Thursday, August 25, 2011

Our love stories

Sometimes I feel like saying to the people in my life, you were supposed to love me. And then I remember that that's what they thought they were doing. But can you feel that if someone is adamant you didn't?

Sometimes Naughtyman comes up and wordlessly hugs my arm. He didn't do that a year ago. I've shown him love and now he wants to show me love. I don't even know what changed or how I changed it. That's what I know about love.

And of course you don't want it to be true because it makes you feel so much less valuable but loving someone is all about yourself, not about them. How many times have I written that and I still hold out hope that it's not true? How many times have I reflected on how much harder it is to be the beloved than the lover? Love is easy. Being worthy of it is not.

Well, what would any of you know about worth? You all believe you're worthwhile and don't have a monkey in your head constantly informing you that you're not.

No, I don't either. I fixed that. Now I know it's really me who thinks I'm shit. And spare me your nod of agreement or shake of the head. Like I GAF what you think anyway. I've always trusted myself more than I trust anyone else, and given how deeply untrustworthy I am, that's not a compliment.

What's the point of crying over it anyway? Most people deal with it by just lying to themselves. Fuck my soul that I should be condemned to be an artist and always have to face the truth because God knows I could do with some convenient lies just now. And not even a good one. Fuck that. I remain heartsick that I couldn't have even one thing I'm actually good at except failing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How we may misunderstand everything

One of the themes of science of the past few centuries has been the gradual diminishment of man. It's one of the products of reason, simply because the overstatement of man's position in the universe was an outcome of not understanding the world, and filling in the gaps with magic.

In many ways, that diminishment has been a story of making a world we felt was real more abstract. When the sun was something a god drove across the sky, it seemed close enough to touch, definitely something that was familiar and comfortable. Because the universe was smaller, our deeds also seemed bigger. It was credible that our gods should care about us: we were just as much the centre of their world as they were of ours.

But it's hard to believe you're special when you are just another ape on just another planet circling just another small star in just another small galaxy, just like the billions of others like it.

***

In my post on consciousness, I discussed a couple of ideas that I am going to expand on here. The first is that what we take to be thinking is just the chatter of our brains' activity. The second is that how we look at things can mislead us about what we're looking at and, importantly, what information the things we look at contain.

It's interesting how often humans think they have a hard question because they simply ask the wrong question. Look at the "debt crisis" in the States. It looks like a hard question: how should taxation and spending be balanced? But it's the wrong question. The question is, why is everyone pretending that money has value? It does not (it's easy to prove so take my word for it): it's a placeholder for value.

Anyway, when we think about human consciousness, we ask ourselves, why are we self-aware and dogs aren't? We assume that they aren't because they can't communicate self-awareness to us (and do not seem to be self-aware when faced with the kind of test that would show we are). But here's the thing. What if the question is not how are we different from dogs but in what ways are we the same? We know we evolved from a common ancestor, and generally we ask ourselves at what point we evolved into something different. We even have a word for it: sentient.

But it seems to me we do not have different brains from dogs in kind, merely in degree. Dogs' brains have electrical activity, and one must assume the corresponding chatter. I'm not saying that would be like human thought but I am saying it would be similar enough that we can say dogs "think".

Is it that they "think" appropriately and we somehow need more intelligence and awareness than they do? I really don't think so. I believe our "intelligence" to be entirely incidental, and I believe it does nothing. I believe your body, including your brain, does what it does, and you just think you're doing something with it. Dogs are spared that illusion, possibly, because their chatter is less complex. (This is not the same thing as saying they are as intelligent as we are: they are clearly not, given that "intelligence" is defined in terms of our abilities, rather than in terms of anything more objective. It's rather saying that our brains are more powerful, which makes what seems like greater intelligence emerge.)

Aside: when I ask people why humans domesticated dogs, they'll say, because they are affectionate and good companions. But of course that is not why we domesticated them, even if it's why we now keep them. Our ancestors lived in marginal environments. They could not carry pets. (It seems a very human answer to me though. We choose the concept that makes our taking on pets quite noble: we domesticated dogs because they made an emotional appeal to us.)

We domesticated dogs for their sense of smell. They can find prey that is very distant. We must have noticed dogs hunting, and realised how effective they are. Who knows though? It may be that we should say that dogs domesticated us. Dogs are smart, so who's to say they did not realise that living with us, eating our food every day, would be far superior to having to run after prey all day and only eating every once in a while?

