The Wild Mind – Part VIII

Philosophy continued

Scientology 1.0.0 – part 14


With all the mysteries and unknowns about the physical world prior to the 20th century, there simply weren’t the tools available by which a person or group could successfully enslave all of mankind. If your little part of the world went to war or suffered an oppressive leader, quite often you could just move. And people did. Or you resisted. Of course, many people couldn’t move or did resist, and they either died or were put under the yoke, but that’s another story.

This inability to control everybody and everything has often been particularly galling to various self-appointed or hereditary leaders. In Roman times, for instance, its dictators were constantly frustrated by endless rounds of whack-a-mole with surrounding tribes (“Why won’t they just submit? Curse them!”). Alexander, Julius, Abd ar-Rahman I, Charlemagne, Otto I, Bonaparte, Lenin, Stalin, all these guys and so many more besides, made bids for “world domination” (or, at least, dominating big chunks), but it was just too difficult (“Why don’t people simply do as they’re told!”). Old George III was particularly disappointed when he lost the American colonies. Their citizens were entirely too full of their own ideas and wouldn’t even properly stand in formation during the war to be politely mowed down by the King’s troops (“Damn! Damn! Damn!”).

No, to get control of everybody and everything, you need… better technology.


Liberty

For those perusing history, you can discover a sundry multitude of tyrants and conquerors stomping around, gobbling up territories, towns, and cities, sometimes whole cultures and civilisations. They wanted more power, and power comes with territories, towns, and cities under one’s control; yipee!

About 500 years ago, though, new systems about how best to organise these towns, etc., began to be developed because populations were beginning to grow considerably (population had more than doubled since A.D. 1000). As groups change in size then, different systems of cooperation and coordination must apply (such as bottom-up systems as opposed to top-down) if society is going to continue to function because many methods of organising people just don’t scale (a vital lesson we still haven’t learned). You need better ideas about nature and man and how to think about them in order to develop and evolve these improved systems (or “non-systems”). Better ideas also instigate improved technologies and all the more and better stuff that goes with them.

This time of better observations and ideas came to be known as the Age of Reason, or the Age of Enlightenment, or simply, the Enlightenment (see article, The Wild Mind, part VII). One of the cornerstones of Enlightenment thinking was that reason was the chief tool of man. Another was that the individual constitutes the prime unit of value to society rather than the state (the king, the priesthood, or the aristocracy, etc., etc.).1 For example, according to the Enlightenment philosopher Adam Smith (1723–1790), in practice, one should liberate the individual from the arbitrary constraints of the all-powerful state and allow him or her to produce whatever they like, as motivated by personal gain, and bring these goods and services to a market, unencumbered by government, church, or guild coercion (later to be known as the free market). This had the profound effect of allowing genius (see previous article), scattered arbitrarily throughout all populations as it is, to get access to society as a whole regardless of caste, creed, sex, religion, etc. (at least potentially, this would not become a universal fact in the West until the final quarter of the last century). Then, magic! Not only do they prosper, but society does so too. Hooray!


Psychology again

“Nothing on earth consumes a man more quickly than the passion of resentment” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Yes, discuss philosophy and you will get puzzled stares. Discuss politics and… an eruption! Everybody knows everything about politics, by George! It’s how to get all those damn (Republicans, Democrats, etc.) vermin to behave! Except almost no one knows a thing about politics because they don’t know anything about philosophy. Politics is way, way, down the scale, which is why it’s so emotionally charged. It’s the wrong discussion.

So. These ideas about individual liberty and freedom I just mentioned blossomed across the world over the following centuries, despite many vigorous challenges from other ideas. At first, the resistance came from the usual religious authorities and the philosophers who preferred similar subjectivist views; old habits die hard, after all. Then, in the 18th century, they began to receive some truly serious resistance from a new batch of philosophers, collectively known, naturally, as the Counter-Enlightenment. These guys began pushing back harder, and more effectively, than any of the earlier forms of resistance.

Still, prosperity and new technologies spread over the world, mostly, at first, in the West (“Damn, damn, damn!” went the oppressor elite). Something else, though, something psychological, was happening too, some new sort of crisis.

Many parts of the world, especially during the three generations born between 1900 and 1960, were enjoying a technological bonanza. Ever increasing numbers of people were being relieved of the many activities that previously required a significant amount of time and, more often than not, effort, and this resulted in something new: leisure time for increasing numbers of people. Thus arose a new problem: what to do with it? Idle hands are the devil’s tools, after all.2

Before then, you didn’t have to think much about anything except what it took to survive. If you didn’t take proper care of your livestock or your fields, then you died. If you didn’t hunt and trap skilfully, then, well, you died. And you always, always, obeyed your overlord in all things, or then you definitely died. You did things as they would work, just as your forebears and elders had taught you, and that was that. No need to think about anything more, such as how things function the way they do.

