virtues and values in market exchanges

All appropriations and transfers of conventionally valued goods or services, be they consensual or coerced, are essentially self-regarding as regards their cost, but essentially other-regarding as regards their value. For consumable goods, the relevant distinction between their consumption and socially warranted dominium arises from Deuteronomy 23:24-25, as explained by John Kilcullen. To the extent that sex is valued conventionally rather than intrinsically, all varieties of sexual intercourse are likewise essentially other-regarding. In particular, while no one is qualified to speak for all sadomasochists, the following passage from a review by Charles Rosen is very much to the point:

When I was writing a review of Alban Berg’s correspondence, I remarked to an elderly and very distinguished psychoanalyst that I was surprised by how many of Schoenberg’s students seemed to enjoy being so badly treated and humiliated by him. She replied, “I have no time to explain this just now, but I can assure you that there are a great many masochists and not nearly enough sadists to go around.”

What is valued in all kinds of sex, as in all other kinds of conversation, is not the mere brunt of its experience, but also its mutuality.

Market exchanges of all sorts of goods or services are essentially other-regarding, not in regard of obtaining them at the lowest possible cost, but in regard of establishing and maintaining their value. In so far as an analogous situation obtains in communication, this is a matter of conventional values in the conventional Lewisian game-theoretic construal of convention as coordination. Notwithstanding any misgivings concerning the expense of spirit in a waste of shame, market exchanges are expected to leave each party with the impression that what they received in the exchange is worth more than what they gave up. In the normal course of events, a notional impression of increase in value would serve as well as, or even better than, an actual increase therein. Thus Max Weber’s criticism of Benjamin Franklin in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, that the appearance of honesty serves the same purpose as honesty itself, and hence an unnecessary surplus of this virtue would appear to Franklin’s eyes as unproductive waste. Weber concludes that Franklin purveys a strict utilitarianism, whereby the mere appearance of honesty (der Schein der Ehrlichkeit) is always sufficient when it accomplishes the end in view. But in the long run, such appearances can only be sustained by tacit collusion of both parties. The butcher who places his finger on the scale enters in a relation of mutual dependency with the carnivore who averts his eyes from this petty subterfuge. Likewise the wife who shores up her sex appeal with face paint and foundation garments, colluding with the husband who bears mute witness to her daily embellishments.

Consider sexual politics. In the context of a long-term romantic relationship, reciprocal constructive ambiguity manifests in the woman wondering whether the man is just using her for sex, while he wonders how long he can keep her guessing. The maintenance of this equilibrium depends on a delicate balance between competition and coordination, negotiated among the parties. This is where David Lewis’ analysis of convention may pay off. Lewisian conventions exemplify two main conditions:

  1. Convention is a strict Nash equilibrium with no gain realizable from unilateral deviation by any party thereto, and a loss realized by any deviating party, with an additional coordination proviso that all parties prefer universal compliance in the convention, on condition that at least all but one comply to it.
  2. Convention is arbitrary in having an alternative that could serve equally well in its place.

Consider the case of corporate employment, where the corporation is tasked with creating the appearance of improvement in the lot of its employees over the scenario of their free agency. As explained by Ronald Coase, this improvement is due to amortizing the transaction costs of their initial association. The appearance of extra value accruing to the employees in this association, depends on coordination among its parties in representing real or imaginary long-term benefits of sticking together. Correlatively, the appearance of extra value accruing to the employer from the employees is a matter of coordinating their appearance of hard work sustained through brown-nosing and back-biting, and relieved by the meremost minimum of discreet sexual harassment and persiflage around the water cooler. And so on.

A Microsoft employee takes several years to vest into his stock options. In exchange, he gives up the opportunity of higher wages in the free market. (That may no longer be the case in the current economy, but let us set that aside.) The value of this long-term benefit depends on the interim growth in the Microsoft stock price. This dependence yields a motive for all Microsoft employees to prefer universal loyalty to their employees amongst their colleagues, on which see the pep talks by Steve Ballmer, with their disparate reception among the faithful and the unaffiliated. At the same time, when and if Google gets big enough to buy Microsoft, with all outstanding stock warrants subject to universal conversion, all current Microsoft employees would prefer a universal shift in loyalty to their new employer amongst their colleagues. In short, their loyalty is stable in being motivated by a prospective gain dependent on universal compliance, but arbitrary in lacking an essential connection to the fortunes of the brand.

An analogous situation appears to arise with any construal of value motivating economic exchanges putatively benefiting both parties. Indeed, it is hard to conceive of an alternative to construing it as a matter of coordination in the foregoing fashion, given that the labor theory and other unfashionable imputations of inherent value are unlikely to yield the preponderance of the “win-win” scenario. As for the aspect of virtue playing its part in market exchanges, its role appears to be taken by Frankfurtian bullshit serving as the counterpart of the mere appearance of honesty claimed by Weber to be necessary and sufficient therefor.

better not to have been

     „Niemals geboren zu werden wäre das beste für die sterblichen Menschenkinder“, „Aber“, setzen die Weisen der „Fliegenden Blätter“ hinzu, „unter hunderttausend Menschen passiert dies kaum einem.“
    Der moderne Zusatz zum alten Weisheitsspruch ist ein klarer Unsinn, der durch das anscheinend vorsichtige „kaum“ noch dümmer wird. Aber er knüpft als unbestreitbar richtige Einschränkung an den ersten Satz an, kann uns also die Augen darüber öffnen, daß jene mit Ehrfurcht vernommene Weisheit auch nicht viel besser als ein Unsinn ist. Wer nie geboren worden ist, ist überhaupt kein Menschenkind; für den gibt es kein Gutes und kein Bestes. Der Unsinn im Witz dient also hier zur Aufdeckung und Darstellung eines anderen Unsinns wie im Beispiel vom Artilleristen Itzig.
Never to be born would be the best thing for mortal men.’ ‘But’, adds the philosophical comment in Fliegende Blätter, ‘this happens to scarcely one person in a hundred thousand.’
    This modern addition to an ancient saw is an evident piece of nonsense, made sillier by the ostensibly cautious ‘scarcely’. But the addition is attached to the original statement as an indisputably correct limitation, and is thus able to open our eyes to the fact that this solemnly accepted piece of wisdom is itself not much better than a piece of nonsense. Anyone who is not born is not a mortal man at all, and there is no good and no best for him. Thus the nonsense in the joke serves to uncover and demonstrate another piece of nonsense, just as in the example of Artilleryman Itzig.

—Sigmund Freud,
Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewussten‎, Deuticke, 1912, p. 45
Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, translated by James Strachey, Norton, 1990, pp. 65-66

I got a real depressing letter from my folks about two weeks ago, because I haven’t been taking real good care of my money. They said, ‘Sam, we can’t send you any more money. You’re out of control, and you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing with your cash. And… you’re old enough to be on your own.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay’… and I called them. I said, ‘Mom, get dad on the phone too, wake him up, I know it’s late, but I want you both to hear this. You know, before I was your little son—before I was your baby—before I was your loan—I was a free spirit in the next stage of life. I walked in the cosmos, not imprisoned by a body of flesh, but free, in a pure body of light. There were no questions, only answers. No weaknesses, only strengths. I was light, I was truth, I was a spiritual being, I was a God!!! But you had to FUCK and bring my ass down HERE! I didn’t ask to be born! I didn’t call and say: ‘Hey, please have me so I could work in a fuckin’ Winchell’s someday!’ Now you want me to pay my own way? FUCK YOU! PICK UP THE FUCKIN’ CHECK, MOM! PICK IT UP!

