Life after Hive-Mind

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Posting 132, Word Count: 1,454.

It has been asserted as self-evident that individuals need, as part of a general need for felt supervision or authority, a dominant collective attachment, emotional and cognitive identification with the master narrative of a collective entity, something like a home hive, as a crucial element of personal identity and sense of meaning. That assertion is supposed to account for the fact that each modern sovereign state is still, in spite of liberal influences, a personified territorial power demanding reverent patriotic devotion, worship, sacrifice, and obedience enforced by an iron fist of law, tax, and lethal military force. Each state has its edifice of pageantry and symbolism to invoke the unity and sacred grandeur of the collective: flags, monuments, and anthems, oaths and pledges, officials and military officers encrusted with exotic glitter, august regalia and titles; state uniforms and weapons laden with national symbols and emblems; theatrical ceremonies of remembrance and renewal of devotion invoking the sacred and obscure “us against them” mission of the hive, synchronized movements in processions, special word formulas to be spoken in mass unison. Such things are not intended to encourage creative or rational thinking but rather to replace thinking with passive embrace of an orthodox official story line, a standardized hive-mind. The supposed necessity of hive-mind belonging is used routinely to justify nationalist propaganda and censorship.

The Enlightenment idea of human nature as having no intrinsic need for sovereign authority is now an old idea, the real core of liberalism, and it always went against the conservative dogma, from religion, that everyone needs supervision structured within the symbols, pageantry, and authoritative superego of collective solidarity and belonging. The historical endurance of the state as sovereign authority shows that the enrichment of the idea of human nature from the Enlightenment was effectively smothered by that pre-existing culture. That pre-existing culture of authoritative supervision was an entrenchment in institutions of the traditional rights of the father, an overt expression of the principle that the strongest has sovereign rights over everyone else, rights to the property of the weaker, rights to the lives of the weaker, generally the right to be parasitic on the weaker. These cultural assumptions grow from the traditional patriarchal family in which the father is the strongest and women and children are assumed to lack even a minimum competence. The Enlightenment and liberal conception of human nature was murdered in the crib by traditional patriarchal practices, and that is what accounts for the hive-mind efforts of modern states.

It is now clear, however, that there are multitudes of people with very elastic and insubstantial attachments to collective entities. For example, the globalization of capital has fostered an internationally educated and mobile professional and business class. Academics, engineers, medical practitioners, business and financial professionals are all educated in an international context and trained to have a cosmopolitan outlook, quite detached from any specifically national or territorial master narrative which is the normal core of hive-mind. Additionally, the loyalty and national belonging of the investor class generally evaporates instantly upon election of a socialist government, so is always largely a pretence. Yet, these groups and individuals conduct lives they find meaningful. They are not without a cultural framework of orientation, but it is more a culture of trophy property as primary value. A focus on possession of property always includes fear for the security of possession, requires protection by at least the readiness of force, and so includes a culture of reverence for intimidating strength and power, control of taxes, laws, and war, the organization of violence, all still core features of patriarchy. Obviously this property-based cosmopolitan framework still has a stake in maintaining the institutions of nation-state sovereignty, especially police, military, and intelligence agencies, but strictly as service providers, supplemented or replaced by private suppliers when convenient.

The cosmopolitan perspective of these factions shows that there are experiences of gratification, identity, and meaning, which make identification with a national collective completely unnecessary. Gratification from symbols and pageantry of collective identity, embedded in the narrative of national peril and exceptionalism, is not necessary for a meaningful life, as demonstrated by the contented lives of the masses of people with scant engagement with such things. Gratification from property possession is still part of traditional patriarchal culture, inextricably invested in organized force, and by far the most culturally dominant and celebrated gratification experience, but there are others. Nurturing children (or nurturing animals, even plants), socializing them into the linguistic community and having ongoing conversations with them as they develop is inherently gratifying. This nurturing sociability is an independent non-property based source of profound value, meaning, and sense of identity, in fact the most important source for most people, although studiously unrecognized as such. Still another realm of gratification experience is thinking, often in the form of ‘scribal’ ideality. Philosophers have frequently asserted that the greatest human pleasure, the most fun, is thinking. A great deal of human fulfillment is derived from following personal curiosity, learning, reading, writing, and synthesizing ideas, interrogating history and the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity, between subjectivity and subjectivity. This gratification is individually interior, the model of spiritual autonomy, although always with some important relationship with sociability, communication, and human interconnectedness. Yet again, craftsmanship is another source of value experience, expressing and performing creativity, knowledge, and skill in working with tools and materials, actualizing a previously conceived shape in observable objects. There can also be pleasure in experiencing any skillful power of the human body, but assigned donkey work is boring, dirty, sweaty, energy sucking, exhausting and that is why a ‘working’ class does not have an independent culture of value experience, whereas ‘homemakers’, certain kinds of scribes, and craftspeople certainly do.

