“…Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious…” – George Orwell, 1984
“… The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents…” – H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu
While I feel self-consciously trite about leading with such familiar and over-used citations, I also cede that as concepts, both are worthy of and capable of sustaining deep meditation on their meaning and relevance.
Fuck the damned proles. You know, as often as I’ve cited the line “The clue factor is a constant”, I never did bother learning what the original author was attempting to express by it? It’s just my own experience; the people I’ve felt were clued in at all always numbered roughly the same, and this held true going forward from a time when I was so isolated and disconnected that I had few friends to the present where I periodically experience a sensation of popularity that frankly embarrasses me. And I’m not sure I’d even qualify myself as capable of identifying anyone with a clue; I have opinions, but hey…
You could call it pearls before swine, but that’s wrong and often, unfair. The human mind is handicapped by a plethora of cognitive issues that, while providing occasionally effective methods of adapting to one’s environment, also circumvent anything like critical thinking or rationality. The real problem is simply that when one attempts to help someone understand and address these issues, they don’t actually address the underlying causes. Some people — most, perhaps, want a sense of validation of their personal worth without necessarily having to change in any particular to accomplish that end, and they’re very uneasy about reconsidering a given position, especially when it’s an unexamined assumption.
Let’s draw on one of those off the top; who actually needs or WANTS to change the fucking world? I know a lot of people who are really bent on being great novelists or rock stars or simply having a bunch of money and toys and… Why? “So un peridor, Maxie, you jackwagon; sour grapes, bitch!”
I submit that I actually earned my way out of this trap. It’s an easy claim to make and a difficult concept to apply, but it comes down to having enough integrity to allow one’s self to both be the final arbiter of one’s personal worth and accept where one has fallen shy of the mark. “If I can just make a difference for even one person… It would save the whales!” — I mean, honestly, is there a more bullshit sentiment than that?
The proles will take care of themselves. Or not. Look at what went down in Tunisia; was just some guy, the cops destroyed his ability to make any money that day by wrecking the fruit he was trying to sell and then beat him for not submitting to their little power trip. Now there are uprisings all throughout the middle east and north africa; tens of thousands killed already. Is there some kind of mass expansion of consciousness underlying it? No. Just a bunch of college educated kids who can’t find a fucking job who look at what’s going on in the rest of the world via Facebook and Twitter and shit and going “Damn, why can’t I get a piece of that?”
As somebody pointed out elsewhere, if you have a smart phone and you live in Somalia, damned straight you can hook up with Al Qaeda and do the funky jihad thang (“Rubber dingy rapids, bro!” — “Four Lions“, MUST see flim). But the vast majority? Actually just wanna keep up on TV, fashion and pop culture in general. And right now? Most of MENA is getting their ass handed back to them by right-wing, arab authoritarians shit scared at the idea of change, especially given that it involves kids getting blown in half by RPGs.
Will some emerge with a more developed level of self-awareness? Orwell’s consciousness? Probably. But the whole revolt component is just about life having been made more untenable so Michelle Bachmann can pimp a light-bulb 25% LESS efficient than a standard incandescent because, damn it, personal choice. Gotta keep your boot down on those arab necks like the Brits said so they don’t turn on ya. Except that, for intents and purposes? They’re not gonna take it anymore and moreover? Those who threw down either get to fight or wait to be executed.
Then again? Look at the teabagger thing. It’s not just the ignorance, it’s the rhetoric; it’s not just lying, it’s lying badly, unconvincingly, the absolute disinterest in any other consideration than to force the opposition to address a flawed argument at face value, rather than cut straight to the underlying bullshit. And I’ll do the smart version of their philosophy; Paul Ryan, regardless of whether I agree with him or not, is a smart guy, but it’s not just about trying to reduce Federal Government spending at the expense of the middle class and the poor in favor of making the world an even more accommodating playground for the uber-rich.
Make things tough enough for the proles and they’ll descend on your Aspen compound with pitchforks and torches and eat your shit. Look at how hard the various MENA dictators have tried to suppress information about the various uprisings going on; I mean, talk about utter fail. You get on Twitter, you follow @acarvin, @angryarabia, @changeinlibya, — nobody’s going to be able to bullshit you about what’s really going down.
But not to presume anybody’s on about changing the world or utopia or WTFE, just to point out that if you make such a thing some kind of life goal? It’s all No Country for Old Men shit, not jacking out of the Matrix to be “the one” — I mean, sure, there’s a Neo out there, but to paraphrase a favorite observation on the subject (Parke Godwin, Waiting for the Galactic Bus) — “The hero is just the guy who wants to finish his drink and go home.”