This year’s winner of the Bookseller/Diagram prize for the oddest title of the year is Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Other finalists included How Green were the Nazis?, Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan, and the book I’m reviewing here. The title is indeed odd. But it isn’t intended merely to be catchy, another one of those volumes appealing on the cover but deadly dull within. Benatar appears genuinely to believe that we are all harmed, and fairly seriously harmed, by being brought into existence and that it would really be better, and better for us, had we never been born. There are two important and immediate objections: how can something that odd, that strange, possibly be true? And, if it is true, why don’t we all, or at least those who believe it, go and put an end to things now? Why is Benatar still with us? Is he still with us? He is, and he thinks he has an answer to these objections. I’ll come to these below.
[…]
So, give Benatar a charitable reading and there are still objections to be made. Give him what may in the end be a fairer reading, and the objections are stronger. Both in the paper and the book he argues thus: suppose you have to choose between two packages. The first contains something good and something bad, while the second contains something good and something neutral. The second package is to be preferred. But the first package is one in which we exist, and where our lives involve both goods and bads, or pleasures and pains. The second is one in which we don’t exist, and so there are no pains—something good, and no pleasures—something not bad, or neutral. So, on balance, existence is worse than non-existence. This is a dreadful argument. It’s most obviously dreadful in taking no account of the quantities of pleasure and pain involved. You might think that Benatar must at least anticipate this objection. Certainly in the paper he doesn’t. Not so in the book. There (pp. 45-47) he does attempt to address this challenge. But as he appears almost altogether to misunderstand it, there is just no force in his reply.

Reviewed by Christopher Belshaw, The Open University

Let us follow David Benatar, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 45-47:


[…]

Quadrant (1) must be negative, because it is bad, and quadrants (2) and (3) must be positive because they are good. (I assume that (3) must be as good as (1) is bad. That is, if (1)=−n, then (3)=+n.) Since (4) is not bad (and not good either), it should be neither positive nor negative but rather neutral.

Employing the value assignments of Figure 2.4 we add (1) and (2) in order to determine the value of A, and then compare this with the sum of (3) and (4), which is the value of B. Doing this, we find that A is preferable to B where (2) is more than twice the value of (1).35 [Where (2) is only twice the value of (1), A and B have equal value and thus neither coming into existence nor never coming into existence is preferable.] There are numerous problems with this. For instance, as I shall show in the first section of the next chapter, it is not only the ratio of pleasure to pain that determines the quality of a life, but also the sheer quantity of pain. Once a certain threshold of pain is passed, no amount of pleasure can compensate for it.

But the best way to show that Figure 2.4 is mistaken is to apply the reasoning behind Figure 2.4 to the analogy of H (Healthy) and S (Sick) mentioned earlier.

Following Figure 2.5, it would be better to be S than H if the value of (2) were more than twice the value of (1). (This presumably would be the case where the amount of suffering that (2) saves S is more than twice the amount S actually suffers.) But this cannot be right, for surely it is always better to be H (a person who never gets sick and is thus not disadvantaged by lacking the capacity for quick recovery). The whole point is that (2) is good for S but does not constitute an advantage over H. By assigning a positive charge to (2) and a ‘0’ to (4), Figure 2.5 suggests that (2) is an advantage over (4), but it quite clearly is not. The assignment of values in Figure 2.5, and hence also in Figure 2.4, must be mistaken. 36 [To take the implications of the value assignments in Fig. 2.5 for Fig. 2.4 as evidence that the analogy between the two cases must be inapt is another instance of treating the avoidance of my conclusion as axiomatic.]

To recap, David Benatar argues that uncontroversial symmetry between the presence of pain being bad and the presence of pleasure being good does not seem to apply to the absence of pain and pleasure. On the contrary, it strikes him as true that the absence of pain is good even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone, whereas the absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody for whom that absence is a deprivation. Consequently, the absence of any possible subject of pain and pleasure would amount to an overall good in the balance of his absent pains and pleasures.

It is equally uncontroversial, and uncontested by Benatar, that absence of pleasure in an extant subject does add up to a deprivation, whence the traditional recognition of acedia, a condition of sloth or torpor leading to listlessness and want of interest in life, as one of the seven deadly sins. It might be argued that the absence of any possible subject of pain and pleasure would amount to a deprivation to his potential creators. Thus within the same framework of sin and salvation, potential parents may suffer from a lack of progeny required to honor them pursuant to the Fifth Commandment, just as God may suffer from a lack of humans required to honor Him pursuant to its predecessors. But this teleological account preempts the utilitarian reckoning of the presence and absence of pain and pleasure. Likewise the human duty recognized by Socrates in the Phaedo at 62b-c, to live as a ward (κτῆμα) of the gods, consigned to their care (ἐπιμελέομαι). The key consideration here is that utilitarianism arises as an exclusive alternative to imputations of human duties or purposes and narratological construals of human lives not lending themselves to a scalar summation of pleasures and pains. It is therefore pointless to bring up such imputations and construals as conclusive rebuttals of Benatar’s utilitarian argument. There are good reasons for rejecting utilitarianism, but the spirit of charity requires the philosopher to set them aside in assessing the merits of arguments made within its tradition.

In this context belongs a critical response to a passage from John Bunyan cited in an earlier discussion of Benatar on Crooked Timber:

The figure in the Sermon on the Mount, contrasting the straight and narrow way to salvation with the broad highway to destruction, has been the basis of a number of sustained allegories, the best known being Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. To keep the figure of a way going for a whole book, the course pursued has to be a very labourious one: this is theologically defensible for Bunyan, even though we can see that the difficulty of the journey is a technical as well as a religious requirement. Toward the end of the second book Bunyan says:

Some also have wished that the next way to their Father’s house were here, that they might be troubled no more with either hills or mountains to go over; but the way is the way, and there is an end. [fn. 41 See John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners and The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to that which is to come, ed. Roger Sharrock (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), 355 (pt. 2).]

One wonders if there is not a suppressed voice also in Bunyan’s mind asking why we have to be stuck with this spiteful and malicious God who puts so incredibly difficult an obstacle course between ourselves and himself. In the great danse macabre with which the second book concludes, the dying Valiant-for-Truth says, “Though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am,” [fn. 42 Pilgrim’s Progress, 397 (pt. 2).] where the suppressed voice is almost audible. When there are dissenting voices like this murmuring in the subtext, one wonders if the author does not feel some difficulty about his choice of metaphor.

—Northrop Frye, Words With Power: Being a Second Study of ’The Bible and Literature,
The Collected Works of Northrop Frye, Vol. 26, University of Toronto Press, 2008, pp. 90-91

Northrop Frye’s apprehension of a suppressed voice in Bunyan’s mind belongs to the spectrum of legitimate reasons for purging ethical thought of duties and purposes along with narratives that give rise thereto, reducing it to a dispassionate calculus of scalar values. As a famous philosopher pointed out, there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Accordingly, saying that an argument is bad without a thought to back it up, amounts to nothing. Likewise gainsaying a premiss in the calculus of utility, in so far as it amounts to its thoughtless contradiction. The utilitarian project may be a failure, but it begins and ends in rational thought, and deserves to be addressed by rational means.

Insisting in response to Benatar, that some pleasures are worth the pains, let alone recognizing the existence of masochists taking pleasure in pain, gets us nowhere near an argument as an intellectual process comprising a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition. The correct utilitarian response to invocations of sadomasochism is reflected in Harsanyi’s distinction between self-regarding and other-regarding utility functions and preferences. Benatar’s argument would stand after discounting all social and empathetic factors. All such factors ought to be discounted in considering, of an individual life, whether or not it is worth being brought into existence. After all, the masochist patient does not take pleasure in any old pain, but revels in being inflicted pain by another agent. So the pain of natural suffering, as distinct from the social kind, suffices to motivate the top half of Benatar’s Figure 2.4. Pain is bad and pleasure is good; whereas lack of pain is bad, but lack of pleasure is indifferent, unless it is a privation. In the balance, better not to create a potential subject for such privation.