The culture of property possession as primary value is part of a conception of human nature as a painful emptiness craving to be filled, a sucking pit of needs for definition and gratification from outside itself, a deficiency that grasps for acquisition, consumption, and competition; determined by biological and material laws. However, the importance of gratification from nurturing, from performance of creative craftsmanship, and from scribal ideality clearly refutes the claim that human nature is a consuming emptiness. The ubiquitous practice of nurture shows human nature as a fountain of empathy and compassionate caring. The intrinsic gratification in practicing craftsmanship shows creativity in projecting shapes from personally interior ideality into material actuality. Intellectual activity, a cultivation of ordinary thinking, is a fountain of personal curiosity, questions, directed impulses for relevant exploring, researching, learning, discovering, original conceptualizing, writing, reading, and synthesizing ideas. Every personality is a fountain of such goods, of spontaneous creation of curiosity, questioning, inspiration, and caring, a gusher of impulses to shape the environment and construct interconnections with others. These self-sourced experiences of value are profound enough to build lives upon, and many people do exactly that. In this light, each personality is a self-constructing idea of a life-in-progress actively opening the world by creatively thinking and working itself into the world. This recognition of human nature as self-creating from interior ideality eliminates the primacy of competition and conflict, as well as hierarchical rankings and trophy collections derived from competitions, crucial features of possession of property as primary value. It also means that individuals do not have any inherent dependence on experiences of belonging provided by hive-mind sovereign states or any similar collective entity.

The entire conservative conception of the human predicament, featuring an intrinsic grasping emptiness of human nature, property possession as essential identity definition, inevitable competition and conflict for scarce goods, celebration of strength and violence, the necessity of a sovereign authority to dampen the lethality of conflict (civilization), and the rights of the strongest to be sovereign and parasitic, all supposedly pre-determined by natural law, is a bogus and toxic cultural legacy, a mythical metaphysics to make the world exciting for aspiring heroes in their romantic dreams of a cosmically ordained struggle for dominance. This old mythology is a dystopian nightmare for most people. The way out is cultivating the gratifying activities which express personality as a fountain of ideas for interventions-in-actuality. That creates the alternative experience, acquaintance with a human nature that can trust itself in the complete absence of authority or any vestige of patriarchy, in the absence of any controlling hive-minds projecting sovereignty of the strongest, with no need for the kind of identity and meaning assigned by a controlling collective. There is a far better life after re-orienting outside nationalist hive-minds and also outside any other rat race for symbolic markers of self-worth and identity. Hive-minds make war and are made for war.

Copyright © 2018 Sandy MacDonald.

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Spiritual Existence and Freedom

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Posting 131, Word Count: 663.

The dual principles of reality are 1) nature, which falls, and 2) personalities, which create and build in a great scattered multiplicity, each one surfing on the falling wave of nature *. Personality is ideality embodied at a locality: teleology, willing, orientation/ bearing, curiosity, caring, gusher of creativity and questioning, impulses to make a personal mark, to form interconnections with others. All of these are completely alien to the brute actuality of nature.

The category of existence of ideality and personality is spirituality, and spirituality is the transcendence in experience. Spirituality is always personality and personality is always self-creating, in its inherent agency, into some new configuration of agency. Spiritual existence is existence as agent-beholder, perceiver and learner, surveyor and delineator, interpreter and recorder of the fall lines of actuality, accumulator and builder of an orientation of intent within the features of actuality. Personality has the existence of living a life in the world of nature, culture, and other personalities, but internally it is existence in the form of the interior ideality of a personal flight through time. We are all familiar with recognizing personality in others and with our own private ideality: future bound aspirations and intentions, and their context of evaluations and lessons learned. The only bodies with interior essences are the ones which breathe and have a voice expressive of personality. The essence is the spiritual, transcendent, force of directionality toward a completely non-actual futurity. Essence is personality.

