I don’t like speaking of personal issues. While it is true that there is a cathartic effect, the process seems obscene, almost as if it carries the mark of exhibitionism. Speaking of fake personal issues has never been a problem for me, because I enjoy acting. Speaking of real personal issues in an unconvincing fashion has also been easy enough, for the same reasons. Being straight with people is new. I’m going to have to get used to it.
This is the single most important personal issue in my life. It establishes much of the context for me as both a philosopher and a human being. The story of my life could be written as the story of how I dealt with it. Which is why, of course, I must express it in the clearest possible terms. This will be my last update on this blog.
Tribulations and fears
Evolution of philosophical outlook
Establishment of concrete claim
Clarification of language
Broader philosophical conclusions
The nature of decision making
The question of altruism
1. Personal experiences
In kindergarten, there were already hints. I was more interested in socializing with girls than with boys. However, girls were not interested in socializing with me. As a result, I essentially refrained from socializing until the 3rd grade or so, when a teacher suggested very strongly that I give it a shot. Until that point I had been content to wander around the playground aimlessly, throwing rocks, or even just laying down on a bench and feeling the warmth of the sun.
When I did socialize, I was very much the odd one out. There was one kid who managed to be even less popular than myself, to whom I offered advice. He outgrew his awkwardness. I did not outgrow my own. I came to fulfill the role of class clown, acting out in order to ingratiate myself to the group despite my awkwardness. If I couldn’t relate to others on the terms they were accustomed to, then I could be a harmless outsider, earning a place in the social order in that capacity. This attracted the attention of my teachers and principal.
At the time, numerous changes were occurring in my life. My parents had recently been divorced, and my mother remarried to a man I would later realize was an alcoholic. My father was depressed and often drowned his own sorrows in liquor. He would shout at my sister. I would provoke him in order to draw his aggression away from her, towards myself. He never hit me, but he would find other ways of punishing me. My sister didn’t understand my actions and blamed me for the attitude of my father. The trouble I made at school certainly didn’t help her impression, or the reality for that matter.
My outbursts were initially attributed to these circumstances. Around this time I took the Raven APM test, placing in the 99.9th percentile. Shortly thereafter, when my behavior had failed to improve, I was taken to see a number of psychologists, and finally a psychiatrist. Initially, it was suspected that I was autistic. This diagnosis was rejected in favor of OCD. I was medicated, and my behavior worsened substantially. Over time, I went through a number of diagnoses. OCD gave way to ADD, which gave way to ADHD, followed by bipolar. My behavior never improved.
I was removed from normal education and placed in a school for delinquents. At about this time I was beginning to feel conflicted with myself in a serious way. People took notice. Other students would call me faggot, and similar names. I didn’t understand my emotions at the time, and didn’t know whether or not other people were correct about me. I didn’t want them to be. I talked to people about it. My parents, my stepfather, and even my grandfather, a conservative Christian. I asked him if he would hate me if I were gay. He said he wouldn’t.
My sister would always accuse me of being selfish and uncaring because of my behavior and the repercussions it carried. I was told that my emotions were wrong, in a general sense, for this reason. She didn’t understand what I was going through. All she saw were outbursts. I don’t know how clearly other people saw it either. They may also have simply viewed my conduct as a series of outbursts.
There are hints of course. I would occasionally tell people that I wanted to cut off my genitals, and I often told people that I thought sex was repugnant and evil, and had no intention of ever feeling those sorts of things if I could help it. From where I am now, though, I have no clear picture of how this conduct was interpreted. All I know is that I was often told that my emotions were wrong, in a general sense. If I felt angry, it was wrong. If I felt something was funny, I was wrong. If I felt proud, I was wrong. The condemnations I received, at least from teachers, were never explicitly directed at my condition, so I have no clue whether or not they were mindful of it.
Usually the distinction was made that my emotions weren’t the issue. It was the fact I expressed them so consistently that upset people. My tone of voice was always an issue. I was told that I argued too much, that I had no grasp of context, that I was arrogant, undisciplined, and disrespectful of authority. Undoubtedly, some or all of these things were true. I will not deny that.
I would get in arguments about religion, about government, about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Occasionally I would even get in arguments about sexuality. I don’t trust my recollection of those, otherwise I might be inclined to tell a more dramatic story. It’s too close of an issue. I don’t know whether or not my memories are authentic or contrived, on that account, so I will refrain from sharing them.