Regardless, I don't think there's any reason to believe that dogs do not have an appearance to themselves of being real, even though it must be different from ours. We know their cognitive activity is not on the same level as ours (and consequently their culture and politics seem simplistic to us -- arguably, almost certainly I think, they are just as complex as they need to be: evolution is a chisel not a sledgehammer).

Of course, it's not a comfort to us to think our way into being barely more "special" than dogs. I remember that it would upset Bella a lot when I would say that we were a type of ape, no more, no less. That it's true didn't enter into it for her. Like most religious types, she admitted different types of truth and focused on just not thinking about it a lot. Personally, I find it hard to want to be ignorant of anything but of course I recognise that the compulsion to educate myself is no more valid or decent in me than the desire to find spiritual comfort in a bleak world is in her. We were just constituted a bit differently, and I didn't despise her for it.

Still, I do think I can offer comfort, because while you do not exist, God (or a god, if you like) might. I know, small comfort indeed should there be a creator but no soul for him to have created, but you have to take what you can get.

***

The key element in my concept of consciousness is that we misinterpret something that is real. Our brains chatter and crosstalk all the time, and that chatter clearly contains information about what our brains are doing. If this neuron and this fire, it means something. Our science is not sufficiently sophisticated for us to be able to discern what the information is precisely (although of course we have some idea because we know which areas of the brain control which activities, although some things remain very uncertain to the point that we cannot be sure they actually do occur in the brain at all). This is quite beside the point though, because what we are saying is that we misinterpret brain noise as thinking because of how our brain represents it to itself. (Indeed, a perceptive reader will know that I cheated a little bit, because waves do of course sound different in different settings, and you could tell quite a lot from them were you skilled at it. Furthermore, you could certainly write software that could extract some information about the wave from its noise. My contention remains though that you could not extract all information from it because much would have been swamped. A good but not exact analogy would be a large choir. It would be very hard, were you to analyse a large choir's singing, to analyse each person's contribution. Is Jim a smidgen flat? Well, we can find output at frequencies that are a bit off, but we don't know that it's Jim because he is not distinctive enough. In a quartet, you surely could pick out Jim though, so it is likely going to be possible to retrieve information from the brains of, say, ants, which exhibit less chatter.)

The universe is or seems to be real. I think that a rationalist has to accept its reality as axiomatic. It's not impossible that the world is a purely mental construct, or that we are all just subroutines in a big piece of code, but we cannot readily ascertain that. It is certainly an axiom of physics that the world is real.

When we were less advanced, our primary tool for observing our world was our vision. We looked at the world and reported to ourselves what we saw. We were mostly wrong because our vision is not on the whole well adapted to interpreting the macro world, but is fit for the purpose it primarily has: it helps us in the two major tasks that face all animals--getting food and getting laid.

We did not in fact use our minds, as you might think. Metaphysics is not on the whole a means of interpreting the apparent information in the world. Here's what I mean. Say you have a creek in your yard. You might wonder where it flows from. Now, if you take some of its water, examine its mineral content and look at the microorganisms it contains, you might be able to draw conclusions. That would be scientific; importantly, the answer you received would in a real sense be more correct than other possible answers, even if you could not fairly judge its correctness (in other words, you could not know that you had the right source but you could know you had the right type of source). But if you simply speculated on where it came from, even if you used some concepts that were themselves based in knowledge provided by science (such as that it must have come from ground higher than your yard), you would not be using the available information, and the answer you arrived at would in a real sense be equally as correct (or wrong) as any other plausible answer.

So metaphysics is a lot of fun, but it's not at all connected with the real world, because nothing that does not interact with the information that the world exhibits can be.

As our understanding shifted though, we became unable to discern facts about the universe with vision, even if we augmented the vision. First, we needed tools to help us understand what we were seeing. Second, we investigated things that were more abstract, so were beyond perception to a large extent.

Our chief tool is mathematics. Much of our theory of how the world is is formulated entirely in mathematics. We describe things that not only have we not seen but that we could never see (even allowing for sufficient magnification).

But maths is not real and much of our "physics" is no more than metaphysics. Of course, scientists will argue that their mathematical constructs are shown to be real when experiments concur with their observations but I'm going to explain briefly why you can consider this untrue.

We're familiar with the concept of garbage in, garbage out in computing. Computers can't make good output out of bad input, regardless how well programmed they are. Well, our experiments are maths in, maths out. We ask them questions in maths, and the answer comes back as maths. If it concurs with our theory's prediction, we say the theory is confirmed.