Spiritual Existence is Political

Spiritual existence is political because it is inherently a creation of freedom at the level of the embodied individual, but certain conditions of its existence make the freedom of individuals contestable. Although individuals are inherently sociable and establish profound interconnections with others by, like sponges, soaking up the culture we see and hear around us, including language, the lesson of individual embodiment is self-possession. Transcendence, in the form of creative ideality and agency, still exists entirely at the level of the embodied individual. Embodiment and the self-transparency of existence as ideality make individuals vulnerable to accepting mistaken claims about basic reality, claims which assert bogus rights of command, of sovereign ownership. Patriarchy, institutionalized sovereign rights of the father, for example, is overtly an expression of the bogus principle that the strongest has sovereign rights over everyone else, rights to the property of the weaker, and rights to the lives of the weaker. This illustrates how politics is shaped far more by ideas and human ideality than by nature, since rights are ideas and not features of nature.

Philosophy and Freedom

Philosophical thinking is encountering the relationship between subjective ideality (consciousness, why something matters) and objectivity, between your particular sense of the passing of time and brute objective actuality. To think is to occupy, to dwell in, the transcendent moment of ideality: the personal tilt or bearing beyond now and beyond no-longer, toward the open not-yet that waits to be created. Subjective ideality is time, and the subjective ideality of time is the creation of freedom. The personal experience of spiritual transcendence in the ideality of time is an encounter with metaphysical reality.

You might say, “Well, this is all very abstract.” It certainly is! If you need concrete then you get only half of reality, the brute actuality of nature.

* Posting 90) Freedom, Surfing, and Physics (Monday, January 25, 2016)

Metaphysics occurs as a scattered multitude of distinct individual eruptions, each personally entangled in the duality of physics and spirituality. Each spirituality is self-aware as a flight (variably desperate) into a semi-obscure future as the form of the most personal incompleteness and newness. In contrast to every instance of spiritual flight, the surroundings of physics does not care, anticipate, aspire, or evaluate. It merely falls like an ocean wave utterly frozen in timeless uncaring; and we scattered eruptions of metaphysical time stand tilting fall-ward on the tsunami of actuality and each carve a personal mark, surfing the entropic descent.

Copyright © 2018 Sandy MacDonald.

How Aristotle Placed Personality

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Posting 130, Word Count: 1,368.

If we think of Aristotle as depicted in the fresco The School of Athens (by Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, painted between 1509 and 1511 in the Vatican, Apostolic Palace, and now widely reproduced) we have to say that his hand gesturing downward toward the familiar world is not a denial of metaphysics, not an assertion of scientific materialism as understood now. The gesture would have to mean that metaphysical reality is located, is at home, in ordinary objects and bodies, not only in the bodies we observe in the sky; and perhaps it might mean also that the distant skyward heights are not the Platonic heaven of free-floating (unanchored in things themselves) immaterial prototypes of the image-things that furnish and fashion our experience.

For Aristotle, the visible motions of skyward phenomena revealed nested layers of heavenly spheres in motion around the Earth, each sphere moving from a purposive will internal to itself, bearing into eternal futurity, and so alive, sensitive and teleological, a mothership senior intelligence, a being of ideality and personality. It was specifically this agency from an interiority of willing, the living ideality of personality placed at the top of the cosmic structure, that seemed to confer meaning on the world and the lives of individuals. Personality placed in that way seemed to give the skyward spheres transcendent purpose and creative power so that aligning a human individual’s bearing with them expressed the sense of a kinship or commonality between the purposive ideality of the individual and that of a sovereign aliveness.

Plato famously claimed to separate ideality from personality, but it can’t really be done. In Plato, Ideas retain a creativity that can only be understood as a borrowing from the creative will of personality, a purposive push or bearing, but in Plato’s work, with ideas presented under the aspect of eternity, there is a removal of all other vestiges of personality. That removal was meant to deify ideality by moving it from temporality to eternity. However, metaphysically, personality and ideality are inseparable. As soon as bits of ideality (such as immateriality or creativity) are separated off from personality of the ordinary embodied sort then the conception of reality gets weird and twisted, assembled from mismatched shards like the monster of a certain Dr. Frankenstein. Many people prefer such a conception of the world.