It is worth noting that I felt as if I had no control in my life. The teachers and principal of the school I attended considered me repugnant. They would often physically restrain me, on many occasions simply because they found my propensity for argument to be distasteful. I was given the opportunity to take a class at a community college. Thinking back on it now, I believe it was intended to teach me humility. My principal had said to my face that I would not be able to graduate from high school, let alone college. I disagreed. I think the opportunity was intended to prove me wrong.
I passed the class, however, and with a 4.0. This is significant, because my GPA in public school was beneath 1.0. Of course, it was the product of both an academic grade and a behavior grade. My academic grade was in the lower 3.0 range. My behavior grade was very nearly 0. I was enrolled in both schools simultaneously. One where I had no control, and one where I had, essentially, total freedom. However, it was provisional. If my behavior proved unacceptable, I wouldn’t be allowed to attend community college anymore.
I stopped taking my medication around this time. I had tried this numerous times before, but whenever anyone had asked me about the question, I had reported honestly that I had, in fact, stopped. This time I lied. My behavior improved. I kept myself under a stricter level of control at community college than I ever had before. My emotions were no longer worn so boldly on my sleeve. I do believe they were still easy to read, for some people. A mormon fellow, for example, would often smile at me and say “you’re going to hell”. He was joking, of course, but at the time it was unhelpful.
People asked me with concern if I was gay. I told them I wasn’t. It was the truth. They didn’t press it any further, and I didn’t want them to. I thought there would be repercussions. People would say “you can talk to me about it”, but then, people had said that before, and my emotions had always been wrong to people before. So I kept quiet.
Eventually, I made so much trouble in public school that I was kicked out, right at the age of 16 when they could get away with it. I continued to attend community college. It felt like an opportunity. I didn’t know what I would use it for, but I knew it had to be important. If it had to be important, then I had to be disciplined about it. I couldn’t ever express any of my emotions. After all, they attracted the wrong sort of attention, and consistently, irrespective of what they actually were in any given case.
I started attending a Unitarian church at around this time as well. The people there were tolerant, liberal minded people who didn’t discriminate. I realize now that this was the worst sort of crowd I could have fallen in with. I will come back to that.
I wandered aimlessly through the college environment, pursing studies in sociology for a number of rather ill-considered reasons. I transferred from community college to state college, finding new ways to keep my emotions in check all the while. I found a hobby in dance games, where I made the first friends who I could relate to from within the social group, rather than simply as an amusing stranger at a distance. A fellow named Cory Evans saw fit to argue with me on a number of subjects. I learned the bare essentials of philosophy from him. He even managed to convince me of the merit of capitalism.
At public college, I continued fighting myself in the name of some impossible, nebulous, overly grand vision of the future and of my contributions to it. I realize now that I had no real direction. Everything started coming to a head when I attended a sociology of gender class, which was unsatisfying to me for the same reasons that the Unitarian church had been unsatisfying. I expressed my concerns, albeit abstractly so as not to reveal too much. The response was explosive. I was punished severely, but I couldn’t accept the punishment. Not from people who had no clear understanding of the world.
So I changed schools, changed majors, and took up martial arts. I began playing dance games with a level of competitiveness that most would regard as absurd. I began studying seriously, and made a 4.0 in my first semester of programming. I read Atlas Shrugged. And then I put down the book, took the oath, and picked up the phone. Now I’m on hormones.
1a. Tribulations and fears
In all of this, my overriding concern was whether or not I was sane. Spending a lifetime dealing with mental health professionals taught me to view myself and my character in those terms, first and foremost. After all, the abstractions which were applied to me were seldom aimed at any one aspect of me. They always applied to me as a whole. Even when a psychologist or social worker would try to deny this, it was still clear from context and the way they spoke; and there were only a few of them that even made a point of disputing this particular assumption.
A quote which might help elucidate the issue is this one, written by Frankl:
“First of all, there is a danger inherent in teaching of man’s “nothingbutness”, the theory that man is nothing but the result of biological, psychological, and sociological conditions, or the product of heredity and environment. Such a view of man makes a neurotic believe what he is prone to believe already, namely, that he is a pawn and a victim of outer influences or inner circumstances. This neurotic fatalism is fostered and strengthened by a psychotherapy which denies that man is free.”
This quote might reveal too much too soon about the nature of my conduct, but it applies in this more limited context as well. I viewed my feelings and desires in the context of mental disease, as something predetermined by uncontrollable forces and stuck immutably within me, wreaking havoc on my psychology like a wildfire or a virus. Some sort of non-inert substance, at any rate, and one of a less than authentic variety.
