Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Fractured Reflection on Theory

This reflection is confused and rambling. To post it is to stand exposed, naked on the internet. Reason is a slave to the passions, said the Scotsman. We should accept this. The following words are my passion trying to express itself in my intellect.

A note: you can click on the quoted passages to get a more clear view.

In matters of theory and meta-narrative, I am oriented toward distrust. The reasons for this inclination are marked in a clear history. People who lie beneath don’t recover stated meaning. They look upon it with suspicion and teach their children to do the same. It’s not just that reality is masked by its appearance; the distinction and construction of “appearance and reality” is itself in question. The only safe corners are the corners I don’t know about and those that are so close to me that they make up the structure of my seeing—though, not for long.  I am suspicious of even myself; the comfort of my armchair is its own warning.

The man who trains for war will attack himself just to break the peace and philosophy is insomnia. The world of answers is a world of sleep and, as the man said, the right dreams for a man in peril are dreams of peril and all else is the call of languor and of death. I accept this so I also accept the resulting tensions and contradictions.

Recently a hack psychologist put out a blog post of a paper that couldn’t have passed a peer review of hypoallergenic kittens. I heard about it, read it, got mad, and quietly condemned his whole style. I began to wonder even about his field of study and the role that it might have played in legitimating his wackness. This last move was harsh and reflexive, but only because it was sparked by this particular article. If given time with the credible powers of the field, I know that I would come to the same category of question marks. These are the wages of my suspicion. 

A well known pessimist makes the following claims about the study of psychology: 

Another man speaks the following about theorists.

Crushed between these reflections, I see myself. 

I look crooked at theories of whatever when the ideas implicit within them are poorly connected. Identify faulty assumptions and kick out their foundations; that is lesson from the lineage. But the critical moves that I make are just as historically contingent as foundations of the other fields. I am adrift in a a wave of discourse and I know better than to think there is a shore upon which to wash up. In suspicion, I strike out against the language of totality and determinism. I want to preserve freedom, but isn’t that just one illusion among others? 

I have heard some proclaim a quest for truth. A pure and clean love of knowledge. Such talk makes me cringe. Then vomit.

We don’t seek knowledge for its own sake. Knowledge has uses, purposes. Knowledge fulfills requests. Knowledge is power, for fuck’s sake. To pursue knowledge “for its own sake” is to will yourself blind to the realities that will bend under the weight of your epistemic frame.  Knowing is normative and it is the result of normative processes. Cats pursue the post-modern and come blindly under the umbrella of capitalism, racism and sexism. Others look deeply in the Scriptures and can’t understand or see the hateful imperialistic bile imbedded in their "brotherly love." Knowledge is a story that we tell ourselves about the world. Stories. They have origins, goals and flaws that are so grotesque it is all that we can do to shut our ears. 

No, I want to know for particular reasons and none of them are their own end. There are enemies in my distance and I want them gone. So i have to hold some corner of knowledge close, I have to trust something, in order to think through anything at all. But the choice of what frame to use ends up either being a default based off of my own obscured history, or an aesthetic choice based in some equally unlit commitment. It is easier to believe thus and so because this is my professor, or this is who my friends are, or these are the girls that these styles will impress. The shallow utility of my thought is so foundational I don’t even recognize it as such. Though I suppose it wouldn’t matter if I did. 

The psychologist and the philosopher. The destruction of the freedom and mystery within or the superficiality of a construction whose influence marches on without morality or clarity. Whatever you do, don’t let us speak for you. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sympathy for the Devil

"And the mortals! I ask you--Why? Tell me that. Why?

They use my name as if I spend my entire days sitting on their shoulders, forcing them to commit acts they would otherwise find repulsive.

'The Devil made me do it.' I have never made one of them do anything. Never.

And then they die, and they come here (having transgressed against what they believed to be right), and expect us to fulfill their desire for pain and retribution.

They talk of me going around buying souls, like a fishwife come market day, never stopping to ask themselves why. I need no souls. And how can anyone own a soul?

No. They belong to themselves… They just hate to have to face up to it."