It might be objected that a masochist before God could take pleasure in the pain of cancer, as a means of proving himself equal to the challenges raised by his heavenly Father. This is the position of John Bunyan’s Valiant-for-Truth, shored up by many modern luminaries. Thus George Bernard Shaw:

All that you miss in Shakespeare you find in Bunyan, to whom the true heroic came quite obviously and naturally. The world was to him a more terrible place than it was to Shakespeare; but he saw through it a path at the end of which a man might look not only forward to the Celestial City, but back on his life and say: “Tho’ with great difficulty I am got hither,—yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get them.” The heart vibrates like a bell to such an utterance as this: to turn from it to “ Out, out, brief candle,” and “ The rest is silence,” and “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded by a sleep” is to turn from life, strength, resolution, morning air and eternal youth, to the terrors of a drunken nightmare.

—“Better than Shakespeare”, in Dramatic Opinions and Essays with an Apology by G. Bernard Shaw, New York, Brentano, 1906, Vol. 2, p. 147

And thus Robert Louis Stevenson:

Last and most remarkable, ‘My sword,’ says the dying Valiant-for-Truth, he in whom Great-heart delighted, ‘my sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it.’ And after this boast, more arrogantly unorthodox than was ever dreamed of by the rejected Ignorance, we are told that ‘all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.’

—Robert Louis Stevenson, “Bagster’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’”, in Sketches, Criticisms, etc., New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1898, p. 215

The anticipation of trumpets sounding on the other side may well inspire the faithful to withstand the pains of earthly existence. But merely pointing out that the ultimate pleasure of reuniting with God, or some interim ersatz thereof, would be worth the pains that precede it, is irrelevant in the setting of Benatar’s decision matrix. For this point amounts to a postulation that foreclosing the possibility of future pleasure in an as yet unrealized subject always already amounts to a privation. While this postulate is well suited to a hopeful narrative of posthumous salvation, it is less apt for a pure spiritual being about to be imprisoned by a body of flesh, and bears no relevance to a reckoning of worldly utility in prospective lives.

While social and empathetic factors are essential constituents in a worthwhile life, their role in evaluating whether an ongoing life is worthwhile does not find any counterparts in deciding whether a prospective life is worth being brought into existence. There may be no grounds for disputing that all social and empathetic factors ought to be discounted in considering, of an individual life, whether or not it is worth being brought into existence, just as there may be no actual lives having been brought into existence in complete disregard of these factors. In other words, while people invariably have children for selfish reasons, the only good reason to have a child is for its own sake. Some variety of methodological solipsism is indispensable as the correct framework for such deliberation. It may be impossible to understand a person in separation from other people or in separation from his environment. But there is a crucial difference between understanding an actual person in his connection with other people and his environment, and deliberating on the merits of bringing into existence a potential person with merely conjectural interpersonal and environmental connections.

In this regard, Benatar’s observation has devastating consequences for the utilitarian assessment of the choice to bring a new life into existence. If there is nothing bad about never coming into existence, whereas there is something bad about coming into existence, it is always preferable to choose a scenario that involves nothing bad. The same conclusion extends to the voluntary acceptance of bad pains in order to achieve greater pleasures, pursuant to Benatar’s analogy between existence versus non-existence and sickness versus health, as reproduced above.

—Reproduced for, and summarized from, a discussion on CHORA; also see an earlier discussion on Crooked Timber.

honor and dignity in the american soul

In his account of “the stark, enduring figure” of James Fenimore Cooper’s Deerslayer in his 1923 Studies in Classic American Literature, D.H. Lawrence observes:

He is neither spiritual nor sensual. He is a moralizer, but he always tries to moralize from actual experience, not from theory. He says: ‘Hurt nothing unless you’re forced to.’ Yet he gets his deepest thrill of gratification, perhaps, when he puts a bullet through the heart of a beautiful buck, as it stoops to drink at the lake. Or when he brings the invisible bird fluttering down in death, out of the high blue. ‘Hurt nothing unless you’re forced to.’ And yet he lives by death, by killing the wild things of the air and earth.
    It’s not good enough.
    But you have there the myth of the essential white America. All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.

A recent treatment of the essential American soul in an article by Jill Lepore in the New Yorker discusses murder in America within the conceptual framework of honor and dignity, in reference to work by the late Eric Monkkonen and the ongoing Pieter Spierenburg. Continue reading honor and dignity in the american soul

the necessity of acedia

                                                                                    

    Lo naturale è sempre sanza errore,
ma l’altro puote errar per malo obietto
o per troppo o per poco di vigore.
    The natural is always without error,
but the other may err through an evil object
or through too much or too little vigor.
    —Dante, Purgatorio, Canto 17, 94-96

“To love is to risk not being loved in return.” This slogan, sometimes traced to Leo F. Buscaglia, or credited to Rollo May, proliferates in self-help manuals, many of them cast in a religious mold. Therein lies a contradiction. If God is love, he cannot but love every man. Then, if to love is to risk not being loved in return, it follows that men cannot love God for want of risk of not being loved by Him.

Nothing in this rebuttal depends on the meaning of is. If God is love, the inference goes through with the copula being interpreted as a relation of identity, predication, or belonging. It might be argued that in loving God man runs the risk of not being loved in return, in the event of His non-existence. But it is implausible that love—unlike its collateral attitudes such as fear—could be predicated without presupposing the existence of the lover and the beloved alike. There is something wrong with our homiletic premisses. Love does not require the risk of not being loved in return. Or else, God is something other than love.

max weber on starting and ending fights

Welcher Mensch wird sich vermessen, die Ethik der Bergpredigt, etwa den Satz: „Widerstehe nicht dem Übel“ oder das Bild von der einen und der anderen Backe, „wissenschaftlich widerlegen“ zu wollen? Und doch ist klar: es ist, innerweltlich angesehen, eine Ethik der Würdelosigkeit, die hier gepredigt wird: man hat zu wählen zwischen der religiösen Würde, die diese Ethik bringt, und der Manneswürde, die etwas ganz anderes predigt: „Widerstehe dem Übel,—sonst bist du für seine Übergewalt mitverantwortlich.“ Je nach der letzten Stellungnahme ist für den Einzelnen das eine der Teufel und das andere der Gott, und der Einzelne hat sich zu entscheiden, welches für ihn der Gott und welches der Teufel ist. Und so geht es durch alle Ordnungen des Lebens hindurch.

What man will take upon himself the attempt to “refute scientifically” the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount? For instance, the proposition, “Resist no evil” or the image of turning the other cheek? And yet it is clear, from a worldly perspective, that an ethic of indignity is being preached here; one has to choose between the religious dignity that this ethic confers and the dignity of manly conduct that preaches something quite different: “Resist evil, lest you be jointly responsible for its empire.” According to our ultimate standpoint, the one is of the devil and the other of God, and the individual has to decide, which for him is God, and which is the devil. And so it goes through all the orders of life.