“What do you want to do with your life?”
“I wanna rock!”
What’s it all about? I mean, my serious answer is based on the vague understanding that there’s some kind of pleasure center in your brain that lights up when you snort coke and stimulating it will eventually starve you to death if you find an efficient enough way to keep tapping that lever. Beyond that, it’s just a matter of not letting whatever it is that gets you off kill you, or even worse, becoming despondent because you can’t just flip the switch to on permanently and be “happy all the time” like we see in commercials.
But the romantic notion of heroism, exceptionalism, the transcendental figure — is often as arbitrary (the winner determines how history is recorded) or circumstantial — actively setting out to be something like that? Hell, yeah. We need fire fighters and doctors and teachers. And people who aren’t trying to be rock stars and NYT best sellers and inventor of the latest pet rock. Or even MBAs and fucking lawyers.
I mean, that’s where my sense of vindication came in. Beyond the few instances where I was able to make life better for someone else? I know I made Cindy’s life a lot better — and that includes a few really ugly, nasty-assed stories I’ll never repeat to another soul. I kind of wish I could be around for when the rest of my family finally needed me, in spite of how often I railed about what a nightmare it would be to wind up doing just that. Cindy was my last, genuine life goal. I’ll score myself an A- for it. But it doesn’t really leave me anything I particularly need to do now that it’s finished.
But here’s another dirty little secret I think I managed to hide until now. While it’s only true in a literal sense (and I’m sure at least once or twice I actually did precisely this without thinking it through) I have never approached anyone and said directly “this is how you should think”, just like I try only to tell people to vote without ever saying directly how they should.
If you could just effect change through obedience — and look at history because obedience to authority is paramount in terms of social/cultural identity — you’d completely defeat the good of it. Obviously, there is a multi-billion dollar industry built around both promoting and exploiting ignorance to create a pretext of legitimacy for “democratic process”. But the problem is — if you could just force people to make the right choices? Eventually the result will collapse — you’d literally have to enforce it through certain, draconian, authoritarian punishment because what you’re doing is robbing that individual of the agency of choice — the “good” is meaningless if it doesn’t derive from sound, personal judgment.
This is also a conceit for me, because the hidden message behind damned well near everything I’ve ever said in my life is “you need to become a philosopher”.
This is why social/ethical structures fail when they become a theology or political orthodoxy. They start substituting a series of “inerrant truths” (unquestioned but non-axiomatic assumptions) for any kind of reasoning process that would lead to sound value judgments. Because the individual that has never developed this capacity lacks the intellectual tools needed to understand, adapt or even restore anything resembling a rational conception of good, you’ve just got this arbitrary rule that can be substituted for anything else, such as “this is good because I want it and if you don’t comply I will hurt you in such a way that you never question it again”.
Which brings us back to H.P. — my problem with philosophy is that it’s too fucking dense and monolithic to fit into a manageable framework. I, personally have a few very sophomoric ideas about it, but lack the ability to be cognizant of them all simultaneously, much less apply them with better than fair consistency.
I was always amused when somebody like Wendy heard me say Ayn Rand in passing and immediately jumped on the idea that selfishness or WTFE was my core conception of her work. For me, it was always the law of identity, non-contradiction. Nothing can simultaneously be true and false at the same time. Nor is it possible to simply change the definition as a rebuttive argument with a valid result.
A is A. A cannot be A and B at the same time. Yes, you CAN use A and B as variables in BASIC programming and make them equivalent and since anybody attempting to make this argument thinking they’re invalidating what you claim when they know good and godsdamned well that isn’t what you were talking about at all? What they’re actually doing is jerking off and avoiding any attempt to rebut the argument at all.
But all this really does is say that yes, no matter how imperfect, there’s some connection between the concept of things like rocks having an objective, external reality and feeling that we’ve validated this hypothesis empirically having been hit in the head with one. Otherwise, nothing is knowable and hey, you can’t actually read this and blah-blah-blah. Fuck the philosophical nihilist poseurs. My dick’s BIGGER.
You wanna parlay that into objective ethics or capitalism or romanticism being the only aesthetic with any value? Waste. Of. Fucking. Time.
If you’re trapped on a life boat with a stranger and the only way to survive is to throw them overboard? And if you know you can’t make that choice and live with yourself and choose to drown instead yourself?
