Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lessing's Choice

I have been ignored for what I have to say is my whole life. I am ignored amongst family, friends and business colleagues. No one gives a shit what I have to say. So encountering blogosphere shunning should not come as a surprise.

I used to contribute posts to a blog that took its starting point the films of Brian De Palma. This was no ordinary fansite. It included film students, critics, and all sort of sundry film makers. The conversations extended beyond the apparent disconnected facts and data regarding particular De Palma films. It also avoided the typical issues of the life of celebrity film maker Brian De Palma. Instead it dealt with the craft, the themes, the issues of film making that Brian De Palma and his movies had raised. In a relatively intelligent manner, this web page brought up issues of philosophy, politics, history, ethics, aesthetics as these issues emerged in the films of De Palma (and ultimately elsewhere). Yes there were plenty of analyses of predecessors and epigoni. However, the site dealt with all sorts of issues that could really carry on the conversation (as an Oakeschott or a Rorty) could appreciate. When I first contributed, I found thoughtful and appreciative respondents to what I wrote. However, as time went on, I became more irascible, and I found myself in pariah status with the web site monitors as well as with the other contributors. Perhaps I made excessive statements. Perhaps I picked fights. Nonetheless, I found myself alone in my own comments. Other contributors began regularly ignoring my remarks, and I found that what I had to say became simple reactive inanities to what was not said. I found myself in a cyber world of solipsistic criticism that made impossible the necessary friendly criticism of me that allowed me to see myself. What I wrote became so distasteful to others that I was no longer worth acknowledging.

This is a tend with other sites I attend. Whether it is the Leo Strauss group or the Postmodern Conservative blog, my career as a writer has followed a similar trajectory. First, I am one of the most interesting an scintillating of respondents (even if I exaggerate my excellence). Then I become a writer to whom others refer. I become a benchmark of sorts for those who wish to offer a dissenting opinion. Then comes the remarks that "Presnall" sounds like something of a crank. Which is followed by complete disregard by the other writers and respondents, concluding in a complete silence to anything I write. All this leads me talking to myself.

I suppose my utter disregard for following the arguments of others in the name of what I consider where the truth leads me inevitably leaves me in my own solipsism. This of course makes it sound like I defend the radical questioning of convention. This is not necessarily true. Instead, I am a radical critic of such radical critique. This double critique confuses many as they naively wish to say something worthwhile in the surety of their own opinion. However, I tend to wish to deflate such ambitions to speak what is worthwhile. My own standards are ridiculously high, and these standards make me hated by those who speak persuasively to others in the terms that most can accept. In the best of rhetorical traditions, my friends and I--whether on the De Palma page, the Strauss page, or the PomoCon page--share a concern with the same questions. What motivates us to thought, wonder, or questioning is the same. We share a sense of the general parameters of the human problem--socially, politically, theologically, culturally politically. Not to sound like a sociologist of a Dilthey or Mannheim type, but we share the same content in terms of what is at stake in our questions. We are all Gadamerians here. Nonetheless, given what I write, they just don't care for what I have to say in response to these fundamental issues.

I used to think my shunning was due to my lack of learning. There are some huge big brains and some of the most erudite and thoughtful human beings writing on these pages. It is intimidating to find myself writing in such company. However, I came to realize that I am quite erudite and learned too--if not as much as or even moreso than some of the others writers frequenting these web pages. Hence, I judged that the shunning had less to with erudition than a judgment of my character. In this view I am not only ignorant but distasteful. I tend to state things wrongly or in a way that is not fitting. So it was all a personal criticism of me and my character.

What do you do in such a situation? Do I embrace myself and say 'fuck you" to all your shit-for-brains (SFB) accounts of the way you alll don't understand me? This seems too extreme and beyond my own sense of self-uncertainty. Do I try to figure out why I don't fit in and try to remediate the problem? I have given up on trying to fit in since I was in high school--at the earliest. I have never fit in and so I don't care for that. Perhaps all this is the problem, but it seems to me overly simplistic. I myself have no problem following the law, adhering to conventional morality, and performing the duties of family, career and country--in fact I have excelled in these things on several occasions.

