Friday, July 05, 2019

More musings on miscellaneous topics

The Stars and Stripes Forever’ is a patriotic American march written and composed by John Philip Sousa, widely considered to be his magnum opus. By a 1987 act of the U.S. Congress, it is the official National March of the United States of America.”

Having for the first time read the lyrics to this American march song (which, it seems, are not well known), I could not help but be struck by the tones of nationalistic and militarist triumphalism, the sort of stuff that encourages dangerous phantasies, wishful thinking, and illusions (not the least of which are incarnate in the Military-Industrial Complex or ‘Pentagon of Power’ and an unsustainable defense budget that trumps domestic needs or public welfare and well-being, i.e., the common good), both individual and collective. It meshes well with Trump’s pathological narcissism (‘narcissistic personality disorder’1), political paranoia, xenophobic nationalism, and megalomania, and is aptly symbolized by the core character of Trump’s 4th of July celebration: tanks2 on the ground and fighter jets in the air. It is one with the perpetuation of “bread and circuses” ideology that has assumed an entirely novel dimension when manipulated by a dictator-loving, plutocratic president, racist, and reality-television celebrity whose past is littered with sexual assault and rape claims, draft dodging, and unethical and illegal business practices (that have of course harmed multiple parties, including and especially, workers), and yet is the recipient of ritual blessings by and the enthusiastic support of conservative evangelical Christians (who apparently have failed to read Jesus’s Gospel teachings; or if they have read them, are afflicted with obdurate self-deception, denial, and cognitive dissonance).
  1. Please see the essay on this at my Academia page. Here is a taste: “… [W]e should not be surprised by Trump’s habitual rhetorical reliance in public speeches upon crude, hyperbolic, and often child-like adjectives and metaphors (with corresponding child-like or homologous and associationist thinking: mistaking bigness for greatness; the quantitative valuation of virtually everything; connecting competition, success and size; the attraction of novelty; a thirst for sensationalism; an overweening sense of privilege and superiority rooted in a fascination with sheer power if not megalomania, and so forth and so on), the harm of which is exacerbated by mendacious Manichean propaganda within an overarching framework of narcissistic nationalism.”
  2. The subject of tanks happens to be part and parcel of the irrational defense budget cited above: “For years, the army has tried to convince Congress to stop buying new ones. They are expensive to build, maintain, exercise, and train troops to use. The army already has more than six thousand of them—far more than it needs for any conceivable future combat.” From Jessica T. Matthews’ important and urgent piece, “America’s Indefensible Defense Budget,” New York Review of Books, July 18, 2019 issue.
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This is extracted from my comments at a FB friend’s post on Jesus and Jewish Law: 

First, please see Matthew 5:17-20. As Anna Wierzbicka writes, “[t]he relationship between Jesus and the [Jewish] Law is one of the most hotly and extensively debated issues in the literature on Jesus’s teaching.”* One problem that arises here of course is that Christians tend to look at Jesus as if he himself was, so to speak, a Christian! But it was only after his death that some Jewish followers decided that conspicuous Jewish ritual and legal obligations distinctive of Jewish identity were deemed no longer obligatory, something Jesus himself, as far as we can ascertain, did not do. It appears clear that Jesus was an observant Jew, we might say a “Jew +” in the sense that he was “adding” his unique perspective on Jewish teachings (there was, after all, different Jewish sects at the time, although Jesus seems to have made a point of not identifying with anyone one group in particular). He did declare that “not everything in the Mosaic Law corresponded in all respects to God’s will.” However, and I suspect more importantly, as Wierzbicka also writes, “Jesus’ question was no so much whether Moses and the Prophets had communicated God’s message ‘correctly’ but whether the people to whom they spoke had come to know fully what God had to say (through the Scriptures); and to this question his answer appeared to be ‘no, not necessarily, not always.’” In short, Jesus reaffirmed the Torah’s moral and ethical message, while in some respects enhancing and even revising its requirements.

In addition, Jesus did something quite radical: he claimed to embody a unique religious authority heretofore the prerogative and privilege of Moses (and to some degree other prophets) related to an apocalyptic or apocalyptic type message regarding God’s activity and promise. 