--Lucifer, in Neil Gaiman's Sandman.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Great Disappointment

There is an old Tool song called ├ćnema. The lyrics express a great hatred for Los Angeles and fantasize about a cataclysm that destroys the city along with most of California. “Some say the end is near,” says Keenan. “Some say we’ll see Armageddon soon. I certainly hope we will. I sure could use a vacation from this bullshit…” 

The band is not alone in that hope. People have been crying for the end for as long as there has been history. Some look upon it in terror, but many see redemption and feel that when the end comes everything will be put right. I am sure that is how Harold Camping felt. 

Camping, the leader of a small but influential radio ministry, set the date of the end time for this past Saturday. His followers hit the streets spreading the word and many of them financed the campaign with their life savings. They were committed, which is the only way that one can be when there is certainty. 

I use to be a Christian. I remember dark bible study meetings in which elders described in hushed tones the dispensations, great eras of time, supposedly divined from scripture. We live in the last era, they said. The end of the world is at hand and the beginning of the end is the Rapture. No man knew the day or the hour but all believed it would happen in their lifetimes. On the night of a particularly swift and thunderous storm, I would look into the distance wondering if this was the end, if it was happening. If my step father was not where I thought he was going to be, for a moment I would think that the deity had taken him. I would read the Bible’s concluding book searching for signs, for notions of what things might be like before the end. I didn’t feel the immanence all the time, but when it was present it was intense. It is the end of the world, after all. It’s kind of serious.

The man who believes the end is nigh makes quite a few moves. He relies on the mastery of his divination. Whatever the method, he is secure that the runes he follows are the truth. His commitment to the end is really just his commitment to his interpretive scheme for everything that comes before it. And because it is in many cases the most difficult belief to hold, doing so is insurance on the strength of his faith. The end also motivates action. The sword hangs over the head, the proximity of death reveals the ground mood of anxiety and pushes him toward authenticity. With the end in sight, he can act with resoluteness. We are on the verge of a climate catastrophe, people. We have to act now! His movements are energized by his knowledge of the expiration date. And then there is the hatred.

To will the end, one has to look upon the world with scorn. You have to survey the brokenness of everything and join Maynard in believing that the only way to fix it is to flush it all away. It doesn’t matter if you set out in caravans to warn as many as you can; the will to save others from the apocalypse is congruent with the need to gloat over your rightness, your confirmation that the world really exists as you have written it—or, as it has been written for you. How satisfying must it be to say “I told you so” to the entire cosmos?


As the latest crop of doomsday riders have learned, the great cataclysm is that we go on. That the world keeps turning and we are forever condemned to look back upon our tragic histories. Instead of facing the grand day of judgement, we have to live with our sins until, since we never answer for them, they stop being sins altogether and we must resort to punishing ourselves. The true destruction wrought by doomsday is its absence. The quake won’t sink L.A. and dysfunctional insecure actresses will live forever. 

In a public square one night, I passed a man holding a giant picket sign that said “Jesus isn’t returning.” Maybe not. But we can always hope that batshit interpretations of mesoamerican calendars will pick up the slack. See you in 2012. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Three Moments

The first step out of the car hit the moist clay of an expanding graveyard. The rain had come and gone and this was left, this wetness and grime. It stuck to my shoes and crept up to the sagging cuff of my pants. I had never worn the suit before and hoped to not wear it again. I stepped to the back of the hearse and stood with strong men. They rolled out the coffin, each taking hold as it moved along, and together we carried it to the grave. Together we stood under a tarp and listened to the ritual. I don’t know the verse those words are from but I suspect that one day they will be said for me. Ashes to ashes. Such pessimism from a testament that should probably be forgotten... Kierkegaard says that the next of kin are always the last to leave the graveside and he is right about this. I watched my mother cry for her mother. My sister laid her head down. I put my haend on the coffin and felt the finality. In the grave, water had gathered into a pool of mud and grief. 
From a distance, I arose defeated by my own seriousness. Outside, the sun beat down upon everything, the enemy that always beats me to the dawn. Boots fastened, I reached for the jacket, an armored mangle of black leather and mesh. I slid it up my arms and shrugged it upon my shoulders. When the leather hit my collar I felt a subtraction. Brief but of great power. A promise that all weight can be lifted, for a time, by the potentiality of a fast corner. That perhaps the only slowness that ever was happened in the wind. I never hear her voice but I always look back. Eurydice doesn’t have a chance.
After a long absence, I travelled creaky stairs and walked in to meet the baby. She hung in silence and gradually reached for me. She put her head on my chest and called out the unformed syllables that were my name. I sat with her and held her for some time, wondering how something so small can be so much to bear. So profuse. Soon, she sat up, playful. She just needed to reconnect. We both did.
We sit outside of meaning and it is a joke to think that the forces of old can pull us back in. There is no going back. There is only the choice of what do do with the wreckage. Read a scripture or follow the science or ask the oracle about the movement of the stars. The stories belong to us. We no longer belong to them so we are free to put ourselves together tale by tale, piece by piece. The bones of my divination will be made of burnt rubber and the laughter of a child.

