Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Year

 

- Happy new year.
- Go to hell.
- Put down your detective story and talk to me. Why do you read those books?
- The world is going to hell.
- You hide away in your books. What good are they?
- They are the truth about the world. They tell us what we have to do.
- What do we have to do?
- Search for killers.
- Then why aren't you doing your job?
- I'm getting ready.
- To find killers?
- To be happy. I can't do anything unless I'm happy. Want to know what happiness is?
- You sent me to hell. Can I be happy there?
- You can try. Happiness is the pleasant sense of physical well being and being in a place in the world where you can do something new and good. It is good health, being in a good place, and being ready to make something better. Do you know what the problem is with our miserable world?
- The world is not miserable, you are.
- The world is miserable and getting more miserable.
- Ridiculous. I've just read an article pointing out that there is less violence in the world than ever, the world is more fair, the health of its inhabitants better, there's more democracy and concern for strangers.
- Look. I'm putting down the book.
- Track down the killers. Get out of your rut.
- Before you arrived I got bored reading and did an internet search for the writer. At the top of the page was an essay on him by Zizek, the exotically named Slovenian philosopher and ubiquitous public speaker.
- You and your philosophers.
- Forget the philosopher. I'll go right to the killers.
- No. Say what you were going to.
- The detective story writer is a Swede who spends half his time in Africa. The philosopher is a Hegelian, who finds the source of the stories' popularity in the incommensurability of the two worlds. In our developed world, the problems are despair, anxiety, uncertainty, in the undeveloped world the problem is force. In our world the problem is what we do to ourselves, in the other world, what people have done to them. Putting the two worlds together in a book is strange. And for a Hegelian, strange is good, because "otherness" sets you out on a search to understand how to recognize yourself in what is presently incomprehensible.
- And you don't like that.
- How do you know?
- Only your ideas are right.
- I like that idea of yours. Listen. The problem is these ideas will make you miserable and violent.
- Good.
- Why good?
- Just go on.
- These ideas get in the way of being ready. Hegel thought we recognize ourselves in the things and people around us. What is "other" is without our own history. We feel like we own what we recognize, and we are dispossessed from, don't own, what we don't recognize. Property is mysterious, because we don't know what is it that we are comfortable with and how we became comfortable with it. In this way of thinking history makes us comfortable, not knowledge. A closer look though at the Swede's two worlds finds they are not in fact incommensurable. They share a common unit of measurement.
- What?
- Social roles. If you look at the violence of the undeveloped world, you'll see that it is aimed towards destruction of social roles. Social roles again are responsible for the problems of our world, not their destruction but a compulsory manipulation of others, manipulating others to get power over them rather than doing what we know is good for ourselves. The same kind of thing is happening in both worlds.
- The undeveloped world is like us but has been corrupted? Then it has developed further.
- That's another source of the confusion: we think the movement of history is only in one direction and it's not.
- So you say. But statistics show better health, more wealth, more justice, less violence.
- Statistics show more wealth inequality, more beginnings of wars. They show that when a country sees a possible advantage fighting a war more often than ever it starts a war.
- Then why are there less deaths, better health, more justice?
- First because the number of people in the world is increasing exponentially, while the destructiveness of war remains roughly the same. We start more wars, people die from them as they did before, but because there are so many more people proportionally there is less violence. But the more important reason is that democracy and social efficiency in general have become the honor of thieves. The people who run countries are starting more wars than ever, but they have found that the tools of stability, democracy and social equality under law, work to increase their ability to fight.
- Like a mafia.
- Yes. It is true North America and Europe are not fighting among themselves. They are fighting with the rest of the world.
- How does philosophy come in?
- Happiness. The Slovenian philosopher sees "the other "in capitalism. It has to be incorporated in something else, some variety of socialism. That incorporation involves the violence of moving out from the state of being dispossessed of property and of social understanding, towards being possessed of property and understanding. He doesn't understand that what the leaders are doing now is not a stage in the economic and social progress of the world, but one variety of corruption that comes of seeing ourselves locked in social roles and possessions. One variety of unhappiness.
- Why?
- Because the entire way of looking at the world is unhappy, is beginning from unease, being unprepared and dispossessed.
- But didn't someone, Socrates maybe, say philosophy begins in wonder?
- Wonder needs safety. Threatened ritual calls up violent response. Social change can come peacefully only if the social world isn't entirely defined before you start.* The Jewish philospher Moses Mendellsohn lived in Prussia round the time as Hegel. The page is somewhere here in the browser history. Take a look.
Mendelssohn, most probably being the first one to do so, postulated the separation of religion and state, entrusting them different functions: “Both state and church have as their object actions as well as convictions, the former insofar as they are based on the relations between man and nature, the latter insofar as they are based on the relations between nature and God.” Likewise, Mendelssohn affirms the necessity of multiple religions and also states that Judaism is a religion without revealed truths:" Judaism boasts of no exclusive revelation of eternal truths that are indispensable to salvation, of no revealed religion in the sense in which that term is usually understood.”
The future is not fixed and offers no salvation. You make yourself ready for happiness in the world, but what you do with that readiness must be left open if readiness is to have any meaning.
-  Our increasing good health, justice, safety are being treated as properties to be acquired by a kind of violence?
- They are not being acquired as nature to our religion. They are being acquired in a single world of total definition. They are being acquired as tools for more acquisition, the progressive violence of making other's property our own.
- What kind of violence are you talking about? Violence of war? Or simply overcoming our own fear of what we don't understand?
- One leads into the other. Use of violence leads us into a possessive, ritual relation to those around us, and ritual relation leads to violence. Establishing new social relations is inherently violent, involving both destructive manipulation of others without concern for what's good for them and destructive disregard of what our own experience tells us is good for ourselves, and ritual repetition of established social relations is defended by violence.
- I'm willing to believe Europe and America are a giant mafia, that they prey on the rest of the world economically and militarily, and are more ready than at any time in history to start trouble. They'll even prey on themselves, upper classes dispossessing the middle and lower classes of wealth, if they think they can without endangering their own economic stability.** I'll take your word for it that the statistics prove it.*** But where does your philosophy get us?
- There are not two worlds. There is no progress. We are not advancing. We use violence, they use violence. We are organized like mafias, so are they. We call the others undeveloped because they are less efficient mafias. We are unhappy, they are unhappy. Happiness is to be found in freeing knowledge from social relations. Social relations are nature to our religion, are the body and its place in the world, necessary for the open, spiritual sense of possibility that good health and good conditions social and natural ready us for. A progression is not in history but within ourselves: we care for the world so as to care for our body, we care for our body so as to care for our minds. With regard to the pursuit of happiness, we're all in this together.
- Happy new year.