Cf. too what Joseph Dan writes in Jewish Mysticism and Jewish Ethics (University of Washington Press, 1986)  about the distinction between halakhah and aggadah in Judaism, with our understanding of Jesus’s teaching perhaps best seen in the light of the latter:

“The halakhah, being a legal system, strives to present the required minimum necessary for the accomplishment of a certain commandment, so that the individual performing it will be certain that he has conformed to the religious and social standards that the Jewish faith imposes on him. The Talmud, therefore, points out what is the minimum height of a sukkah (tabernacle), or the minimum amount to be donated to charity. The aggadah, on the other hand, is concerned with the maximum religious and ethical achievement that an individual can attain; it points out tasks and needs without limit, which enable the believer, if he so chooses, to advance toward perfection, both in the human and the devotional-religious fields. The usual reference to ethics in ancient and medieval literature is ‘lifnim mi-shurat ha-din,’ ‘beyond what the law requires.’ The halakhah defines the obligatory minimum; ethics, and the aggadah, describe the unending road toward perfection.”

* What Did Jesus Mean? (Oxford University Press, 2001)

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Toward a psychoanalytic (of both Freudian and Kleinian provenance) accounting of the carnivorous appetite? 

“The aim of oral eroticism is the first pleasurable autoerotic stimulation of the erogenous zone and later the incorporation of objects [e.g., in the adult: kissing, smoking, eating habits…]. Animal crackers, loved by children, are significant remnants of early cannibalistic fantasies [and the grandmother says to her young charge; ‘I love you so much I could just eat you up!’].” — Otto Fenichel

This is but a taste of a much larger discussion but it still provides sufficient food for thought, in this case, posed as a question: Does the extent to which the adult’s diet is carnivorous provide us remnant evidence of early incorporation phantasies (actual animals, no longer ‘animal crackers’) that are eventually acted out? One book I read some time ago, while not explicitly addressing this question or appealing in any way to psychoanalytic theory or philosophy, nevertheless contains, I believe, sufficient material for beginning to address the topic (and others closely related to it): Carol J. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (Continuum Publishing, 1992). At the other end of the moral and political spectrum, so too the arguments and views expressed by Roger Scruton in Animal Rights and Wrongs (Metro Books, in association with Demos, 3rd ed., 2000), bearing in mind he claims, with regard to eating meat, that “the only obvious guide in this area is piety which, because it is shaped by [especially religious] tradition, provides no final court of appeal.” Scruton, “[h]aving opted for the Western [i.e., ‘Judeo-Hellenic’] approach, states forthrightly (if not revealingly), “I find myself driven by my love of animals to favour eating them” (the gist of the argument: ‘it is not just permissible, but positively right, to eat those animals whose comforts depend upon our doing so’).

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It is irritating, no, appalling (perhaps even infuriating) to hear a CNN journalist refer to Bernie Sanders’s principled fundraising practices as consistent with his “brand.” The widespread analogical and metaphorical extension of this this term outside the commercial world is one of the more lamentable developments in public discourse.

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There are symbols … and there are symbols 

The distinction between “symbolic thinking” in psychoanalytic psychology and “thinking or reasoning with symbols” in philosophy, in particular, formal logic, is the difference between primary process or pre-logical and often non- or pre-verbal thinking and secondary process or rational, specifically, logical thinking. The symbols in the former instance are often based on relations of similarity or analogy, usually vague, associative, and idiosyncratic (with a history). On occasion they are indecipherable. They are of course unconscious in origin (although they may be brought, as it were, to awareness) and linked to drives, affects or emotions, and our earliest experiences as infants and thus indissolubly tied to what we call “magical” thinking. The symbols employed in the latter case are conscious in construction, possessing a strict representational correspondence to processes, functions, signs, and rules (grammatical, mathematical, semiotic, logical, etc.) to facilitate highly abstract and usually deductive reasoning as but one dimension of rational thinking in general.

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An online K-12 educational curriculum is not identical, as advertised, to a “public education at home.” If you believe otherwise, it’s likely you have not devoted sufficient time to studying education and pedagogy as they relate to democratic theory and praxis (e.g., John Dewey, Jonathan Kozol, Robert E. Goodin, Nel Noddings, Diane Ravitch, among others).


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