the other not making sense with the working assumption that the fault lies with our own failure to understand, not that the other is nonsensical — that is, confused, insane or deceptive. Once we gain an adequate understanding, we assume, we will be able to make sense of their feelings and perhaps even respond to what they experience with similar emotions.

What you do is reversed on each point. You are far less concerned with actual persons, but rather with abstractions of persons.

You conceive a person with whom you intend to empathize as an instance of a category of person — a type — to whom typical things happen. You recognize a structure: “This category of person has, once again, been subjected to that category of mistreatment by that category of person.”

In other words, a pre-existent dramatic or mythical structure has been matched with a story being told. The storyline itself is an embellished variant of a familiar myth. The actors in the story are match with a mythical figures who serve as the dramatic personae. These personae will serve as the intentional objects of the intense feelings the spectator will have.

It is important to note that there is absolutely no change in understanding here, as there is in empathy. All necessary understanding in this emotive event arrives pre-fabricated and will not be challenged, but rather reinforced by its re-instantiation, which transforms it into another example of what always happens.

It will also be charged with emotions. The relating of the story is invariably emotional. And not subtly but full-on operatic. There is sorrow, despair, outrage, righteous fury, cries for vengeance — all the stuff of the Greek theater.

The spectator observes the intense emotions expressed in the telling of the story, and mimetically reproduces them in herself. (I use the feminine pronoun here because this mimetic capacity is regarded today as highly virtuous and it has become customary, when speaking of virtues, to use the feminine pronoun.) She instinctively imitates the feelings of the storyteller and co-feels these same strong emotions in herself.

Many people who, like you (perhaps misinformed by sentimental sociopath Brené Brown) call this imitative emoting “empathy”. This very natural, very animal sentimental imitative receptivity is sympathy. It is important to have, but it is not particularly rare and it is only good when tempered with reason and willingness to understand in new ways — that is, as a supplement to empathy.

So, the last step occurs when the sympathetic spectator attaches the overwhelming emotions she has reproduced in her own imagination to the mythical structure and the actors. She is then able to believe that she has had emotions about people, and she believes that she is empathetic. What she has really experienced is something like what the audience at a romcom pays to experience. Newly whipped up familiar emotions about familiar stereotypes experiencing familiar situations with familiar themes. Zero intellectual effort yielding lots of gratifying feels.

Where real empathy is needed, however, this same “empath” is intellectually opaque and emotionally somewhere between indifferent and hostile.

If someone approaches her with a different viewpoint or with feelings she cannot match to a preexisting mythical structure, she cannot compute and cannot muster much concern. Their feelings or opinions “do not make sense” which means they must not be valid and that the person is irrational or hostile or deluded and not worth understanding. If they press the matter, and continuing trying to get her to understand, and she is unable to distract herself or evade or otherwise make the unfamiliarity go away, she get angry, cold, mean, alienating, and eventually vengeful.

The children of “empathizers” understand this about their mothers, and figure out how to become little instantiations of mythical protagonists. Ordinary feelings about ordinary individuals are not important enough to warrant a mother’s attention or sustained affection — but if the child is experiencing some kind of social or political persecution, now that gets her feelings all revved up! Now the child becomes a cause she can really feel.

This is sufficient to account for so many young children manage to get caught up in social turmoil and controversy and adopt new attention-getting identities: children need parental attention and will get it any way they can.

In reality, though, every child is unique and often deeply odd, and requires actual empathy and understanding. Children force parents to change and mature and develop in order to  love them fully, in their entirety. But fundamentalists, whether of Christianist or Progressivist inclination, cannot get outside their own heads and experience anything that transcends their own solipsistic imaginations. Their kids get unbelievably fucked up, but the fundamentalism explains it all away or “normalizes” it with yet more myth.

So now that you know you are not empathic, you might find yourself in need of a more accurate term for what you are. I suggest “sentimental mythologue”.

It is a great label, and you might be proud to bear it and identify with it, since being a sentimental mythologue is celebrated nearly everywhere today.

But please don’t be satisfied with this label.

