Here Boy

All of human history has thrown up three philosophers worth noting. For positive reasons, that is. With no entirely similar features in terms of style, or even subject area they nevertheless evince one key quality: a lack of dogmatism.

There is little point in dogmatism. Anyone imagining that individual people are so sublimely varied they must shackle their thoughts and passions into lines based on whatever matrix of reasons they have recently confused for truth is ignoring the colossal drag factor of personality. Over any medium time period a majority of thoughts and beliefs will show similitude. Or, if thought and beliefs are cascading and switching between states much faster, one has greater local difficulties than philosophical hexis.

And there is such good reason to reject dogmatism as far as possible. Yes, preparing the flexibility involved reduces the trauma when you inevitably find out so much of what you believe is false. Yes, you can witness the insincere look in the eye, and expression in voice, of those who recognise what a noble and personally difficult route you have taken. And yes, you can take manic (if hidden) glee in the cognitive rings you can run around those who have chosen not just to shackle themselves in morality, but in thought as well.

But largely there is good reason to reject dogmatism because we have precious little concept of what drives us, and even why we believe what we believe. To the extent that we are likely to end up believing something closer to the true nature of reality, or ourselves, by simply changing our minds. Just as by casting a stone into a seething mob we’re likely to hit someone much less annoying than ourselves.

In fact we should uproot and throw away almost everything we believe, as much as we can, as often as we can. You will never uproot enough to paralyse yourself. And just look at the world and the people around you, which shaped you, that has formed the very inverted pearls rotting within your oblivious and malformed shells. Would you kill and die for such things? Without questioning? Sadly, of course you would. It is what the world around you imposes upon you. And the less developed, less understood, less defensible the notion, thought, belief, the swifter and more enthusiastic will be the hideous action taken on its behalf. Does not conviction make true? Is not conviction in what cannot be seen, touched or proved in any way holy?

In dogmatism you ultimately revenge yourself upon the world you failed to question.

Advertisements

The Death/Truth of Truth/Death

More than a century ago Nietzsche’s madman carried his lantern to the marketplace to tell the buzzing flies that a far greater light was lost, that the source of all our meaning, our grounds, the foundations upon which we not only stand but base every origin, destination and evaluation upon – namely god – had blinked out. And none of the buzzing cretins understood. They still do not, even the ones, the thankfully greater number of ones, who have crept to the corpse of god and carved their names upon it.

For Nietzsche it wasn’t time. There had not been time enough for people to understand this greatest of events, or even begin to see the true consequences. And how prescient was he to say that even a century hence we would still be blind to it? For me, of course, this whole picture is rife with far too much hope and pleasantry. We will never truly grasp this, as we never truly grasp anything. As if the kneelers before god could have the faintest idea what their evaluative provenance had meant. Where is necessity of understanding born of a godslaying?

But that we will never grasp this has little to do with our feeble comprehension of the nature and composition of the universe. What kneelers never seem to realise is the utterly prosaic nature of their mysteries, that puerile conceptions of god reek of such foul ichor that only in relegation to utter abstraction can any sense of mystery be preserved. Understanding the nature of things more clearly once past this cognitive surrender is not hard. What holds us back from grasping what passes for truth is more a matter of courage and taste. For we have no such courage in us. As our children cower in the mundane darkness of night, so we cower beneath the darkness of truth. When every light has gone out, when the reasons for light are revealed to be empty and the telic pursuit of casting light is revealed to be pointless, we regress, we flee, into any distraction.

We lack the taste for meaninglessness. It does not suit our palate (inevitably we choose the blood of loved ones on our tongues first), and we do not have the style. We stand hunched and bedraggled before the nature of things, weighed down by the total absence of substance. When nothing we carry has substance it is impossible to bear. And when any direction is as suitable as another, we go nowhere at all.

I understand this better than you. And this means not at all.

I Hate You

It remains to be seen whether any sort of series will come out of a desire to focus upon uses of single words and how far astray (or worse, how far from taking one step off the path of convention) people can go with them. But, if not, then the word receiving treatment here will be ‘contempt’ and either way that will be fitting.

