The Left is Dead. Long Live the Left!


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Posting 125, Word count: 1,799.

The current idea of the political left-wing features struggles by organized labour for greater benefits within investor-supremacist capitalism, raising working class consciousness about structural inequalities in wealth and power. Historically, that view of the meaning of the left developed from the Hegelian/ Marxist idea of economic determinism, the idea that social classes defined by economic conditions are the units of a pre-determined progression of human societies along a course of dialectical historical stages. The idea that there is a natural large-scale structure to change in human societies was profoundly appealing in the middle of the nineteenth century because disruption of traditional social hierarchy had become alarming, in a process that began soon after the launch of overseas European imperialism in the sixteenth century, with wealth looted from other peoples pouring into Europe to financial speculators and commercial and military opportunists. Previously, tradition and custom in Old Regime Europe, the fabric of its rural-agrarian system of wealth and power, kept popular patterns of thinking quite rigidly in thrall to monarchy, aristocracy, and Church. Notwithstanding the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation, eighteenth century Europe was still a largely Christian institution, pervaded by patriarchal Christian control at all levels. Disruption of the old hierarchies of wealth, work, and circumstances of living resulted in struggles over power, and broke apart the “order” that had been sacred to the patriarchs of the Old Regime. In the shattering world of new money-wealth, lost attachment to land and locality, and desperate uncertainty for masses of people dependent on industrial employment, the old system of belief and ways of thinking lost contact with reality, and people generally needed new markers by which to reorient. There was a widespread sense that individuals were caught up in forces that were far beyond their powers to control or understand. The forces at play were in fact the competitive greed and racism of the leading factions of European society, expressing the macro-parasitism inherent in their patriarchal culture. Marx’s claim that there were scientific laws of historical change gave hope to a segment of Europe’s intelligentsia, the educated heirs of the Enlightenment era, who saw this claim as a message they might use to reorient the proletarian masses being treated on their native ground in the bestial and dehumanizing ways developed to maximize profits to investors from overseas imperialism and commercial exploitation. In Europe this was still novel and startling, engineered by newly powerful social factions, beyond any custom or tradition that might blend it into an appearance of natural order.

The idea of a predetermined pattern of social and cultural change, arcing inevitably toward justice, has lost all plausibility, especially since the collapse of Marxist regimes in eastern Europe, leaving a fatal ideological void for the most popular conception of a political left-wing. However, the collapse of that idea does not undermine entirely the force of left-wing politics because there was a previous and original “left” movement before the grandiose Hegelian metaphysics took hold. That original leftist movement was the party of philosophy itself rather than the party of organized labour. Specifically, it was the party of a secular philosophy of cultural Enlightenment, and it represented what had become known as the Republic of Letters, independent scholars of various backgrounds and nations publishing mainly outside institutions such as Church foundations and universities. The printing press, since its launch in the fifteenth century, had spread through private business ventures, free of immediate institutional control, and in combination with the graduating cohorts from Europe’s universities created a self-directing network of communication about ideas, and an expanding body of literature, much of it in Latin, the international language of eduction, marking an extraordinary flourishing of the scribal culture of ideality. It was the blogosphere of the late medieval/ early modern period. Philosophy was then, and not for the first time, the innovative force against ossified patterns of thinking, and as such it placed primary emphasis on the individual’s power of rationality, a message often difficult to sustain in the context of the vicious campaigns of race and class assault and propaganda that constituted European imperialism.

The Enlightenment

The core innovation of the Enlightenment was not so much an assertion of individualism as it was a secular concept of human nature which changed the meaning of the individual. In the still dominant Christian view, human nature had an absolute need of external sovereign supervision due to the inherent taint of original sin, declared inescapable by Church father Augustine of Hippo. Christianity reinforced Augustine’s idea with Aristotelian and Platonic metaphysics, both visions of top-down cosmic hierarchy, perfect models for supporting the Church in exercising the sovereignty it asserted to be necessary and beneficent. The radical rationalists of the Enlightenment countered patriarchal Christian ideology with two innovations (which eventually proved to be heading in incompatible directions). One replaced the cosmic hierarchy from Aristotle and Plato with an approach that flattened the basic cosmic structure, namely monistic materialism inspired by the metaphysics of Spinoza. More important, the left was the political party of philosophy because it brandished a secular view of human nature emphasizing innate rationality and excluding any inherent flaws and taints, and as such, a human nature not inherently dependent on any sovereign supervision. That was the crucial point, and it put the Enlightenment left in opposition to basic patriarchal cultural mythology, in which the strongest have the (divine/ natural) right of unlimited sovereignty, an assumption still discernible in the idea of ‘meritocracy’, and one that was asserted enthusiastically at the time to justify the most brutal imperialism. This stream of Enlightenment was already and always an anti-imperialist force, the foundation of claims for individual human dignity and rights, equality, secularism, and cosmopolitanism. In a world of people with no need of sovereign supervision, the patriarchal assertion of sovereign rights is naked human-on-human macro-parasitism, vicious and criminal.

European imperialism had given patriarchal dominance-culture unprecedented power both economic and cultural, especially in the hands of new commercial factions. The materialist side of Enlightenment was not a problem for them and in fact was a helpful frame of reference. Mechanistic materialism was making impressive advances in understanding objective nature and delivering new machines for the benefit of large scale industry and commerce. Under the banner ‘science’, claiming to represent strict mathematical rationality, it was acquiring ever-increasing prestige, at the same time realigning with patriarchal assumptions of natural hierarchies, and giving up any claim to flatten the fundamental structure of nature at large. This was the side of Enlightenment that rode the triumphant wave of imperialist wealth and power, but there remained a stubborn minority report: the basis of the political left.

The Enlightenment idea of human nature drew on a history of development that included the campaigns for universal literacy from the time of John Wycliffe (1331-1384), as well as the Lutheran emphasis on a personally interior relationship with divinity in a free act of faith. From that history, Enlightenment human nature was an inherent richness of individual interiority: curious, creative, empathic and sociable, and a rational learner and eager user of language (spoken, written, printed) in engagement with others, deriving fulfillment from mutual support and engagement with others. Cultures are crucial to individual human development, but cultures are bottom-up systems, as illustrated by ever-mutating language, not a gift from on-high, nor dependent on colonial masters or any other sovereign power. In the later part of the eighteenth century, within the milieux of Enlightenment culture which was already a force against imperialism, the philosopher Immanuel Kant worked out a sort of phenomenology of spirit (interiority) in which human individuals are understood as inherently self-legislating, and so, again, not dependent on outside sovereignty. This idea was the unacknowledged pinnacle of long centuries of cultural development in Europe, a minority report presenting an alternative vision for post-Christian society. It means that the decisive theme of western history, what makes the Euro-American cultural system interesting, is the contest playing out there over the legitimacy of sovereignty.

Kant’s philosophical work was arguably the best expression of Enlightenment ever produced, a considered advance beyond Spinoza’s materialist monism. There was room in Kant’s vision for both objective empirical science and for an individual interiority that was truly transcendent in its creative freedom. The problem was that, in the context of the mesmerizing frenzy of race and class violence in the era of high European imperialism, nobody was ready to digest the idea of human subjectivity free of an inherent dependency on sovereign power. In spite of that, the enriched conception of human nature had deep historical and cultural roots in this increasingly literate society, flourishing in the Republic of Letters and embryonically in Protestantism, far too embedded to be dismissed. This made a deeply divided cultural landscape that included patriarchal Christianity with its long-established ideology of sovereign power; newly triumphant money-wealth culture, heir apparent to patriarchal macro-parasitic top-dog-ism; scientific materialism as the servant of money-wealth culture; and a vision, contested by all those other cultural forces, of individual interiority as the fountain of creative freedom. The other cultural streams have strong and separate reasons for fearing and loathing the radical Enlightenment idea of the individual. Science can’t abide the existence of creative freedom as a transcendence beyond its laws of determinism; and even the new patriarchal hierarchies can’t abide the prospect of loosing their controlling grip on the work and consumption of the masses, a grip they conceive as power. Those forces have done their best to suppress the radical Enlightenment insight, and have had considerable success working cooperatively.

