pk Politics

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Civilization (NoHier) / Politics /
@ K. 1997 03

pk as a Political Animal

I don’t believe there are any political solutions to our problems.


Reading anything at all of my fiction should show that my writing combines theology and epistemology in a way intended to be hilarious as well as instructive. I possess written responses to it indicating that I’ve succeeded in the case of at least some readers (though I’d trade all that evidence for an audio of some of the laughter and murmured awe). Could you randomly sample my thoughts and emotions of the last half century you’d see that my fiction accurately represents those feelings and thoughts. But there’s another side to me which I can only call political.


human groups arguing their ascendancy over nature and each other

ambiguous drawing

These ambiguous drawings changes character like flipping a switch in your mind. What’s depicted? A beautiful young woman? Or an old hag? At no point can a human mind see both views simultaneously.

Dali has painted a number of such images. I present another famous example from psychology texts and draw my own example to emphasize the point further.

vase? or kissing?

(And I made a drawing to go with the question “Which corner is closest to you?” If I find it, I’ll post it. I’m not going to redraw it.)

If you see the stuff of my fiction as foreground, the focus is spiritual; if you consider my founding of FLEX in New York, my fiction becomes background, the environment, atmosphere, mere prelude; and the foreground: political. [note]

Politics is about how we should decide whom to coerce about what.

By politics, I do not mean:
“What -ism cloned you?”
(distributed by table)
Nor do I mean: “What group has gotten you to ratify its privileges?”
And I certainly do not mean:

The art of compromise.

Since there were two claimants to being the mother, King Solomon [note] offered to cut the baby in half.

I mean:

What if anything can be done to bring intelligence to bear on the structure of human society?

Founding FLEX, the Free Learning Exchange, Inc., in New York City, was the central, defining act of my life.

Did you know that politics is the leading cause of war? That politics probably kills more people worldwide than smoking, every year? Do you want your kids taking up such a nasty habit, especially at a tender age? While you’re warning them about the dangers of drugs, sex, and alcohol, toss in a word of caution about politics.

Man is a social species. Dominant modern societies, those with writing, churches, schools, records, governments … require one series of biases in their members before the society will cooperate in hearing an individual’s voice: we have to prefer social mass over biomass: in harmony, we have to believe that more human mouths justifies the loss of natural herds, natural forests, non-cultivated grasslands … We must be human chauvinists; or Shakespeare himself would be silenced.

And state of the art kleptocracies have discovered that you don’t need to throw such individuals into a dungeon: just leave it to the common man, in his common homeostasis, simply to ignore any even-handed voice.

The American Dream: Abraham Lincoln was born in a little log cabin in a still forested State of Illinois. He went to the White House in Washington DC, fronting on the Potomac River.
pk’s Dream: That the United States Government, that all governments that ever were or ever could be, would go from “the White House in Washington DC, fronting on the Potomac River” to a little log cabin in any forest, preferably in a state of stillness: and there get unborn.

Marie Antoinette said of the people when told they had no bread

Let them eat cake.

Jay Hanson [] attributes to the economists the sentiment

Let them eat growth.

pk translates:

Let them eat Hope

No proposition is likelier to scandalize our contemporaries than this one:

it is impossible to establish a just social order.
Bertrand de Jouvenal

More materials I move to a Politics Scrapbook.

If every nation were to bring all its evil deeds to a given place, in order to make an exchange with some other nation, when they had all looked carefully at their neighbors’ faults, they would be truly glad to cary their own back again.

image to be edited & mounted [note]

and love was only a short moment of forgetfulness, a short intoxication, whose delight one remembered with a sense of sadness, as if it had been a deep grief lived through
Conrad, Nostromo


No Political Solutions:
What’s wrong with us cannot be brought up in polite society.
Man protects his deepest follies under a veil of the sacred.
One glaring example is our belief that we are the point, the purpose, the target of existence. We’d do better to see ourselves as a series of steps in evolution (and to forget about ontological purpose: at least until we know a great deal more (and are a great deal less vain).
Seven years after penning this note I made an insertion at the top that I now — 2004 04 13 — split off into its own Politics module.


