Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Blog in Which I indulge Certain Philosophic Notions

I have been told that a blog must be interactive and visually entertaining. I really have no idea how to properly design the present blog. I am afraid it is too textual and abstract to create in mind a specific image or video clip. There is this however, which has nothing to do, (I hope), with what follows.

This blog is one wherein I become rather abstract and heavily philosophical. Please disregard the more unwelcome tones that come with such talk. Instead, dear reader, follow my words more for their content, with an open mind, and always subject to revision.

The following paragraphs or notes are experimental meditations. They are meant to be candid, honest, and forthright. I am going to state a few assertions wherein I make rather clear where I stand on some matters of great and minor consequence, the purpose of which is to open dialogue and, in the process, find out what we all truly believe, free from cant, conformity and compromise.

I do not believe the world is "one". I am not a holist. I am aware that holism is the default faith these days of most people, but that is but an inconvenience for me and is no evidence in its favor. I do not believe in a single unitary system that can be labeled and understood as such.

This puts me at odds with both the political right and left. The Right thinks there is simply a traditional body of wisdom which we ignore at our peril: to ignore the verities is to invite ruin. The Left condemns the present because it is run by some overarching oppressive system that goes by several names: patriarchy or capitalism and so on. Both Left and Right think the world is more rational (or more irrational, if one aims to condemn) than it really is.

In truth one hand doesn't know what the other hand is doing.

Lest I am misunderstood: I am not saying that there aren't connections between things and there aren't meanings to be drawn from such connections as that word (meaning) is normally understood. I am merely saying there is not a single center in charge, not an apex where everything works out, whether in a literal conclusion, in the fullness of time - neither in an Utopian rebirth or renewal, nor an apocalyptic end. All previous attempts at such understanding are hampered by a kind of presumptuous holism.

Moreover, I believe individual temperament and character complicates, compromises and evades the powers of any existing system. This refusal of the prefabricated and the alternative drive to play and disrupt, is what any poet does who sets down to write, or any creative artist does who sets out to make their object. The Abstract Expressionists alone showed this when they did things with flat colored canvas. Proust did it in prose. If you are aware of Albertine and company (in Proust) as fulfilling habits and fashions of their time you are comprehending but the smallest part of that great novel. To be sure, the context and milieu is there, but Proust begins exactly after such matters end. Put another way, though The Dreyfuss Affair figures in the narrative in Proust, you would be mistaken to think that novel to be in some sense "about" that particular political controversy in France.

For any example I may be given of how a human being is made by an impersonal structure that predates their existence, whether it be familial or political, or biological, to say nothing of metaphysical, I am fully prepared to offer disproof in the form of inconvenient facts. Please give me your examples. I shall take on all comers.

If it is true that we do not live in a world that is unitary then questions of theodicy become moot. We can understand evil as so many defects within a larger whole. We can see goodness as so many bright spots that come and go but never stay around for long. We praise the heavens when brightness comes and are thankful, but we know that it can't continue indefinitely. Just as we cannot say that there is an essential goodness from which we come and to which we must return, likewise, we cannot excuse evil as a grand growing pain along the road to full maturity. We must condemn evil. It is insufficient to explain it away as a metaphor or illusion borne of our shortsighted blindness. (The mistake of certain Christian and New Age Pollyanism). We are not essentially any one thing: we are many things. These many things do not necessarily add up to a rational and logical whole.

Lest I be misunderstood: don't mistake the foregoing conclusion for "nihilism". Meaning and value does not have to add up to a whole to be meaningful and valuable. Conviction that nihilism is the logical result without a central authority or totality is a historical mistake borne of many traditions: for example, Platonism and Judeo-Christianity in the West.

We have invented things like the Internet and Facebook because we have a craving to merge, to make our belief in the"one" a physical and even spiritual reality. We believe in it so much that, if we see no evidence for it in our lives, we have a compulsion to create it, or at least a virtual form of it. We cannot bear the possibility that we are not one. We do not love our separateness enough. For it is in fact our separateness that makes our life interesting. The Internet will one day prove to make our life truly boring. The dream of essential unity is a totalitarian dream.

If we could truly love our differences without becoming at all like the other from whom we differ, without having to "learn from it", but just to love it, with the full knowledge that the difference must surely serve some need for which we are insufficiently aware - only then could we begin to live together as individuals without SYMPTOMATICALLY living as a whole. (This is what the Internet is: a symptomatic defense against the truth and beauty of our separateness.) Separation has a negative connotation because we identify it with violence and vivisection, with alienation and loneliness.

The main art we have lost, an art at which the 18th century excelled, is the art of DISINTERESTEDNESS. To be disinterested it to be someone for whom nothing human is alien.

What I am putting forth here was relatively and generally known to the American Transcendentalists. Unfortunately their wisdom was lost in the triumph of the social sciences in general and Marxism in particular. All of our current theories are system theories. Functionalism, cognitivism, Radical (as opposed to Liberal) feminism, Marxism, and the fashionable anarcho-primitivism are similar systems.

Here is (one admittedly extreme) example of how systems reason: the world was good when we hunted and gathered but, alas, then we fell and created this awful civilization of ours. That civilization inevitably created the automobile as it can only make the worst and most wasteful choices.

The same can be said for the other systems. Today psychology is such a system. Humans have these inevitable stages in which they pass through. A teenager is supposed to do such and such, likewise a mature adult. There is appropriate and inappropriate behavior for every stage. This is systematic thinking.