The Marxist conception of the political left is surely dying, but that is not a decisive loss for a politics of the left, and should be a benefit. Marx’s dialectical materialism and its laws of history show how materialism quickly goes to strict determinism, unfreedom, and the disappearance of transcendence into meaninglessness. In addition, the introduction of Marxist ideas in the nineteenth century revived, in a new form, the pre-Enlightenment assumption that collectives are the primary independent human entities exercising legitimate rights over individuals, traditionally by means of monarchy, aristocracy, and the hierarchy of the Church, but also by means of police, military service, civic pageantry, censorship, and mass propaganda. Marxist party leaders took over that fundamental idea of authoritarian sovereignty, and in doing so decisively deflected leftist development away from its original trajectory. Some philosophy consistent with the radical Enlightenment insight, a secular vision of rich individual interiority, transcendent in its creative freedom and as such the basis for community, cultural development, and fulfilling human interconnection, must be the perennial core of any politics of the left, its taproot as the party of philosophy.


The Old Regime and the Revolution, Volume I: The Complete Text, written by Alexis de Tocqueville, Edited and with an Introduction and Critical Apparatus by Francois Furet and Francoise Melonio, Translated by Alan S. Kahan, Published by University of Chicago Press (2004), ISBN: 0-226-80530-1.

Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750-1790, written by Jonathan I. Israel, published by Oxford University Press (2011), ISBN 978-0-19-954820-0.

Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre, written by Jonathan Israel, published by Princeton University Press (2014), ISBN: 978-0-691-16971-2.

A History of Western Political Thought, written by  J. S. McClelland, Published by Routledge (1996), ISBN-10: 0415119626, ISBN-13: 978-0415119627.

Copyright © 2018 Sandy MacDonald.


The World that Doesn’t Matter


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Posting 124, word count: 750.

Without the engagement of living subjectivity the world has no meaning. It can’t be beautiful or ugly, happy or sad, good or evil. There are no ethical issues in such a world. It is a world without tragedy, comedy, melodrama, or farce. Whatever happens in such a world does not matter. Only the teleological consciousness of future-bound subjectivity confers meaning on anything: sensitivity, conscious intent, caring about, aiming for, and actively moving into a future with some openness for discretionary creativity and construction, for freedom; and doing so with a directionality or bearing of intent that is an interpretive construct of no-longer. The idea of freedom is a specific sense of ongoing time to come, into which relevant novelty can be projected deliberately. Since time to come and a no-longer which situates relevance are entirely ideas rather than existing actualities, we are here encountering the subjective ideality of time, orientation, and spiritual bearing. It’s this creative freedom of ideality which is transcendent, and it qualifies subjectivity as the essential subject matter of an old branch of thinking known as metaphysics, long since gone out of style in our era of empirical science. Subjectivity, fountain of meaning, is one of the two metaphysical modes, the other being objectivity. Objectivity is the world imagined without ideality, the world that doesn’t matter.

We are completely familiar with subjectivity at the level of our personal locality. Anyone’s personal subjectivity looms large in the shape of how what-there-is matters. We care about what happens, certain situations and outcomes matter to us. We also experience the intelligence of people and animals around us in how they care and direct themselves in a world that matters to them. This is reasonably straightforward but everyone’s personal orientation is also situated in, and influenced by, a historical, cultural, and political context. There has been a history of projecting conscious intent beyond the kind of embodied persons familiar to us, outward to the cosmic far horizons. Such a conception is a personification of the cosmos on the large scale, a strictly incoherent idea but one that sets up a habit of trivializing the local sensitivity and conscious intent that we live with and recognize in the people we engage in conversation. However, it doesn’t take any special kind of subjectivity to confer meaning on the world. The presence of any and every one of the ordinary sensitive and teleological people we live among confers meaning on the entire cosmos. In fact, there is no way for any subjectivity to be special or extraordinary in a way that sanctifies what matters to it as what “really” matters. When anything matters to any subjectivity, then it matters in a way that is as absolute as it gets.

The legacy of cultural fixations on patriarchal hierarchy and its projection into the cosmos at large has left us assuming that, even though the cosmos is not personified on the grand scale, there must be some especially transcendent consciousness from-on-high, maybe the mysterious genius of great men or the sum of wisdom from heroic ancestors, which sanctifies the culture of values expressed in the structure of wealth and power. However, no such special consciousness exists, and none is required for meaning in individual or collective life. The transcendence of ordinary subjectivity is the only transcendence there is.

Since meaning is always and only conferred on events and situations by sensitive and caring teleology, it is not collectives, not culturally engineered “hive minds” or discourses, that merit a privileged role in defining what really matters. Such things are not instances of subjectivity. Nothing matters to a discourse, an artifact, or a text. Discourses don’t care or think, and neither caring nor thinking is confined within discourses.

Culturally supplied frameworks of orientation always include ideas that are meant to anchor the meaning of individual and collective life in relation to the ever-looming large scale of things, the global or cosmic scale, and the only way that any meaning can be anchored is in relation to some conception of subjective ideality. Everyone feels the looming of the largest scale, and so fashions some metaphysical frame of reference in an idea of the relationship between the transcendent fountain of meaning that is subjectivity over against meaningless objectivity. In spite of the historical tendency to universalize patriarchal hierarchy, metaphysics doesn’t need any special subjectivity or ideality. The subjectivity and ideality of ordinary experience is perfectly effective at making a world that matters.

Copyright © 2018 Sandy MacDonald.

Brentano’s Gift


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Homage to Franz Brentano (1838-1917) and Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)

Posting 123, Word count: 999.

In her delightful history, At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails, Sarah Bakewell reviews the origins of phenomenology and existentialism in Edmund Husserl’s encounter with Franz Brentano’s idea of ‘intentionality’ (1874).

“In a fleeting paragraph of his book Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, Brentano proposed that we approach the mind in terms of its ‘intentions’ – a misleading word, which sounds like it means deliberate purposes. Instead it meant a general reaching or stretching, from the Latin root in-tend, meaning to stretch toward or into something. For Brentano, this reaching toward objects is what our minds do all the time. Our thoughts are invariably of or about something, …” (At the Existentialist Cafe, p. 44.)

Edmund Husserl (1858-1938) was so inspired by Brentano’s conception of ‘intentionality’ that he used it as the foundation of his ambitious project of phenomenology, describing in strict detail the objects of perception and experience. Husserl’s work in turn inspired many other people, including Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir. It is safe to say that the idea of intentionality was foundational in the existentialist philosophies created by those authors. In that light, consider the following passage from Simone de Beauvoir.

“Every subject posits itself as a transcendence concretely, through projects; it accomplishes its freedom only by perpetual surpassing toward other freedoms; there is no other justification for present existence than its expansion toward an indefinitely open future. Every time transcendence lapses into imminence, there is degradation of existence into “in-itself”, of freedom into facticity; this fall is a moral fault if the subject consents to it; if this fall is inflicted on the subject, it takes the form of frustration and oppression; in both cases it is an absolute evil. Every individual concerned with justifying his existence experiences his existence as an indefinite need to transcend himself.” (The Second Sex, pp. 16-17).

The word “concretely” is right, but open to misunderstanding. There is always more than concreteness. The reaching in Beauvoir’s text is not toward perceived objective actualities but instead toward possibilities in an open future: non-actualities, ideas. It is an affirmation of subjective ideality not defined by phenomena alone. A reaching is still at the centre of this new conception, but Simone de Beauvoir is no longer focused on a reach toward objects, but on the subjective reaching toward a non-actuality that exists only in the orientation, the spirituality, of the subject, namely, the subjects bearing toward a semi-specific future situation. The spiritual reaching is now a clear transcendence of brute actuality by operating in time. Recognition of the reaching-beyond-itself of spirituality is crucial, but conceiving it as a reach toward sensed objects results in an obsession with studying objects (“To the things themselves!”, At the Existentialist Cafe, p. 2.) as constituting the whole of experience, leaving the spiritual person or intelligence, the reaching itself, a mere nothingness, as declared by Sartre after his study of Husserl. A focus on objects fails to capture the crucial transcendence of the reaching, since objects are definitive of imminence. When your reach is toward ‘things’ then what confronts you, your destination, is something determinate and definite, compared with which personal spirituality disappears into “nothingness”, since the experience is formed entirely by the objects encountered. Although it is important that the reaching is nothing like an object, it is not otherwise nothing: it is an active caring, often desperate, a curiosity, a (gusher of) specific personal questioning, an investigation, an impulse to intervene to make a change, to make a specific personal mark in brute actuality’s time to come. Those peculiarly spiritual forces are all temporal. Putting the emphasis on sensed objects evades recognition of the spiritual transcendence of time, and so endorses from the outset a metaphysics of eternal necessities: Being. Reaching mentally toward an object is not an intervention, but the reach toward an aspirational future is most emphatically a creation and an intervention into nature from an ideality outside nature, from a subjective interiority. To recognize the real transcendence of spiritual reaching it must be temporal, toward not-yet. When your reach is toward a non-actual but merely possible future situation with a crucial openness for personal intervention then your destination is to be determined by the projection of spiritual creations, a personal teleology, into brute actuality, and suddenly this reaching is the creation of freedom.

