Income tax and politics

One of the memes of the contemporary Right is a complaint that a small number of rich persons pays most of the income taxes while a great number pays little or none. The fact is assumed to be a problem, and it might very well be one, but it is not a problem with the income tax but a proof that it is working exactly as intended. While the motives for introducing peacetime income taxes are complicated, they are undeniably artifacts of a Progressive era desire to place a greater burden on the rich and to relieve a perceived burden to the poor. Reagan’s complaint that a 90% marginal rate (from 1953-61) effected productivity was not a bug but a feature: One has to choose between limiting productivity and getting a group of very rich persons, and the before the modern conservative movement we saw a loss of productivity as an acceptable cost of eliminating the anti-democratic presence of the very rich. Again, it’s altogether possible that this is a false dilemma or the wrong response to a true problem – the only point I want to draw is that its silly to think that looking at who pays income tax gives us a fact that speaks for itself.

The point generalizes: political discussions require a paradoxical cognitive state that simultaneously maintains very clear principles while being aware of the extraordinary messiness and costliness of their application, where both the “messiness” and the “cost” in turn count as rational objections against the principles themselves. Political thought requires an exquisitely well-balanced personality that one never expects to find, and what usually fills the gap is, if anything, a sort of anti-politics since there is nothing further from politics than sloganeering, taboo words, blind party loyalty, leaping on offhand remarks or gaffes and replaying them for years, puff pieces or “gotcha” interviews, or screaming, booing, and even weeping with a little flag and a funny hat to the rhythms of the Jumbotron.

Perseity and the coincidence of opposites

While it’s more common to argue for the coincidence of opposites by limit arguments, it is more interesting to argue for them by the perseity of predicates.

It’s clear that speaking per se about things is part of any development of thought. Bulls might attack red flags, but they don’t attack red per se but fluttering things, or, to use Aristotle’s example, it’s not isocoles triangles per se that have angles equal to 180 degrees but just triangles. Truth consists in rightly saying one thing of another, and “rightly” requires speaking per se.

But while Aristotle took geometry as his paradigm case of learning, persity unifies what is opposite in it: the straight and curved, discrete and continuous, the rational and the irrational. What exactly is π or (to list a quantity dearer to Aristotle) the golden ratio (φ)? For the ancients, these were, respectively, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter and a line cut such that the whole: larger part :: larger part : smaller part. But it seems pretty clear that these are not what these quantities are per se but just the first instances of the quantity that we learn. Both quantities pop up in all sorts of places that have nothing to do with ratios in circles or lines. But if there is anything that is π or φ per se – and this seems to be a condition for speaking of them scientifically at all, which we certainly can – then there has to be something transcending the discrete and continuous, and so a fortiori the straight and curved. Again, if we allow for a real number system then we have homogenized the rational and irrational.

Dekoninck tries to make a more or less sharp distinction between a science and a dialectical extension of that science, but I find this hard to believe. The progress of geometry and arithmetic prove that the thing they are about is not given from the outset, but only in a form that is closest to our imagination.

On the pop-up adds I now endure

  • The gods of irony provide again: cures for phallic flacidity advertised with the very porn that makes the cure necessary.
  • Barzun “When an erectifying drug was put on the market, the millions that rushed to obtain it numbered the healthy young as well as the ailing old… it was apparently not known that desire must be damned up to be self-renewing. (From Dawn to Decadence p. 790)”
  • Some artificial birth control destroys desire hormonally, but all of it destroys desire by making intercourse infertile whenever you want it to be.
  • My Wife: “Is anyone who complains about ‘the contraceptive mentality of NFP’ drawing from their actual experience of NFP?”
  • We want to make ourselves infertile when infertility is scary, dangerous and carries real risks. But there is a downside to eliminating what makes an activity scary, dangerous, and risky – try doing it with NASCAR, rock climbing, riding a bike, whatever. You can only buy safety with boredom. Stamp that at the bottom of your safe sex token.
  • Yes, of course you’re an outlier. You’re also a data point, not the scatter plot.

Example for Analytic philosophers

Q. What do the Camptown Ladies sing

a.) Doo- dah! Doo- Dah!

b.) “Camptown race-track is five miles long”

c.) The whole song “Campdown Races”

d.) The words “this song”

e.) Another work titled “This Song”

Cognitive space

Assume that human cognition has its scope and limits, and that it comes with a borderline outside of which things are, in one way or another, unknowable.

Question: Does a known borderline have the same status as an unknown one?

On the one hand, the answer is evident from the terms: K ~ (~K) on the other hand, a known borderline hems in exactly the same things as an unknown one.

All this leans hard on a metaphor of cognitive space – thought can go this far and no further. We set up borders for any number of reasons, like:

1.) As defensive structures: “Reason can go this far, and after that, revelation!” Or “We can understand reality this far, and after that, depression and endless controversy!”

2.) As foundational structures “The cogito is absolutely certain, everything else is doubtful – so we should build upon the former and not the latter” or “Truths of sense are opinion, truths of reason are unchangeable”

3.) As attempts to articulate an anthropology “the proper object of the intellect is sensibly concretized being/ simple impressions/ God’s ideas and not an impossible “material” world, etc. Outside of this we have nothing at all/ things known by analogy/ the adequate object of the intellect, etc.

There are no doubt all sorts of human modalities of consciousness and linguistic structures that can make no sense of this “cognitive space” metaphor, but this does not need mean that it is not a real insight. In fact, we have a good reason to take it as a very good insight: the metaphor is richer than it looks and can even account for those modalities of consciousness that could never speak of cognitive space.