The Two Principles of Reality

The two fundamental principles of reality are the principle of falling, inertial and entropic nature; and the principle of creative teleology or purpose, creating shapes within actuality through personal agency, enacting intentions from the ideality of a particularly conceived future. These principles are sometimes called objectivity and subjectivity. Subjectivity is personality. In the crucial sense these principles are precise opposites of each other. The principle of falling is a single vast continuity in some sense. The principle of purposive agency is a multiplicity of separately localized (embodied) individuals. There is no freedom in the principle of falling but ideality has freedom and creativity. Purpose is inconceivable as anything other than ideality because futurity, where purposes have their places, is categorically not an actuality. Purpose is temporal and temporality is necessarily a quality of ideality since it reaches beyond brute actuality. Purpose is willing, a movement of personality. Purposive bearing requires ideality, and ideality is always personality.

A purposive will includes caring and freedom, aspects of spiritual ideality, which is to say, the subjective consciousness of personality. Rocks and rivers do not care, but merely fall. The World that Doesn’t Matter highlights the incongruity between the presence of subjective ideality and that of objective actuality. These are different modes of existence. The question is: what kind of existence can subjective ideality, purposive consciousness, have that is so not objective actuality? That is a core metaphysical issue, somehow locating (or maybe just denying) ideality. Perhaps the most long-enduring description of ideality has been as a personal interiority, as already mentioned above, but not an interiority that can be specified strictly as a location in space. This idea of spirituality as an interiority goes back (at least) to Aristotelian essences and final causes. Aristotle seems to have thought that everything that exists has, as part of its form, a metaphysical interiority, an essence, in addition to a strictly spacial or material interior. On that view, every object has an essence that contains and drives crucial features of its arc of existence and destiny, changes it has undergone and will undergo, just as the ‘interior’ ideality of an embodied person bears the memory and future intentions of that person. (Compare Leibniz’ monads.) The analogy at work is clear since every person knows from the most immediate experience a personal interiority of non-perceivable intentions and their context of reasons-why from a personal no-longer, all an interior ideality. That is our direct acquaintance with the existence of spiritual ideality.

Part of the reconceptualization of the objective world made by Descartes and others of his historical period involved rejecting the Aristotelian idea that inanimate objects are driven by an essential metaphysical interiority. On the modern view, an object’s changes are caused by strictly external forces. The fact that bodies that breathe and have voices generally display and utter expressions of an individual caring and freedom was crucial in ancient times, and the interiority of ideality was sometimes described specifically as a kind of breath. The breath analogy is unsustainable as an illumination of ideality, but as we discard the idea of bodies having a metaphysical interiority, we have to stop at bodies that breathe and have voices because, as one such body, every one of us has immediate knowledge of our personal interiority of intentions and reasons-why: our subjective ideality or purposive consciousness.

Does this analogy, a special interiority, help with the question of what kind of existence is to be attributed to ideality? In the Aristotelian sense, ‘interiority’ means that ideality is effective in the world, an indispensable part of reality, without being tangible or having an appearance, without being an actuality. The Aristotelian idea of final causes gives us more, invoking the idea of willing, and has much in common with Brentano’s description of intentionality as presented in Brentano’s Gift. It is a reaching, but not merely a reaching toward objects, instead a purposive reaching toward the future of an embodied life-in-the-world in the context of what has already been lived and is actual no more. There is also a tilting or instability in actuality, a continuous falling in the mode of mass, momentum, inertia, and entropy, but the tilting of the willing of ideality is very different from that instability, the tilting of ideality is not a falling but a creative leap (Luther), a flight or bearing. It is tempting to think of ideality as images, but that isn’t sustainable either. Ideas are not images but structural features of a person’s bearing into the future, of a framework of specifically oriented agency.

It is also crucial that ideality, personality, as an aspect of its freedom, exists precisely by evading final particularity, just as time does. (Sartre’s existence before essence.) Ideality has the same mode of existence as time in that sense: an always newness and incompleteness. Caring requires futurity and possibility, the flight of time. Caring is possible and conceivable with the experience of engagement in creating a mutable future world and a life in that world, with freedom and creative power. Living is, first of all, ecstatic caring within the context of freedom. The reality of caring and freedom is self-evident, but neither could be possible on materialist assumptions. They become conceptually possible with the recognition of transcendent ideality at the level of the embodied individual. And it isn’t just the existence of an immediate caring encounter between a person and the surroundings, but also the learned ideological framework that any ideality applies to every moment of that encounter, an ideological framework anchored in history and the history of languages and authorship and inseparably connected to a great historical stew of ideas. Again, that stew of ideas must not be shattered off from the ideality of ordinary embodied personality. It has its existence in the living of people.

