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November 18, 2009


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So, if this list in exhaustive, then there is not place for a wise truth teller? Or maybe that the wise keep their mouths shut?

Phil Cubeta

The wise truth teller is not on the list, no. He takes himself much too seriously. If sincere, he is most likely a Dupe. Think of Folly in her academic regalia, or monk's habit, addressing an audience of Fools or Dunce's similarly attired. You can see their ass's ears poking out from under their mortar boards. They are all entirely serious. In this genre, the truth is inverted so that it appears in its absence. Swift, always the preacher, will sometimes lose patience and present the literal plainspoken moral in bold italics. But that is a lapse in control. The reader has to work at the moral by turning right side up what has been presented upside down. In the process the reader not only has the fun of being in on the joke, but practices the critical skills needed to laugh at Folly, as serious as she may be.


I suppose his absence is his presence. Like the honest man Diogenes looks for with a lantern at midday. In Diogenes he is more than absent, if not impossible in principle at he is at least implicating our ways of looking for such a one.

Phil Cubeta

Erasmus, being a preacher, no doubt wrote sermons, but that is another genre.


I just happen to be reading some Erasmus, and what is amazing is the modernity of his voice. Like Horace, he sounds like a guy you already know, a guy who blends seriousness with play, gravity with levity, or at least a lightness with regard to his own pretensions. Erasmus's sermons came in the form of philological commentaries on adages. Unpacking and exploring the space of stories suggested by compact bits of ancient wit. This is a vernacular voice - in some ways, not unlike that of Nietzsche, or Walter Benjamin - also philologists. The honest man doesn't walk around with a lantern; he looks at the folds and turns within words, sayings, styles, and discerns the features of the speakers whom "all discourse limns."

Jon Husband

I wonder if "honest" is a factor in the job evaluation scheme?

I notice Phil put Knaves and Rogues at the top of the list. I am for the moment assuming Phil did an intuitive 'whole-job' ranking putting them at the top of the hierarchy. I assume he saw duplicity and deceit (or several other possible lamentable candidates) as the more likely factors that exercise power and thus are assumed to carry weight, so to speak.

The following is a vast generalization, certainly ... I am pretty sure I can map the labels above to a ladder from janitor through call center supervisor through manager/director to VP and then to Prez & CEO. So probably can you, I don't doubt.

I haven't yet thought about, but can imagine coming up with a scheme using the above labels to identify and describe the roles of people in networks too.

Phil Cubeta

I should read more of him. What I have read seems so advanced rhetorically, learned, but light. Very much conscious of his own position, persona, and not taking himself too seriously. Would you say he is of The School of Diogenes? But without the show-boating?

Phil Cubeta

The art of it is to find what role you wish to play witin the scheme even as you apply it to others. That requires rhetorical "set up." Maybe a bogus study by a reputable knave?


His arguments with Luther (regarding the will) suggest that where satiric opportunity was readily available, Erasmus instead worked hard to offer a position that could be summarized, as AKMA says: "it's more complicated than that." Giving attention to details, gathering evidence that didn't all line up; respecting the interpretive difficulties rather than mowing them down; introducing a sort of fuzzy logic where anything more precise would be too simple, fully aware of the blast he'd receive in return from the barbarous monk (Luther's self-description).

Sort of chipping away at the large block until something richer, more nuanced, perhaps strangely new, emerges.


respecting the interpretive difficulties rather than mowing them down; introducing a sort of fuzzy logic where anything more precise would be too simple


I am reminded of my recent readings of C.S. Peirce, where he works with logical precision to leave a space for the excluded middle, for indeterminacy. I am really struck by the way he calls for a true thirdness in each space. Neither oneness, sponteneity, nor twoness, duality, law, formality is enough for a complete logic and philosophy. Thirdness relation, proportion, partiality and consequently wholeness as well.


Peirce is fascinating - if you've got a link to something of what you're reading, please share.

Erasmus wasn't quite so much the theoretician. In some ways, he's more like a vernacular reader - one who uses common sense and a wealth of previously digested material to arrive at something like a viable reading of a key problem (e.g., free will), where viable means, accessible, understandable, shareable, based on reasoned argument, imaginative, and open to discussion without a need for hellfire or large armamentaria.


Found some of them on line: A Guess at the Riddle is a key one. It amazes me this was written in the 19th century. I read it as suggesting a lot of discoveries yet to be made in physics and cosmology, not to mention the cognitive and linguistic fields that is closer to his actual work and interests.

And this: One, Two, and Three


Both are great and rare gifts, putting deep insights into deceptively simple prose, and capturing a great generality of all systems, everything we can see and touch. More people may be able to hear the former, but the latter may have more impact on their lives through its pervasive effect on the core methods of objective inquiry into mind and its application in universal systems design.

I must confess my partiality for the more esoteric as it suits my interests, but I can also see the refined beauty of the arts of connection. Practice over theory.