Briefly returning to the general case of word usage, it is clear that, and why, this word is so universally taken as a negative and why, in the context in which I have most enjoyed it, the works of a certain philosopher, it is so often misunderstood. Understandable, given that in those works a perverse level of desire to upset and obfuscate is present, unusual for philosophy, but perhaps not entirely forgivable. As this is the preserve of philosophers, to step off paths of convention, at least in thought, and staid, rooted, inflexible understanding of language is a poor companion in reading them.

This seems to be the constant companion for ‘contempt’, however. Despite there endlessly being elements of it evinced by even those who would most strongly decry it. The sense which has insinuated itself into the word so strongly we seem rarely able to break out is exactly that contained within the hypocritical mindset of those of ressentiment, or those capable only of seeking to reduce or destroy others from a place of smallness of spirit. Because of that smallness. In such a mindset, contempt is a persistent, poisonous, whispering madness, unpleasant to feel, execrable to enact… and yet with the hypocrisy just mentioned, alloyed throughout so many of those bound to view contempt in this way.

And with this being the standard view of contempt now, any deviating usage, however well intentioned, becomes difficult. And what a shame. Contempt in another sense, an unwillingness to accept something atrocious without pretending that one in some sense still values or respects it, a contempt characterised by swiftness of apprehension, and action, and moving past without their being a lingering taint… How useful. How freeing. How validating to accept that some things, many things, are worthy of little more than contempt, without feeling one has to at once become toxic at the mere harbouring of such thoughts.

As ever, everyone has the right and platform to disagree. But in such cases, if you cannot imagine what my reaction would be from the above, you should not be reading this.

Users

This may more naturally fall into two posts rather than one, primarily for reasons of length, secondarily for reasons of semantic bathos. Moving from a general point to one so specific has an attached feeling of overkilling the point. Still, if one is driving a point home, what matter that it continues through and out the back?

It’s back to use of language again. In this case to do with the consensus of meaning within language. As usual I am going to ignore any thoughts about language that treat words, sentences, propositions, or just meanings, as special entities, or mysterious bearers of truth conditions (whatever ‘truth’ is supposed to mean in this context). They deserve to be ignored. And, as usual, I am going to assume the broad category of understanding of language and meaning as deriving from its practice of use within a community of language users.

I have spoken previously about the nature of metaphor in language, and the ultimately blurred spectrum between that and language which is not (or, better, no longer) considered metaphorical. That there is no difference in type or kind, simply that metaphors extend our meanings beyond those we are so familiar with we no longer have in mind their origin.

In a similar way there is no difference between a word that means something and one that doesn’t. Or, more commonly, one that means one thing to one language user, and nothing, or something else, to another. There is no such thing as a ‘correct’ use of a word (and one can only see ‘correct’ here as broadly meaning fulfilling the function intended for it) outside of another blurred spectrum, here consisting of both time and the tacit consensus of a community of language users.

Sounds that once meant nothing come into meaning. Older meanings blend into new ones, either extending from existing parts of the older ones, or jumping away entirely. The same meaning can undergo this within one community, or shift after one community splits. Users within the same community can, with experience (and legitimacy), understand the same meaning in ninety-nine of one-hundred cases yet diverge on the other one.

In this way we understand that language changes, that it has to change, how it is that different languages can share huge and apparently necessary areas of grammar and vocabulary, but equally how they can contain unique areas, or lacunae. It shows how a reference for a language, a dictionary, is not a final appeal, or arbiter in itself, but merely the stepping off point for a practised user of language. It also shows how local failures of meaning between two language users rarely represent a robust sense of error.

Most importantly, it shows how between language users there can be room both to marvel at how effectively and universally we manage to share meanings within such a protean, unfixed, and arbitrary system, and also to take the extensive geography of those shared meanings as the ground from which we can test the edges, extend metaphor and poetry, mine the possibilities for refinements in meaning and intention. And, ultimately, to realise that in the end language is a tool that we endlessly shape as we are shaped and shaping others via its use. It is subtle, and deserves a variety of recognition it is rarely given.

Perhaps two posts are better than one, despite my efforts to convince otherwise. Specific uses of words and perceived problems to follow, perhaps.