But I want you to consider this notion: say you went fishing with a net that had holes an inch across. When you return to shore, you hand your catch to a scientist. If he didn't keep in mind that other nets were possible, and convinced himself that only this way of finding and categorising fish existed, he would have to conclude that the world does not contain fish smaller than an inch across.

The reasons I have concluded that maths is not real are simple (maybe silly, I don't know) but they are products of deduction. Here is one. Pi is a very precise number. It's not built from other numbers, but exists on its own. You cannot, as far as I know, deduce it from other numbers. But there are, as we're so often told, no perfect circles in nature. So if pi is a relationship between the circumference and diameter of a circle, we can readily see that it does not exist in nature. But pi is not only that relationship, right? Right. But in other places that we use pi, we define outcomes in terms of it, so that they are equally as idealised as circles.

Another reason is to be found in Goedel's theorem. I'm going to state my view briefly and if you want to know what Goedel actually said, you'll have to find further information. In effect, the universe is complete. It contains everything and nothing is missing. Yet our understanding is that mathematics cannot be complete. It cannot describe everything correctly (Goedel says that there must be truths that it cannot express, in fact).

I deduce from these ideas (the route is tortuous and you can be thankful I am not going to ramble along it) that mathematics is constructed by humans, rather than discovered by them. Not everyone agrees. There are theories that the universe is mathematical, so we simply uncover what is there. However, I take Einstein's view:
as far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality

which I think is common. We were taught in our very first lesson in physics that physics creates a model that approximates to reality, rather than describes reality, and it seems to me that physics is the child of mathematics. Maths is a system that follows from axioms, but those axioms are chosen by humans. They are not arbitrary (for instance, five is the number of five things -- the things are real and there really are five of them) but they are products of human ingenuity, rather than things that have an exterior existence. When our maths works, the outcomes look like the way the world is.

But although we do forget this, that "looks like" means "looks that way to us". In precisely the same way that the chatter of our brains looks to us like thought, the workings of the universe look to us like something that can be manipulated in mathematics.

So the question asks itself: if what we perceive is just the "chatter" of a universe, which we misrepresent to ourselves with mathematics so that, just as in the noise of the wave that we previously discussed, we see information that is an artefact of our looking, rather than something that is part of the thing we're looking at, what information might the universe really contain?

I do not know. I do know though that this conception of the universe permits us to believe that science cannot be used to disprove God. It seems clear to me that God could be manifesting himself in the universe but the "noise" has swamped that manifestation, and our means of looking are so ill fitted to the task that we cannot see it for what it is.

I do not of course believe that. Just because we may be wrong about what we are looking at does not mean we are looking at a particular thing. But I do feel that it's wrong to be dogmatic simply because our techniques work well, particularly because humans are so often wrong, and sometimes wrongest when they think they're rightest.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Taxing ideas

Before I prove that God can exist, a quick word on tax havens.

We all know they're a bad thing. They allow corporations and the rich to avoid paying their share and have no real beneficial purpose. But you can't help other people's tax laws, right?

Wrong. The solution to tax havens is very simple. No company registered in a tax haven can do business in the US, nor can any company owned by one or even a sister of one. End of tax havens. Also, you want to live in our countries, that we build and maintain, you can pay taxes. No escaping because of residence requirements. We simply tax you pro rata for every day you're here. If you own a house, we tax that. If you own two, we tax them both, the second one double, because we don't have enough houses to go round. If you own three, we just shoot you (only kidding!).

Currently, the clowns who pass as representatives of the people in the States are trying to get passed a measure that will allow companies to repatriate profits from overseas at a reduced rate of tax (the Republicans want 5% afaik and the Dems a smidge more).

This is obviously a terrible idea at a time when everyone's pretending the money's run out (even allowing for the truth that there is no crisis and obviously no lack of money, given that money is points, not prizes). Obviously, it works for businesses: outsource our jobs, then make obscene profits flogging your shit to the people you outsourced our jobs to. But it's hard to see what the benefits of that are for us. We keep hearing that if we don't tax corporations, they will have more money that they will use to give us all great jobs.