Recognizing this spiritual reaching as a personal curiosity or questioning more accurately brings into focus the interpretation of no-longer as a specific context of relevance being applied to the reading of the most immediate sensations. It isn’t just that an existential being transcends itself by acting into a future, but the teleological reach of such beings transcends nature itself.

Metaphysical Upgrade

To think is to occupy, to dwell in, the transcendent moment: the personal tilt or bearing beyond now and beyond no-longer, toward the open not-yet that waits to be created. It is crucial to recognize the discordance between this conception of consciousness and the historically dominant conservative metaphysics of human nature: that individuals without a strict superego supplied by religion and civic authority are nothing but bundles of hard-wired drives for egoistic gratification (update on ‘original sin’); which conception purports to justify patriarchal top-down sovereignty within a hyper-masculine ethos glorifying the use of force, violent conflict, and trophies.

In the conservative concept of human nature, time itself is taken as an unproblematic given of nature, and an individual’s orientation within time is taken as entirely pre-determined by impersonal biological and socio-cultural forces and structures. The specific personal sense and meaning of time passing at a moment in a life is not interrogated, and so the ideality of orientation is hidden in a blind spot. The transcendence of freedom disappears. There is no acknowledgement of the personally created ideality of that orientation, and so no recognition of the transcendent freedom inherent in the basic ideality of time.


At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails, written by Sarah Bakewell, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada (2016), ISBN 978-0-345-81095-3.

The Second Sex, Written by Simone de Beauvoir [Le deuxieme sexe © 1949, by Editions Gallimand, Paris], translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, Introduction by Judith Thurman, published by Vintage Books (May, 2011), a division of Random House, Inc., ISBN 978-0-307-27778-7.

Copyright © 2018 Sandy MacDonald.

Ethics in the Philosophy Project


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Posting 122, word count: 1,483.

The historical thinking project of philosophy was the cultivation of an alignment between a personal spirituality (orientation, bearing, poise, or condition of mind) and the world at large in its most profound being, thought as a transcendence which confers meaning on the world. This relational duality of focus was fundamental, and defines the philosophical origin of ethics. Ancient Greek philosophers were so impressed by mathematical abstractions such as numbers and geometrical axioms that they conceived a transcendence of universal and timeless “truths”, eternal necessities which would be the source of absolute knowledge. They elevated the dignity of such abstractions very far above particular objects and common subjectivity, placing them at a commanding height atop a hierarchy clearly modelled on the patriarchal and military society of their time. Timeless abstractions at the top of the hierarchy set up an opposition with the ordinary landscape of changeable material objects at the bottom. In stark contrast to the supposedly incorruptible immateriality (and so eternity) of ideal abstractions, the material particulars of common experience were considered unstable, ephemeral, in an endless state of either growth or decay, always transforming into something else, and so useless as a source of knowledge. Philosophers were obsessed with rising above the turmoil of ephemerality in which crowds of the poorest and least educated humans construct eventful lives, and so time itself was relegated to the category of unreality, illusion, metaphysical nothingness, as distinct from ideal Being. Plato’s Ideal Forms illustrate the importance of eternity in ancient thinking. In that classical metaphysical scenario, certain features of concrete objects were cherry-picked and bundled with features of mental abstractions to construct what seemed the best of worlds, a world that would be transcendent over common things as a patriarchal ruler is transcendent over his people. Concrete objects supplied distinctness of image and outline, of form and quality, and abstraction supplied ideal universality and immateriality conceived as a transcendent purity of being, beyond corruption or extinction, a refined and magical state invoking the mysterious existence of ghosts and divinity, radiant with the glamour and mystique of power, status, and authority.

Since the mental efforts of an individual do not change the world at large in its most profound being, the mental effort of philosophy was to decide on and achieve the personal bearing that best expresses the most profound being of a person in relation to the world. Issues and questions of spiritual bearing were the elements of ethics: the best way to live. For a long time in the ancient world, the personal condition to be achieved was conceived as imperturbability. The charge is sometimes made against ethics in ancient philosophy that it is an expression of the self-absorption of the thinking person, apparently concerned only with personal happiness. However, context is crucial here. Stoics and Epicureans, for example, each in their way, considered events in the world to be predetermined by eternal necessities: Stoics by Logos (everything happens for a Logos), Epicureans by atoms falling in the void. The Epicurean conception of a “swerve” which enables human freedom is pretty much limited to an interior mental freedom, like the Stoic freedom to assent to fate, or not. In relation to an almost completely predetermined world, the diligently thoughtful poise to cultivate was identified as a kind of spiritual invulnerability.

In an ultimately predetermined world, change, and so time, is an illusion, a triviality when put against the perspective of eternity, which was thought of as what the consciousness of gods (or the providential Logos) would be. Philosophical thinking (love of wisdom) was a way to live a human life most like the life of gods by achieving that ethical poise at the core of the project. Seen in that light, an ethical life was cultivation of a personal alignment with transcendence as it was conceived in that era. The framework for transcendence was the inferior reality of change and time, as experienced in ordinary events and activities, and the ultimate reality of the perspective of eternity. Within that conception of the philosophical thinking project, metaphysics, understood as the identification of transcendence, was the indispensable guide for ethics. The personal aspiration to achieve imperturbability followed from what was identified as transcendent, namely eternity, or in other words, ethics emerged directly from metaphysics.

We people of modernity no longer find eternity convincing as a transcendence that confers meaning on the world. Except for Epicureans (whose transcendence was arguably individual rationality), the ancients thought that the high eternal abstractions were alive, sensitive and teleological in some important sense, mothership senior intelligences. For Aristotle, it was nested heavenly spheres in motion around the Earth that were such intelligences. It was specifically the aliveness of those remote intelligences that seemed to confer meaning on the world and the lives of individuals. It gave the remote transcendence creative purpose and power, and aligning a personal bearing with that transcendence expressed the sense of a kinship or commonality between the spirituality of the individual and a sovereign aliveness. The gradual accumulation of a more scientific view of the world has made those ways of thinking seem bizarre. Since we no longer accept the idea of a cosmos that is personified as a whole or on a grand scale, it strikes us that in the perspective of eternity there is just nothing but frozen rigidity, nothing happening, no life and so no fountain of meaning. However, just as in the ancient conceptual systems, it still is life which confers meaning on the world: sensitivity, consciousness, caring about, aiming for, and actively moving into a future with some openness for discretionary creativity, for inventive construction, for freedom. It’s the creative freedom of intelligence that is transcendent, now as then. There is no freedom in eternity because there is no time in eternity, and so the ancient idea of a sovereign aliveness at the far cosmic horizons, the consciousness of gods, doesn’t make sense. The idea of freedom arises from a specific sense of ongoing time to come, into which novelty can be projected deliberately. Since we no longer accept the plausibility of disembodied consciousness and caring, what confers meaning on the world now is the agency and creative freedom of ordinary embodied individuals.

Identification of transcendence has been largely banished from respectability by scientific materialism, but ethics makes no sense without freedom, and freedom is transcendent in relation to an inertial and entropic nature. Ethics is a framework of orientation for free agents acting through time. If we have not been convinced that identification of transcendence is illegitimate, or that transcendence is properly identified in a patriarchal father God or some other personification of the cosmos at large, nor yet in the eternal Being that some have conceived at the far horizons of things, then we might find life yet in the conception of philosophy as an alignment of personal bearing, way of life, with a more modest transcendence. The obvious approach is to change the direction of the gaze, and so to stop gazing outward for transcendence. The focus instead is on looking itself, not on what is seen but on seeing. There is no consciousness, looking or seeing, without a transcendent personal spirituality, a specific questioning representing the interpretive sum of a personal no-longer, poised as a context through which to read what the body senses in making what is not-yet. Seeing is the application of such context, a context-mediated moment of interpretation. Time in which there is past and future is clearly spiritual, pure ideality, because past and future are perfectly non-actual. Only consciousness in its temporal, teleological flight, is transcendent, and occurs plausibly only at the level of the embodied individual.