Please do not remain in this deficient state — especially if you are a parent or a spouse who aspires to be real marriage.

I urge you to develop genuine empathy.

Why? Because human beings need love. They need to give it and receive it. Without it they fall into despair, anomie, self-destruction. What passes today for “empathy” precludes love, blocks love and makes love impossible — even between a mother and her child.

You are not a critical thinker

You are not a critical thinker.

I’m sorry — you just aren’t.

You don’t know what it means. You haven’t put in the right kind of effort.

Despite what you think, “critical thinking” is not just doing an extra-good job of thinking the way you happen to have been trained to think — and, consequently, reaching the correct conclusions your correct and competent thinking reaches.

That is the opposite of critical thinking.

The problem is this: You have your criticism pointed in the wrong direction.

You think “critical thinking” is thinking up criticisms of how other people think. But, everyone does that.

The fundamentalists who send their kinds to Jesus Camp to learn ludicrous garbage and become braindead foot soldiers of the salvation army — they train their kids to memorize and recite arguments that demolish foolish worldly wisdom.

When they do it, it is easy to see that this is not education in critical thinking. It is only indoctrination.

But when you do the same thing, it is different because you are teaching what is true.

Are you really so dim that you cannot see that this attitude does not make you different from those dumb fundamentalists, it makes you exactly the same as them?

You, like they, have grown so smugly self-certain of your own correctness that you’ve lost the ability to put yourself on equal footing with others who, like you, have lost that ability. And you lost that ability because you, like they, have failed at critical thinking.* (see note below.)

The critique of critical thinking is pointed back at itself, not at others. This is what makes it different from what most ideological dummies do, and what makes it as rare as hen’s teeth.

Critical thinking examines its own presuppositions, its own conceptions, its own habits, its own blindness, and it breaks down its own certainty and its own clarity.

Critical thinking is a harrowing process. It leads directly to disagreement with anyone who has not engaged in it, themselves.

Critical thinking is essentially nonconformist and essentially anxious.

If you need your thinking to always be delightful and playful you can’t be a critical thinker.

If you need people to pat you on the head for being a good person, you can’t be a critical thinker.

As long as you cannot do without the comfort of being surrounded by a community of benevolent, like-minded kindred-kindred spirits — all of whom congratulate you and each other for their critical thinking, and for their ethical excellence and their deep concern for the marginal (or at least the like-minded marginal) — you most certainly can not be a critical thinker.

Of course, you can call yourself a critical thinker. I can’t stop you.

But I can laugh at you for calling yourself that. And you can’t stop me.

NOTE: * For instance, have you ever once asked yourself how, if other people can be unconsciously cognitively biased and prone to self-interested motivated reasoning, you can be sure that your use of these concepts isn’t biased and self interested? No you haven’t, because you’ve only deployed these critiques against other people, not against your own ideological dogmatism.

Or have you ever once wondered how, if “Whiteness” can be an identity that “erases” itself in order to continue enjoying unjust “privileges”, how you can be sure you yourself don’t enjoy unacknowledged self-erasing identities with unjust privileges — perhaps one that grants you the unjust privilege to be the arbiter of all matters of justice? No, you haven’t, because asking that question will knock you off your perch, and you love that perch.

Have you ever once noticed that your “offense”, your little “traumas”, your righteous “PTSD” tantrums bear a hell of a resemblance to what you call “fragility” and “rage” and “hate” and aversion to being criticized? Again, no, you have not, because you cannot take what you dish out. (I’m not kidding: I’ve seen people start blubbering, crying actual tears, when confronted exactly the way they confront others, and then actually complain of mistreatment, when they urge others in the same position to “lean into their discomfort.”) But no, you believe you should not have to be subjected to the discomfort of aggressive, radical, unwanted criticism of the kind you subject others to… because you are right and they are wrong.

But you are not right. You are only prejudiced toward your own views, because you are you, and you happen to have enough power to bully others with your ideology and force them to pretend to agree or at least shut up. Isn’t that a “power differential” of the kind your ideal is sworn to oppose? But, see, this is a good power differential. This is responsible bullying for a higher cause, meant to redistribute prestige and humiliation to make things more equitable. So say you, at least when cornered. Everyone else sees it as just the kind of bullying every powerful group does, and always finds a way to morally justify.