Space is both isomorphic and indefinite, or with a single intelligible form and with no intelligible form. It is both nothing before we draw on it (or at least articulate it as a surface for drawing) and yet also what has to be already given in order for there to be anything to draw. Without a definite shape, there can be absolutely nothing at all for geometry to study; and yet geometry itself is also nothing but a manifestation of the possibilities in of this “absolute nothing”. This is clear when we compare the different geometries: on the one hand there is nothing in Euclid except a series of claims about points, lines, circles, etc.; on the other hand it is nothing but the making explicit of the peculiar symmetries and isomorphic character of Euclidean space.

This dual character of space shines a light both on the Heideggerian sein and Davidson’s claim that conceptual schemes are incoherent and on the familiar critical tradition in philosophy that defines human cognition within scope and limits.

The clarity of apathy

We care too much about philosophical topics ever to agree about them, and we achieve widespread successful consensus on scientific matters because we care very little which theory turns out to be true. The beauty and utility of math and science are there for anyone to see, but it’s not as if any one would kill, die, be celibate, or riot over them. Math and science of themselves, cut off from any reference to the mytho-philosophical (like the praise or the defiance of the gods) are not the sort of thing that one would think to praise in epic poetry, polyphonic splendor à la a Gounod Mass, or even a pop song.

[I]t is clear that our attitude toward any given proposition may have a very large number of different “coordinates”. We form simultaneous judgments as to whether it is probable, whether it is desirable, whether it is interesting, whether it is amusing, whether it is important, whether it is beautiful, whether it is morally right, etc. If we assume that each of these judgments might be represented by a number, a fully adequate state of mind would be represented by a vector in a space of very large and perhaps indefinitely large number of dimensions.

Not all propositions require this. For example, the proposition :the refractive index of water is 1.3″ generates no emotions; consequently the state of mind which it produces has very few coordinates. On the other hand, the proposition “your wife just wrecked your new car” generates a state of mind with an extremely large set of coordinates. A moment’s introspection will show that, quite generally, the situations of everyday life are those involving the greatest number of coordinates. It is just for that reason that the most familiar examples of mental activity are the most difficult ones to reproduce by a model. We might speculate that this is the reason why natural science and mathematics are the most successful human activities; they deal with propositions that produce the simplest of all mental states.

E.T. Jaynes How Does the Brain Do Plausible Reasoning? p. 3

Paradoxes of self and possibility

-The paradoxes of identity and possibility arise from calling both beings while there is an intrinsic element of both that can not be.

-We want identity either in what subtends being (the body, one brain) or in the second act of being (memory, consciousness). Lost in this is what arises from its principles and then proceeds to act: the self or existent.

-The self or existent incorporates its source material and its operations so much so that these are confused with self. When in fact operation assumes existence and the stable source is the matter which, of itself, is never any individual at all. We arrive too late or never arrive.

-There must be possibilities that will not be (roads not traveled); there cannot be possibilities that will not be (what is possible is only so at another time, and what will never be has no other time)

-Defining the self we want either the stability of its matter or the clarity of its second act. How can what most is be ineffable?

The difficulty in explaining selves or possibility arise from the same source as explain animal consciousness. As a rule, primitive stages are explained by the paradigm but we do not have the paradigm of self, and whatever has possibility is divided from the paradigm of being.

Two objections to monads

After defining monads as partless and showing there must be such things,* Leibniz argues that they can neither come into existence or pass out of it as natural things do, since in nature things arise when their parts come together and cease existing when they fall a-part, and both are excluded from the monad by definition.

Objection 2: But if a monad cannot either arise or cease to be as natural things do, it seems it can’t preserve itself in existence as they do either. Natural things persevere by hanging together, and monads can’t hang together any more than they might be put together or fall apart. Whatever we say about the boundaries of existence has to be said about its midpoints.


*Objection 1: On the one hand, Leibniz assumes that there must be simple things because there are complex ones, and it’s clear that he means there must be partless things because there are things with parts. He then almost immediately argues that monads cannot be quantities since quantities have no least part. But if quantities can have parts without having a least such, why can’t complex things have a parts without having a monad?

Monadic perceptions

Empirically, we misunderstand animal consciousness either as human or as a machine. This is because it is hard for us to understand any imperfect stage except by its completion. We understand the animal either as human consciousness in first act (awareness) or in its second (as it overflows in design).

We’ve just started to notice that trees  receive information about their environment. Early attempts describe this as “plant intelligence“.  They could just as easily speak of the plant’s programming. Again, human or machine. Information theory pushes this to the level of any substance, where again we meet either Shannon information which utterly disregards human meaning for pure machine interaction or the Dawkinsian gene which transcends any physical instantiation.

Information requires surprise and so belongs only to finite minds. Neither God nor machines can be surprised. It is the inverse of energy that cannot be used, and so belongs to a limited power.



Notes on self

We understand nature both by looking at things designed (machines, codes) and by look at unconscious and subconscious life.

Nature is seen both in the overflow of reason and in what subtends and structures reason.

All animal life is what we would call subconscious or unconscious, not because they are automata but because consciousness is not an object for them. It is a (99% of the time implicit) object for us.

A lion chases an antelope consciously like I know where the floor is consciously. Hey, I don’t know where the floor is while I’m asleep, do I?

I know exactly what everything in a machine will do. In looking the endpoints of its parts, operations, and pushes-pulls, I know that the self is outside the first endpoint and value is outside the last. This remains true no matter how far I extend the lines, no matter how many new gears or microchips I add to Leibniz’s Mill.

“But we at least know what to make of machines – but who can make anything of this subconscious life?” As if Jung never wrote anything.

In a dream, we are conscious and yet have no idea where the self is (since it’s in bed) in this sense, animals live in dreams.

Descartes is under appreciated for being the first person to ever recognize that only the self remains real in the transition from the world of truth to the world of pure illusion.


« Older entries Newer entries »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 205 other followers