There was always the illusion of deliverance as well, particularly once I had stopped taking the medications I had been given and recovered from some of my more outlandish ways. If I could outgrow some of my feelings, then it seemed I could outgrow any of them. So I held out hope, and I simply assumed that I was insane. That maybe someday I would outgrow it, as I had my other issues. When this failed to happen I continued to assume I was insane, but decided that at any rate, I could cut myself off from my insanity and this would have much the same effect as if it weren’t present in me at all.
These fears of mine, and this perspective, were greatly exacerbated by the nature of what little I heard spoken in defense of transsexuals. The dichotomy I came to understand, given the nature of the conversation, was one of sanity vs happiness. The contention that transsexuality was a form of insanity, advanced by the religious, and by the classical abstract psychologists, was almost never rejected by the people who spoke in advocacy of tolerance. Instead, they simply retorted that people have every right to be insane.
This was unsatisfactory. It was seldom phrased in such plain terms, of course, but this is what the discussion reduced to nonetheless.
1b. Evolution of philosophical outlook
As I may have already given away from the Frankl quote above, there were intricate networks of metaphysical concepts associated with my development. These were highly complicated, and in the early stages of my life, hypocritical as well. Questions of choice, of free will vs determinism, are at the heart of any queer experience. The issue has a particularly pressing urgency in such situations, to the extent that I’m not even sure what use philosophy is to other sorts of people, in comparison.
When I was young, I was told that I could do anything. This was partially because of my intelligence. I suspect it was also issued as an admonition of the behavior that others found repugnant, in order to hold me accountable for it. The result was that I developed a fairly ridiculous level of hubris. I assumed nothing was beyond my range of abilities. In essence, I thought of myself as God. When others continued to admonish me for behavior which I didn’t see myself as engaging in, I began to have doubts. I started to look at my own emotional dispositions more closely, and I realized that they flared up somewhat independently of me.
I therefore replaced the position with its antithesis; that I had no control over anything. That all of my actions were predetermined independently of me. This was the language that I had heard my mother, my sister, and my church group use to justify homosexuality. It was stated as if it was supposed to be empowering. For a homosexual, perhaps it would have had few repercussions. However, in my own case, trying to adopt it consistently led to a rather outstanding strain of fatalism.
If a person isn’t in control of themselves, if they’re a passenger in their own life, then it isn’t simply their emotions which take on this quality, it is their actions as well. The question in my case then became, why haven’t I taken action to stop my pain yet? I was waiting for a force other than myself to make the necessary decision, which is absurd. My expectation was that the pain would reach a point where I would be swept away suddenly, brutally, and permanently by instinctive action.
Needless to say, this didn’t happen. I had to come to the recognition of the fact that I was responsible for my own life before any motion was possible. It was easy to avoid this recognition. When I still had a chance at normalcy, I did so in the manner any other person would have. I’m sure we have all heard by now the question of choice phrased like this: you can have $1,000,000 dollars or jump off a cliff, which would you choose?
This question is meant to demonstrate the emptiness of philosophical abstraction on the subject. Of course, a person can throw themselves over a cliff under such circumstances, and some people do. It would be a lie of me to say that this alone suffices for a revelation. The question at that point becomes, why did I throw myself off the cliff? You wonder it as you’re falling, and make excuses.
Of course, the metaphor here is misleading as well, because the fall is portrayed as one long consequence of a single decision. Within the situation I want to symbolise, on the other hand, there is a series of progressively worsening consequences owing to the absence of a decision. It’s more like holding your hand over a fire, and watching it burn. You can pull it away at any moment, but the consequence of doing so at each moment is progressively less.
At first, you retain full functionality of the hand, with only a slight memory of your pain. Then you reach the point of skin damage. Then the nerves burn away and the pain isn’t there anymore to guide your hand. Finally, the whole thing burns away, and there’s nothing left. I’m glad I recognized the reality and the importance of the decision before I reached that final stage.
2a. Establishment of concrete claim
As I hope is clear at this point, I could not have made the decision to begin transitioning if I thought I was being dishonest with myself. Therefore it falls upon me to explain, as precisely as possible, how I am able to truthfully make the claim that I am a woman. There are two aspects of this. The first is linguistic. It concerns what exactly is meant, and what must be meant, by any literal interpretation of the concepts of male and female as they exist in language.
I am not especially skilled the use of formal logic, so I apologize in advance if my use of it is in bad form or confusing, in any way.