Ethics will always be an alignment of personal action with transcendence as it is currently understood. With transcendence conceived as non-capricious, non-personal eternal necessities, ethics calls for an act of will to love your fate, cultivating personal imperturbability, sometimes understood as complete selflessness. With transcendence as the will of a capricious and all powerful deity, then the point of orientation is commands of the patriarchal deity, and ethical action is obeying the god’s list of rules, duties, obligations, virtues, and vices. If we recognize that transcendence is the freedom created by the spiritual projection of time in the form of futurity and a personal questioning applied as context to the sensible world, there isn’t any cosmically senior intelligence for our personal spirituality to align with, no sovereign transcendence. Ethical agency then requires aligning with a world in which transcendence takes the form of multiple embodied individuals scattered horizontally in local clusters over the face of the planet. If an ethical life is alignment with the transcendence of intelligent aliveness, then it would be aligning my freedom with the freedom of everyone around me, mutual respect for and empathy with all the other sensitive and teleological beings here within nature.

Copyright © 2018 Sandy MacDonald.

Welcome to Metaphysics


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Posting 121, word count: 1,312.

Metaphysics is part of the framework of orientation within which any individual operates. Everybody has some metaphysical framework or other, typically learned from ambient culture at an early age without recognizing that it might be questionable, thinkable. The way in which a person’s framework of orientation deals with the incongruity between subjectivity and objectivity is its metaphysics, as both subjectivity and objectivity have been asserted as a revelation of what is uniquely and exclusively real in the cosmic whole, and they are starkly different from one another.

Subjectivity is remarkable due to its ideality, the personally interior experience of living a particular bearing of sensitive teleology in a life in the world. Ideality is the source and origin of the idea of transcendence since only ideality (spirituality, intelligence) strives toward a specific not-yet or non-actuality, which is the essence of creativity and so of freedom, stunningly beyond the insensitive lumps and structures of objectivity, and as such a clear transcendence of nature. This makes personal engagement in the passing of time, a tilting into and toward an openness of time to come, fundamental in subjectivity and in the transcendence of nature. With subjectivity there are no eternal necessities, no finality. Everything is a tentative construct for navigating into a non-actual futurity, a strict ideality guessed at but unknown, questing (desperately) for opportunities to construct shapes and works, interventions within lumpen actuality, along the way. The bearing-into-futurity of subjectivity is a questioning that changes continually with experience and learning. Its whole conceptual framework of reference markers can change from internal reconsideration. Since personal subjectivity is not publicly measurable it has been characterized as inward, and so inwardly we have an ever-questing orientation, a directionality of caring at some moment in an embodied life in the world, a directionality which is the spiritual construct, representing an increasingly remote personal no-longer or previousness, of an interpretive context (immediate expectation, readiness, and bearing of intervention) for present experience.

On the other side of metaphysics is a universalizing of objectivity (on the model of “medium sized dry goods”), a conception of hard-structure forms, enduring, definite, final (“real”), determinate, self-subsisting concrete material objects in configuration, energy field structures gliding in an eternally pre-determined fall shaped by mathematical necessities such as inertia and entropy, categorically excluding the creative teleology and questioning consciousness of ideality. Overall, it is the timelessness of objectivity, the finality of objects and their entirely predetermined arc of changes, manifesting eternal mathematical necessities, that stands out in claims placing objectivity as exclusively and uniquely real.

Subjectivity, and so transcendent ideality, is multiple rather than unitary, occurring in separate embodied and mortal persons clustered and scattered over the surface of planet Earth (that we know of). The transcendence of ideality, given its identity with ordinary subjectivity, has been considered such a frightening political problem that the dominant conceptions of idealism (metaphysical claims placing ideality in some form as primary in reality as a whole) have just evaded admitting the identity of ideality and subjectivity! Plato’s Ideal Forms, for example, are a mythological mashup of materiality and ideality, taking ideas of types of objects as essentially united with the objects. Existing separately from any person’s life in the world is a feature of objects that Plato ascribed to Ideas. Abstraction is entirely an operation of individual intelligences, but in Platonism the abstract categories of things are ultimately causal in the existence of every ephemeral particular of objective actuality. This announces one of the jaw-dropping surprises in the history of formal metaphysics, that what seems the most obvious and common sense occurrence of transcendent ideality in ordinary embodied individuals has gone conspicuously undocumented.

Creationist monotheism is a metaphysical dualism in which the fundamental principle is a single disembodied ideality (intelligence) who created the objective material world in a unique episode of exuberant divine caprice. It is normally considered that, within this created material world, humans, as sensitively conscious intelligences, were created as images of the creator, fundamentally similar to the divinity in ideality as distinct from concrete materiality. In that version of dualism the divine principle of creation, and so ideality more generally, is, as it is in Plato, primary and dominant, making it idealist even though not a declared idealism. Again, however, it is extravagantly abstracted from the ordinary experience of transcendent temporal ideality in ordinary persons. It was always the sense of transcendence from the teleological consciousness of embodied individuals that inspired the idea of a senior transcendence at far cosmic horizons. There is no other direct experience of ideality.

Given the dramatic differences between subjectivity and objectivity, anyone’s metaphysical framework of orientation will be a conception of reality as a whole that either includes or excludes the creative teleology and questioning consciousness of ideality (spirituality) with its freedom and transcendence of nature. A strict metaphysical objectivism (materialism) can remain coherent only by denying transcendence completely. (One problem with that is the implausibility of deriving ethically sensitive intelligences from insensitive lumps.) A metaphysics of transcendent ideality can remain coherent without denying the existence of objects by accepting a dualism of multiple embodied subjectivities each living a particular life as spirituality intervening in brute actuality.

Can the World be an Idea?

Contrary to Plato, Hegel, and Schopenhauer, for example, the world can’t be only and entirely an idea because ideas are features of a personal orientation of some embodied individual in a particular life in the world. It has been claimed that the world is an idea in the mind of God, but the idea of God goes far beyond a particular embodied life in the world, and so is not strictly coherent. The way in which the world is an idea is that what is known of the world is always the construct of personal experiences of the world. The world is an idea for any and every individual, and individuals have been sharing ideas about the world with one another and have constructed various cultural ideas of the world. In any individual’s life, the world is an idea, largely learned from some such ambient culture. However, to use Kantian terminology, the world “in itself” can’t be only and entirely an idea.

We can say two things about a world with transcendent spirituality. First, it is not entirely pre-determined by anything. Its fate in detail is mutable, strictly indeterminate, with possibilities for novelty at any moment. Second, anyone’s ideas of the world, and any culturally transmitted ideas of the world, are also mutable, not etched into the blueprints of the cosmos, not final or essential elements of reality, but rather tentative abstractions, subject to revision or abandonment with the assimilation of more experience. Ideas of the world are typically cultural constructs originating from multiple contributions from various individuals’ experience and creative thinking.

The effective activity of creative transcendence at the level of the individual has important political consequences, especially in support of egalitarian and mutually nurturing systems of sociability, the opposite of patriarchy. It means that social and political structures can be made to change under the force of ideas. Ideas are openings into a mutable future. An authentic idealist metaphysics is a metaphysics in which the world of actuality is unfinished and constantly becoming something new, bits of novelty created continuously at various separate localities through the efforts of the transcendent spirituality of individual intelligences. This is a metaphysics in which there is active transcendence with effects in brute actuality, a metaphysics of intelligences questioning, caring, and learning through their inward pressing into a profoundly undetermined time to come. Political conservatives either just deny transcendence completely and interpret the world as mere physics, entirely fated or random, or adhere to something like the Platonic or monotheistic idea of transcendence, a unique supernatural expression at some far horizon which determined how things will be forever.

Copyright © 2018 Sandy MacDonald.

Two Problems with the Science Story


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Posting 120, word count: 1,352

The story of science is an inspiring history about how, over a recent and well documented time period, humanity’s leading teams of theorists and researchers came to understand reality when they used the objective empiricism of scientific method to overcome superstitious belief in witchcraft and magic. Oddly, it is still considered proper and morally commendable to participate in a community of religious faith asserting the reality of angels, demons, miracles, and a cosmic moral judge decreeing rewards and brutal punishments after death. However, for the most part, events, that were once considered to be deliberately framed messages to humans from a supernatural universe of disembodied but personified (caring) entities with effective powers in our world, have been re-conceived in science as moments in merely concrete cause-effect sequences that can be understood and controlled by human intervention. The story science tells of itself suggests that this recent accomplishment of understanding reality has come to encompass everything including politics, social systems, and individual behaviour and experience, all of which are now claimed as substantially understood (and controllable by intervention) by experts in behavioural science, social and political science, psychology, and economics.

The scientific claim of understanding reality is used to legitimize all the economic, legal, military, and political institutions and practices of modern states, on the suggestion that educated individuals active in professions, business management, and government, all carry and act from this precious understanding, acquired as the core of higher education. Since key institutions of every nation license, regulate, and sponsor scientific research and have the resources to benefit from the most advanced discoveries, the impression is created that such institutions are themselves manifestations of the most profound understanding of reality, justified by humanity’s deepest knowledge.