I am only left to conclude that it is my opinions which are nefarious. I will admit that I cannot articulate my opinions in the best manner possible in every argument. I am not the best writer, wordsmith or rhetorician in the world. Perhaps I need more study more in order to speak my mind, since I do not know everything in literature, history and politics. Maybe I need to specialize more and then I could have a basis of particular authority from which I could speak to a more general audience. But I am pretty well knowledgeable of all sorts of specifics--much more than many people I know. I am too specialized. So, to state it again, it is my opinions that are dubious. Perhaps I'm specialized in the wrong things, but this assumes that there are specialists who can truly take their knowledge and translate it to the truth of the whole for what is needed to know. As if there were an important statement that could be made in a way that way others could assent to. I doubt it. Others simply don't like what I have to say.

So what is it I have to say? I doubt the things that people in my position think are important. I'm not stupid. I recognize the need to mask one's own opinions. In fact I do it all the time. I recognize that I don't hold the absolute truth in absolute knowledge. I qualify what I say--even if I am a student of Hegel. I may recognize that knowledge in the modern world resorts to knowledge or education in a circle--encyclopedia. But I never state it as such. I like to be an empiricist too. I stick to the facts like everyone else.

I think I become anathema because I call out the truth of all empiricism which is the dog philosophy of cynicism. This at least explains the basis of my rhetoric. However, the first thing I aim my cynicism towards is cynicism itself. I hate deflationary, self-spirited rhetoric for its own sake. This gets me into trouble because I like to prick the balloons of any and every cynic.

So I have no positive teaching. I am all negative. Admittedly I am no reformer. I cannot tell you how to lead your life. To be sure, I have standards. They are true and right too. But I have no way of making you live become what is the true and right life. I try to persuade toward what is called philosophy. In contrast to philosophy, coercion leads to an ignorant lawlessness which is lawful on the basis of the fear of punishment--but there is a tradition that one is dragged by the scruff of one's neck out of the cave. Is coercion itself the basis of philosophy? But who drags anyway?

Lacking someone to drag us out of the cave, or lacking the insight of one's own that images are images, it seems that we need a god who metes reward and punishment. Perhaps such fear--including fear of divine punishment--is our lot. I suspect a lot of our current moralizers (on the one hand) and philosophers (on the other) just simply want to keep fear of divine punishment in its place. I have no desire to destroy this belief either, but when I call out others of their obfuscating this issue, they get angry and then they ignore me.

So I will continue to think and write what I say, and I won't pretend to speak frankly of philosophy and god is dead while at the same time pretending that god is the ultimate judgment of one's particular and personal sense of life. Why not just say say--fideistically--that god is judgment? Why come up with so many sophisticated arguments in a post-theistic age?Don't worry about it. The cat is out of the bag. God is dead, and no matter what kind of rhetoric is deployed cannot cover the fact--this deadly truth as Nietzsche puts it.

So we should return to first questions. Reason and revelation. Ancients and moderns. Philosophy and poetry. Law and life. Rule and discretion. Theory and practice. Public and private. Individual and community. Progress and return. Transmission of the past and rejection of the future. Athens and Jerusalem--or Rome? or Mecca!

Lessing posed the question of God with two hands. Long before the red or green pill of the poplar movie The Matrix, Lessing picked up on the ancient myth of God offering two hands. One hand was the life of eternal questioning--the joy and adventure of seeking after that which can be known even to the point of never knowing it. This mode seeks after newness and is interminably unsatisfied. It maybe happiness, but it is unsatisfied in its answer. It thinks honesty, probity, redlicheit is what the best way of life is for a noble and true human life. One should never rest certain anything. In this hand, the knife edge of continual questioning the most fundamental things must be one's fate.

