Rule of Rules: the Unseen

There is a great, empty space in our minds, and it’s right in the middle of everything. It’s a place we cannot enter, but we must go to all the other places, so we’re always going around it, unaware. We live in curved space, we say, there is no straight line to anything; the quickest route is always an arc, around this unspeakable void in the centre of everything. The straight route is just around the next corner, always.

Of course, this meme works for many scenarios. The forbidden place can be the loss of God to an evangelist, the unconscious to an analyst, etc. I think to evolutionary biologists and many psychologists, when they must insert this void into their writings – a “black box” exercise, the trick of gleaning what you can from observing a thing in a system when the thing’s function is unknown – I think, to these modern scholars it is “aggression.” It’s a variation on the Man’s sinful nature theme, an unexplained, blanket value judgment right in the middle of our earnest attempts at understanding, science, psychology, everything.

Two paragraphs, that’s all the tension I can build, I don’t make you wait. I’ve worked it out, or I worry that I have, I mean, I’m not happy with my answer either, but I also haven’t changed my mind since yesterday: it’s abuse, or rather the mental and emotional pain of abuse. I’ve looked at rules and punishments, and while I understand the concepts of deterrent and control, the narrative about civilization and majority rule (as recently expounded/expanded by Richard Wrangham), I also understand some things that should place all that in some perspective.

First, the same suite of scientific thinking about humans and their origins that includes this majority morality places us as still being that proto-hominid, that ape, just under our skin, and all the glory of modern civilization, in another but parallel conversation doesn’t add up to spit, it’s a veneer and we are constructed of the same wood as chimpanzees. To talk about our moral accomplishments is an odd, puffed up stance that fits better in church or politics than in science.

Second, I did a thought experiment along the lines of one of Kant’s (OK, the only one I recall, the first part of the book I haven’t finished. He’s tough) about time and space where he decides that he can imagine space empty of things, but no things not in space, or time passing without anything happening, but nothing happening without time passing while it does, and so space and time to Kant were properties of the mind, since his mind could not operate without them. My point, the analogy is, rules and punishments are endlessly variable – “Thou shalt not kill” has its correlate in many times and places among nearly all people when thou shalt absolutely kill or be shunned, reviled or killed yourself. In a less extreme and more accessible vein, different societies have different rules, and things forbidden in one place can be ubiquitous elsewhere, some societies generally are more permissive than others – but all have rules, all have punishments.

No one rule is sacred, though some are more universal than others, and no penalty is sacred, though we say they all are, they change, new rules are created with new technologies, etc., – but we can imagine a completely alien set of rules and we perhaps cannot imagine a society with no rules at all. We can perhaps imagine a completely foreign set of punishments to go with a given set of rules – but can we imagine no punishments at all? Wow, I started the Critique nearly forty years ago, this analogy may have figured hugely in my approach to this.

Mama, can this really be the end?

No. Rules serve a purpose, one we all know – but no particular rule serves this purpose, none are indispensable, yet the purpose exists, so we are able to accomplish it with a set of rules that I assume I’d need some proof to call random, but that can certainly be variable, enforced with a set of penalties that are, shall we say, also an opportunity for some human creativity. So here’s the game: pick your rules, pick your penalties, we don’t care which ones, but you have to pick something from each bin. What does this accomplish, when we’ve ruled out the contents of any given rule?

The first, easy biology answer is of course, dominance. If the content of the rule doesn’t matter, then it’s who writes it, and who forces it upon whom, and clearly, that is absolutely what’s going on, all over the place, no question. The discriminating aspect of rules are all about our human groups, about who has to follow the rule and who doesn’t or who is forgiven and who isn’t.