But look, there are 10% out of work in the States, so it must be obvious to anyone but the slowest that that's thorough bullshit, and anyway, it's easy to grasp that companies create jobs to meet demand, not because they feel happy because they have lots of money. It's also, sadly, easy for the right to muddy the water because individuals tend to be generous when they have extra money, so companies can be painted as creating jobs as acts of charity, rather than as a way to make even more money. Companies are not people though, whatever the Supreme Court says, and, although they could be, they are not constituted as vehicles for us all to have work but as big money machines.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The sound of waves

I planned to write an uber post about consciousness but first I started rambling about minds and decided to write an outline instead of the enormous thing the ramble was turning into. Problem is, the outline became another huge ramble! It's out of control and obviously no one will read either, but here they are anyway.


About minds

1. By temperament I am a rationalist, by which I mean I will tend to believe in the products of reason and to dismiss magical explanations. A magical explanation, in the sense I intend, is one that appeals to special knowledge of the world, not available to empirical investigation. Using "see" in a broad sense, magical explanations suggest that the world can be explained by means that cannot be seen. I suppose that makes me something of a verificatonist too, because I would also say that rational explanations can be shared with anyone who has the means of verifying them, whereas magical explanations are only available to those who agree on the magic as an axiom.

Note by the way that I am not saying that explanations are good so long as they are outcomes of your personal experience. I'm not saying that if you can see it, I will believe it. I mean that you have to be able to explain how I could see it too, and then when I pursue your method, I must see what you claim I will.

2. Why introduce a discussion of a concept of human consciousness by talking about rationality vs magic? Surely that's more appropriate to a discussion of, say, the existence of God. Clearly, God is a magical explanation (and now that we understand the composition of the world somewhat, a less and less appealing one, to the extent that it would be surprising if the Christian god survived another century). What isn't so clear is that human "being" is also often explained magically.

3. The thing being explained is what that being is and what it does. I'm going to use "being" here to mean your consciousness, your ego if you like, the thing that seems to be you. Even if we abandon human exceptionalism (and we should, generally) and agree that we are just another kind of ape, it seems clear that we are not quite like other apes, or other animals of all kinds, because we seem to be able to think and consequently direct ourselves to do things. (I am not sure I'm going to be able to demonstrate that this is untrue but I do think it necessarily follows from the explanation I have for human being.)

4. One approach to understanding human being is to say that we have bodies and we have minds. We might then disagree over how distinct bodies are from minds. Some will be dualists, who believe that we have entirely distinct minds that control our bodies: it's important to understand that a dualist is saying that a human mind is a separate substance from a human body--minds are purely mental, bodies are purely physical (and even milder dualisms are only quibbling over the word "purely"). In this understanding, we have no idea what a mind is or how it is able to interact with the physical body.

5. In my view, dualism is a magical explanation. There is no way of perceiving a mind. You may say that you can see outcomes of its actions, and that those actions in some ways define the qualities of the mind. Again, think about God. You may say you can see the outcome of his creating the world and that says something about how he is. But all it says is that he is the kind of being who would create a world like ours and not some other kind of being. So all you are saying about a mind is that it is the kind of thing that would make your body do what it does.

6. Most dualists will say that the mind is obviously within the brain (we do not know of any minds that exist without brains, after all, and if we remove someone's brain, we know their mind also goes away--although it's perfectly conceivable that the mind continues to exist but no longer has the means of making itself apparent). So dualism can shade into physicalism as one moves from believing that the mind is of a different substance from the brain, which it interacts with in a way we cannot recognise, to believing that it is something within the brain that can interact with it physically. However, this seems to be still a magical explanation, although it needs some thought for that to become obvious.

7. Science is a great tool for substituting rationality for magic. We know, for instance, that thunder is not caused by an angry god because we understand how it is caused by charged particles in rainclouds. So science can dispel the notion of a central mind. How? Well, we can wire up your brain so that we can see where there is electrical activity. If you look at a picture, this part and this part lights up; if you move your leg, that part and that part. A problem is immediately apparent. There is no part that always lights up whatever you do, and were there a central mind, there would be.

I had more but that's probably enough to set the scene for the rest of it.

***

A concept of consciousness


1. There is no such thing as a person. I have discussed this previously. Briefly, I subscribe roughly to Susan Blackmore's idea that the person is concocted by the brain moment to moment and only seems to be continuous. This essay is an excellent introduction to Blackmore's thought (apologies for having to use Google cache; seems her site is down.) I particularly endorse her very closely argued view that we do not have a rich internal picture of the world. When I "remember" scenes from my past, the memory is vague and impressionistic. It does not "look like" what I see when I look at things. It's just a bit like it. I'll revisit this.