The other hand of God holds the answer to every deep question that stems from the deepest erotic longing. These are the answers to the kinds of longings that plague you in even in the midst of your own most self satisfaction. These answers provide relief to such an unspeakable longing that it is satisfaction in such a way that one need not nor ever wish to seek beyond what already is (or what has been given). Such knowledge provides the confidence of facing up to the challenges of this world because there is nothing that can challenge the ultimate truth of what one already has. This is not smugness, but clarity regarding what is truth. It is true enlightenment.

This is an eternal dispute between unbelief and belief.

Given the response to what I write, I guess I have an ineradicable unbelief. An ineradicable, ontological unbelief. I am not happy with such a situation, but that should be expected in such a mode of life. So be it. It makes no friends even if friends are what I desire. My probity says there are no friends even if my desire wishes for them to be. Derrida in his lectures of friendship liked to quote Montaigne quoting an old saw, "My friends, there are no friends." I guess this is where I am. Derrida in the same lectures then examines the question of the enemy in Carl Schmitt. Unfortunately, this is my position. I don't endorse Schmittian politics, and I whish to choose Socrates over Polemarchus, but I have no friends nonetheless.

The typical response is like a pop song, "You only give what you get."

This is my giving.

All of this navel gazing certainly explains my anathematic position regarding the De Palma, Strauss, or PomoCon blogs. Who would want to read such a self indulgent asshole as me?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pinball Wizard

Truly a great song by the Who. But I always wondered what deaf, dumb and blind meant. Like the crowd I wondered how he did it. "How do you think he does it?"

But the more you think about bumpers and flippers, one wonders if one does not always stand like a statue playing by intuition. These things provide for externalized ways of living one amongst another. Pinball, blindness, deafness, and dumbness have no community.

Pinball is a pretty lame image to make this case insofar as it is dated--but pinball, with its jerky shuffling of the ball, may be a true image of how one must make one's way in the world in modern bourgeois, democratic, capitalistic, liberal societies these days. The pinball image may not hold up, but let me nonetheless hand my pinball crown to Pete Townsend for attempting to speak about what is true.

You may ask--what is true in a silly song about gaining recognition for mastery at something as ridiculous as pinball for one who is deaf, dumb and blind? Of course, it is easily answered in the see me, feel me, touch me, heal me refrain. But what does all this mean? Listening to you, gazing at you and following at you. Right behind you and on you I see the glory and get the story.

The you is surely important here, but so is the me that can't hear, see or speak.

This must be some sort of social psychology put to music. Is it typically Lockean in that we have no judge with common authority by nature? Is it Hobbesian in the ways in which Tommy's fame leads to the one answer to all questions?

Is it the typical British Marxist stance that popular culture serves as an anodyne for the suffering of the working class. The sigh of the oppressed in an alleviating opiate that shows itself in the new sensation of Tommy's fame?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Carlito's Way Again

Just thought I would return to the masthead image. I am thinking of changing it, but for now here's Joe Cocker. I wish I could find the dance scene in the Paradise picture.

Friday, August 6, 2010


In my lonely single life, I find myself loving children more and more--especially in their impertinence. Children require adults to provide the loving guidance and education that only we adults can give them as they become themselves despite our best efforts. In the redundancy of the ordinary day to day life that we present, children are a blessing in their sheer newness.

It is true that we live in the present with our enlightened morality of free choice and individual self creation, and we are attempting to make the next generation so free that choice becomes an end in itself. We love something called autonomy. However, let's hope that "nature" will reassert itself and have nothing to do with our contemporary cleverness. The '60s and '70s and '80s were all about "rock 'n roll" and "punk rock" and thinking that one can make it alone. This thinking that one can make it alone leaves one thrown back on oneself, and in a strange Tocquevillian move leads one to follow what everyone else does. One's own self creation becomes conformity--how else to explain the ubiquity of tattoos these days?