Copyright © 2018 Sandy MacDonald.

Two Quick Notes on Culture

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Posting 129, Word Count: 430.

Language is a Playground

Speaking a particular language can be a kind of hive mind, but language is independent of patriarchal structures, and is always evolving from bottom up. New words, meanings, and expressions bubble up all the time without any input or influence from authorities. Teenage girls in the San Fernando Valley have fun playing around with language (I was like, “What-ever!”) and the English language embraces and incorporates the novelties. Philosophers are another example of people who frequently introduce new expressions. Any living language is changing constantly, just like living culture generally, if not artificially hampered and frozen by self-appointed authoritarian enforcement. Language has been adored by various philosophical theorists as a definitive model of a rigidly structured universe, governed by imperious rules, but in fact it is an open and inclusive play of expectation and surprise, imitation and originality, a barely-supervised playground. Novelty and surprise are essential to language, and the source of novelty is individual people exercising their creativity in play with others. New words, meanings, and expressions can and do bubble up because the orientation (thinking, sensibility) of every individual goes far beyond language, as geography goes beyond the streetcar tracks.

History and Culture

There has been a conservative meme equating history and culture, demanding that cultures be preserved as precious artifacts and sacred relics so that history or the ancestors are appropriately honoured, the lessons of history appreciated. However, learning from history is not the same as preserving culture. History as an idea is everything that happened in the past, but most of what happened does not deserve to be honoured, although the more history that can be generally known accurately, the better. Uncritically honouring the ancestors, the forefathers, a selectively edited look backward, is another conservative meme, but only a thoroughly romanticized, redacted, and glamorized interpretation of history would find the acts of the ancestors mostly worthy of honour. Communications of history must represent complex context, normally in books which report on large swaths of detailed records and memories, recognizing patterns of relevance and influence formed by individual lives, actions, and events. (the hermeneutical zoom) Historians are human and always work with incomplete and often biased records, and personally interpret those records through the lens of their own and their community’s biases. So, history, even as reported in a scholarly way, must be approached critically. Publicly installed monuments as a sort of historical record always separate some simple icon from its actual historical context, and so are always romanticized history, decontextualized. Living culture is changing constantly and needs to change.

Copyright © 2018 Sandy MacDonald.

Politics is More than Nature

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Posting 128, Word Count: 867.

On questions of politics and social order, there is always more involved than just nature, since there is always the involvement of the subjective ideality of individuals, human spirituality. Ideologues of the political right-wing make every effort to reduce political forces to a narrow concept of nature: predetermined, rigidly and unalterably ordered by eternal categories and hierarchy, a Great Chain of Being. The right-wing concept of nature includes the right of the strongest to use lethal force to exercise sovereignty over the less strong, and conceives a general flaw in human nature, much like original sin, which means that people deserve and even require subordination to sovereign supervision. Those assumptions grow out of the traditional patriarchal family in which the father is the strongest and the women and children are assumed to lack even a minimum competence. The appeal to the inevitability of nature serves the purpose of defending the advantages of those who already have the greatest advantages, mainly rights attached to possession of property. Property fits well within a narrow concept of nature. However, crucial points supposedly determined by nature on the right-wing view are really features of culture, and culture is mutable.

The Mission of the Interior Individual

The involvement of individual subjective ideality in all matters of politics and social order means, first, that the fabric of reality includes crucial forces which are very unlike the concept of nature as predetermined, unalterable, rigidly ordered by eternal categories and the great chain of being. 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 by exploiting the fundamental instability of actuality, an instability represented by time. The conceptions of subjective ideality and their cultural expressions are tentative and mutable under the force of deliberation and creativity. Second, the spirituality of people means that we individually have an interior source of value, gratification, and original creation that is not connected to possession of property, that is a projecting fountain instead of a deficiency that craves consumption, acquisition, and competition. Every individual has an expressive mission that goes beyond competitions for scarce goods, struggles for survival, and acquiring trophies and knowledge of objective facts, beyond submission and obedience, beyond accumulating property, and beyond aligning with narratives spun by scribes of power and wealth in a patriarchal hive-mind. Individual subjectivities have a mission to conceive and actually 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 part of sustaining that mission. Social and political structures can be made to change under the force of ideas since ideas are openings into a mutable future.