Monday, May 9, 2011

An Open Letter to the Tampa Squid

Very few people like to hear unsolicited advice. Most of us feel that some loud mouth on the street telling us to put a hat on our baby is encroaching upon our self-rule. The instant reaction, though we might not display it, is one of “Who the hell are you, exactly? I know what I’m doing.” Crucially, this reaction is reflexive and often has nothing to do with whether we in fact know what we are doing.

Which brings me to you, the Squid. 

There are some things that I want to say to you, but it would be inappropriate to just pull you off the road and tell you what I think. I have actually done it before and it made little difference—after all, what gives ME the right to tell YOU how to ride?—so I am going to try something different. I will write you a letter and post it on the internets. So, if you come across it and feel receptive, you can read it. Just know that I am not trying to condescend or establish my own superiority in relation to you. I genuinely want to help. 

Here’s the thing: you are a Squid; you are a rider with a poor skill set. Most Squids are just new to riding, out on their first bikes trying to make sense of the world. Some Squids are a few years on and simply haven’t yet replaced their bad riding habits with good ones. Some Squids ride with groups, sometimes large groups, of riders who are equally Squidish. In these groups, bad riding habits don’t only multiply, but are legitimated by the fact that they are practiced by that particular community. At the point where Squid-icity is no longer a stage in a rider’s life and becomes a way of being, something very, very bad has happened. Something that I like to hope is preventable. 

I think it is preventable if you start your moto journey with the right crowd, or with the right perspective, or with the right advice. For you, it appears to be too late for the first two so, please, listen to what I have to say.

I see you on the road in traffic everyday and there are some elements of your riding style that are problematic. First, you ride in the center of the lane. This is bad because this is the area of the lane that car tires straddle, which means there is a higher likelihood that there is something there, that you can’t see, something obscured by the cars in front of you. I learned this the hard way and hit a dead skunk once. It didn’t look or smell too nice and it could have been prevented if only I chose to ride close to the edge of the lane, in the tread line left by the cars.

When you ride closer to the edge, especially in traffic, your visibility increases. You can see all the way down the road instead of just seeing the back of the truck you are following. You also make yourself visible to more drivers, because your lights shining down the lane split hit almost all of their rear view mirrors. You see more and they see you.

Lastly, by riding closer to the edge of the lane, you make it easier to switch lanes. If someone in a car gets stupid and slams on their brakes in front of you, you will be able to switch lanes much faster if you are already at the edge of the lane. This also makes it less likely that you will be hit by the car behind you.

Your lane changing needs a bit of work also. I see you just kind of lazily drift from one lane into another. Almost as if you are not thinking about it and are doing it accidentally. This is bad because you are losing an opportunity to perfect some skills. Once you put on your blinker, which you should be doing, you should switch lanes as quickly as is possible on your bike. This will allow you to train yourself to swerve. A lot of riders get into accidents by freezing up when they encounter a sudden road obstruction. They never practiced swerving and because of this, they didn’t swerve when it became necessary. So you should think of every lane change as a chance to practice swerving. You will get to know better how your bike handles, which will only add to your skill set.

Oh, and don’t follow cars, or bikes, as closely as you have been doing. First off, you shouldn’t be behind big trucks or vehicles carrying things that could fall off. A friend of mine once had to deal with a ladder that had just fallen off a truck directly in front of him. It was almost really bad for him, and he knew how to swerve. No, you need to be far enough away from a car to see well down the lane and react well should something happen. This is Tampa. Stupid shit always happens in traffic.