2a. Clarification of language
Suppose we are trying to describe a picture (let’s say it’s in black and white, for convenience), and wish to be as precise as possible about it. We take a fine mesh and place it over the picture, then record whether each hole in the mesh is black or white. With a sufficiently fine mesh, we should be able to arrive at a complete representation of the picture. What’s more, this should be the case whether the holes in the mesh are square or triangular. This is what language is like. One linguistic system might be like squares, and another like triangles.
The squares or triangles are words, or variables. Logic is the relationship between the variables. It isn’t possible to choose a word incorrectly, but it is possible to use a word incorrectly; if the logic the word is used with is unsound, for instance.
Logic is sound if it presents its variables in a relationship which corresponds to empirical reality, and unsound if it does not. The geocentric model of ptolemy is an unsound but valid system. The logic is comprehensible, but it does not apply to empirical reality. This section is about discerning the nature of the hypothesis embedded in language in its colloquial references to gender. The section following this is about determining whether or not there is any empirical basis under which this use of language can be said to be sound.
- The structure of a standard hypothesis about gender
“All people are either male or female”
∀x (Mx v Fx)
“A person is only male or female”
~∃x (Mx & Fx)
These are the two structural claims of any classical account of gender. Now that we have the relationships expressed clearly in logic, we have to see if there are any empirical values which would suffice for both M and F in order to permit us to say that the logic is sound.
2b. Scientific evidence
There are a number of promising initial possibilities. We can discount offhandedly any metaphysical conceptions of gender, as these are unscientific and therefore irrelevant to the debate. Therefore let us turn to biology, starting with the crudest of examinations and becoming more refined over time.
Suppose we start with genitalia. A person is male if they have male genitalia, and female if they have female genitalia. This seems to suffice, until we recognize the existence of hermaphroditism. Therefore in this context there are clear cases of:
∃x (Mx & Fx)
And we can discount the approach. So suppose we turn to genetics? A person is male if they have an XY chromosome, and female if they have an XX chromosome. This too seems to suffice, until we recognize that there are complications here as well. The dichotomy does not hold here either.
This is not to say that we couldn’t simply discard the exclusive clause. We could concede that all people can be described in terms of male and female, but accept that some are also both. This would be a solution to the difficulty. However, this is intuitively unsatisfying, and at any rate there is still the original question to investigate.
The answer we’re looking for appears to exist here. There is a sexually differentiated structure of the brain, and neuron count appears to correspond to gender identity. Therefore, there is a biological etiology for transsexuality. What’s more, since the etiology is local to a single substrate, and is a a quantity, the exclusive clause is justified. Male gender identity corresponds to 32.9 ± 3.0 x 103 SOM,
whereas female gender identity corresponds to 19.2 ± 2.5 x 103 SOM.
Since SOM cannot equal both values simultaneously, gender is in this sense, and this sense alone exclusive. It is binary.
I am literally, empirically female in the only way a person could sensibly say. At least, given the default linguistic system. Under a linguistic system without the exclusive clause, I am a hermaphrodite. However, that means that I am both male and female, and therefore it is still not a lie to claim that I am female. Under no coherent, empirical conditions can I be called male. Therefore, according to science, I am not a lunatic or a liar. At least, not on this count.
3. Broader philosophical conclusions
Here are some of my present concerns and deliberations. They include reflections on the past, on mistakes I have made, and on the hope I have for the future.
3a. The nature of decision making
The fact that I am able to present the second section of this blog entry may be construed as a strength, but I am more inclined to view it as a weakness. In order to interpret it as strength, a person would have to accept that it was the only rational way for me to arrive at the decision to transition. This is absurd. If people were expected to live life in the manner suggested by that sentiment, they would starve to death while trying to determine whether or not it was proper to eat.
Therefore I concede that I am a coward, and it deals wholly in the way in which I viewed life. I looked at my decisions as a chess player might look at the board, observing every tiny detail, trying to discern every possibility, to see the relationship between each and every one. But what I was looking for wasn’t information, it was a value. Values were something I was running away from. So my inspection was absurd.
Beyond that, it supposed that this was the only way to be rational. This is not true. People have to make decisions even when they lack information. Therefore life isn’t like chess. It’s more like poker. You might not have all the details, but you can’t let that stop you from making the right call. It’s better to push early because it buys you more outs down the line. And if you simply wait on the board, trying to make sure everything is just-so before acting, you’ll back yourself into a corner and walk away with nothing.
If I were equipped with only abstractions, each valid, with no scientific way of choosing between them, I should have chosen according to what would have made me happy. As a philosopher, I see truth in such abstractions all the time. I am dealing with them right now. The romanticism which current queer apologists like to make use of is ridiculous and metaphysical, but it is also better than the equally metaphysical yet fatalistic abstraction of the psychoanalysts.