        —Max Weber, Wissenschaft als Beruf / Science as a Vocation, 7 November 1917

Befreien wir es aber zunächst von einer ganz trivialen Verfälschung. Es kann nämlich zunächst die Ethik auftreten in einer sittlich höchst fatalen Rolle. Nehmen wir Beispiele. Sie werden selten finden, daß ein Mann, dessen Liebe sich von einer Frau ab- und einer andern zuwendet, nicht das Bedürfnis empfindet, dies dadurch vor sich selbst zu legitimieren, daß er sagt: sie war meiner Liebe nicht wert, oder sie hat mich enttäuscht, oder was dergleichen „Gründe“ mehr sind. Eine Unritterlichkeit, die zu dem schlichten Schicksal: daß er sie nicht mehr liebt, und daß die Frau das tragen muß, in tiefer Unritterlichkeit sich eine „Legitimität“ hinzudichtet, kraft deren er für sich ein Recht in Anspruch nimmt und zu dem Unglück noch das Unrecht auf sie zu wälzen trachtet. Ganz ebenso verfährt der erfolgreiche erotische Konkurrent: der Gegner muß der wertlosere sein, sonst wäre er nicht unterlegen. Nichts anderes ist es aber selbstverständlich, wenn nach irgendeinem siegreichen Krieg der Sieger in würdeloser Rechthaberei beansprucht: ich siegte, denn ich hatte recht. Oder, wenn jemand unter den Fürchterlichkeiten des Krieges seelisch zusammenbricht und nun, anstatt schlicht zu sagen: es war eben zu viel, jetzt das Bedürfnis empfindet, seine Kriegsmüdigkeit vor sich selbst zu legitimieren, indem er die Empfindung substituiert: ich konnte das deshalb nicht ertragen, weil ich für eine sittlich schlechte Sache fechten mußte. Und ebenso bei dem im Kriege Besiegten. Statt nach alter Weiber Art nach einem Kriege nach dem „Schuldigen“ zu suchen,—wo doch die Struktur der Gesellschaft den Krieg erzeugte—, wird jede männliche und herbe Haltung dem Feinde sagen: „Wir verloren den Krieg—ihr habt ihn gewonnen. Das ist nun erledigt: nun laßt uns darüber reden, welche Konsequenzen zu ziehen sind entsprechend den sachlichen Interessen, die im Spiel waren, und—die Hauptsache—angesichts der Verantwortung vor der Zukunft, die vor allem den Sieger belastet.“ Alles andere ist würdelos und rächt sich. Verletzung ihrer Interessen verzeiht eine Nation, nicht aber Verletzung ihrer Ehre, am wenigsten eine solche durch pfäffische Rechthaberei. Jedes neue Dokument, das nach Jahrzehnten ans Licht kommt, läßt das würdelose Gezeter, den Haß und Zorn wieder aufleben, statt daß der Krieg mit seinem Ende wenigstens sittlich begraben würde. Das ist nur durch Sachlichkeit und Ritterlichkeit, vor allem nur: durch Würde möglich. Nie aber durch eine „Ethik“, die in Wahrheit eine Würdelosigkeit beider Seiten bedeutet. Anstatt sich um das zu kümmern, was den Politiker angeht: die Zukunft und die Verantwortung vor ihr, befaßt sie sich mit politisch sterilen, weil unaustragbaren Fragen der Schuld in der Vergangenheit. Dies zu tun, ist politische Schuld, wenn es irgendeine gibt. Und dabei wird überdies die unvermeidliche Verfälschung des ganzen Problems durch sehr materielle Interessen übersehen: Interessen des Siegers am höchstmöglichen Gewinn—moralischen und materiellen—, Hoffnungen des Besiegten darauf, durch Schuldbekenntnisse Vorteile einzuhandeln: wenn es irgend etwas gibt, was „gemein“ ist, dann dies, und das ist die Folge dieser Art von Benutzung der „Ethik“ als Mittel des „Rechthabens“.

First, let us free ourselves from a quite trivial falsification, that ethics may first arise in a role that is highly compromised morally. Let us consider examples. Rarely will you find that a man whose love turns from one woman to another feels no need to legitimate this before himself by saying: she was not worthy of my love, or, she has disappointed me, or whatever other like “reasons” exist. This is an attitude that, with a profound lack of chivalry, adds a fancied “legitimacy” to the plain fact that he no longer loves her and that the woman has to bear it. By virtue of this “legitimation”, the man claims a right for himself and besides causing the misfortune seeks to put her in the wrong. Likewise, for the successful amatory competitor, the adversary must be less worthy, otherwise he would not have lost out. It is no different, of course, if after a victorious war the victor in undignified self-righteousness claims, “I have won because I was right”. Or, if somebody under the frightfulness of war collapses psychologically, and instead of simply saying it was just too much, he feels the need of legitimizing his war weariness to himself by substituting the feeling, “I could not bear it because I had to fight for a morally bad cause”. And likewise with the defeated in war. Instead of searching like old women for the “guilty one” after the war—given a situation wherein the structure of society produced the war—everyone with a manly and controlled attitude would tell the enemy: “We lost the war. You have won it. That is now all over. Now let us discuss what conclusions must be drawn according to the objective interests that came into play, and what is the main thing in view of the responsibility towards the future that above all burdens the victor.” Anything else is undignified and will rebound. A nation forgives if its interests have been damaged, but no nation forgives if its honor has been offended, especially by a bigoted self-righteousness. Every new document that comes to light after decades revives the undignified lamentations, the hatred and scorn, instead of allowing the war at its end to be buried, at least morally. This is possible only through objectivity and chivalry and above all only through dignity. But never is it possible through an “ethic”, which in truth signifies a lack of dignity on both sides. Instead of being concerned with what the politician is interested in, the future and the responsibility towards the future, this ethic is concerned with politically sterile questions of past guilt, which are not to be settled politically. To act in this way is politically guilty, if such guilt exists at all. And it overlooks the unavoidable falsification of the whole problem, through very material interests: namely, the victor’s interest in the greatest possible moral and material gain; the hopes of the defeated to trade in advantages through confessions of guilt. If anything is “vulgar”, then, this is, and it is the result of this fashion of exploiting “ethics” as a means of “being in the right”.

a slogan for two anniversaries

     Ἡράκλειτος τὸ ἀντίξουν συμφέρον καὶ ἐκ τῶν διαφερόντων καλλίστην ἁρμονίαν καὶ πάντα κατ᾽ ἔριν γίνεσθαι: ἐξ ἐναντίας δὲ τούτοις ἄλλοι
Heracleitus says, ‘Opposition unites,’ and ‘The fairest harmony springs from difference,’ and ‘’Tis strife that makes the world go on.’

—Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1155b1-6, translated by J. Bywater

Thirty-three years ago the author of these screeds walked free after serving a fifteen day sentence for petty hooliganism with twenty-two codefendants, counting among the first Soviet political protesters to get away with a slap on the wrist. The Berlin Wall came down thirteen years later, to the day. Coincidence? You decide.

Meanwhile, the philosophy of freedom is making giant strides in Russia. On 18 April 2009, Vadim Karastelev, head of the local Human Rights Committee, protested the curfew forbidding anyone under 18 years of age from appearing in the streets of Krasnodar region by displaying a sign with the slogan “Freedom is not given, it is taken”, a paraphrase of an analogous quotation about rights taken from a play by Maxim Gorky:

Прав—не дают, права—берут… Человек должен сам себе завоевать права, если не хочет быть раздавленным грудой обязанностей…
Rights aren’t given, rights are taken… Man must fight to win his rights if he doesn’t want to be crushed by a mountain of duties…

Herewith the expert philosophical analysis rendered in connection with his public display: Continue reading a slogan for two anniversaries

сообщение для бликсофанаточек

[info]mutter_nacht:
Сообщение для бликсофанаточек. Смотрите, какой лол: у Зеленого еще не прошел баттхерт. Блиа, уже десять лет прошло, пора бы успокоиться уже…

[info]larvatus:
Сообщение для бликсофанаточек. Смотрите, какой лол:
    Уж лучше смотрите сюда.

[info]mutter_nacht:
о, вы еще и мониторите ссылки на свою жежешечку, я в восторге.
    так забавно, что есть люди, которых настолько сильно волнуют отношения Бликсы и Эрин. они прям таки как настоящие звезды, которых знают чуть больше, чем три с половиной человека.
    меня волнует вопрос: почему “blood money from Min” и почему Эрин “chose the career path of a professional victim”? она выдумала всю эту историю? потому что в ином случае я не вижу причин, почему вы осуждаете ее, а не ее семью. не то чтобы я была фанаточкой Эрин, совсем наоборот даже, но ваша ненависть мне тоже как-то не совсем понятна.