Critical thinking could help you overcome these profound intellectual and moral defects, but you won’t do it. You don’t want to be less certain, less, clear, less self-satisfied, less confident.  You’ll only try to make everyone else do it, because when their confidence and certainty is broken it gives you the advantage you unconsciously crave — a desire which, for your own advantage, you repress and disguise as justice. You are full of shit, and you are hated by the truly socially vulnerable — not those pampered, pseudo-vulnerable fellow overclassers you call “marginal” and “vulnerable” “protected classes” — for the very best of reasons. If that revolution you enjoy longing for ever comes — God forbid! — I think you’ll be quite surprised who gets lined up against the wall.

Philosophy and friendship

To me, what matters in philosophy is not what we can argue or analyze. When philosophy is used primarily for analysis or argument it is, at best, uninteresting.

What matters to me is how philosophy can enduringly change and improve how we conceive — and through changes in conception, change spontaneous givens of experience and what sense we can find in these givens, and what sense we can make of them.

This use of philosophy clearly is not for everyone. Some use philosophy for different purposes. And why shouldn’t they? Philosophy can have more than one purpose. Others pursue self-transformation by other means, such as religion, psychology, exercise and other forms of self-discipline. And so what? Many means can share a common purpose. Whatever gets the job done.

But for me philosophy is the most effective means of self-transformation, and self-transformation is philosophy’s most valuable purpose.

I no longer expect anyone — even friends — to understand, much less share these attitudes. But these attitudes are central to my existence, and the degree a person can respect that truth about me is the degree to which I can respect that person as a friend.

Nietzsche Preface Project

From time to time Susan has uncanny “potentia” intuitions which fill her with an overwhelming certainty that something must be done. Invested with weird authority — and with a loving imperiousness that not only forbids but precludes argument — she issues decrees. The most recent was directed at me. The command: Produce a podcast, a Nietzsche seminar, where you (Stephen) guide me (Susan, and maybe eventually one or two others) through the process of reading and understanding Nietzsche.

You cannot and should not argue with Susan when she gets like this, plus I’m flattered that she wants to invest time and energy in doing this, so obviously I’m starting work on the project right now.

I know exactly what text I want to study. For a long time, I have harbored the hunch that it might be fruitful to read Nietzsche’s late prefaces together as a single work. However, I’ve never actually done it. I don’t remember the content of these prefaces sufficiently to imagine the likely results. This is an experiment, which seems fitting, if not essential, to this project. For this reason, the episodes will be unscripted. We will not preread the material. We will not edit out our missteps and errors. We will “show our work” and demonstrate “philosophy in the making”.

But I do want to establish clear context in the first episode: what we are doing, why we are doing it, why anyone should join us, and — perhaps most importantly — how we will go about collaborating. I’m terrible at improvising sequences. I jump around, omit details, skip steps, digress, backtrack and make a mess of it.

So I’ve been designing a script, just for the first episode, and here it my first draft:

Brief backstory of Nietzsche’s Prefaces

In the years between 1883-1886 Nietzsche’s philosophy crystallized. He wrote and published his magnum opus, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and Beyond Good and Evil, which was intended as a polemical presentation of the ideas animating Zarathustra.

This new clarity drew a bright line between the earlier works and what Nietzsche now understood to be his destiny. Before, he was a wanderer, impelled toward something important but unknown. Now he understood where he was headed, and he understood clearly where he needed to go.

With this new clarity he could now retrospectively situate his previous work within this context. To that end, he wrote new prefaces for his earlier works — Birth of Tragedy, Human, All Too Human, Daybreak, and Gay Science.

These prefaces, taken together, tell a coherent story of a journey toward an unknown, unmapped and unmarked destination, impelled and guided by intuition, whose purpose can be known only in hindsight. And they also impart the hindsight itself, most importantly, the obscure purposes driving his work, and the kinds of experiences, problems and responses these purposes induce in him. This, I claim, supplies an attentive reader with the tools needed to navigate the terrain of Nietzsche’s wanderings — and to blaze paths in one’s own personal wanderings in unmapped, unmarked regions — as well as make clearer sense of Nietzsche’s later work.