______

The violence inherent in creating fixed, known in advance social relations makes choice of means to that end necessarily defective as decision making, blind to how creative unanticipated choices could also have been possible and taken into account. And violence chosen as means necessarily is defective in reaching the intended end as it brings continuation of violence in response, this besides that the kind of world violence produces of fixed social relations itself is inherently undesirable. Violence as means to an end is a choice only when it is reluctant and defensive, that is, when it aims at return to an open world that does not necessarily imply perpetual recourse to violence. (see: Means And Ends)
** The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?
*** Is War Disappearing?
(full August 27, 2013 article by Bear Braumoeller, Ohio State University, here)

further reading: 
Eve In The Garden Of Eden

from Aldous Huxley's Ends And Means
'Real progress, in the words of Dr. R. R. Marett, 'is progress in charity, all other advances being secondary thereto'. In the course of recorded histoiy real progress has been made by fits and starts. Periods of advance in charity have alternated with periods of regression. The eighteenth century was an epoch of real progress. So was most of the nineteenth, in spite of the horrors of indus- trialism, or rather because of the energetic way in which its men of good will tried to put a stop to those horrors. The present age is still humanitarian in spots; but where major political issues are concerned, it has witnessed a definite regression in charity. Thus, eighteenth-century thinkers were unanimous in condemning the use of torture by the State. Not only is torture freely used by the rulers of twentieth-century Europe; there are also theorists who are prepared to justify every form of State-organized atrocity, from flogging and branding to the wholesale massacre of minorities and general war. Another painfully significant symptom is the equanimity with which the twentieth-century public responds to written accounts and even to photographs and moving pictures of slaughter and atrocity. By way of excuse it may be urged that, during the last twenty years, people have supped so full of horrors, that horrors no longer excite either their pity for the victims or their indignation against the perpetrators. But the fact of indifference remains; and because nobody bothers about horrors, yet more horrors are perpetrated. Closely associated with the regression in charity is the decline in men's regard for truth. At no period of the world's history has organized lying been practised so shamelessly or, thanks to modern technology, so efficiently or on so vast a scale as by the political and economic dictators of the present century. Most of this organized lying takes the form of propaganda, inculcating hatred and vanity, and preparing men's minds for war. The principal aim of the liars is the eradication of charitable feelings and behaviour in the sphere of international politics. Another point; charity cannot progress towards univer- sality unless the prevailing cosmology is either monotheistic or pantheistic unless there is a general belief that all men are 'the sons of God or, in Indian phrase, that 'thou art that/ tat tvam asi. The last fifty years have witnessed a great retreat from monotheism towards idolatry. The worship of one God has been abandoned in favour of the worship of such local divinities as the nation, the class and even the deified individual. Such is the world in which we find ourselves a world which, judged by the only acceptable criterion of progress, is manifestly in regression. Technological advance is rapid. But without progress in charity, technological advance is useless. Indeed, it is worse than useless. Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.
The economic reforms so dear to advanced thinkers are not in themselves sufficient to produce desirable changes in the character of society and of the individuals composing it. Unless carried out by the right sort of means and in the right sort of governmental, administrative and educational contexts, such reforms are either fruitless or actually fruitful of evil.