Thursday, March 22, 2018

SUGGESTED READINGS FOR MARCH 22, 2018


Sam Miller McDonald's Activist Lab article on "Climate Apocalypse" is a must-read. It begins:
I’m a downer. Due to frequently writing and sharing doom articles, I am not very popular on social media (15 twitter followers as of publication). Or in real life, probably. Most conversations I have about anything with anybody eventually alight on humanity’s imminent violent demise. Many things could wipe all people off the planet: meteorites, supervolcanoes, nuclear wars, aliens. But the mass death that I always go back to is the one that seems most certain. Which is climate change. I study climate and energy politics, so it is my job to think about these terrible, mostly hopeless things everyday. 
Climate disruption is the immense boulder beginning its roll down a slope, picking up speed as it careens inexorably toward the interdependent global hamlet we all reside within. Human-caused climate disruption will very likely proceed until it triggers unstoppable feedback loops and tipping points, some of which include melting permafrost, ocean anoxia, forest diebacks, albedo-destroying ice melts, and ice-sheet collapse. These processes have already begun. When they reach tipping points, some of which could happen any day now, we won’t know how to stop them, and they will quickly make the planet uninhabitable for humans and most other life. Massive sea level rise is currently threatening to flood every major coastal city on the planet – inundating the more than a billion people who live in them – which could happen in the span of a couple of decades. 
During the Permian–Triassic extinction event 252 million years ago, climate change warmed the earth by five degrees; this killed 97 percent of life on the planet. The earth is currently warming at a much faster rate than it did during that extinction event. We’ve already warmed the planet 1.2 degrees in barely a couple centuries and will likely hit two degrees by midcentury, according to conservative estimates. This five-degree temperature shift can happen in a thirteen-year timespan, under the right circumstances. 
If the global economy does not stop emitting greenhouse gases immediately, we are on track to hit at least six degrees. This will kill us and, again, at least 97 percent of life on the planet. So that means, for the people who love dogs and cats more than people and wildlife, all the dogs and cats will also die terrible deaths. 
This is not yet inevitable. We could maybe still stop this mass death and, regardless of the hopelessness, we should all be trying.
You really need to read the whole thing, and share it with loved ones.

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Oh, Jordan Peterson (aka Stefan Molyneux 2.0)... the gift that keeps on giving. I have recently been asked at one or two of my online haunts why I hate Jordan Peterson. Truth is, I don't "hate" him. There are, however, many aspects of his personality and project that I find objectionable. Some of these things are:

His dishonesty, his arrogance, his obtuseness, his bizarre certainty that he fully grasps all he needs to understand re: topics about which he clearly hasn't even got a bare minimum of understanding (postmodernism for instance). There's also his profound silliness, his constant appeal to emotion, his historical revisionism, his reactionary politics, his obvious and multifarious "issues" with the opposite sex, his attempts to cast himself as a martyr when really he's weeping all the way to the bank, his cynical appeals to the alt-right with his Patreon panhandling (cynical in that I suspect he frequently retweets and/or says things that he KNOWS are total bullshit just because he knows it will get a rise from his fan base, which is jam-packed with some of the very worst of the deplorables). And of course, there's his absolutely awful Twitter account, where he exposes his true colors more and more with every passing day.

Anyway, in recent weeks, there have been two absolutely essential articles written about Jordan Peterson in the "serious" press. First there was Nathan Robinson's think piece for Current Affairs, titled "The Intellectual We Deserve", which begins:
If you want to appear very profound and convince people to take you seriously, but have nothing of value to say, there is a tried and tested method. First, take some extremely obvious platitude or truism. Make sure it actually does contain some insight, though it can be rather vague. Something like “if you’re too conciliatory, you will sometimes get taken advantage of” or “many moral values are similar across human societies.” Then, try to restate your platitude using as many words as possible, as unintelligibly as possible, while never repeating yourself exactly. Use highly technical language drawn from many different academic disciplines, so that no one person will ever have adequate training to fully evaluate your work. Construct elaborate theories with many parts. Draw diagrams. Use italics liberally to indicate that you are using words in a highly specific and idiosyncratic sense. Never say anything too specific, and if you do, qualify it heavily so that you can always insist you meant the opposite. Then evangelize: speak as confidently as possible, as if you are sharing God’s own truth. Accept no criticisms: insist that any skeptic has either misinterpreted you or has actually already admitted that you are correct. Talk as much as possible and listen as little as possible. Follow these steps, and your success will be assured. (It does help if you are male and Caucasian.) 
Jordan Peterson appears very profound and has convinced many people to take him seriously. Yet he has almost nothing of value to say. This should be obvious to anyone who has spent even a few moments critically examining his writings and speeches, which are comically befuddled, pompous, and ignorant. They are half nonsense, half banality. In a reasonable world, Peterson would be seen as the kind of tedious crackpot that one hopes not to get seated next to on a train.
Go on and read the whole thing. It's a thorough and damning take-down, and should serve as a pretty decent coffin lid for Peterson's reputation as a public intellectual. And now, for the handful of nails needed to slam that coffin shut, we have a devastating, serious-minded, syllogistically bulletproof  piece by Pankaj Mishra for the New York Review of Books entitled "Jordan Peterson and Fascist Mysticism", which has resulted in the dark professor having a humiliating public meltdown on his aforementioned Twitter. A particularly salient passage:
Peterson himself credits his intellectual awakening to the Cold War, when he began to ponder deeply such “evils associated with belief” as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, and became a close reader of Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. This is a common intellectual trajectory among Western right-wingers who swear by Solzhenitsyn and tend to imply that belief in egalitarianism leads straight to the guillotine or the Gulag. ... Peterson confirms his membership of this far-right sect by never identifying the evils caused by belief in profit, or Mammon: slavery, genocide, and imperialism. 
Reactionary white men will surely be thrilled by Peterson’s loathing for “social justice warriors” and his claim that divorce laws should not have been liberalized in the 1960s. Those embattled against political correctness on university campuses will heartily endorse Peterson’s claim that “there are whole disciplines in universities forthrightly hostile towards men.” Islamophobes will take heart from his speculation that “feminists avoid criticizing Islam because they unconsciously long for masculine dominance.” Libertarians will cheer Peterson’s glorification of the individual striver, and his stern message to the left-behinds (“Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault. Maybe it’s you. You’ve failed to make the mark.”). The demagogues of our age don’t read much; but, as they ruthlessly crack down on refugees and immigrants, they can derive much philosophical backup from Peterson’s sub-chapter headings: “Compassion as a vice” and “Toughen up, you weasel.”