“What kind of world do you want to live in?”
When this scenario was presented to Ayn in an interview at one point, it was done with the intent of thinking it would absolutely stymie her ability to respond, but she didn’t even slow down and didn’t figure she’d want to live with that outcome, either. She did rather wryly point out that lifeboat ethics as a thought experiment were pretty much an excuse to tickle the giggle stick, since “Man does not life on a lifeboat.”
But establishing non-contradiction and the law of identity as a basis for constructing syllogisms isn’t the point, either, because nobody actually argues that way unless it’s to abuse the methodology for sophist end or, like me, you’re totally driven to figure out what the fuck right REALLY IS as often as you can manage it.
People learn to argue by listening to someone they agree with, preferably with some cache of authority among one’s in group, and then copying that argument or it’s bullet points and repeating them. Some of them don’t ever really grasp the meaning of the arguments they’ve chose and get totally lost if you just change the phrasing on them or posit the same scenario in a different context. Beyond that, there are the sophist manipulators and blah-blah-blah. People who neither have any particular time invested in critical thinking or identify “fact” as being whatever they agreed with in the first place.
But in spite of the fact that there isn’t even a broadly accepted definition of critical thinking, I, personally, think it’s very simple. You assemble as many facts as you can stand, you sort them into whatever reality picture they’re supposed to support, you pick the one you agree with? And then you pour over the one that you don’t, giving it hopefully at least as much attention as you did to your preferred outcome if not more.
Fact gathering + bias elimination + accepting the best supported conclusion? Close enough to “truth” for me that I’m not going to waste any breath on anybody who wants to claim that I’m not being relativistic enough or too absolutist or whatever makes me the bad guy because I like a philosopher unilaterally associated with shitheels.
Know the opposing argument well enough to be able to address it’s concerns and refute them if needed, but keep your own argument as unimpeachable as you can manage it.
Principle matters. It provides rewards that don’t manifest instantaneously and sometimes, never at all.
Objectivity — just the discovery of the word, for me, was life-altering. I can remember a time when I didn’t have any concept for it and actually feared that there might genuinely not be anything like it. But oh, I wish I’d have spend more time on “the other ob”, observation. Staring into this monitor, I may as well be deaf dumb and blind, because I still have the impulse to live inside the meat of my brain and not the world that surrounds it. It was a stupid mistake; I would have learned more, faster, if I’d have been more observant.
But my only two other items I’d include are logical fallacies (naturally) and (more recently) cognitive bias. Both are covered pretty well on Wikipedia and the latter continues to develop every day, so it’s not even like you can pick out what’s just trendy okey-doke, but the basic ideas behind what they’re talking about make a lot of sense.
And I know I’m repeating myself and this sounds hopelessly arrogant and paternalistic but the reason I went down this road is because I needed the setup for my conclusion, which is this:
Right now, as has been for a couple of generations, the way to be is to drop as far out of the world’s bullshit as you can and do your level best to avoid getting any more on you than you can manage.
The nature of philosophy is, as it always was, to answer the question “what is best in life”. Whether it’s your good or the greater good or the good of somebody you don’t know who hates four pages of you, doesn’t fucking matter. A rationalized, moral justification (“this is good because I want it”) is worthless. Something that really stands out in True Romance/Pulp Fiction as classic examples? Listen to the heavies talking to themselves. They are CONSTANTLY telling themselves that who they are and what they do is either good or at least not as bad as people would have them believe.
And that moral justification necessarily requires being as close to objectively right as you can be. Bottom line? If the clue factor is, say, Dunbar’s Number, 150, and the global population is 7 billion or whatever? There were always only 150 with clues, there were only 150 when Rome pulled up it’s stakes and moved to Constantinople and only 150 right now. That’s a lot of breathing space to dilute with ignorance going on at the moment.
I mean, seriously, nukes or clean coal? How much deficit spending really is sustainable without sparking another global banking collapse? Should we be engaging in wars of choice when we’ve got two unfinished ones that seem mostly about sparing ourselves having to confront how badly they got fucked up? As bad as things are, can one justify simply dropping out instead of manning the barricades at this stage?
Well, except that it isn’t time to man the barricades, yet, and it may be some time coming.
But the point is that the change that needs to happen is among a HUGE fucking population and the kind of change that needs to happen is deeply personal and nearly impervious to external agencies. My conclusion was, and remains, that there’s nothing to do but wait, and not be a dick.