Backchat from Woody - reply to Les

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Tue Jul 29 18:14:14 MDT 2003

Hi Les,

Well, I was a bit critical of Woody before in a previous post, but he is
very bright. There are many Woodys in the world, and so a movie about "Woody
power" and its limits can have definite emancipatory potential. I personally
like his gentleness, but other aspects of his personality, which he
exaggerates with comic or tragic effect, do not fit very well with me

I'm not doing a flippo you know, writing about Wolfowitz, I was just
experimenting with a style of writing which is a bit alternative, which I do
sometimes, to make a point, in a different way. This is not unMarxist; Marx
himself said he aimed in his method of exposition in Das Kapital also to
achieve an "artistic totality" or "artistic whole". I was applying a bit of
punk to penetrate through the controversy, the idea being, that one should
not prettify war into an intellectually satisfying artistic totality,
because that is inhuman. Real war violence is horrific, brutal, the negation
of life. The appropriate context for wars is not in the realm of physical
violence, but at other levels. I realise that physical violence will be used
anyhow by people, but the aim is to reduce that to an absolute minimum and
conduct wars at other levels, so that resources are not wasted, and people
get their heads together more for the next half-century. This may be
utopian, but it is quite okay to have that as an aim, I would think. The
concept of "culture wars" is much more productive, because it leads at least
to new knowledge, and has the potential to sort something out, plus, they
can be conducted with respect for basic democratic practices.

You might well ask, how could an exposition of a theory which claims to be
scientific be "artistic" ? But why not ? All people used to abstract thought
tend in this direction, it is merely that these days the "art" has a strong
sexual or intimate or personality connotation, i.e. the themes are very
often related to individual predicaments, not broader social predicaments;
pomo theory of course denies the very possibility of an understanding of a
social totality at the macro level, we can only understand it as a
projection of our personal predicaments. Marx does not say this, he says you
can ascend to a real understanding of the social totality, but it is a lot
of hard slog, there is no royal road to science in this sense, you have to
climb the mountain to reach its luminous summits (and I am not talking about
the G8 again here, I am talking about scientific insight). But once you have
done the work, you can present it in an artistic way, you can tell the story
in a satisfying way. I am not suggesting here that my own piece on Wolfowitz
is based on sustained research, I was prevented from doing that, and if I
should do it, then it would be stolen immediately I suspect.

The bourgeoisie generally seeks to plunder, IN ORDER to establish private
property rights for the individual, as I am sure you are well aware of. And
that means that one is limited in what one can do politically, because one
needs to have a location in the world from which a research project can be
made constructively, without leading to undesirable effects through stolen
observables. The bourgeoisie merely claims that the condition for the
removal of those undesirable effects, IS private property, but this is of
course a hoax if ever I saw one, particular in the age of the permanent war
against terrorism, itself in part a result of unworkable property systems by
any standard. All one can do is aim to attain a certain position in life
that enables one to do what one wants to do, but I have difficulty with that
and become indecisive. This is in good part produced by being disorganised
in my own life.

I find black holes to be so confusing that I don't know if they are a
problem or a solution.  -- Woody Allen

My own problem is different, I have difficulty with generalising about black
holes. Some black holes are similar, but there is a great variety of black
holes, and, with some black holes, it may just be possible to posit an
object at a precise distance from a black hole, so that the object does not
get sucked in and annihilated, but maintains an "equilibrium orbit" of some
sort. False generalisations about black holes can be a major problem in
astronomy, we need to understand their unique characteristics as well, and
not assume they are all the same.

All men are mortal. Socrates was mortal. Therefore, all men are Socrates.
Woody Allen

Sometimes I have been seen as some sort of Socrates as well, and of course
Socrates got poisoned, I think there were objections to his constant
criticism and dialogue, but I never got to the precise bottom of that story,
what was the real politics behind it. I believe Socrates's concept of
seeking to reach the truth through dialogue is an exceptionally important
concept which is of enduring value. Of course, you can have lousy dialogue,
but excellent dialogue uses the full faculties of the human being in a
social way, expressive of sociality, a co-operation of reasoning and
artistic powers, which does not lose the individual contributions but
combines them to achieve a higher truth or insight. Ernest Mandel in his
later years stressed theoretically the enormous importance of dialogue
between the party and the class, in a way, that the position of each may
shift in accordance with the outcome of that dialogue. Of course, if you
have a monolithic party, and that party claims a monopoly of the truth, no
such dialogue could occur. In addition, dialogue is the stuff of any
civilisation that wishes to be genuinely democratic. Characteristic of all
political degeneration is the dwindling of genuine dialogue in society and
the state, irrespective of whether the regime is democratic or not. One of
the reasons why I have partipated on this lists is because of my Socratic
value in this sense. But the objection I have had is, that I should not be
using the computer, but talk to living people, and apart from that, that you
just cannot go on dialoguing to anybody, you have to publish your ideas to
the world with discernment, and not forget the social or interpersonal
relations established through dialogue. Because too much bilious dialogue
could indeed have serious health effects.