[info]larvatus:
Не путайте презрение с ненавистью. Какой вменяемый человек сможет ненавидеть такое ничтожество? Насчёт пожизненного заклада девического влагалища, скажу лишь, что у его владелицы когда-то наблюдались другие профессиональные возможности.

[info]mutter_nacht:
вменяемый человек не уделяет столько внимания презираемому объекту, вам не кажется? вас волнуют упущенные провессиональные возможности владелицы влагалища? какая вам разница? что плохого в том, что она потребовала компенсацию за подобное обращение с собой? насиловать собственных детей – это же как-то ненормально вроде, а из от ваших постов создается впечатление, что вы больше сочувствуете отцу Эрин, чем ей самой.

[info]larvatus:
Представьте себе, что у Вас имеется пенис, малолетнее дитя, и амбиция приобретения астрономического состояния. Представили? А теперь задайте себе вопрос, станете ли Вы при этих условиях совать первое во второе, ставя под угрозу достижение третьего. Я всё это к тому, что где у батюшки непреодолимое влечение, там у доченьки трезвый расчёт.

[info]mutter_nacht:
какие-то взаимоисключающие параграфы
    Представили? А теперь задайте себе вопрос, станете ли Вы при этих условиях совать первое во второе, ставя под угрозу достижение третьего.
    ну. я бы не стала. и любой нормальный человек тоже не стал бы, даже если исключить из задачи третье.
    где у батюшки непреодолимое влечение
    то есть, батюшка все же стал. я не понимаю: насильника должно оправдывать то, что его влечение было непреодолимым и то, что он многим рисковал?
    или все же никто ничего никуда не совал? тогда я не понимаю, к чему здесь фраза про непреодолимое влечение.
    или если Эрин на самом деле не испытывает ужасных душевных мук из-за этого изнасилования, она вообще должна про него забыть и никому не рассказывать?

[info]larvatus:
По закону, трезвый расчёт в составе преступления осуждается строже, чем импульсивное и непреодолимое влечение.

[info]mutter_nacht:
конечно. но мне кажется, что изнасилование собственного ребенка и отсуживание денег у изнасиловавшего отца — это преступления разного порядка, разной тяжести. и изнасилование здесь более тяжкое. я вообще не понимаю, о чем мы здесь спорим, это же изнасилование собственного несовершеннолетнего ребенка. вы его предлагаете оправдывать как “просто папа очень любит тебя”?

[info]larvatus:
Я никого не оправдываю, и «humani nihil a me alienum puto», но трезвый расчёт в долгосрочном злоупотреблении своими доброжелателями мне менее понятен, чем импульсивное и непреодолимое влечение к ебле своей дочки.

[info]alice_yustas_r:

[info]larvatus:
с точностью до наоборот:
Pedicabo ego illos et irrumabo.

[info]alice_yustas_r:
Re: с точностью до наоборот:
Катулл плачет кровавыми слезами и вертится в гробу(

[info]mutter_nacht:
Re: с точностью до наоборот:
ваше поведение очень любопытно. я, конечно, понимаю, что женщина, для которой вы так много сделали, оставила вас ради какого-то сомнительного престарелого транса, который интересуется только ее деньгами, и у которого, к тому же, уже и не стоит (по вашему утверждению). понятно, что это обидно и бесит. но через десять лет продолжать обсуждать эту историю, да еще и заходить в журналы фанаточек Нойбаутен и доказывать, какое Бликса говно… это уже слишком. я не понимаю, чего вы хотите добиться? чтобы весь мир разделял ваше презрение к Жу и Баргельду? ваш эпический пост с письмами все заинтересованные уже давно прочитали и сделали выводы. или не сделали, потому что лично мне все равно, что у Эрин было тяжелое детство и деревянные игрушки, прибитые к полу, и каким именно образом она получила свои деньги. потому что для меня есть конечный результат: музыка Нойбаутен. я знаю, что без Эрин Нойбаутен уже давно не существовали бы. и что она позволяет делать им то, что они хотят, а не то, что хорошо продается. если для этого Бликса должен буквально продавать себя (я ему, конечно, сочувствую), но если он считает это приемлемым для себя, то это его дело.

[info]larvatus:
Re: с точностью до наоборот:
Вы ничего не понимаете. Меня никто не оставлял ради какого-то сомнительного престарелого транса. Начиная с 1997 года, у меня с нынешней «мадам Деньжат» были сугубо дружеские и деловые отношения. Следующие два года она проживала в моём доме вместе со своим бойфрендом и его зловонными кисками. Более того, в конце 1999 года, она слёзно выпросила у меня и у моей семьи материальную помощь и моральную поддержку для домогательств в адрес Вашего героя и для извлечения компенсации за злоебучесть из её детоёбного батюшки. В то же самое время, она безвозвратно позаимствовала всё, что смогла у наших общих друзей. За все эти заботы они получили хуй на палочке, а я заимел сверхнаглый наезд от её родителей и их многомиллиардной корпорации. Предлагаю переосмыслить Ваши понятия в свете этой информации.
    Что же касается Вашего конечного музыкального результата, все люди вправе делать то, что они хотят, а не то, что хорошо продается. Именно на этих основаниях я совершаю свой собственный сверхнаглый наезд на крупнейшую компанию венчурного капитала и сопряжённых лизоблюдов и психопатов. В этом заключается мой собственный перформанс. Мне очень жаль, что он Вам не по душе, но я представляю его совсем не ради Вас

[info]mutter_nacht:
Re: с точностью до наоборот:
мы вот тут втроем прочитали эту вашу историю и не поняли: зачем позволять кому-то пользоваться собой, а потом страдать из-за этого? вы тоже старательно изображаете из себя жертву. в свете представленной выше информации я все равно не понимаю, почему нужно продолжать даже через 10 лет продолжать писать в интернете пространные высеры на эту тему.
     Мне очень жаль, что он Вам не по душе, но я представляю его совсем не ради Вас
    наверное, именно поэтому вы пишете уже пятнадцатый комментарий в моем блоге.

[info]larvatus:
Re: с точностью до наоборот:
Позволю себе напомнить Вам моё предложение представить себе, что у Вас имеется пенис. Из этой предпосылки проистекут дополнительные возможности межличностных сношений. Иначе говоря, Ваша пассивная позиция бликсофанаточки дополнится хотя бы умозрительно активной ролью заядлого прорывателя. Как сказано выше, pedicabo ego illos et irrumabo.
    А насчёт «ради кого», Вам сюда.

frequently asked questions

Q: Who are you?

A: I am the owner of this tribute to Subrah Iyar and his friends. My name is Michael Zeleny. I was born on 26 February 1958 in Moscow. I was raised in Odessa, attending High School No. 116, appearing on the stage of the Opera Theater, and winning the regional Olympiads in mathematics and physics for three years in a row. My family followed me out of the U.S.S.R. in 1977. Since then I have lived in Rome, Chicago, New York City, Cambridge, and Los Angeles. I attended U.C.L.A. between 1986 and 1990 and graduated from Harvard in 1993 with a degree in formal philosophy and assorted humanities. I co-edited a collection of papers in memory of Alonzo Church and serve as an editor of his Collected Works. I am a lumpen-intellectual Usenetter designated as a Net legend in the category of Lesser Lights. My pedantic humor is collected in a LiveJournal blog. My assault philosophy has caused the allegedly voluntary exile from the U.S.A. of incestuous child rapist Min Zhu, co-founder and former President and CTO of WebEx, and father of my former partner in business and romance, Erin Zhu, who is currently married to Blixa Bargeld, the leader of German pop group Einstürzende Neubauten. You are faced with my performance.

Q: What have you got against Min Zhu, his family and friends, and his company WebEx?