Before 1900, it simply wasn’t necessary for lots of people to study and understand philosophy. I mean, who had the time? Or the energy? But following WWI, increasingly, people in the lower middle classes and working classes began to have plumbing, electricity, refrigeration, automobiles, etc., etc., and all those new personal time-saving items like washers, disposable diapers, and canned goods. It turns out, though, that all these invented and developed items rather outstripped, exceeded, man’s innate relationship to nature, so that what he might do with these things could become a problem.

For example, people who farm and ranch know exactly what advanced civilisations are built up from: things like water, soil, plants, and animals. Go up to just about any urbanite, point to the burger and fries they’re eating, and ask if they have any idea of exactly how these two items got to be there in, say, downtown Cincinnati. Their thoughts on this will most likely be quite fuzzy. And that’s no more than garden variety ignorance; I mean, just look at the amazingly dangerous and stupid things we do with technologies like credit, TV, drugs, and smartphones.

So, unnoticed by the majority, it had finally become critical that everyone receive a proper education in philosophy; that is, how to think. If people want to hold onto this rising tide of technology and the increasing amount of thriving (and leisure) that it affords, they need to know how and by what methods of thought and the resulting social systems all this bounty happened in the first place. This is also necessary knowledge so as to not fall prey to the parasitic elements and bad actors of society (i.e., new-era despots and tyrants in the form of multi-national corporations merging with [merging means buying up] governments) who are also enjoying all these new gadgets, but for which they have entirely different purposes.

At just about the time that philosophy became a vital life subject everyone should learn, most public education in the West had fallen under state control. Quite naturally, learning philosophy and history (philosophia: “love of wisdom” and hisōtr: “learned, wise man”) ceased to be a priority, but where it was and is still being taught, it seriously falls short. Philosophy is hard enough to learn, but what you definitely do not want to do with any subject, especially one as important as this, is make it too difficult to understand.

What also falls short is philosophy’s twin sister, psychology, although there are great strides being made in this aspect of philosophy, it too is rarely taught.

The result of all this profound ignorance has us all living in an age of outrage and resentment. Well, sure! Because we are not equipped to think deeply about the world we live in.


Philosophy continued

As previously covered, religion deals mostly with that which cannot be measured in any way at all, like awe!, and art, and gratitude. Without these sorts of things, there isn’t going to be anything truly human in the first place. Religion, though, never has much to say about how to come up with material technologies. Given how hard it has always been to survive and the fact that geniuses are always showing up in the population (thank goodness), this problem of survival is sure to be solved, even if it means upsetting the status quo.

All this affluence of the recent past came about because, after the Renaissance, a whole new kind of philosopher set to work to so closely and accurately observe nature that, nearly two millennia after Aristotle, they were at last identifying precisely, more or less, what principles reality is in fact founded upon. That is, at least sufficiently enough so as to bring us to where we are today.

To improve physical survival, reason has, perforce, to come into play, at least at a much higher resolution regarding thought itself. That means analytical thought must transcend the merely instinctive thought (not to be confused with intuitive3) used by other forms of life, what with man lacking relative strength, speed, fangs, armoured hide, tusks, claws, and hoofs, as he does.

Once more, religion, in whatever form, necessarily has a lot to say about survival as it relates to moral behaviour, because otherwise, again, there aren’t any people. But in general, as mentioned, religion does not explain and spell out the rules, the principles, that make physical thriving possible.


Principles

Definition: a fundamental source or basis of something.

One either works with them and lives, or one doesn’t and dies.

So, just as there are principles that underlie morals (as in principles that represent values that orient and rule the conduct of people in a particular society), there are these principles in philosophy, such as how nature works and how best we may work with it.

To figure this stuff out, one has to also work out the principles of reason itself. In tandem, you have to look at nature so closely that you can figure out the principles on which it, too, is based; in other words, science. Understanding these basic rules of logic and nature (reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity) gives you a good look at one of the most important questions in philosophy: “What is ethics?”

Ethical principles are not a matter of choice, they are more like their own kind of gods. And not the forgiving kind, no, but the extremely jealous sort; violate them, and “thou shalt pay,” sooner or later, in some form or another, because when ethics are violated, justice is meted out by life itself.4 


Liability

In a nutshell, the Enlightenment philosophers concentrated on observing nature and using reason, embodied in the individual, as the main tool in doing so. This would eventually lead to the scientific method and all the technological benefits we enjoy (and suffer) today. But they possibly threw the baby out with the bathwater by mostly ignoring all the aspects of culture that are artistic, emotional, traditional, supernatural, mystical, and faith-based. To get the most objective read on nature, it seems to be very necessary to strip away all the idiosyncratic considerations of beauty and wonder, in other words, feelings, by usefully pretending that the observer is, in a functional way, an utterly aloof observer of what’s being observed.