Before we dive into the work I want quick acknowledgement The direct inspiration for this Preface Project was Jurgen Habermas’s Philosophical Introductions. Here’s the blurb on the cover:

On the occasion of Habermas’s 80th birthday, the German publisher Suhrkamp brought out five volumes of Habermas’s papers that spanned the full range of his philosophical thought, from the theory of rationality to the critique of metaphysics. For each of these volumes, Habermas wrote an introduction that crystallized, in a remarkably clear and succinct way, his thinking on the key philosophical issues that have preoccupied him throughout his long career. This new book by Polity brings together these five introductions and publishes them in translation for the first time. The resulting volume provides a unique and comprehensive overview of Habermas’s philosophy in his own words.

General Approach

We will begin with the “present” from which Nietzsche wrote his prefaces, the newly completed Beyond Good and Evil. The first preface we will read will be from that work. We will treat it as the key for understanding the earlier works, in two senses of key. First, I believe (from my own experience as a reader) that at least one important symbol, ubiquitous in and central to all of Nietzsche’s work, is illuminated in this short passage, which can be used to unlock at least one set of meanings across Nietzsche’s corpus — including these prefaces. But also, it sets the tonal key, which we should use to attune ourselves to the rest of the prefaces.

With our ears so equipped and attuned we will read each of the prefaces, in order of publication, starting with the brutally self-critical preface to Birth of Tragedy, then Human, All Too Human, then Daybreak, and finally The Gay Science.

We will be using the Cambridge editions:


We will not read these prefaces straight through. A mistake many novices make when reading Nietzsche (and other existentially challenging writers) is to expect him to build a system of information, one clear fact at a time. A lot of the time Nietzsche’s intent is destructive — demolishing entire cultures or epoch on a grand scale, or vivisecting one’s own most intimate and cherished ideals. He is destroying the familiar and beloved in order to clear ground to build new, inconceivable understandings, for which one is not yet prepared. The work is not straightforward.

It will make far more sense if we think of this reading less as informing ourselves on what Nietzsche believed to be true, and more like learning to play a new piece of music.

We will try to understand the rhythm, phrasing, focus and emphasis of each sentence. And we will interrogate each word, to understand the range of meanings and resonances it might bear, exploring the polysemic possibilities, until one meaning crystalizes for us. Then we will play the sentence at full tempo and hear it as a spontaneously understood whole. This process will then proceed one sentence at a time, and we will carry the spontaneous understanding to the whole paragraph, then the whole preface, and eventually to the prefaces taken together (con- “together” + -ceived “taken”) as a single given. And we will experience it as given to us by Nietzsche, the least dead author the world has ever known, providing we want him to live and work to bring his work to life in this manner.

There is strong textual evidence that this is how Nietzsche wished to be read, and some of the strongest comes from the preface to Daybreak, which I will preview here, but which we will read better later:

This preface is late but not too late — what, after all, do five or six years matter? A book like this, a problem like this, is in no hurry; we both, I just as much as my book, are friends of lento. It is not for nothing that I have been a philologist, perhaps I am a philologist still, that is to say, a teacher of slow reading: — in the end I also write slowly. Nowadays it is not only my habit, it is also to my taste — a malicious taste, perhaps? — no longer to write anything which does not reduce to despair every sort of man who is ‘in a hurry’. For philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all: to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow — it is a goldsmith’s art and connoisseurship of the word which has nothing but delicate, cautious work to do and achieves nothing if it does not achieve it lento. But for precisely this reason it is more necessary than ever today, by precisely this means does it entice and enchant us the most, in the midst of an age of ‘work’, that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to ‘get everything done’ at once, including every old or new book: — this art does not so easily get anything done, it teaches to read well, that is to say, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers … My patient friends, this book desires for itself only perfect readers and philologists: learn to read me well! —

My Own Ulterior Motive

My life changed dramatically and for the better with my first encounter with Nietzsche. The experience changed how I read, what I expect from reading, what I expect from philosophy — what I expect from life.

