Friday, August 25, 2006

A straw-man argument

straw man : This article is about the logical fallacy. For other uses of the term, see Straw man (disambiguation).

A straw man argument is a rhetorical technique based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "set up a straw man" or "set up a straw-man argument" is to create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent. A straw-man argument can be a successful rhetorical technique (that is, it may succeed in persuading people) but it is in fact misleading, since the argument actually presented by the opponent has not been refuted.

Its name is derived from the use of straw men in combat training (see [1]). It is occasionally called a straw dog fallacy [2] or a scarecrow argument.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

If reality falls short of the abstraction, it is reality that is at fault

Although I have a Ph.D in psychology and can run circles around most psychology professors, there is no way I could ever be hired as a professor at most universities. And even if I were hired, I would be in deep trouble after my very first class. In fact, Petey would make certain of it. If you can be hauled before the inquisition for the banal observation that men and women have some intrinsic differences, imagine suggesting that some cultures are deeply sick and dysfunctional or that children do better with a mother and father. How about telling the class that they'd better get married and practice a religion, or face the approximate health risk of smoking a pack of cigarets a day? Or let them know that belief in leftism is highly correlated with personal unhappiness?
As Lee Harris notes in Civilization and its Enemies, the conventionally educated man--who is really more of an indoctrinated man--simply internalizes a set of predigested concepts that are presented to him as finished products. The mind is not trained to first deal with the practicalities of the concrete world, but to immerse itself in abstractions, which are then projected onto reality. As a result, reality is constantly coming up short for the leftist, so it becomes his responsibility to “force the issue.” (In case it isn’t clear, I am not talking about science, but the the traditional humanities and the newer subhumanities, such as Gender Theory.) That is, if reality falls short of the abstraction, it is reality that is at fault, and there is usually hell to pay when peace-loving leftist intellectuals are pissed off at reality. And they are very, very pissed these days. You can feel it. Just try dipping into dailykos for a few minutes. posted by Gagdad Bob at 9:00 AM 28 comments One Cosmos Under God Robert W. Godwin

Monday, August 21, 2006

Kakar, the social scientist, nudges aside Kakar, the novelist

To be a mystic PETER HEEHS The Hindu Sunday, July 01, 2001
IN an enquiry into the nature of consciousness, the philosopher Thomas Nagel asked a provocative question: "What is it like to be a bat?" Clearly, bats exhibit some form of consciousness; just as clearly, it is nothing like ours. Sighted humans construct the world largely by processing visual information; bats do the same by processing echoes of their own high-frequency cries. Yet if humans cannot imagine what it feels like to be a bat, they can still be certain that it feels like something; for bats, like people and unlike stones, possess conscious experience.
Sudhir Kakar, in his novel Ecstasy, poses a question similar to Nagel's: "What is it like to be a mystic"? Placing a figure modelled on Ramakrishna Paramhansa in 20th Century Rajasthan, Kakar attempts to track his spiritual development in the hope of bagging that rarest of subjective states: mystical experience. Growing up near Jaipur in the 1930s, Gopal finds that he does not fit in. For one thing he is, literally, hermaphroditic; for another he is subject to unusual inner states. A passing tantric, aware of his spiritual aptitude, initiates him into kundalini yoga. The result is an almost catatonic state, from which he is rescued by a Ramanandi mahant, who shows him the way of bhakti. Further initiations follow, until Gopal, now Baba Ram Das, becomes a celebrated mystic around whom gathers a handful of followers. Chief among these is Vivek, a student at the local college, who is modelled, needless to say, on Swami Vivekananda. Baba Ram Das has high hopes for his protege but, after his death, Vivek becomes not an inspiring prophet but (conditions having deteriorated over the last century) a purveyor of political Hinduism.
Anyone familiar with the biographies of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda will find much that is familiar in Kakar's story: the passages of a mystic's development, with near-insanity followed by ecstasy; the moods of divine love; the mastery of the kundalini; the lonely realisation of Self. We are even treated to some of the master's parables as well as the occasional sermon. What holds the narrative together is Kakar's sympathetic descriptions of religious life - the set piece on a temple that specialises in exorcism is a classic - and his ironic descriptions of middle-class family dynamics. In these, Kakar, the social scientist, nudges aside Kakar, the novelist; but his social science has always been a good read. His prose is clear and evocative, and he cannot be blamed for stinting on his research. It is interesting to see how much this neo-Freudian psychotherapist knows about the bhavas of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. More important, Kakar has an openness to religious phenomena that most psychotherapists would be afraid to display. In The Analyst and the Mystic, he showed us that he was willing to take the experiences of a Ramakrishna seriously, without reducing them all to Freud's neurotic "oceanic feeling". In Ecstasy he looks at them more as states to be embodied than data to be analysed.
Openness and observation are necessary for good social science, and even more necessary for good fiction. But for fully successful fiction, two other things are needed: a sensitive ear and a mastery of voice. Kakar's descriptions are as good as any in Indian English fiction, but his dialogue is rarely convincing. The problem is one that few Indian novelists have solved: how to capture the rhythms of idiomatic Hindi (or whatever) in the different cadences of English? Even more difficult is the creation of narrators and characters whose voices are not contorted by the strain of speaking about Indian things to a Anglophone audience. Kakar at times adopts what might be called the Puranic voice informing us, deadpan, that the only inconvenience a sadhu experienced in a certain place was the need to fly to the Ganga for his bath. This is the natural mode of Indian storytelling from the Ramayana to Rushdie and when Kakar makes use of it, his voice is sure. But too often his narrator butts in with unnecessary details about the socio-economic organisation of a Rajasthani village or the location of St. Stephen's College. Believable narrators and characters must never tell us anything that would not occur to them to say.
The Puranic voice is most necessary when describing happenings beyond the ordinary, like the exploits of a Hanuman or the experiences of a Baba Ram Das. Kakar's attempts to capture his hero's inner life are often remarkably good; but finally we come back to what Nagel said about bats. Just as we will never know what it is like to be a bat from a bat's point of view, so we will never know what it is like to be a mystic - unless we become one.
Ectasy, Sudhir Kakar, Viking, p.251, Rs. 295.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A pre-sexual, pre-gendered and, also pre-personal “I”