You may say, "Presnall, you're full of shit. I've got a job, and it's important. I do (or even make) things, and in my activity (or productivity) I do something at least useful to myself. At least I make a paycheck." Let me suggest that your work is simply the flip side of the coin to your rock 'n roll autonomy. Your job is probably an abstraction--like most jobs these days. You can measure your life according to what television or other credentialized agencies consider to be rigorous self assessment. You and your company may even claim to "bring good things to light." However, what do you presently hold in custodianship that is worth holding for all time? What have you inherited that is worthwhile? What do you have to pass on--other than the skills which you yourself admit are damned for the planned obsolescence that you yourself have set up?

So, outside of theology or philosophy, children become the key to happiness in our time as it has been always. As one gets older--if there are no young ones around (especially young ones of one's own)--life becomes a meaningless game and one might as well commit suicide. Let me make a caveat for priests who find God, philosophers who find truth, and tyrants who find rule. The rest is pale pragmatism calculating the best way to stay alive for no other reason than that one fears death--it's a perfectly ordinary Hobbesianism.

Children--on the other hand--are by definition impertinent, and as a consequence they are a rebuke to any so-called postmodern self-creation. They're beyond the grandiosity of autonomy and production.

Children are fecundity too, and when they are one's own they provide an impermeable barrier to the seemingly inevitable growth of what Alexandre Kojeve called the Universal and Homogeneous State where each is recognized equally in his autonomy and productivity--a condition that Leo Strauss said had the potential of becoming a universal tyranny. So get philosophy, God, or children now! Fight the inevitable tyranny and defend one's own. Besides, with our aging population, who will care for us when we're elderly (i.e., dependent and unproductive) if not those impertinent children--whether or not they are our own?

Otherwise we're lucky if our fate becomes something similar to Sol's (Edward G. Robinson's) in Soylent Green. And this is a fate, despite its expressions of love, that is worthwhile avoiding.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Marshall Crenshaw

Listening to hipster music has led me to listening to music that is not worth hearing. It must be that I hear some tune that represents what is the most music on the edge. It used to be Radiohead as the most interesting. Coldplay, Dinosaur jr., or the Cure. There are New Zealand band which must be the latest of rock 'n roll. My friend Britt who eternally must be on the cutting edge of music (let's hope they are from New Zealand , and that they have done lots of heroin.)

So you may as well listen to that nonsense. Right now I'm listening to Allman Brothers. So that lame story can be made fun of, but I can change the song right now. For instance, I have now presented Matthew Sweet "Do It Again." Needless to say you guys suck regarding your deep meaning of making the lies about how cool I am.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Kalev Pehme's Blog: Poetry, Philosophy, Slow and Close Reading

Kalev Pehme has decided to blog. This doesn't mean that he will tell us every detail of his life. Rather it means that he will provide rich reflections on philosophy. He has offered an initial taste of what it means to blog in Pehmeian manner. Indeed, that manner is something he calls "anti-blogging."

What is an anti-blog? Mr Pehme has already indicated what it is with four slow and close readings of Leo Strauss' account of Plato's Republic--from The City and Man. In these posts he addresses important things Socratic and Platonic. In his running commentary, he stops to ask some obvious questions that are rhetorically implicit in Strauss' writing. For instance, the first piece has some instructive remarks about irony and the nature of Platonic and Socratic speech--a theme which Strauss himself makes explicit.

In sum, Mr. Pehme is providing some worthwhile blogging--or anti-blogging as he would have it.

I also like the picture of the tree lined path that he uses as the masthead. This picture is indicative of the kind of contemplative thought that one can only have while on a journey.

Check it out.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Thoughts on Our Present Discontent

The first thing that should be said in debates regarding what is good these days is that no argument is authoritative, and hence anyone bearing credentials of authority is merely another instance of the game of garnering authority through power. To be sure, one should always argue in terms of the Constitution if one is arguing a serious issue in American politics. As Tocqueville said, in America all political questions become legal questions. Likewise, if one is arguing in terms of the Catholic Church, then one should rely on doctrine, canon law, and the authority of the church, which in the end relies on papal encyclicals. But these things have become mere historical curiosities these days. One wonders if the constitution and the church as authoritative institutions are merely regnant of some antecedent belief in morality that has been destroyed by the belief that all men are created equal--or at least by a bastardized version of equality understood as relativism which is nothing other than the application of democracy to moral thought itself. This relativism, it seems, is the truth of things today.