The reading/ writing persona that is cultivated in literacy and education has a distinct kind of autonomy of thinking and authorship. Young people have little attachment to property, but much to their unique voice and spirituality. A great deal of human fulfillment can be derived from learning and thinking, reading and writing, interrogating history and the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity, between subjectivity and subjectivity, but such a source of fulfillment goes far beyond top-down centralizing control. It is far too autonomous and individually interior for the political right-wing to endure. Right-wing interiority is meant to be dominated by a frightening superego to intimidate the supposed inherent vice. One reason the political right-wing is anti-intellectual and struggles to narrow eduction to vocational training (STEM etc.) is to limit a general encounter with Enlightenment era ideas which illuminate an empathic and non-property based autonomy of the individual.

Everyone’s personal state of orientation is always situated in and influenced by a historical, cultural, and political context which includes (prominently) efforts by hive-mind collectives to control the behaviour and thinking of every individual, to orient every individual within a certain story, a tragic drama asserting patriarchy as a metaphysical inevitability. There is no equivalence between the political left and the political right because forces of the right have exercised their dominance for millennia with extreme violence and they mean to keep it that way. The political left has always been an alternative vision of the individual struggling to express the mission of ideality against the great weight of patriarchy. The calling to account of patriarchal dystopia, its being exposed as such by the political left-wing, is a cultural earthquake, unavoidably a bitter and profound incompatibility of visions with little ground for compromise. Of course the messages of the left must disrupt traditional narratives that served as devices of patriarchal macro-parasitism to maintain submissive hive-minds.

An authentic idealist metaphysics is one in which brute nature participates in reality with the ideality of embodied and sociable individuals, in which the world of actuality is unfinished and constantly becoming something new, bits of originality created continuously at various separate localities through the efforts of the transcendent spirituality of individual intelligences. This is a metaphysics of intelligences questioning, caring, and learning through their inward pressing into a profoundly undetermined time to come, creating what comes next.

Copyright © 2018 Sandy MacDonald.

Decolonization is Defining Left-Wing Politics

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Posting 127, Word Count: 139.

A refined understanding of the political left-wing is needed to distinguish it clearly from any form of patriarchy, the political right-wing. This develops the position in posting 125 that the philosophical origin of the political left is a recognition of human nature as not intrinsically requiring sovereign supervision (also an insight motivating those previously colonized to decolonize themselves). Patriarchy is structured on two crucial claims: that the strongest has the right to exercise sovereignty over the less strong (founding claim of imperialism), including the right to use lethal violence; and that human nature is such as to require sovereign supervision. Both of those claims are false and rejected by any legitimately leftist politics. That means that the communist regimes of the twentieth century were not expressions of genuinely left politics, since they were all very distinctly patriarchal.

Copyright © 2018 Sandy MacDonald.

Two Quick Notes on Nature

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Posting 126, Word count: 229.

Merit

There is an equivocation in the word and notion “hierarchy”, especially in the combination “natural hierarchy”. This equivocation is often exploited by ideologues of the political right-wing. The fact is that ability ranking does not imply command or supervisory legitimacy. Neither competence nor merit of any kind carries special rights to sovereignty. Superior ability or giftedness does not confer any kind of ownership of other people or the work of other people. There is no legitimate way for any gradient of competences to become a chain of command, which morphs so effortlessly into a food chain.

Copernican Dualism

The Copernican Revolution highlights a basic dualism in experience. Not only does the cosmos not revolve around us but it also has no other specific accommodation for our sensitivity, consciousness, freedom, or teleology. Objective actuality does not care, respond, or prepare. Subjectivity, which is to say, spirituality, is not determinative of objective actuality as a whole or on the grand scale. Considering the dire fears of social authorities at the time of the Copernican revolution, it is remarkable that it is no longer taken as a devastating idea that the objective world of actuality would roll along quite unaffected in the total absence of our presence as spiritual ideality. This highlights the transcendent peculiarity of caring sensitivity and consciousness and of the teleological freedom in our preparing and responding.

Copyright © 2018 Sandy MacDonald.

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.

Recommended

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.

References

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.