Postmodern spirituality A dialogue in five parts Part III: The Postmodern Mind – And Its Future Roland Benedikter
Take, for example, one of the leading thinkers you mentioned, someone so totally “anti-essential” and radically “deconstructivistic” like Judith Butler of the University of California at Berkely, a very productive stronghold of postmodern theory in the USA (and a very good university, by the way, where my wife studied with the Indian feminist Bharathi Mukherjee). Butler does a kind of radical empirical deconstruction of the classic humanistic “temple of personal identity” (Lex Bos, J├╝rgen Habermas); and she is widely recognized as a world wide leading “master thinker” (Jacques Lacan, The Four Discourses In The European-Western World / The Four Core Concepts Of Psychoanalysis, in: Seminaire XX / Encore, 2001; Jacques Lacan, Science and Truth, in: Writings II, 2004; cf. Bice Benvenuto and Roger Kennedy, The Works of Jacques Lacan, Free Association Books London 1986, chapter 10) in that.
In her recent book “Undoing Gender”, Routledge 2004, she is, as she says, focusing the process “on the question of what it might mean to undo restrictively normative conceptions of sexual and gendered life.” But the real question coming out of the proceeding of “undoing” (which is, of course, only another name for “deconstructing”), as she herself discovers and points out, is: What remains, when you succeed with this deconstruction, let's assume, totally? What will be then, after the “undoing” is done, with the being you liberated from all its cultural, social and physical “covers”, “sleeves” or “spoils”, so to say?
This being will remain there as a pre-sexual, pre-gendered and, in many ways, also pre-personal “I”, not tied to nothing, in a kind of state of “suspension” or “pending” to the void - consisting of “pure directed attention” (Kuehlewind) or pre-subjective “pure substance of mankind” (Bhaskar), which has been freed of every sleeve and spoil, so to say. There may be, if you allow me to say it in a somewhat extreme form, no man and woman anymore, but only “pure mankind”, pure “humanity” as an ontological “occurrence” (Heidegger).
That is what Butler unconsciously tries to produce: A world where only pre-subjective (and, of course, pre-objective) men live and encounter each other on the basis of equality, not “men” and “woman” with all the restrictive rules connected to those notions. What remains without any cultural, social, and even physical spoils, which have all been demasked by postmodern thought as social constructs that constitute the subject in unlimited rich and complex forms of norming, and therefore have been “undone”, may be a pure activity of being - and of self-consciously being in a sort of pre-subjectivized state.
And if you are very lucky, maybe there will remain even a kind of awareness of the pre-subjective and pre-personal “beeingness” (Ken Wilber, Discourses and Teachings at Naropa Institute Boulder, 2004), of whom my ego is just a temporary kind of condensation in this time and this space and in this culture and in this gender and so on. There may eventually even remain the awareness of a “permanent origin in itself” that is a pure “becoming”, or a deeply inspirational state of consciousness. And that is something truly spiritual or essential, if you consider it as a whole.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Beaudelaire, Barthes, Baudrillard

From: "Kofi Fosu" To: Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2006 17:47:58 -0700 (PDT) Kofi Fosu has left a new comment on your post "Philosophy, like art, is the act of bringing truth into being"
Thoughts well expressed. On the subject of humanity in this postmodern world, what we have forgotten is the link of language to everything and everyone. What is being said and how? The unit that forms a quantative thought is bound by "the word". From Barthes we can relate it to art, politics and sex and more. Stop by my blog: Posted by Kofi Fosu to Savitri Era Learning Forum at 8/01/2006 06:17:57 AM