But to return to the first thing, if the polity or the church are no longer authoritative these days then neither is anything else. This includes science--even with its demonstrative rhetoric of "studies show." It is true that the church, the polity, and the modern research institution--in terms of their own definition--allow for disagreement within themselves (and serious disagreement at that). They provided in the past the very place of disagreement. They provided a place of legitimacy for argument itself. However, nowadays those places no longer exist as a place. The polity, the church or the university are riddled with self-seeking placement, and they replicate this reality through sophistical reasons defending their power as truth. Instead of loci for serious debate and discussion, disagreement within and between these institutions has been these days securely been placed under the aegis of Hobbes's notion of the state of nature. This is a place with no common judge, and a place where each and every one can say and do what is what. Who are you to tell me what to do? becomes the mantra of this age as each person figures out what is right for his or herself. Following this Hobbesian logic, each sector of former institutional authority must Leviathan-like subdue the other children of pride. It goes without saying that in this scenario there is no truth without aspiration to absolute power.

At this point--enter the mass media. The media have become the definition of debate. They are a marketplace of ideas as Holmes had it. This situation becomes the contemporary understanding of democracy as one reads it from the New York Times--the religious ritual of those who are correct thinking as Thoreau had it. John Rawls, the good liberal that he was, tried to make a theory of democracy on this basis. He argued that there can be a modus vivendi amongst these different institutional worldviews without at the same time endorsing any comprehensive doctrine. Behind a veil of ignorance one can still come up with a common good that makes for an overlapping consensus. Yet, this consensus--overlapping or otherwise (general will?)--is merely a way of restating Hobbes's Leviathan in the technocratic language of the higher journalism, e.g. The New York Review of Each Other's Books.

I recognize that many--like Marx and Nietzsche and Freud and Foucault in their different ways--point out the impossibility of this "market" which allows for a "self" that can say what is what in relation to others. Each of these writers in his own way points out that no one is saying what is said. As Nietzsche put it, I don't think. It thinks. Perhaps this is true--but it is still the I that thinks that the I doesn't think. All these proto post-modern thinkers simply carry over the Hobbesean state of nature to new and future circumstances. What remains central to their project is that there is no common judge and each and every one can say and do what is what.

So this brings me to a conversation I had the other night with my friend Roger. We were drinking a few beers at the local watering hole. We got onto the question of happiness and how one finds it--especially in terms of human sexuality (or eros). Is there a a solution to human erotic longing? It came to light in a discussion about movies, but it was also a discussion that was interspersed with saying hello to various acquaintances, as well as to occasional comments about the typical clientele at this bar. It was a privileged position, which if the first thing is to be remembered, has no authority. In other words, we were bullshitting.

I made the point that there are no rules regarding love and lust these days. Male or female, romantic or cynic, gay or straight, traditionalist or liberationist--it is an open world. If there is a rule, it seems to be the central command of contemporary culture that we must enjoy this situation (cf. Slavoj Zizek). However, there used to be a time when the command was to follow the unwritten rules handed down from time immemorial. This old fashioned way led to all kinds of pain and suffering. The young woman had to choose safety over love. The young man had to divest himself from his charm for the boredom of matrimony. The homosexual was forced to live a life of lies. I could add others, but regardless, this is where the unwritten but nonetheless inscribed rules left one. It led to all sorts of unhappiness--and who knows if it led all kinds of "mental illness" (to use the invented term that the very last generation which seriously dealt with these tensions called it). Nonetheless, the folks that lived in terms of the old rules were the ones who fought wars, worked hard, raised families, and didn't bitch too much about their unhappiness--though their grievances were easily read between the lines in the best of their literature.