But don’t even our most egalitarian dreams have rules and punishments, don’t our socialist or democratic fantasies about majority rule still include some built-in idea about rules and punishments, like time and space? Even in our utopian dreams, remove the alpha, the king, we still need rules, right? He was just taking advantage of our older habits, using the rules to his advantage. So, dominance, yes, but not being in that game myself, I don’t place a lot of priority on it. Again, perspective: we ain’t all alphas. That the minority dominants enjoy the situation doesn’t explain why you I and Kant can’t imagine no rules at all, ever. I think, when the excrement has flowed downhill, and the alpha’s bad mood today reaches the zeta man-ape and he turns to beat his wife and/or children for it, I think to call the zeta’s reactive violence “dominance” isn’t right, he’s defined as lacking it, and punching down is not how you acquire dominance, that requires punching up, to climb the ladder. To me it makes more sense to define these transactions as happening at the more basic level, not some highly developed concept of social dominance as much as just the cause and effects around social and physical abuse. A by-product, if you will, if you want to fit this into a worldview about civilization, about organization and dominance. Yes, he learned the rules, and yes, he knows his place.

My concern is that his lessons pissed him off.

And that, I worry, is the deeper point of them. Rules come and rules go and penalties are subject to changing times and to whom they are applied, but there must always be some set of rules and somebody must be penalized – the details don’t matter. You all know this. Here’s a story, names forgotten to protect the innocent (except mine, so it’s all knowable).

In my kid’s elementary school, some kid wrote some nasty gossip in the girl’s bathroom, and people had ideas about who did it but no proof, the school wasn’t bringing in handwriting experts to prove the matter. It was probably kid A, but there was a strong case about for kid B doing the deed knowing it looked like the work of kid A. Honestly, I can’t remember who got the punishment, a call home, maybe a suspension, I was already anti-punishment, I didn’t want to see any child punished, but they picked one and punished – knowing they had a fifty-fifty chance of punishing the right kid – actually something less than fifty-fifty, because there were other possibilities besides the main two kids. A message had to be sent, no crime goes unpunished! This function was served, despite that justice had less than an even money chance.

Even the perpetrator is interchangeable! Just so long as someone gets hurt. Dominance, sure, that principal over those kids, grownups generally over kids – but really, only an even money chance, if she got the wrong kid, a case can be made for the guilty kid’s dominance of everyone there. If she got the wrong kid, it was pure abuse for that kid, the whole world of grownups throwing in with the other kid’s dominance. Of course if she got the right kid, then the principal’s (and adults’ generally) dominance and the child’s experience of the penalty are all things we all agree with – but I submit we have still pissed that kid off. She may learn the lesson, but another kid may learn the same lesson in a nicer way, and if so, these kids’ life histories will be altered in different ways (statistically), both have the lesson’s knowledge, but one has a distasteful experience and memory. Deserved, didn’t “deserve,” this is not the point, the changes are the point. A different society, different set of rules, different crime, maybe a whole different “deserving” dynamic – same changes, this is the point. Doesn’t it sound like some white kid version of a super-villain back story, the unfairness?

What affects us is pain, not some long-winded construction about what the pain is supposed to accomplish. Pain is simple. Any idiot can cause pain and make changes in the world, especially if they’re actually trying to cause it. I know I’ve caused plenty while trying not to, but if I had been trying all these years, I think I could have done worse. I’ve been working all this out for myself and finding concepts I thought I had to name – I said “mimic meme,” and I switched to the generic sounding “useful fiction,” but if I’m talking biology, I’ve just heard “adaptive fiction,” so I guess that’s the term. At some point, though, at some level, if our adaptive fictions are pervasive enough, they become our adaptive truths, self-fulfilling prophecies.

I want to call this rule, that there must be rules and penalties and so pain, regardless of the particulars, one of our foundational adaptive fictions except that once we have adapted to it so completely, “fiction” doesn’t quite get to it; if it is inescapable in the human world, a case can be made that it’s an adaptive fact. If it’s our rule, and we make the rules, then this rule is factual enough for you, something like that? I think in reality it’s a fiction, just maybe not for us.

But it will need to be if we’re ever going to take the next step.



April 28th., 2019

8 thoughts on “Rule of Rules: the Unseen

  1. Scarlett May 1, 2019 / 1:01 am

    Authorities, the word it’s self aggrandising and for that to work they have to display their power, the 50/50 chance should really be grounds to dismiss punishment for both girls but then – the authorities feel as though they look diminished in the eyes of their sheep – cough – believers.

    I once stole some jewellery because I thought Juvenile detention would be better than the street, the authorities were going to let me off because I spoke well and so I had to be belligerent, so they more punished me for not respecting their powers.