Remember Descartes’s “Cogito, ergo sum,” “I think, therefore I am?” Well, that’s at most partially true and only in a very specific and limited way. Thinking is merely part of who and what a person is; it just happens to be a part that needs considerably better understanding, emphasis, and practice. Without wonder, creativity, and art, there’s not much point to better thinking; thoroughly ejecting these things, you might end up with something like WWI, etc. Or possibly something far, far worse.

New thinkers arriving on the scene in the eighteenth century were very worried about this. They saw how the Enlightenment could lead to dire consequences.


Materialism

You cannot ‘boot up’ consciousness from non-conscious ingredients. This idea has been debated for a long time and is still being debated to this day. The guys arguing against it are what you could call materialists.

Materialism: the theory or belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. Also, the theory or belief that consciousness and will are wholly due to material agency.

But so what?

Sure, many ideas have justified the annihilation of large numbers of people, and many of these ideas were political or “religious.” But this idea, the infinity of stuff, I believe, is always part of the mix in modern authoritarianism. Although materialism is not explicitly authoritarian per se, it does imply that man, being “booted up” from matter, is therefore adjunctive. That is to say, he is an “add-on” rather than an essential part: the unconscious ingredients of the universe somehow evolved consciousness and then, for no apparent reason, took a left turn and vomited up man. Potentially, it postulates that people, as such, are wholly expendable. Literally.

It goes like this: since everything is just stuff, who’s to say what stuff is better than other stuff? Therefore, since people are also stuff and stuff is merely stuff, then they can be handled just like, well, so much stuff. And in exactly the same manner too, as one would chop down a tree, butcher an animal, or dig up a meadow. As you rip a child away from its mother and then hack them both up with a machete, all the annoying shrieking and crying is just part of their “programming.” This is not a joke; entire continents have been raised with this viewpoint; vast masses still revere Stalin and Mao as great heroes “of the people,” whatever that means, and their ideology is deeply worshipped by many in the West.

Anyway, all systems of social organisation that insist on authoritarianism to function hold matter as the most fundamental reality. Even religious authoritarianism, because there’s no transcendent consciousness to worry about; all materialists hold to the credo, “when you’re dead, you’re dead.” Or YOLO.

In short, life is cheap, cheap, cheap (North Korea, China); or humanity is a cancer on Earth (Eco-Fascism); or people are mere tax-animals on a tax-farm (democracies).5

The truth might be, for man, as a species as well as individually, that well-being may only begin when he can begin to encompass a wider, more responsible and less “fixed” view of reality, where he can become more like a river in flow and less like a brick wall. What I mean is that believing in “stuff forever” does not make one evil; rather, all of the evil I’ve ever encountered did and does.

Taking the objective stand, as the Enlightenment philosophers did, seemed to lean towards materialism, so a number of new philosophers arrived on the scene to think about this.



The Counter-Enlightenment

In 155 B.C., Carneades (214—129 B.C.), the famous head of the Skeptical Academy in Athens, went to Rome, where on one day he gave a demonstration arguing in favour of justice, and on the next against it, in what would seem a classic sophistical style.6 As a sceptic, his point was about the impossibility of knowledge (in this case, of knowing whether justice conforms to nature or that justice is an artificial construct based on convenience and practicality despite being improper or immoral). The Roman audience were horrified by the demonstration, setting Greek philosophy back many years and possibly even hastening the ruin of their republic.

Now, here is a case of history repeating itself (or rhyming, if you prefer): Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) appears around 1,936 years later with his Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason), and then spends years arguing about how one can not truly know anything objectively because what one believes to be reality is not actually reality, as we are all “trapped” inside our own perceptions. Oh, snore! All he is doing is destroying the reason principle of the Enlightenment, which says that human reason is competent to know reality objectively.

Here we are now getting into theoretical philosophy as different from practical, or applied, philosophy.

There were other thinkers with similar views and/or concerns about the Enlightenment:

Rousseau (1712–1778), Hegel (1770—1831), Schopenhauer (1788—1860). Later came Nietzsche (1844—1900), Wittgenstein (1889—1951), and Martin Heidegger (1889—1976).

Of course, there were many other Counter-Enlightenment figures, but these were some of the big noises. Their main point, though, I think, was that reason and objectivity have their limits, and they were, and are, very, very right, but sometimes, actually often, some of their arguments seemed to be aimed more at thoroughly dismantling the Enlightenment project rather than correcting its many faults.