However, there are two fatal problems with this story. Science claims to encompass the whole of reality, but it has no way of comprehending individual spirituality, the personal consciousness of creative freedom in time. Science can’t conceptualize intelligence as a particular, and each intelligence is a special particular, with a transcendent uniqueness in its teleology. All objective particulars fall completely under general laws, but the individual conception of time makes each intelligence a special particular, with temporal creativity giving each one a personally particular and transcendent indeterminacy. The ever-elaborating and always incomplete teleology of each individual creates a uniquely individual indeterminacy. So, while science is comfortable dealing with people as physical particulars and as statistical sets it fails completely in recognizing people as spiritual particulars, and that invalidates the universality and finality of all claims from behavioural science, social and political science, psychology, and economics. A better attempt at accumulating a store of wisdom about humanity as such would work to understand how to improve and empower individual creative freedom and self-possession.

The objective empiricism of science has an inescapable weakness, namely an obsessively blinkered gaze outward and a resulting inability to engage spirituality, the force of individual subjectivity. The scientific conceptual system does not prove the non-existence of creative individual spirituality, but rather begins with a constitutional refusal to conceive it. Scientific discourse rules out all claims about spirituality. On the scientific view, there is no such thing as transcendence, no transcendent spirituality, no individual spiritual interiority free of strict objective determinism. Science needs to measure, model, map, and visualize things without ever being able to question the questioning from which such operations fountain, because questioning is an act of subjective interiority, of spirituality. The gaze of science is strictly outward upon measurable objects, and the tool of mathematical measurement disqualifies science from any awareness or identification of the spirituality of subjective interiority.

There can’t be a current debate on metaphysics (transcendence) because scientific materialism is universally assumed in the intellectual community. However, the influence of Abrahamic monotheism is still so strong culturally and politically that there is also a taboo against thinking about metaphysics because such thinking immediately comes into conflict with the ideological monopoly granted to entrenched religion by a kind of gentlemen’s agreement. This cultural accommodation is managed by a mental dissociation in which the most highly educated individuals assume both the truth of scientific materialism and the agency of angels and demons without allowing their thinking in one system to touch the other. You couldn’t make this up. The comfortable coexistence of scientific materialism and antique monotheism demonstrates the scientific inability to remain coherent when attempting to confront spirituality within its externalizing conceptual universe.

The reason why science has to ignore and live with antique beliefs about angels and demons is because of the second problem with the science story. Science is funded and owned by the patriarchal hive minds which make wars and by global corporations spinning money for investors by whatever means possible. Science was appropriated early on by the sovereign hive minds which are the end users of armed forces (the arms race, nuclear weapons, biological weapons, the ICBM, Napalm, Agent Orange) in association with captains of industry (global climate change; Bhopal, India), and those culture pods adore the bonding effects that antique religions have on people generally, the way orientation to a commanding height binds individuals to a hive mind. This military-industrial patriarchy has very strong motives to discourage and minimize streams of the history of ideas that deal with spirituality outside traditional monotheism and which, in doing so, disrupt orientation to a commanding height.

Although sovereign hive minds and corporate hive minds are not entirely compatible with one another, they each value the benefits of their symbiosis. Since both are expressions of the hyper-masculine ethos of patriarchy, celebrating competition, strength, champion heroes, and trophy properties, they have much in common. Corporations certainly support war and preparing for war because so much profit is involved, but corporations operate essentially as independent fiefdoms, like military-estate families in medieval times, in a modern version of global feudalism in which many resource-and-culture-based systems of power are ready and able to act as a law unto themselves without meaningful homage to the laws of any outside sovereignty. Money as capital is not permanently attached to any nation and as much as possible seeks out secret tax havens where the rule of law is light and lax. The people who operate in that world of corporate feudalism (even as investors) are also unattached emotionally to any sovereign state, and will go where money flows. There is a living romanticism in the libertarian masculinity at the core of the corporate hive mind, a thrilling story of dominance and exceptionalism. Sovereign states which openly declare themselves as such are a different kind of hive mind, with a territorial definition, drawing on a selectively edited history of their territory to craft a compelling story for the inhabitants to attached to emotionally. In the culture of global capitalism, by contrast, there is a shared story of the triumphant great man in a vicious dog-eat-dog world, and, ironically, an elaborate social and cultural support system for the people who immerse themselves in this story and win their way in. The support system is crucial because trophy property always demands the protection of organized violence, either as the armed forces of a sovereign state or as private armed security forces, currently proliferating.

The Politics of Knowledge

Given these two problems with science, any claim that science is politically impartial, neutral, or disinterested is absurd. The politics of knowledge is hardly complicated. Any science funded by such forces will specifically rule out any understanding of reality which might question the legitimacy of currently dominant institutions. The military-industrial patriarchy, the power structure which pays for scientific work, is threatened by any information that explores spirituality outside traditional monotheism because it is the only historical stream of thinking able to disrupt orientation to a commanding height. It has done so already, spectacularly, in the radical Enlightenment. The purpose of science is not to understand reality, but to strengthen the patriarchal systems of power and wealth already operating, or give a competitive edge to a particular power centre by producing new power for the paymasters. Here comes artificial intelligence.

Copyright © 2017 Sandy MacDonald.

Rudiments of Thinking


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In the search for transcendence there is no longer any plausibility in a gaze toward far horizons, and finally we must recognize that transcendence is only in the gaze itself.

posting 119, word count 1,919.

There is no way to prevent the formation of neighbourhood street gangs exercising competitive team spirit when team spirit and competitions between team-spirit-bonded collectives is universally glorified and modelled at all levels of social organization, from school sports teams to nations in violent conflict, all expressing the manly culture and value system of “us against them” for the glory of winning trophies.

The large scale team-spirit-bonded collectives such as the USA, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia, for example, are conspicuous examples of collective hive minds (and not the only ones). The broad national acceptance of American exceptionalism and the civic religion of militaristic American patriotism reveals that for many Americans there is nothing to be gained by knowing other orientations, other forms of interconnection, discoverable, for example, in other people and in the history of ideas, and so they remain ignorant of world history at large, and, like North Koreans, swallow the steady stream of carefully de-contextualized, edited, and slanted stories of history, ideas, and current events flooding mass media, propaganda that glorifies and terrorizes them through their identification with national institutions and symbols. No one would deny that modernity is an age of scientifically engineered messaging, of corporate, political, and ideological efforts to control public opinion, streamed pervasively through mass media, all at the command of the small group with the ability to mobilize great wealth.

Truth to the Masses

Elected officials with their advisors and assistants spin out narratives based on a perceived duty to mediate between factions with established power and the ordinary majority of people. The message that serves the purpose of politics will always be what seems most likely to reconcile a mass audience to the expectations or whims of the most powerful. The narrative that best supports the most powerful people and factions will always seem the most responsible and realistic. So it is that trying to be a responsible journalist, for example, often prevents a determined search for, or presentation of, fully contextualized truth. The danger of telling truth to power is a cliche, but politicians, academics, and journalists face real risks telling truth to the masses, and the masses are not the source of the danger.

Hive minds all work the same way, cultivating in every member a personal orientation to look up to authorities, to a commanding height, for a declaration of the personal/ collective situation, for updates on the story which defines the situation of everyone personally and of collective institutions. It is an orientation of cognitive and emotional dependence on the narration from a commanding height, or, in other words, it is patriarchy. In terms of individual psychology the orientation toward commanding height is the superego. A superego which you have been socialized to accept without question strictly limits your thinking. To begin to think autonomously you first have to recognize that much of your orientation was provided culturally with intent to immerse you in the hive mind story, and that important features of reality, of history for example, have been distorted or edited out to construct your orientation, so that your impression of reality is very unlike actual reality. It is possible to reconnect with reality, as illustrated in Plato’s famous allegory of the cave, through a certain kind of self-directed re-education with a component of philosophical thinking (because metaphysics is crucial).

Two claims are made for the necessity of patriarchal sovereignty, and both are false. The first claim is that only the manly force imposed by the patriarchal hierarchy maintains social order against centripetal forces of self-interest, against the “state of nature” which would be a war of all against all (Thomas Hobbes). The problem with that claim is that it isn’t the the top-down power structure, a manifestation of a traditional hyper-masculine ethos, that enables the functioning of civil society. Instead, the sociability that makes civil society work is constructed perennially by the first-language-nurture socializing work performed continuously by women caring for infants and children. Language is a model of bottom-up social engagement operating independently of the commanding top-down hierarchy of force and law. The opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy but something entirely different: mutually nurturing systems of sociability. Those processes that actually construct the coherence of societies are already operating reliably, but, absurdly, the profundity of their effects remains absent from even the most liberal of intellectual conversations.