    In these instances you can plainly see how society is a thin film stretched out over complexity, more of a convenient mask than the great civilization working towards a goal, freedom, fairness, a fair trial or life.

    The more I know, the more I learn the more I realise how little we know. A few of us have parts of the picture but no one knows how it fits together. In first year I went to my tutor with my thesis plan, years early and full of confidence and I wasn’t really prepared for the broadside I got he tore me to shreds over the mind boggling nativity of questioning an absolute truth of physics. 3 minutes of why and maybe another ten of what is wrong with ‘people like you’ and how the standards of academia had fallen to nothing.

    Sure it wasn’t violent, he was actually fairly spot on and I can see why now, but the thing that stays with my is they almost hyperventilating anger that someone could ‘question’ a pillar of physics. It made me very conscious of what I should and shouldn’t vocalise.

    Often I spend time out here in the middle of nowhere looking up at the stars and wondering if there is any hope at all that we as a species have enough time to crack anything properly. Don’t get me wrong I’m not sad or unhappy at all but a bit numb in the area of humanity. We are so quick to make a rule a law, a law a sentence, a sentence a commandment and deify that idea.

    An eye for an eye when we need all the eyes we can get.

    Ok, I admit I’m very stoned – hope you’re well 🙂


  2. Jeff/neighsayer May 1, 2019 / 7:24 am

    Ya got coolness, Kid (Fritz the Cat). And power. High or not, shook me some. Weird, I was thinking about just that old time male sputtering outrage this morning for some reason – in a better form though. I wake up dark and vape until I can see a laugh somewhere, every day, and today’s first smile was thinking about Harvey Korman’s sputtering old British dude in Dracula Dead and Loving It. But it started with the real version, some vague amalgam of your prof there. Picked it from you, maybe!

    More later, I hope

    Liked by 1 person

    • Scarlett May 5, 2019 / 2:32 am

      I tried vaping but you go through 10x as much pot and it’s hard to get in the butt of the butt of the world. There is a tech here who comes into the lab with an e-cigarette and then argues with whoever will take him on that it’s NOT smoking. He’s the best guy they have in terms of setting up a network so complex that no one else dares touch it. So I guess they tolerate it for that.

      “Not another enema!!!!” I had to google that and the youtube that came up was funny enough that I’m going to download the film. The best part of this place – ok maybe not the best – but cool is that the internet is blisteringly fast. So hopefully I’ll watch the movie before I go to bed.

      Yeah he was like that Korman guy, if it’d been 40 years ago he’d have called me Girly and refused to speak to a woman who dared wear pants outside the boudoir. Fortunately that stuff is only said behind their closed mouths now.


      Liked by 1 person

      • Jeff/neighsayer May 5, 2019 / 10:15 am

        yeah, agree, I bought a volcano, but besides the time it takes, it tastes like crap. The market here is a lot of concentrates, several versions and textures of just the resin or oil, shatter, budder, wax. Efficient as all get out, and I’m finding smoking and fire aversive now, vaping concentrates doesn’t feel so hard on me. A tad expensive, but getting better. I’m chronic at maybe $400 a month, like $25 a gram.

        OK, had to youtube that too, been a while, I need to see it again too! The jokes are few and far between, but super high quality. LOOOVE that movie. I love now, looking back, that Renfield’s “perfectly normal” face is Gary Busey, LOL

        I woke up with a better movie scene in my head three days ago and it’s sticking with me, Marx Brothers, forget which movie, the hotel one, I guess. Chico and Harpo are thugging, harassing Groucho. Chico says “There’s a guy, he’s gotta bigga mustache and a bigga cigar, and he’s a big pain in the neck!”
        Groucho says, “Wait a minute – does he wear glasses?”
        and Chico’s face turns predatory on the last three syllables, he says, “”Oh, you guess it RIGHT AWAY”
        – like if it was Pulp Fiction, that’s when the gun comes out, hilarious aggression. Chico could act, or he was a scary motherfucker IRL. But I’ve been chuckling at that again on and off for days now.


        Liked by 1 person

        • Scarlett May 7, 2019 / 4:04 pm

          I bought this thing called a DaVinci because the reviews said it was the best and if it is it’s not worth it. Though I ended up selling it for a net loss of $20 it was still a large amount of money for something that ate pot so ravenously. It’s a better high when someone blows their smoke into your mouth. (cough).