Recognizing this, it’s easy to see that I made a mistake, and one which will have serious repercussions on the rest of my life. What’s more, I actually continued to make this mistake after I had become familiar with the biological evidence. If P -> Q, one deduces from P to Q, and infers from Q to P. However, inference is not universally valid. I recognized that I might believe I was a woman because I was a woman, but I also saw that perhaps another account was valid as well. Therefore there could have been two options, in which case, how could I infer that I was actually a woman?
If I had viewed it in terms of poker, I would have made the right decision. Scientific evidence has the best chance of being correct. Philosophical abstraction is structurally valid, but untested. There are conceivably an infinite number of philosophical abstractions to choose from, and what’s more, an infinite number of contradictory philosophical abstractions. Therefore, as Popper noted when he dismissed the traditional metaphysical discussions off-handedly, the chance of a philosophical viewpoint being correct are infinitesimally small.
The odds were on my side but I was too cowardly to push. It’s a truly obscene thing, and I would prefer it if nobody else ever made the same mistake.
3b. The question of altruism
I’m not fond of where I am in my life right now. It’s true that I’m starting to face certain problems which I’ve spent most of my life running away from, but there’s only so much I can do on that front.
To put it bluntly, I am not sure I will ever pass. Thinking about how to live with this possibility has set my mind thinking about an old question. Namely, should one live for themselves or for others? If the things I want for myself are out of reach, what reason is there to keep on living?
Now, as a matter of convenience I will use a comparison of Rand and Camus to make the point. Admittedly, drawing the dichotomy in terms of Rand vs Camus is a little bit disrespectful of the nature of their respective philosophies. When Rand speaks of altruism, she means self-sacrifice; the destruction of one’s personal values to serve others. But if my values have already been destroyed, then it is no longer possible for me to be altruistic in this sense. Similarly, Camus had no argument against egoism. When Rambert the journalist made his plans for escape known, he was met with no ill-will or sentiment.
But suppose escape is impossible? Camus is a poor excuse for a continental philosopher, because his chosen subject for investigation is facticity rather than consciousness. This just means that his ideas concern how to live with the world, rather than how to live with oneself. I have difficulties with both, but this discussion only concerns the first. I think that perhaps I can still find some happiness in trying to help others. If I didn’t think this, I would kill myself.
I will evaluate whether or not I am capable of this form of happiness in roughly a year. If at that point I find that I am not capable of happiness in this way, then I will have nothing to live for. I may continue for a while longer in order to put together money for cryonics. If preserving myself until the future would permit me to attend to my happiness, then it is certainly worth doing. It is not worth living life if I have nothing to live for, though. So I will see if living for others might not give me a value to pursue.
So there it is. That’s really as best I can figure any of this stuff. I’m not exactly thrilled with it myself, but it was worth writing down my thoughts on the subject, just to make sure I actually had them. If a person wishes to feel disgust for me, then they are entitled to do so. However, I would ask that they feel it for the right reasons. Because I was a coward, a fatalist, and an irresponsible person. Meanwhile I’ll go see what I have left to work with.
It appears that I have secured employment. If true, then I do not know how much attention this blog will receive in the coming days. At any rate, this is essentially the happiest I have ever been, which is strange, because I can think of little to say about my happiness, whereas sadness has always been easy to describe.
Today as well I began the crucial first step of seeing an endocrinologist, who will administer to the larger half of the defects which I have spent 21 years of my life attempting to deny. I have a future again. I can stop lavishing such unwarranted attention on the past and present.
It is certainly not as bad as I had been lead to believe. From the descriptions I had heard prior to reading it, I was unsure what to expect. Wittgenstein’s critics have concerned themselves with a fairly limited number of his philosophical conclusions. Although after reading the text, I can say that I still agree with their criticism, he is by no means without substance. Here is a consistent and ambitious formal semantic system. Ambition may well be the source of the problems that it has.
My reading has made it clear to me that Wittgenstein is a nominalist. This is made plain in his rejection of logical objects. If the operators of logic, ~, ->, & etc. had their own sense, then when combined with propositions in various forms of expression, they would grant a sense beyond that of the proposition. Therefore, logical operators are without sense. What they actually serve to represent is the structural possibilities of propositions themselves. Possibility is defined as everything contained between the two limiting conditions of contradiction and tautology.