Man would have nothing to demand of God had he learned to forecast the
weather correctly.  M.V. Lomonosov

This is essentially an anti-theistic statement of happiness on earth, heaven
on earth. But I consider that the very concept of making a demand of God is
mistaken, one can only ask, pray, hope, anticipate, concentrate, focus,
meditate and so on. I do believe in God, but mostly what I consider the real
meaning of God is rejected these days, and people think God is just a
person, or a concept by which we measure our pain, something like that, or
else a deity or group of deities. Whereas I see God as a completely
"natural" aspect of the unconscious mind of human beings, in principle
accessible to all, which could have different forms of expression at
different levels of experience. Jim Morrison said tongue-in-cheek, or
perhaps in a showy way indicating great personal misery, in a popsong, "you
cannot petition the Lord with prayer". I tend to regard him as a rather
nihilistic artist, and consider "LA Woman" the best Doors album, but I am
not really a fan of Jim Morrison, rather I am a fan of the band, which was
innovative rock music.

Some of Jim Morrison's songs are prophetic and radical, for example "Five to
One" where he says "The old get old/And the young get stronger/May take a
week/And it may take longer/They got the guns/But we got the numbers/Gonna
win, yeah/We're takin' over/Come on!/Yeah!". But on the other hand, he
descends ultimately into utter decadence, a "why not ?" nihilistic
motivation leading to ruin. If you could forecast the weather correctly,
then you would groove in a smooth way with other people, you would be like
God in France, as they say in Holland, rather than a constant tussle. It is
possible to develop an extremely refined sense of weather prediction, and
interpreted metaphorically, we can influence it, by what we do, of course.
Also, the bodies of some people are extremely finely attuned to the weather,
beyond normal influences on mood and so on, so that a special sensitivity
for the weather develops which becomes almost a "second nature". Bob Dylan
sings "don't need to know the weather to know which way the wind blows" and
Paul Simon sings "I get all the news I need on the weather report".

You cannot depend on your eyes when your dialectics is out of focus.
(imagination ==> dialectics, apologies to Mark Twain)

Yes, correct, this relates to the active/passive contradictions which I
referred to in the discussion with Nestor. You remember the end of Odyssey
2001 by Stanley Kubrick ?

"A zooming closeup of the black monolith towering at the foot of the bed
plunges us back into the blackness of dark space. Bowman distinctly
re-emerges within the embryo, with his own serene and wise-eyed features. He
becomes a cosmic, innocent, orbiting "Star Child" that travels through the
universe without technological assistance. The last enigmatic, open-ended
image of the film is of the large, bright-eyed, glowing, luminous embryo in
a translucent uterine amnion or bluish globe - an enhanced, reborn
superhuman floating through space. Next to the globe of Earth on one-half of
the screen is the Star Child's globe of about the same size. Its sphere
dominates the screen in close-up before a final quick fade to black and
following credits. [The cyclical evolution from ape to man to spaceman to
angel-starchild-superman is complete. Evolution has also been outwardly
directed toward another level of existence - from isolated cave dwellings to
the entire Earth to the Moon to the Solar System to the Universe.
Humankind's unfathomed potential for the future is hopeful and optimistic,
even though HAL had momentarily threatened the evolution of humanity. What
is the next stage in man's cosmic evolution beyond this powerful, immense,
immortal, space-journeying creature?]"

The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom, but to set a
limit to infinite error.  Bertolt Brecht

I would agree with that from a political point of view, for the purpose of
politics, yes, or for the purpose of practically changing the world. Also,
scientific statements, insofar as they have empirical content, are always
limited statements (as distinct from metaphysical statements). As regards my
own infinite error, Voltaire says "The only way to comprehend what
mathematicians mean by Infinity is to contemplate the extent of human
stupidity." But this must not be confused with the human desire for
immortality. It would be better to relate it to a more adequate conception
of God. The concept of God, mathematically considered, is an ultimate
relativisation. When Laplace showed Napoleon his treatise on celestial
mechanics, Napoleon asked him what place God had in his theory. Laplace
replied that he had no need for that hypothesis. I believe that this
hypothesis, if it is an hypothesis, is useful, if it is formulated correctly
as being about a universal human characteristic.

A statistician is someone who can draw a straight line from an unwarrented
assumption to a foregone conclusion.  Yale Hirsh

I think that a statistician can do much more than that. Statistical
applications are vastly underestimated, but that is mainly because of bad
theories or the categorisation problem I referred to in earlier posts.
Statisticians tend towards skepticism or at least a self-critical attitude
insofar as statistics teaches us clearly about the limitations of what we
can know, and what we do know. But, if statistics is combined with other
research methods, the gnosological skepticism may be attenuated and we may
in fact get an enormously powerful research tool. For this, we need to
understand theory as a set of systematically linked concepts, although those
links may not be formal, but dialectical.... At the end of the Robert
Langston Memorial volume, Dr. Alan Freeman quotes Einstein, something like,
"you are right, dear skeptic. Only experience can prove the truth." The idea
here seems to be, among other things, that experience is not simply passive
empiricist observation, but active human experience, praxis, that Marx's
conceptualisation is able to contain the theorist within his own theory as
an active subject.



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