2. There is no such thing as a mind. This is a magical belief that we hold to try to explain why we seem to be conscious. It can't be found in the brain when we measure the electrical activity that corresponds to things the brain is doing because although different areas of the brain light up when we do different things, there is no single part of the brain that always lights up and there should be if the mind is seated in the physical brain. What we do see is that conscious activity echoes electrical activity (some experiments have, rather alarmingly, found that some things we take to be controlled by our "minds" occur earlier than the corresponding control--this is the experimental basis for my belief that we do not exist, and I believe that any theory that we do exist must successfully explain it). Things that cannot be found in the physical world are by definition magical, and it's a feature of magical explanations that they are circular. Here's an example. You may believe thunder is created by an angry god. But if you do, you must claim that the angry god is simply invisible, and the way we know he exists is that there is thunder. Here's another: we can ask why there is a universe. One explanation is God created it. What reason do we have to believe there is a God? Well, there's this universe... So the cause of the effect we are attempting to explain is not visible, measurable or verifiable, and the only evidence of its even existing is the effect we are attempting to explain. It's clear to see that "God" is as magical an explanation as an angry thunder god--he is just used to explain more. However, although I prefer rational explanations, I am going to allow that magical explanations may turn out to be true, simply because the way that they operate is not known to us. Magic simply becomes less and less probable the more completely a rational explanation describes the effect we are looking at. So angry thunder gods probably don't exist because we understand so well how thunder happens. (If you know any philosophy of science, you recognise that I am invoking Occam's razor while making explicit that it is an aid in deciding between explanations, rather than axiomatic.)

3. If we do not have a mind, what is doing all the thinking? Well, nothing. I've always said that the thinking is just like echoes in a well. A stone is thrown into the water, and the echoes are the outcome. They are shaped by the shape and size of the well and the shape and size of the stone.

4. But what is "hearing" the echoes? Nothing. Stones make echoes whether you hear them or not. Wait though. Surely there are no echoes if no one hears them? Wrong. To make this clear, I am going to define noise and sound as different things. A noise is made when something makes air molecules move. A sound occurs when something captures that movement of air and makes it amenable to interpretation. So trees falling in forests always make noises, but they do not always make sounds (this is not a technical discussion of that question but it does correctly, if not wholly, answer it--of course trees always move the air, but that movement is not always captured).

5. The difference between a noise and a sound is key. Noises in nature tend to be very rich: they contain frequencies across a broad range. However, not only do we tend to experience them as reasonably simple sounds, we also "ignore" differences in detail between noises we interpret as making the same sound. What I'm saying is, we are more likely to say thunder is just thunder than we are to say that there are different types of thunder. It just is true that we only distinguish noises in as far as it's useful to us.

6. Let's take a noise that is very rich, yet we represent it to ourselves as very simple: the crash of a wave. The noise of a wave's crashing is close to white noise: it includes many frequencies. But we hear it as quite a simple sound. It doesn't seem to have much structure at any given point (although we hear it change as it progresses--a crack, a roll, some hiss). Note at this point how simply we describe this rich noise: crash. We can evoke it with one word! And when I say "crash" to you in the context of waves, although you may well "hear" a different sound from the one I do, the difference is entirely unimportant (without going all Wittgenstein on you, when you say you have a beetle in your box, it's immaterial what the beetle in your box actually looks like because when you say "beetle" I use my beetle as a proxy for yours).

7. The noise of the wave contains information (at least I believe it does but I'm not by any means an expert in acoustics--I'm going to ask you to accept that it contains the information I say it does at most because it doesn't matter to my discussion if it has less). It says what volume of water the wave contained and what the shore it broke on consisted of. This information would be hard to interpret and is not available to us within the sound (if it was useful to us, I daresay that would not be true--our senses diminish or increase the natural world to fit the use we make of the information within it).

8. Let's say we were to digitise the noise of the wave: to write it out so that it was fully described in numbers. Here's the key to understanding what I'm going to say: the sound of a wave and the digitisation of a wave are two different representations of the noise the wave makes. Neither is the same as the noise but neither is different.