Complication

Principles again. If you want to achieve understanding, don’t define anything in terms more extravagant than the thing being defined (modern encyclopaedias do this all the time). Another would be, don’t jump lanes from one subject into another (applied philosophy is not theoretical philosophy, or go from how a thing works into why it works). In other words, don’t go confusing already complex issues.

The interesting thing about the Counter-Enlightenment theories is that although theirs was a contribution in some ways (even Kant and Rousseau), they mostly wrote in a preposterously complicated way, especially Heidegger and Kant. I mean, wow! Their propositions, laid out like the scripture of priest-king-sorcerers, are so byzantine and abstruse that they would expose themselves to endless interpretation until, quite naturally, one arrives at simplistic binary conclusions about their ideas, just as happened in 1790s France:

Another famous example of dangerously infantile thinking is what was done with Nietzsche’s ideas by the ethically challenged Nazis: (in the voice of a cartoon caveman) “instinct good, thinking bad.” (But then, in the hands of the mentally ill, all ideas get transformed this way.)

Perhaps this need to be fantastically exotic was accidental. Perhaps not. Personally, I think they were just jumping lanes and then got their wires crossed. But if I’ve learned anything in this life, it’s that if it is true, then it can be explained simply. These subjects that seem crazily complicated are either being discussed by incredibly bad writers, or they’re biting off more than they can chew. Sometimes it’s because they’re narcissists who are just showing everyone how “right” they are by trying to make everyone else feel stupid. This happens constantly in philosophy, especially in the 20th century.

Whatever the case, it seems that what the Counter-Enlightenment guys were saying was that because the Enlightenment was so incredibly successful in emphasising individualism, reason, and the objective world view over everything else, there was now a danger that the subjective and collectivist world orientation, which had been dominant until the 17th century, would be completely extinguished, leading man into possibly even graver potential peril than he had previously faced.

Meaning in life does not come with better gadgets. Meaning comes with things like community and faith. The individual is indeed the prime unit of value in Western society (perhaps all societies, I don’t know), and reason the main method of knowing reality. Unbridled individualism and cold objectivism can not stand as the only ways to experience that reality.

Certainly, Nietzsche foresaw this problem. This was famously expressed by his comment, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” He foresaw the loss of meaning, that is to say, in terms of spirit, and the resulting triumph of materialism.

There is such a thing as balance, but there’s this tendency to two-valued logic that keeps cropping up in history (see article, Infinity-Valued Logic). Therefore, what I think in fact happened was the Counter-Enlightenment, which, instead of cooperating and contributing to the Enlightenment, did the usual one-eighty attack and thus thoroughly confused the whole field of practical philosophy with extremely verbose theoretical philosophy. The result? It led us all directly into the modern-day chaos we are grappling with now.


Next: Postmodernism – philosophy (conclusion)

1 Before the modern era, most European societies (Christendom) were divided up into what the French called “estates of the realm.” There was the monarchy, and under that, the system was made up of the clergy (First Estate), the nobles (Second Estate), and the peasants (Third Estate), which would have been you and me. (Later, the third estate included the bourgeoisie.)

2 Leisure time is an industrial-era concept. Since the 18th century and into the 20th, it has not been uncommon for many people to work 12–16-hour days. In times before, there was quite a lot of downtime, but for wholly different reasons than “time off from work.”

3 Intuitive often gets conflated with instinctive. Instinctive is reactive or automatic action and is how animals “think.” It lies below the analytical mind level. Intuition, on the other hand, is something else entirely as it lies above the analytical.

4 Ethics and justice are often confused. Ethics are the principles underlying reason. Justice is the consequence of unreasonable behaviour. Justice comes in many forms; the most serious isn’t a punishment from society so much as a darkened disposition and all the errors of judgement that follow. Don’t automatically evaluate a person with lots of nice stuff as having been “rewarded” in life. Quite often, these people are in a hell you’d not want to have anything to do with.

5 This is because people will always vote for “free” goodies, and these goodies have to be paid for, naturally, out of their taxes.

6 A Sophist was a teacher in ancient Greece in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. They taught philosophy but also how to argue successfully on both sides of a debate to illustrate techniques and fallacies in rhetoric. When they began to teach this skill to politicians it rather betrayed the Sophist’s original mission. This betrayal is how “sophistry” came to be a pejorative.

2 responses to “The Wild Mind – Part VIII”

  1. Hi Arthur,

    I’m always happy to see a new post from you in my inbox.

    Love Peggy ________________________________

    Like

  2. Thank you for not being exotic (lol) in your writing. It’s so refreshing to read through the whole thing and understand factors which are not that simple but are given in such a plain, vivid and colorful way.

    Alas, I think we lost the train. But anyway it’s still great to see some who don’t protest or resent the fact of losing the train but try to explain the whole thing in a calm and soothing way.

    Liked by 1 person

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