Therefore in Wittgenstein’s formal system, two things immediately become clear. The first is that logic can possess no rules which dictate substantive conclusions. The second is that such rules as can be modelled through logic (induction, gravity, etc.) become disassociated from any formal structure of logic itself. This feels intuitively appropriate. The word Wittgenstein uses to describe such laws is “accidental”, although it is clear in this context that “synthetic” would suffice for a synonym.
I cannot accuse Wittgenstein of a lack of clarity either. Early on in the text, I began to wonder based upon his description of relationships, how he would handle such questions as the nature of gravity. It would appear to be a relational property. Yet it became obvious in time that Wittgenstein’s discussion of relationships concerned language and not anything past that. Thus when he describes physical laws as accidental, he is drawing boundaries on language rather than making any statement about reality, and now that I think about it, anything else would have been inconsistent.
So it is not consistency that is an issue with Wittgenstein. The problems of the philosophy stem from the unacceptability of the implications of the formal system. Towards the end of the book, we are treated to a form of solipsism. Wittgenstein uses the boundaries of his semantic system to put certain common sense ideas outside the realm of discussion. The result is peculiarly reminiscent of continental philosophy, while lacking the associated statements about the nature of being. Of course it is; this too is outside the system.
Suddenly, present day philosophy appears in context.
With Wittgenstein’s insistence upon the emptiness of logical relationships comes his associated rejection of all of metaphysics. In his view, all of philosophy is effectively an attempt to speak platonically about logical operators, as if they had a substance. Dualism is falsely conceived, because it is a platonized conception of negation. Yet negation, as we learn from Wittgenstein, only makes sense if we first have the proposition being negated; and then the logical operator ~ is still a purely linguistic artifact. It has no substance. Therefore the error of dualism is two-fold. What is being negated? Why does this negation mean something?
Thus Phenomenology is immediately dismissed as nonsensical. The attempt to draw metaphysical conclusions from observable phenomenon is also dismissed as nonsensical. Because logic properly used can only model synthetic truth, it cannot be used to derive metaphysical laws. In order to be laws in the manner traditionally conceived, metaphysical laws would have to model their subjects in an analytic relationship. Yet this would put these laws outside the boundaries of language, because if the laws themselves were within the domain of logic, they would themselves be synthetic. Of course, this puts any discussion of language itself outside the boundaries of language, which has almost universally been noted as Wittgenstein’s sole inconsistency.
Thus Wittgenstein’s system encounters the traditional philosophical difficulties. It is a “solution” to the problems of philosophy only insofar as it unflinchingly accepts traditional and somewhat dogmatic methods of proof. Effectively, it separates reality from language, regards language as the sole knowable domain, and treats the structures of logic as if they are tautologies. His formal semantics are circular, and his justification for staying within them is, ironically, a set of negative axioms; the boundaries of language, about which one cannot speak.
Which is not to say that he is a poor philosopher, but simply to say that he is a philosopher. Karl Popper, the fierce critic, is not much better. His system is regressive. Whereas Wittgenstein tried to create a system which would make discussion finite by drawing boundaries, Popper tried to create a system which would make infinite deliberation into something benign. Both are honest approaches. To the extent that such problems have been consistent, trying to account for them certainly seems more appropriate than trying to disprove their existence.
Whether or not Wittgenstein’s approach works on any level depends upon how correct he is about the semantics of logic. His so-called picture theory of language has received much criticism. This is appropriate. Whether or not Tarski or any other logician can provide a better account of matters is, I fear, beyond my present knowledge. I only know of Tarski what Popper has said of him and I do not know if it is correct. Truthfully, my own understanding of matters of logic is quite limited. I have a decent grasp of programming, but this entails a wholly different use and understanding of logic than philosophy. Whether or not mathematical objects exist is not a question which gets much discussion in my C++ textbooks.
With this in mind I can only say that certain arguments offered by Wittgenstein are intuitive, while others are offensive. The vacuousness of equivalence comes to mind. I would agree with the assertion that it is absurd to say two distinct things are identical and vacuous to say one thing is self-identical. In his general outline of logic, I find nothing to object to. I think that a sufficient treatment of such matters is perhaps 4 or more years of education away from me. At present, I can say little more than that I agree with the criticisms given by Popper, even though I am now able to recognize a few commonalities between him and his opponents.
Wittgenstein may well have provided a good way to use language, but he has not shown that the boundaries of philosophy are the boundaries of language. No more than did the Phenomenologists show that the boundaries of consciousness were the boundaries of the world, although they may well have provided a good account of psychology. I cannot go in for any of this reductive business. It is too strongly anti-humanistic, and at any rate, there is still too much I haven’t read. I will return to this text sometime in the future, though, if it proves to be appropriate.
