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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Working With Crazy People

I've spent a good deal of my life working with people with various "quirks" shall we say. Actually, I've worked with some folk who were full goose Bozo as Robin Williams once described them. Extricating yourself from dysfunctional relationships with such people can be a tricky business. I described one client's style of "collaboration" thusly:

Here is what it's like to work with you.

I say: "Rain is coming, we need to put up an umbrella."

You say: "Forget the umbrella. I need you to make a pair of blue pants for me."

I say: "What kind of pants?"

You say: "The kind that has a pocket for my watch. And by the way, where's my pocket watch that I ordered.?"

I say: "You asked for pants not a pocketwatch."

You say: "I want to hear a recording of where I asked you for pants."

I say: "I've had it with this. It's raining and we don't have an umbrella."

You say: "What umbrella? Why do we need an umbrella?"

I say: "Because it's going to rain and we don't want to get wet."

You say: "Well it's starting to rain now, so, where's my umbrella? I thought you were going to get me one!"

I say: "You told me to forget about the umbrella."

You say: "Show me where I wrote down for you to forget about the umbrella."

I say: "Aha! I have a recording of it!"

You say: "If it's not in writing, it's not legally binding! The original agreement stands."

I say: "But that was a verbal agreement too!"

You say: "Verbal agreements are binding in this state."

At this point I take off for the weekend and go hang out with my other crazy people. By Monday I'll have to deal with the lawsuit, but I'll have had a couple of days to recover my strength.

(c) 2015 by Tom King

Monday, June 15, 2015

I Blame Jean-François Lyotard

He's French - 'nuff said!
I have an ongoing irritation with post-modernist philosophy and the philosophers who preach it and the movie makers and novelists who make works of supposed art that are characterized by their thoroughly unhappy endings . I first encountered the post-modernists in my studies of literature. My thoroughly fundamentalist religious college did not encourage trips into post-modernism, but me being  curious as to what I was arguing against, I began to study up on the subject. I never did a lot of serious reading in post-modernist thought because being a follower of Christ, it rang so utterly false for me that I could only stand very short exposure to it. I've left theaters in the middle of post-modernist movies, turned off the television and threw away whole books full of it and I NEVER throw away books willingly. Okay, I can hear you relentlessly gloomy post-modernists now."But how can you say anything against post-modernism if you don't give it a chance.

I'll tell you how - the same way I can tell you I don't like Brussels Sprouts.  Oh, you can dress 'em up pretty and my wife, who is chronically depressed, loves them. She actually makes mildly edible Brussels Sprouts, but it is significant that she always eats twice as many of the little cabbage-like things as me every time. Now, I used to dislike onions until my sweetheart forcibly introduced me to them. It was eat onions or starve, so I ate the onions and learned to love them - rather like some of the commandments that were less easy to love than the other ones.  Like Brussels Sprouts, however, post-modernism always leaves a bad taste in my mouth and I've never been able to love it.

I looked up some post-modernist philosophers out of curiosity, just to see where all these dismal films and books were coming from.  Jean-François Lyotard jumped out at me as a suitable post-modernist villain for me for a lot of reasons.

  1. Jean-François Lyotard spent his whole life trying to explain why socialism always failed so badly. Hey at least he was honest about it having failed and didn't try to rewrite history to cover up the catastrophic mistake that is socialism. Lyotard's criticism of the practical implementation of socialism was that the men who influenced the socialist movements, despite being avowed atheists to a man, were too heavily influenced by religion.  Karl Marx, who was Jewish and baptized Lutheran, Lyotard says was too catholic. Freud who was also Jewish, Lyotard says was too Jewish, even though Freud mostly worshipped at the church of sexual deviance. Lyotard, himself, as a self-procalimed expert on the subject, thought he could figure out a better way to make socialism work. Hitler thought the same thing too as I recall and look how that worked out for the rest of us.
  2. "Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives.” - Jean-François Lyotard.  The man said stuff like that all the time. What he meant was that there are no absolutes; no truth. I would not recommend spending an afternoon reading Jean-François Lyotard quotations. He didn't think much of those of us who search for truth and beauty or, worse yet, for God. Such "metanarratives" were beneath him.
  3. In Jean-François's world, nothing is absolute. Everything is seen and experienced in relation to everything else - only limited bits of everything else; no more, no less moral; no less, no more right and proper. Lyotard's is a relative world in some ways like Einstein's, but without the systems within the chaos which give a reliable meaning to the universe so that one might muddle along in it with some sense of security. Lyotard thinks that having no generalized ideas, no ten commandments and no moral absolutes sets us free.  Personally, I think that if JF's world was the one I had to live in, a B.F. Skinnerian nightmare of humans as nothing more than stimulus programmed robots, I would not feel free at all. 
I watched an old Danny Kaye movie yesterday called "Me and the Colonel". The theme of the movie was that there were always at least two choices.  A Polish Colonel played by Curt Jurgens is in Paris just ahead of the Nazis. He is trying to get to England on a mission for the Polish government. In a conversation with the Danny Kaye character, the Colonel argues that if one were a man of honor there is only one choice in any difficult situation. Danny Kaye, who played a resourceful Jewish man on the run from the Nazis argued that if there was only one choice, he was left with no room to maneuver and without room to maneuver, he would already have been dead long ago back in Poland. In the end, the Colonel decides that there might indeed be more than one choice in a difficult situation, even for a man of honor.

They don't make movies like that anymore.  Instead, at the end of most movies - at least the ones that are considered for Oscars these days - either (a) everybody dies, (b) most everybody dies and one person is left to contemplate the futility of his own survival or (c) everybody just wanders off to do whatever comes next. We don't always see those endings, but directors film them all the time. We don't see them because they don't test well with audiences who want some resolution.

Jean-François Lyotard would see the need of the proletariat for sappy endings as a weakness brought on by our failure to reject religion and moral principles.  You know I'm kind of happy God made us long for happy endings and for closure. I think He made us storytellers for the same reason that I believe, B.F. Skinner notwithstanding, that humans do possess free will, I believe we also have a powerful need to resolve things; to find meaning in our lives here on this planet.

It's why we build things and finish them. Unlike beavers and bees and ants who never stop building, people like to get through with things. We may do maintenance or someday a remodel, but we like to come to an end at some point and then step back and admire our work. In that way we are like God, who built the world, we are told, in 6 days and then spent the 7th day leaning back in his celestial Barcalounger smiling with satisfaction at what he had made. We are, I firmly believe, made in His image. We're like our Dad in that we like to see a project finished.

Jean-François Lyotard would have us muddle along without resolution, without core beliefs or moral absolutes and would convince us that by denying our fundamental mental makeup, we would somehow make ourselves free.  Moses warned us about guys like JFL in the first book he ever wrote. Lyotard's philosophical father told a naive young woman in a garden that obedience was passe' and that, in fact, disobedience would make you like gods.

It always comes back to the lie about how we can become gods.  All the perfect man-made societies that ever failed, all the utopias that have crumbled to dust and all the best-laid schemes to end war, poverty, disease and suffering and didn't, stand mute witness to the devil's false premise. Every misery, every injustice, every life ended too soon can be traced back to that pernicious lie. 

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Tom King
(c) 2015