Lest I be misunderstood: I am not denying there is something particular and even required in being a child, a teen, and so on. It is simply that we make too much out of it, and place too much store by it. But it is to deny making a dogma out of such a commonplace fact.

At its worst, systems theory can result in conspiratorial paranoia. There is THE MAN out to get me and he and his system must be destroyed. There is our safe haven of goodness and those outsiders aren't to be trusted.

A theory that posits but one world is a world-denying theory. It denies what is most irreplaceable and mysterious in us: the existence of an unaccounted for Being and Soul. Or, if it tries to account for such mystery it reduces is to a vacuous, ever receding unity.

The major problem in culture today is what I would call cults and cultism. Cults don't have to be religious, they can be interpersonal in nature. There are thousands of cults today: political, psychological, national, familial, (think of domestic violence). The cult view of life, not conceiving of a genuine freedom from systematic thinking, wants to impose, through act of will, a better system to replace the evil one that is the status quo. But in so doing, a cult just reinforces our deep attachment to oneness and unity. Cultic thinking also attempts to dominate others in order to make them either confirm or deny, or destroy or defend a system.

Cults then may be a metaphor or an image for what happens when we deny the marvelous prickly individuality that exists at any given time. Such freedom of spirit shows that in the whole, if we must admit that there is a whole, there is at the very least, room to roam.

We humans are curious: we are local and global; we have universal desires and the most excruciatingly divergent ways of expressing those desires. VIVA LA DIFFERENCE should be our slogan again. As long as, of course, nobody is hurting others.

Finally, believing the world is one won't save us from war. We go to war when we refuse others space to find their own way. We go to war to impose a false unity. We don't go to war because we forget how much we are all truly alike. Rather, we go to war because we have not yet made peace with the manifestations of our differences. We have to BEGIN from an assumption of difference. We could discuss our differences without seeing them as so many threats. To look for an underlying or overarching sameness when difference is apparent, to view difference as but a superficial mask under which hides an ultimate unity is to only belittle and underestimate the values people hold dear. This alleged "unity" is too fragile and flimsy a basis on which to create dialogue. Let us at most admit we are all human and then get down to cases.

The kinds of things to which we cling so that we may deny difference and prevent conflict are also the most trivial things about us: our wish to avoid pain for example, or our need to survive. There is an atavistic need to hold to such things as if they were mystical touchstones.

Stephen Prothero in his new book GOD IS NOT ONE: The EIGHT RIVAL RELIGIONS THAT RUN THE WORLD - AND WHY THEIR DIFFERENCES MATTER makes essentially the same argument but in the world of religious belief. He wants us to not yield to the temptation to find underlying unity to all of the worlds' faiths. Rather, one faith's incompatibility with and exclusiveness from the others is more to the point. He rightfully reasons that we would have less conflict in the world if we did not project onto others our visions and translate others' beliefs into another version of our own.

One book recommendation is perhaps one too many in these busy days of ours, especially if you have read this far, but I do recommend this new book by religious scholar Stephen Prothero. It applies to much more than religion.

See also:

Thanks for your patience.


  1. Well, the internet is good for some things, namely that I can read the daily or weekly philosophical diary and memoirs of one M. Hampton esq. without having to wait for a letter in the post box, and in a public forum no less.

    Your point about tolerating and even enjoying and admiring difference is well taken. One could even take it a step further, and try to enjoy the particular human limitation that makes the consciousness of another intolerable to us. There is something in your argument that smacks of Christian love, in terms of loving everything, even the fishes of the sea, and yet even that (as Kierkegaard so vehemently points out) is rooted in a love of self ("do unto others" is rooted in a concept of the desires of the self being primary and universal).

  2. "I am satisfied . . . . I see, dance, laugh, sing;
    Trippers and askers surround me,
    People I meet . . . . .
    My dinner, dress, associates, looks, business, compliments, dues,
    The real or fancied indifference of some man or woman I love,
    The sickness of one of my folks -- or of myself . . . . or
    ill-doing . . . . or loss or lack of money . . . . or depressions or exaltations,
    They come to me days and nights and go from me again,
    But they are not the Me myself.

    Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
    Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
    Looks down, is erect, bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
    Looks with its side-curved head curious what will come next,
    Both in and out of the game, and watching and wondering at it."

    ~Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

  3. Yes Mitch, yes yes yes! Prothero's book is bold, the emperor has no clothes. My favorite self-quote from 1998, if I may so indulge: "Everything is not connected, everything is connectible". Through the self all connections are made, the individual Soul knows its own universe to share. Emily Dickinson: "The Soul selects her own society". The world is most admirably NOT one, the immortal soul is forfeited by those who would take this anesthetic shortcut to heaven. The world is comprised of many Ones, and the symphony of the harmony of Heaven (Hildegard of Bingen) is beautiful when souls know where they belong. The American Transcendentalists esteemed Swedenborg as I do, in his cosmic travelogue Heaven and Hell he recounts the communities of suffering that form when the damned cast themselves out Heaven, for God never does. Live well Mitch, know thyself and be true. I was not born with a brother in this lifetime Mitch, I would have been proud to call you mine.

  4. Jen thanks for the Whitman. ALWAYS Whitman is a brother to me.

    Carl I appreciate your response too. Dickinson got it right as did Swedenborg and others.

  5. The keyword for the poem, apropos of
    your post Mitch, is the word "unitary" in Whitman's describing "what I am."

    If each one of us IS the world as Krishnamurti said, and the self is unitary, then--the world
    is one.

    "In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself." - K.