I spent about five years immersed in Nietzsche’s world, and then the next fifteen puzzling over its implications. What kind of world is this, where the translated words of a flawed man dead for a century could radically transform my fundamental experience of life? These questions carried me in many different directions, but perhaps the most interesting was where it intersected with my professional life.

Without going too far into it, I have come to see philosophy as closely related to design, and if fact I now view philosophical works as artifacts that can be developed in designerly ways and evaluated as designs.

In this project, I hope to gather a rich set of demonstrations of where and how I see this happening and to continue developing my vocabulary and repertoire of concepts to convey and support my view of this new designerly way of approaching philosophy. To keep things simple and clean, I am going to try to keep this personal purpose in the background, and separate it from the reading, but I might add reflections to the end of some of the episodes.

Then we will start into the preface to Beyond Good and Evil, whose first line is the best of any book I’ve ever read.


My McLuhanite friend has been talking to me about “Gutenberg Man” — a species of human consciousness shaped by a society saturated with and shaped by the printed word. Wikipedia says:

McLuhan studies the emergence of what he calls Gutenberg Man, the subject produced by the change of consciousness wrought by the advent of the printed book. Apropos of his axiom, “The medium is the message,” McLuhan argues that technologies are not simply inventions which people employ but are the means by which people are re-invented.


For awhile now, I’ve noticed a kind of mentality that seems to connect with McLuhan’s concept. This mentality understands entirely in terms of cognitive objects, which entails removal of the subject from the matter to be understood so the matter is viewed from a point exterior to the problem.

When this mentality thinks, cognitive objects are analyzed (disassembled) and synthesized (assembled or reassembled) into systems, like an engineer tinkering with a gadget set before him on a workbench. There is distance separating the thinker and the thoughts, and the thinking takes place across this distance. The thinker extends his intellect to the problem and puts together facts or ideas into arguments, or theories, or demonstrations. It all takes place with words. If there is no word, there is no thought. Thinking is a linguistic matter.


Much can be accomplished with this style of thinking, but it does have sharp limits — in what it can create, but also in what it can understand.

One realm of understanding that fully outside the limits of this mentality is religion. Inside its boundaries is only fundamentalism or anti-fundamentalism. It cannot even conceive the kinds of truths known to a religious mind, which is perfectly okay with them, because religion is just a mix of rustic platitudes and dangerous nonsense. Religions must be instructed by more advanced, scientific minds to COEXIST — by emphasizing the essential rustic platitudes and suppressing the inessential dangerous nonsense. But wouldn’t it just be better to keep the rustic platitudes and move on?

I find the limitations of such mentalities intensely frustrating. They stand inside their limits, demanding (with smug, smirking skepticism) a preview of what will be known beyond their limits, because, of course, “there is no there there” — and failure to produce the requested preview demonstrate this fact. Or, alternatively, they demand proof that their current way of thinking is inadequate — and if they cannot be driven from their current position with overpowering arguments, it is reasonable to conclude there are no real reasons to change their current understanding.

In both cases, a particular understanding of the nature of understanding is excluded from play, and all that is left in in play is bounded — imprisoned, in fact — within the realm of objective thought.

This exclusion prevents them from understanding their condition within the world than bystanding it. They stand apart, oblivious to themselves, except as a bundle of thoughts about themselves (psychological, biographical, social, scientific, magical), like stunted gods, knowing things about all things.


Because I get mean when communication is willfully thwarted, and because I enjoy inventing insults, I am calling this condition Gutenperger’s Syndrome. It is, like Asperger’s Syndrome, an empathic incapacity — but one caused by an incapacity to think outside the limits of objectivity and explicit language. It makes a thinker immune to radically new understandings that implicate one’s own subjectivity and potentially transform it. Those with Gutenperger protect themselves from such transformations and all its dreadful preliminaries.


Once I recognize a person as a Gutenperger’s case, I know that philosophizing with them can only end in tears. I must keep things shallow and light, especially when they want to be “deep”. And they always do.