A: A company that I founded and operated with Erin Zhu did business with the rest of the Zhu family and their ventures since before their founding of WebEx Communications, an online conferencing company. In 1999 New Enterprise Associates, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, funded WebEx, which was eventually acquired by Cisco for $3.2 billion. Min Zhu, the founder of WebEx, remains listed on the NEA roster as a "Senior Venture Advisor". Min’s yearning for fresh meat continues unabated.
    In 2001, after my partner Erin Zhu stole the stock shares that WebEx owed to my company, I asked its CEO Subrah Iyar to set matters right. In response, I received anonymous death threats made in the names and on the behalves of Min Zhu and WebEx. The language of these threats echoed the terms with which Min Zhu had indimidated his fourteen-year-old daughter Erin into yielding to his sexual advances thirteen years earlier. After I filed my lawsuit, the Zhus’ lawyer, who had previously represented Min Zhu against his daughter’s claim for childhood sexual abuse, threatened me with the destruction of people’s lives. Three years later, while my lawsuit was pending, my father Isaak, plaintiff in a related lawsuit against Erin Zhu, was killed by an apartment fire. I hired a retired LAFD captain to investigate the cause and origins of this fire. He told me that it appears to have started in several places.
    After my father’s death I went public with my story. On May Day of 2005 I staged a protest at the WebEx User Conference in San Francisco. In response, WebEx shut down its conference and announced Min Zhu’s “retirement” and departure for China. Several months later, NEA’s General Partner Scott Sandell funded Min Zhu’s new business in his homeland. Min Zhu continues to work for WebEx under the table. That is what I am protesting with my personal appearances and this website.

Q: Why should we believe that Min Zhu or WebEx threatened your life? Aren’t you making it up to make your “enemy” seem evil?

A: The death threats made against me in the names and on the behalves of Min Zhu and WebEx since 25 December 2001 have been independently witnessed and well documented. Their documentation sufficed for Judge Adajian of Los Angeles Superior Court to acquit me on 11 April 2003 of weapons carry charges on the grounds of necessity, in a bench trial of case No. 2CR11665. In accounting for his acquittal, he said about me: “I think he had a good-faith belief in the threat. He did go to the police. He did do the right thing.” That is the only kind of credibility that I care to project.

Q: So your “assault philosophy” involves publicizing unsavory rumors about the Zhus and their entourage? Why are you doing that?

A: Because everything I say is true and readily verifiable, and because all facts that involve human rights deserve publicity.

Q: Even if the outrageous claims that you make here are true, how can you justify making all these scandals public?

A: If I had no legs and a place to go, I would hope for someone unencumbered by my handicap to help me in reaching my destination. If I had no shame and a cause for remorse, I would hope for someone unencumbered by my handicap to help me in making my contrition. As I hope to get, so I give.

Q: So you are a chumped ex-boyfriend posting this naked picture of Erin Zhu to shame her? Shame on you!

A: Therein lies a tail. For three years prior to the time that picture was taken, Erin and I had been nothing but friends and business partners. Most of the interim she spent sharing my living quarters with her boyfriend Brannon Wright and his stinky kitties, fantasizing about the business we were always about to build together. The picture shows her on the road, engaged in the twin pursuits of “cold cash”, true love of Bargeld and fuck-you money of her parents, funded by loans from my father and our friends. The camera that she holds in her hands belonged to our company, and Erin returned it with the photo inside, just before she welshed on her loans. I concluded that she wanted to share, and I am sharing alike.

Q: So you hate her for cheating you more than you hate her father for threatening your life?

A: Do not mistake contempt for hatred. I hate neither of them. That said, I have more understanding for a crime of passion than I do for cold-blooded fraud. A child rapist acting on impulse retains more humanity than the victim who uses her childhood suffering as a setup for a serial con. But a man who rapes his own child commingles fraud with sexual violence by exploiting his authority as a parent. Notably, around these parts, it is possible for a well-seasoned man to use his position of power and authority in foisting himself upon a thirteen year-old without committing “rape-rape”. In the final analysis, it is not my position to judge Oriental child-rearing techniques. All I am after is just amends for offenses visited upon me by the Zhus and their entourage.

Q: But why do you bring in Blixa Bargeld? We don’t care that his art is funded by Erin’s blood money. We just want to listen to his music, which only she made possible.

A: You are as free to listen to anything you want, as Bargeld is, to produce it to your liking. This is my performance. Unlike Erin and her consort, I am not reaching into anyone else’s pocket to fund it. If they had wanted to keep their funding private, they shouldn’t have involved my family and friends in it. As Immanuel Kant quipped: “All actions relating to the right of other human beings are wrong if their maxim is incompatible with publicity.

Q: Wasn’t your lawsuit was settled to your satisfaction? If so, why do you carry on your vindictive crusade?

A: I never settled any claims against Min Zhu or WebEx. Aside from that, American courts are loath to deal in moral satisfaction. The individuals who betrayed my trust and made terrorist threats against me and my family have an outstanding opportunity to perform an act of contrition. Unless and until that contrition takes place, I am determined to shame them by all legitimate means at my disposal.

Q: But why not let it go, relax, and be free?

A: I am free here and now. Standing up to the powers that be is what got me here in the first instance, so the rest of my life must warrant that choice one way or another. As another alumnus of my alma mater put it, “there is some shit I will not eat”. In game-theoretic terms, players with pure strategies can be hawks always fighting to prevail over their opponents, at the risk of suffering injury to themselves, or doves merely displaying their colors but never engaging in real fights. Neither strategy is optimal, because hawks tend to suffer more damage than necessary, whereas doves tend to forgo too much of the available resources to more aggressive competitors. But a mixed strategy can trump hawks and doves alike. One such strategy is that of a bourgeois making like a hawk with respect to any contest in which he is the owner, and making like a dove with respect to any contest in which he is the intruder. A bourgeois population cannot be invaded by hawks or doves because its members avoid more damaging encounters than the pure hawks and win more lucrative encounters than pure doves. As an anarchist, I have little sympathy for bourgeois values. But I have no trouble making like the owner of my life against any intruder who would pose a credible threat to it. That is the kind of shit I will not eat.

Q: Don’t you have anything better to do with your life than fomenting this negativity?

A: I understand my opportunity costs and actual prospects, and plan my actions accordingly. In my thesis, I argued against John Rawls postulating a linear scale of primary human goods. I believe that human preferences cannot be so ordered. This lack can be illustrated by comparing three principal causes of quarrel that Hobbes found in the nature of man: first, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory. As Hobbes observes: “The first maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third, for reputation.” There is no reason to assume, and no ground to conclude, that gain, safety, and reputation can be served simultaneously, to the same extent. On the contrary, wealth and fame go hand in hand with exposure to the assaults and depredations of the envious, whereas a primary concern for safety debars the timid from taking risks required for attaining wealth and fame. In turn, servility of the greedy often parts ways with flattery of the vain, as the currency prized on Wall Street differs from the kudos sought in Hollywood. The existence and nature of these differences can be shown with the greatest clarity by interrogating vital preferences under extreme circumstances. When I told my thesis examiners of my confidence in empirical confirmation, they challenged me by pointing out that effective experiments in vital human preferences under extreme circumstances would be debarred by ethical considerations. So here I am handed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pose an exclusive choice between mutually incompatible goods of greed and vanity to eminently deserving experimental subjects. What’s not to like?

Q: How can you stage your public protests on private property?

My associates and I exercise a right to free expression on private property readily accessible to general public, pursuant to the rulings in Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74 (1980) and progeny. It is our belief that the strip of private property directly in front of the main entrances to the sites of our protests falls within the purview of Pruneyard in virtue of housing several unrelated businesses and being readily accessible to the general public. My associates and I are pledged to abide by all applicable laws. Our prior events since May of 2005 were unmarked by any disturbances, and we hope that the same will be the case in all future jurisdictions. We intend to enforce our right to free expression to the full extent of the law, against any illegal infringement. We do not interfere in any way with the operation of the businesses located at the sites of our protests, or any of their employees, associates, or visitors, including, but not limited to, their intended subjects. Concerned parties may address their communications to my lawyer David W. Affeld, 12400 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1180, Los Angeles CA 90025, phone: (310) 979-8700, fax: (310) 979-8701. I may be reached at 7576 Willow Glen Road, Los Angeles, CA 90046, phone: (323) 363-1860.