“Politics!?!” I can easily imagine some people sputtering and fuming: “who’s he trying to kid? He doesn’t read the paper. note He walks out on the news. He’s neither held nor run for office. He couldn’t get elected dog catcher. Politics! he’s even admitted to voting for Dick Gregory!”

It’s been said, wisely I believe, that it’s our enemies who think they know us; our friends know better. What would the sputterers answer if asked what my politics are? I know I’ve been called a communist however seldom to my face. The leader of a group which had once invited me to a debate accused me before that group of working for the CIA. Seeing his minions respond more to my startled face than to his words, he added that of course I wasn’t aware that I worked for the CIA. (Paranoia is ubiquitous but likes to hide much of the time. Would the landlords have been evicting me every month of the early to mid-’70s if I’d been working for anybody? {Anybody other than everybody, that is.})

It’s true that I have never allowed myself the habit of reading newspapers. My mental filters normally screen me from radio and TV news that I can’t help but be exposed to. For important news, like the death of Charlie Parker, I’ve relied on a grapevine (that no longer reaches me very well). Something like war, I figure I’ll know about all too soon whatever I do.

I think it was in my junior year in high school that the history teacher tried to train us to read Walter Lippman every day. But I had already heard Thoreau’s query, “Why read the Times when you can read the ages?” This on top of my then literalist-Christian preference for God over his opposite: no, not the Devil: Caesar! My sense of “the ages” included not only the Bible but Shakespeare, Arthur C. Clarke, Bach, and a lot of Benny Goodman. How much of this was high-mindedness, how much laziness, and how much sheer perversity, anyone can have an opinion.

As to voting, I have been registered with both the Republican and Democratic parties, depending on whether I intended to participate in primaries; neither party being able to rely on my vote come November. At this point I don’t really remember whether I ever actually voted for Dick Gregory or Lowell Thomas or merely said that I did. The one voting act that sticks out in my mind, was my first. It was one of the few times I backed the winner, a Republican. His name was certainly on the ballot, but I remember refusing the flick the switch. Rather, I assumed the tortured position required to write his name with the miserable stub of a pencil provided into the impossible little slit mispositioned at the top of the machine. Form follows function. The medium is the message: no independence encouraged here; only the appearance of it.

King Solomon: Politics of compromise

The story is told to illustrate King Solomon’s wisdom. The real mother withdrew her claim and the king rightly bestowed the child on the ex-claimant. The logic is nice. The most sophisticated example of this kind of reasoning that I’ve seen I learned from Raymond Smullyan, who, I suspect, also authored it: a traveler wants to get to the Wonderful City. He comes to a fork in the road. He sees there two citizens, one each from the population’s two types: the always-truthful and the always-lying. What one question can he ask that will put him on the right road? The traveler can ask either citizen, “Which path will he tell me to take?” The liar will answer the wrong path. The truth-teller will also, truthfully, answer: the wrong path. The traveler takes the opposite.
My essay does not mean to suggest that King Solomon executed the promised horror (was he too therefore a liar?); but the threat nicely illustrated a misuse of mathematics all too common in human politics. John Allen Paulos’ recent A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper gives a less dramatic example: A mother has a cherry pie. She asks her sons how much of it they’d like. The fair son answers “half”; the glutton answers “all.” The mother averages and divides, giving one quarter to the fair son and three-quarters to the hog!

2005 11 13 Now I’ll tone down a little of my original belligerence. Compromise is essential for social creatures who wish to survive: provided that ethics are not getting steamrolled. If he wants pasta and she wants potatoes, there’s no harm in them both deciding on rice, or on bread: or on pasta or potatoes. But it’s not the same animal if the killer wants to kill everybody, and everybody doesn’t want to get killed, so the judge lets the killer kill half.

The trouble is: ethics are exactly what complex populations can’t agree on.

In sum: I am for private party compromises (even if ethics are compromised) (so long as the private parties don’t have too much power); I am against coerced compromises, centrally administered, ethics … survival be damned, only profits counted.