The Philosophical Click

When thinking about philosophy many people make a fundamental category mistake: They think a philosophy is a system of claims, and that acquiring knowledge of the claims is understanding the philosophy. In doing so, they mistake the philosophy for its content.

But learning a philosophy is learning how to do that philosophy, or even better, how to participate in that philosophy. The claims, the arguments, the language — the content — is best seen as a delivery vehicle for the philosophy. If engaged as intended, philosophical content induces a way of thinking that makes clear, coherent sense of the content.

(For example: If your goal when reading Nietzsche is to answer the question “What did Nietzsche really think?”, you are making this category mistake. Pursuing the question “How did Nietzsche think?”, and using the question of what he thought as a means to this goal, puts us on the right track.)

Philosophical engagement is making the clearest, most coherent, most immediate sense of some philosophical content. This means reading or listening carefully, paying close attention to where clarity and coherence is lacking, trying out alternate senses of each word, alternate interpretations of each sentence, each passage, each work, the whole corpus — patiently reading and rereading, or hearing and rehearing, or trying and retrying, until an understanding clicks into place as a gestalt, resolving the meaning and dispelling all occluding unclarity and contradiction.

After the Click, the content flows in spontaneously, second-naturally — as easy and obvious as a sitcom storyline. This is our best indication that we understand the philosophy. Sadly, it might also mean that we have misunderstood it. Only the most acute alertness to what has not been understood, what remains contradictory, what is still cloudy can help us discern misunderstanding from understanding. This requires a willingness bordering on eagerness to be mistaken — to have misunderstood all along.

(Those who prize intellectual competence above all else — who love the feeling of being right and of having been right all along, who find evidence of their own extreme prescience and omniscience in every experience — are incompetent readers of philosophy. So are those who skim and cherrypick, rummaging for useful components to bolt onto their own sprawling conceptual assemblages. Prophets, collagists and ambitious system builders understand perfectly well all the relevant bits of what they read, and therefore miss the entire point of philosophy, which is to discover subtle misunderstandings and gaps that open the way to more deeper and more expansive re-understandings. Many are attracted to philosophical texts, in order to dominate or plunder them, but few engage philosophical texts philosophically. One must have a perverse taste for discovering one’s own inadequacy  and for immersion in the most anxious perplexities to develop philosophically. In philosophy, hedonism, pain aversion and pride are stunting vices.)

What makes philosophical content philosophical is that it implicitly promises the Click, provided one is willing to put forth philosophy’s distinct kind of effort. The Click is possible because a clear, coherent philosophy was used to generate and form the content, and the author ensured the content expresses the philosophy exactly enough to induce a sharp click of understanding and to prevent false clicks of misunderstanding.


What makes philosophy so exciting and important is that, once its Click happens, it sets in motion a way of thinking that can activate whenever it is needed. It sets up a new species of recognition and ready response to whatever is conducive to its treatment — to its form of understanding.

I’ve called a form of understanding a concept. A concept is a spontaneous taking-together of a given of some particular form. I’ve called the capacity to recognize and respond to a particular concept a conception.

The purpose of philosophy is to induce new conceptions that enable recognition and response to new concepts in both philosophical content and in every kind of experience. Conceptions are what enable the understanding of concepts in philosophical content as well as the recognition and response to those same concepts in any kind of experience, even when the philosophical content that originally induced the conception is not recalled within that experience.

Real philosophical engagement necessarily changes who we are. It changes us beneath the layer of language, at the depths of self where language is understood and used, and where tools are wordlessly understood and used, where we read facial expressions and gestures, sense danger, experience beauty, and feel reality as real. It is where we do all our practical believing. It is the layer that overrules logic and theories and the content of our brains when life is at stake.

Few of us are in touch with this layer of self. We think we are what the words in our head tell us we are, when we ask ourselves with words “Who am I?” Who we are speaks with silent gestures, and the words that fill our heads and ears talk over it and drown it out. If we listen only for words and even see with word, words are all we hear or see.