This sense of old fashioned rules is obviously not our scene these days. Old fashioned rules are shunned, even if they are missed as indicative in the various retro arty scenes. However, let me submit that it is a good thing that the old rules are gone. They led to all sorts of--once again to borrow the lingo of that last generation--neuroses. That said, the old rules prescribed behavior that was known by all, whereas the new way is anything goes. There was a good reason to get rid of the old rules, it seems to me, even if their rejection wasn't thought all the way through. The old rules required duty, self-sacrifice and hard work. The new rules were simply pleasure, freedom, and doing your own thing. The old rules made doing the right thing painful. The new rules allowed you to follow your bliss, and this was considered to be the right thing. To be sure, this following of bliss did not mean irresponsibility, but it allowed you to make it up as you went. This led to the beautiful array of human types to show themselves, but in the absence of rules there was a problem without a form to give them a material sense of what made one complete. It led to arbitrariness (on a side note, if you wonder why the TV show Lost ultimately sucked it was because of the application of the new rules of pure potentiality as arbitrary decision to things like plot and character). The new good was pure pragmatism--and on the most intimate and erotic level. The sexual revolution destroyed the old rules in the name of a free making of the rules. It wrought--amongst other things--feminism, abortion, two member working households, single moms, broken homes, doing your own thing, latch-key children, and the sensitive new age guy (i.e., the SNAG).

So, it seems to me, the sexual revolution is part and parcel of Hobbes's notion of each and every one being his or her own authority (or should I say following Nietzsche/Freud "its" own authority).

We are free to do so many things today. We have demolished those old rules. However, are we happier? I suspect that we are more confused and insecure. Those who say otherwise have either not heard the news, or are willfully blind. No one or no thing has authority over another. Remember, this is the first thing, but it is also the last thing.

The true question--given this circumstance--is whether the Leviathan has made such a situation possible (my opinion), or whether the Leviathan is our one and only future (the opinion of those who think their opinions still matter).

One must seriously study ways out of this predicament--i.e., Plato or the Bible. Either way would be better than this contemporary nonsense, but most these days would rely on their belief in therapy. Studies show, as it is said, that only therapy works. Or even better, the Prozac Nation of psycho-pharmaceuticals. If this is the solution, send me to the madhouse now!

For the time being, here the Modern Lovers speak of a norm (all irony included) with which I'm willing to live.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Beneath My Pay Grade or Above My Gay Parade?

I wonder about figures of speech. I refuse to let speech become some abstract realm above my capacity to speak meaning, but perhaps my refusal has no point. Structuralist theorists speak of polysemeny. In this way anyone's personal meaning means as much as anyone's else. This is a shame bcacuse one cannot mean what one says. It is always determined by the other. Relativism becomes the democracy of thought or vice versa.

This leads to a situation where meaning is understood in terms of what is other than intended. It is irony as way a life--like Charles Williams spoke of in The Figure of Beatrice. Regardless of one's own irony, postmodern life has become a conflict of theological perspectives none of which a thinking man wishes to hold. One has one's reason or revelation as absolute moral truth. Fuck you, if you disagree with ME--but I only mean this ironically (surely not in some Polemarchus or Carl Schmitt kinda way).

Where is the philosopher who can defuse and diffuse such dogmatic assertions of the day? No one will let you alone, but no one gives you the tools (as if they existed) to defend yourself, and all of those tools would be (as if they existed) subjective preferences anyway. When everyone is equal there is no meaning other than what the crowd speaks--as Tocqueville would have it. The crowd is impressed with what one can say above one's pay grade. If you don't like this then you can at least stick to your specialty. At the least, it will get you a job. If you can't do any of this then you must be gay.

In this way, the democratic relativistic song enjoins you to follow the gay parade because everyone else knows what this means anyway. It is simple. This is where the sexual revolution has left us. I can't speak above my pay grade--what Weber (borrowing from Goethe) called specialists without spirit--but if I must I will speak my heart, which must in advance always mean that which is idiosyncratic--which is to say that I must announce my pay grade as the gay parade. Strangely, I think such heartfelt speech is what Weber meant by the voluptuary without heart. This sucks.