As an aside, think again about the tree in the forest. Let's say that a mad professor taperecorded the tree's fall, then transcribed the noise it made into a code that faithfully but esoterically represented it, put the code into a sequencer that made it into music, then handed the music to an interpretive dance troupe, which interpeted it into dance. The troupe performs the dance and you watch it on TV, with the sound turned down. Are you hearing the sound of the tree? If you don't think so, why not? How exactly is this process different from air molecules striking your eardrum, making it vibrate and those vibrations being transferred through bones to nerves that carry electrical pulses to a part of your brain that interprets them as a sound?

Note that no matter how the noise of the tree's falling is conveyed to us, it only exists because of the tree's falling. Even if we had some means of faking the tree fall noise, it would still depend on some tree's falling. I don't want to get bogged down in philosophical bullshit here, but the point is simply that when there is a sound of a thing, there is a thing making the noise at some point.

9. Say you looked at the digitisation of the wave and saw patterns in it, but those patterns were purely the outcome of your interpretation and did not correspond with the information the noise of the wave actually conveys. The patterns seem to convey information but they do not. They are artefacts of the representation of the noise of the wave. Like the sound of the wave, they exist because the wave exists. Even if they are not part of the information that the wave conveys, they are still outcomes of the wave's conveying the information that it conveys.

We are saying, if it's not clear, that the patterns are something you may or may not see but if you do, they are entirely artefacts of how you are looking. Particularly, we are saying that they are artefacts of using your interpretation of the numbers that you used to represent the noise. Whether numbers are real is an interesting question in itself (my next post will concern this question because in the process of figuring out what consciousness is, I inadvertently solved the universe, but typical of a humanist, I'm still doing human being first), and I tend to feel that they are something we use as a lens to view the world through, rather than part of the world itself, but that's less important than recognising that the patterns we would see in them are to do with how we look at the numbers. Although the noise contains information, which our representation captures, we are suggesting that what we see in it does not reflect that information.

The reason is that the noise is too rich. As it approaches white noise, there is just too much of it and that swamps the information it contains. It should go without saying that if a noise becomes sufficiently rich, it can no longer contain information.

10. We are not saying that if we change how we represent the noise, we will be able to uncover information. The reason that white noise cannot contain information that we can extract is that it happens all at the same time and the information is swamped. Even though a representation in figures is not bound in time, so we can look at any part of the numbers at any time, there is just too much information. However, the wave's noise is not white; it is merely very rich. This means that because it is not completely saturated, it can appear to contain information (even though the information that it does contain has in fact been swamped).

11. The point of this is to say that first we would not hear information in the sound of the wave, because we simply discard richness when we process the noise and second if we represented the noise differently we might then interpret it as having other information it does not in fact contain.

What does this have to do with human being?

12. What I've said about waves will be true of anything that makes sufficient noise to mask the information that it contains. How much masking the information will need depends on how apt we are to recognise it. The chatter of neurons in your brain creates a type of noise. We are almost entirely incapable of interpreting that noise and even if we were able to trace all the electrical activity in a brain accurately, we would not be able to figure out what it was actually doing.

If you have followed this ramble, you realise that what I am saying is that you are nothing more than the chatter of the electric activity in your brain, which simply does what it does without your input, which somehow is reflected back to your brain, represented to it as a different kind of process. Just as the patterns we might see in digitised wave noise are not "really" there, our thoughts are also not "really" there. They are simply artefacts of how the chatter represents itself in our brains.

The chatter is noise. When we monitor it, we discard the information it actually does contain, and reinterpret it as containing information it does not. So as I type this piece, my brain is shifting messages at huge speed, controlling my fingers and making them say what it wants. I cannot even begin to understand the process that makes that happen. My brain is making it explicit to itself but it is too rich to represent faithfully. Instead, it reflects it much more simply, representing it as the equivalent of a sound to its noise--thoughts instead of the very complex mechanical processes that are actually occurring.

Boom! I just made you cease to exist. I have removed you from the universe of discourse. Don't worry though. In my next post, I'm going to give you the possibility of God.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Millions

I have been thinking for weeks, maybe even months about reposting this because I think it's gold. People hardly ever think what I write is any good (or never think it's worth telling me they do) but sometimes I do, and I think I'm a good judge.

It's kind of a pity it didn't move the person I wrote it about but at least that taught me not to keep on believing I was actually any good at it.

***


Sometimes I feel like I could believe in your god, because they say he is the love we feel for each other, and I know that it is something elemental and real, which often seems to come from outside us, yet flows through us, yet is bigger than us, so much bigger that we can seem lost at sea, on the point of drowning. But I feel that you can never truly die so long as you have love, that you will be buoyed up just enough.