In all respects, Peterson’s ancient wisdom is unmistakably modern. The “tradition” he promotes stretches no further back than the late nineteenth century, when there first emerged a sinister correlation between intellectual exhortations to toughen up and strongmen politics. This was a period during which intellectual quacks flourished by hawking creeds of redemption and purification while political and economic crises deepened and faith in democracy and capitalism faltered.
Once again, for anyone interested in the Jordan Peterson phenomenon, Mishra's essay is essential reading. If, on the other hand, you prefer your political take-downs with a side order of satire (or if you simply can't be arsed to read all those words) here's the Chapo Trap House gang with their recent overview of Peterson's new book:


***

And, finally for today, a very interesting and worthwhile article for WiReD by Virginia Heffernan entitled "Escape the Matrix: The Internet is the Uncanniest Valley. Don't Get Trapped There". The article covers so much ground and so many different topics that it is strangely resistant to either summary or excerpting, but trust me, it's a really good starting point for your personal self defense against online anxiety and any FOMO-exacerbated ennui you might be suffering about missing out on the Bitcoin bus (by the way, have you heard about how the Bitcoin blockchain apparently has child pornography hidden in it, which makes it de facto illegal to own Bitcoin? and that there's nothing that can be done to prevent this kind of thing?! Insane). Anyway, here's a nice bit from Heffernan's piece:
As David Kessler has written about mental illness, thoughts, ideologies, and persistent images of past or future can “capture” a person and stall their mental freedom. If this is hard to grasp in the abstract, look at the captivating quality of sexting, doctored photos, or something as silly and fanciful as Twitter, with its birdies and secret codes. Even as artificial and stylized as Twitter is, the excitement there rarely seems like a comic opera to users. Encounter a troll, or a godawful doxer, and it’s not like watching a sitcom—it’s a bruising personal affront. “You’re a fool,” tweeted by @willywombat4, with your home address, makes the face flush and heart pound every bit as much as if a thug cornered you in a dark alley. Sometimes more. 
But you don’t cool your anxiety by staying off the internet. Instead, you refine your disposition. Looking at a screen is not living. It’s a concentrated decoding operation that requires the keen, exhausting vision of a predator and not the soft focus that allows all doors of perception to swing open. At the same time, mindful readers stop reading during a doxing siege—and call the police to preempt the word being made flesh. They don’t turn quixotic and mix themselves up with their various avatars, or confuse the ritualized drama of social media with mortal conflicts on battlefields. The trick is to read technology instead of being captured by it—to maintain the whip hand. 
Paradoxically, framing the internet as a text to be read, not a life to be led, tends to break, without effort, its spell. Conscious reading, after all, is a demanding ocular and mental activity that satisfies specific intellectual reward centers. And it’s also a workout; at the right time, brain sated, a reader tends to become starved for the sensory, bodily, three-dimensional experience of mortality, nature, textures, and sounds—and flees the thin gruel of text. 
The key to subduing anxiety is remembering the second wave of YouTube commenters: the doubters. Keep skepticism alive. We can climb out of the uncanny valley by recognizing that the perceivable gap between reality and internet representations of reality is not small. It’s vast. Remember how the body recoils from near-perfect replicas but is comforted by impressionistic representations, like Monets and stuffed animals? 
So imagine: Twitter does not resemble a real mob any more than a teddy bear resembles a grizzly. If you really go nuts and nuzzle up to a teddy, I guess you could swallow a button eye, but you’re not going to get mauled. Tell this to your poor rattled central nervous system as many times a day as you can remember. Make it your mantra, and throw away the benzos. Nothing on your phone alone can hurt you more than a teddy bear.

3 comments:

  1. Yeah, PZ cited the Mishra article a few days back. Peterson sure does have his legion of fanboys who are sick and tired of all this persecution suffered by straight white middle class Christian men. https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2018/03/20/i-look-forward-to-jordan-petersons-inevitable-decline-into-dishonorable-obscurity/

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