          Those prices seem about on par as what we pay here, $25 a g and $400 an ounce. Funny how they mix measures isn’t it? To be honest I have no idea what an ounce is other than an measure of pot. I also haven’t bought one for years. These days I graze more than feed.

          It was a funny film but Its not my thing, I’m not sure I get half of the jokes. I don’t get the Marx brothers at all, but Pulp Fiction, that yes I do get. Stuff done before I was born seems alien to me, there’s a whole 80’s thing I don’t get at all but I love 50-70’s films even if sometimes the context and reactions seem distorted. For example the way men tend to grab a woman – or have hair triggers and psychic powers when it comes to their nemesis.

          I think with my generation there is an absurdity in situation, a dark humour, which mirrors our lives, we are raised as children in a world that is chock full of predatory animals. There is a sense that we where put here to watch an end we have no power to stop. The people who came before us – our parents – our grandparents hold a power we will never see until we are unable to use to save ourselves.

          Its why a lot of us don’t breed, are either utterly nihilists – like me – or get lost in Jebus. Its why I think Kyle, Xander, Purple, Nate and Eric – all of us got on. We never had faith in the world, our parents, god – as a unit – now we are basically filling the time with memexistance. There’s a freedom in it, a surrender and I think, oddly it makes a lot of us far less hostile than we deserve to be given our violent roots.

          Whatever the outcome I’ve always felt fortunate to have existed, to experience, to live, to touch and know, even better that finally I’ve had the opportunity to do what I always wanted, that’s gold.

          There was a morning i was in a three way chat and Kyle said – I can’t decide if I want a suicide or coffee and I said yeah me neither. He corrected my grammar 🙂 and we went on, things gradually turned out nicely for both of us.

          There’s a icbf nature to us that the generation ahead seems to be both horrified and bemused by, so it cuts both ways I guess. I wrote a story about this called Square Hole in a Round Peg. I think it was last winter and there was a traffic accident the girl in one of the cars had her earphones in and hardly took her eyes off her phone as her mum and the guy she hit exploded at each other. I totally got the kid.


          Liked by 1 person

          • Jeff/neighsayer May 11, 2019 / 9:31 pm

            missed the reply button! There’s a longer one on here somewhere too.


  3. Jeff/neighsayer May 11, 2019 / 9:29 pm

    Everything in the Marx Bros movies isn’t great, mostly just a few things like that for me. There’s another one where Chico plays the Beer Barrel Polka for us and while executing the piano flawlessly he’s staring dead-eyed into the camera, same predatory look – I assume he was answering some critic or critics who said he couldn’t play – I guess I like the Marx Brother no-one else cares about too! Ha. Figures.
    I have some year when I stop understanding what the kids think is funny and it’s something to do with Will Farrel, SNL, Danny McBride and a few others. HATE those guys. Stupid is not funny, stupid is bad, I don’t know what it is. But I feel that nihilism when those guys speak for some reason and I don’t like it. Get off my lawn.
    It is nice to be able to throw the S word around without people going into their liability scripts – “Are you talking to anyone?” (I liked Barry Crimmins on that: “Yeah, I THOUGHT I was talking to YOU”)
    I went on a Twitter rant about suicide awhile back, the gist of which is “suicides aren’t sick, YOU fuckers are.” I got a few “You OK?s” but no debate about who’s the crazy one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Scarlett May 25, 2019 / 7:54 pm

      I never got Will Farrel, and SNL is a youtube thing here or cable and I refuse to pay for TV – I rarely watch it anyway.

      Sorry too – I’ve been off on holidays and I tried an experiment – I left my laptop and phone at home. After the initial vom vom and shaking stopped I was left with hyperventilating and the need to pee a lot. After that it was a breeze ha. But it was fun, and warm, warm is over where I live for another 6 months.

      I never thought seriously about killing myself which is unusual I think but I do understand, if I believed in anything I might have done it – thought about it.

      I think I’ve discovered the great filter – it’s god – the reason humanity can’t grow up and fix shit, or be decent to each other.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s