Sometimes it seems big enough to make everything else small enough that it can be overcome.

Man, how did I become stuck only able to express myself in words, and they are so insufficient. But what can you do in the face of something ineffable, intangible, yet powerful enough that you can be humbled by it?

Do you feel like that? I remember when I saw you, I felt like it made sense in a way that I could not possibly explain, yet if I ever could, I could wrap it up and sell it for millions. And of course I wouldn't; I couldn't. Because if I ever could, I would only want to give it to you for nothing.

And it cannot be your god, because it is not huge and untouchable. It is something tiny and precious, so little and fragile, I snatch it up and hold it tight, so tight in my hand, my fist clenched, afraid that if I open it, it will be gone, that I will open my hand and you really will have flown.

But there is part of me that never lies, a small part, deeper than anything else, and sometimes when it is still at night, when it is cold and I feel like nothing can warm me, it warms me. I know you cannot understand what I am saying and it feels like you dare not, but I cannot write the words it says because they are not in a language I understand, but strange and incomprehensible as it is, I am compelled to try to listen and I will die wondering whether I ever really knew. And I ask myself, does she have a place in her too that sings for me or am I just imagining a world in which I am more than nothing at all? And I won't let go from fear that that world is only something some corner of me has spun from the emptiness that would otherwise engulf me.

Useless

Nothing I do works. Recently, I had a routine inspection by my landlords' agents. It's the first I've ever had, so I was quite anxious. I cleaned the house very thoroughly and bullied the kids for days not to mess it up. So the inspection happened and it was just some guy, no big deal.

Then at the weekend, on short notice, the landlords themselves came round and fixed a couple of things. They were quite friendly and didn't say anything about the house, except to ignore, as they have done previously, anything I said about what needed to be fixed.

So today I get a snotty letter from the agents, saying blah blah, the house wasn't clean, hire cleaners if you can't keep it up, if it isn't clean it might get damaged blah blah.

I might just as well not have bothered cleaning it in the first place. Nothing I do is ever good enough for anyone. It's like somehow everyone decided I must meet higher standards than anyone else for reasons that are entirely obscure to me.

I have been feeling very down. I know I need to restart the tryptophan because I dropped it when I was feeling well and now I can see the signs that things are not right with me. I think I am overinterpreting, which is a bad sign. I do this by taking small bad things and assuming they are symptoms of a bigger bad, and somewhat overreacting to the bad that I perceive but isn't necessarily there.

Not that bad isn't there. I had yet another job thing I didn't get for really bad reasons. I had to do an editing test and it was way too arbitrary. You could not tell whether someone was a good or bad editor by using it because it involved getting close to the hirer's idea of right, rather than what is objectively right. Clearly I didn't do that well enough and ended up on a reserve list, which is no use to me.

It really sucks because I am truly an excellent editor and I haven't really met that many better. I am not very good at editing but that's a different story: it just didn't make sense to choose it as a profession when I can't focus and get easily distracted.

At least they wrote back to me. Nothing makes me sadder than people I have worked for for years not even bothering to reply to my emails or people who sound positive about jobs who never write to me or reply to my emails either.

I am sick of being insignificant.

I have to go to my "job provider" or whatever the fuck they call it next week, to take part in an "intensive activity". It won't get me a job, obviously. It's not intended to. It's just a way for the government to look like it cares whether I have a job without actually doing anything to create jobs. I feel like saying to them, look, this is a waste of your and my time. I am not going to get a menial job because no one would hire me for it. I'm clearly an intellectual type who would get bored stacking shelves so what's the point of that? I will get a job doing what I do eventually, probably. Nothing the "job provider" does will make that happen any sooner because they have no more idea how I can get employed than I do.

Maybe I will discuss with them the concept of NAIRU, which the Australian government has as an article of faith. This is the notion that if unemployment falls below a certain figure, inflation will inevitably rise. Briefly, the idea is that if labour is tight, workers can bargain their wages up, which creates inflation (it's certainly true that wage rises can cause inflation but the relationship is not strictly causal). So the government purposely keeps 5% of the population out of work. In fact, it describes 5% unemployment as full employment. (It isn't. Full employment is about 2% unemployment: that 2% is between jobs, purposely out of work, whatever (frictional unemployment for those who like to use the jargon).) Indeed, 5% unemployment is not even the full picture. Another 7% have less work than they want (are underemployed) and some percentage of the workforce (possibly a fairly high percentage) is not even looking for work because prospects are poor (we'd include in this group mothers who have not returned to work, graduates who volunteer or intern because they can't straight away find work, others who defer entry to the workplace for various reasons). Possibly as much as 20% of the population who would like more work cannot get it. This is not an economy at capacity!