Q: But why do you carry a gun while protesting?

A: Because I am protesting death threats against me and my family. And because I can. “You can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.

Q: Your armed protests may result in legal repercussions against other gun owners. How can you put your own interest in futile tilting at windmills above the common good?

A: That is not how I see it. I am putting my Constitutional rights ahead of other people’s wishes. This sort of arrangement is implicit in the very nature of rights and wishes. Contrariwise, I would never put my wishes ahead of other people’s rights. Men need no special justification to look out for their interests within the bounds of their rights. I never claimed to speak on anyone else’s behalf or dictate anyone else’s course of action. I will not suffer anyone debarring me from lawful conduct, directing my personal efficiency, or posing as my spokesman for the common good. My public performance has caused a child rapist to get fired from the company that he founded and flee the United States. I claim that this alone makes my country a better place.

Q: Is the exercise of Constitutional rights just about you? Isn’t it about us?

A: This is a catchy Communist slogan. I am also a communist, of the Platonic variety. The day science discovers a formula for calculating the immanent value of labor, is the day I shall endorse the revival of Gosplan, expropriation of the expropriators, and submission of every individual will to the common good. Till then I shall persevere in my naive loyalty to our Constitution and grudging deference to the despotism of marginal utility.

Q: We cannot find any media coverage of your alleged exploits. Why should we believe you?

A: The press sucks up to wealth and power. But the facts speak for themselves. Stephanie Downs, scheduled to speak at the 2005 WebEx User Conference in San Francisco, has reported its cancellation in response to my protest. Look here for WebEx’s SEC filing of Min Zhu’s resignation, dated 16 May 2005. You can connect the dots.

Q: Aren’t you taking your grudge too far?

A: I reserve the right to be the sole judge of how far to take my grudges within the bounds of law.

Q: Even if you have that right, this is not a matter of life or death, is it? Or are you claiming to be in fear of your life?

A: My father was killed by an apartment fire that appears to have started in several places. But that evidence is inconclusive. I wish it were dispositive one way or another. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As for the threats against me and my family made in the names and on the behalves of Min Zhu and WebEx, I cannot think of any moral inhibitions that might hamper the man capable of serially raping his fourteen-year-old daughter. If Min thinks that he can get away with any wrongdoing in the furtherance of his will, nothing will hold him back.

Q: So what do you stand to gain by your protests?

A: A heartfelt apology from each of my offenders, delivered before a judge.

Q: What if they refuse to apologize?

A: Shame is a powerful tool. The law affords me no lack of venues for shaming my adversaries into performing a genuine act of contrition. Expect to hear my name in the dying breath of each of them that fails to do so.

Q: You are a whiny assclown. Why bother with all this verbiage?

A: Even whiny assclowns have their rights. You should be grateful to me for not allowing them to wither away.

frequently asked questions

Q: Who are you?

A: I am the owner of this tribute to Subrah Iyar and his friends. My name is Michael Zeleny. I was born on 26 February 1958 in Moscow. I was raised in Odessa, attending High School No. 116, appearing on the stage of the Opera Theater, and winning the regional Olympiads in mathematics and physics for three years in a row. My family followed me out of the U.S.S.R. in 1977. Since then I have lived in Rome, Chicago, New York City, Cambridge, and Los Angeles. I attended U.C.L.A. between 1986 and 1990 and graduated from Harvard in 1993 with a degree in formal philosophy and assorted humanities. I co-edited a collection of papers in memory of Alonzo Church and serve as an editor of his Collected Works. I am a lumpen-intellectual Usenetter designated as a Net legend in the category of Lesser Lights. My pedantic humor is collected in a LiveJournal blog. My assault philosophy has caused the allegedly voluntary exile from the U.S.A. of incestuous child rapist Min Zhu, co-founder and former President and CTO of WebEx, and father of my former partner in business and romance, Erin Zhu, who is currently married to Blixa Bargeld, the leader of German pop group Einstürzende Neubauten. You are faced with my performance.

Q: What have you got against Min Zhu, his family and friends, and his company WebEx?

A: A company that I founded and operated with Erin Zhu did business with the rest of the Zhu family and their ventures since before their founding of WebEx Communications, an online conferencing company. In 1999 New Enterprise Associates, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, funded WebEx, which was eventually acquired by Cisco for $3.2 billion. Min Zhu, the founder of WebEx, remains listed on the NEA roster as a "Senior Venture Advisor". His company, Cybernaut Education, collaborates with his wife Susan Xu co-founder of WebEx and enabler of his rape of their daughter, in operating private schools in California and Canada. Min’s yearning for fresh meat continues unabated.
    In 2001, after my partner Erin Zhu stole the stock shares that WebEx owed to my company, I asked its CEO Subrah Iyar to set matters right. In response, I received anonymous death threats made in the names and on the behalves of Min Zhu and WebEx. The language of these threats echoed the terms with which Min Zhu had indimidated his fourteen-year-old daughter Erin into yielding to his sexual advances thirteen years earlier. After I filed my lawsuit, the Zhus’ lawyer, who had previously represented Min Zhu and Susan Xu against their daughter’s claim for childhood sexual abuse, threatened me with the destruction of people’s lives. Three years later, while my lawsuit was pending, my father Isaak, plaintiff in a related lawsuit against Erin Zhu, was killed by an apartment fire. I hired a retired LAFD captain to investigate the cause and origins of this fire. He told me that it appears to have started in several places.
    After my father’s death I went public with my story. On May Day of 2005 I staged a protest at the WebEx User Conference in San Francisco. In response, WebEx shut down its conference and announced Min Zhu’s “retirement” and departure for China. Several months later, NEA’s General Partner Scott Sandell funded Min Zhu’s new business in his homeland. Min Zhu continues to work for WebEx under the table. That is what I am protesting with my personal appearances and this website.

Q: Why should we believe that Min Zhu or WebEx threatened your life? Aren’t you making it up to make your “enemy” seem evil?

A: The death threats made against me in the names and on the behalves of Min Zhu and WebEx since 25 December 2001 have been independently witnessed and well documented. Their documentation sufficed for Judge Adajian of Los Angeles Superior Court to acquit me on 11 April 2003 of weapons carry charges on the grounds of necessity, in a bench trial of case No. 2CR11665. In accounting for his acquittal, he said about me: “I think he had a good-faith belief in the threat. He did go to the police. He did do the right thing.” That is the only kind of credibility that I care to project.

Q: So your “assault philosophy” involves publicizing unsavory rumors about the Zhus and their entourage? Why are you doing that?

A: Because everything I say is true and readily verifiable, and because all facts that involve human rights deserve publicity.

Q: Even if the outrageous claims that you make here are true, how can you justify making all these scandals public?

A: If I had no legs and a place to go, I would hope for someone unencumbered by my handicap to help me in reaching my destination. If I had no shame and a cause for remorse, I would hope for someone unencumbered by my handicap to help me in making my contrition. As I hope to get, so I give.

Q: So you are a chumped ex-boyfriend posting this naked picture of Erin Zhu to shame her? Shame on you!

A: Therein lies a tail. For three years prior to the time that picture was taken, Erin and I had been nothing but friends and business partners. Most of the interim she spent sharing my living quarters with her boyfriend Brannon Wright and his stinky kitties, fantasizing about the business we were always about to build together. The picture shows her on the road, engaged in the twin pursuits of “cold cash”, true love of Bargeld and fuck-you money of her parents, funded by loans from my father and our friends. The camera that she holds in her hands belonged to our company, and Erin returned it with the photo inside, just before she welshed on her loans. I concluded that she wanted to share, and I am sharing alike.