I realize that there is more than enough drama on the internet already without my own contributions, and this type of article is something that I’ve grown unfond of writing at any rate. There are examples scattered about this blog already, self-absorbed, nonsensical chatterings about nothing in particular. Perhaps I could excuse myself by saying that sometimes I forget I’m not writing for the Infinity Injun anymore. It was supposed to be a schtick there. Which isn’t to say that it made it any better, but at least there was some purpose or vision behind it.
At any rate, I am facing the possibility of homelessness right now. A disagreement with my mother is what set these events in order. I became annoyed with her ridiculous faux-supportive demeanor and suggested to her that perhaps she was overcompensating for mistakes she had made in the past. She took this to mean that I blamed her for everything wrong with my life and accepted no responsibility for my own actions. I don’t blame her for everything. In fact, I don’t even think I have very much wrong with my life at present. What she has done to me in the past is in the past. The thing I can’t get over is that it still is.
My sexual identity is no secret, and as hormones produce their effects it is becoming even less so. There is a strong possibility that I will be ugly as sin for the rest of my life, simply because of how late in life I started into all this business. That there were earlier opportunities in my life for my parents to have been supportive is then understandably significant. It’s all somewhat ridiculous, because the issues I have with my parents are all painfully generic. There is the issue of being medicated as a child, of being forced into various programs, academic, athletic, and psychiatric in nature. There is the fact they have tried to live through me, and the complaint that they don’t really understand me.
I am forced to conclude that none of it is really outside the standard experience. Yet the context in which these pedestrian troubles have occurred is different. It has left me with permanent physical disfigurement. Coupling that with the understanding that this business was, at times, a reaction to my own condition, makes it very difficult not to see a form of crime in these generic and normally benign oppressions. A person is not their crime, but their crime speaks of their character. It is something they chose from among alternatives.
So when I hear a platitude such as “I did the best I could” or, more tellingly, “I did the only thing I could”, I am not inclined to forgive the speaker. This is not a real apology, it’s an invocation of destiny. In this form of rhetoric exists the very sentiment which enables the criminal in the first place; most of them, at any rate. So my mother does not impress me, and I do not respect her. It is not just because her crime lingers, but because she’s never broken out of the mindset which enabled it.
I told her all of this, or almost all of it, and the result was predictable. She is threatening to put me out on the street. I’m not sure what will happen if this comes to fruition. I don’t have a vehicle, a job, or even any skills. My father promised me that he would pay for my education, but he has recently added a stipulation. He will not pay for school unless I seek psychiatric attention, which in his view essentially means recanting. So if I’m dead in a month, I apologize for not updating.
With Mona Lisa Overdrive, Gibson finishes his trilogy while neglecting half of the themes which occupied the previous books of his series. This is not a bad thing. It kept Mona Lisa Overdrive from being like Neuromancer, and that is an achievement. However, it also kept it from being like Count Zero.
It is clear by now, I think, that Gibson directs his primary focus upon socio-economics rather than upon any sort of examination of man qua man. In the first book of the trilogy, the investigation bled over into that domain. In the second, this overzealousness was mostly corrected. Even so, it is clear to me now that bad faith in the Gibson universe is not a reaction to one’s status as human. Instead, it is an affliction which is contingent upon socio-economic facts. It arises, at least primarily, in the despondency of the poor.
That isn’t exactly fair though. Bad faith is fundamentally a misapprehension of the self as an object. In Neuromancer, people are objects. Therefore there is no misapprehension. In Count Zero, there is a definite possibility that people are objects, but the question is ambiguous. The book even hints at an optimistic answer. In Mona Lisa Overdrive, the question is never even framed. Gone is the narrator’s insistence that certain types of people aren’t people. Perhaps the theme was simply rendered in more subtlety, expressed through the personification of the non-human entity known as Colin. By treating an inhuman entity as human, one degrades the concept of humanity. I’m inclined to believe this element was not designed to serve that purpose.
The eponymous heroine of the novel is where Gibson invests most of his thematic focus. She is poor, a drug addict, existing outside the system. Drugs are a means for escape. So is media. When circumstances collude in just the right fashion, she finds herself given the opportunity to assume the identity of her favorite starlet. Of course, she doesn’t realize that the full implications of this spell death for her. Or rather, she does. In fact, that’s what makes the whole thing work.