Given that the government purposely keeps people out of work, why does it punish those who can't get a job? Well, there are obvious reasons, such as that it can't actually admit it runs the economy below capacity or that its aim is not full employment at all, because that would anger the plebs. It can't admit that NAIRU is bullshit because while it may not discipline inflation, it has certainly helped slow gains in real wages, so the increased productivity Australia, like other Western nations, has seen in recent decades has all been captured by the top end of town. Probably more importantly, there are many conservative voters who because they have personally never suffered much misfortune in life, and have a steady job, believe that everyone out of work is lazy or stupid and deserving of punishment. They are terrified of others' getting something for nothing. They are not aware that their taxes do not fund anything because it is not in the government's interests for them to know that for various reasons.

The solutions are simple. The government should offer work to anyone who wants it at a decent wage. It should incentivise employers rather than "job providers" and it should stop punishing people who genuinely want to work but cannot, who are the overwhelming majority of jobseekers in any economy. There just aren't that many people who would rather be given the very small amount of money you can get here, and those who are are not all that economically useful anyway, so never mind.

Of course, a farsighted government would simply do what I urge: abolish the tax-free allowance and give everyone a citizen's allowance. I'll quickly outline a couple of reasons this is not as immoral or poisonous to conservatives as it looks. First, the government is the issuer of currency. It's more democratic for it to issue the same amount to every citizen and allow them to do with it what they want than it is to use it in other stimulative ways. It's effectively what it does with a tax-free allowance in any case. Second, even if it was the case that taxes pay for welfare, it would be better for the taxpayer not to have to fund a huge, unwieldy welfare infrastructure. I mean, why not just abolish Centrelink and "job providers" and give me the money without bothering with it? I need the money, after all. Society has an obligation to provide me with it because we have structured ourselves in a way that leaves some of us requiring support. Simply sending an EFT to anyone on the electoral roll, or an equivalent register, is much more elegant. Then the government can forget having to means test people, having to have an elaborate transfer mechanism to try to make going back to work equitable (in my system they just tax from the first dollar--or in fact, at present, do not tax at all).

But none of that is possible. Instead, I have to submit to being humiliated by Centrelink and my "job provider" so that I can get just enough money to pay my rent to the greedy bastards who own my house. You will never convince me that there is much benefit to a world that has people with several houses and people with none. Any benefit you can assume could be created in a different, more equitable way.

***

There must be an upside, right? Well, I have a girlfriend who I love but. I know, it seems like there's always a but. The but in this case is that she is pretty sharply critical of me quite often, sometimes in quite hurtful ways, and even if some of it, or all of it, is true, it's never anything I can do anything about, just like it was with Bella. I mean, I'm just who I am. I don't see what else I can be without making life an enormous trial. So some days I just feel she puts up with me because she thinks I am or would be a good stepdad to her boys (which is lol, because I'm a terrible father, but obviously a willingness to bully small children into doing what you want them to do is easy to mistake for having a clue). She has just started a job too (which is great, I think it's super positive for her) but now if she moves in with me, I just look like and feel like a sponger. I mean, there's probably nothing wrong with someone who loves you providing for you, and certainly I've done it and would do it without a second thought, but it weighs heavily on me.

I think I have just reached the point where women have too often told me they loved me and then treated me without any sign of love. You can't love me and never talk to me. You can't love me and split up with me because I don't worship Jesus. You can't love me and spend all the time you spend with me trying to mindfuck me.

Some days, most days, I simply do not believe I am loveable at all. How would it even be possible? I do not exist. I am just layers of shit upon shit upon a core of intractable rage. Or I fear that I am. I fear that if I was able to peel away the shit, I would be left only with hatred and spite. I know that the rest of you all think the shit is the best part of you, but you just don't see clearly enough that it's just shit you accreted.

Some days, I think differently from that, but this isn't one of those days. And I was sure that I had revealed something different but the person or people I thought I had revealed it to did not agree. How can I argue with the judgement of others when I am not sure what I am really revealing? If you offer yourself to be judged, you cannot complain when they return the judgement: guilty of being just shit all the way through.