Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

The perils of applied postmodernism

The sad truth about political reality of the 21st century is that left-wing people are insufferably annoying and right-wing people are just plain dumb.

Progressive left ideas are often confusing and incomprehensible (statements like there’s no reverse racism, or that censorship helps to advance freedom), but what we cannot deny is that these ideas at least come from the intellectual, mostly academic circles. They’re based on an intellectual foundation, primarily philosophical (very peculiar one, but still). On the other hand, the discourse of conservative crowd is intellectually underwhelming (just look at Ben Shapiro or Bret Weinstein). So it seems to me that the main problem of opponents of the left is that they don’t even try to understand the ideas behind the progressive left ideology, and therefore fail to compete with these ideas on the appropriate level, failing to gain any credibility or respect in the ‘intellectual’ spheres: from media to universities.

That’s why I was quite happy to find a book that does a proper job of critically addressing progressive left ideology from the standpoint of its philosophical foundations: ‘Cynical theories’ by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay. Yes, these are the same people who made left-leaning academic magazines publish their articles about rape culture among dogs, as well as an excerpt from ‘Mein Kampf’ rewritten using feminist buzzwords (‘the struggle of my sisters is my struggle’).

Brain, knowledge and the Internet

A few weeks ago I finished ‘The Shallows’ by Nicholas Carr. Legitimately, this is one of the most horrifying books I’ve ever read. It focuses on the ongoing transitions in human patterns of thinking that we often fail to notice: the subtle differences between information and knowledge, scanning and learning, browsing and understanding. Are all media equally good for retaining knowledge, or some are inherently harmful for the very system that makes its acquisition possible?

The first part of the book focuses on the idea of brain neuroplasticity. Since the neurons in human brain are driven by the principle of survival of the busiest, the brain rewires itself to accommodate the changes in technologies, and we can be pretty sure that the the use of Internet triggers a very different set of neurons as opposed to reading a book. The second part of the book focuses on conditions that make the very acquisition of knowledge possible and allow us to transfer information from short-term memory to long-term one. In the end, the book also focuses on the organization of information on the Internet – that aggravates the situation even further. Tech corporations such as Google and Facebook (alright, Alphabet and Meta) and their advertising revenue models that’re optimized to deliver the most interesting and relevant information to the users, might neglect unintended consequences of making information more and more fragmented and easier to consume (‘what unimaginable evil must be hiding in such a happy place as Googleplex’).

Akira Kurosawa and the meaning of life

In August, I attended one local film festival, which had a retrospective of Akira Kurosawa as a part of this year’s program. The most outstanding movie shown on the festival was Kurosawa’s 1952 film titled ‘Ikiru’ (生きる – ‘to live’). The plot is based on the story of Leo Tolstoy – ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’, adapted to the Japanese reality (let’s never forget that Tolstoy is ultra-great, while Dostoevsky is overrated). The movie of Kurosawa lasts for 143 minutes, and dwells on the topic of human life and its meaning. Surprisingly, it perfectly reaffirmed my own views on the topic (mostly based on the philosophy of Hannah Arendt). But before we focus on the movie plot, let’s contemplate one interesting idea – what if the meaning of human life can be deduced simply out of its ontological context?

The fact that in 21st century there’re no longer any indisputable dogmas that determine the meaning of human life is maddening to many. Since all traditional values have been refuted long ago, we’re left with nothing else but the notion that life can have any meaning that you assign to it. Which is fine, but still sounds too general to most people to be actually helpful.

But thinking about the human condition per se, we can at least single out the following two facts.

Interesting ideas in Dune: conservatism, Nietzsche, free will

Let’s contemplate Dune. In particular, some sociological and political ideas outlined in Frank Herbert’s novel (so far I’ve read a half!), and Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of it (that one I’ve watched twice).

Brutalist spaceships, aesthetically spotless twinks, sandworms in killing frenzy… Fascinating things, no doubt. But was it only me who left the movie theatre with a deep impression that conservatism could be reasonable – and even appealing, after all? The way the movie (and the book) portrays the classic ideal of conservative values is attractive as hell. The intergalactic feudal aristocracy, an example of one noble family with a deep respect for the ancestors, and a spotless moral code. Who wouldn’t be drawn to such a picture?.. Well, most definitely not the modern Western world.

Aristocracy powered by eugenics

The Dune universe is organized as an intergalactic feudal society, with multiple Great Houses controlling various planets. So the first thing that Dune makes especially appealing is the idea of aristocratic elite. How appealing is it to belong to a great dynasty, a Great House, with 26 generations of the same family inhabiting the same land? Blood and soil. Ancestral dignity. Preservation of the bloodline.

Resisting the self-improvement craze

This week I finished the book by a Danish author Svend Brinkmann titled ‘Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze’. And even though I disagree with the author on some fundamental points and pretty much on all the advise he gives and solutions he proposes (Brinkmann is good at diagnostics, but not at the remedies), the book still raises many important themes – ‘the problematic aspects of Zeitgeist’, so to say.

As the phenomenon of self-help has been annoying me for quite some time, below are some of my thoughts and observations, as well as a few useful take-aways from the Brinkmann’s book, and… some unavoidable critique of it.

The book essentially tackles the modern-day obsession with self-help, personal development, coaching and self-improvement – often directionless and absurd. People embarking on meaningless challenges, such as running 40-km-long marathons, waking up at 5am, or reading 100 fiction books per year. How did we arrive at this bizarre point, where these activities are considered as something contributing to self-improvement?

A slogan from the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline – says: ‘Do more, feel better, live longer’. These are the key goals in an accelerating culture, and psychoactive drugs help us achieve them: to do more (irrespective of what it might be?); feel better (no matter what triggered your emotions?); and live longer (irrespective of the quality of the extra years of life?). In an accelerating culture, we are supposed to do more, do it better and do it for longer, with scant regard for the content or the meaning of what we’re doing.

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