The second claim is that the hierarchical organization of force is the eternal and natural order of things. This is a metaphysical claim, an assertion of eternal necessities decreed by a transcendence at the far horizons: god or natural law, obedience to which constitutes virtue. The appeal to natural law becomes metaphysics as soon as findings about what “is” are asserted as evidence for what “ought” to be. (Thanks David Hume.) Patriarchal thinking operates within an orientation in which eternal necessities, decreed from the farthest horizons, pre-determine what is correct thinking and perception for every individual, so that everyone’s subjectivity must be and should be formed by, and subordinate to, the determinate structures and categories of the objective world, including social, economic, and political structures. This metaphysical claim is the ultimate justification of an orientation that looks to a commanding height for declarations of value, order, and identity, because the transcendence at the far horizons is the ultimate commanding height from which all others draw legitimacy. However, this metaphysical claim is untenable, merely privileging selected aspects of reality by appeal to something mysterious and too remote to be examined, and as such is a superstition. There is a more plausible alternative metaphysics based on anyone’s personal experience: the transcendence of individual creative consciousness, of individual free agency. More of this in a moment.

Hive Minds Make War

The kind of hive mind constructed within human social systems is always a way to persuade a majority to remain unthinking about the legitimacy of political and economic institutions. It demands blind faith in arrangements by the most powerful to proclaim the collective story, for example, proclaiming the need for a pre-emptive military strike against another collective. Cultural hive mind is a readiness for emotional responses to culturally supplied triggers, programmed belief and collective response. The ultimate reason for this unthinking is to defend and perpetuate a structure of sovereignty, the compulsory control over a majority by a minority faction, maintaining the immunities, advantages, and privileges of those who benefit most from and sponsor this sovereignty as a system of perpetual and acute inequality. It isn’t merely that controllers of great wealth have by far the most influence on government policies and practices, through political party funding, control of ‘think tanks’ and news media, and the paid activity of lobbyists, but also that the military-legal-police essence of governments as they exist is an expression of a peculiarly top-down hyper-masculine ethos glorifying a commanding height, a legacy and manifestation of entrenched power and wealth inequality, of self-preserving oligarchy.

A third claim made in defence of patriarchy is that individuals can’t do without immersion in some herd or other because individual personhood (individual thinking) does not exist. The first thing wrong with this is that any learning or socializing requires the activity of a pre-existing individual subject or self exercising an already coherent spiritual bearing. There is no now without a then, no here without a there, and every there and then is brought to the here and now spiritually by a person’s intelligence reorienting to immediate sensation, to its unique embodiment. Any situation is given meaning and sense by the action of a personal sensibility bringing specific context (specific questioning, curiosity, expectation, caring, hope: bearing, the sense of the passage of time) to it, transforming sensation into perception by interpreting sensation through a personal context. It is creative activity, a thought or idea of temporal opening that is thinking itself into the world. All of that must be active already before any cultural imitation or socialization can occur, so an individual’s thinking always retains a fundamental independence from any collective orientation or cultural norms. Individual personhood, independent of hive minds, is guaranteed by the rich individuality of consciousness and embodiment separate from any cultural socialization. Autonomous thinking exists, and there’s nothing more fulfilling.

This is where the previous refutation of the metaphysics of far horizons shows its consequences, because here we have a replacement metaphysics. In the search for transcendence there is no longer any plausibility in a gaze toward far horizons, and finally we must recognize that transcendence is only in the gaze itself. Consciousness itself, the being of a spiritual person, a self-constructing idea of a life-in-progress actively opening the world by creatively thinking and working itself into the world, is the only fountain of unforeseeable possibilities creating the openness to an otherwise inertial and entropic world. That makes thinking the transcendent power and eliminates the imperative to orient to an external commanding authority. Consciousness (thinking) is not a single occurrence but a multitude of separate and distinctly embodied instances, individual animal bodies, some of them human. Since transcendent consciousness (freedom) occurs at the level of the embodied individual, and collectives have no original consciousness, there is no collective transcendence. With no transcendence at the top, collectives have to be legitimized from the level of the individual. Just as the metaphysics of far horizons implied a top-down social organization, this new metaphysics of individual consciousness implies a bottom-up organization. It means that metaphysics lines up on the side of women against patriarchy.

Another mistake in that third claim for patriarchy is the implication that human interconnectedness requires force, that there would be no culture or community without it. However, getting rid of patriarchal orientation does not require getting rid of human interconnections in general. Hive minds can be replaced with the better kinds of interconnection that already exist, with social arrangements among people who do not have or need an orientation toward a commanding height, but who instead interact with others in the joy of sharing the powers of creative consciousness among distinct individuals. Mutually nurturing systems of sociability are already operating and the patriarchy is merely a parasitic system imposed on them. For an orientation outside hive minds, human history is still human history, profoundly misrepresented by the stories that are used to fashion hive minds. Every individual still participates in that larger history that includes the whole collection of hive minds as well as what exists beyond them. As a self-possessed agent you have a special place in the historic cultural movement dissolving patriarchal dystopia.

In the ancient conception of philosophical thinking, the goal was to achieve imperturbability, which followed from what was identified as transcendent, namely eternity, eternal necessities. When the world is eternally pre-determined then cultivating imperturbability makes sense as an accomplishment of thinking. With rejection of totalitarian eternal necessities, replaced by recognition of transcendent individual freedom-in-the-passing-of-time, the whole point of philosophical thinking changes. In this orientation the intended achievement of thinking is autonomous agency, claiming and practicing the creative freedom which is the transcendence of spiritual beings in a life in the world. Agency is the truest expression and realization of human spirituality. In this age of scientifically engineered propaganda, of corporate, political, and ideological mass messaging, of identity politics, philosophical thinking as a portal to self-possession or agency has become crucial.

Copyright © 2017 Sandy MacDonald.

A Point of Dispute with Post-Modernist Theory


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Posting 118, word count: 1,656

Post-modernist theory rejects the mental autonomy and creative agency of the individual that Enlightenment era philosophy introduced into modernity. It’s also the universality insisted upon by philosophical claims that post-modernists reject and deny. Implicit here is the post-modernist claim that individual identity is inseparable from an ambient cultural hive mind made up of specific ‘discourses’. That individuals can move their personal orientation beyond an ambient hive mind (cultural discourses), beyond an ethnic identity, and reorient into a human intelligence or spirituality that has crucial commonalities with all other individual intelligences universally, and so engage in thinking with a peculiarly philosophical universality and autonomy, is rejected by post-modernists. The claimed necessity of ethnic identity is the theory behind a postmodernist imperative to refrain from criticizing cultures, to respect the peculiarities of all cultures because criticism is always from some ‘colonizing, imperialist, alien cultural perspective’. The fragmentations of identity politics follow. Without philosophical universality you can’t criticize patriarchy or patriarchal superego. This is our point of dispute.

It is not controversial that individual people universally share both consciousness and embodiment. The question is this: is there enough that is inherent in only consciousness and embodiment for an individual to have a viable identity able to enact an exit from hive minds? Part of the post-modernist claim is that there is no coherent person, subject, or agent without the input of particular cultural norms encountered and learned from ongoing interactions with other people within an ambient community. This claim has essential common ground with the claim of David Hume (1711-76) that there is no continuity of interior subjectivity.

Hume’s Phenomenology

Hume’s phenomenology of subjectivity as a “bundle of impressions and ideas” in which he could identify no enduring self or person, emerges when experience is pre-conceived as passively receptive and determined exclusively by the bombardment at every moment of a manifold of stimuli from surrounding objects and events. Such a pre-conception is typical of empiricists with their idea of consciousness as a “blank slate” that exists only as the sensory stimuli and afterimages that appear there. That model is inaccurate, however, because consciousness doesn’t work passively. A person comes to each moment as an agent, searching, reaching, and delving as an interpretation of a personal past. Such temporal depth and agency is exactly subjective continuity since responses to lessons learned enacted as a personal vectoring into futurity are acts of a subject. Knowing is nothing like a mental photocopy of facts, not the ability to recover an afterimage of words or images from a stack. When something is known it has been made a fixture of a person’s orientation, embedded in a personal sense of context and bearing, an overall sense of where you are, where you are coming from, and where headed: the personal context for making sense of anything sensed or perceived. Knowledge isn’t afterimages but instead a rich directionality of flight, a poise or bearing. Any consciousness is already agency expressing a subjectivity whose particular identity is formed very much by embodiment but also by spiritual individuality, an individual peculiarity of sensitivity, point of view, questioning, impulses to make a personal mark, individuality of voice. Embodiment gives us the personal identity of a particular shape and placement; mobility, experience of moving and shaping other objects; gesturing, posturing and vocalizing, often in exchanges with other embodied spiritualities; ingestion, experience of kinaesthetic-metabolic energy depletion and restoration which models nature as a cost-shape of effort and effect. What persons have in common universally as consciousness and embodiment are dimensions of individual identity.

