Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains:
Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology /
See? Once again: macroinformation. I like to take two disparate things, things between which the normal person will see no connection, and connect them: with a true connection! Many a paradox is merely false; some paradoxes however expose the faults in our logic. Those are the ones I gravitate toward.
What I am about to say also relates to my lifelong oxymoronic description of myself as “the voluntary n-.” Ah, don’t be absurd! No one volunteers to be despised. I do.
[Bowdlerizing K., 2016 08 02 To me a syncopated word is even more offensive than the straight vulgar term.]
At judgment, some of St. Paul’s paradoxes will be exposed as genuinely absurd: false by any logic. Others will be revealed to be the plain truth: as plain as truth can be in this vale of illusions.
First, Gregory Bateson on schizophrenia. The teacher tells a story:
|A schizophrenic is confined to an institution. The doctors’ offices are off a hallway. If the doctor wishes a moment’s peace he must close his office door. Patients always walking in anyway, one doctor puts a sign on his door: “Knock.” Our schizophrenic comes down the hall, sees the sign, knocks. The doctor demands, “What do you want.” “Nothing,” replies the schizophrenic. “The sign told me to knock.” [note]|
Most people, “normal” people understand the sign’s implicit context: Don’t come in without being invited. If you need to see the doctor, request an invitation by knocking. Don’t come in without such an invitation. See? All those words. Could it be phrased more efficiently? By a busy doctor? By a half brain-dead bureaucrat? The one word is clear enough for most people in most circumstances. But not for the schizophrenic.
And some of us are voluntarily schizophrenic: deliberately: as a satire, a criticism, a sanity check. Show the ambiguity of the sign by not getting it. Dramatize your not getting it.
I am remembering an early pk example: from my childhood. My family was Protestant. That was supposed to mean that we accepted Jesus both as God and as our savior. It also was supposed to mean that we rejected the Roman Catholic Church and its Pope as a Christian church. Protestants make their own churches: at the drop of a hat: hither and yon: semi-literacy qualifying for theology.
What it meant practically is that we went to whatever church was convenient: move to a new neighborhood, change denomination. Go to the church that mounts the nicest flowers for Easter. Parrot Knox one day, parrot Calvin … Luther another.
Uh, let me rough up the scenery a bit, adding dimensionality to my map, by intruding another angle at this point. Churches are groups. Form a group and some minority of members are always going to start playing king of the hill. Typically, but not necessarily, males. The game in Protestant guise is to compete to see who’s the most saved.
To be the most saved as a Protestant, you first have to argue that you’re the most damned: macroinformation once again. No one gives a shit if individuals without sin are saved. Boring! To get points toward salvation you must convert others to Christianity. My (extended) family gatherings were orgies of missionary zeal. My uncle strove to convert my mother; I strove to convert my cousin … Go to China? Find someone who’s never heard of Jesus? Don’t be silly: the pitcher of whisky sours was right here: in the den.
My mother’s problem in being victimized by her older brother was that she didn’t have the chutzpah either to pound on him what a great sinner she was or to interrupt his interruptions with pageants of her own forgiveness. The brother, by virtue of being older (stupider, less literate), was by default both greater sinner, more authoritative spokesman for Jesus, for Paul, and more gloriously saved.
I always agreed with my uncle on one point: he was the greatest sinner.
Anyway, one weekday evening we’re all dragged to New Jersey to attend a service at my uncle’s church. The preacher that night is a guest preacher. (Turned out he was my uncle’s personal St. Paul.) (Boy would I have loved to see any of the sessions where the preacher was by default the greater sinner, and my uncle had to take my mother’s position of submission.) So the guest preacher takes the pulpit and really gives the hell fire to us. In a word, we must be born again. Born afresh: into grace. First though, you had to be a sinner.
“Is there anyone here who is a sinner?” boomed the voice of the guest preacher.
Little Paul’s hand shoots up.
No, I was not at that moment being a voluntary schizophrenic. I really thought the preacher meant what he said. Stupid me. My hand is forcibly lowered for me. No! He doesn’t mean you.
Arm wrestled to my side or not, I am astonished that every hand in the room hasn’t been raised. Don’t my fellow Christians believe in Original Sin? That’s all of us: whether we raise our hands or not. I look around. No hands are going up. Everyone is sitting there. The ladies’ white gloved hands are all folded in their laps: except my mother’s: holding my arms to my sides.
Except one. One man. His arm raises: slowly.
Him the preacher recognizes, bids him step forward. And the sinner is given the lectern: from which he confesses his drunkenness, his bawdry …
You see, I’d been told we were going to a church, not to a theater: a theater with a script.
(Years later, seeing Genet’s The Blacks down on Second Avenue, I’d remember that “service.” The play assumed the audience to be white red necks. Only white red necks were supposed to respond to the taunting from the cast. But by that time I knew: they didn’t mean me: sit still and shut up: this charade is not for you: you’re only here to buy a ticket and fill a seat.)
Cut to the chase. The guy gets to monopolize out attention from the lectern: he’s such a great sinner. Etc.
“Is there anyone here who wishes to be born again.” Boom, from the pulpit.
Little pk’s hand shoots up. Everyone wrestles me back down.
That time, I confess, maybe for the first time, the first of many times, pk was being a voluntary schizophrenic.
But the sign said “Knock”!
2005 08 12 I routinely move files around. In this Society section I repeatedly renovate the sub-folder structure, including relabeling the folders. Right now I’m finishing up the most major renovation of all, the goal having been to relegate nearly all the files to sub-folders. My main categories now are Social Epistemology, Social Order, and Survival. I intend the system to be instructive (if meta-instructive). I intend my choices to regularly surprise. (If you disagree with my choice, good.) Much of my choosing is arbitrary: one treatment may well touch on types of perception (Social Epistemology), politics (Social Order), and survival: as well as other possible classifications.
This one, dealing with how we interpret signs, belongs with Social Semiotics (which I’ve shelved under Survival). One could argue that it belongs with Social Order, in more than one of the sub-folders there. But I’m putting it with Epistemology: how we see things, what we think, how we think …
2004 07 27 bk just emailed me this quote from Gene Callahan:
Searching for Service
So, I go into the bathroom at a restaraunt the other night. I do my business, then turn to the sink to wash up. Above it, I see a sign reading, “Employees Must Wash Hands.”
Well, not being one to flout the rules, I patiently waited for an employee to come along and do so. However, 10 minutes seemed long enough, so I went ahead and washed them myself.
Geez, if you’re going to make rules like that, at least make it easy to follow them!
See Gene Callahan’s blog .