This layer beneath language and beneath perception is what I call faith. We can also call it the subject.

There are many ways besides philosophy to change faith, or recall it, or maintain it, or strengthen it, or further develop it — (or, exceptionally, to let it go, or even to kill our faith and suffer in the shadows without it for awhile). Religious practice is a common way to shape faith. So is participation in culture and in various subcultures within our culture. Education also works on faiths, and this is why we call the various educational disciplines subjects. Art can change our faith, at least for a few moments, and a diet of one genre of art can have enduring effects.

But philosophy is my favorite faith-shaping discipline.

It is not the underpinning of everything everyone else is going. That is faith. There is no implicit philosophy, any more than there is an implicit art or implicit academic subject.

But philosophy is one potentially effective means of taking responsibility for faith.


I have so much more to say.

I want to say how our faith conditions our entire experience of reality, and that if we experience reality as meaningless, persecutory, punishing, dark or doomed, this is only the testimony of our faith.

I want to advise us to stop fixating on the content of our faiths and instead observe how things seem when given to us via our faiths. Yes, the world is real, but the world we experience and know is the world our faith enworlds around us.

I want to point out that our faiths can be intentionally changed for the better.

I’ve said it all before innumerable times, but I need to carefully craft it all into a Click-inducing whole. Maybe the above is the inception of this work.

Liberal virtue mimesis mad libs

A few days ago I threw a design tantrum on my blog dedicated to design tantrums:

Apple seems to think its Jobsian Reality Distortion Field is still operational. It thinks that if it keeps pretending its botched syncing is a magically simple cloud experience — if it sings out “ta da!” insistently enough — its cult of uncritical boneheads will just believe what Apple wants them to believe. And you know what? Apple is 100% correct.

But I do not believe. I do not believe because I notice things and think about them. That is what smart people do. Stupid people copy the thoughts of people they think are smart, and then stupidly imagine that copying smart person thoughts makes them smart.

In that last I suspect I am dumbing down Girard’s theory of mimetic desire and applying it to the contemporary virtue of virtues: smartness.

It is interesting though, how much contemporary progressivist culture rejects mimesis in word, while embracing it in action, producing some pretty comical effects for spectators positioned outside progressivism.

Nobody — or at least nobody in in the ascendant professional class — wants to be a cultural copycat. Everyone wants to be the originator of his own beliefs, attitudes and practices. And every fails dramatically, because originality doesn’t come from intense need to be original and determination to achieve it. Originality comes from noticing what one notices (not just what everyone else is fixating on) and trying to find a way to make clear, coherent and persuasive sense of what strikes one as relevant. It’s the “persuasive” part that is hardest. It requires intellectual honestly beyond what most people have — because most people believe mimetically, and play little or no attention to whether they, themselves, are persuaded.

To put it into my mimetic liberal virtue mad libs formula: Unoriginal “original” people copy the ideas of people they think are original and imagine copying Original Person Ideas makes them original.

A person urgently seeking answers to questions they themselves feel urgently — or, even better, the capacity to resolve perplexities they themselves have entered, with any form of positive or negative resolution, whether it be question, answer, problem, solution, or response — will accept help wherever they can find it. They’ll borrow, steal, copy, whatever — and they won’t stop until they experience genuine persuasion and relief from the question, problem or perplexity. The originality follows from this uncompromising pursuit of clear, cohesive persuasion. As James Dickey said “Amateurs borrow; artists steal.”

So, now I’m wondering what happens if the other virtues of progressivism — those remaining traces of waning liberalism — are subjected to this same mimetic virtue mad libs formula. I’ll make a quick list of the liberal virtues progressivists still prize: Liberalism (as opposed to illiberalism), Strength (as opposed to weakness), Uniqueness (as opposed to conformity), Objectivity (as opposed to ideology), Empathy (as opposed to self-centered).

Let’s mad lib these and see how it goes:

Illiberal “liberal” people copy the ideals of people they think are liberal and imagine copying Liberal Person Ideals makes them liberal.

Weak “strong” people copy the behaviors of people they think are strong and imagine copying Strong Person Behaviors makes them strong.