Discourses Don’t Think (Only Individuals Think)

When “thinking” is mentioned it might still suggest an outward gaze, an opening through sensitivity to objects in the surrounding world, maybe contemplated after the fact with retained impressions or from reading or hearing spoken reports. There is much to think about in the tumultuous, terrible, and wonderful world, from dinner to politics. However, there is also much to think about concerning thinking itself, the action of a personal sensibility that brings to any sensitivity all the context that gives it meaning and sense, a sensibility that delves sensations for confirmations of expectations and opportunities for personal aspirations. The directionality of any human gaze is so guided by what cannot be perceived, with subjective non-actualities such as futurity, aspirations, and lessons learned, (caring, anticipation, evaluation) that it points (in addition to a region of surroundings) to what can only be characterized as a personal interiority of spiritual non-actuality. Spiritual agency isn’t an object or a substance, has no completed outline or appearance, but it still has plenty of identity.

A spirituality’s self-awareness takes the form of a particular bearing into a semi-obscure openness of futurity which includes a structure of increasingly remote probabilities and possibilities, a structure of anticipation, evaluation, and aspiration, and so, overall, of caring (a marker of spirituality). Each spirituality is characterized by its own interiority of such temporally structured non-actuality, bearing into the openness and freedom of an indeterminate future with the force of curiosity, questioning, accumulated discoveries, an impulse to self-declare, to make a personal mark, and of empathic sociability. Personal acts of caring both express and keep constructing the most personal newness and incompleteness. In that way time is a structure of caring which uses impressions of entropy physics (of embodiment and its working: muscle knowledge and kinaesthetic-metabolic knowledge) in a construction of expectation and directionality.

For such a sensibility, time is something about now, specifically the personal context-in-flight brought to bear upon now as the portal to creating a personal future. The sense of time to come, of passing into time to come, is a glimpse of the freedom of ideality, of the ongoing (never finished) self-construction of sensibility. In a certain sense we exist entirely in our spiritual reach into not-yet in the context of lessons interpreted from no-longer. Only spirituality (intelligence) strives toward a specific not-yet or non-actuality, and that is the essence of creativity. Teleology of creation is another identifier of spirituality, to add to curiosity, questioning, accumulating orientation, and expressive gestures or voice. Consciousness, the being of a spiritual person, a self-constructing idea-of-a-life-in-progress actively opening the world by creatively thinking and working itself through the world, is a fountain of unforeseeable possibilities creating openness in an otherwise inertial and entropic world. In such a world, consciousness can recognize its temporal bearing as transcendent in its outreaching sensitivity, its caring and curiosity, its ever renewing ideality, its freedom and power of embodied intervention within the shape of brute actuality. In the strictly inertial and entropic world, this very limited freedom is shockingly transcendent.

The freedom and creativity of an intelligence is in transcending the vanishing particularity of nature, transcending its own embodied particularity by always tilting into an indefinite beyond-itself, projecting active construction and expression from interior non-actuality. Nothing defies particularity outside spiritual creativity, and the peculiarity of spirituality is in being both particular and utterly beyond particularity. Evading particularity means asserting spirituality, making sure that a manifest expression is actualized, enacted, but of a kind that includes incompleteness, an openness for surprise and newness. Self-creation is never self-completion. Instead of having any definitive personal particularity, we have precisely what we think of as spirituality, namely freedom, time to come as freedom into which a possible future extension of self, of life, is projected, a personal metaphysical non-actuality. Freedom is possible because time is a device or technique created by individual intelligences to transcend (be free of) nature’s determinism, and so it could be said that being-in-time is what distinguishes intelligences from the natural world within which we build lives. Time is the foundation of freedom from nature and as such it is the transcendence of intelligences. Individuals cannot claim to be creative masters of nature, but each person creates a time-system (a life) of possibilities and probabilities in our own universe of interiority, which is then actually imposed on brute nature with variable success, and shared by enacting interconnections with others. The flight of ideality creates a special sensitivity to other fountains of unforeseeable possibilities, other conscious agents. In such sociability we have: empathy, the comfort of companionship and sharing, co-operative bonding, community, ethics, morality, culture, and conversation.

The agency inherent in consciousness, particularized and empowered by embodiment and yet made transcendently open and creatively indefinite by spirituality, establishes that personhood, viable identity, is not fundamentally a construct of cultural norms. We can judge and criticize patriarchy, patriarchal superego, and any other cultural norms from the perspective of the inherent agency of individual consciousness which is always outside a hive mind orientation. Not only that, but the personal transcendence in spirituality is a guiding beacon in a process of thinking that judges (and discards) culturally assigned labels, categories, and evaluations of personal identity which contradict and deny personal transcendence. We still have an inherent sensitivity to other conscious agents and good reasons to re-invent empathic interconnections.

There certainly is a requirement of sociability, and we construct our sociability initially by learning, conforming to, and using the norms of interaction on display around us. Individuals imitate and twist the norms of interaction we encounter. The imitation of such norms of identity is pragmatic role-playing, constructing a sort of costume or mask which can become habitual and obsessive and yet always removable in principle. The original agency is not replaced or destroyed. The identity markers assigned by culture depend on the inherent agent to make them work, are in fact parasitic on the inherent agent, and agency remains when an individual moves personal orientation beyond a cultural hive mind or ethnic identity and reorients philosophically into a human intelligence or spirituality that has crucial commonalities with all other individual intelligences universally.

Copyright © 2017 Sandy MacDonald.

Politics is Metaphysics (3): Crisis of the Left


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Posting 117, word count: 1199

Metaphysics is the ultimate weakness of the political left-wing. Right-wing politics is the promotion of patriarchy, and the main pillar of patriarchy is the widespread personal orientation (superego) formed around bogyman metaphysics, assumptions of cosmic moral ledger-keeping in preparation for a final reckoning, a cosmic plan. Any conception such as karma that includes the idea of a cosmic reckoning, or any other reward and punishment after death, is personification of nature on the grand scale (bogyman metaphysics), entrenching an idealized paradigm of patriarchy as a top-down personal orientation. Platonic Ideal Forms and any other metaphysics ascribing primacy to some conception of eternal Being or a Great Chain of Being are also examples of top-down metaphysics. It is the top-down orientation which confers meaning on imperialistic war. Right-wingers have elaborate social and biological theories (Hobbes, Darwin) cementing conflict, trophies, and centralized monopolies of violence as crucial forces of civilization and society. Such theories are expressions of top-down metaphysical assumptions, and the metaphysics is the ultimate support of right-wing political power. Right-wing thinking operates in an overall conception in which the objective world consists of certain specific, determinate, and eternal structures (great chain of being) and categories (atomic facts) which pre-determine what is correct thinking and perception for every individual. In that right-wing world everyone’s subjectivity must be and should be formed by, and subordinate to, the determinate structures and categories of the objective world, including social, economic, and political structures. The right-wing orientation is a looking outward for transcendence or for an equivalent for transcendence in material determinism, categorically given and absolute in the Great Chain of Being. Top-down metaphysics is entirely bogus but unfortunately is the universal cultural default, entrenched by history and tradition. Such is the dystopia in which the prospects and strategies for autonomous thinking as an individual must be devised. The good news is that, since the personal superego is the patriarchy, then disrupting the patriarchy is an accomplishment of thinking, an intellectual and cultural enterprise. More good news is that there has been since ancient times a cultural stream of philosophical thinking, a minority report, that resisted and disputed the dominant orientation.