Needless to say, contemporary mores are fucked up. To say the least, if you are happy today then you are part of the tyranny which assigns roles to that which you do not know. Socrates, on the other hand, spoke of eros as a god. He had a wise woman--Diotima--teach him his wisdom regarding eros. Socrates was always beneath his pay grade, and so he would be forced into the gay parade these days. Aristophanes is surely a part of this, what with his perfect halves meeting each other--this is the ideology of straights and gays alike. Socrates is truer with a ladder that rises above oneself. Aristophanes was the first accuser of Socrates--before Meletus and Anytus. Given such a scenario, no wonder Socrates was sentenced to death.

Few these days understand the erotic desire for the infinite of which Socrates speaks in Plato's Symposium. To sound unfortunately like Heidegger, the many (or the One) only know what has been taught in the detailed everyday education of stupid music. The many (or the One)--the THEY/das Man--seems not to know the music that teaches the beauty of the infinite--to borrow David Bentley Hart's felicitous phrase. One should look for music above one's pay grade and outside of the gay parade.

I hate to end with such snobbery, but where else can one end?

But who am I to speak? Please give me suggestions for music that is open to the infinite in terms of beauty rather than sublimity--and asininity.

As Husker Du sings, I'm hardly getting over it. But then I have a Lust For Life too. However, if you see me I may just Walk On By.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thoughts on The Republic

Over at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, one Rufus F. has some interesting thoughts on Plato's Republic. He offers good introductory reflections on important issues in the dialogue. These are hardly the most noteworthy or scholarly remarks, but Rufus demonstrates that a person can turn to a classic, albeit immensely difficult text, and see it as provocative of thought on issues of immense importance--issues such as the question of human flourishing and the difficulties that lie in the way of its achievement.

I thought I'd direct your attention to them.

The first post discusses the role of poetry in the city and in the education of the soul, as well as Socrates' call for censorship. The second post discusses the role of men and women in the city in speech. The third post discusses the analogy of city and soul, the divided line and the philosopher kings. (If you read the comments to the third post you will see some thoughts by a certain John.)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

HERE IT IS! (Thanks Garett.)

It is Super Bowl Weekend. Who'da thunk that that who 'dat team the Saints would have ever made it this far? Here are some thoughts on football from several years back. Please remember the context of several years back in which they were written.

The best defense is a good offense.

From a football perspective, it is a hard truth to swallow. We have heard for years that the best offense is a good defense. One team must stop the other from scoring. This is the key to victory--we hear it over and over again. "Defenses win championships," it is often said.

Hence we have Pittsburgh's "Steel Curtain" (redolent of Cold War rhetoric) and the Dallas Cowboy's "Doomsday Defense" (an ambiguous name which proves that offense is somewhat important, but which is nonetheless defensive to the bitter end--and which is also a throwback term to the Cold War). Recently the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl on the basis of their defense, or so said the commentators.

I think "the best offense is a good defense" adage is simply a remnant of the Cold War--what with all its first strike and second strike strategic mentality. After all, this was the age that gave us MAD--mutually assured destruction. We must survive at all costs in a cave with scientists and big titty hot chicks, as Dr. Strangelove had it. No wonder football has such good looking cheerleaders!

To be sure, the best defense is the best offense makes a kind of sense, in that he who can survive will survive. It becomes survival at all costs, but I wonder if that is not a pyhrric victory. A football game requires victory for the team that has the most points at the end, and that is hardly pyhrric. In other words, one team wins the Super Bowl or the NCAA championship, and the other team loses. The team that was able to put up the most points wins. That team probably had the best offense.

Everyone remembers Vince Young. Who were the defensive stars on USC or UT? I'm sure they were there, but I can't remember their names. However, Matt Leinert (quarterback for USC and Heisman Trophy winner) lost the game.