In short, I am against the state (as I once would have been against the church), especially the modern state.
(The modern church? What’s that?!?)

Apropos, on coercion: it’s centralized, hierarchically imposed coercion that I’m against. If some woman, privately, drags her kid around by the arm, it’s none of my business. On the other hand, if the parent is slapping the kid around in front of me, and it looks like a habit, I’ll feel free to lay the parent’s head open with the fire iron. That’s coercion! first, from the parent; then, from me. But I don’t want the state to school morons to go into homes to hit the parents with a night stick.

My track record isn’t as heroic as it might seem that I pretend. Once Hilary and I were walking on the west side of 5th Avenue and some fat woman, waddling amid her brood, Haitian, Puerto Rican, Dominican, keep cuffing one particular kid. The kid would just recoil, and keep walking. It seemed clear to me that he got that all day every day. It also seemed clear to me that the kid hadn’t done anything, and maybe had never done anything: except get born, get hungry, poop … Man, I wanted to threaten that woman with her life! But I didn’t. I would have had to fight the woman, and Hilary, and the police …

It’s a half a dozen years since I mounted this image without identifying more than the location. Many of you will recognize that Nepenthe was the house that Orson Wells had built for his new bride, Rita Hayworth. Only a couple of people other than myself have known the following.

Autumn 1974 I went from New York to California hoping to spread my artists to the west coast by Christmas. By the week before Christmas I get a call from my favorite squeeze in New York. “How would you like to have me for Christmas?” God! I’d been on the road for months, and this woman was the love of my life. I picked her up at the LA airport. After a week of LA we drove up to San Francisco. She too had business: Calders to sell. This picture was taken en route as we paused at Big Sur.

It was February before I returned home, my apartment under a half a year’s dust. ASAP I get to her place and show here the pics. This photo, my favorite, was left in the projector overnight. Next morning I’m awakened by the voice of her husband from the living room. He’d put the coffee on. I go down and meet him in the living room where he’s pulled the curtains and is looking at the screen. “That’s a beautiful photo,” he says. Then does a double take. Notices the figure for the first time. “Who’s that?” he asks. Guy doesn’t recognize his wife.

A couple of months ago my PK Imaging phone rings. Voice from the past, name from the past once he identifies himself. I ask if he’s related to the guy I knew in New York, 1974-1980 (when enough people were after him that he made himself scarce). “One and the same. Who are you again?” “pk. I used to live with your wife.” He remembered only dimly. (But then at that time he’d just shacked up with a sixteen year old, coming home only to change clothes. Indeed, regardless of how much his wife may have liked — even loved — me, she may have been trying a bit of revenge with how freely she opened her self and her house to me.)

The first three or so semesters at Columbia I lived in the dorm: John Jay Hall: 7th floor. One morning I find a New York Times on my doormat. Oh, hell, I thought, I’ll look it over this once.
I knew that publishers put a great deal of effort into guiding the reader’s eye (knowing that readers’ attention will always random at least in part: the point of the editors is to minimize the randomness and maximize the direction: direction as in magicians’ direction/misdirection). I deliberately ignored the biggest headlines. I’d already seen the damn masthead: first thing: as I’m supposed to. Now I’ll ferret on my own. Oh, So-and-So (never heard of him) is the new comptroller for the city. Oh, he just got a budget of so-and-so much. (Gee, that doesn’t seem like much.) I continued this for a while. Finally I allowed myself to glance at the headline. Titanic Sinks!

Ah. It’s a facsimile of a Times from 1912.

Only then did I notice the changes in the format: the mast head was smaller. Everything was smaller. There was much more news on the front page in 1912. And I thought about Jack Johnson, being refused passage: and how the blacks of the period synergized (to a degree) in agreeing (or pretending to agree) that that was God moving in mysterious ways.
I read the day’s news of which-ever-day 1912 as though it were today’s news: with no consciousness that the new comptroller (or mayor) hadn’t been new (or mayor) for forty-five or so years!

Keywords politics, structure, society

Politics Quotes


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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