Peirce' categories are very helpful to me as a systems designer now working on currency (flow) systems. We consider as an emerging field, CIWC, collective intelligence, wisdom and consciousness, so I have been in inquiry about what it means for these things to be "collective". I discover through Peirce that intelligence already is collective as soon as we had shared language, maybe before in pre-linguistic social signals to coordinate group actions. Language sent out into a space of collective interpretation is the internal symbolic processing of a collective being.

It gives another way of thinking about this whole context of roles and affects taken on in communication. As we know some signs are meant for different groups, or even the same signs with different meanings to each group. Here we don't have a single collective mind, but several, and multi-level utterances addressed to more than one part of it.

No doubt the work or great artistic minds like Erasmus is in no small part directed at healing these internal schisms even as the Knaves and Courtiers try to shatter it for personal profit and ego boosts.


If there are several circles of listeners with different interpretations, then the truth of an utterance can only be an integration of all of these in a global context. Of course this context including all the viable interpretations is only a construct and not something that can be realized in its completeness.


Before I was able to use my twitter login and still show up as "Gerry", but I'm not sure how I set that up. Maybe it was a bug that they "fixed".

Maybe in genres like satire, the key thing is not the cast of characters, but the dual (or multiple) meanings that are heard by different subsets of the audience. The "insider" view would include awareness of both contexts and plays off between them.

I was reminded of another genre like this by Friday's Democracy Now tribute to Studs Terkel when he mentions the distinction between gospel music and the spirituals which come from the slave experience. The "Speaking of Faith" program with Joe Carter goes into this in depth. They figured out that the master never listened to the words, and even encouraged their singing as almost an expression of passivity to help the work go easier.

In this case we see how this genre develops as a channel for covert messages. The open message is in fact a key part of it that allows the message to be carried in plain sight, out loud in public. Obviously the context shapes all of this as well, when the discovery of the message might mean death or even the destruction of your tribe, your people it is different. You can also look at the possibility for transformation. To some extent the work to understand the hidden message may transform the person from outsider to insider.

Phil Cubeta

Very interesting about spirituals being sung "in the clear" under the eye of an inattentive master. "Weapons of the weak." Coded speech can also come from those in power, c.f. Bush using "dog whistle" terms like "left behind," and other coded references to the bible-according-to-evangelicals to address his base. "Hidden in plain sight." Leo Strauss, influential in conservative philosophy and politics had a whole theory about how a wise man or woman might write under tyranny and stay both truthful and safe. I suspect he considered democracy a kind of tryranny by nondescript people. Thus, he could write in favor of elitist doctrines by discussing writers from earlier eras who had anti-democratic tendencies, Plato being a case in point. "On Tyranny," one of Strauss's books, essentially leaves the door open for same, helping a wise reader get over our prejudice against concentrated power, outside checks and balances. This creates a cult like coterie of those in the know. Writing for dual audiences (overt/covert) from the position of underling or the position of overlord is not uncommon. Learning to read a dual audience piece from the insider position is indeed an exercise in changing roles, from dupe to author's accomplice.

I was struck in my business career by the way Madison Avenue firms would create ads for us as a Fortune 100 company. The ads might be intensely scincere sounding or authentic sounding or truthy, or entertaining, but the ad mavens were the most cynical people I have ever met professionally. They retained their sanity by scorning, mocking, condemning the very notions their ads purveyed. They wrote for only one audience - dupes, and it drove the writers half insane. To break free, to code some hidden sabotoge into the messages acceptable to power is an act of self-therapy as well as solidarity with those who can see through the delusions, see past the screens.


Truthy indeed.

These different situations are really different design problems posed to the provider of these dual texts. The actual words of the spirituals were largely taken directly from scripture, but no doubt cultivated for the hidden meanings, and pressed into service by need to carry pragmatic messages about how to escape and find help. Not to mention the great memonic help provided by the music and scriptural structures to hold the hidden messages subconsciously until they might be needed.

The writers of marketing texts are more slaves in spirit than the singers of the spirituals. They know what their "job" is and rare is situation where they can indulge in double meanings. Or maybe more to the point, they are already involved in double meanings in the service of the master. You have to admire the satirists like Colbert and a very few others who can manage a sustained critique from this standpoint. I wish I had the talent to create an alter-ego of sorts to his character. A squishy left "social entrepreneur" who is all compassion and double bottom line on the surface, but also conflicted and fearful as soon as you scratch the surface. In the same way that conservatives can't get worked up about Colbert, to acknowledge him is to make fun of yourself, hard core lefties would not be able to acknowledge this character without satirizing themselves.

Phil Cubeta

You got it. The whole thing depends on the setup. You cant really do satire in your own voice. You have to use a mask, or use characters. The "I" has to be, for example, a hack, a beggar, a pickpocket turned politician or vice versa, a pedent. Colbert is a good example of someone who has made it work, by posturing as a character. Humor is permitted. We cut the clown a lot of slack, between the commercial breaks, because in the end it is good for business.

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