I have seen football games won by defense. The sad story that is the Houston Texans actually has had several shining moments. One of those was a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers from about two years (I almost said two tears) ago. They won the game because they were able to run two (!) interceptions back for touchdowns. In this case the offense did nothing and the defense did everything.

However, I would argue that, in this case, the defense became the offense. Offense scores points, defense prevents points from being scored. This game was an anomaly. At best, it is not wise to rely on your defense to be offense, i.e., to rely on it to win games. Better to have a good running and passing game.

It is a wonder that people still think the best offense is a good defense. I know that it is more nuanced than this, given the necessity of good field position and all that that entails. Nonetheless, the typical adage is asinine.

Football fans don't see it that way, but these are people who think (if one is to believe the commentators hired to give expert opinion) that a good analysis of a typical game is one where it is said that the reason a particular team won was because they were able to get the most points on the board. That is the very definition of victory in football. It's tautological. It's like saying the reason the equation equalled four was because there was a an antecedent two plus two.

I don't know why football fans (and commentators) try to translate real life into a game that is intransigently zero sum. It doesn't work. No doubt, in real life there is something to be said for mere survival, but in a football game victory is everything. People who spout off the usual nonsense about a good defense are trying to make football into life. They are able to do this because there is "always" next season. Moreoever, on "any given" Saturday or Sunday any team can win. But more often than not, the team that wins is the one with the best offense.

Now in real life, I think that the survivors who have mastered their defense may ultimately win out in the end. Hegel and Marx call it the victory of the slaves. The slaves have perseverance, and besides they are the ones who have made themselves through making the world as we know it. The masters just sat on their fat asses drinking mint juleps. This may all be true.

It's one reason why "democracy" is the only legitimate form of government in the world these days.

Nietszche claims that the victory of the slaves is the victory of the "last man." He's the man who only needs and desires to be entertained during Super Bowl Weekend. Is this what millennia of history have wrought? Once the world that we have built is free for the building, once the world that we live in is a world where defense is the same as offense, there need not be any more victory. At that time, we can then sit around and bitch about whether a running game or a passing game is more important. Just as long as no one scores a touchdown. But in the meantime...

what happened to the big titty hot chicks?

I think these cold warrior sons of bitches who sit around and talk about defense and such things, are no better than your run of the mill Marxists. Good Americans and Good Communists both want a world without risk. As a consequence, we get a Terrell Owens instead of a Lynn Swan, a Jerry Rice, or even a Michael Irvin. We get a Tom Brady instead of a Joe Montana or a Brett Favre. In this light, Terrell Owens is a "voluptary without heart," and Tom Brady is a "specialist without spirit." Last men all.

This is probably old age and bad taste speaking, but I had to say it. If you're still reading at this point, bravo!

All of this is a way of saying why I was against the Iraq war from the beginning. We think we can win with defense. We may have called the initial bombing campaign "Shock and Awe," but look where it has left us, viz. looking for exit strategies. We're playing defense in a game that we think is zero sum, but that our opponents think is one of survival. All the big titty bitches must be in Iraq.

I suppose in the real world defense can be a pretty good offense--but not in football.

Meanwhile the commentators speak of defense to a country that thinks the best offense is a good defense. It's time to pull out, but we've already blown our load on the belly of the middle east.

There will be an evil spawn from this fuck up.

Luckily, there is "next" Sunday!

Okay, so much of this is crudely overstated, and recent events could prove (and probably have proved) it wrong. Nonetheless, regarding football it is still correct.

Geaux Saints! Especially Drew Brees and everyone else on their offense. (Yet, one must admit that Peyton Manning is one of the best OFFENSIVE players ever to play. It will be a tough match. Let's hope for a close, high scoring, offensive game.)

Nick Lowe spoke of the best defense as a good offense when he sang "Cruel to be Kind."

Update: Here's an interesting acoustic version of the same song with Nick Lowe and Daryl Hall (alas, no Oates).

Update II: Frank Caliendo not doing what you'd think, but he says "Careful defendant, flattery will get you everywhere."