Conformist “unique” people copy the qualities of people they think are unique and imagine copying Unique Person makes them unique.

Ideological “objective” people copy the beliefs of people they think are objective and imagine copying Objective Person Beliefs makes them objective.

Self-centered “empathic” people copy the emotions of people they think are empathic and imagine copying Empathic Person Emotions makes them empathic.

It seems to work, at least for liberal virtues.

And also, just as Girard says (or I think he does, because I still have only read about his thought and have not yet read him) competition to possess these virtues exclusively and deny them to the out-group produces hostility and an overpowering need for scapegoating.

How it goes

If something in my life becomes unbearably distressing and I force myself to withdraw and stop reacting and instead to recollect myself — the explicit output of this work is rarely “What you understood as bad is actually acceptable.” It is more often “It is acceptable that this bad thing is bad.”

This is similar in form to how my philosophical reconceptions work. The explicit output of philosophical work is rarely “I was wrong,” It is more often “I was right, but not right enough.”


I am unfairly skeptical of anything claiming to be metanoia that is just a reversal of a value. Something bad became good, or good became bad. Something false became truth, or truth became false.

Many people who have changed opinions on this or that deep or important topic believe they’ve experienced metanoia… and but actual metanoia can give them something to which they can contrast their simple changes of opinion. But generally, they use this leveling-down move of treating all exciting changes of opinion as equivalent to protect them from any line of thought that could induce actual metanoia.


Ethnomethodologically speaking, a nonconformist is a human breaching experiment.

Breaching experiments violate the tacit rules of the social game. When those rules are violated players no longer know how to move around. Perplexity ensures.

Nonconformists inspire perplexity, anxiety and hostility.


If we understand personalities to form and sustain itself through ethnomethods, and if we understand personalities to be constituted of varying abilities and tastes — it follows that any particular culture’s ethnomethods will favor some personalities over others. This accounts for why some people are attracted to certain cultures and repelled by others. It also accounts for why we might want to borrow customs from other cultures. Foreign borrowings can can help us feel less alien in our own culture.


Regarding identity, the compulsive obsession of our self-alienated times: If we wish to reshape our culture we can create new roles or we can change the meanings of old roles. Both of these strategies require a holistic shift in ethnomethods. A private ethnomethod is like a private language, and it cannot sustain personhood. The notion that a person can be a person inwardly without a supporting social setting — one with ethnomethods that allows a person to signal and to be recognized as the kind of person one is — reveals a fundamental essentialist misunderstanding of personhood.

In times when radical cultural change has been desired by a marginal few, the forming and sustaining of new kinds of personalities — kinds of personality more accommodating to the variabilities of ability and taste — motivated the formation of subcultures. These subcultures were voluntary. Those who needed them joined them; those who did not, ignored, avoided or scorned them. Sometimes subcultures were attacked and persecuted. Nonconformity produces perplexity.

Now the most powerful classes of our society wish to change the ethnomethods of our culture to conform with the ethnomethods of certain large subcultures. Because these are the preferences of the most powerful — those who dominate both the public and private sphere — these are not mere preferences, but morality itself. Consequently, those who resist these changes are immoral.

Because the most powerful are acting on behalf of groups who are minorities, and because they champion the ethnomethods of subcultures who have been persecuted in the past, they miss the fact that they themselves are overwhelmingly powerful and that they are behaving precisely the way dominant groups always do. They are perplexed by anyone who fails to see the justice in their domination and refuses to conform to their new norms — and perplexity makes them hostile. So they persecute conconformists, and pretend this persecution is required to defend the vulnerable.

It is all motivated reasoning that serves to justify persecution and domination, just as it always is when one group gains enough power to rule unopposed. It is always done in the name of morality, but this time — always — it is a moral morality.

It’s been God.

It’s been Freedom.

Now it’s Justice.

Someday it will be something else. And, as always, everyone complicit in this madness for Justice will have been doubters all along. Until then they have no doubt: justice must be done.


“Beings must pay penance and be judged for their injustices, in accordance with the ordinance of time.” — Anaximander

“Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.” — David Byrne