Q: So you hate her for cheating you more than you hate her father for threatening your life?

A: Do not mistake contempt for hatred. I hate neither of them. That said, I have more understanding for a crime of passion than I do for cold-blooded fraud. A child rapist acting on impulse retains more humanity than the victim who uses her childhood suffering as a setup for a serial con. But a man who rapes his own child commingles fraud with sexual violence by exploiting his authority as a parent. Notably, around these parts, it is possible for a well-seasoned man to use his position of power and authority in foisting himself upon a thirteen year-old without committing “rape-rape”. In the final analysis, it is not my position to judge Oriental child-rearing techniques. All I am after is just amends for offenses visited upon me by the Zhus and their entourage.

Q: But why do you bring in Blixa Bargeld? We don’t care that his art is funded by Erin’s blood money. We just want to listen to his music, which only she made possible.

A: You are as free to listen to anything you want, as Bargeld is, to produce it to your liking. This is my performance. Unlike Erin and her consort, I am not reaching into anyone else’s pocket to fund it. If they had wanted to keep their funding private, they shouldn’t have involved my family and friends in it. As Immanuel Kant quipped: “All actions relating to the right of other human beings are wrong if their maxim is incompatible with publicity.

Q: Wasn’t your lawsuit was settled to your satisfaction? If so, why do you carry on your vindictive crusade?

A: I never settled any claims against Min Zhu, Susan Xu, or WebEx. Aside from that, American courts are loath to deal in moral satisfaction. The individuals who betrayed my trust and made terrorist threats against me and my family have an outstanding opportunity to perform an act of contrition. Unless and until that contrition takes place, I am determined to shame them by all legitimate means at my disposal.

Q: But why not let it go, relax, and be free?

A: I am free here and now. Standing up to the powers that be is what got me here in the first instance, so the rest of my life must warrant that choice one way or another. As another alumnus of my alma mater put it, “there is some shit I will not eat”. In game-theoretic terms, players with pure strategies can be hawks always fighting to prevail over their opponents, at the risk of suffering injury to themselves, or doves merely displaying their colors but never engaging in real fights. Neither strategy is optimal, because hawks tend to suffer more damage than necessary, whereas doves tend to forgo too much of the available resources to more aggressive competitors. But a mixed strategy can trump hawks and doves alike. One such strategy is that of a bourgeois making like a hawk with respect to any contest in which he is the owner, and making like a dove with respect to any contest in which he is the intruder. A bourgeois population cannot be invaded by hawks or doves because its members avoid more damaging encounters than the pure hawks and win more lucrative encounters than pure doves. As an anarchist, I have little sympathy for bourgeois values. But I have no trouble making like the owner of my life against any intruder who would pose a credible threat to it. That is the kind of shit I will not eat.

Q: Don’t you have anything better to do with your life than fomenting this negativity?

A: I understand my opportunity costs and actual prospects, and plan my actions accordingly. In my thesis, I argued against John Rawls postulating a linear scale of primary human goods. I believe that human preferences cannot be so ordered. This lack can be illustrated by comparing three principal causes of quarrel that Hobbes found in the nature of man: first, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory. As Hobbes observes: “The first maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third, for reputation.” There is no reason to assume, and no ground to conclude, that gain, safety, and reputation can be served simultaneously, to the same extent. On the contrary, wealth and fame go hand in hand with exposure to the assaults and depredations of the envious, whereas a primary concern for safety debars the timid from taking risks required for attaining wealth and fame. In turn, servility of the greedy often parts ways with flattery of the vain, as the currency prized on Wall Street differs from the kudos sought in Hollywood. The existence and nature of these differences can be shown with the greatest clarity by interrogating vital preferences under extreme circumstances. When I told my thesis examiners of my confidence in empirical confirmation, they challenged me by pointing out that effective experiments in vital human preferences under extreme circumstances would be debarred by ethical considerations. So here I am handed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pose an exclusive choice between mutually incompatible goods of greed and vanity to eminently deserving experimental subjects. What’s not to like?

Q: How can you stage your public protests on private property?

My associates and I exercise a right to free expression on private property readily accessible to general public, pursuant to the rulings in Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74 (1980) and progeny. It is our belief that the strip of private property directly in front of the main entrances to the sites of our protests falls within the purview of Pruneyard in virtue of housing several unrelated businesses and being readily accessible to the general public. My associates and I are pledged to abide by all applicable laws. Our prior events since May of 2005 were unmarked by any disturbances, and we hope that the same will be the case in all future jurisdictions. We intend to enforce our right to free expression to the full extent of the law, against any illegal infringement. We do not interfere in any way with the operation of the businesses located at the sites of our protests, or any of their employees, associates, or visitors, including, but not limited to, their intended subjects. Concerned parties may address their communications to my lawyer David W. Affeld, 12400 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1180, Los Angeles CA 90025, phone: (310) 979-8700, fax: (310) 979-8701. I may be reached at 7576 Willow Glen Road, Los Angeles, CA 90046, phone: (323) 363-1860.

Q: But why do you carry a gun while protesting?

A: Because I am protesting death threats against me and my family. And because I can. “You can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.

Q: Your armed protests may result in legal repercussions against other gun owners. How can you put your own interest in futile tilting at windmills above the common good?

A: That is not how I see it. I am putting my Constitutional rights ahead of other people’s wishes. This sort of arrangement is implicit in the very nature of rights and wishes. Contrariwise, I would never put my wishes ahead of other people’s rights. Men need no special justification to look out for their interests within the bounds of their rights. I never claimed to speak on anyone else’s behalf or dictate anyone else’s course of action. I will not suffer anyone debarring me from lawful conduct, directing my personal efficiency, or posing as my spokesman for the common good. My public performance has caused a child rapist to get fired from the company that he founded and flee the United States. I claim that this alone makes my country a better place.

Q: Is the exercise of Constitutional rights just about you? Isn’t it about us?

A: This is a catchy Communist slogan. I am also a communist, of the Platonic variety. The day science discovers a formula for calculating the immanent value of labor, is the day I shall endorse the revival of Gosplan, expropriation of the expropriators, and submission of every individual will to the common good. Till then I shall persevere in my naive loyalty to our Constitution and grudging deference to the despotism of marginal utility.

Q: We cannot find any media coverage of your alleged exploits. Why should we believe you?

A: The press sucks up to wealth and power. But the facts speak for themselves. Stephanie Downs, scheduled to speak at the 2005 WebEx User Conference in San Francisco, has reported its cancellation in response to my protest. Look here for WebEx’s SEC filing of Min Zhu’s resignation, dated 16 May 2005. You can connect the dots.

Q: Aren’t you taking your grudge too far?

A: I reserve the right to be the sole judge of how far to take my grudges within the bounds of law.

Q: Even if you have that right, this is not a matter of life or death, is it? Or are you claiming to be in fear of your life?

A: My father was killed by an apartment fire that appears to have started in several places. But that evidence is inconclusive. I wish it were dispositive one way or another. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As for the threats against me and my family made in the names and on the behalves of Min Zhu and WebEx, I cannot think of any moral inhibitions that might hamper the man capable of serially raping his fourteen-year-old daughter. If Min thinks that he can get away with any wrongdoing in the furtherance of his will, nothing will hold him back.

Q: So what do you stand to gain by your protests?

A: A heartfelt apology from each of my offenders, delivered before a judge.

Q: What if they refuse to apologize?

A: Shame is a powerful tool. The law affords me no lack of venues for shaming my adversaries into performing a genuine act of contrition. Expect to hear my name in the dying breath of each of them that fails to do so.

Q: You are a whiny assclown. Why bother with all this verbiage?

A: Even whiny assclowns have their rights. You should be grateful to me for not allowing them to wither away.