Against Nature: “The Turing Problem”

The earliest use of the word “φύσις”, usually translated as Nature, occurs in Homer: “Hermes gave me the herb, drawing it from the ground, and showed me its nature.” Hermes initial function was that of a messenger, sent to warn Odysseus of the imprisoning wrath of Circe. In addition, Hermes wished to demonstrate the qualities of the natural world by using an herb, a Moly, or a white flowered herb with black roots. Hermes is trying to demonstrate the mundane features of this “magical” white plant. Eventually, the Greeks came to see Physis as that which is unchanging. Its counterpoint, Nomos, means “Nurture.” Nomos is that which exists as a result of human belief. So the questions went: Do the gods really exist? Or do we humans create their existence, making them a part of Nomos? It wasn’t until later that Physis came to be known in a more legalistic sense. (Or in the sense of the verb form phusis, indicating that Nature has a period of growth over time.)

The title to the tourist-facing website for the country of Dominica is “Discover Dominica, the Nature Island.” A cursory Google image search will show you beautiful foliage, cobalt blue waters, and relaxing hot springs. Indeed it would be a perfect place for a vacation. The website touts Dominica as “The ideal spot for a wedding or honeymoon!” Implicitly, they mean a “natural” wedding or honeymoon. Dominica is in the news today after two American men were arrested after they were caught engaging in an act of indecent exposure on an Atlantis cruise ship. It is alleged that they were having sex on their balcony of their rooms while the ship was docked. It’s unclear who caught them, but the story seems to suggest that a resident of the island caught the two men engaging in an act of buggery, a criminal act that carries a maximum 10 year prison sentence.

Homosexuality possesses qualities of both Nomos and Physis. Gay sex does indeed occur in the animal kingdom; there are species of animals who engage in sexual intercourse regardless of the sex of its partner. As a human identity, “homosexuality” is a Nomos, nurtured into existence by the greater society. Ironically, it is less possible to punish the Nomos, or the aspect of homosexuality that’s culturally fabricated. So they go after the Physis. When one engages in acts of sodomy, one has committed a “crime against Nature.” Tellingly, the courts in Dominica were only able to prosecute on the basis of Indecent Exposure. In other words, they exposed themselves as homosexuals. And of course the men were set free under certain financial conditions.

I just finished listening to a wonderful Radiolab episode on the English mathematician Alan Turing. He was arrested for “Acts of gross indecency.” His sentence? Chemical castration. The buggery laws of 1950s England were such that one had two choices: be imprisoned or take estrogen. The latter choice was aimed at erasing the potency of his manhood. Turing’s career centered around one principle intellectual problem: “What if machines become our equivalents?” He believed it to have been possible. And the English courts decided: Turing, against Nature, must be stripped of his manhood.

A Nietzschean Yogi?

Yoga class was the last place on earth I would expect to be reminded of Nietzsche’s view of the historical human. Yet there I was, listening to my instructor’s words of wisdom: “Live in the past, you’re always regretting something. Live for the future and you’re full of anxiety. Be here in the present.” Of course this sentiment smacks of late 1960’s Be Here Now counterculture, which is far removed from the iron that is the Nietzschean Übermensch. But I find a connection to what we call the “historical human.” In his Use and Abuse of History, he says “There is a degree of insomnia, of rumination, of the historical sense, through which something living comes to harm and finally perishes, whether it is a person or a people or a culture.” One perishes once the “historical sense” finally takes hold completely. For some, there is only a past that seeks to strangulate the living present. In other words, a memory is not something that you should hold on to, but something that should be discarded and forgotten in order to go about living. Of course Nietzsche was referring to History in a much more universal sense. (If I may use the words “universal” and “Nietzsche” in the same sentence…) Yet one must personalize this statement. After all, Nietzsche is nothing if not life-affirming. Nietzsche tells us to say Yes to life. One can easily see how quickly the Overman’s horizon begins to broaden.