Historical Roots of the Political Left

The main roots of the political left, expressed for example in socialism, are in the philosophical movement known as the Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, specifically in the radical branch of the Enlightenment which asserted universal human rationality, a transcendent power at the level of the individual, and developed that claim into a profound rejection of social and economic inequality as most evident in such institutions as monarchy, aristocracy, and religious hierarchies. The other looming presence in the ideology of the left, Marxist theory, was merely a footnote to and a distortion of Enlightenment ideas, and Enlightenment ideology itself was a particular formulation of the cultural stream of philosophical thinking that disputed the dominant orientation since antiquity. Marxist theory attempted to change the foundation of egalitarianism from universal human rationality (at the level of the individual) to the predetermined working out of economic laws governing class struggle in history: dialectical materialism. It was a variant of Hegelian (top-down) metaphysics, driven by the cosmic Final Cause, and a tragic dead end innovation. The collapse of communism in The Soviet Union and eastern Europe exposed the absurdity of using materialism as a bottom-up foundation for such Enlightenment ideas as innate rationality, equality, individual human dignity and rights, secularism, cosmopolitanism, and representative democracy. Although materialism can claim to be an alternative to top-down orientations, and was promoted as such by the radical branch of Enlightenment, it cannot avoid determinism and so becomes a justification for anything that exists. The idea of economic determinism is still an institutionalized assumption in the science of economics. Karl Marx’s ideas of dialectical materialism and laws of history demonstrate how materialism settles into strict fatalism, unfreedom, and the impossibility of transcendence (the creation of unforeseeable alternatives and possibilities). The loss of transcendence carries the implication that everything has to be just the way it has always been. The collapse of Marxism was not the collapse of the long historical development of egalitarianism as implicit in Enlightenment ideas, because the same egalitarianism was vestigial in ancient humanist philosophy and in Renaissance humanism and in a continuous stream of cultural developments in western cultural history. The pressure of egalitarianism has lasted so long against apparently crushing forces because it expresses the fundamental reality of transcendence at the level of the individual, implicit in the idea of universal human rationality. The collapse of Marxism merely discredits materialist and top-down metaphysics (as in economic theory) as a base for the political left.

Metaphysics for the Political Left

Although in the early twenty-first century the political left is faltering badly for lack of an articulated metaphysics, it already has an informal conceptual framework, a thinking orientation, which implies its metaphysics. Left-wing thinking operates in a conception of the world in which individual subjectivity has an important degree of creative freedom to conceptualize and re-conceptualize the structures of the world, and to intervene in forming and altering those structures. In that context, individual subjectivities have a mission that goes beyond struggling for survival and acquiring trophies and knowledge of objective facts, a mission, instead, to conceive and make an authentically personal mark on the world, to bring goods from a spiritual interiority and inject them into the shape of the public world. Creating structures of mutually nurturing sociability is an essential part of that mission. On the left-wing view, then, individual subjectivity is transcendent in relation to the merely inertial and entropic world. If metaphysics is the identification of transcendence, then the political left is already committed to a metaphysics. Consciousness itself, the being of a spiritual person, a self-constructing idea of a life-in-progress actively opening the world by creatively thinking and working itself into the world, is the only fountain of unforeseeable possibilities creating the openness to an otherwise inertial and entropic world. That makes thinking the transcendent power. Consciousness (thinking) is not a single occurrence but a multitude of separate and distinctly embodied instances, individual animal bodies, some of them human.

The salvation of the left does not lie in abandoning transcendence in a rush to the metaphysical bottom of materialism, nor in a backward-looking reverence for antique conceptions of top-down cosmic providence, but instead in a reconceptualizing of transcendence that builds on the Enlightenment recognition of individual rationality. The great mistake in metaphysics has been to gaze outward, especially toward far horizons, squinting to make out messages in the haze. The focus of metaphysics has to be the looking itself, not what is seen but the seeing. Consciousness, and only consciousness, is transcendent, and consciousness occurs only at the level of the individual, and not as a passive receptivity but instead in the application of personal context in a moment of interpretive sensitivity, a context-projecting moment of interpretation. There is no looking or seeing without an encounter of personally specific context with novel sensitivity, a personally spiritual act.

Copyright © 2017 Sandy MacDonald.

Politics is Metaphysics (2)


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This posting (number 116) is 955 words.

Bottom-up political arrangements will never be broadly effective in any culture dominated by top-down metaphysics, because bottom-up political arrangements conflict openly with a top-down view of the world. Any system of reality that includes the idea of a cosmic moral reckoning such as karma, or any other reward and punishment after death, is top-down metaphysics, personification of nature on the grand scale. Platonic Ideal Forms or any other metaphysics ascribing primacy to some conception of eternal Being or a Great Chain of Being are also examples of top-down metaphysics. Bottom-up political arrangement will never be appropriately effective in cultures dominated by such ideas because conceptions of metaphysics are taken as templates for the proper assembling of social structures. Such ideas are meant to supply the framework in personal superego constructs, to effect the spiritual subordination of individuals, and as such they have to be dismissed for autonomous thinking to be possible.

“Halt”, you will say. “We can’t change metaphysics. The world is just made the way it is made, and we have to live in it as it is”. Well, metaphysics has been a guess at how the world is made, and the most influential guesses have all been wrong. They went wrong by accepting the form of structure commonly seen in human societies as a straightforward manifestation of the most fundamental structure of the universe. It was a political win for one side of a partisan contest between two gender clustered cultures of human interconnection.

Gender Politics

In the context of political ideology the crucial contest is between two opposing gender-clustered cultures (one of which has been astonishingly invisible to the intellectual community) representing two parallel systems of human interconnection operating simultaneously. One of those systems is roughly described in Thomas Hobbes’ social contract theory. It formalizes a masculine ethos in which it takes fear of the strongest among aggressive individuals to prevent continuous conflict of all against all for selfish personal gratification. Let’s call this political adulation of a commanding height “the patriarchy”, the core strand of conservatism. Look at Nazis and you will see this ethos of masculinity in a rigorously purified form. Values of conflict, command, rank order, obedience, violence, victories, and trophies are dominant. All concepts of the large scale structure of nature as a Great Chain of Being with perfect Being at the top and flawed or tainted whatever at the bottom are projections of the masculinist idea of the commanding height. This traditional top-down metaphysics was conceived as the legitimizing ideology of longstanding hierarchies of power inequality. However, there is another independent system of interconnection that can be described as first-language-nurture culture and centres on the nurturing and socializing of children, treasuring of every single one. It focuses on development of language competence as well as cultivation of human relationships that are mutually respectful. This indispensable bottom-up construction of social interconnectedness, without which civil society would cease to exist immediately, has been cultivated and practiced by women from time immemorial, almost entirely unacknowledged and unpaid. The effectiveness of the feminine culture of interconnection establishes that love (not fear) is the most important stabilizing force in human societies.

Although the masculine ethos has plenty of metaphysical speculation lined up to support it and formal academic theory romanticizing it, the operation of the feminine culture of first-language-nurture remains largely unidentified, and has no bottom-up metaphysics on offer in support of more effective bottom-up political arrangements. “But wait,” you will say, “isn’t metaphysics top-down by definition? What would a bottom-up metaphysics even look like?” Well, consider final causes.

Ordinary Transcendence: Final Causes

Final causes, an idea introduced by Aristotle, are non-actual but potential conditions or situations that cause the actual state of affairs to change so as to match or actualize the final causes. Aristotle thought that all substances include certain final causes as features of their being without requiring substances to be caring, sensitive, intelligent, or involved in creative planning. Instead they were a kind of in-built individual destiny. However, over the millennia since Aristotle, it has been discovered that the changes of substances as such can be understood without final causes. Final causes are not part of nature. Nature is defined as features of the world that are entirely explainable without final causes, explainable instead as kinds of falling, pre-determined chains of cause and effect within forces and structures such as mass, gravity, electrical charge, atomic structure, momentum, inertia, and entropy. Still, it is obvious that lots of the shapes and conditions in anyone’s experience were brought into existence only because a desire for them was conceived before they existed, because they existed first as non-actualities, pre-conceived by the kind of entity that cares about the future, and conceives a future shaped by enough probabilities and possibilities so that certain situations that do not already exist can be chosen as personal plans or intentional goals and actively brought about by effortful interventions in the pre-existing surroundings. So the existence of final causes as thoughts, ideas, or plans is obvious and undeniable. Since final causes are not part of nature, they are the bits of experience that count as metaphysical, transcendent, or spiritual. The final causes created by particular individuals are the only openings bringing unforeseeable shapes into an otherwise inertial and entropic world. Final causes are brought into nature by embodied spiritual beings, that is, by individual people creating their particular life and work. Transcendence is the intervention of us in nature, exercising agency sourced from our personally inventive spiritual flight. Taking these ordinary final causes as a key to transcendence is bottom-up metaphysics.

This also relates to posting 111, July 26, 2017, Politics is Metaphysics.

Copyright © 2017 Sandy MacDonald.