Once I rolled up to a packed parking lot and your bike was in a parking space taking up the whole space. Not a good look. Four sportbikes can fit into a regular parking space. If you are the first to a space, and it is a space that you will have to back out of,  simply pull into the space and park on one side closest to its entrance. This way, cars that are looking for parking will see you, instead of pulling in like aloof idiots, hitting your bike, then leaving in a hurry. Also, other bikers will be able to park there and you won’t be blocked in. Its a win for everybody.

Out on the road, I notice that you don’t make use of racing lines when you are riding. This is admittedly a pretty hard thing to learn, but it can be very helpful. It isn’t really something I can describe in this letter, but there are many resources that you can use to learn about them, most notably Keith Code’s Twist of the Wrist series. 

Racing lines are nothing more than safe ways to negotiate turns. A stupidly high percentage of motorcyclists blow out the side of simple turns all by themselves every year and a lot of these riders die because they hit obstructions off the road. This is needless and if you knew a thing or two about setting your entry speed, finding a good entry point and apex, and being smooth on the throttle through the exit, you would be so much better off. So please, check out some books on the subject.

By the way, you should do a track day. It is a little bit expensive and you will have to haul your bike 3 hours up to Jennings, but just one track day can really help you get a grip on how your bike works and what your personal limits are. Too many sportbike riders get bikes and just ride them on the road and it is kind of a waste, if you think about it. It is crazy fun to spend a day not worrying about speed limits or fire hydrants. You owe it to yourself to try it at least once.

You can rent gear at the track, but honestly it is silly that you don’t have enough gear of your own. 

Your choice of gear is bad. I know that gear can be expensive. I know that it is not required by law. I know it is hot outside. But gear is the very first term in the traffic strategies that you should be developing. Most people don’t want to have their skin scraped off and I don’t think that you are any different. But you ride in a t-shirt and shorts, sometimes without a helmet, or with a helmet, but with it strapped to your backseat. Probably you don’t worry too much about what others think of you, but you have to know that more experienced riders don’t respect your style too much. You are the butt of their jokes and even the guys at the dealership and the bike gear supply stores think you’re kind of dumb and probably shouldn’t be riding. 

And so long as you cruise in a t-shirt, they are right. Biking is fun and it is popular and it can get you girls but it is also serious. As serious as life, death and skin grafts. So you have to wear gear. First off, you have to wear a helmet. I have seen you with that old cheap helmet with the scrapes down the side of it. This helmet tells us more about your priorities and your skill level than anything. Helmets are worth the investment, which I know can be quite considerable. I have been on funeral rides for people who got in 15mph accidents and died from the head trauma. I would prefer to not have to go on rides like that anymore. 

But you also have to rock a jacket, gloves, kevlar jeans and boots. In other words, you should be dressed for the crash instead of the beach. It is easy to think only of where you are going, or how much of a hassle it is to deal with your gear when you get there, but don’t let that stop you from protecting yourself. Biking is risky. One way to offset that risk is to be as prepared as possible for a situation that is out of your control. Also, and this is something that people don’t consider, your choice to wear gear is itself part of having skills on the motorcycle. 

Skills just are the ability to make the right choices and moves at the right time. The first choice you should make is to gear up, which will give you the opportunity to further express your skills on the bike. Without a helmet, the wind will get around your sunglasses, dry out your eyes and compromise your vision. Without gear, you will lack the confidence to commit to turns and such. You don’t know this because you don’t wear gear, but you will see what I mean if you pick some up. 

I am droning on. I suppose I should mention that there are some things about your style that I find annoying. Like, why do you have to rev your engine so much when you turn on your bike? It is fuel injected. All you have to do is turn it on. You don’t have to blip the throttle ever, apart from downshifting. I saw you one time backing into a parking space, blipping the throttle the entire time, with that loud ass exhaust. It makes you look like a douche and I don’t think I am the only person that thinks this. 

Okay. I will stop now. Thanks for listening. I hope we can ride together one day.