But at the very beginning of class today, my teacher put on some music for us. The music was not exactly my style, but then again my “style” of music doesn’t lend itself very well to relaxation and meditation. I stopped short when I noticed that the singer sang the word “God”, as in “God leads us to the infinite.” I’m not exactly militant in my atheism, so I let it slide. But my teacher warned us that the music “uses the G. O. D. word”, and that she had received complaints in the past. She explained that the yogic god can be seen that way, but should be seen as “energy”, a concept that I was familiar with from classes past. I wanted to remember to ask her whether the man was an atheist or a christian. But I had forgotten, and at this point in time, I find the answer irrelevant.

If you liked this Angela Davis video, you might like…

May I ask why in the world is YouTube advertising an Ex-Gay video to me, after watching this clip of Angela Davis speaking about Judith Butler’s refusal to accept a German GLBT award? (An event that had escaped my attention back in the summer of 2010.) It was bad enough that YouTube tried to get me to watch some terrible contemporary horror film trailer after watching clips of The Brood. On Halloween, no less. What is the meaning of this dreadful misunderstanding?!

Why Demand a Center?

Bulls and bears are inherently peaceful creatures. That is, only if we leave them alone. Otherwise, they attack ferociously, maiming those who dare rouse them from their slumber. One gambles when one deals with these unpredictable creatures.

Is Wall Street as an organic entity, parallel to nature itself? It certainly is quite moody, given to fits of rage and fits of joy. In order to make sense of the markets, we attach a binary: a fertile Bull market vs. a barren Bear market. These labels depend on a quantification of Wall Street’s daily performance. When one looks from the broadly focused view of hindsight, the status of the markets appear to be a bit more ambiguous. Based on a more general observation, Wall Street in a constant state of flux.

There are those who do not wish for a Bull market. After all, there is profit to be squeezed out of a Bear market. There are companies whose stock profits by laying off hundreds of its employees. It appears to be financially responsible, and sparks an interest in purchasing its stock. Only on Wall Street can a “good” day for some be a “bad” day for all the others. It’s the simple laws of capital: you win, I lose. A truly bad day on Wall Street is a day where everyone breaks even. If nothing happens, no one wins and no one loses, and we all should have just stayed home, as if made redundant. On a bad day, the traders go home with a sense of bored neutrality.

It has been said that there is no central focus to the Wall Street occupation. But does Wall Street itself have a central focus? One may say that “gaining” money is its purpose. But the market isn’t a single organic entity. It consists of individual traders who deal with the stocks of individual corporations. Each gamble against one another. Poke the bull and it charges; disturb the bear and it attacks. Leave it alone and what happens? Everyone breaks even, no one goes home feeling happy or unhappy. Wall Street would cease to perpetuate its cycle.

In a world of Fox News vs. MSNBC, is it any wonder that we’re taken aback by the lack of a focused soundbite, by a lack of a center? This movement, which started out as a few scattered protesters with a nondescript sense of angst were mocked by the mainstream “Left” media. Yet the protests are gaining momentum as we speak, and soon the media may second-guess its paternalistic finger-waving. The organism growing down on Wall Street will indeed be “Too Big to Ignore.”

Why demand a center when the center no longer holds?

The Creative Class made this happen

Congrats to the Cult of Mac for helping to create the “World’s most valuable company.” $337.17 BILLION dollars. I don’t care to divide the cost of an iPhone into that amount, mostly because I know it’s not that simple. Awe-inspiring numbers aside, it is quite remarkable what Apple has achieved. Chiefly, they have created an army of faithful followers who just gotta’ have that new product, regardless of personal necessity. And look at what it’s done! It’s created a company that possesses a market cap that’s greater than that of Exxon Mobil. Our fuel is now plastic and handsomely designed!

David asked me on the train about how many New Yorkers own iPhones. I guessed around 50%. I guessed wrong: There are probably more.

On répéter

And just when I was getting bored of contemporary music…

Grouper – I Saw A Ray from Weston Currie on Vimeo.

SUMMER 2011: The Blow (ASK ME demo version) by Melissa Dyne + Khaela Maricich from Dyne + Maricich on Vimeo.

Moon – The Light