Suffer Not

There is a problem involved with suffering, which is not to say that suffering is problematic. Though, of course, it is. One cannot enjoy suffering. Suffering is not pain, something which it is at least fairly commonly understood that some people enjoy, in a sense. And I don’t care to make a full analysis of what suffering is. Suffer me to say only that it is the apprehension of our misery, and not the misery itself. Which is why it cannot be enjoyed: if the state is one of enjoyment, it simply lacks this apprehension.

Suffering is not good. I offer little belief to those who will cite it as character-forming, or some sort of necessary trial. Which is not to say that it cannot be. However it seems odd to me to laud the overcoming of adversity while standing on the (many more) broken bodies of those adversity has not offered the same outcome. Suffering does, however, seem to be necessary, in the weak sense that it seems built into the very foundations of life. And if one encountered someone seemingly incapable of suffering, of apprehending any misery, would this seem a virtue, or some glassy lack which left us shivering?

And so we can succumb to the common sense of nihilism. We suffer, and we will suffer. It is necessary, and short of some drastic shift in the architecture of our world and life, it will continue. Furthermore, we continue to have whispering in the background those who like to see people break in the trial. They have an audience, such is our inurement to suffering. Some – perhaps most, in some sense – religions enshrine this. After all, what is the promise of some otherworldly continuation than the utter abandonment and negative judgement of the constitution of this world? And philosophers have done likewise, offering their consolations.

But the problem with suffering is not that it is inevitable, and, let’s face it, bleeding unbearable. The problem of suffering is that it doesn’t mean anything. It isn’t for anything. It might, as just said, form character, but it doesn’t typically, doesn’t have to, and even where it does that isn’t what it is for. So perhaps the greatest Problem of Suffering is what we do to frame the meaning of suffering or, better, to create it (as we’re not going to find any). Most of us accept suffering if it is for something. But I’ll stand up and say that a better answer is required than any given so far. With no afterworlds, or otherworlds, and no particular desire to laugh at the broken on whatever random occasion I happen not to be one of them, there is not a great deal of worthwhile human thought to filter through.

This task can make one miserable, and apprehensive.

Flip-antsy

To somewhat continue my over-arching theme, in the spirit of unoriginality, there is an often mentioned distinction among critics of theism which nevertheless is frequently forgotten. Perhaps because to keep it in mind at all times would prevent a great deal of soapbox mounting (a favoured activity, since we never forget that, as we necessarily see the world from our perspective, we believe ourselves to be its centre). This largely occurs because it is an axiomatic step which, once passed, makes little difference to the apparent nature of a debate. However, once passed, the debaters may not entirely be discussing the same thing.

The distinction is one of exactly what one is concerned with when discussing why one is or is not a theist. My own concern is almost exclusively ontological or metaphysical: I am concerned with the nature of the world and what constitutes it. Which is not to say the other side, that of the social/moral/psychological nature or implications of the debate are of no interest, simply that they are entirely secondary. For many others, of course, those for whom personal revelation, political expediency, or social cowardice are significant, the order is reversed.

If the distinction is not acknowledged (and it is a crude, non-exhaustive distinction, merely to flesh out two obvious sides) then meaningful discussion is curtailed if not rendered impossible. In debate with someone convinced that religion underpins morality, such that society would degenerate with the rise of atheism and secularism, my overawing concern that the consequences of this are at least moot if not irrelevant next to the priority of understanding how the world is constituted probably seems jaw-droppingly obtuse. Life and society have an immediacy to them, after all.

To me, of course, the idea that people would commit to potent and consequential judgements affecting people up to and including the level of their life’s value, without first having taken arduous steps to come to a reasonable and evidence-based understanding, as best we have and can, about the nature of the world, is at least equally obtuse. Further, though, one could claim an obvious sense in which those who are not ontology/empiricism-driven are far more likely to succumb to error, this might also have to be done on the basis of evidence. And, while this contention is amusing enough to risk raising a mouth’s corner, it can be pointlessly countered.

Finally, I essentially lied above, in saying what my exclusive concern was. Atop my own soapbox, speaking to the world of which I am the centre, I simply prefer a heavier-duty bludgeon to back up my own revelations when challenged. As for each of us, they are simply right, because they are ours.