But this sort of question lacks the purity of Gibson’s earlier questions. It also demonstrates his persistent ability to phrase his questions in contexts that don’t work. In order to suggest that bad faith stems from the conditions Gibson describes, it seems necessary to deny agency is some way. Sartre himself didn’t seem to understand this, so perhaps it can be forgiven. Bad faith cannot be a form of facticity, however, by its very nature. Therefore even the best depiction of it can be ruined, simply by attributing it to the wrong etiology.
What else is there to say? There are some creative examinations of characters, but for the most part the focus is upon culture and not upon individuals. Gibson has a very top-down approach to storytelling. Sometimes it has served him poorly, other times well. The way Gibson documents culture is certainly laudable. In Mona Lisa Overdrive, his characters are not harmed by the focus, but they are also not developed. From Angie to Mona to Slick, each character is defined primarily by their association with certain social structures. This isn’t done to the exclusion of their individual humanity, so a significant problem is avoided. It does seem a bit one sided though. It makes the world seem larger than the characters. Perhaps that’s fine, but it didn’t engage me nearly as much as Count Zero.
The religious elements are about as ridiculous as usual, not because religion is ridiculous but because it is ridiculous in this context. Perhaps that’s the point. But then, the point would seem to be linguistic. Language philosophy is all talk anyways. More trouble than it ought to be, and for far fewer substantive conclusions. It also corresponds to a deflationary cosmology. Yet if attempting deflation is ridiculous on its face, why do it? I don’t see the point in modelling religion in this way. Unless the entire series was meant to be sarcastic. I doubt it.
So yeah. Neuromancer offended me, Count Zero enthralled me, and Mona Lisa Overdrive filled me with indifference. It was infinitely better spectacle than Neuromancer, but spectacle alone doesn’t do it for me.
It’s difficult to believe that this is the sequel to Neuromancer. This book is good. Very good. In fact, reading it has challenged me to reconsider some of my notions about literature. I used to believe that the only way to affirm meaning in a text was by explicitly affirming agency. How naive that was. Yet the difference between the absolute nihilism of Neuromancer and the dignified humanity in Count Zero was all accomplished with just the slightest of changes.
Gibson still maintains his strong sense of class consciousness, denigrating the rich, but it matters less because he does so within a consistent context. The theme is also one level removed from the authorial voice, existing as a sentiment of Gibson’s characters themselves. Both the context in which Gibson writes and the ownership of emotions which Gibson grants to his characters are very significant improvements over the prequel, and resolve most of my difficulties with it. In fact, upon reflection it seems like these may be the only significant improvements, although the prose has improved as well.
The book doesn’t suffer from the pacing difficulties of Neuromancer either. That isn’t too much of a concern to me, nor is it something which I can speak about in great detail. The striking thing about Count Zero is that the sense of meaninglessness found in Neuromancer still exists, but meaninglessness is no longer an explicit, structural element of Gibson’s world. Even in the allusions to the previous book, a more optimistic tone can be felt. If Neuromancer was the book that Count Zero would have us believe, then it would deserve every bit as much praise as Count Zero itself.
Instead of simply telling us the world is meaningless, Gibson uses subtle symbolism, told through the eyes of his characters to make the issue into a question; and one with an ambivalent answer. Our street samurai in this adventure has a flashback similar to the protagonist from the first book, but this time it is not wasted; not by any stretch of the imagination. He remembers looking a woman in the eye, as a human being. Her eyes are cybernetic implants, very expensive, given to her by her employers. A week later she has been blown apart by a landmine. The samurai contemplates this issue in an airport with the help of alcohol. Then he sees someone familiar, a colleague of sorts, carrying a case. “What’s in the case?” he asks. An answer.
Several years later, he has a revelation of his own mortality. It brings memories of the event to the surface, and he reacts to it for the very first time. Here is the heart of the story. We see a character who views two different possibilities of human nature simultaneously; one with meaning, one without meaning; and reacts accordingly. Gibson’s focus is moved from meaninglessness itself to a depiction of feelings of meaninglessness. In his focus on the despondency of the poor, this theme continues to carry. At any rate though, it is just a feeling. It is not made into any sort of grand metaphysical statement.
It is in this capacity that Count Zero affirms meaning, not by explicitly declaring it, but by focusing on the possibility of its absence. Every contemplation of the question of meaning flirts with nihilism but without embracing it. This works like Ipecac, inducing a state which in itself is undesirable, but which terminates in a powerful cleansing effect. The ending of this book is exceptional, but more to the point, it is correct. In many ways it is the opposite of its predecessor.
If this is Gibson’s atonement for the sins he committed, then he deserves to be forgiven. I look forward to finishing the trilogy. If the quality of thought increased this much from the first book to the second, then the third might be quite interesting.